The island nation has been on my list for quite some time; after acquiring my scuba diving certification, diving in the seas of Indonesia was a dream of mine. From my circle of friends, Indonesia has been frequented a lot by them, most notably Bali. Had to go see for myself what it’s all about. Flew to Bali after an intense partying weekend in Singapore, so chasing more party was out of the question. I knew from some brief research that scuba diving in Bali itself is not the best, so tried to limit my stay in the beginning for a couple of days. I had no doubt that the time will come where I do more exploring in Bali, but just felt the urge to stay off the beaten path, and go chase some manta rays and sharks.
Three different spells, each time visiting and staying in different areas. First spell (2 days), slept at Seminyak, however, spent the majority of my time at Sanur. Did not indulge into any crazy partying, so can’t speak for that; there were lots of flyers showing good DJs playing nonetheless. In Seminyak, there is an insane wide array of dining options, specifically vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, gluten free, and all sorts of these special diets. Was not too aroused as I eat pretty much everything, but many people that don’t, find it convenient. Some decent surfing can be done in Seminyak, as well.
My second spell in Bali was slightly nicer than the first, staying in Canggu, which I can imagine is how Seminyak was a few years back. Generally speaking, the west part of the island of Bali varies in how touristy it is, with Kuta being the most touristy, Seminyak a little less, and Canggu a lot less. With the exception of some parts that became more trendy in recent years, Canggu still preserves some of its traditions and local establishments.
Nevertheless, the direction towards gentrification is inevitable. Indeed, Canggu contains some decent wave break points, although the beach is not that pretty with its black sands and disappointing rubbish; the surfing is quite nice. Several surf schools are found on the beach; I took a two hour class that taught me the basics I needed to learn.
On my third spell in Bali, I stayed in Ubud, which is considered the centre of culture in Bali. Several temples are to be visited, also, if you’re into yoga you will find many options in Ubud. Among the temples worth visiting is ‘Pura Taman Sarawati’, ‘Pura Gunug Lebah’ and ‘Goa Gajah’ (where the two photos below were taken).
Check out the monkey forest while there, which includes a couple of temples that can be seen as well. You’re in Ubud, so everywhere you go, you’ll find a couple of temples to check out; get used to that. Anyway, the monkeys are particularly healthy, as they are fed goodies by the guards and visitors. Here are some caught in action:
One monkey family fascinated me, when a monkey fight started on the tree, and they were protecting their baby while they kept a close eye on the progress.
On a separate note, if you want to try something out of the box, literally, try luwak coffee. The Asian palm civet is fed coffee beans twice a week. The civet, which kind of looks like a cat, poops the coffee beans while still maintaining its integrity. Goes through a lot of processing, losing about 50% yield. You end up with a good tasting coffee, not too caffeinated as well. Try it.
While in Bali, you can take day trips to some waterfalls, Gitgit and Tukad Cepung are popular ones. For beaches, Padang Padang is great one located at the southernmost region of the island.
The city is known for its close proximity to Komodo National Park, where the famous komodo dragons can be spotted, alongside world class diving sites. Labuan Bajo itself does not offer much, but you will be busy in the daytime with activities, such as island hopping, sailing, trekking and diving. The city center is full of diving centers, my choice was ‘Divers Paradise’, which I highly recommend. Will get to the diving later, however, on the island of Flores where Labuan Bajo lies, you can rent a scooter and do your own exploring of what I call ‘the real Indonesia’.
From the harbor, boats can be taken to neighboring islands such as Kenawa, Kelor, to name a couple, for some beach action. If you feel like interacting with the komodo dragons, Rinca and Komodo islands are to be explored. Some islands offer accommodation as well, so you don’t need to get back to Labuan Bajo on the same day.
The national park consists of a large number of islands, so you will not run out of stuff to do, regardless of your interests. The diving spots themselves need about a week of daily dives to check the best ones out.
Speaking of diving, it was pretty impressive at Komodo National Park. Lots of marine life, adventure diving with strong currents, interesting coral formations and drop offs; the place is any diver’s heaven. I made this short video of one my favorite yet intense dives.
A day of diving (3 dives) cost less than $100 including the equipment rental, which is justified given the quality of the dives. Among the most remarkable dives I experienced were, ‘The Cauldron’, ‘Batu Bolong’, ‘Manta Point’, and ‘Castle Rock’.
I spotted tens of reef sharks, white tip, black tip and bamboo sharks, in addition to approximately 30 manta rays, a few eagle rays and numerous turtles. Was impressed to say the least. Here are a couple of manta ray videos I shared on instagram:
A close up on a couple of white tip reef sharks:
On a separate note, for accommodation on Labuan Bajo, the main street in the center is close to the harbor and all dive centers, so it’s advised to stay around there. It is also about 10 minutes away by taxi from the airport. A room averages around $15-$30, with some hostels offering beds for under $10 per night.
Three islands, Gili Trawangan (or Gili T), Gili Air, and Gili Meno. They vary in popularity in that order, Gili T has a lot more to offer than the latter two. To get to any of the Gilis, you can take a boat from Padang Bai port in Bali. The port is quite far from most areas mentioned above in the Bali section. As a result, what travelers end up doing is booking a package (shuttle + boat); shuttle picks you up from hotel and brings you back there when you return. The price for roundtrip including both and transportation is anywhere between $40-$55, depending on the boat. The best boats out there are Patagonia and Eka Jaya, according to locals. I took Eka Jaya for $40 roundtrip.
Gili T is the largest of the three islands, here you find most dining options and nightlife. The crowd is pretty young and the music you expect hearing is commercial EDM. For those who know me, not really my cup of tea, so did not party much while there. The real beauty of Gili T lies in its chilled establishments on the west side of the island. A lot more quieter vibe, nicer beaches, as there are barely any boat traffic there.
Most boat traffic and the harbor itself are on the east (busy) side of the island. The diving here is not be compared to that of Komodo mentioned earlier, but was especially good for macro divers, those who seek smaller stuff underwater. The reef is also not in the best condition.
Gili Air was definitely my top pick. It is not too quiet as Gili Meno, and also not too trendy. The hip vibe that Gili Air has to offer is not to be missed. The beaches are nicer than Gili T’s, and the island is more cozy, maintaining some of its originality. Similar to Gili T, there are no motor vehicles; the means of transportation is bicycles, horse carriages and electric scooters.
My trip to Indonesia could not have been complete without visiting the center of culture of Java. The surfing, diving and beaches in Indonesia can easily take up your whole time, as its difficult to run out of things to do.
I did, however, want to check some of the culture out, and Yogyakarta was my pick. About 1.5 hours from the city lies Borobudur temple, which is considered the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. On the other hand, Prambanan temple is a little closer to the city; one of the oldest Hindu temples. In Yogyakarta, the food was on point. There are lots of street food options anywhere you look. Try Bakso, the Indonesian sate, and of course, the Mie and Nasi Gorengs.
Covered a lot of ground in four magnificent weeks spent in Indonesia. For future visits, and specifically for diving reasons, Raja Ampat and Papua need to be checked out. The only downside in my Indonesian experience is the rip off try outs by tour operators, transportation operators and store owners. Learn to haggle your way through things, however, do not aim for the lowest possible and be reasonable. These people are trying to feed their families in the end of the day, so you don’t have to get the best possible price. The first price set, however, should not be paid.
Oh, and if you plan to drive yourself around the islands, especially Bali, you need to rent a scooter. Renting a car is a mistake, due to the narrow roads on the island. The good news is that on the Gili islands, there are no motor bikes, only bicycles and horses.