When we departed for our 15-month trip around the world, we didn’t even pack swimsuits. But a few months in, after our first look at the coral reefs of Indonesia, we were enchanted by the underwater world. Soon, we were seeking out unique underwater adventures and planning our itinerary around them. By the end of our trip, we had chalked up over 50 dives between us, countless hours of snorkeling, and some truly weird and wonderful fish encounters. Everyone who plans a trip to Southeast Asia should have a sea life encounter, but it takes some planning and know-how to pick the best spots. Here is a list of our favorite places to see marine life in Southeast Asia.
Manta Rays: Nusa Penida, Indonesia
What: Manta rays swoop in circles around a cleaning station in a rocky bay, lining up to get nibbled by small fish. It’s a hypnotic spectacle. After a few seconds with the mantas, they became our favorite marine animal.
Where: Nusa Penida, an island off the southeast coast of Bali, Indonesia.
When: Any time of the year.
What are the chances? Excellent but not guaranteed. We were lucky and saw over 10 mantas. Our guide … Read more
I am a rice terrace addict. There aren’t many other kinds of landscapes that are shaped by both nature and culture. The Ifugao people of north-central Luzon in the Philippines built some of the world’s biggest rice terraces 2000 years ago. The terraces follow the contours of the deep valleys and steep cliffs. The Ifugao rice terraces around Banaue are a UNESCO World Heritage site, feature on the Filipino currency, and are nicknamed the ‘8th Wonder of the World.’
The terraces immediately surrounding Banaue aren’t inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The agency disapproves of the amount of building and development that is taking place in the town. You need to get out of town and visit one of the smaller villages like Batad or Hungduan to be able to say you’ve seen the World Heritage site.
But the terraces around Banaue are still staggeringly beautiful. There are at least four viewpoints on the road leading north of town. We visited at several times of day to get the best effect of the changing light and shadows. When we visited in the middle of April, the terraces were at varying stages of cultivation. Some areas were bare and flooded, … Read more
Most tourists that venture up to the Ifugao Rice Terraces of North Luzon in the Philippines typically visit the terraces of Banaue, the hub for the area, and Batad, a small village a few kilometers away. However, with a little more effort you can see jawdropping terraces and villages that see comparatively few tourists. If you are lucky, as we were, you might even happen on a local festival. We visited the rice terraces of Hungduan to the northwest of Banaue.
Where did we go and how did we get there?
Laura can never get enough rice terraces! Our overnight bus back to Manila was leaving at 6pm so we had a whole day to kill before the journey south. The genial owner of the Bogah Homestay recommended we visit the rice terraces of Hungduan and Hapao. He fixed us up with a local tricycle driver and after squeezing into the vehicle like sardines, we settled in for a rough, dusty, and ear-splitting ride up to the villages.… Read more
Anyone who makes the long trip to the Ifugao region in north Luzon should visit the Batad rice terraces. Batad, a small village off the road system east of Banaue, has some of the area’s most beautiful rice terraces carved into a natural amphitheater in a deep valley. After setting up a home base in Banaue, we headed to Batad for a couple of days of hiking in the UNESCO-designated rice terraces.
The Batad rice terraces were arguably the most spectacular ones we saw. But Batad also felt like the least friendly village in the Ifugao area and Walking ATM Syndrome was prevalent. One obnoxious would-be guide pushed me to my limits of patience. Still, we recommend a stay of at least one night in Batad to appreciate the marvelous landscape.
• Possibly the most beautiful rice terraces we visited in the Philippines
• Trekking to the viewpoint across from the village
• Good weather and nice light in the late afternoon and early morning
• Annoying guide who followed us around
• Mediocre food and atmosphere at Ramon’s Native Homestay… Read more
Imagine the perfect beach: white sand, blue sea, and palm trees leaning languidly over the shore. Believe it or not, after traveling for almost a year and staying in countless beach huts, we hadn’t found that perfect beach. Maybe that’s because we had been looking for great coral and sea life, which doesn’t always come with the prettiest beaches. The Philippines is known for its beautiful beaches, so our first goal was to find white sand, turquoise water, and palm trees leaning at the perfect angle. We found it all on the sleepy island of Siquijor in the Visayas.
Our Story: The Beaches of Siquijor
We were sitting in the rain in the Banda Islands, deciding what to do next. We were itching for sun and sand, and the weather forecast in the Philippines looked beautiful. We moved up the dates of our Philippines trip to take advantage of the great weather. But how to choose a beach? The Philippines has thousands of islands, all of which look amazing. The most famous beach destinations, like Boracay, are overrun with people. To make matters more complicated, we were going to arrive in the country at the tail end of Easter week, … Read more
“Now! Jump! Swim, swim! Look down!” OMG! I am swimming six feet above a 20’ long whale shark. Welcome to Donsol in the Philippines, where finding whale sharks is a gazillion times easier than finding an ATM!
Why were we there?
It may take two and half days to get to Donsol from Moalboal, but only two and half minutes to find the world’s biggest fish. Guaranteed! Almost…
Paul’s Swimming Challenge #3
I passed challenges #1 and #2 like a f#@kig champ. I swam with turtles in Apo Island. And, in Moalboal I swam over a deep dropoff (accompanied by millions of schooling sardines). If I pass challenge #3, Laura will open our splurge fund and let me do an Open Water PADI course. If I don’t, I will continue to suffer the lonely life of a dive widow.
This time, I have to drop off a boat into the deep blue sea. The supporting cast will include the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark, and numerous non-swimming and raucous tourists.… Read more
Who wants to swim with a shimmering swirling cyclone of silvery sardines? You do! Awesome. Pack your bag and head for Moalboal on Cebu Island, Philippines. This is one wildlife encounter that is straight out of Discovery Channel’s Blue Planet. It is exhilarating and frankly unmissable if you are in the area.
Why were we there?
Laura had set me a few swimming challenges in preparation for doing a PADI Open Water course. I needed a big distraction to take my mind off challenge number two. And, a million metallic minnows seemed to fit the bill.
Paul’s Swimming Challenge #2
I sailed through part one with ease. I swam with turtles on Apo Island. We snorkeled with several of these gorgeous beasties for hours but they were easily within my shallow water swimming comfort zone. Part two would be psychologically more challenging. I had to swim over a deep dropoff. I would be staring down into the terrifying deep blue Abyss, which I had singularly refused to do on my last opportunity on Pulau Hatta in the Banda Islands. There was a dark blue line drawn in the sand (well, ocean) and I could not cross it!
Why the … Read more
If you have never seen a huge sea turtle, you should head to Apo Island in Southern Philippines. Unlike monuments or mountains, wildlife encounters do not come with guarantees. Weirdly, the Philippines turns this notion on its head. Apo Island, a speck in the Visayas just south of Dumaguete, was the first of several marine life areas in the Philippines that came up with the goods!
Laura throws down a challenge: see a turtle
Laura challenged me to push on with my swimming and snorkeling skills. I had to see turtles, swim over a drop-off, and see some big pelagic fish. We had a bet and this was one I really wanted to win.
The Philippines is a huge country of 7000 islands, but we only had three weeks to travel there. It took us ages to sort out an itinerary and we wanted it to be all killer and no filler. We knew that the Ifugao Rice Terraces would be a guaranteed hit, but where should we go for the best underwater action? It would be a bummer to travel for a couple of days and find out that the resident Horny Spotted Dork Rays had moved on for … Read more