How do you wrap up an amazing 14-month tour across Asia? Visit a new country? Stay at a plush resort? Do a thirty day monastic retreat? Climb Everest? Or, revisit one of your favorite spots? We opted for the latter and headed off to the gorgeous Togean Islands in east Indonesia for a couple of weeks of snorkeling, diving, chilling, and wildlife watching. We fondly recalled our first trip to the Togean Islands in September 2015 as the moment when we really found our travel groove. Even better, there is so much to do there we didn’t have to repeat anything from the first trip.
Our return to the Togean Islands confirmed our new-found love of the ocean. And it reminded of us of the stark choices humanity has to make if we wish to protect the oceans for the enjoyment of future generations.
The jetty at Sanctum Una Una.
As ever in Indonesia, there were some transportation issues prior to arriving at these remote islands. We had booked flights from Bali to the port town of Gorontalo in North Sulawesi. Alas, we found out the day before the flight that the Tuna Tomini ferry was in dry … Read more
We are pleased to announce that Photo Atlas, the first Design Think Travel app, is available on the Google Play Store.
With Photo Atlas, you can explore the world in Flickr photos. Get inspired for future trips, scout locations for a photo shoot, or just browse billions of amazing images from around the world. You can save photos in collections to refer to for trip planning.
Why Photo Atlas?
Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I love to go to beautiful places and take photos. My second favorite thing to do is to find out about more beautiful places to take photos. I developed the Photo Atlas app to make it easy to visually research destinations.
The app displays geotagged Flickr photos on a map. You can search for places and zoom in to find more photos for a destination. You can also filter photos by keyword. By default, the app displays photos that rank high in in Flickr’s interestingness rating. You can also sort photos by date taken or date posted.
You can save photos you like by adding them to collections. Collections help with planning trips, making bucket lists, and finding great shots to … Read more
In Up To Our Necks: South Inylchek Glacier Trek, August 2013
A good travel story is worth telling even if the events took place nearly three years ago. We also noticed that there wasn’t too much information out there about this trek from the perspective of non-expeditionist backpackers. We hope you enjoy the crazy tales and awesome photos.
What better way to prepare for a friend’s wedding in South Kazakhstan than going on the demented Inylchek Glacier trek into the heart of the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan? Yes, it sounds rather ridiculous to us now too in hindsight! But, that is precisely what we did.
We super excited when our friends, Eric from Seattle and Assela from Kazakhstan, told us they were to be wed in the bride’s hometown of Kulan, 400km west of Almaty. The wedding and related activities would take up four days but we weren’t going to fly all the way there and not check out more of the area. We had always wanted to do an extended Central Asia trip and this was a perfect opportunity to test the waters.
We looked at the map and figured we could visit the Tien Shan mountains across … Read more
We had big plans for our trip to Kuching. We had planned on staying there for six days. We were going to partake of its renowned local food, see Orangutans at Semenggoh, check out randy proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park, inhale the stench of a Rafflesia flower in Gunung Gading National Park, and visit a museum or two.
We ended up subsisting on Vietnamese food, visiting a sketchy doctor, and hobbling around a couple of museums. And, we spent a ridiculous amount of time in a shopping mall. Why? Buxton got his eight-yearly bout of severe gout in his right ankle! Thankfully, we didn’t miss out on proboscis priapism though!
I rarely drink Coca Cola. But, when I do I end up in screaming agony!
Laura snarled at me when I said I wanted a Coke while watching the spectacular bat exodus from Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park. However, I was pig sick of guzzling down gallons of water to fight off dehydration in the fetid humidity of Borneo. For some reason, I instantly regretted drinking it. Don’t know why. The next day we headed out to the airport to fly to Kuching. I had … Read more
Gunung Mulu was at the top of our must-see list since we first started planning our trip. This remote National Park in the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo is famous for spectacular caves, nightly exodus of three million bats, accessible rainforest hikes, and a vertigo-inducing canopy walkway.
Gunung Mulu is certainly visceral. It will be some time before we forget the ammoniac smell of tons of bat poo, the ever present sheen of greasy sweat, and the ferocity of the midday sun.
We stayed at the grungy Mulu River Lodge for three nights. It is cheap and is located just outside the park entrance. But, convenience aside, there is little to recommend it. The breakfast provided by the hotel restaurant was pretty low quality, so we ate lunch and dinner at the Park’s Mulu Cafe.
There are a huge range of activities on offer at the park. Spelunkers can travel through some of the world’s largest cave systems. Intrepid trekkers can climb the 2700m Mulu Summit or visit Mulu Pinnacles. Lord knows why you would want to trek in the hideous heat and humidity though.
We opted for the less strenuous pursuits. We visited Deer, Clearwater, Wind, and Lang … Read more
Sepilok is the last chance saloon for tourists who didn’t luck out on orangutan sightings in the wild. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center has been so successful, it has spawned a couple of welcome copycat centers for sun bears and proboscis monkeys. Let’s not forget the trees and plants either: the Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) has some terrific jungle canopy walkways, towers, and exhibition centers to give you a gentle but exhilarating introduction to rainforest flora. The patient amateur David Attenborough also has a good chance of seeing cool birdlife. If your luck is really in, then you may even see some of our closest animal cousins.
Surprise Orangutans at the Rainforest Discovery Centre
We stayed two nights in Sepilok, and on the first night we opted to visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre. If you want to see animals, then visit early morning or late afternoon. We headed straight for the canopy walkway in the afternoon. It gets you up to 15m or so. The jungle is surprisingly pleasant here but we saw no beasties apart from a giant tree squirrel.
We dropped off the canopy and headed for the Hornbill Tower. At 27m, it is the highest viewing platform … Read more
The palm oil plantations keep ‘waxing away’ at the Borneo rainforest. This is one area where you wish the inspiration for forest maintenance was more 70’s Playboy rather than Shaven Havens. Ironically, the thin strip of bush on either side of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah is the best place in Borneo to see wild animals. The reason is obvious. The animals have nowhere else to go.
We booked into a riverside resort called the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan. They run good-value, nature-oriented 2N/3D packages. These include transfers to and from the lodge from nearby Sandakan, Sepilok, or Kota Kinabatangan.
Ahh, Borneo! The land of sweltering rainforests, soaring Mount Kinabalu, hairy orangutans, horny rhinos, and priapic proboscis monkeys.
Actually, it is a green sea of ever-expanding palm oil plantations, which threatens the existence of all the above except the high mountains. And, it wouldn’t surprise us if in 15 years Mount Kinabalu is covered in oil palm trees too! Thankfully, small pockets of primary forest still exist. And the well-heeled traveler, or backpacker wishing to bust her budget, can still visit areas of tropical rainforest that have not changed in millions of years.
Once such place is the Danum Valley Field Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. It is primarily a research institution, but provides facilities for visitors.
I was aware of Sipadan, the famous dive site off northeast Malaysian Borneo, even before I started my Open Water course. Diving Sipadan is on the bucket list of just about every diver coming to Southeast Asia. A tiny volcanic pinnacle rising 600m from the seafloor, it is home to huge amounts of marine life.
Diving Sipadan wasn’t in my plans. It’s a lot more expensive than diving almost anywhere else in Southeast Asia. A complicated permit system helps keep the sites pristine, but it makes advance bookings a must. I was prepared to skip Sipadan in order to save time and money. At the time we were planning our trip to Borneo, Paul wasn’t yet a diver, and I was hesitant to spend a lot of money on an amazing experience that he couldn’t share. But a well-traveled American diver we met in the Banda Islands emphatically told me that Sipadan was not to be missed. Paul also encouraged me to go for it. And I’m glad I did!
There is more to Komodo National Park than dragons, coral, currents, and big fish. There are beautiful hikes, Bajo villages, flying foxes, and gorgeous beaches. It seems odd to me that many backpackers come to one of the world’s most beautiful places then opt for a cheap-ass tour, on a crappy boat, with no safety equipment or English-speaking guide. Yeah, they see the dragons, snorkel at Pink Beach, and have a craic with like-minded cheapskates. But that seemed a bit lame to us.
We had already spent 3 days on the Wicked Diving liveaboard in Komodo, but we wanted to take another trip to see the dragons on Komodo and Rinca, snorkel, and hike. We wanted a good boat and an excellent guide with great language skills and knowledge of the park. Safety was paramount too. We want life vests, radios on board, and a speedboat for evacuation and/or transfers to beaches and snorkel spots.
Not too much to ask. But, unbelievably, there is only one operator in town that offers such a service. That company is Flores XP Adventures. And, thankfully, they had a trip that fitted into our schedule. We joined their 3 day Liveaboard Adventure and it … Read more