Highlights

Travelling around South East Asia has been such an amazing experience. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see the world. Here are a few of my highlights over the 4 months Beth and I were away:

Sunrise in Bagan20170212_070147

Coron Island hoppingIMG_6155

PADI diving course on Apo IslandGOPR0704_Moment(5)

Ta Prohn, Angkor WatIMG_6664

Jungle BBQ and Safari, Sri LankaIMG_7142

Jungle Trek and Orangutans at Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.IMG_7606

Diving with big fish, sharks, manta rays and eagle rays in Komodo National Park.GOPR1360 show - Copy_Moment(3)

Big fish and sharks

Our final day diving in Komodo National Park absolutely blew our minds. It was incredible and one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

We headed to the dive sites in the north of the park where the big drifts attract the big marine life. DCIM774GOPRO

Our first dive was a Tatawan Behar where we descended into a mass of fish but the humongous napoleon fish stole the show. It was about 1.5m long, over 0.5m wide and pretty docile. He kept his distance but really want fazed by us and just hung around.GOPR1471 show_Moment

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Our seconds dive was at Castle Rock. As we descended a magical world appeared with big sholes of large fish, several giant trevallys and large oriental sweetlips. They were all swimming in the drift and we were swimming right next to them. There were also lots of small fish, we were surrounded.DCIM774GOPROGOPR1469 show_MomentGOPR1473 show_MomentGOPR1474 show_MomentGOPR1476 show_MomentDCIM774GOPRO

The drift was strong so we didn’t need to kick at all. It made me feel like superman. The strong drifts attracted sharks and giant trevally, they were amazing to see.GOPR1475 show sharks_Moment

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We also saw more titan trigger fish and another napoleon wrasse.GOPR1507 show trigger_MomentGOPR1511 show wrasse_Moment(2)
Our final dive was at Crystal Waters. We were dropped of the boat and descended quickly into the deep blue by using our BCD dump valve to release the air in our jackets rapidly. There wasn’t much to see during the descent, only a shoal of small fish but as we neared the bottom we saw something white in the distance, as it got closer we could see it flapping and then we realised it was an Eagle Ray. We hit the deck and watched it flap gracefully past us…an absolutely incredible sight.

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Our dive master, TJ, took a plastic bottle with him underwater and squashed it to make a crackling noise. The sharks love it and they soon come to check it out to see what it is. We must have seen about 10 sharks on this dive….absolutely beautiful creatures and amazing to see them in the wild and only 3-4m away!

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Later in the dive we held a rock with our fingertips and chilled out, fully stretched out in the drift. Bring in the drift is great fun, your weightless and you feel like your flying. The white tip reef sharks also love this area, we saw 5 sharks while we were hanging there. DCIM774GOPRO

Diving in Komodo is such an amazing experience. It’s incredible to see such large marine life and swim amongst them.

Komodo diving and dragons

In Komodo we dived with an excellent company called ‘Komodo Dive Centre’. The staff, especially TJ and Jack were awesome, they were so much fun and knew their stuff. They made us feel like their best buddies. The boat was really comfortable with beanbags on the sun deck and it was fast, reaching Komodo within 2 hours when some boats took 4 hours. Komodo diving was the pinnacle of our travels in South East Asia…the sea is teaming with life. On our first day with Komodo Dive Centre we had two dives and a trip to Rinca island to see the Komodo dragons.

DCIM774GOPRO20170516_08093320170516_164719Our first dive was at Siaba Besar and there were turtles everywhere. We saw 10 turtles on this dive. I really love seeing the turtles….you can hover above or to the side of them for ages watching, they’re really not fussed by humans. We saw several sleeping turtles, several swimming close to divers and several cleaning themselves on coral.

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I also really enjoyed watching the oriental sweetlips. The fins are a vibrant yellow colour and they have big fat yellow lips and a black and white body.DCIM774GOPRO

We were also lucky to see a blue spotted sting ray, a large shoal of blue stripped fusiliers, a napoleon wrasse, unicorn fish, stone fish, regal angel fish and many many more.DCIM774GOPRODCIM774GOPRODCIM774GOPRO

Our second dive was at manta point, one of the two sites where you can see manta rays in the Komodo National Park. We saw a big fella fairly soon after descending and it was awesome. We were in quite a strong drift and we were supposed to lay chest down on the bottom of the ocean but Beth and I had some issues with buoyancy in the drift and end up a bit tangled but still able to see the manta ray smoothly pass like a flapping bird while two other fish enjoyed the ride under the manta. It was fabulous.

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We were lucky to see such a big manta but unfortunately there weren’t many around that day and they weren’t being playful either. We saw one other small manta but it was keen to get away. We were a little disappointed with this dive because we were so excited about seeing mantas, which was one of the main reasons we visited Komodo. We’d heard stories about mantas being really intrigued by divers and swirling above them as they lay on the bottom. That’s nature I suppose, not always predictable.DCIM774GOPRO

Our final stop of the day was on Rinca Island to see the Komodo Dragons. There were three dragons chilling out under the tree near the rangers huts. They looked fat and lazy and there was a whiff of goats cheese in the air. We found out that government officials had visited earlier in the day and paid to see the dragons eat two goats. IMG_7972IMG_7976IMG_7981IMG_7984

Another 4 dragons were hanging out by the kitchen. The males were trying to mate but the females were responding yet, it’s too early in the season for them.IMG_7988IMG_7990IMG_7991

We took a small walk where the guide told us a little bit more about the dragons. The females live for 30-40 years and the males live for approx 50 years. The females bury their eggs and incubate them for up to 9 months. They dig several holes around the hole where they bury the eggs to fool the predators. When rainy season comes, water and mud wash into the holes which hides the eggs in mud. The eggs have to be buried otherwise the adult dragons including the mothers would eat them. Once hatched the dragons defend for themselves from day one and live in the trees for up to three years, only coming down for water. After three years they’re too fat and heavy to climb the trees but are now big enough to defend themselves on the land.

During the walk we saw two dragons hidden in the bushes and then we ascended to get some good views of Rinca Island. Check out our manta ray pose….

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On our return to the rangers camp we bumped into Morgan Freeman…the Indonesian version…

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We had beautiful views on the boat trip back to Labuanbajo.

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Snorkelling the archipelago

20170515_071028On our first day in Labuanbajo we woke early to get on a trip but then found out that most the day trips leave at 5am!!! It was a bit too early for us considering we arrived late the night before. We tried all the operators to find a day trip to see the dragons but didn’t have any luck…we eventually settled for a snorkelling trip around the archipelago.

20170515_121502About an hour boat ride from Labuanbajo we had 3 stops at islands, including Kanawa, to do some fish watching. The snorkelling was really good, they had some healthy coral but the majority is dead however there are still lots of fish and a variety of them. On our first stop we were greeted by some territorial fish. They were being really aggressive as we kitted up in the water, swimming at us and biting if we didn’t move away….little bastards!

We saw lots of trigger fish including a titan trigger fish, parrot fish, Emperor angel fish, clown fish. Our best spot was a cuttle fish hovering over a piece of coral. We had fantastic views of the surrounding islands and idyllic beaches.

Waerebo

20170514_115119Waerebo is a traditional Indonesian village high in the mountains. We had an enjoyable 2 hour, 5 mile hike up a steep mountain path through the forest with misty views of the valley. The paths were a bit wet and muddy in places but it was a really great walk.

Everyone we passed coming up and down were really friendly and stopped to chat. Lots of the locals were walking down with bundles of cinnamon approx 2 foot long, tied up and balancing on their shoulders, they were keen to stop and say hi and shake our hands. The Indonesians are definitely the most friendly people we have met on our travels.
The traditional village was made up of large mushroom shaped cottages with a mountainous and slightly misty backdrop. It was a beautiful setting, so tranquil and peaceful. The young boys played football and wrestled and were very quick to notice Beth and I eating a biscuit. They ran over and grabbed towards the biscuits so we gave them away. We attended a welcoming ceremony and we’re then free to wander around the village.20170514_10440720170514_102058

Each house was drying coffee beans and cinnamon. They gave us some coffee to taste which tasted fantastic, the best coffee I’ve had since being away. They grow arabica, rustica and Colombian plus they also produce luwak coffee, straight from the ferrets bum. Luwak is popular in Indonesia, a real delicacy and luxury item.20170514_104134

Beth and I trekked up to the library to get good views of the village from height.IMG_7898IMG_7910 showIMG_7912

Most tourists stay the night there but Beth and I have run out of time in Indonesia so we could only spend the morning there. The locals cooked us rice, vegetables, omelette and poppadoms for lunch and then we had to leave and trek back to Denge.

We were then driven 7 hours to Labuanbajo, our final destination on Flores and base for visiting Komodo.

Driving across Flores

We hired a driver, Johny, to take us across Flores in 4 days visiting the local attractions on the way.

On our first day we were joined by Frans (from the diving trip) and visited a fishing village near Maumere (pronounced Mau-mer-ay), stopped for lunch on the coast at Paga and then rested on a beautiful beach called koka for a few hours.

20170511_12372720170511_13510620170511_13562220170511_15132320170511_151458We ended our journey in Moni, a town on the edge of Kilimutu volcano ready to visit the following day. In the evening we also met up with Guillaume and Sylvaine for dinner.

The next day we set off at 5am and drove 30mins towards Kilimutu and then walked 20mins to the summit. It was misty so there wasn’t anything to see at dawn and we found these miserable people up there too…20170512_062024

The mist did eventually clear and it was magical. There was a cheer from everyone as the vibrant colour crater lakes were unveiled. The steaming volcano had a slight smell of sulphur but nothing too pungent. 20170512_063649

20170512_07592120170512_075844On our way to Bajawa we stopped on the coast for lunch on a beach that had lots of light blue and green stones. Before reaching Bajawa we also stopped at some hot springs and rested in the ponds and stream as it got dark. It was a nice relaxing end to a long journey in the car.

The next day our first stop was an Arak distillery. Arak is produced from the bud of the palm and is heated with some awful smelling fruit juice to produce a god dam terrible spirit. It smelt grim. Before the visit I was keen to buy some for the football lads but while at the distillery I decided I didn’t want to inflict that much pain on them….it might kill them.20170513_092249

Later in the day we stopped at the spider web rice fields and happened to bump into a guy we shared a taxi with 6 weeks ago in Manilla. We were going in opposite directions across Flores so shared the knowledge of where we’d been.20170513_150946

After lunch we stopped at a market and were the centre of attention. Everyone was keen to stop us and say hello, when I tried some trainers on I had an audience come a watch. We got a bit lost but eventually orientated ourselves and found where we had left our driver. Johny was a bit worried about us and had been driving around trying to find us.20170513_133921

We ended up in a tiny village called Denge (Den-gay) which is where we would commence the trek to the Waerebo traditional village the following day. It was super slow getting to Denge, about 4 hours driving along slow bumpy roads. We slept in a shabby homestay/ barn in Denge and then started our trek to Waerebo at 7am the next morning.

Ankermi Happy Dive, Flores

We flew from Bali to Maumere, with our first stop being 20km east of the airport at Ankermi Happy Dive resort.20170509_091628 show

This area along with Komodo are the main dive areas in Flores. We had lovely weather while at Ankermi, fairly clear days, blue skies and hot but not too humid. The accommodation was basic and a bit shabby and the food was uninspiring but worth a visit for the snorkelling, diving and magnificent sunsets.

Beth and I still weren’t well when we arrived at Ankermi’s but didn’t want to miss out so we opted for a snorkelling trip to the large bay and surrounding islands instead of diving. On this trip we made friends with Guillaume, Sylvaine and Frans and had similar itineraries so met up again later in the holiday. 20170509_110706DCIM774GOPRO

The coral we saw was fantastically colourful helped by the shallowish water and bright sunshine. Beth and I taught ourselves how to free dive so we could get down closer to the coral and fish. On a few attempts I went down about 15m, I found that was doable on a big breathe and equalising continually on the way down. It didn’t give me a huge amount of time at the bottom but after ascending slowly my lungs were screaming. On one dive I went down 15m and took a peak underneath a large fan-shaped piece of coral and noticed something a bit different which was light brown with a dark brown maze pattern. It was about 2 foot long and turned out to be a mapped puffer fish.DCIM774GOPROGOPR1113_Moment(3)

On our first snorkelling trip out of two we also saw a white tipped reef shark that swam back and forth several times along the edge of the coral reef. It was seriously cool seeing a shark in the wild. During the trip we also saw some Bump head parrot fish, Emperor angel fish, Trigger fish, Moreish idol, a Shole of pipe / flute fish, a Small shole of snapper or grouper and several nemo’s. On our second trip we were swimming in a strong drift so were constantly swimming into the drift while being moved backwards. It was good fun but we were a bit worried that we would drift too far and miss the boat.DCIM774GOPRO

We felt like we had missed out by not diving so the next day we decided  to do a dive trip (we were feeling a bit better too). On our first dive we saw our first cuttle fish.DCIM774GOPRO

Between our first and second dives we moored on a beautiful deserted beach for our surface interval, allowing nitrogen to dissolve back into our blood. It was a beautiful beach covered in drift wood but also littered with plastic and sandals.

On our second dive we swam along a vertical reef wall which was beautiful but quite disorientating at times because the fish were also swimming vertically. During this dive we had a very intrigued bat fish continually circling us. It was strange how persistent it was.

The coral was absolutely fantastic here, so colourful and bright.DCIM774GOPRODCIM774GOPRO

Bali, Ubud and Sidemen

When we arrived in Bali we travelled straight to Ubud, away from the madness of Kuta. Ubud is a really cool rural town between mountain ridges. There’s lots of lush green vegetation everywhere and lots of stone carvings, which is a local speciality. It smelt good in the mornings with all the Hindus making offering to there gods and burning incense sticks with a little parcel of bright flowers. We stayed in a really luxurious hotel for a very reasonable price, they made swans out of our towels and dusted the room with rose petals. The breakfast was also really tasty.

We hired a scooter to explore and visited a Balinese art gallery and then walked the mountain ridge in the late afternoon which had really pretty views down the valley and was lined with rice terraces. It felt really rural despite pretty much being in a town.

The next day we went further a field on the scooter and drove 1hr30min to Sidemen (pronounced sid-e-men). We travelled through lots of pretty villages on the way, most houses had stone statues and monuments outside and also homemade Street decorations. They reached up 4-5m in the air and dangling down to just above head height symbolising that the rich should remember to look after and take care of the poor.

Sidemen was a beautiful rural area full of lush green rice terraces and views of mountains. We arrived to good views but the wrong side of the mountain so had to clamber off road on the scooter past lots of locals who really didn’t expect to see us….especially the old lady who was showering naked in the stream.20170507_12571520170507_12580120170507_14533920170507_145403

We had a good chat to the locals at lunch and found out about Balinese life and learnt some Indonesian language from them.

We really enjoyed our time in Bali and would definitely go back to explore more of the island.

Yogyakarta and Borobudur

Yogyakarta was one of the better Asian cities we visited. It was quite cultural, with interesting graffiti in the streets and good quality food and restaurants available that weren’t expensive. 20170503_134050

The people are also super friendly and not hassley. When we arrived we wandered around town, got to the palace but it had closed at 2pm. Lots of locals stopped to make sure we were seeing the best parts of yogyakarta  (or Jogi as they say). We were directed to the market (pasar) where Beth bought some trousers and we bought some serving spoons made of coconut. We also tried some of the local sweets, some pastries and some coconut treats but they all had a hint of fishiness. We were the centre of attention and lots of the teenagers were getting photos of us or sneakily trying to take selfies.

We met one man at a drinks stall while having an iced tea that told us about Yogyakarta and directed us to one of the batik workshops where we were given a demonstration of how the cloth is masked with wax and died, creating the artwork.

Our accommodation seemed like a palace and it literally wasn’t far off. Our host informed us that it was the residence of the 7th Sultan’s daughter, built in the 1950s. It was a pretty impressive place and much bigger than anything else in the area.

The second day we had an early morning scooter ride to Borobudur for dawn. It was still misty when we arrived so we were glad we didn’t get up for sunrise. The mist made for some cool atmospheric photographs. It was even more atmospheric when some of the mist lifted and revealed the mountainous landscape and volcanoes. We have now completed the big three Asian temples; Bagan, Ankor Wat and Borobudur. Again all the kids wanted photos with us at Borobudur and there were lots of groups of 16-17 year olds there to speak to tourists and practice their English. It was really good to have a chat to them and in return they helped us learn some Indonesian.20170504_062423IMG_7665IMG_7692 show20170504_06321620170504_06490220170504_07123220170504_071922IMG_7706IMG_7722IMG_7730IMG_7747 showIMG_7751Borobudor students20170504_083340 - Copy

We visited the palace when back in Jogi and watched some traditional dancing and listened to traditional music. The palace was interesting enough but there was little to no information about the exhibits so it didn’t mean much to Beth and I. 20170504_112119

I had a horrible fever and was resigned to being in bed for the rest of the day. I seemed to contract tonsillitis which put a dampener on my next few days.

Pulau Weh

Next we travelled to Banda Aceh, the Northern tip of Sumatra and took a ferry to Pulau Weh (Weh Island).

Pulau Weh is a small tropical island recommended for its snorkeling and diving. We stayed in a beach side hut in a quiet cove with considerable tidal movements. Snorkelling here was only permitable at high tide which allowed access the to coral reef.

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20170428_174724On the first day we mostly ate at Bixio’s, but we did also explore the nearby beaches. We ate at Bixio’s Italian restaurant quite a lot here, it was the only restaurant close-by and it served lots of tasty pasta dishes.

In the evening outside our beach hut we met a local and a dive instructor and all watched the flying foxes flap up and down the tree lined valley. I love their distinctive shape. The local told us that 10 years ago they would see many large mammals such as manta rays, sharks, whales and dolphins but thinks that the water is too warm nowadays, approx 29°C. It’s clear that the climate is changing.

On our second day we went down to Iboih beach for lunch and then over to Gapang beach to find out about the diving in the area. We stopped at Bubble Addict and spoke to Raphael who we had met the night before at our accommodation. We snorkelled for an hour around the coral a Gapang. Despite all the coral dying there are still quite a few fish….but nothing like the numbers they used to have unfortunately. Towards the end of our snorkel it got stormy and the sea became rough, making it tough for us to get back into shore. Once on land, Beth and I sheltered from the rain in one of the local restaurants and shared a huge banana pancake.20170429_133430

The next day we had two dives at the Rubiah sea garden and Limbo with dive instructor Agi. It was the first time we had dived in a drift, it was quite strong, and was a good new diving challenge for us. Early on our first dive we saw a mobula Ray gracefully ascend the coral cliff and flap off into the distance so smoothly just like a bird. It was fabulous but too quick to get any photos unfortunately. We also saw a blue spotted stingray, Moreish idol, surgeon fish, trevally, pipe fish, lionfish, scorpion fish, moray eel, shrimps, parrot fish, fusiliers and snappers.

That evening we decided to eat somewhere different so went to Iboih beach. The food took over an hour to arrive and it was very disappointing when it did.

The following day we had one dive in the morning and only zig zagged up and down the coral wall of Seulako Barat because the drift at the edges of the island were too strong. In the afternoon we explored the west coast of Weh and found a beautiful golden sandy beach called ‘Secret Beach’ and there was a large abandoned Japanese ship beached against some rocks about a kilometre away in the next bay . We did a bit of snorkelling around an islet and then sunbathed.20170501_162050 - Copy

On our last full day on Weh we decided to explore the rest of the island. It was disastrous! The weight I put on caused us to have a flat tyre. We borrowed a pump of a local but the air had all escaped by the time we got to the nearest garage, which luckily was only half a km away. It was a good chance to meet some locals and the fix only cost £1, bargain! We then drove to the Japanese bunker which was particularly dull and then when traversing the mountain path we had another puncture. I ended up pushing the bike for 5km in the early afternoon heat but at least it provided some amusement for the locals. We had another £1 fix, but this time it did work! We were entertained by a two year old thinking he was cool when he put on his glasses and began singing and dancing. Everyone was in stitches. We gave him a round of applause which he seemed a bit unsure of to begin with but then seemed to like it. It was so funny.
After our bike troubles we stayed closer to our base, went back to Bixio’s for lunch then hung out at the secret beach for the afternoon before heading up to 0km point for sunset.20170501_182042 - Copy20170501_185030 - Copy