Jun 30 2013

Bira, Sulawesi: First impressions

Published by at 9:10 am under Sulawesi


Bira is a holiday resort village at the tip of Sulawesi’s southwestern tentacle, boasting several squeaky white-sand beaches, beachside boatbuilding and offshore diving and snorkelling.

About as quiet as Bira gets on a weekend: just one banana boat out at 08:00.

About as quiet as Bira gets on a weekend: just one banana boat out at 08:00.

While Westerners have been coming in dribs and drabs for years, it’s more recently become a very popular spot for weekend visitors from the surrounds and as far afield as Makassar, which is about a five- or six-hour drive away (or 206 kilometres from the airport, at least according to our taxi’s speedo…).

This Saturday is young.

This Saturday is young.

We came on a weekend just prior to Ramadan, a time when locals like to get away for a break before their arduous month of fasting begins. The main beach was packed with friendly families banana boating, floating in tubes, taking photos of each other (and not infrequently, us) and endlessly snacking.

In short: a festive atmosphere, but sadly the main beach was full of rubbish that nobody was in a hurry to pick up.

Bira gearing up for a big weekend.

Bira on a big weekend.

To get away from the crowds, we headed to a sliver of a beach a little further away reachable by foot and had a bit of a swim there. The sand is so beautiful as to be noteworthy — fine and powdery, gleaming white so the waters lapping near to shore are turquoise — but with the boats zipping past between the beach and drop-off, we didn’t have a successful snorkel. A tourist was killed here two years ago by a boat; it’s easy to see how this could happen, especially as the boat numbers have only risen since then.

A patch of white and turquoise just for us -- almost!

A patch of white and turquoise just for us — almost!

We’re waiting for the weather to clear before we check out the next beach along, Pantai Bara, and the snorkelling, but we’re expecting to pay 300,000 for a boat for the day with three stops (and have heard great things about what you can see underwater here).

Frisbee with the locals and a three-in-one at a beachside warung.

Frisbee with the locals and a three-in-one at a beachside warung.

While initially it may seem like there’s a few dozen places to stay, several joints are abandoned — or only open on weekends or during the July-August high season — while others really cater to local groups rather than independent travellers.

A few places do however focus on foreigners passing through keen on checking out the surrounds and perhaps diving and snorkelling. Our two picks are Salassa Guesthouse, priced at 150,000 per night for a double plus an extra bed for the kids, and Sunshine Guesthouse (formerly Nini’s), for 175,000 rupiah including an extra bed. Both are traditional-style wooden buildings, with shared bathrooms; Sunshine has hot water and is in a more solid building, with wonderful views out to sea and two daybeds where you could easily spend a day reading and looking out to sea. Both places include breakfast in their room rates.

We found the food at Salassa to be very good, with generous portions, but slow — figure on waiting at least an hour. Sunshine doesn’t have a restaurant, but Warung Bumbu nearby also does good standard Indonesian fare. We tried to head to the boat restaurant overlooking the beach, but they were wrapping up after a big lunch buffet and didn’t look open for private diners. Expect the most exotic item on any menu here to be guacamole, and that in season only, but we had some great fish and calamari, and ayam rica-rica as well.

Stranded swan, big skies.

Stranded swan, big skies.

We came to Bira direct from Makassar airport. A taxi from the booths here is a standard 924,000 rupiah; we walked out, intending to eat before we grabbed one, but were then offered one (in a sedan, not an Avanza) for 750,000 rupiah – after arrival, backpackers we met had paid 500,000 from Makassar downtown, so bargain hard — well, harder than us! You can also get a seat in a crammed kijang for 70,000 rupiah for the trip. With petrol prices rising from 4,500 to 6,500 per litre recently, all transport prices are pretty much in flux here.

You’ll then pay 20,000 per foreigner to enter Bira’s beachside strip from the harbour area — where there is also a BNI ATM — then head a little further down to get to the coastal strip proper, which ends abruptly at the main beach itself.

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Bira, Sulawesi: First impressions”

  1. SBEon 30 Jun 2013 at 11:57 am

    “We came on a weekend just prior to Ramadan, a time when locals like to get away for a break before their arduous month of fasting begins”.

    Brilliant timing! ;-p.

    Is there decent internet access and wifi in Bira now? Used to be excruciatingly slow dongles only. Or did you do this very professional looking write up from your iphone?

  2. adminon 30 Jun 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Hey SBE,

    No internet/WiFi at all on offer so far. We’re using 3G via the iPhone with Telkomsel which has very good coverage.

    The weather though, heaving rain today and we’re looking at possibly five more days of thunderstorms. Very unseasonal and I dunno if I can face five days here waiting for the weather to clear before heading to Wakatobi.

    Decisions decisions!

    Stuart

  3. SBEon 30 Jun 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Uh oh. You do realize that Hoga will probably be full of rich biology students at this time of year? They go there to do this thing.

    http://opwall.com/expeditions/indonesia/indonesia-site-facilities/

    Facilities on Hoga are very basic but accommodation prices go through the roof when those students are around…. if there’s any accommodation actually available. Have you booked somewhere to stay in advance? Email me if not and I’ll give you a couple of phone numbers to try.

    I think Bira is supposed to be the driest part of Sulawesi. If it’s raining there then it’s probably raining everywhere else too! (Bit like Bagan). Not sure where exactly you’re going when you say Wakatobi but I wouldn’t recommend Hoga in the rain, especially if the kids are with you. Loads of mosquitoes and only 2-3 hours of electricity in the evenings.

    I’m still at a loss why you decided to visit Sulawesi during Ramadan at the height of the tourist season and why you absolutely want to go back to Burma at the height of the rainy season.

  4. adminon 01 Jul 2013 at 1:24 am

    Can answer in two words:

    School holidays

    And four more:

    Complete lack of planning

    :)

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