School holidays delivered a nice little break to Travelfish and we returned to one of our favourite destinations in Indonesia, Komodo National Park and Flores. We kicked off with a lazy week on Kanawa Island which lies just outside Komodo National Park and then did a quick run across the mainland from Labuan Bajo, through Ruteng, Bajawa, Ende and finishing up in Maumere. The end result? We need to get back to Maumere — a new highlight for us!
As with our previous visit the year before, Kanawa remains a particularly beautiful spot, with excellent offshore snorkelling — but home to a disappointingly mediocre resort. The thing is the island is so stunning the rooms could be dog kennels and we’d still return. While we spent much of the time snorkelling the house reef, jumping off the pier and doing a bit of diving, the highlight of the trip was the day-trip to Komodo National Park, as part of which we snorkelled with somewhere between 15 and 20 manta rays — simply amazing. Now that Seraya Island is closed for renovations, Kanawa is the only semi-backpacker priced place to stay on an island and, with rumours the island is up for sale, better you get there sooner than later.
The biggest town in western Flores continues to grow, with travel agents, restaurants and places to stay multiplying like mushrooms in the wet season. We had a very comfortable stay at Golo Hilltop which, while a solid 30-minute walk from town, offers terrific views over the surrounds. Friendly staff too. A new backpacker hostel, Cool Corner Backpacker Hostel, has very clean air-con dorms for 60,000 rupiah a night, which is great value. We had a long chat to the smart cookies at Flores XP who run camping and diving trips into Komodo National Park — they’re on our “definite next time” list.
I caught a “Travel” (a type of share taxi common in Flores) from Labuan Bajo to here (80,000 rupiah) but as I left Labuan Bajo in the afternoon, I didn’t arrive here till late and just took a brief overnight stay (on a previous visit I visited the Hobbit Cave and the spider web fields, both are well worth seeing). I was pleased though to discover Ruteng now has a decent midrange hotel, the Hotel Sindha — not that that was much help to me as I ended up at the Rima, which, while friendly, is overpriced and dumpy. The convent is still going strong and when their beautiful 06:00 singing woke me at Rima I was able to fully appreciate my folly of staying at Rima rather than there.
Another 80,000 rupiah Travel later I was in Bajawa — I’d planned to get a Travel onwards to Riung that same day, but was horrified to discover there is only one bus and one Travel a day and they both leave at midday — not much use when you’ve just arrived at 14:00. So Riung has once again been filed away for another trip. Bajawa continued to endear with torrential rain, a non-functioning ATM card and no hot water (well, no water at all for a while). Edelweis is sliding badly in standards — if you can afford it, go for the Happy Happy, but definitely book ahead as they don’t have many rooms. On the upside, the views to Gunung Inerie remain timeless and stunning. While my one night here wasn’t my happiest, Bajawa is worth a night or two to visit the hot springs and the village of Bena.
From Bajawa I got a minibus thing for 80,000 to Ende and got dropped off at the excellent value Hotel Ikhlas — this would have had a great backpacker vibe if there had been any other backpackers here. It’s near the airport but a hike to the western sunset port area. We’d only skipped through Ende on our previous trip and this time quite liked it. Bung Karno’s exile bungalow is worth a look and the sunsets are to die for. The municipal beach, while a bit trashy, is lined with warungs doing Indonesian standards (fish and fish and fish) and are very affordable. Plenty of cold beer too. A highlight though of Ende is Istana Bambu, a Chinese seafood joint that does great food and bottles their own take on sambal — it will blow your head off. There’s also an active volcano to climb here — Gunung Iya and Gunung Bagging, as always, has a great writeup on how to do it.
From Ende it was a five-hour Travel ride to Maumere via Moni. We’d only ever been as far as Moni previously, and while the drive from Ende to Moni is spectacular, the onwards drive, landslides and all, is even more so. Once in Maumere I got an ojek for the final 30 kilometres to my last stop, the lovely Ankermi Happy Dive, who I had planned to go diving with. Unfortunately their dive shop was closed for the two days I was there (must plan ahead!) so I contented myself walking the nearby beach, watching the amazing storms and eating their terrific food. They have a great information book onsite which is packed with ideas on things to do around there and have convinced us that our next Flores trip should kick off with four or five days exploring the Maumere area.
There’s always a next time.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.