Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Java: Yogjakarta, Borobudur, Mendut, & Prambanan

the majestic borobudur temple
This 9th century temple stands regally in the heart of Central Java. Built by the monks in the Sailendra Dynasty, the infrastructure is an impressive fusion of buddhism and hindu architecture and design. Hence, within, one can witness both Buddhas and Hindu Gods.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bali: Karangasem -- White Water Rafting at Telaga Waja River

Just months before, I and some friends went to Telaga Waja River in Karangasem, and had such a great time. So when friends from San Diego came to visit, I took them here as well.  

Indonesia: Flores Island -- Tips on Booking Your Tours / Adventures

And now…. the more important topic regarding your tour activities and trips: 

How to book for your Flores adventure tours (Komodo dragons, snorkeling, diving) without breaking the bank and which agencies are good and trustworthy??

1)    It’s all about the money, money, money… 

As I’ve mentioned in the previous article, activities regarding the dragons, snorkeling, and diving aren’t cheap. And I understand that You want value for your money and not feel like you’re being ripped off, especially at a very touristy spot.

Know that tours are expensive. This is because of the agency fees and park fees and donations. 

To not break the bank, you will need to join a group going on the tour you want. Otherwise, you will need to pay for the boat and crew yourself. Diving tours are even more expensive and this is why agencies always need a certain amount of divers per trip (apart from snorkelers) to make profit.

Agencies often put up signs regarding what they’re looking for or needing for a certain tour trip outside their shops, look out for those and see if it fits your plan.
During the high-season, with plenty of visitors, finding a group to join is easier.

2)    Consider the Geography

Know that trips to the islands are a journey. They aren’t near. For example, to get to Komodo Island is about 4.5 hours, from Labuan Bajo. Getting to the Manta Rays is another half an hour or so from Komodo, then some more to Pink Beach. 

Boats often do the regular 8 hour a day shift, so consider your way there, time spent doing the activity, plus the trip back. Agencies have set packages having taken the geography and distance in consideration. Unless you rented a boat to yourself, there isn't much freedom in sailing about.

If someone agrees and says they can hit all the tour islands and spots in one day, do not believe. If this were possible, it would mean you'd be spending probably no more than 10 minutes at each location.

Also important to note that the Harbor Port closes at 5pm which is why the boats need to return by then.

3)    Consider the Season

December is considered low-season on the island due to the rain and foreigners don’t normally celebrate the Christmas holidays there. We planned to stay only 4 days in Flores and even considered the ‘sleep on boats’ tours but were advised against it due to the unpredictable rainy weather.

We arrived on the 21st and immediately got to booking our tours for the next day. It wasn’t difficult for us to book the Rinca Dragon + Kanawa Snorkel day trip because the agency (Kencana Tour and Travel) we went to already had a group we can join for the tour. 

Booking the 1 day snorkeling trip we wanted was a challenge. There just weren’t many people doing the trip we wanted to do and the only available time was not until the 24th. 
So we had to alter our plans - doing land trips in between, and celebrating Christmas eve and day in town.

For the snorkeling, we sent half a day canvassing for the best prices among the agencies and that’s when we found Flores Komodo Expedition.

It is recommendable to go during the dry season (May – October)  also known as “high season”. The weather is consistently nice, no rain and always sunny, so you can opt for ‘sleep-on-boats’ trips.

The downside to high-season though is that hotels are often booked out. Best to make reservations prior to coming.

4)    Be Flexible. 

Be lenient with your schedule. Be ready for changes or availabilities. It’s also wise to spend at least 5 days on the island anyway.

Agencies we have tried and recommend:

All agencies have their tour packages, promos and deals. They also allow you to create your own adventure as long as it’s doable and within season.

always get a receipt!

Flores Komodo Expedition

Michael talking to the owner of FKE

- When other agencies or locals would advise us on ridiculous, knowingly risky trips just to make a buck, FKE was easy to talk to and the owner gave us honest tips on what to do and where to go snorkeling based on our skill level and the season's unpredictable weather. We heeded his advise and we had such a great time! (More on this in a separate article). 

- Fee was Rp 370,000 (~$35) per person with lunch and we had our own boat!

Kencana Tour and Travel

Figo the funny guy

- This agency was beside the hostel we were staying at and since they already had a group we could join (affordable rates), we used them for our Rinca + Kanawa Snorkeling Trip. We paid Rp 350,000 (~$35) per person for the day with lunch included.

Dive Komodo

- Our friend who frequents Flores for diving trips highly recommends this agency for diving and snorkeling activities. They also do island trips.

Coming up!

1)    Rinca + Kanawa Snorkelling Tour

2)    Joy Ride + Batu Cermin

3)    1 Day Snorkeling Trip

4)    Cunca Wulang

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Indonesia: Flores Island

view of Labuan Bajo town
For our 3rd year anniversary and Christmas holiday, Michael arranged a trip to the Flores Islands. Seeing the Komodo dragons has always been a dream for us, not only because they are part of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World (according to the UNESCO Heritage Site) but we were interested to see these giant lizards in action as well as experience the beauty of the island. 

What’s also highly fascinating is that the Komodo Dragon is one of the very, very few surviving representatives of the Pleistocene era, where creatures and fauna were of gigantic proportions. And now these beautiful lizards are endangered – currently there are only more or less 4,200 dragons left! Their endangerment is highly due to the diminishing fauna and food available to them on the islands they inhabit plus the changes their environments are going through.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fishing on Rainbow Lake, Arizona

Normally, Mike and I would just hang around California whenever we're in the US. On this August trip however, we revisited Rainbow Lake at the White Mountains and spent some good quiet and relaxing time with nature and doing Mike's other favorite hobby: fishing.

The White Mountains is about a 9 hour drive from San Diego. The trip is long but very scenic. Some good car games, stories, tunes, and a camera will be handy for road trips like this. A couple of years ago, we had a white Christmas here so it was nice to experience the lake at summer time.

Here are some photos of what got up to this summer:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Singapore: Hawker Food Review

                   Lao Pa Sat  vs  Gluttons Bay  vs  Newton Food Center

Apart from the night life, shopping, amusement centers, and lifestyle, Singapore is actually more known for Good Food. The eating culture in the country is huge that most everything is centered on eating and who has the best dish or dessert.

I admit, I do make trips to Singapore just to eat (well, okay apart from my regular visa runs). In fact, I hardly shop unless there is a huge sale on an item I want, but I don't hesitate getting out of the airport even on a few-hour lay-over just to get some delicious and very affordable Sg food. Hawker food to be exact.

So, Mike and I decided to eat at Singapore's top 3 popular hawker food centers and compared them: