Komodo National Park is famous for its dragons, but it also attracts divers from all over the world for its marine life. When I heard I could see oceanic manta rays, I didn’t think and just signed up.
Because of the strong currents, we did drift dives which means we jump out of the boat at one spot, drift along with the current, and then have the boat come pick us back up.
During the first dive, I saw a sea turtle, giant stingray, a couple sharks and a manta ray, but it was too far to get a clear view.
Fortunately, in the second dive at Manta Point, I saw THREE enormous manta rays that were at least 15 feet wide! Though this was not by accident. This location is where oceanic mantas come to scratch their bodies on the coral.
Thanks Elena for the pictures!
Lots Of Fishes
First Oceanic Manta Ray!
Huge Clam And Small Diver
Sweet Lips Fishes
Mouth Of Oceanic Manta Ray
Huge Sting Ray
Oceanic Manta Ray
Colorful Fishes And Coral
Oceanic Manta Ray
White Sea Star
Boris & The Ladies Back From Diving
What We Paid:
– Two dives with Dive Komodo Diving Company
– Komodo National Park entrance fee
[required one-time fee to enter the park]
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the largest lizards on earth, the Komodo dragons. They are named after the small island they were first discovered on, Komodo, which is off Flores Island in Indonesia.
To get there from Bali, we board a rotor-powered plane for 2 hours and arrive in Komodo Airport in Flores. Looking down at the lush green island and lack of cities, we thought we were going to land on a dirt runway. It turns out the runway is not all dirt, but not far from it as we can see a food vendor walking along the runway.
Boarding Our Rotor-Powered Plane
Window With View Of Rotor
Outside the airport, we are offered a range of prices for transportation to our hotel in the village of Labuan Bajo. While the lowest price we get is 50,000 IDR ($5.5) per person, it doesn’t make sense, as the guesthouse is only a couple miles away. Next thing I know, MuiMui gets us on a bemo for 2,000 ($0.22) each.
We stay at the Golo Hilltop, which is run by 2 Dutch women that moved to Indonesia 10 years ago. It is a good 15 minutes walk to the town, but the view and quietness are priceless.
View From Golo Hilltop
Our Room At Golo Hilltop
The next day we negotiate for a small wooden boat to Rinca (pronounced ‘Rincha’), find a French Canadian couple to share the costs with, and spend the day with Komodo dragons. Rinca is an island similar to Komodo, but it is more accessible from Flores (2 hours by boat versus 4 hours one-way for Komodo) and more dragons can be easily spotted here.
This Is Considered A Medium-Sized Boat
With New Friends Onboard Our Wooden Boat
Upon our arrival, we see a small Komodo dragon walking freely next to the entrance. We keep walking cautiously and arrive face-to-face with a horde of 7 to 8 HUGE dragons. Our guide tells us that it is very uncommon to see more than 3 at the same time.
Our First Komodo Dragon!
More Komodo Dragons
Don't Get Too Close
The dragons are 7 to 10 feet long, weighing around 150 pounds (the biggest ever found was 370 pounds) and usually live up to 50 years. Komodo dragons eat invertebrates, birds and mammals, sometimes turning to cannibalism and eating their own eggs or babies.
I Want To Eat You
With our guide holding onto a y-shaped stick, we go on a one-hour hike into Jurassic Park. Early on, we get to observe a female dragon digging a 5 feet deep hole into the ground. She finally finds what she is looking for, which is bird eggs, and consumes it within seconds. It is an incredible moment for us to be able to see this just a few feet away. As we click away on our cameras, the noise seems to irritate her and she starts to come for us. With a very serious tone, our guide tells us to start moving. Without hesitation, we start to run!
Female Digging For Eggs
For a long time, it was thought that Komodo dragons infect their prey by using high quantities of bacteria in their saliva. It’s been discovered in 2009 that it is actually a poison that slowly kills, resulting in a dead buffalo within a month.
Water Buffalo Skull
In the middle of the dirt path, we run into a large pile of white droppings. We are told that the dragons can’t digest the calcium of the bones they ingest, so it comes out in their excrement.
The most incredible thing about Komodo dragons is that they are capable of parthenogenesis, which means that females can lay eggs without ever being in contact with a male. However, the offspring will always be male. This is a survival instinct that can have single female swimming to a nearby island and establishing a new population of dragons.
Our hike becomes very tiresome, as the sun gets more violent. We quickly take a few pictures of the landscape and monkeys hanging around and then head back to the boat.
Monkey Hanging Out
As we make our way back to Labuan Bajo, we get caught up in a storm. It’s raining hard and it feels like pebbles are being thrown at us. The ocean starts to roar and we are caught in large waves. We are happy to arrive back onshore but we are all feeling a little sick.
Upon our arrival into Indonesia, we were issued a 30-day visa on arrival (VOA) for a fee of $25 each. It used to be a 60-day VOA but as of early 2010, this change went into effect among many others. Just in case, we had on us a copy of our tentative flight out of Indonesia and plan for a visa extension. As we were not asked for any paperwork or questions by immigration at the airport, we were issued VOA right away.
Before our VOA expired, we went to Jakarta to have our visa extended. As we read so many horrible experiences with visa extensions in Indonesia, we anticipated having some issues.
We arrived in the Jakarta Pusat immigration office around 10am.
Kantor Imigrasi Klas – Jakart Pusat
Jl. Merpati Blok B12 No. 3
Jakarta Pusat Immigration Office
We were required to have:
– Photocopy of information (photo) page in passport
– Photocopy of visa page in passport
– Photocopy of arrival/departure card
– Ticket out of country
– Completed application form (you can get this from Immigration office)
There was a copy machine there, for which they charge.
We could have dropped off the application and picked it up later that same afternoon, but we stayed to speed up the process. Here is a diagram of the complete process they had in the office.
Visa Extension Process Chart
What it translated to was a lot of waiting around and bringing paperwork from one window to another and then back to the same window. Note: there is a prayer and lunch break from noon-2pm. We didn’t realize the break hours, but luckily there were food stalls outside on the street where we hung out for lunch.
We received our visa extensions with no issues by 4pm. The people at this office were very helpful so the overall process ended up being simple, but just time consuming and expensive.
What We Paid:
– Visa upon arrival at airport
– Taxi from central business district to Jakarta Pusat Immigration Office
– Fee for application (if you did not print it out prior)
– Official stamp
– Photocopies (if you did not make copies prior)
– Visa extension fee
– Street food
– Tuk tuk from immigration office back to central business district
While doing a world tour or any long-term traveling, having a budget is essential to keep you going. However, there should be some room for splurges. What to splurge on completely depends on the individual.
For those who want to splurge on unique accommodations, the options are endless. In cheaper countries, it can even be possible without going too much over a backpacker’s budget.
From our travels so far, I have fallen in love with two places, which I want to share:
1. MO Rooms in Chiang Mai, Thailand
2. Citadines Quartier in Jakarta, Indonesia
MO Rooms speaks to me because of its unique theme. At this boutique hotel, you will find only twelve rooms. Each of the twelve rooms is based on an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. But being more than just a creative concept, each room is designed by a different artist, resulting in a livable art sculpture. I was completely taken away after a tour of the rooms. The monkey room is an overall favorite, but no matter which room you choose, the experience will be memorable. We met a couple that stayed one week and had a lot of fun sleeping in a different room each night.
Citadines Quartier was my highlight during our visit to Jakarta. This apartment hotel got me at hello because of its contemporary design, yet comfortable, and subtle mix of vintage antiquities. My favorite features include the caged staircase in the lobby and the overlooked details such as the hidden outlets in the wooden floor panels.
View Of Lobby From Above
Old Sewing Machines Converted To Tables
If you are looking to splurge on accommodations, a great resource for ideas is Mr & Mrs Smith, but they do not currently cover Asia.
Leafless Trees Make This Scenery Much More Interesting To Shoot
We have another week left on Java Island so we are going to take things slow from here on. We make a stop at Bandung before going to Jakarta. The city of Bandung looks like it has been abandoned by backpackers. It takes us hours to find a decent place to stay. Most of the backpacker guesthouses are very old and prices are over inflated.
Train Ride From Yogy To Bandung
We choose to stay in Bandung because it is only a few hours away from Kawah Putih crater. Yes, it is another crater with a beautiful blue lake, but where else can you see this?!*
As usual on Java, the journey is part of the fun. After taking two bemos, a local bus, and another bemo, we arrive at the entrance of the volcano. At this point, we have already spent 4 hours just to get here. For the last leg from the entrance to the crater, the system of taking as much from the tourists as possible, is still in place. MuiMui’s fast thinking and serious negotiations lands us a scooter, two local-priced entrance tickets, and a waived scooter fee (usually you pay for each person + for your car or scooter). We also refuse to pay for parking since none of the locals are.
Kawah Putih Crater
Water Is Very Warm
Frenchie & Me
The crater is interesting, but kind of smelly. We get a good glimpse of the crater, many photos, and we are out of there after 45 minutes. Now it is time to find a way back to Bandung.
A bemo picks us up from the side of the road. It turns out that a family has hired the driver for the day and picked us up out of generosity. This becomes the highlight of our trip as we are laughing the entire ride with our new friends. They give us dry cow skin to try and while it is not very tasty, it is supposed to be good for you. We are very happy to meet this family and our feelings toward Java is a little more positive.
Very Nice Locals Give Us A Free Ride
After Bandung, we head straight to Jakarta by train. Again, looking for non-moldy accommodation within our budget is difficult. MuiMui does not give up and ends up finding this awesome art gallery, Cemara6, which also rents rooms in the back.
Eating At A Stall In Jakarta
Our Room At Cemara6 Art Gallery
We spend the next 3 days relaxing in the AC, booking our flights to Flores and to Bali, preparing for our trip to Komodo, and filing a visa extension for Indonesia. It’s mostly business for us here in Jakarta and very little sightseeing, but with the hot humid weather, we are ok with it.
Very Delicious Fish Soup @ Kedai Tiga Nyonya
Soy Chicken @ Kedai Tiga Nyonya
What We Paid:
– Executive train from Yogyakarta to Bandung
– Hotel room at Guntur Hotel in Bandung [private bath, tv, AC, wifi, clean, free buffet for breakfast]
– Street food in Bandung
– Dinner at touristy restaurant in Bandung
– Bemo from hotel to a small bus station [15 mins]
– Bemo from small bus station to Leuwipanjang bus station [30 mins]
– Local bus from Leuwipanjang to Ciwidey [2 hours]
– Bemo from Ciwedey to Kawah Putih Entrance [45 mins]