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3-4 weeks: Sulawesi/Flores?

Posted by amz155 on 2/3/2011 at 08:40

We are currently debating between either Malaysian Borneo or Sulawesi/Flores for a 3-4 week trip this September. It'll be our honeymoon :) but we are okaying with roughing it. We visited Java, Bali and Lombok last year so do not need to see those areas again yet.

Our main goals are to see nature/wildlife (Borneo/Mulu Park vs. Kelimutu/Rinca/Komodo), culture (Iban longhouses vs. Tana Toraja) and beach bum/snorkel (Perhentians/Tioman vs. Bunaken?Togians? area around Lubuanbajo?)

Does anyone have a 3-4 week itinerary for Sulawesi/Flores that they can recommend? The difficulty I see is going between Flores and Sulawesi. Seems like we'd have to fly back to Bali to get from one to the other? Or we'd have to just pick one island and stay put for three weeks?

Also, another difficulty is deciding which beach would be suitable to bum around on for the last few days of the trip. We don't dive so maybe Bunaken is not right for us. Togians maybe take too long to get to for us only having 3-4 weeks to travel.


#1 amz155 has been a member since 30/8/2006. Posts: 111

Posted by busylizzy on 2/3/2011 at 16:00

Hey there, I would suggest tracking down SBE, a regular Travelfish poster - she's spent a fair bit of time in Sulawesi recently (including the Togians) so she can give you some good advice, and also has been to Flores - I just can't recall if she travelled directly between the two. You'll have to find a post she has made on another thread (many of the Indonesian ones) and click on Private Message to contact her.

I was in Sulawesi in 1994 so it's been awhile - but I loved Tana Toraja, and am keen to back one day. I know SBE has commented about how long it takes to get to the Togians so you might really need to rethink that if you also want to get to Flores.

Bus services in Sulawesi and Flores leave a bit to be desired, and are much more difficult/long/grotty compared to Bali, Lombok and Java buses! Road conditions are also less than desirable, esp in rainy season. All of this can impact travel time. In FLores, a popular alternative is to hire a driver for a few days, and while this is convenient and gives you flexibility, it's also expensive.

I would probably suggest you spend your 3-4 weeks in Sulawesi only unless you find an easy way to get between the two. Flores was also pretty interesting but 3-4 weeks would probably be too long. (Or maybe consider checking out Sumbawa next door, as well).

But do try to track SBE down - she is a fountain of knowledge!

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Posted by Peeter on 19/3/2011 at 15:41

Malasia Bornea is easy to travel around in and the National Parks are really good - Baku, Niah Caves, etc. Good walking, wildlife and the accommodation is a bit better than Indo. Flores especially between Ende and Lubuhan Banjo is spectacular - really, really spectacular. But there aren't many westerners in Eastern Flores until you get to Labuhan, so it is a bit rougher. The Perhentians and Tioman are both pretty good and easy to get to. I didn't get to Sulawesi so can't say. On a honeymoon unless you have done a bit of roughing it type travel before, I would say you would enjoy Borneo and Malysia better. You'll have better options for upgrading to a bit of luxury too if you want. Maybe do Indo when you have a bit longer and when it is not a romantic trip. There are a few island beaches off Labuhan in Flores too. Not sure how these are now as it was a while ago that I was last there.

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Posted by amz155 on 21/3/2011 at 08:11

We are okay with roughing it. I've travelled through Laos, Cambodia and northern Thailand before. Not in super remote areas but in areas where we were two of very few tourists in town. Basic accomodation is fine for us whether we are a honeymoon or not :) We are more excited about this being our 2011 trip rather than it being our honeymoon, lol.

I'm currently looking into flying into Maumere or Ende and then travelling east to west across Flores. I'm trying to get more info to compare hiring a private car vs going with public buses. We are okay with buses but have heard they are often late, delayed, overcrowed and unfortunately subject to accidents. We might feel safer in a car and be able to take little detours that we could not in a bus. However it would be quite expensive to hire a private driver. Coordinating to share a car with other travellers would be a fluke. Also, we speak no Bahasa Indonesian so travelling by local bus could be tricky.

I'm also looking into visiting Serayu or Kanawa islands (or both) near Labuan bajo to fulfill the snorkelling/beach part of our trip.

I'm still considering Malaysia as well. If travel was as easy in Indo as it seems to be in Malaysia I'd pick it for sure. Its the travel across Flores part that has me wondering. If we are willing to spend the money for a private car, we should be okay.

#4 amz155 has been a member since 30/8/2006. Posts: 111

Posted by SBE on 21/3/2011 at 09:55

Sorry I'm a bit late, didn't see this when it was originally posted.I don't think I'd quite describe myself as a fountain of knowledge Lizzy :-) but I do think Sulawesi would fit the bill quite well. Toraja for the interesting culture plus trekking opportunities in beautiful mountain scenery and the Togeans are great for the beach bumming and snorkelling if you don't mind fairly basic accommodation (not as basic as the islands off Labuan Bajo though).

Getting to Toraja is straightforward and pretty comfortable. Getting to the Togeans as well is perfectly doable with your time frame. It is indeed a very long and uncomfortable road trip from Rantapao to Ampana but there are easier alternatives too, just a question of knowing when the ferries run and applying the right logistics. ;-)
You sound like you've decided on Flores now but feel free to PM me if you need more details about Sulawesi.

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Posted by busylizzy on 21/3/2011 at 10:12

I did a nice long post for you with lots of info and managedto lose it when it timed out. (Got side-tracked at work!)
Anyhow – here’s another (hopefully shorter) summary.

- I didn’t see self-drive as an option anywhere nor did I see anyone driving themselves, but then we didn’t consider it until we got to Moni. You may have better luck sorting it out in Maumere or Labuanbajo - I would be interested to hear what you find. You may get stung with a one-way drop-off fee, of course. If you manage to find this, I think it would be a fantastic option.

- Most people seemed to drive with a driver (andsometimes, a guide). We hired a car for 5 days (4 nights) with guide who spoke little English. We could have paid more for an English speaking guide as well, but as I can speak bahasa, we went for the cheaper option.

- We paid 500,000rp a day for a large car (like aToyota Kijang)– split between two of us. Cost included accom for our driver; our accom costs were separate. We stayed at accom of our choice each night –no pressure to stay in places that they choose although he did make suggestions.

- Hiring a driver will give you the opportunity tosee things that you would otherwise miss between nightly destinations and gave photo-stop opportunities. We stopped at a blue stone beach, a local wine factory, villages, etc.
- Yes, the buses are overloaded (inside and on theroof) and the roads are some of the windiest, hilliest roads you will ever come across. It’s a two-lane, hilly, windy chunderpath that is lined with barf bags the whole way. Get a window seat – but be careful to dodge the bags that are being tossed out the window in front of your face.

- Kanawa was an interesting little island – very rustic with excellent snorkelling. We paid 100,000/night, had the whole island to ourselves for the 4 days aside from a few quick-stop day trippers. Service and food sucked, but it didn’t matter. It was an amazing little adventure – kind of like our own Gilligan’s island. I have some photos of Kanawa in my blog if you are interested.

Happy to help with more info on Flores if I can.

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Posted by busylizzy on 21/3/2011 at 10:13

Looks like we crossed paths, SBE! Nice to see you back!

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Posted by amz155 on 21/3/2011 at 19:01

Thanks for both your replies :)

I am still so torn with what to do. My leading idea is to fly to Sulawesi to see Tana Taraja and area for a few days (maybe 6 days for this) and then travelacorss Flores Maumere or Ende to Labuan Bajo. My concerns right now are:

-getting between Makassar and Flores (Maumere or Ende). Not sure if we would be able to get flights on the dates we want or if we would have to overnight on Bali which would "waste" some of our time. I would be willing to book the flights through an agent like

-overland travel from east to west on Flores. Unless we take a private car/driver, I think we may become frustrated with the bus. We speak no Bahasa. But if we DO take the car it'll be quite $$. Though it will buy us the freedom to stop and go as we please. I guess I would have to get an English speaking guide though otherwise we wouldn't be able to communicate with driver.

So basically my concerns are the inconvenience and costs associated with our intended itinerary. Can anyone offer some ideas to make things "easier"?

I decided that the Togeans would take too much time to get to as I've read it takes two days each way to get there and back. With 3-4 weeks of travel I'd rather not waste 4 days travelling just to get somewhere.

Hmmm I didn't realize that Kanawa was SO basic. I like the quiet part but am wondering how basic the accommodations are? And it sucks to hear that the food sucks :( I figured that either Serayu or Kanawa Island could be our 3-4 days of complete R&R. This trip is technically our honeymoon but we okay with a bit rustic though not sure how I feel about A LOT rustic, lol.

Any other advice that would help would be much appreciated!


#8 amz155 has been a member since 30/8/2006. Posts: 111

Posted by amz155 on 21/3/2011 at 19:07

Sigh, Lizzy I just skimmed through your blog (will read more later as I'm supposed to be leaving for work now....) and I think I was picturing Kanawa very differently. More liek the Gilis but as per your blog its way more rustic than that :( Ahhhh, too bad. I'm okay with rustic but maybe that's not the place I envisioned relaxing on a beach during my honeymoon. One of my bare minimum requirements is a "western" toilet. I'll definately use a mandi while out and about or in a market or at a bus stop but I'd really prefer that our room have a western toilet. Answering the first thing int the morning "call of nature" is just sooo much more pleasant when one can sit and needn't squat :P

Is Serayu Island just as rustic?

#9 amz155 has been a member since 30/8/2006. Posts: 111

Posted by busylizzy on 22/3/2011 at 02:18

Amz - not sure about Serayu Island but I suspect it may be similar. Kanawa is definitely not like the Gili's - although it's not that bad either. But I get what you mean - sometimes you just want a little bit of comfort to relax.

Also - in terms of hiring a car across Flores, I don't think that you would need a guide as well as a driver. Our driver spoke enough English that we would have been OK with him. The fact that I speak bahasa just meant that I could just have more of a conversation with him (limited as it was!). There will be lots of drivers around scouting for work, so you can try to meet with them first and suss it out. BUT.. just note that the guy who talks to you about hiring a car may not be the driver. He might say the driver is his uncle or whatever, but the reality is they are all working for a rich dude with lots of cars, and these guys are all the employees! So you never quite know what you will get. Just push hard to speak to the actual driver.

Double-check that you can fly into Ende. Something in the recesses of my memory says that the airport there may not be operating anymore. You might need to go to Maumere.

If you fly into Maumere, you may want to research ahead of time a place to stay. We stayed in the main town near the port, and it was fairly rudimentary to say the least. It was only for an overnighter so I wasn't too concerned. I believe there may be some nicer options just slightly west of Maumere - maybe a couple of kms away. Research before you arrive.

Also - be sure to allow a few days for phaffing around when you want to leave Flores. Don't plan on getting a plane just in time to catch your next international flight. Chances are you won't make it! It took us several days to actually leave from the time we were ready to leave. Hence our time at Kanawa!

I hope any of this isn't putting you off. Flores is a lot tougher to get around compared to Vietnam, Thailand, etc - but it was an awesome experience. (Having a car helped!). We met some lovely, friendly people just by wondering through small villages. They don't get a huge number of tourists through so they generally aren't jaded by the tourism industry like other places.

The things that I would perhaps do differently:

- hire a self-drive car if possible (which I didn't believe you could do), OR.
- hire a driver, but try to hire a driver from Point A to Point B only, rather than for the entire journey across Flores. This way, you can spend 3-4 nights in one place without having to pay for the driver on 'retainer' on days that you aren't travelling. In our case, we spend a few nights in Moni before hiring our driver and I loved that. After we got the driver, we were on the move each day.
- spend longer in each town!

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Posted by amz155 on 25/3/2011 at 05:32

If we look at a route like:

Maumere-Moni-Ende-Bajawa-Riung-Ruteng-Labuan Bajo

where would be the best places to stop for the night or even 1-2 days. I'm thinking Moni, Bajawa, and Riung.

Moni for Kelimutu and not sure what else
Ende-still not sure if its worth overnighting there
Bajawa for villages, hot spring, maybe climb Gunung Inerie
Riung for 17 islands marine Park
Ruteng to see spider rice fields

I like the idea of hiring drivers for just point A to B, B to C, C to D as opposed to one driver for the whole route. However, outside of Maumere or Moni, how likely am I to find drivers for each of the next legs? How likely am I to find a driver in Moni who will take us just to Bajawa via Ende? Then another that will take us Bajwawa to Riung, etc.?

#11 amz155 has been a member since 30/8/2006. Posts: 111

Posted by Peeter on 25/3/2011 at 09:44

If you are struggling to find drivers, I wouldn't worry. You can visit all of those places travelling by public mini buses and I don't remember them as being all that uncomfortable - certainly remember other places as being a lot worse.

Take something warm for Kelimutu, it's cold up there before the sun comes up.

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Posted by busylizzy on 25/3/2011 at 14:50

Hi amz.. here are some of my thoughts. (Warning: a long post ahead!)

First, your question about how easy is it to find a driver? Hard to say. We found it very easy to get a driver in Moni to take us through to LBJ – then didn’t look after that. The problem for them will be that they will want a paying passenger for the return trip – and that’s possibly harder for them to guarantee, so they might charge a premium to do so. Maybe someone else has some experience this and can comment.

If you are staying in the town, you will not want to stay any longer than necessary. Alternatively, investigate the area just to the west of Maumere, along the coast and you might find out its worthwhile staying there for a day or two.

I really liked Moni – it a quiet little village with not much happening, but it had a good vibe about it. Stay 2 nights minimum – one full day to explore, and the next day to make the early morning drive up to Kelimutu. One of the locals run a good 2nd-hand bookstore out of their home - ask around. Continue up the road past the bookstore to explore real life in rural Flores. Speaking bahasa made this more enjoyable – but just smile and you’ll find people will smile back, invite you in, etc. There’s an interesting early morning market on some days.

I’d recommend Hiyadih (guesthouse) as a place to stay – it’s just up 100m the hill (towards the east) from the ‘centre of town’ (ie where we got dropped off) . It had been done about a couple of years ago, and was comfortable and clean. There’s a waterfall walk / local swimhole that is worth checkout out. Bring your swimsuit!

We must have driven through Ende on the way here, but we didn’t stop (and I have no recall of it!) Bajawa is a busier town – it was OK but nothing terribly t,.check out the Bela and Bena villages – but I think there are quite a few different ones. Just note that you DO feel a bit like you’re watching people living in a zoo. But everyone was friendly and the sales pressure to buy local crafts was reasonably low key. Check out the hot water springs –you can lie in a pool of water with water from two springs pouring over you – one cold and the other very hot!

Look at staying at least 2-3 nights here.

Another small town but for some reason this place really resonated with me. We only stayed one night, but could have easily spent 2 I think. The people here were particularly friendly, we had fun at the night market, and had lots of young students who just wanted to walk with us to practice English.

If you want a different kind of place to stay, check out the local nunnery – Suster Santa Maria Berdukacita. The rooms are immaculate (although tiny), with a nice white porcelain flush toilet, powerful showers with hot water, towels, soaps, etc – pure luxury which you will enjoy at this stage! You get breakfast in the morning after being woken by the lovely sounds of hymns being sung in the chapel. All this for 160,000rp a night – a bargain! (Their only rule – you have to be home by 10pm at night.) Highly recommended and was by far the nicest accom that we had over our 5-month trip!

You’ll have to get your driver to take you to the spiderweb rice fields – they’re a little ways out of town. You’ll most likely to that on the drive to Labuanbaju.

I didn't make it to Riung as we had hoped, so can’t comment.

Hope this helps in some way…

#13 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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Posted by amz155 on 26/3/2011 at 02:33

Ugh, I typed up a response this morning and thought it posted ok but now i see I have to re-do it bc its not there....

I'm just torn. I think (sadly) that Flores might be too rustic for what we are looking for for this trip. Not that we are 5 star hotel people (never!) but more that its our honeymoon and I just want things to go smoothly and I want to be comfortable the whole trip. I think Flores is more of an adventurous trip that would be well suited to a future trip. We shoulda done Flores/Sulaesi last year and Bali/Lombok this year instead. We found Bali/Lombok touristy but still lvoed it for its beauty, culture, opportunity for stuff to do, and ease of travel.

I think I should maybe focus on Borneo on this trip. Funny though bc its seems like Bornoe might be TOO comfy? maybe too touristy than how I originally pictured it. I guess when you firsthear Borneo you think of thick impenetrabel jungles but upon further research it seems not to be the case, at least on the Malaysia side.

#14 amz155 has been a member since 30/8/2006. Posts: 111

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