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Where to go? Bali, Borneo, Thailand????

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I'm turning 40 next year and am planning my trip now. Last year my wife turned 40 and we went to Yap, Palau and Guam. The spots I'm currently contemplating are Bali / Wakitobi, Saipan Water Village off of Borneo, and am open to Thailand haven seen all the awsome photos you guys have posted. ( Any suggestions?

 

We're going for 3 weeks and need to fly Continental (1,000,000+ points).

 

Thanks in advance for your help.

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Wakatobi is a love/hate thing for many. Many love the diving, despite the bad accomodations/food/dive briefings and big groups. I've seen better life in Lembeh Straits for macro/critters. The coral walls there are nice but the overall atmosphere of the resort is just not conducive enough for me personally to warrant a return trip.

SWV is a nice resort and right in front of the better diving around Mabul. WIth the closure of Sipadan at the end of the year, you may be wise to do what I usually do when I go there, split the time in Mabul and Sipadan. Then you can dive locally and do all the shore dives you like in the area and not pay extra to go to either destination. I will say that I prefer staying at Sipadan Mabul resort (SMART) because of the availability of EAN. The square profiles of many of the critter sites (eg the platform) makes EAN a big boon for photographers. And it's best to go there asap since they are developing Mabul/Kapalai and probably ruin a few dive sites with the building runoff.

Thailand has very nice diving in the similans/surins and Burma is also getting back to shape except for the shark population. But you seem to want only resort diving and the local dive sites around Phuket are not that fantastic. The only way to do Thailand is liveaboard. I'd recommend the Aqua One and Ocean Rover.

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You confirm what a lot of other folks have said about Wakatobi and SMART. If you had your pick of where to go in this region or South Pacific, where would you go?

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That's not a question, that's a can of worms! I love the Banda Sea for the biodiversity. Not many boats make the trip around the area frequently. Did it 5 times. Lembeh Straits is probably my favorite place for macro critters, coupled with Papua Barat (irian Jaya) it is a top mix except again for the shark population which is near zero except for carpet sharks and the like.

Also consider doing the philippines, a great dive destination and cheap as hell.

Since you need to fly with Continental airlines. I think you can use their partners to get to Bali for a liveaboard. I'm not sure but I usually use Singapore as a base to travel around the region.

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Well, for my 2 cents worth, why not go to Bali and beyond? Considering that Bali is one of the most romantic spots on earth, and culturally fascinating, I'm sure your wife would apprciate it. Diving can be quite fabulous, especially for macro. Don't count on large critters, however. Tulamben and Amed are my favorites, but Amed is best to dive in July and August. Mimpi is a good place to stay. ENA dive center has been around for years, and they will build a custom package for you, as long as there are two persons. We had our own car and guide. Nusa Penida can be challenging due to current, but friends that went last November saw a dozen mantas at Manta Point.

If you are willing to take a chance on Merpati (don't get to the airport too early...your stuff will be on the bottom of the trolley, and may not make the flight, even with paying excess baggage and bribing the baggage handler!), there is some fabulous diving to be had around Alor Island, near Timor. Liveaboard is the only comfortable option. I went with Grand Komodo, with a rustic boat, but very reasonable. There are other high end operations that go there. too.

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Scubamarli is right that Bali would be a wonderful place for you both to celebrate your birthday, and I also like Tulamben and Amed. Menjangan is nice as well. There is better diving (in my view) "beyond" - elsewhere in Indonesia - such as Komodo, Irian Jaya, Alor, Banda Sea, etc. But you pretty much have to do these places on a liveaboard. In Bali you can stay in a wonderful villa if you like, and there is a lot of cultural stuff to see and do on land.

 

There can be big stuff to see underwater too. Nusa Penida often has mola mola in the northern hemisphere summer months (June to September, sometimes earlier and/or later) as well as mantas, which are pretty much year round. The best sites for molas and mantas are not always accessible, however, and as Scubamarli says, currents at Nusa Penida can be tricky. The best macro is in the north, where the diving is easier, the water warmer, and currents rarely a problem.

 

We all have our preferences in dive operators. There are a number of well-run operations here, but also many that are definitely sub-par. I'd look carefully at what's available on the internet. Don't try to shop for a diver operation by price. All the good operators are reasonably priced anyway. It's good to check if the operator is properly insured. The PADI "star" rating system can be useful as a quick way to separate out the better ops too.

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Greetings Robert

 

I will be stopping off in Bali for a week after my trip to Wakatobi and was considering diving at Tulamben. Can you tell me more about this location.

 

Thanks

Paul

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Tulamben is on the northeast coast, just north of Mt. Agung, Bali's largest volcano. It's about a three hour drive from Denpasar and main tourism an hotel areas in the south of Bali - 3-1/2 hours if you're coming from Nusa Dua. Some people do Tulamben as a day trip, but that's too much driving for too little diving AFAIC - I'd recommend staying at one of the dive resorts at Tulamben for at least 2-3 days.

 

The main attraction for most divers is the Liberty Wreck, a WWII freighter (not a Liberty ship) which was beached after receiving a torpedo. When Mt. Agung erupted in 1962 (?), local earthquakes resulted in rolling the hulk into the water, where it now sits on its starboard side just off the rock beach, deck facing deep water.

 

The Liberty Wreck is a shore dive. Think of it as a biodiversity dive rather than as a wreck dive. The highest parts of the wreck, formerly port side, are very near surface, while deepest area of the wreck (near bow) is only 30 m. The surrounding area is mainly black volcanic silt. The wreck is covered with interesting soft corals and other inverts, and there is a vibrant and varied population of fishes, all very accustomed to divers, so photo ops are many and varied.

 

Macro subjects commonly seen include frogfishes, ornate ghost pipefish, thorny seahorses, jawfishes. Visibility is often only so-so, but there are nice wide-angle possibilities on the wreck (which is breaking down nicely, very 3-D), including subjects such as a resident school of jacks (big-eye trevallies), very large potato cods (groupers), Napoleon wrasse, and lots of triggerfishes (titan, clown), surgeonfishes, etc.

 

You will probably have seen a lot of the same macro subjects at Wakatobi, but then again who can ever get tired of these wonderful critters? I do very much enjoy shooting wide-angle on this wreck, particularly on morning dives, which sometimes offer better visibility.

 

The "drop-off" - a nice wall on a rocky point not far from the Tulamben wreck, used to be a great dive, but was badly damaged by silt during river flood in early 2003. This site is coming back, but still not what it once was. You can arrange for a jukung (local craft) to take you around the point to some nice coral sites a bit further away that were not affected by the flooding.

 

Other dive areas in the Tulamben area which can easily be reached (by vehicle) while staying there are Amed (to the east) and Kubu (a couple of miles west).

 

The three best known places to stay at Tulamben are the Mimpi (upscale accomodations, particularly good if you're travelling with non-diving spouse), Paradise (the original, basic but inexpensive and perfectly adequate accomodations) and Tauch Terminal (German run, nice rooms, caters mainly to European clientele. All are a reasonable walk from the Liberty wreck. It's mandatory to allow porters to carry your gear - this provides major source of income to residents of the local village. Mimpi and Paradise will cooperate with outside operators, Tauch Terminal does not.

 

I've stayed at all three, but nowadays usually stay at the Paradise (to keep costs down), and arrange dives in the area through a local Sanur-based operator. Contact me by email at

 

rdelfs@tabula-international.com

 

if you'd like specific recommendations.

 

If you're going to be in Bali between now and the end of September, I would also urge you to consider Nusa Penida for mola mola. It's one of the best places in the world to see them. Also a good manta site, though not always accessible, and some excellent drifts. Currents can be tricky, so I think it's important to dive with someone who knows the area.

 

Menjangan (on northwest coast) is also nice. There's a nice wall, and an interesting sandy point, also an older wreck at about 40 m. This is more conventional indo-pacific reef diving, but what's wrong with that? Secret Bay, a very nice (and famous) macro site, is also accessible while staying in the Menjangan area.

 

Frogfish

 

 

 

 

If

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ok currently looking at the following itinerary in june...

 

Tulamben - Matahari or Mimbi

Menjapan - Matahari or another

 

Then going to Sulawesi to Lembeh Resort and Siladen Resort

 

4 days at each place.

 

Then we'll finish up in Hawaii for a couple of days to decrompress probably Lanaii.

 

Any thoughts / Suggestions?

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Haven't been to either Matahari. I'd also consider the Mimpi in Mengangan (as well as the Mimpi in Tulamben, which you're looking at.)

 

Frogfish

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I dived Tulamben a few years ago and the black volcanic sand made for an interesting background shooting some nudibranchs.

 

Easy shore diving from Paradise especially since I was using film at the time.

 

Sulawesi is fantastic too, although I have not managed to get to Lembeh straits yet!

 

My recommendation though would be to go to Sipadan - Borneo Divers are perhaps the most proffesional outfit there and as mentioned the island will be resort free by the end of this year. Fortunately when I dived there just over 12 years ago (only a week after my daughter was born :shock: ) there were only two dive resorts on the island.

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When I went to Tulamben (2000), I have to say I was a little disappointed. Evidentally, the last eruption of Mt Agung did a lot of lasting damage to the reefs that you could see. I loved the wall at Mengangan Island but there were areas in the "park" that had been dynamite fished and whole areas were reduced to rubble.

At tulamben, I stayed at the Tausch Terminal, which was very nice.

I much preferred the southern Bali area of lombongan Island. Beautiful reefs but some really hairy currents (up, down and sideways!!).

Even if the diving doesn't come close to PNG, the topside exotic culture more than makes up for it.

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Alison,

 

Actually, the last eruption of Mt. Agung (in 1962, I think) is the main reason there is a world-class dive site at Tulamben. The Liberty had been beached after being torpedoed during WWII, and after being salvaged for valuable stuff, sat on the beach for almost twenty years before the earthquakes that came with the 1962 eruption kind of bumped it into the water.

 

As far as I'm concerned, the Liberty is the dive at Tulamben. Except on the rocky points at and beyond the end of the bay, there really isn't any coral reef here - the Liberty sits on black volcanic sand, which does have its own attractions, however. The drop-off, the other good dive at Tulamben, a wall that does have some nice coral, was badly damaged in early 2002 by silting after heavy rains, but it's starting to come back, and should only get better from here on out.

 

Menjangan is more classical 'reef" and "wall" diving, and I like it a lot, though for me the Tulamben is unique and a more interesting site. The rubble you saw in 2000 may have been the result of the bleaching in 1997/98, which hit Menjangan pretty hard. Almost all of the shallow water species, esp. acropora spp.,, were completely wiped out. There's been a very good, fast grow-back over the past four years. I was amazed when I last dived at Menjangan, about 6 months ago, at how good it looked. If you know what it looked like in 98/99, you'd know that most of the shallow water corals are new, growing on skeletons and rubble substrate left over after the mass bleaching episode, but most people don't notice that.

 

You're right about the currents at Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. I go there a lot because it's the closest and easiest dive site for me, and I've had some of my best and worst dive days there. Fortunately, the last one (about two weeks ago) was one of the best - four very relaxed and happy mantas for 45 minutes at Manta Point in the morning, in good vis (though I didn't have my camera - housing is in Austria being serviced) and three mola molas at Crystal Bay in the afternoon, also good vis and conditions. If only all days at NP were like that...

 

Frogfish

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So with the bombing in Jakarta, possibly rethinking this trip. I really want to dive Lembeh Straits and think it should be fine, but several of my clients have put all of Indonesia on their restricted travel list... what do you all think?

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Just my $0.02, but I would urge you not to let the tragic recent bombing in Jakarta affect your plans. The threat of terrorism is global, and a serious incident can happen anywhere. The Indonesian people (and Balinese) have already paid a huge price - in economic terms, and in their own blood - for the murderous acts of a very few terrorists. It's not nice or pretty to think about, but keep in mind that all of the innocent victims killed and most of those injured in last week's in Jakarta bombing were Indonesians. Ordinary Indonesians who work for foreign embassies or high profile hotels, or whose work involves visiting these places daily, are the ones who should be worried - and some are - not visiting divers.Cancelling your plans to come to Indonesia only helps ensure that the terrorists' real objectives will be realized.

 

The possibility of another terrorist incident in Indonesia (or elsewhere in the region) can hardly be discounted, but the risk to you on the sort of trip you and your friends or clients have been considering is truly minimal, significantly less than the chances that you will be in a serious car accident on the way from your home in the US to the airport.

 

There are a few simple precautions that make sense, not just in Indonesia, but almost anywhere, these days:

 

- avoid unnecessary visits to embassies and/or major international hotels in major cities. If it is necessary, when you do enter or leave an embassy or major hotel, proceed quickly through the security clearance area and/or lobby to your destination;

 

- avoid high-profile nightclubs and bars and events mainly frequented by expats;

 

- avoid loud or obnoxious behavior in public, and do not call attention to yourself as an American (or whatever you are), ie., don't wear t-shirts with US, British or Australian flags or insignia, "fuck Osama" legends, etc.

 

- In Indonesia, use Silverbird taxis in Jakarta, Bluebird taxis in Bali, and reliable drivers elsewhere. (It's not that drivers of other taxis pose any particular risk, but drivers from these companies are more professional and will get you where you are going quickly and directly, without unnecessary detours - intentional or otherwise;

 

- After arriving in a foreign city or location, check the locations of nearest hospitals and/or emergency medical services (including operations specializing in emergency medical services for expats such as SOS) and carry a piece of paper their telephone numbers and addresses with you;

 

- Carry a first-aid kit (the presassembled ones made by Adventure Medical Kits are decent) when travelling and know how to render emergency first-aid.

 

Most of these apply to all international travel at all times, but not enough people bother. The most dangerous likely risk you will face travelling in Indonesia - or anywhere for that matter - is a traffic accident. Use taxis instead of renting motorcycles, or - if you must take a motorcycle, at least don't ride motorcycles in traffic wearing just sandals or flip-flops.)

 

I should add that I'm someone who moved to Bali three months after the tragic bombing in October 2002. I don't hang out in Kuta bars (and never did), and I rarely have occasion to go to major international hotels in Jakarta, though I do sometimes. I was in Sumbawa last week when the recent Jakarta bombing occurred. I received numerous sms messages on my mobile phone from concerned Indonesian friends - including Islamic friends - who wanted to make sure I knew what had happened, and to express their horror and concern. I'll be in Jakarta later this week, for meetings in connection with monitoring of the upcoming presidential election. It didn't occurr to me to consider changing those plans as a result of last week's incident, and it doesn't now.

 

Frogfish

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Extremely well put Robert. And you're right, by not going, its allowing the terrorists to further their cause.

 

Thanks,

Corby

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Hi frogfish,

 

How many dives would you recommend doing on the wreck as well as the drop-off? I read that there are a number of dive sites like coral garden and shark point.

 

Are they worth diving and can they be done on the same dive if I start at the drop-off?

 

Last of all, do you have any web contact for Paradise or can PM me the ballpark price of accomodation there? Any dive operators with Paradise and their charges?

 

Thanks

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Not frogfish but thought I'd give my 2 cents on Tulamben and the surrounds.

I found a newish resort called Scuba Seraya which has very decent accomodations and diving for reasonable prices. The good thing is that the resort is only 7 minutes by boat to the wreck and dropoff. You can dive all along the area by boat. I haven't stayed at paradise before but have seen it. Scuba Seraya is about the same price for a/c rooms as Paradise.

Frogfish and I both use BIDP (bali international dive professionals) for most of our diving in Bali. They have a very nice boat and best of all, local owned and professionally run.

Regarding the diving. The dropoff is probably better done alone because you are going deep to catch the pelagics, then move up the wall. if you catch the right current, you can possibly stretch into the rest of the wall.

There are also a few sites south and north of Tulamben that are work visiting like Kubu and batu Kelibit. feel free to PM me for more details.

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Personally, I think I could dive on the Liberty Wreck every day for a year without getting tired of it, but your mileage may vary. The drop-off is still suffering a bit from the silt-out two years ago, but it's a good dive, and getting better. And there are other good dives in the larger area, though you might need a vehicle and/or boat to reach some of them.

 

I haven't stayed at Scuba Seraya, but Scubadru and others who have all say it is very nice.

 

I don't know the prices at Paradise off-hand. As Scubadru's message indicates, I use BIDP for diving here in Bali, including Tulamben as well as trips to Nusa Penida, and they make the arrangements and handle the diving side of things (tanks, fills, etc.) . But I'm sure Paradise would be reasonable even you dealt with them directly yourself.

 

Frogfish

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I've been contemplating Wakatobi for the coming summer, but now I'm having second thoughts! My experience in Borneo was great, but I wound up paying way too much for the rooms with Borneo divers. In fact, I suspect that some of the European kids on the resort were paying far less than the rates I paid using a US agent. Any suggestions on booking travel to the region directly?

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Kasey, when I went to Bali in October I didn't book any accomodation until I got there (apart from my first night - which I ended up postponing for a night after Malaysian Airways lost my camera case for a day), and that worked out fine. It makes travelling a bit more stressful - and means that you can't immediately switch your brain off as soon as you step on the plane - but it is certainly very cost effective. This wouldn't work as easily with a single resort destination like Wakatobi. I don't really recommend it. But certainly possible.

 

-------------------

 

Re-Tulamben. Fongwee, I think that the Liberty is an amazing dive site and certainly worth diving at least once with every lens you own! Viz is best there in the morning - so do wide angle then. Other sites are well worth checking out, for specific critters like pygmies or froggies. Non-photographer buddies might get a bit bored with Tulamben if you stayed a week. But photographers never!

 

To give you an idea. Here is what I did at Tulamben staying Seraya in Oct 2005 for 4 days - and I still wanted more! In fact going back in September to do more! Oh, and diving the Liberty from Seraya by RIB is much better than walking up the beach IMO - i tried both while I was there!

Anyway, I did 4 dives a day. 16 in total. 6 at Liberty (always first dive of the day). 1 at River. 1 at drop off. 1 at Mimpi house reef. 1 at Alamanda. 6 at Seraya house reef. My average dive time was 77 minutes. Pictures:http://www.amustard.com/bali/

 

As you requested, Frogfish is the expert on Bali and his advice is as good as you'll get.

 

Alex

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Kasey, you will find that a place like Wakatobi will give which ever travel agency you use a commission so the published rate should be what you pay for and not more. I do know one US dive travel agent has been promoting the Wakatobi resort vigorously. I personally don't find the local diving very interesting on an indonesian scale. I prefer the Sundas, Papua , Sangalaki and even the bali surrounds to that area. The coral is very well preserved in many sites and quite stunning but it lacks the great fish life that is more common in other parts of Indonesia. One site in particular, Tomia, is very fishy but only during the changing of tides when the fish come out to feed in the current. The resort itself has improved over the years and now has a/c rooms etc. The Blade has wonderful topography but again lacking in fish population and a green algae has begun to overrun the bommies over the last 8 years.

If you are looking for accomodation locally, I'd book one night online and find a place the next day. There are places that use to go for $500 now charging $150 a night. I'd just hate to fly in all sweaty and tired and have to bargain with the reception. My suggestion would be the Parigata in Sanur for the first night. It's central, on the beach and plenty of other places to look at for subsequent nights and it's quite reasonable for the quality. If you want something more upmarket, there is the Grand Hyatt Sanur.

 

Fongwee

I'm not sure what kind of diver you are. I personally don't share the enthusiasm of Alex or Frogfish about the Liberty wreck. I prefer the mucky area around it for macro, except maybe when the school of trevally are around it. It's nice but 2-3 dives is enough for me, but I'm not a stills guy anymore. Like Alex, I spent a lot of my diving in Scuba Seraya house reef and the tulamben muck dives. As frogfish mentioned, the corals along Tulamben wall were damaged and are slowly coming back but you still get napoleon wrasse patrolling around and if you go real deep(45+m), some bigger pelagics can pop up. The other sites like Batu Kelebit (nice coral and sometimes serious pelagic action,but often NOT!) and Gili Selang (a drift dive with small reef sharks and pelagics) can be happening when the tides are right. Then there's also Lipah Bay and Jemeluk are nice fishy sites as well. So like Frogfish and Alex, I'd spend 4-5 days exploring and seeing what you like to dive on.

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Thank you all for the advice. I am still waiting for my chance to go. Can't wait anymore but got a major exams coming up. Sigh. Can only take a short dip in the murky waters of Singapore next week.

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