Photo: Pier to nowhere, east of Maumere.

Ahh Sulawesi: that fabulous octopus-shaped island to the east of Indonesia’s Kalimantan. We set aside almost two months to explore the place, yet time flies quickly here, especially once you strand yourself on the Togean Islands … for three weeks. Here are a few of the highlights.

Makassar

ricarica

Kick off with some rica rica.

This is where we started, and ended, and passed through midway through the trip. We liked the city and wished it had more “stuff to do” as there’s really only about a day’s worth of attractions in the downtown area. There are islands offshore, which we will check out another time. When we arrived the first time, we actually skipped the city altogether and hired a Kijang straight from the airport to …

Bira

Bira: Potentially gorgeous

Bira: potentially gorgeous.

Second stop was Bira, with a side trip to an offshore island for a couple of nights. Potentially gorgeous, the banana boats and other watersports are a bit of a detraction. If you do make it here, be sure to make the effort to check out Bara Beach — considerably nicer and lacking banana boats.

We’d planned to head east from here to Bau Bau, Kendari and to Wakatobi National Park, but foul weather and cancelled boats saw us instead heading to …

Sangkeng

Big waters. Big skies.

Big waters. Big skies.

The midway point from Bira to Rantepao, Sangkeng was a very pleasant surprise with a beautiful lake and some fantabulous seafood. All up, an easy and very pleasant way to break the trip up before moving on to…

Rantepao

Keeping up with the Joneses.

Keeping up with the Joneses.

The epicentre of Tana Toraja’s “funeral tourism” scene, we found the surrounding scenery spectacular, but the funerals, with their wanton cruelty to animals, severely offputting. Seeing a pig gutted while still clearly alive was a lowpoint, closely followed by the slaughter of two buffalos that seemed primarily motivated around sending some thrills (and blood) the tourist’s way.

Tana Toraja has some fascinating sights and beautiful scenery, but we’re not really onboard with the promotion of the funerals. While many opt for a rather uncomfortable overnight trip north, due to a commitment in Kuala Lumpur, we had a dash to there via Makassar followed by a flight to Gorontalo to reach the …

Togean Islands

Ho hum, another day exploring.

Ho hum, another day exploring.

We ended up spending almost three weeks on the Togeans. They’re generally quite lovely, though we’d suggest avoiding July and August if possible due to overcrowding. Food is generally poor and the whole scene is, well, overpriced … but it’s very difficult to complain too much when your boat gets shadowed by 30-plus dolphins. But all good things come to an end and we next headed north to …

Gorontalo

Cow crash.

Cow crash.

Gorontalo is the northern gateway to the Togean Islands, but it became our very own Hotel California thanks to Lion Air managing to hit a cow and close the airport for days. A situation that ended up in resulting in us needing to drive to …

Manado

Ohhh a non-erupting volcano.

Ohhh a non-erupting volcano.

Where we had a brief overnight stay before flying back to Bali via Makassar — it looked great though and we’ll be back to climb the volcano and do some diving.


More itineraries

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

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.


Cambodia

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.


Indonesia

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.


Laos

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.


Malaysia

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.


Thailand

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.


Vietnam

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.


The region

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.



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