Unbiased Scuba Vacation Reviews

South East Asia

Village Bunaken, Bunaken Indonesia November 2016

This was my third visit to Bunaken in about 10 years.  This was my first visit to The Village Bunaken.

The Village Bunaken is located on the east side of Bunaken, Indonesia about  3/4 mile (1.3km) north of the village.  Bunaken is easy to get to once you land in Manado airport in North Sulawesi.  Grab your bags and a car will be waiting for you outside to take you to the Village Bunaken’s boat for a quick crossing.  The day we arrived the trip to the boat took a bit longer due to using a different dock due to the extremely low tide.  The boat used for the transfer is a Modern style boat that was comfortable and fast.  In years past, you would commonly be picked up in an older style traditional Indonsian boats that made the crossing much longer.

The Village Bunaken is an excellent value for a scuba based vacation.  The resort is fairly well maintained and it is extremely close to some of the best dive sites in Bunaken.  Bunaken is a small island so really all the resorts are close to the great sites.  What I thought was a bit strange is most of the guests were not scuba nuts or divers who will dive 3x per day.  The resort was far from crowded as we were there at the beginning of the rainy season (It only rained one night).   Most who stayed there snorkeled or only did one or two dives.  I consider this a top area for diving and having very small groups worked out well for us.

The Village Bunaken

The resort is located in a fairly flat area of Bunaken behind some mangroves.  If you are going for a beach vacation, this would be an issue for you.  As a diver, this had no negatives.

View of the Village Bunaken from the water. Completely hidden by Mangroves

View of the Village Bunaken from the water. Completely hidden by Mangroves

The water around most of Bunaken is a shallow shelf that slowly reaches 6 ft (3m) after about 100-200 yards (100-200m). The reef then drops off with a dramatic wall.  With this in mind, none of the resorts on Bunaken are going to have a great swimming beach.  At the Village Bunaken at low tide requires a long walk in 12 inch deep water to reach an area that keeps the boat afloat. There is no dock as the extreme tides would make it somewhat useless.

 

The grounds around The Village Bunaken are heavily shaded and also protected from the winds.  The lack of sun is good for those who burn easily, but the trees and mangroves limited the breeze that would keep your room comfortable at night.  The Village Bunaken does have rooms with AC for a significant premium as they would have to run generators due to the very limited power on the island.

Grounds at the Village Bunaken

Grounds at the Village Bunaken

The restaurant is behind the pool and it mostly served buffet style meals that were a blend of local Indonesian dishes and continental dishes.  The food was good to very good and there was always a nice selection of Indonesian dishes.  I think they toned down the spice levels for European tastes, but they also had side bowls with the local hot sauces to spice things up a bit. Meals are served on a regular schedule 7 am, 1 pm and 7 pm which followed the dive schedules.  Meals are a single seating event.  Breakfast had toast and cereal and a choice of 4 continental choices that did not change.  Lunch and dinner were typically served buffet styles where you would have some choices.  The staff would join you for dinner on most nights.

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Pool area of the Village Bunaken

Pool area of the Village Bunaken

The small pool had a few chairs in the shade and also a few outside that would occassionally be in the full sun.  Areas of sun were constantly moving as the angle of the sun moved.  If you wanted to bake yourself in the sun, you would have some work.  Personally, I enjoyed the shade that the trees provided. I tried to make 3-4 dives per day, so there was little if any time to hang out by the pool.

 

The Rooms at The Village Bunaken

The rooms are individual bungalows scattered around the property with adequate space for privacy.  Ours was a beach front (view of mangroves) with no AC.  It did have 2 small windows on either side of the bed (with no screens) that would allow a small amount of cross breeze.  The front was all glass with a vent above the doors.  The room could be a bit stuffy on low wind days as the protection of the mangroves and trees severely limited any breeze.  After about 2 days I was acclimatized to the environment and this was not an issue.

The room did have a small desk which ended up being my camera table.  The room has very limited power outlets for charging batteries.  One by the desk and one by the bed. Water in the bathroom as not potable and they provided a pitcher of drinking water on the desk.  If you needed more, it could be refilled in the restaurant area.  The water seemed to be slightly salty.

Desk in the Room Village Bunaken

Desk in the Room Village Bunaken

 

One opposite side there is a small wardrobe / dresser

Dresser / closet Village Bunaken Room at the Village Bunaken

 

The room was very clean and fairly well maintained.  We did have a few roaches in the bathroom.  While this may put off some, this is the tropics and it is close to impossible to have a roach free environment.  The resort was shutting down the week we left for annual maintenance of painting and repairs.  Considering we were there before the work was done, it was if fairly good shape for a tropical destination.  They obviously have done a good job of keeping things up over the years.

The bathroom was a decent size and the shower was semi-outdoors.  Be aware that some resorts will still have Mandi style bathrooms in this area (Mandi Style means no running water and no flush toilets – splash bath with a scoop and a bucket of water).  No issue here, sink, toilet, and shower all had water. The room had its own hot water heater and it provided plenty of VERY hot water. Toilet rules are typical of the area.  Place all toilet paper in the bin, not the toilet and the bin is emptied daily.  Expect to have this rule in most locations that are out of the cities.

Shower at the Village Bunaken Village

The front porch had a  nice touch for divers.  There was a decent sized drying rack that you could hang any gear to dry that was not being taken care of by the resort.  Plenty of room to dry towels, bathing suits etc.  It is amazing that so many resorts lack this basic thing that divers need.  Things did not dry quickly here.  Very little breeze combined with high humidity and shade prevent things from drying.

 

porch at the Village Bunaken

porch at the Village Bunaken

 

The Diving at the Village Bunaken

This is the main reason we went.  Bunaken USED to be a marine park  This was disbanded years ago as there were issues about how the marine park fees were being spent.  When I was here 10 years ago the reefs were in slightly better shape.  But overall, the reefs are still quite healthy and beautiful.  The main distraction is trash that enters the water from Manado.  This will be more dramatic in rainy season as the rains will flush out the trash that is on the streets into the water.  Currents will then push the trash past some of the dive sites.  It is not that uncommon to see plastic bags floating by during your dives.  The trash does not seem to accumulate on the reef as it is a dramatic wall with no place for the trash to land except well below recreational dive limits.  I would not let this deter you from going as the walls and especially the tops of the walls are incredibly beautiful.

 

All of the diving is done by boat and most boat rides were 10 minutes.  Put on your gear, back roll in and let the currents push you right or left and enjoy your dive.  As is typically in most locations,  dives are limited to 60 minutes, but many were longer as they had confidence in your air usage.  The hyperbaric chamber in Manado was down, so they frequently reminded you to keep depths to less than 100 feet (33m).  There really is no reason to go much deeper than 60-80 feet.  Most of the best areas where in the 10-60 foot range.  Currents varied DRAMATICALLY from mild to extreme ripping currents.  Buy a reef hook before you go and be prepared to use it.  On one dive I estimated the current to be 5-6knots.  There is no way you can swim in that.  All dives are drift dives and the boat was always there to pick us up with in 1-5 minutes of surfacing.  The crew takes care of your gear loading it setting it up, breaking and down and bringing it back to shore.  Bring boots with good thick soles as many of the dives will require a walk to the boat or back to shore.  The tides are extreme and the water is shallow and many times the boat can not make it all the way back to the resort.

Another highlight of diving with The Village Bunaken is their flexability in diving.  Many resorts require a minimum of 3 divers for night dives.  Not here.  I did not dives and sunrise dives with them as the only diver.  They were always there to take you out diving without complaints or comments.  I highly recommend doing the sunrise dives.  Sunrise is about 5:30am so you will be on the boat by at least 6am.  At this time you will be the only divers in the water.  I was able to see the mating dance of the H. pontohi seahorse which happens slightly after sunrise.

Wall at Bunaken Indonesia

anemone at Bunaken Indonesia

soft coral at Bunaken Indonesia

 

While I was at the Village Bunaken, one of the guests was quite upset about the diving at Bunaken (he only made 2 dives) as he read on the internet that there are Manta Rays in Bunaken and he saw none.  If you have read this, beware.  It is extremely unlikely that you will see whales, whale sharks or Mantas here.  Bunaken is known for its beautiful walls and good macro life, not large sea life.  While it is possible to see these things, it highly unlikely and may require 10 years of daily diving to see a manta here.  This is not a zoo, you will see what lives here and swims by.   It is a GREAT spot to visit as an add on if you are diving Lembeh or other location if you are passing through Manado.  Lembeh will give you lots of critters and almost no coral (they may tell you there are reefs…. but trust me it is macro muck diving with very little coral) while Bunaken will allow you to see beautiful corals, walls and LOTS of TURTLES.  There are 2 resident and VERY large turtles that were here 10 years ago.  Over the years the number of turtles has increased and you will see the two big ones and plent of smaller ones.

Turtles in Bunaken

Turtles in Bunaken

Turtles in Bunaken

There is also some decent macro life from soft coral crabs, pontohi dwarf sea horses (discovered here), Shrimps, squat lobsters and more.

 

Do not expect to see much larger sea life.  Plenty of clownfish, gobies, and other smaller finned fish.

10 years ago there seemed to be alot more nudibranch.  While there are some here, the numbers and varieties are much less.

 

Overall, I highly recommend The Village Bunaken and diving Bunaken.  While it may not be the highlight of your trip, it does have excellent diving and the prices are very reasonable.  On this trip, the second half was a liveaboard in Raja Ampat.  Raja Ampat was significantly more expensive and much more difficult to get to and while the diving in Raja Ampat is better, it is not that much better.

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Magic Island, Moalboal, Cebu Philippines May 2014

Magic Island Moalboal, Philippines

May 2014

We spent a partial week at the Scuba Resort of Magic Island Located in Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines after a week of diving in Tubbataha. Magic Island is located about 1 1/2 hours from Cebu airport.  Magic Island arranges transportation from the airport.   The location of Magic Island is a bit remote and it is about 1 mile down several dirt roads from the closest town. Magic Island is a beautifully landscape oasis.  Lots of stonework, gazebos and flowering plants and trees.  We were a bit concerned about the effects of the massive typhoon that struck here 6 months prior, but there was not evidence of any damage at the resort Another couple spent a night next door at Turtle Bay Resort which was pushed by a local dive travel company.  They stated that Magic Island was much nicer that Turtle Bay and that they were glad they were spending most of their vacation at Magic Island.  Personally, I did not see Turtle Bay.

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines dining area

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines pool area

 

 

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines bar area

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines

Meals and Food at Magic Island

Originally we thought we would skip the full board meal plan so that we could explore the local restaurants.  This is totally impractical.  With the diving schedule and the amount of time it would take to get into town, you would constantly be rushed and you would miss dives.  I highly recommend getting the full board meal plan.  It is the only way to go at Magic Island. Meals were served family style at dinner with a choice of 3 main dishes and dessert.  Food was excellent. Lunch and breakfast was ordered off of a menu. There were a few local dishes to choose from, but most were western style dishes.  They did an excellent job dealing with special food requests.   The Rooms were Very nice.  Clean and spacious.  The only negative was powdered insecticide that was around the inside of the room.  Being in the tropics, this is understandable as they have a constant battle with bugs here.  The area was pretty much bug free.  No issues with mosquitos or other bugs on most days.  One night we sat on the patio for dinner and a swarm of flying ants decided to join us.  Other than that one swarm, there were no bug issues.

 

 

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines bathroom

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines room

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 The Diving at Magic Island, Moalboal

The diving around Moalboal is boat diving and the resort does have a house reef.  It required a 50 meter or so walk out over crushed coral during low tide.  During high tide on our trip we were on boat dives.  We did 2 shore dives.  The walk out is not pleasant.  The crew there will assist with the walk if you ask. Moalboal is a muck and critter diving area.  There is reef, but very little fish life due to massive overfishing.  During the day, the island is ringed with small fishing boats pulling out what little is left.  However, there are plenty of small critters to keep you interested.

 

 

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines Dragon Shrimp

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines ornate ghost pipefish

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines Pygmy Seahorse

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Magic Island Moalboal Philippines huge bait ball

There were large bait balls of sardines and more.  However, the visibility was not great during our visit. We were there during a full moon and we think this contributed to poor vis due to the tidal volume.  Vis varied from a low of 15 ft to a high of 30 feet.

Tubbataha with the Expedition Fleet’s Stella Maris May 2014

Tubbataha Reef Aboard the Stella Maris/Expedition Fleet

May 2014

The Stella Maris/ Expedition Fleet is under new ownership and has undergone a major refit.  The past bad reviews of this live aboard should be disregarded and you should add this boat to your list of potential vessels for a scuba live aboard trip to Tubbataha! The Stella Maris is still under the Expedition Fleet name, which may or may not change.  Regardless, new owner, refreshed boat with the refit and it has decent prices and availability.  If you are thinking about diving Tubbataha (and you should!)  you should consider taking Expedition Fleet, the Stella Maris as it is a great value. The Stella Maris departs for Tubbataha from Puerto Princesa on the Island of Palawan.  Most travelers will find it more relaxing to spend at least one night in Puerto Princesa to avoid the chance of a flight delay or cancellation into Puerto Princesa.  It will also give you a chance to visit the underground river which is one of the major tourist attractions in the area.  Please note that the Stella Maris is scheduled to depart at 6 PM, but it actually departs closer to 8 PM and on our trip they did wait for delayed flights to arrive. We spent 2 nights at the Microtel resort in Palawan which allowed us to unwind and de-jet lag.  The Microtel was to our surprise, very nice.  It is the only hotel in Puerto Princesa that has a beach. _RAC1897 CIMG7601There are reviews of the microtel stating that they do not have a beach and they only have mangroves is only partially true.  At low tide the best goes out 100 meters.  At high tide there is only about 10 meters of beach. It is very unique beach and I would consider it a pretty beach…. The Microtel has a nice pool and considering it is a Microtel, they have decent sized rooms that are very clean. The Microtel is a bit out of town, so  your only real option is eating at the hotel restaurant.  We did not find the food at the restaurant to be that good. The hotel does have a shuttle bus that will take you to a local mall which has a about 6 restaurants to choose from.  The space on the shuttle is limited and it is recommended to make reservations CIMG7602 CIMG7661                       We did choose to do the underground river tour.  It is a bit over hyped, but it is a good way to kill a day in Palawan.  The van trip takes about 2 hours and this puts at the boat taxi location.  You will have to wait your turn to board the boat taxi.   This can take up to several hours.  The boat taxi area is hot and you should stay with your group as when the boat leaves, it is the only way to the underground river.  You are assigned to one specific taxi boat.  It is your trip to and from the Underground River area.           Once the taxi gets you to the Underground River area it is a short walk to the Underground River where you will wait for your canoe to give you the Tour.  You will see lots of monkeys.  They are very cute and you can get very close, but you are warned repeatedly by the tour guides to guard plastic bags.  These monkeys will snatch a plastic bag out of your hand in a 1/100 of a second. What ever is in that bag is gone forever.  Be warned.  Camera, phones, food etc will be stolen by the monkeys. CIMG7605     The Underground river is toured via a canoe and it is a cave with a river…..big surprise here.  Nothing spectacular, but it is worth seeing as you get to see the mountains of Palawan and another area.  The Monkeys are also quite entertaining as long as they don’t steal from you.

The Stella Maris and Expedition Fleet

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Stella Maris Tubbataha.

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Stella Maris Tubbataha.

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Stella Maris Tubbataha top deck

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Stella Maris Tubbataha.

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Room on Stella Maris Tubbataha.

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Bed on Stella Maris Tubbataha.

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bathroom on Stella Maris Tubbataha.

The Stella Maris has received some terrible reviews over the past couple of years.  This was with a previous owner and much has changed since then.  Lawrence is the new owner and you will most likely be dealing directly with him as you are making reservations, deposits and other payments.  Currently the company is keeping the Expedition Fleet name, but that may change.  His current company is Island Republic and this is who the payments are made to.  For me it was a bit uncomfortable making payments to Lawrence at Island Republic when making reservations for Expedition Fleet.  But this is legit and it may change.                       The boat is very large in deck space as compared to other liveaboards.  The length may be similar, but it has many decks which is good and bad.  The many decks allows you to spread out and this makes the boat free much bigger as it is easy to find a somewhat private spot, but it does require lots of walking up and down stairs to get to the various levels.  The most popular spots are the large covered deck above the bridge and the saloon.  There is also a small deck behind the two stern rooms above the dive deck and a large area on the bow with a hot tub (no one used this area and the hot tub did not have water in it, not sure if it was functioning or not), not that a hot tub is really needed in the heat of the Philippines. The Saloon area was a bit cramped during meals, but I find this to be true on most live a boards.  The food was buffet style and it was excellent! We stayed in Room B3 which is the largest and nicest of all of the rooms.  The bathroom in B3 was very spacious.  All rooms had their own AC unit (brand new). On our last day we toured the other rooms and by far B3 was the nicest.  Most of the other rooms are much smaller and the bathroom was a bit cramped.  All rooms had the lime green paint with metallic satin sheets.  All decorated very modern and each had a flat LCD TV with DVD player.                       There was a camera charging area on the lower deck.  It was not convenient unless you needed 4 plugs or more to charge your equipment.  Our room had 2 plugs which was more than enough for me to charge my strobes. The crew was very safety oriented and this proved to be true.  On the first nights crossing from Puerto Princesa to Tubbataha, they had problems with one of the transmissions and they made the decision to return to port.  They quickly notified us as to what was happening and what they were doing.  Very professional and they made the correct choice.  The following day they gave us the choice of diving locally or going to the Underground River.  About half chose the river and the other half dove.  Local diving was muck with some interesting critters…. during this time the faulty switch was repaired, the boat was inspected by the coast guard, it was tested and we departed for Tubbataha.  Once again, they made all of the right decisions and kept us informed.  Impressed by their professionalism during this time

Diving from the Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Whale Sharks Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Macro Life Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Macro Life Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Macro Life Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

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Macro Life Diving Tubbataha Reef with Stella Maris

All diving is from 2 tenders.  The group is split into 2 groups who are assigned to either the port or starboard tender.  All of the gear is loaded into the boat for you and you gear up at the site and back roll in.  Very easy as the tenders are quite spacious for 8-10 people.  Most of the dives are drift dives along a wall.  Scuba Diving from the Stella Maris is easy and relaxed.  Currents can be strong, but these are drift dives so there is no reason to stress out about the current.  Most of the dives were 80 foot max or less. The reefs in Tubbataha are some of the healthiest I have seen.  There are huge areas of acropora coral and other hard corals with thousands of small colorful anthias, wrasses and damelsfish.  Lots of life in the shallows.   Crossing over the wall was more typical wall diving with sponges, sea whips and the occasional whale shark swimming by a few feet way!           We had whale shark sightings on at least 3 dives.  The sharks seemed to ignore the fact there were divers in the water and they would swim right up  to you.         There was some soft coral, but not much.  The reef had lots of coral, but the colors were mostly browns and tans with occasional blue, and purple Acropora                 There were occasional large schools of barracudas jacks and other fishes                 The only negative I can say is the dive master spent most of his time looking for sharks and whale sharks (which are very hard to miss) and very little time pointing out the smaller life.  Tubbataha is not known as a macro site, but it does have some good macro subjects.  I wished the dive masters would have spent a little time looking for and pointing out the small critters!                         There are some good nudibranch, decorator crabs and other small critters too                             Overall the experience on the Stella Maris/Expedition Fleet trip to Tubbataha was excellent and I highly recommend it.

The Junk Liveaboard and Patong, Phuket 2012

The Junk Liveaboard and Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

This review is based around the Junk liveaboard and the hotels used before and after the trip in the Patong Beach area.  This was a good trip on The Junk, but not uneventful.  We were aboard the Junk liveaboard when it collided with a fishing vessel during the night. Read on for more information.

We arrived in Phuket via Ferry from Koh Yao Yai.  It was a standard Ferry which carried passengers and cars.  Our luggage was stored below deck with the cars.  Upon arrival it was a bit of a zoo and I ended up throwing our luggage out of a side door to avoid the crowds leaving the boat.  A driver pre-arranged by Elixir Resort was there to pick us up and transfer us to our hotel in Patong.  Most visitors would normally arrive by air to Phuket Airport.

As soon as we arrived in Phuket the attitude of the locals was very evident.  Everyone was trying their best to sell us something.  The driver was immediately trying to sell us a trip to the airport, tours, etc.  This never stopped for our entire time in Phuket.  Someone always pushing you to buy or do something.  They even sell a t shirt on Phuket that states on one side in english the other in thai   “No, I don’t want a F?@#ing Taxi, Suit or Massage”.  Every other place we went to in Thailand was more laid back.

Patong Beach

Patong Beach is a dump.  It is the most popular or most over populated beach on the island.  The north end if very busy and noisy.  The place smells horrible.  The smell of raw sewage and rotten trash was everywhere.  It was hard to find a restaurant located in an area that did not smell.

The Beach is extremely over crowded.  The photos below were taken in the morning.  The beach gets extremely crowded by 2PM.

Patong Beach has one section full of strip clubs and prostitutes.  Most hotels require 1000 baht for unregistered guests (prostitutes) who may rip you off or the hotel. This 1000 baht fee is posted in a sign at check in.  Obviously they had some issues.

Patong is not the location to go for a quiet restful sleep. The street noise and fireworks going off will keep you up for quite some time.  Some of the Tuk Tuk’s (small taxi’s) have large stereos booming as they drive down the street.  Fireworks can go off until 3 or 4 AM.The noise on the streets subsides around 3 or 4 AM.  After that things are quite until about noon.

Walking the streets is very annoying as you are constantly being hit with, Do you want a Taxi, Do you want a Massage,  Do you want a Suit.  Where are you from, do you speak English ……… You try to be polite, but eventually you start losing it.  It is really annoying.

There are better beaches to stay in than Patong.  I highly recommend staying else where.  However, we were about to do  a week on the Live Aboard “The Junk” which leaves from Patong so Patong was very convenient.  The Junk tenders leave from the floating dock in the south of Patong beach.  This area is slightly quieter.  Our second hotel in Patong was located there and it was better.  This was the Rayaburi Beach Club which is located at the end of the floating dock in Patong that you live from to board the Junk.

Taxis and Tuk Tuk’s vary drastically in price depending on the time of day and were you are going/coming from.  We spent 1200 Baht for a 3-4 hour tour of the southern tip of the island.  The southern tip has beautiful views and beaches.  We stopped off and walked around about 4 of the beaches.  The views from the southern tip of Phuket are beautiful.  We also stopped off for a quick elephant ride.  I thought this price of 1200 baht was quite reasonable for the distance and the amount of time.  However, we also took a Tuk Tuk to a nice restaurant and a 2 mile trip was 200 Baht  ($6).  The return trip the first Tuk Tuk wanted 300 baht ($9) for the same 2 mile trip.  We refused and quickly found another Tuk Tuk for 200 Baht.

The Liveaboard “The Junk”

The actual name of  The Junk is the June Hong Chian Lee.  It is a roughly 100 foot chinese junk built in 1962.  It is not a new luxury liveaboard as some web sites state. However, it is unique.  The boat only raises its sails for a couple of hours on the last day of diving otherwise it is under motor.

You arrive on the junk via tenders as it is anchored about 1/4 mile off shore.  It is not the easiest liveaboard to enter via dingy or tender as you must time your step with the seas.  During our stay the seas were flat, it they were not it would be a challenge to enter.

The Junk has 6 rooms for the divers and can hold a maximum of 18 divers.  I think this would be very rare as 2 cabins are quad, 2 cabins are triples and 2 cabins are doubles.  During our trip there were 7 guests.  It would be a bit crowded if it was packed with 18 guests on this liveaboard.

The stairs from the Salon to the cabins is typical sailboat.  Very Steep.  It is best to hold on the rails and walk down the steps backwards as if you are on a ladder.  The hall way is narrow and there are 3 cabins on the right and 3 on the left.

Cabins on the Liveaboard “The Junk”

Each cabin has its own air conditioner, however, there was only one remote control for the entire boat.  This meant you had to go to the salon and bring the remote to your room, adjust the temperature and then return the control to the salon for others to use.  I thought this was a bit cheap for a Liveaboard in this price range.  The room was always damp and a bit musty.  There are no fresh air vents in the rooms.  There are no windows in the room.  The room is always pitch black with the lights off.  The Junks website states “recently renovated”.  I think the renovation was many years ago.

If anyone in your cabin uses the bathroom at night the light is quite bright even with the door closed.  This would wake me up at night.

The Beds on the Junk did not have sheets.  There was the Tan Patterned fitted sheet and a large red terry cloth towel for a sheet/blanket.  The beds were not comfortable.  Sheets could have drastically improved things .  There was plenty of storage under the bed.  The pillows were very thick and not comfortable.

Sleep was difficult as The Junk is very rolly even in very flat seas.  The junk has no  large heavy keel as most sail boats have and it is very wide with a roundish bottom.  This causes the boat to roll most of the time.  This made it difficult to sleep.

Roaches on The Junk

Our room did have at least 1 large roach.  Only 1 was seen, but as the saying goes “if you see one, there are many more”

Update 3/30/2012

The roaches came home with us.  We now have roaches in our house.  I personally feel this is a huge risk you take when you are on ANY liveaboard.  However, this boat is infested and it infested our luggage which we took home.

 

 The Bathroom on the Junk

The bathroom was very small which is typical for a liveaboard but it was in poor condition.  The toilet leaked fresh water constantly.  This combine with the air conditioner condensate line draining in the bathroom caused the floor to always be wet.  The bathroom needed to be renovated.  The door was covered in mold. Grout around the sink was disintegrating.

Junks Shower heater and sink

Junks Shower heater and sink

The Junks Bathroom Sink

The Junks Bathroom Sink

Condensate line in bathroom

Mold on bathroom door and nasty repair job

Toilet Problems on the Junk

One other major issue we had on this liveaboard trip was with the bathroom was the toilet overflowed onto the floor 2 times.  This was due to the waste tank being full and when the toilet was flushed there was no where for the waste to go except the floor.  Quite disgusting.

 

 The salon and Deck areas of the Junk

The salon and deck areas of the Junk were spacious for 7 passengers.  I think they would be a bit cramped if 18 people were on board.  If 18 people were in the salon eating on a rainy night it would be very cramped.  However, 18 people spread out on deck and the salon would not be an issue.

Tanks are spread out around the deck.  There is plenty of room for 18 divers.

Deck of the Junk

Salon of The Junk

Temple in the salon of the Junk

Deck area of The Junk

 

Food on The Junk

The food on The Junk was fantastic.  The Thai dishes were some of the best that we had during our 2 1/2 week stay in Thailand.  The spice level was toned down for westerners, but not too low.  There was always a bowl of hot pepper sauce to spice things up if you desired.  The food was served buffet style.  One side had Thai food and the other had western food.  I only ate the Thai food and there was more than you could possibly eat and always a nice variety.

Diving the Junk

Most dives were made from the inflatable tender.  Entering the inflatable wearing you gear was a bit difficult.  Some choose to have their tanks and BCD’s carried down.  This would be wise if you have difficulties with the rolling seas and the inflatable going up and down relative to the Junk or have back or leg issues.  Entries were back rolls from the inflatable.  Getting back on the inflatable is by removing your BCD in the water and the crew pulls it up. There was a ladder to climb in or flutter kick like mad and pull you self up.

A few dives were done directly from the Junk. The method of entry was giant stride entries from the platform that was about 3 feet off the water line.  There was a metal bar (part of the ladder) that was slightly above the deck height.  This caused your fin to slip as you pushed off for your giant stride.  This could cause an injury.  One dive we returned to  the Junk via its ladder on the platform. The ladder has an inverse angle, so it is difficult to climb.

Dives are done in waves.  You are assigned to a group with a dive master and each group departs a few minutes apart.  This gave the diving somewhat of a more private feel.

The main diving area during our trip was the Similan Islands.  Dives were also done in Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock.

The Similan Islands are granite boulder dives with lots of fish life.  The boulders do not have much coral.  Huge schools of Barracuda and other fish were seen.  Manta rays were seen on 2 different sites.  Other critters seen, 1 frog fish, 2 seahorses, 5 or 6 dwarf pipe seahorses, several pipefishes, Turtles, a few nudibranch.  The amount of nudibranch’s seen was significantly lower than Indonesia or the Philippines.  The variety and quantity  was very low.  The ones that we did find were  mostly much smaller than those seen elsewhere.  Being smaller they were much harder to spot.

There were huge areas of dead hard corals in Thailand.  The kill areas were close to 100% dead hard corals.  One area was about 100 yards wide by 400 yards long with 100% dead hard corals.  We did not see any significant signs of recovery of the hard corals.  .  The bleaching event the occurred several years ago was devastating and there is little recovery. On many sites you hear about the recovery….. We did not see this

It is difficult to understand reports of coral bleaching and death.  How bad and how much are the questions you want to know.  In this area it was terrible.  However, bleaching does not effect the very colorful soft corals and gorgonians.  The next 2 photos are typical reef scenes.  Notice the absence of living coral (also ignore the turtle and see the dead reef behind it.  The area with the turtle must have been beautiful at one point.  Enormous area of dead acropora coral.

 

Richelieu Rock Diving

Richelieu Rock is the high point of this trip.  Richelieu rock barely breaks the surface and it offers no protection from the weather and waves.  The boat rolls the most at this site at night.  No night dive is done here for safety reasons.  It would be a very uncomfortable night if the seas were high.  However, on our trip the seas were very flat.

Richelieu Rock has Nudibranchs, soft corals and huge schools are fish.  It was the best scuba site of the trip.

 

 

 

Random Underwater photos from this trip.

Dive Guides on the Junk

I am an underwater photographer so I prefer tours of smaller areas that go slower.  I am not a hard core dive one rock type of photographer.  However, I felt the tours were much too far in distance.  I was not pressured to do the tour.  However, I prefer to stick around as the dive masters usually know where some of the interesting critters reside.  The dive guides did know where some of the more sessile critters hid and where able to find them.  The guided tours were excellent for non photographers as most usually do not like sticking around to see one critter for a some time.  Distance allows them to see more.  Most scuba dives were planned to be 60 minutes but most were closer to 70 minutes.

You must use a SMB if you are diving in Thailand.  There is a lot of boat traffic and you want to have a marker up before you surface.   The Junk Supplies SMB’s to every diver.

 

For Photographers

The crew did a great job of assist me with the camera and there was a very large dedicated camera rinse tank on board.  There was a very small area to store cameras.  Charging areas were any plug you could find in the salon.  There were plenty of plugs available.  Only 1 in your cabin.

 

The Crash, Things that go Bump in the Night or asleep at the Wheel

Whatever you may call it, our last night was not pleasant.

On our last day, the Junk was returning to Harbor and they were hitting hard objects at sea.  I could not go to sleep when something hits the hull every 15 minutes.  I assume they were fish traps.

The real surprise was around midnight.  A fishing boat’s bow struck the right side of the Junk about midship.  The impact was hard and it caused the Junk to Roll.  A few seconds later there was the sound of breaking glass and a lot of screaming in Thai.  No one sounded the alarm.  No one came down to the cabins to alert the passengers or to check to make sure they were OK. There was not head count to assure no one went overboard.  This was surprising and I felt very unprofessional.  They claimed they did an inspection and everything was fine.  I still feel the professional response would be to get all passengers on deck immediately while doing an inspection to assure no one was injured and to assure the safety of the passengers in the event of something going wrong.  There is no reason to allow passengers to sleep in their cabins after a collision.

The bow of the fishing boat did significant damage to the right side of the boat.  It punctured the hull leaving a 12 inch hole on the right side about 3 feet off the water line. The hole entered the first quad cabin on the right.  It also separated the deck from the hull leaving a 3 to 4 inch gap in spots.  No water entered the boat from the damage.

Most of the damage was above deck height.

The fishing boats in Thailand have booms with many lights.  After the crash, the fish boat turn along side us due to our forward motion and push one of these booms through the salon window.

 

Damage from inside room

Damage to the Junk

 

Damage to the Junk

Damage to Junks Saloon

Several things were surprising.

  1. Crew never sounded alarm (they said they did an inspection and found no danger)
  2. Crew did not keep us informed as to what was happening
  3. Crew spent 2 to 3 hours trying to save dingy instead of getting the boat closer to shore/harbor.
  4. The Junk had radar, but they could not see an 80 foott fishing vessle
  5. The junk was quickly repaired and went back out 2 days later

 

Conclusion

Overall The diving on the Junk was good.  With the damage to the hard corals it is not as good as it used to be.  There were large schools of fish, soft corals and the Manta’s partially made up for the damage seen. A few lesser seen critters were seen such as pineapple fish, frog fish, sea horses, and pipefish.

The Junk was not the most comfortable liveaboard, but it is very unique.  The food on the Junk was excellent and probably the best food I had while in Thailand.

This liveaboard was one of the more expensive options and considering the condition of the bathroom and lack of sheets I felt this lowered the value for the money.

The collision at night was an eye opener.  Makes you think twice before taking a live aboardtrip in many countries due to poor maritime laws and safety of the boats.

Silver Resortel Hotel Review

Our first hotel was Silver Resortel in Patong Beach.  The website for Silver Resortel had pictures of a room with a beach view, sand, ocean and palm trees.  This is far from the truth.  It was located 2 blocks from the water.

The room as adequate, but not nice.

View of Silver Resortel

View of Silver Resortel

 

Bathroom at Silver Resortel

The Bathroom did not have a separate show/tub.  Water goes everywhere.  It works, but it was not nice.  There are other hotels on the island for the same price that are much nicer.  The Silver Resortel is located on the opposite side of Patong as the Junks pier.  It is located about 1 mile away.  This is a poor choice for a hotel for the Junk.

Silver Resortel bathroom

The room was ok.  Night time noise was very tolerable as our room was off the main street and beach… Beware though.  Patong is VERY noisy.  Fireworks, traffic, loud music.

 

Rayaburi Beach Club

Our last nights were at the Rayaburi Beach Club located in southern Patong Beach.  This was an extremely convenient hotel for the Junk as it was right across from the floating pier.  This hotel was the same price as the Silver Resortel, but it was much nicer.  The room was large, modern and very clean.  Yes this is the actual view of water, palm trees and sand.  It is located ascross the street from the beach (all hotels here are across the street from the beach)  The road can be noisy.
Room at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

Room at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

Large recently renovated modern room with Flat screen TV and Surround Sound.  I have never been in a room with a home theater system.
Room at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

Room at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

 Our room look out over the  water and beach.  Since it was on one of the main streets of Patong, it could be a little noisy at night.

Actual view from Balcony at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

The bathroom was very large and modern with a large shower and whirlpool bath
Shower at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

Shower at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

Bath at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

Bath at Rayaburi Hotel South Patong

The only downside to the Rayaburi Beach Club is that it was located in Patong.  Its location on the south side of Patong is better than the north, but Patong is Patong and it is noisy.
It was extremely convenient to the Junk and should be considered if taking this live aboard. It was a great value for the money.

Silver Resortel Hotel in Patong

  • Value for the Money              3 out of  5
  • Comfort                          3 out of  5
  • Room/ Bathroom Condition         2 out of  5
  • Convenience to the Junk          3 out of 5

The Junk Liveaboard

  • Value for the Money              2 out of  5
  • Comfort                          2 out of  5
  • Room/ Bathroom Condition         2 out of  5
  • Diving                           4 out of  5
  • For Photographers                4 out of  5

Rayaburi Beach Club in Patong

  • Value for the Money              5 out of  5
  • Comfort                          4 out of  5
  • Room/ Bathroom Condition         4 out of  5
  • Convenience to the Junk          5 out of 5

 

Scuba Review of Elixir Resort and Elixir Divers 2012

Elixir Resort

Elixir Resort is located on the southwestern side of the island of Koh Yao Yai.  Koh Yao Yai is a lesser visited island that can be reached by ferry from the over populated, but more popular island of Phuket.

Elixir Resort arranged our pickup from the airport and they transfered us to the Ferry dock for a 45 minute fast boat ferry ride to northern Koh Yao Yai.  The fast ferry is a passenger ferry that is a bit cramped, but the ride is short.  Very little english was spoken by the crew, so it was not clear to me what island we arrived on first.  A passenger was trying to ask me if I was going to Koh Yao Noi of Koh Yao Noi which confused me more, I think more tourists go to Koh Yao Noi.  However the first stop was Koh Yao Yai and we got off and was greeted by a driver who took us to Elixir.  The ride from the northern end of Koh Yao Yai to Elixir took about 1 hour.

Koh Yao Yai is a much lesser populated island that is cleaner and better kept than Phuket.  No crowds, quite, and clean were my first impressions.  This is a quiet tropical paradise with rubber tree farms and small villages.

Elixir resort is a nice resort located on the beach on the southwestern end of Koh Yao Yai.  The rooms were small villas about 50 feet apart. The resort was well maintained and nicely landscaped.

The majority of the visitors were non divers looking for a relaxing vacation on the beach.

Rooms at Elixir

The rooms were fairly large, however, they had limited room for storage of suitcases and clothes.  There was a large bathroom that was modern and clean.  The shower was a very large outdoor shower surrounded by 7 foot wall for privacy. The rooms were very quiet and private.  Each had a large deck.  The rooms on the beach had a small private pool off the deck.

The bed was very comfortable but a bit odd.  It was on a raised platform which caused a few bumped ankles at night.

Elixier

Elixir Resort

Elixir Resort Thailand

One Night there was a very heavy rain and one of the windows leaked in the bathroom.  However, this was not really an issue.

Elixir Grounds and beach

Elixir is a very pretty resort with nice landscaping and a nice beach.  There is a pool with a swim up bar that closes at 5 PM.  At the end of the pool there is a shaded area where you could get a massage.

The beach is very quiet and beautiful.

Elixir Resort Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Elixir Resort Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Elixir Resort Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Elixir Resort Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Elixir Resort Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Exilir Resort’s Restaurant

The restaurant was located onsite and there is no other option for eating that is close that I am aware of.  The food was good and it had a wide selection of Thai dishes and some western dishes.  All the Thai dishes had the spice levels reduced to western tastes.  All meals were excellent with the exception of the Seafood BBQ which was the most expensive item on the menu.  The seafood that we had in Thailand was “fishier” that what we were accustom too and this dish was no exception.  However, it was a HUGE platter of shrimp, crab, squid and fish.  It was meant to be shared by 2 but it was enough for 4.  However, it was bland and fishy.  All other dishes were quite inexpensive and good.

The restaurant had indoor and outdoor seating.  We only ate outdoors (we were not aware of anyone eating indoors).  Bugs were only a minor issue.

Elixir Divers

Elixir Divers is located at the resort.  They are a small operation that does not get many highly experienced divers.  It was my impression that over 50% of their business is open water classes or snorklers.  The staff was very friendly with a VERY laid back attitude.  The boat left very late in the morning at 10 am and only 2 dives are scheduled for each day.  At first we were a little concerned, but the dive day was long with a little land touring of different islands.  Very different but in hindsight it is a very relaxing way to dive.

The Dive Boat is small and a bit cramped for divers, gear snorkeler  and staff.  There was no rinse tank for cameras.  There is shade, but sometimes there is not enough room for everyone to be in the shade.  No meals are brought onboard.  I would suggest bringing a sandwich due to the late start and long days onboard.  Also, bring cash just incase there is a side island excursion.

Elixir Divers Boat, Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Our first trip was to Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok located just south of Koh Phi Phi Don.  The boat started off quite crowded for such a small boat.  However, they dropped off one of their staff each morning on a island located several miles off shore.

Next we traveled to Koh Phi Phi Don where 2 more passengers disembarked.  They let us roam Phi Phi for 45 minutes which was nice as Koh Phi Phi was on our original list of places to stay.  However, it would have been nice to know this as we could have brought some money to buy lunch.  The dive crew offered us money to borrow for this purpose.  After spending 45 minutes on Koh Phi Phi, we were glad we selected Koh Yao Yai.  Phi Phi was massively over crowded.

photo of Phi Phi

 

Now it is close to 1:00pm and we are heading to our first dive site.  This site had significant damage from the coral bleaching event that happened several years ago.  There were quite a few anemones and fish.  It was just lacking hard corals.

The surface interval was located in coves on 2 islands with beautiful views.  Some of the guests took a quick walk on the island to see the other side.

Surface interval with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Surface interval with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Surface Interval with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

 

The second dive was very similar to the first.

Photos from first 2 dives

Underwater with with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Underwater with with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Underwater with with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

The boat return to Elixir divers about 6 pm. This is a strange itinerary for a dive boat.  But we spent time on Phi Phi and saw 3 other beautify Thai islands.  Very relaxed scuba touring.

 

The second day of diving also started out at 10:00 AM and we were headed to Shark Point and Anemone Reef.

These 2 sites are the must do dives of the area and I felt that they were among the top dives in the Thailand.  Both sites are teaming with life.  Lots of fish….huge schools of fish and Anemone Reef is covered with thousands of anemones.  Very beautiful dives.  However, the visibility was not ideal.  Average vis on these dives was about 20-30 feet.  Usually poor vis and huge schools of fish go together.

Photos from Second Day

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

Scuba Diving with Elixir Divers Ko Yao Yai Thailand

 

Overall Impression of Elixir Divers

The diving at Shark Point and Anemone Reef was excellent the other dive sites were OK but not great.  The boat was a bit cramped and the days were long without food.

The prices were high, but the distance traveled was over an 1 hour to get to the sites.

Very laid back diving.  Late wake up calls.  Plenty of time to eat breakfast and the ability to see and walk on nearby islands made this a unique laid back and relaxing dive operation.

Thailand January 2012

Thailand Scuba diving and Touring 2012

We planned a less than normal scuba divingtrip to Thailand in 2012 (for us at least).  Most of our scuba trips are close to 100% scuba with very little land based touring.

We were not expecting the best of pacific diving, so we broke the trip up into several segments of land touring and scuba to experience the culture of Thailand in addition to our diving.

We ended up with 2 days in Bangkok, 3 nights in Koh Yao Yai at Elixir, 1 night at Patong Beach in Phuket, 1 week on the live aboard “The Junk”, 2 more nights in Patong and finally 2 more nights in Bangkok.

Overall it was a wonderful experience as we had the chance to see many things on land that you do not get to see from a live aboard trip and we also were able to see and dive a different section of Thailand.

I will separate the articles

Elixir / Elixir Divers  
The Junk / Patong beach

 

The non scuba diving time spent in Bangkok will be discussed below.

Bangkok (non diving)

We stayed at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok which is actually just outside of downtown.  This created a bit of confusion a 1:00am at the taxi stand at the airport.  I don’t speak Thai and they never heard of the Millennium Hilton downtown.  After a small amount of confusion, the taxi driver was off to the Hilton.

Taxis

All 4 of our transfers between the hotel/ airport were based on a set fare that ranged from 500 baht to 600 baht.  None of the drivers offered a metered rate which may have been cheaper, but 500 baht is only $15 US and I thought that was fair for a 45 minute trip that had tolls.  However, if you take a taxi for short rides and Bangkok, insist on meter rates.  The pre arranged rates are 2 to 3 times greater than the metered rate.

Hilton Millennium

The Hilton was wonderful.  After all it is a Hilton.  My only negative comments are:

The Hotel Restaurant Yuan Chinese had several Shark Fin dishes. 
The walk way from the lobby to the dock had a foul odor.  However, I was there 30-60 days after their major flood in Bangkok.

Speaking of the Major Flood.  We really saw no evidence of any flooding while we where there.  We walk a fair amount.  My guess is about 10 miles over both of our stays.  I was expecting to see some debris or water damage.  However, we saw nothing.

We walked a fair amount in Bangkok.  However, it is not a pedestrian friendly city.  Taxis and Tuk Tuks are everywhere, but the traffic is horrible and a better form of transport are the water taxis.

Must do things in Bangkok

Temple of  Dawn


 

 

Channel Tour of Bangkok

 

Grand Palace

 

 

 

 

Anilao Philippines Acacia Resort 2010

Anilao has some fantastic diving.  Excellent macro as it is known as the “Lembeh of the Philippines”

Anilao is easy to get to as it is about 2 to 3 hours by car from Manila.  The time can vary quite a bit as the traffic in Manila can get a little congested.

 

Acacia resort is a very nice resort with about 16 rooms.  It is a scuba resort so there is not much else to do.  There is no beach.  They have a nice pool with lots of shade around it.

The rooms are simple yet quite nice.   Each room has air conditioning and a large western style bathroom

Acacia resort Rooms

Acacia resort Bathroom

Acacia resort bathroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acacia resort pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View of Acacia Room Building

Acacia resort

Acacia resort Restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The restaurant served its meals buffet style.  The food was good. Most meals consisted of fish, another meat, vegetables and rice.

 

View of Banka

Acacia resort Dive Boat

The dive shop had all the basics and the boats are the typical Bankas used in the Philippines.  They are very functional but not the most comfortable dive boat.

Dive Boat

Acacia resort Dive Boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diving in Anilao is fantastic.  During this trip I did not bring an underwater camera.  However, the photos below are all taken from a previous trip to Anilao.

painted frog fish

On this trip we saw over 20 octopus on one night dive by the pier.  One was in a glass jar holding a shell as a door.  Absolutely incredible!

hairy Frog fish in Anilao

Wonderpus

You will see lots of nudibranch, wonderpus, mimic octopus, frog fish, sea horses lots of healthy coral. Anilao has wonderful diving and it is worth the trip.

Lembeh Resort September 2007

Lembeh Straits and Lembeh Resort 2007

Lembeh Resort was the second stop on our Indonesia Trip.

We First Spent 9 days at Gangga Island and we transferred to Lembeh via Gangga Islands Dive boat. Gangga charged an extra $50 for the trip, but it did include 2 dives in Lembeh Straight.

This trip started out less than perfect. Singapore Airlines lost all of our check baggage due to an error at the beginning of our trip.  American Airlines check us and our bags to Singapore, but they were unable to check us onto the Silk Air flight to Manado. After trying to board the Singapore flight out of New York, we realized there may be an issue.  Singapore required a Singapore Airlines boarding pass as they would not accept the one printed by American Airlines.

During our layover in Frankfurt, we approached a Singapore Airlines agent about our baggage. They assured us that they have attached a note to check our bags through to Manado. When we departed the plane in Sinapore an agent was there with a sign with our name, (not a good sign). We were told to go to the transfer area to take care of the baggage problem.

There is a pre-check person at the transfer area. They checked the computer and told us everything was in order.  We did not beleive it as the bags were not labeled. We returned to the transfer area 1 hour later to check with another employee and we got the same answer.

Upon arrival in Manado, no bags, what a suprise! They gave us 600,000 rupiha ($66 USD) to buy anything we may need to get by for 2 days as there are only flights every other day to Manado. The staff at Gangga picked us up and took us to the resort with the impression that there was a “Store” on the island to buy things. They have a small Boutique that did not have much to help us. So I went barefoot with 1 bathing suit and a t-shirt for 2 days until our baggage arrived.  We used Ganggas Rental gear which was charged to Silk Air .

In addition, my camera housing was damaged on the way out to this island and I was unable to get any scuba photos during this trip. I tried to get parts shipped in, but being in this part of the world, nothing happens fast or and nothing is reliable. I will be going back in October of 2007!

The US embassy website rates Indonesia as a somewhat risky place. We felt safe the entire time. The locals were friendly and outgoing. I feel more unsafe in US cities than I did in Indonesia. Northern Sulawesi is a mix of Christians and Muslim. My un-official Mosque to Church ratio was about 15 churches for every Mosque. Our exposure was also very limited during our stay. Normally you arrive via van from Manado Airport.  The trip takes about 1 hour.  We arrived via boat from Gangga Island.

Lembeh Resort is a very pretty resort on a VERY hilly area of Lembeh. Expect lots of stairs. If you have problem with stairs, you may want to avoid this resort or at least request rooms 5-8. Rooms 9-12 have many stairs to climb every day. Room 7 is the closest to the Kitchen and you will hear them every morning, but it is also one of the shortest walks.

Lembeh Resort

Lembeh Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rooms are large and clean but they are trying to be a 4 star resort so the rooms could use a little more attention to cleaning to achieve this. Lembeh is a black sand area and it is more of a jungle type of environment. It is therefore harder to keep clean.

The food is a combination of authentic Indonesian food which is spicy noodles and currays. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style. Dinner was ordered at lunch time off of a menu. Food overall was excellent. Drinks such as beer, wine, mixed drinks, sodas etc, were extra. Lembeh Resort is isolated so there are no other restaurants and thus no exploring local foods.

Lumber Resort Restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lumber Resort Dive Boat

The diving was done from their Indonesian style wooden boats (all resorts in this area use the same style boats). The boats are not the most comfortable but in this area of the world you have no choice. Entries are via a giant stride or a back roll and a ladder to return. There were no camera rinse tanks on the boats, but none are really needed as the boat returns to sore for the surface interval. There were very large rinse tanks on shore dedicated for cameras. All gear was brought onto the boat and care for by the staff.

There is no dock for the dive boats, so entries and exits from the boat are wet. They have one dock used when you arrive. There are shore showers, rest rooms and a dive locker dress area within 50 feet of the boats. Your gear is stored here. Everyone gets suited up BEFORE boarding the boat. Most dive sites are 10 to 15 minutes away.

Lembeh is world famous for its muck dives. However, they do have reefs too. Most of the people come to Lembeh for the muck diving and thus very few dives are done on the reefs.

The photos shown below were taken in Lembeh in October of 2007 on a second trip

Most of the Lembeh muck dives were black sandy slopes that varied from 10 feet to 80 feet. There was a fair amount of trash, bottles, cans, wood, burlap sacks and such. There were small coral areas. However, the critters were incredible. I have never seen so many frog fish, scorpion fish, and pipe fish in my life. After a few days frog fish were boring and you start looking for better things. It does get better. The amount of unique and strange critters that are in such a small area is amazing. Many of the fish life looks like it was made for a Star Wars Movie.

Diving was fairly easy with the dive guides being excellent. They were excited about the sea life and were very good at finding it. They were very respectful of the sea life and I never saw them rough handle anything. The only problem was a video diver who beat the hell out of the reef trying to video the Rhinopias. I saw this guy break more coral with his fins on one dive then I have seen in 300 dives. He even knocked over a 2 foot tall sponge! I complained to the dive staff and they pulled him aside and counseled him about this. The remaining dives with him, the dive guide spent the time to assure he would do no more damage.

Things we saw: Rhinopias, Giant Frog Fish, baby Frog fish, clown frog fish, pygmy sea horses, sea horses, Ornate ghost pipe fish, banded pipe fish, leaf fish, crocodile fish, at least 20 different nudibranch, ribbon eels, sea wasps, flying gurnards, sweet lips, cockatoo wasp fish plus much more. What we did not see (but we wanted to) but other divers saw: wonderpus, mimic octopus star gazer.

All dive guides have slates that they write the names of the critters they find. Our dive guide would even write in Japanese for the Japanese guests!

 

 

The house reef is worth diving. It is an easy dive to about 60 feet and has a fair amount of life. Lembeh divers allow one free shore dive for every 2 boat dives. The first one is guided.

Overall, I give Lembeh Resort the highest ranking for their great dive operation. It was one of the best operations I have seen yet. I still don’t know how many days of muck diving is too much. After 4 or 5 days I think I would be ready to see a health coral reef with no garbage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do the monkey tour on your last day to off gass.  You will get very close to the Macaca Nigra and the worlds smallest primate

SULAWESI DIVE QUEST Bunaken 2007

BUNAKEN, Indonesia SCUBA TRIP REVIEW

Sulawesi Dive Quest Bunaken is a VERY budget resort located on Bunaken Island located about 45 minutes by boat from Manado, Indonesia.

Sulawesi Dive Quest is probably the cheapest scuba diving anywhere. Room, Food and 3 dives per day is only $100! With this in mind you do get what you pay for at this resort in accommodations.

I went during the off season or rainy season.  It rained daily in Manado, but no once in Bunaken.  The resort only had 1 other guest! They would do night dives with only 1 diver.

The Resort

The resort is a very small resort located on a hill on Bunaken. There is no dock, so the entry is a wet entry.; Bring shorts to change into before leaving the airport as you will get your feet wet as you disembark from the boat.

 

Sulawesi Dive Quest Bunaken has 6 rooms with a maximum capacity of 12 divers.  The rooms are very basic with a double bed with mosquito netting. 1 small table, 1 shelving unit and a bathroom.

The room has 1 low wattage bulb in the bedroom and 1 low wattage bulb in the bathroom.  The room has 1 plug. The generator is run from 6 am to 6 pm. The room is very dark at all other times. The windows in my unit did not provide much sunlight. They will run the generator to charge batteries, but the power is only in the restaurant area. Indonesian Mandi Style which I personally did not know what that meant. This is basically a room with a toilet and a bucket. There is no separate shower area. The rooms DO NOT have running water. There are 2 large buckets of water in the bathroom with ladels in each. Showering is splash style Flushing the toilet requires ladeling water into the toilet. There is no sink. The room has 1 low wattage bulb in the bedroom and 1 low wattage bulb in the bathroom.

The room has 1 plug. The generator is run from 6 am to 6 pm. The room is very dark at all other times.  The windows in my unit did not provide much sunlight. They will run the generator to charge batteries, but the power is only in the restaurant area.

 

 

 

 

The bathroom

The bathroom is Indonesian Mandi Style which I personally did not know what that meant. This is basically a room with a toilet and a bucket. There is no separate shower area. The rooms DO NOT have running water. There are 2 large buckets of water in the bathroom with ladels in each. Showering is splash style. Flushing the toilet requires ladeling water into the toilet. There is no sink.

They are in the process of adding running water. Pipes have been run, there is a hand held shower head and a wall faucet that are all brand new. Once the water system is finished it will be a bathroom with no shower stall and no sink.

There is no maid service and the rooms were not that clean. The floors in the room did not look like they have been swept in quite some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get over the bathrooms, the resort is otherwise quite nice. The landscaping is attractive and the view is wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The food is very basic but adequate. You do not have a choice of a menu, but the cook will make a meal and it is usually served buffet style. On the first day that asked about food preferences such as vegetarian. Food consisted of chicken and local fish a vegetable and rice. Food was not spicy as much Indonesian food is.

The main reason to come to Bunaken is the diving. The resort is minutes from the walls of Bunaken and 30 minutes from Sulawesi dive sites. The diving was wonderful. Bunaken is a Marine Reserve with areas designated for locals to fish (no commercial fishing), diving and off limit recovery areas. Every 15 years the off limits areas open and the open areas become off limits. The next change will occur around 2017.

Bunaken is one of the few areas that has huge schools of fish. The other areas of North Sulawesi are severally over fished. The walls are also home to 2 huge sea turtles. They are both about 6 feet long! Other sightings of interest was a Ornate Pipe Fish, Nudibranches, Cuttlefish and a Crocodile Fish. The dive guides were excellent. Other guides in the area are too rough on the reef. Giovani, our guide, was very respectful to the reef and very low impact. He was very good at pointing out the interesting life while still giving the divers the freedom to dive their own profile.

Overall the diving experience was excellent. The size of the resort, 12 maximum divers, the excellent dive guides and the close proximity to the reef made for wonderful diving. Combine this with being off season and only having 2 divers at the resort resulted in wonderful diving. Going during rainy season maybe a little risky, but I think the risk is worth it considering the dive guide to diver ratio and many of the other resorts being empty as well resulting in very private diving without any crowds.

Things to remember, bring a power strip if you wish to use several chargers. Currents can be quite strong in some areas around full moon and no moon as the tides are significant. The tide is so low in the morning a 1/3 of a mile walk to the boat is required as the water is too low for the boat.The rooms are quite hot during the day. There is no shower….yet. Excellent guides and diving!

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 October 2009 15:28