Tag Archives: island

A bit of island Hopping (Part Four)

Leaving Sorong (thankfully), we hopped an early morning flight to Jakarta and than on again to Belitung. While it was just a transit we were struck with the ingenuity shown at Jakarta airport with their fire extinguishers. Rather that being necessary ugly lumps on the wall they have been painted in a way so as to simultaneously disguise them while at the same time highlighting their location.


Beltung is an island north of Jakarta and off the east coast of Sumatra , Indonesia. It is famous for white pepper, seafood products and tin mining.

It is slowly becoming known as a natural tourism destination, particularly for its white sand beaches and granite boulders. 

The first thing that struck us about Belitung was that the place was really clean. The telltale (Indonesian) rubbish was not everywhere, there were not burning piles of green waste polluting the air and the whole feel of the place was good. The roads are in great shape and compared to almost everywhere else, the traffic is surprisingly light. 

We either stayed too short or too long on the island, depending upon your point of view. It is a place that you can blitz in a day or two, or it is a place that you can kick back for a month.

When choosing location Jill picked the close to town (and food) option rather than the further away beach option. Our hotel was nice, right on the water with an infinity pool facing west. During low tide there was almost a kilometer of sand before you hit the water and at high tide you were surrounded. Facing west, the sunsets were pretty good.

There are not too many things to do in Belitung, with the majority being on the northern part of the island. It is surrounded by lots of tiny islands and granite rock formations. With such surrounds it has made it the perfect place to get in a boat and go island hopping, which was written up as by far the best thing to do.

With that as the benchmark, after a couple of days we signed up to do the day tour. The majority of these involve a pickup from and drop off to the airport or sometimes a hotel. This suggested that the island was a literal day trippers location from Jakarta (one hour flight). The itinerary of the tour was to include: Tanjung Kelayang Beach, Sand Island, Batu Berlayar Island, Lengkuas Island, Kelayang Island & Kelayang Cave, Tanjung Tinggi Beach.

Tanjung Kelayang Beach was the boat meeting and launching point.

Tanjung Kelayang also has the Tanjung Binga Fisherman’s Village nearby for those that want a taste of local traditional life. The beach itself was nice with the renowned granite boulders.

A short distance away you get to Garuda Island With the mythical bird shaped rock formation poking high above the others. Here it is a quick stop (for us at least) for some photos. The local tourists spent about three times as long making sure that they got their pictures.

Next was Batu Berlayar Island and this is when both Jill and I looked at each other and decided that this is where we should have stayed. Not the island, but on the mainland opposite. The stunning white sand beaches, turquoise water, rocky granite islands, underwater coral reefs, and even the Dutch lighthouse were all visible and it was amazing. Oh it was also the location of the big 5 star chain hotels, but there were a few cheapies interspersed in there for us.

Just off the beach (and not mentioned in the spiel) is the Lenkaus Island and the Old Indie Lighthouse. This is an old Dutch lighthouse dating back to the 1800’s.

After the lighthouse we had our obligatory snorkelling stop. The snorkeling was ok quality, however after Raja Ampat really did not compare. There was certainly lost of (hard) coral and small fish but the turtles, tropical fish and larger predators where nowhere to be seen. I did however manage to perfectly capture on film (above and below the water) exactly why the reefs of the world are in such a terrible state. It was a group of local tourists pausing for a selfie while standing directly on a live head of coral.

The next stop was to our lunch location on Kepayang Island. A nice (clean) sandy beach a restaurant in the sand and an included local lunch. A beautiful mix of prawn, crab, calamari, and grilled fish all served with steamed rice, grilled water spinach and a healthy amount of sambal and chilli on the side.

Last stop was possibly the most photogenic of the beaches in Belitung, Tanjung Tinggi Beach. It has perfect blue-green water and giant boulders.

Most of the clouds that had been stalking us all day had mostly burnt off and this was very clearly a beach for the locals. Tons of local restaurants, more inflatable animal floaties than I had seen in years and a nice, flat calm ocean.

But most importantly for us, they had beer. We had been dry for the preceding five days. On a local, Muslim island, beer can sometimes be a bit tough to find. Our hotel did sell them but at prices that exceeded what you would pay back home. So we stopped and had one and took a couple home. Oh the beach is a good sunset spot too.

The tourist walk to town was fairly uninspiring, with very little around to see or do. The roundabouts were a little entertaining, but for the most part we were just in a local community on an out of the way island.

On our tourist wander we went past Pendam Beach which is the beach closest to the main town Tanjung Pandan. As a west facing beach it is popular as a spot to watch the sunset.

Penyabong Beach is a more secluded beach in the southwest about 1.5 hours from town. We did not make it but reports say that it has white sand and no crowds, but recent commentary indicate that trash has built up over the years.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we either stayed too short or too long on the island. A short trip could be done and dusted in 2-3 days but we stayed six. This was mostly to avoid being in Yogyakarta (and the temples) on the busy weekend. But the island is nice, accommodation and food is very affordable and if we had stayed further north (which we would do next time) the access to beer is a little easier.

But paying local prices and staying close to the beach up north, could warrant a bit more time and some further exploration.


Yogyakarta is one of the foremost cultural centers of Indonesia it was the seat of power during the 8th and 9th century and was the driving force behind the creation of the temples of Boribudur and Prambanan. It is a city that maintains the traditional concepts of Javanese culture.

The town itself was nice. It was clean with plenty of food and drink options available. The sights around town were interesting enough, without being amazing. But the real attractions were just outside of town. While I say just outside 42 km (Borobudur) and 17 km (Prambanan) respectively. But these still take at least an hour and a half to two hours to drive to due to the terrible state of the traffic. Not the roads, they are fine, the traffic.

Prambanan Temple

Prambanan Temple was our first port of call, it is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. It is not certain when this temple was built but it is thought that it was built around the middle of the 9th century by the king of the Sanjaya dynasty.

The complex is actually a series of four temples (Prambanan, Lumbung , Bubrah and Sewu) with the main one giving its name to the complex.

The original plan of Prambanan Temple was rectangular, consisting of an outer courtyard and three courtyards. The outer courtyard is oval in shape with an area of ​​390 sqm and was surrounded by a stone fence which is now in ruins.

The second courtyard, is rectangular covering ​​222 m2. This courtyard consists of four terraces, with a total of 224 identical (​​6m square and 14m tall) temples. Almost all the temples in the central courtyard are currently in ruins.

The inner courtyard is considered the most sacred place it has a rectangular floor plan covering an area of ​​110 sqm. Three of the 8 main temples are called Trimurti (“three forms”) temples, dedicated to the 3 highest Hindu gods: God Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer (the biggest and central one).

In front of the Trimurti temple there are 3 smaller temples that have been dedicated to the transportation of the gods (the ox Nandi is Shiva’s vehicle, the swan is Brahma’s vehicle, and the Garuda is Vishnu’s vehicle).

At 3pm every day you are kicked out of the main temple (zone 1) but can hang out (in zone 2) for the next few hours. In the same complex as the Prambanan Temple you will also find the Lumbung , Bubrah and Sewu Temples (allegedly the best place for the sunset photos). Added to this is the Archaeological museum.

There has been a lot of effort that has gone into the restoration of these temples and the newer works are quite obvious (possibly even amusing). There has been an element of improvement as opposed to restoration that has been taking place.

In reality it was only the western tourists that ventured beyond the main temple (on foot anyway). The local tourists looked at Prambanan and the really adventurous ones caught an electric golf cart to Sewu and ignored the rest. It was only the few of us that hiked the whole complex and viewed each of the temples.


Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple or shrine in the world, it was established in the ninth century and covers a square of 123 meters, with 9 platforms – the first six are square and the last 3 are circular.

In the 14th century, when Java’s population converted to Islam, the temple was abandoned and people forgot about it. In 1814, the British ruler of Java (Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles), re-discovered the temple with the help of a few locals. According to Buddhist teachings…this monument is a model of the universe and was built as a holy place to glorify Buddha as well as functioning as a place of pilgrimage to guide mankind from the realm of worldly desires to enlightenment and wisdom.

Borobudur built in the style of Mandala which symbolizes the universe in Buddhist teaching. This structure is square shaped with four entry points and a circular center point. Working from the outside in apparently the three zones of consciousness are represented, with the central sphere representing unconsciousness or Nirvana.

The temple walls are decorated with 2,672 relief panels and (originally) 504 Buddha statues, the largest and most complete collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world. The main stupa crowns the building and is surrounded by three circular rows of 72 perforated stupas (with a Buddha statue in lotus position in each).

As a tourist 400,000 ($40) rupees will get you in and the price for locals is 50,000 ($5). It is an extra $7.50 to climb to the top but be warned, these are bought out by the tour operators days in advance. They are available on the day but at full price (even if you have already bought the normal entry ticket on line).

Borobudur is on all a bunch of the bucket list items that generally surface. The spiels say that it ranks with Angkor Watt and Bagan as one of the great archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. Having been to all three, suffice to say that Jill and I were underwhelmed. It was ok but it was not worth the flights, accommodation, hellish car ride, high entrance costs and return journey. This will go in the OK been there done that category rather than the wow box.


Boracay is another of the islands in the central Philippines. Boracay has been listed many times as one of the best islands and beaches in the world by all the travel experts. The island itself is tiny, being only seven kilometres long, and less than one kilometre wide at the narrowest spot. The total area is 10.32 square kilometres and it is packed with resorts, particularly along the west coast where White Beach is lined by palm trees, and directly behind them come the bars and restaurants.

In short, this place is tourist central. But unlike most places we have been to lately, this place is mainly for the locals to come. Not so many western tourists here, the lion’s share of people are local Filipinos enjoying the beach, diving, snorkelling, dining, and parties.

Our first raid on arrival was to wander down to White Beach for the famous sunset. Us along with about 2-3000 other people. This truly is a very popular beach. The sun sets here around 6:00 pm all year round and it is the busiest time on the beach, with lots of people taking pictures and enjoying the view.

After sunset, the beach path gets very busy with a lot of people hitting the various restaurants and bars until around midnight when the bars become quiet as people move from the bars to the clubs. We are old so we typically bail by about 10 after dinner and a few drinks.

Day two saw us jumping on the Island hopping tour so that we could get a good taste of vitamin SEA. The itinerary included stops to Puka Beach, Crystal Cove, Crocodile Island, Magic Island and Coral Garden. Puka Beach was just a nice beach to loll about with some rather impressive sand art and Crocodile Island, surprisingly, looked a bit like a crocodile. Coral Garden was nice but a bit busy, rough and a bit too much current for good snorkelling. This was made a little harder by a few Japanese tourists, who clearly did not swim too well and were thrashing about hitting anyone within range – not to mention scaring away all of the fish.

The thing that amused Jill the most was the Instagrammers. Almost without exception, they all hired the crystal canoes (plastic see through numbers) and spent the better part of 20 -30 minutes contorting themselves while the poor local paddling them about had to take photos of them. They were sitting, kneeling, lying, hanging over the side, just about anything to get their perfect shot. And they were doing it by the dozen as the shallow clear waters were full of these crystal canoes that had turned into photo studios.

Crystal Cove was the main port of call (and a 300 peso per person extra). This is a small island surrounded by very nice turquoise waters, with a couple of caves. On top of the coves, various huts and platforms have been built that overlook the water and waves hitting the rocks of the cove. Underneath is a hole with stairs leading down the cave and a natural pool where you can take a dip.

On the east coast, is Bulabog Beach its strong winds make this side a hub for water sports. This also means that this is all the western tourists, that were missing from White Beach, have gone to hide. The place is chock full of expensive resorts, overpriced restaurants (and I thought the prices at White Beach were high) and expensive past times. The sky is full of kite surfers and the water full of windsurfers – invariably all western, and the street is full of touts.

We thought that we would bum around on this beach as it was less busy, however the wind meant that a lot of debris had blown up on shore and it was not that nice. With the exception of the 100 meter strips in front of the major resorts, where they employed people to rake and sweep the beach constantly.

Nearby is Mount Luho, the highest peak on the island. While only a bit over 100 metres above sea level there is an observation deck that offers panoramic views over the island.

After hitting the tourist spots we decided to have a nice beach day. We headed out to White Beach, waiting an appropriate time for all the tours to go. Even then we got there too early as there was a steady stream of tour boats setting off until almost noon. A bit over the free breakfasts (Silog) we found a cafe that did real coffee (a bit over the 3-in-1) and after ordering found out that they also had real bread (not full of sugar). So Jill had the bacon and egg burger and I had an omelette with mushroom and gruyere cheese.

In short, Boracay is truly one of the nicest beaches in the world and its place on the lists warranted. It is long, with some of the finest sand that I have encountered and generally pleasant. The island however, is much more suited to scuba divers than it is for snorkelers. The nearby reefs have been hit hard by tourists and the currents are a bit too strong for most swimmers. A few meters down, these issues tend to go away. As you can see from the map below there are many dive sites surrounding the island.

Missed piece: this bit happened in Coron but I forgot to add it and it was one of Jill’s favourite things. After the departure of Brad and Nora, Jill and I went out to dinner. We sat down and I ordered a bucket of beer (6 bottles) the waitress turned to Jill and said ‘and for the lady’. This had Jill laughing for quite a while.

Sadly, in our transit to Borocay, an event overshadowed this. So much so that Jill will almost wets herself every time she thinks of it. We were sitting in the waiting area of the airport waiting for the assured gate change. When it came, we were approached by a very meek Filipina girl to advise us of the change (a fact that we knew and were about to move). At this point she looked at me and asked ‘are you wheelchair’, in disgust I got up and headed off while Jill virtually needed the wheelchair as she was laughing so much. For the next few hours, all that I heard from my wife was ‘are you wheelchair‘ followed by her cackling.

Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay

After our nightmare transit to get to Cat Ba Island we wandered the streets in search of food and drink…we found a western joint that did the most credible attempt at a burger and chips that we have had since leaving home (with a couple of beers) and then found a little street stall selling 2 litre kegs of local beer for 70,000 duong ($3.50)…and it was a hot day…so we had that..closely followed by an afternoon nap.

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We organised our Ha Long Bay day trip through the hostel. For the grand price of $24 a head. We hopped the boat at the harbour at 8am where we sailed around Lan Ha Bay, checked out the seriously impressive karst (lumps) landscapes that we had been craving to see the day before. Stopped along the way to hop onto kayaks where we got to paddle through secluded lagoons, under rock arches and through limestone tunnels…basically every perfect scenario for the day.

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Having kayaked we got a seafood lunch on the boat as we travelled to the Me Cung cave (inside one of the lumps) where we spelunked. From here we sailed to a private beach where we swam and some snorkelled (supposedly looking at coral reefs). Continued cruising through Halong bay during the afternoon past the floating fishing villages and on to Monkey Island for another swim while the others took photos of the tree rats (monkeys). After this we sailed back to Cat Ba arriving at sunset…not a bad day…

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Possibly the best day we have had since leaving Australia…definitely in the top 5.

A group of us from the boat all joined up and headed out that evening to sample the local street food on offer and to tap into those baby beer kegs. Some awesome pancake, rice paper wrap things were found and life was good. The next day we were up and out, hiring motorbikes, for $5 this time, and off exploring we went. This time I went the whole day without crashing the motorbike…but then again…this time I did not try doing donuts in the mud. A little bit of skin lost, some bruises to the ego and a gob full from the wife…no real damage done. This time we just zipped around the island checking out the cool stuff on offer.

We stopped at the hospital cave…a little cave half way up one of the lumps. The 75 cent entrance fee suggested it would be a fizzer but boy were we wrong. This place was huge, three storeys high and built inside the mountain, stairs, rooms, operating theatres, even a cinema. It was used for many years as a bombproof hideaway hospital and as a safe house for VC leaders.

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When we hit the water on the other side of the island we sat staring at the sea eagles circling, swooping and scooping fish from the water. This is such a simple activity but is fascinating and an easy way to while away time. We rode back to the tourist side, found a beach and set up camp for a couple of hours. Late afternoon arrived and we were besieged by a tour group of Chinese…they had set up activities on the beach for them (similar to children’s games) and had the doof doof music and MC blasting across the beach. Tranquility ruined…we rode away.


Cat Ba island only has a couple of real touristy things to see and do and they are good. It has 3 fairly small resort beaches which are ok without being stunning. The key thing it has is as a launching point to visit and cruise through Halong Bay…and for that it is perfect. I cannot think of any way that our stay on Cat Ba could have been better. Google tells me that there are some major 5 star tourist developments planned with bungalows, casinos and expected capacities of around the 6000 mark. If that is he case…plan your visit soon…as such things will ruin the place.



Phu Quoc island

Well we had a really easy commute to Phu Quoc island on a Vietnam airlines turbo prop. It was a wet and rainy day so the landing was a little on the rough side as we hit some serious turbulence on the way in. The female pilot had it all under control…I made the obligatory cockpit/box office joke…Jill was unimpressed…but we did hit a vew potholes on the way in that caused some people to almost soil themselves. It was pretty funny really.

We arrived at Phu Quoc island (which is essentially a series of beach resorts) at the end of rainy season. So of course it rained that evening and was torrential all of the next day…we sat and caught up with our blogging, reviews of various places and had a short walk for a meal when the rain briefly eased. We found a co-op store that sold cheese so bought some Edam and Gouda with some crackers, tomato and a local version of a cabana. A bottle of sav blanc and some beers and the afternoon just flew by.

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Our neighbours in the next bungalow decided to cut short their plans and moved on…big mistake…the next morning (and the next two to follow) we woke to stunning sunshine, calm warm waters and an idyllic island lifestyle. We hired motorbikes for the grand price of $7.50 a day and off we went exploring. Zipping along dirt tracks alongside a beach for hour upon hour is pretty sweet. We climbed up what passes for a mountain (on the bikes) and headed to the southernmost tip of the island to the pier where all the fishing boats come in, dock and sell their wares.

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After a good day we dropped off our bikes after getting more cheese etc for a late afternoon nibble and that night headed up to the closest thing that resembles a decent restaurant. This place is a culinary vacuum…the whole island. There are many restaurants but they all serve some form of fusion food. Given the wide variety of tourists nationalities that come here…this fusion is vast…and wrong. This is a theme that we have discovered throughout our travels…in every country…western food is tailored to suit local tastes and vice versa…and it does not work…ever. We have stopped trying to eat western food as it just gets destroyed. Eat local, it is cheaper, and better.

Phu Quoc island is currently pretty idyllic but the signs are bad…the place as it is, is full of beachside bungalows and little resort style accommodation… but the big hotels are coming. While doing the motorbike ride we passed the building sites of about 10 big 5 star hotels…side by side. This will greatly change the nature of the place so get in quickly before it changes forever.

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We settled in to a few days of lazing by the beach, swimming in the surf, having late afternoon cocktails while watching the sun set and having evening meals at one of the crapy fusion joints. We found a decent coffee place which was about a one kilometre walk up the beach…so we made a daily trek…interspersed with dips in the ocean. We seem to have finished the hard travelling section of our trip and the places we are visiting have comparatively little to see…just things to experience.

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