Touring Komodo Island and Swimming with Manta Rays

A fearless Komodo Dragon basks in the sunlight on the beaches of Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

After spending four days in central Ubud and seeing temples and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I decided to fly to Komodo Island so I could see these majestic dragons in their natural habitat. Komodo Dragons are native to Indonesia and prefer extremely dry climates. They are found on four islands including Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Montang. Komodo Dragons are capable of running very fast and are highly venomous, so if you want to see them it’s always recommended to go with a local guide or on a tour. I booked a day tour that stopped at the highlights of Padar Island and Komodo National Park through EventBrite for $84. This tour included hiking, swimming at a Pink Beach, a tour through Komodo National Park, and snorkeling with Manta Rays so I think it was extremely worth the price. I was absolutely exhausted at the end of the tour, but grateful that I had the chance to see so many rare sites.

Getting to Komodo Island

From Denpasar Airport in central Bali, I booked a roundtrip ticket to Labuan Bajo Airport on Komodo Island through Lion Air for $115. This is the average price of tickets to the island from Bali so it wasn’t a bad deal.

You can also take a multiple day boat tour here from Lombok, but some of the tours have mixed reviews due to the quality of the accommodations on the ship. These tours allow you to see more locations where Komodo Dragons live, however, and can sometimes be a better bargain.

Expect to stay on Komodo Island for at least 3 days since hotel pickup for the Komodo National Park tours start before 6am and end in the evening. I found my stay to be extremely relaxing and loved how gorgeous the island was. I would highly recommend coming here if you love adventure!

Trekking through Padar Island

My guide picked me up around 6am and took me to the pier where I met up with my tour group on a speedboat. Our first stop of the tour was Padar Island, which is a rocky island in the Komodo archipelago with beautiful mountains and lush scenery. Hiking to the top of the hills gives you a beautiful view of the ocean and surrounding islands. What’s unique about Padar Island is that although there is wildlife there, no people live on the island which is why its nature is so pristine and clear. Though hiking to the top definitely left me in a sweat, the view was worth it!

Swimming at Pink Beach

The next stop of the tour was Pink Beach, which had been on my bucket list for the longest time. Though many people argue if the sand on the beach is actually pink or edited in photos, I can confirm that it here really did look pink here! You can especially see the bright pink color when the waves soak the sand.

But how do pink beaches get their color? According to The World Travel Guy:

Pink beaches apparently get their color from foraminifera, which are microscopic red organisms that live in the coral reefs and get washed up on the beach.

The World Travel Guy

Not only was the pink color visible on the beach, but you can also see traces of it when you go snorkeling in the water. I would highly recommend coming here even if you don’t want to go on the full tour, because traveling to a pink beach is a once in a lifetime experience!

Touring Komodo National Park

Our next stop was the main event: Komodo National Park. There are around 3000 Komodo Dragons residing on this island, but unfortunately during our tour we only saw a few of them lounging on the beach. The tour featured two main locations: the beachfront near the pier and a trek on a paved path through the jungle. Though Komodo Dragons are usually active during the day, many of them hide away in the jungle of this island because they do not particularly like humans. But rest assured, this tour is not invasive to their home and the guide will help you safely approach and interact with the dragons. During the trek we saw one Komodo nest which looked like a huge hill on the ground. We learned that Komodo dragons sometimes eat their young which just adds to their infamous legend. Though I was a bit sad we didn’t see more of them, I was happy to see the ones on the beach because they are such rare reptiles.

There are other multiple day trips that you can book online that specifically focus on seeing the dragons, but I liked this tour the best because it stopped at so many different locations in one day.

Swimming with Manta Rays

The last two activities on our tour were snorkeling at Kanawa Island and a dive spot where several giant Manta Rays live. I have swam with smaller Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii, but this was my first time swimming with them in Asia. I actually liked this dive spot better than the Hawaii one because they were much bigger and there was more room to swim. Seeing them up close is an experience that I will never forget! Manta Rays make great snorkeling buddies because they are so friendly. Your guide will help you take pictures and videos if you have an underwater camera.

Recommended Food & Drink

The first place I tried was Happy Banana Komodo, which is a sushi place with vegan options downtown. This was my first time trying sushi in Indonesia so I was very excited to go! I tried two of their rolls that featured avocado and mayo, and also their vegan tofu katsu nigiri. Overall the taste of the sushi was similar to American sushi, but the texture of the wasabi and ginger was a bit off compared to Japan. Despite that, this is one of the best restaurants on the island due to their variety of dishes so I would recommend it.

Komodough is a cute little bakery downtown that had the best pun on the island. Here you can buy fresh loaves of bread to take with you on your travels, coffee, and adorable little pastries. I enjoyed drinking avocado coffee (not pictured because I drank it so fast) and also trying some of their bread. This is a great place to come in the morning for a light breakfast and also at night for a small snack. Overall, I love the business they are doing here and how accommodating they are being open during the morning through the evening.

A new restaurant and cocktail bar had just opened when I arrived on the island, so I decided to check it out. Copper Bonnet Bistro & Bar features fancy craft cocktails and entrees, and was definitely one of the most upscale places that I found on the island. I ordered two cocktails; one that simulated the salty taste of sushi with a piece of nori pinned to the glass, and one that tasted likely bubbly rose and cream. Both were the most original cocktails that I tried in Indonesia, so I highly recommend this place to all who love fine drinks.

Accommodation

I stayed at Bayview Gardens Hotel which had free breakfast and an infinity pool with astonishing views of the bay! Rooms are around $60 per night, but the stay includes breakfast and is in a central location so you can walk to bars and other places easily. Komodo Island has a lot of wonderful accommodations for travelers, but I liked this one because it was extremely quiet and the rooms were top quality. Absolutely perfect for resting after a long day.

Thank you for reading the last article in my Indonesia series! My next big trip will be to Europe in April, but until then I hope to keep writing about fun attractions in Japan. Happy holidays and thank you for keeping up with my travels.

Visiting the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bali and Nusa Penida

Waves crash against the rocks of Tanah Lot—the most beautiful seaside temple in Bali.

After exploring central Ubud and Canggu, I planned to see the most beautiful temples, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and sightseeing spots of Bali (such as the rice terraces and jungle swings) over the next three days. I also took a day trip to Nusa Penida for hiking and photography during this time. This article will review three different tours I booked for the purpose of covering as much ground as possible. Of course you can go to all of these places without a guide, but with heavy traffic and wait times, it’s best to go with someone local because they can help you avoid these things and also teach you more about the historythe locations that you’re seeing. I would recommend staying at least three – five days in central Bali so you have enough time to see all of these beautiful places. Depending on how adventurous you are, there are a number of things you can try on your trip.

Bali Instagram Highlights Tour

Perhaps the #1 tour I was looking forward to was the Full-Day Instagram Highlights Tour from GetYourGuide! This tour was around $50 and takes you to Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Tukad Cepung Waterfall, Tirta Gangga, and Lempuyang Temple (also known as the “Gates of Heaven”). I enjoyed seeing the main highlights of Bali and learning about the history of them with a local guide. The group consisted of just me and one other person so I really lucked out!

Tegallalang Rice Terrace is in north Bali and features beautifully arranged paddies with zip lines, jungle swings, and human-sized bird’s nests that you can pose in. I enjoyed hiking around this area and taking pictures of the luscious greenery here. Afterwards, we stopped at a roastery where you can try interesting flavors like avocado and coconut coffee. We also learned about the Asian palm civet, which is an animal that eats ripe coffee cherries and poops coffee beans that can be turned into luxurious coffee. What a wonderous place that Bali is!

The next destination was Tukad Cepung Waterfall. There are actually multiple waterfalls that you can see here which makes it a pretty exciting hike. I enjoyed getting in the water and being up close to them because it made me feel one with nature.

After traveling into the mountains a bit, we stopped at a restaurant that had a giant jungle swing and had lunch (I was full from my floating breakfast so I just had an avocado smoothie). Swinging on the jungle swing was a thrilling experience that felt a bit like riding on a roller coaster. I enjoyed the thrill of soaring over the surrounding rice terraces! The swing can reach quite high heights so the staff will strap you in safely in order to keep your balance and not fall off. Though a bit frightening, I definitely enjoyed the thrill of the ride!

After lunch we went to Tirta Gangga, which is a water palace with stepping stones, large fountains, and plenty of hungry koi fish. Our guide bought us fish feed so we could help satisfy their hunger. Though it was very crowded here, I loved walking around the maze of beautiful pools here. We also saw a fruit bat hanging from a tree around the entrance of this area. I was surprised to see one around during the day, but it seemed like it was used to people here.

Our final destination was the Gates of Heaven, which is one of Bali’s oldest temples near Mt. Agung. Though it was not an overly popular tourist destination at first according to our guide, it became popular over the years due to its magical “reflection” over what seems like a body of water in various photography. However, upon arriving at this temple I realized that this reflection is produced by cameramen at the temple holding a piece of glass under your phone while taking the photo—the temple actually doesn’t have any reflective properties around it.

In order to get your picture taken at the gates, you need to queue in a line for about 3-5 hours, but you can sit under a shaded area until your number is called. Some bloggers have criticized this tourist attraction for being a waste of time due to the illusion, but I still think the Gates of Heaven are worth seeing. The architecture and the scenery of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking, and I was very happy with how my photo turned out.

Overall this tour was a great intro to all of Bali’s main highlights and I am very happy with all of the photography I got to do.

Nusa Penida Tour

Gazing at the cliffs of the giant T-Rex rock formation at Kelingking Beach.

On my second day in Ubud, I decided to take a day trip to Nusa Penida which is a nearby island that has a lot of interesting natural rock formations and beaches. I booked my Nusa Penida tour through GetYourGuide with hotel pickup for around $85. After taking an hour long ferry ride to the island, you will first stop at the T-Rex rock formation at Kelingking Beach. I really enjoyed seeing this rock formation because you get to climb down stairs on the T-Rex’s back that lead to a hidden beach.

Next we stopped at Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong, which you can also go for a swim at. Broken Beach has a picturesque arch that leads to the ocean, so it’s a popular spot for photography. Angel’s Billabong is a natural infinity pool with emerald waters between rock cliffs which makes it another popular place for photography. If you decide to go swimming here, please be careful of the tides because there have been numerous causalities here. Our group did not go swimming here, but we did marvel at how beautiful the water was.

Our final destination was Crystal Bay Beach, where I spent two hours swimming in its beautiful blue waters and also grabbed lunch. I had a spicy type of noodle soup with eggs and vegetables. Crystal Bay Beach was nice, but I wish we could have spent a bit of more time at the other destinations. However, Nusa Penida is always scorching hot so it was nice to be in the water. Hiking here was a bit difficult due to the extreme heat but I still enjoyed the island.

Though this tour mostly focused on the beach, I had a ton of fun seeing all of the cool landmarks here. Due to the narrow and bumpy roads of Nusa Penida, I highly recommend going with a guide instead of going by yourself. Your guide can also tell you what places are best to swim at on the day you visit based on the tides.

UNESCO World Heritage Tour

On my final full day in Bali, I decided to book the Bali UNESCO World Heritage Sites tour through GetYouGuide so I could see some more temples and beautiful places. This tour costs around $25 which is truly a steal for everything you can see. The tour first stops at Pura Taman Ayun, which is a gorgeous temple with a moat, distinctive gates, and several barong that you can see up close. The barong is a mythological creatures that resembles a panther with beady eyes and is said to bring good luck. I enjoyed seeing how cute they were!

We next stopped at the Jatiluwih rice terraces where we went for a short hike. These rice terraces are actually the largest in Bali which were awesome to see. Then we went to the nearby Ulun Danu Beratan Temple which is a huge temple complex near the lake. I loved seeing the bright flowers that grew here, the winding paths, and all of the unique floating structures of the temple. There is also mini petting zoo that is part of the complex which I found to be amusing. It truly was surreal being in such a beautiful place in Bali.

The final destination of the tour was Tanah Lot, which is a beautiful seaside temple that has the perfect backdrop for photography. Surrounding the temple up the way are a number of shops restaurants where you can relax and watch the picture-perfect sunset. Unlike the Gates of Heaven, this image is no illusion! What I enjoyed the most is I didn’t feel rushed at all on this tour which is why I’d highly recommend it to those looking to experience Bali’s most historical sites. I’ll remember the burning image of this sunset for the rest of my life.

Recommended Food

Here are my top food recommendations in Ubud. The majority of cafes and restaurants have vegan options, so I was able to try a lot of food!

Since I am a lover of all things avocado, I decided to search for the most unique avocado dishes in Ubud. The first place I found was a cafe called Mudra where I ordered avocado, tomato, and beet hummus arranged beautifully on a breakfast entrée, and an avocado affogato to drink. Some people are confused at the idea of avocado and coffee together, but when blended into juice avocado actually goes well with it. I really loved the originality of all of the menu items here and would love to come back and try some more delicious food here again some time!

The avocado waffles with dried tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese are from a lovely vegan spot called Alchemy. This was my first time trying a non-dessert waffle, but I have to say I highly recommend it! Not only was it very healthy and filling, but I really enjoyed the was it was seasoned with a salad dressing that suited all of the ingredients. This place is open late so you can eat these waffles during any time of the day!

If you like Greek food, then I recommend stopping by OIA for some quality tapas. I ordered a Greek salad and pita bread with yogurt dip for dinner after one of my tours and it really hit the spot. For breakfast, I recommend going to Pukako Bisma because they have a lot of really good open sandwiches and coffee. I ordered mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese on a piece of sourdough bread and was very satisfied with the quality of ingredients. For desert, I recommend Tukies Coconut Shop which is a chain all over Ubud. The coconut ice cream here tastes amazing and you can customize it with wafers and several different toppings.

The best spot that I found for drinking was called No Mas Bar. I ordered several fruity cocktails with with foam made from egg whites. The seasonal one with grapefruit liquor was probably my favorite, but honestly every craft cocktail on the menu looked like it was worth trying. The lemongrass sour was also pretty satisfying after all the sightseeing I did on this trip!

Thank you for reading my article on some of the most aesthetic places to visit in central Bali. In my next article, I will be talking about my trip to Komodo Island! Please look forward to it.

Exploring the Gili Islands of Indonesia: Gili Meno & Gili Air

Freediving around the 48 underwater Gili Meno statues is definitely worth the view!

After spending two lovely nights on Gili Trawangan, I decided to check out the other two Gili Islands: Gili Meno and Gili Air. Gili Meno is a popular place for snorkeling and diving due to its underwater statues of couples embracing created by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. You can see sea turtles and tropical fish in the coral reefs around here. I decided to book a private day trip snorkeling with a local guide through my hotel so I could ride a motorboat to all the most scenic places around the island. The trip was well worth the money because it saved me a lot of time.

Gili Air is a popular backpacking destination due to its facilities and friendly atmosphere. I had fun staying at a hostel called Begadang and swimming in its mushroom-shaped pool. Overall Gili T is the most lively of the 3 islands, but Gili Meno and Gili Air have nicer beaches and are more relaxed. I made the most friends on Gili Air, but there are friendly people to be met on all of the islands. I would recommend visiting them all if you get the chance since they are so close in proximity.

Freediving at Gili Meno

I left Gili T around 8:30am and went on a short boat ride to Gili Meno Island. On the way there I learned that the underwater statues are made of a pH natural concrete that promotes the growth of coral reefs, and they are arranged in a circle to represent the circle of life. That’s pretty deep, and I’m not just talking about the water! They’re also based on casts of real people which is why they have a distinct shape. The current around them is quite strong, but it’s easy to dive between them for the sake of taking pictures and videos. Just be careful not to touch them because they are covered in a natural layer of bacteria that could infect your skin. I fortunately arrived at a time when there weren’t many people so I was able to take many amazing photos on my GoPro! I am very excited to see the coral reef that grows here in the future. These islands truly have a lot of potential.

The boat stopped at three snorkeling/diving points total including the statues, a deep spot where the giant sea turtles are, and another spot close to Gili Meno Beach. I was very lucky and swam next to a turtle that was coming to the surface for a breath of air! Out of all the places I’ve been to, including Hawaii, this is the best experience I’ve had seeing sea turtles. The underwater visibility of the Gili Islands was very clear compared to my experience in the Philippines, so I prefer diving here. I was lucky I came at a time when it was sunny and there were not many people around.

After completing my dive and meeting many nice underwater friends, I chilled on the beach for a bit and drank dragon fruit juice before heading back to Gili T. The advantage of booking this tour is that it only takes up half of a day, so you will have the full afternoon and evening to plan more activities. If you are short on time and can’t stay overnight on Gili Meno, this is a great way to see the best of its waters. My tour cost around $70 but was completely worth the money for everything I got to see.

Staying on Gili Air

The next day I took a short ferry ride to Gili Air from the port. The main reason I wanted to stay here was so I could swim and take pictures of the mushroom-shaped pool at Begadang! Begadang is a popular hostel for backpackers because rooms start at $14 and it’s close to the beach. I rented a private hut with its own shower for around $20 which was a steal. While I was here I mostly stayed at the pool and recharged my energy, but I did rent a bike and go around the island. A lot of Gili Air is just sandy beaches and palm trees which is relaxing to see. There also appears to be new buildings in construction.

After seeing the island’s beaches, I stopped at Dila Spa and had an amazing facial and massage. The manager showed me a few spots to drink on the island which was very kind of her. At night we went out to Queen Sunset bar for drinks and met a few people at a reggae party on the beach. The performers that night arrived on private boat from Gili Meno which was pretty wild. They were very talented and I was happy I had the chance to see them. According to locals, they practice their music on Gili Meno every night, so if you like reggae then you know where to go. The best way to find out what parties are going on is to ask people around your hotel, because events spread by word of mouth here.

Recommended Food & Drinks

The best restaurant that I went to on Gili Air was called Gili Bliss because all of the dishes were very cute and had edible flowers in them. I ordered a vegan wrap that was topped with a huge scoop of guacamole and a big dragon fruit smoothie bowl. I loved how generous the portion sizes were here, and also how the interior walls were painted pink. This place really had an aesthetic flare to it which I love to see!

The best drink I had on the island was a watermelon smoothie with a butterfly carved out of the fruit and placed on the edge of the glass. If you know me, then you know I love creative drinks that go the extra mile. You can find this drink and other delicious food at JUJU Zero Waste Store & Vegan Cafe.

The final place I recommend is Begadang’s cafe. They make a mean omelette and smoothie bowl and eating by the pool is extremely relaxing. Definitely check out Begadang even if you choose to stay in another accommodation because the vibes are off the charts here! You can always chill at the bar and find people to talk to about your travels.

Thank you for reading my article on the Gili Islands. In my next article, I will be detailing my trip to Ubud and Canggu for prime sightseeing. Please look forward to reading more from me soon!

Exploring the Gili Islands of Indonesia: Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan: A vibrant and tropical backpacking destination for those traveling to Indonesia!

It’s been a bit since my last article series, but I am happy to announce that I am starting my next entry right before the holidays! For the last two weeks I’ve been backpacking through Bali, Indonesia, with my sights set on free diving on several of its gorgeous surrounding islands. Like the Philippines, Indonesia is a country that I’ve had on my bucket list for years due to its beautiful landscapes and beaches. If you live in Asia, then you probably are aware that it’s a popular destination for backpackers and travelers wishing to take tropical vacations. Food and accommodations are affordable and it is possible to visit many places in a single visit. Instead of traveling to the mainland, I decided to spend my entire time in Bali because I knew I wouldn’t want to leave the beach. I didn’t regret my decision one bit because there is so much to do in Bali that you can easily spend a month there!

My itinerary included the following destinations (all islands I visited were close to Bali):

Tokyo → Denpasar → Gili T → Gili Meno → Gili Air → Ubud → Nusa Penida → Komodo Island → Canggu → Denpasar ↺ Tokyo

In this latest article series I will start retelling the tale of my journey starting with the three Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan (frequently abbreviated as Gili T), Gili Meno, and Gili Air.

Getting to and around Bali

I booked a super cheap ticket from Tokyo to Denpasar through Singapore Airlines for $550. There was a 1 hour layover in Singapore, but enduring it was worth it for the discount. Direct flights post-pandemic are now usually over $900, so if you want a good deal from Japan definitely consider booking a flight with a short layover somewhere. December is during the rainy season in Bali, but it is still a pretty good time to viait. During my 14 day stay, it only rained briefly for 2 nights so it definitely felt like dry season to me!

The good thing about Bali is the majority of people in the areas that I was staying in spoke English and it was easy to communicate with them. In other parts of Indonesia, there is not much English guidance but fortunately I didn’t run into any problems. Compared to other countries I’ve been to, Indonesia is very religious with Islam being the most popular. Though very different from the religion I grew up with, I found learning about its practices to be quite interesting.

When traveling around the city, I recommend using the Grab app because it will always give you the lowest fairs. However, many people decide to rent scooters and motorbikes. If you decide to do this, just be aware that sometimes several vehicles share the same lane and roads are often narrow. Since I booked several tours to temples from Ubud that included transportation, I mostly walked to the places around the city that I wanted to go. Overall I didn’t have any problems at all getting around!

Adventures on Gili T Island

After I arrived to Denpasar Airport, I booked a private taxi to Padangbai Port through 12go Asia for $27 so I could reach Gili T Island via a 1.5 hour ferry ride. The average ticket price is around $32 one way for the fast boat, but your experience on the island will be more than worth the price. On Gili T, there are no cars so everyone gets around by horse and buggy and by road bike.

Gili T has an mixed reputation for being one of the biggest party destinations in Indonesia, but also for being one of the most relaxing getaways that attracts non-partiers. It additionally has beautiful waters that you can go snorkeling in which I will be covering in my next article. The east side of the island has the most bars, restaurants, and people, but if you want to escape, you can go to the north and west sides of the island which have tranquil beaches and resorts. Though it may not be for everyone, I personally liked how Gili T had a balance of peacefulness and nonstop partying. The surrounding Gili Islands are smaller and therefor have a lot less visitors if you’re looking for somewhere more private. I recommend visiting them all since they are very close to one another. It is easy to bike around the entire island within an hour, so I recommend renting a road bike to get around these islands. Your accommodation can point you in the nearest direction.

Some of my favorite bars in Gili T included Natys Restaurant, which was right on the beach and had amazing happy hour deals, and Blue Beach Bar, which had a bar with one of the nicest pools you could swim in. I also recommend going up north a bit and trying the bars near Turtle Beach. Gili Bong Bar and Turtle Beach Bar are tiny little bars that have warm and welcoming atmospheres. Gili T is also for its abundance of magic mushrooms. Like in Thailand, mushrooms are a gray area in the Gili Islands and many travelers consume them in shakes which makes it lowkey. While biking around, I saw many signs advertising them out in the open which was pretty hilarious coming from Japan. As I always say, do at your own risk and stay safe, but also enjoy.

Gili T Activities

Honestly the top activities on Gili T are swimming, drinking, and relaxing on the beach, but there are a few others that I recommend! The most fun thing I did aside from snorkeling was go horseback riding on the beach. Next to my accommodation was a stable of rescued horses called STUD Horse Riding where you can ride a horse for 30 mins – 1 hour. I decided to book the 30 min course on the beach. It was a little scary, but mostly fun! When we rode in the water, my horse named “Pegasus” stomped one of her front hooves abruptly, and I asked my guide if she was mad. He laughed and said “No, that means ‘I like it’!” I’m grateful that these rescued horses can enjoy a happy life on the beach, just like we can.

Other activities include bike riding, getting a massage, and joining a yoga group or a cooking class. If you ask your accommodation or walk around downtown, you can easily find someone that will point you in the right direction. Most activities really don’t cost much money—you’ll probably be spending most of your money on the delicious food and drinks here.

Recommended Food

Indonesia is probably the first country I’ve been to where I could walk into any restaurant and not have any issues finding something I could eat thanks to the large variety of vegetarian and vegan food here. All of the food on Gili T is amazing so don’t be afraid to try new things!

The restaurant I was looking forward to trying the most was called Banyan Tree in downtown Gili because it had some of the most creative dishes on the island. I ordered a beet hummus wrap filled with vegetables, and dragon fruit and banana pancakes for dessert with a side of honey. Both entrees tasted amazing and I wished I could have tried more of the vegan food here! The vegetable trays and coffee here also look amazing. If only I had a bigger stomach!

Kayu Cafe was another restaurant right down the street that I really enjoyed. For breakfast I had a vanilla latte with vegan waffles and scrambled tofu. I absolutely love the waffles in Bali because they come with an assortment of interesting toppings and dressings. I came back here another morning to try a giant vegetarian bagel and a green smoothie bowl. This is honestly the best place to grab breakfast on the island and I would recommend it to everyone!

The last place I recommend is Samadhi Living, which is a tiny café where I ordered a giant Buddha Bowl. I really loved the potato wedges, beet slices, and rice in this dish because all of the toppings packed a lot of flavor. I am so happy there were so many options for me on Gili T!

If vegan food is not your style, you can easily find grills downtown. I wanted to try the most unique dishes on the island which is why I mainly went to vegan cafes, but there really is great food for everyone here!

Accommodation

I stayed for 2 nights in a cute boutique hotel called Pink Coco Bali and had a phenomenal stay there. I loved the adorable pink décor and the outdoor pool with the plastic flamingos that is illuminated at night. Rooms are around $50 per night, but prices depend on the season. The advantage of staying at PinkCoco Bali is not only is it adorable, but it is also close to the beach and for adults only (no children allowed)! The staff was super friendly, and I was able to rent a bike here for a very cheap price. I loved both the aesthetic and convenience of this hotel, plus I think it had the most beautiful pool on the island. I would happily stay here again!

Thank you for reading the first article in my Bali series! My next article will cover visiting the other Gili Islands and going snorkeling, so please look forward to it.

Chasing Sunsets in Puerto Princesa and El Nido

A timeless sunset at Nactan Beach in El Nido, Palawan.

After spending a lovely four days at the Philippines’s #1 party destination, Boracay Island, I took a plane to to Palawan Island, which was the final destination on my itinerary before heading back to Tokyo. I decided to stay one night in Puerto Princesa and two nights in El Nido so I could explore some of the best beaches on the island. I expected Palawan to be somewhat similar to Boracay with a vibrant part atmosphere, but it is actually much more remote and private. There is a lot of farmland and lagoons in this area making it an interesting place to see. There are some good parties around the Nactan area at night, but during the day it’s quite peaceful. Nactan Beach was my favorite beach to go swimming at because the water was so crystal clear. Getting there is a bit of a journey, but you won’t regret seeing the beautiful sunsets there every night. Not to mention the happy hour specials on the beach are amazing!

Getting to Puerto Princesa & El Nido

From Boracay’s Godofredo Airport, I took a plane to Puerto Princesa Airport which had a short layover in Manila. The one-way flight was about $80 through Air Asia which was fair for the distance.

Getting from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is a bit of a long haul because it takes 5-6 hours by bus or van. I booked a van through 12goAsia for around $12. Fortunately there are a few rest stops and the van is air conditioned so it wasn’t a bad ride at all. Please note that El Nido has an airport too, but it is currently not possible to fly there from Puerto Princesa—everyone in Palawan travels there by bus. However, it is possible to fly to El Nido from other islands in the Philippines so that’s something to keep in mine while planning your itineraray.

I recommend spending at least 4-6 days in Palawan if you want to see both Puerto Princesa and El Nido. If you are short on cash or aren’t up for the long ride between the two, then I recommend choosing the one you like the most. El Nido was my favorite because it had better beaches and parties, but I’m happy that I had the chance to see both!

Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour in Puerto Princesa

I booked a Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour through KKday so I could see some of the loveliest beaches in Puerto Princesa. This group tour was around $30 and included lunch so it was a great deal. The island hopping tour explored 3 islands in Honda Bay which were all about 30-45 minutes away from one another, so it was an easier journey than to my favorite diving spots in Cebu. I would recommend this tour because it is cheap and my guide was super friendly. You get roughly 45 minutes – 1 hour at each beach so you can relax and fully explore them. These islands are quite tiny but have a lot of interesting characteristics.

Please note that the lifeguards are strict about where you swim in Palawan, so there are designated swimming areas on each island. This did not bother me because I was able to cover a lot of ground on each island even with the limitations in place.

Honda Bay’s Starfish Island

Seeing Starfish Island was actually my #1 reason for coming to Puerto Princesa. I’ve been to a lot of tropical countries in Asia, but have never seen so many starfish in the wild before! The tides on this island are usually pretty low so they are easy to spot both on the beach and in the water. Snorkeling equipment was provided on this tour, so I used my GoPro to swim underwater and take their photographs while having the time of my life. These starfish are known as Protoreaster nodosus, but are nicknamed chocolate chip starfish due to pointed projections on their bodies that resemble chocolate chips. I will forever treasure my memory with the chocolate chip starfish on Honda Bay!

Luili Island

Our next stop was Luili Island, which is another small island with beautiful waters and many tropical fish. The swimming area here was deeper than the shallow waters of Starfish Island, so I enjoyed wading in it and seeing all of the aquatic wildlife beneath the sea. One funny thing I noticed here was a starfish with four legs. At first I was a bit concerned for it, but I later I learned that starfish have the ability to grow their limbs back. I sure wish I could do that too! After swimming for a bit, I relaxed in a hammock before we went to our final destination: Cowrie Island.

Cowrie Island

Cowrie Island was the biggest of the three islands that we explored and had the largest swimming area of them all. This island also has a mini bar that serves frozen cocktails and shakes, so I immediately ordered a Long Island. By this time I was pretty exhausted from swimming, but I did go in the water for a little bit to feed the fish some bread I had bought for them. Watching them scramble to eat it was a fun experience. After the tour was over, I had the tour van drop me off at the bus terminal so I could catch my night bus to El Nido. I recommend buying some drinks for the ride because it’ll make the trip much easier.

Living it up on Nacpan Beach

I arrived to Nacpan Beach around 11pm and checked into my accommodation so I could drop off my things. As I was walking around the beach area at night, I heard dance music blaring down the street so I decided to go check it out. Turns out there is a free dance party in El Nido every Saturday where the locals gather and share drinks with one another. I was invited by a friendly group of Filippinos to join their table so I did and had a fun time talking with them. They even gave me free drinks which was too kind of them. The music the DJ played was a mixture of Filippino songs and western dance music. I heard Eminem at one point and cracked up. One Filippino girl invited me to dance with her and ended up introducing me to her entire family. I really think Palawan has some of the nicest people!

The next day I spent nearly all day swimming on Nactan Beach. This ended up being my favorite beach in the Philippines because it was such a pretty shade of blue and very fun to swim in. In the evening I partook in the happy hour specials and watched the sunset with one of my local friends who rode up to see me off. I was only in El Nido for two nights, but between the dance party and the beach I feel like I got the chance to experience a lot.

Recommended Food & Drink

Since Nacpan Beach is so remote, there are limited restaurants but almost all of the resorts have places you can eat. Since my hotel didn’t include breakfast, I had some cheap toast and eggs at Mad Monkey Hostel which was a good deal. I also had vegan goulash and buy one get one free banana daquiris at Sunmai Sunset Restaurant which was the best meal I had in El Nido. The tropical cocktail I had in an owl-shaped glass was also refreshing. I was impressed with the variety of drinks they had here. On my final day, I had cookies and cream ice cream from a stand located next to Sunmai Sunset. I really wish I could have tried every restaurant on the beach because everything I ate on this trip was satisfying.

Accommodation

While in El Nido, I rented a green cottage at Valine Grace Cottages which is a place that I’ve been looking forward to staying at since I first planned my trip to the Philippines in 2020. Prices start at $25 per night which is extremely affordable. The perks of staying here is it’s right on the beach and very quiet. I was actually the only person staying here and I couldn’t believe that I had the entire place to myself! The downside is there is no wi-fi here and sometimes the roosters and wild dogs barking will wake you up in the morning. However, you can ask for free wi-fi from the Mad Monkey Hostel around the corner from this place so don’t worry.

Final Thoughts

Overall two weeks was the perfect amount of time to explore four islands in the Philippines. I really covered a lot of ground on this trip and am proud of myself for accomplishing it. The weather in November was mostly sunny with minimal rain so it was the perfect time to come. The food was inexpensive and delicious, and I was happy to see there were so many vegan options around. My biggest regret was not seeing the lagoons in El Nido due to the distance from where I was staying. If I come to the Philippines again, I definitely want to see the lagoons and the Coron area because they have beautiful waters. I also wish to explore more culture festivals and music events so I can make more local friends. I am grateful for all of the Filippino friends I made because they showed me amazing hospitality and I will not forget their kindness.

Overall, the Philippines is a great destination if you enjoy warm weather and being on the beach! If you are unsure if you’ll like it, then I recommend traveling to Phuket in Thailand first to see what you think. Thailand has more sightseeing than the Philippines so it is a great place to start if you’re new to Asia.

Thank you for reading the final article in my Philippines article series! This two week trip was a blast and I hope to continue traveling like this so long as I can. My next article will be about going to an Autumn festival in Japan. Please look forward to it!

Finding Paradise on Boracay Island

After spending a relaxing weekending in Manila, I decided to fly to the Philippines’s #1 getaway and party destination: Boracay Island. Boracay is a small island located in the Western Visayas that boasts beautiful beaches and and arguably the best night life in the country. The majority of travelers stay on the main beach strip, known as White Beach, that is lined with restaurants, bars, and shopping centers and is always bumping. Most accommodations on White Beach are fairly priced, and the shore is just a few minutes by foot away. However, if you would like to book a more private accommodation, you can look into hotels further north of White Beach where less tourists flock. I decided to stay on White Beach to get the most out of the party life!

Getting to Boracay

Please note that getting to Boracay is a bit of a journey and there are no airports on the island. You need to fly to either Godofredo or Kalibo Airport, then take a taxi to the northern ferry port to sail to Boracay. Fortunately most hotels will offer a travel package that includes the taxi and ferry fare from the airport. I recommend flying to Godofredo since it is much closer than Kalibo (fortunately most roundtrip Air Asia tickets from Manila are under $50). Either way, the trip is worth it because Boracay is one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines and it’s very easy to make friends there.

During my first night in Boracay, I mostly went swimming on White Beach and drank Long Islands under the sunset. My top recommendations for bars with a club atmosphere are Epic and OM. Some locals invited me to a place called Exit Bar where all of the drinks were under a dollar. The liquor quality wasn’t the best but it sure was a great place to drink cheap! Most bars are open from 10am – 3am or later, so no matter what time you feel like going out there is something to do. This is by far the best party island I have been to in Asia, besides Koh Phangan in Thailand. I liked Boracay better because the beaches were prettier and there were less tourists here. I would definitely come back here to try more drinks if I had the chance!

Island Hopping

On my second day in Boracay, I decided to book an island hopping tour through KKday. This group tour was only $12 which was a killer deal. Please note that you can book tours from various agencies on the island when you arrive, but they may be more expensive than if you reserve online in advance.

The tour included the following points of interest plus a free lunch:

  • Puka Beach
  • Balinghai Beach
  • Snorkel at Coral Garden
  • Crystal Cove Island
  • Lunch at Tambisaan Beach

Besides White Beach, Puka Beach was the best beach I went swimming at. Since it is located at the northern tip of the island, the waves are much stronger, but I loved how remote and private it was. The coral garden we went snorkeling at was also beautiful and I was happy to see that it was in healthy state. We only had 30 minutes to snorkel there, but I enjoyed seeing all of the aquatic wildlife because the visibility underwater was amazing.

Crystal Cove Island was also a treasure because it had two beautiful caves you can explore. I enjoyed taking a break from the sun and wading in the cool water there. Getting around the island is a bit of a hike, but I enjoyed working up an appetite before lunch!

The lunch at Tambisaan Beach was a bit disappointing because they only had prawns as a pescatarian option, so I mostly ate prawns and rice. Fortunately after this we headed back to central Borcay so I could eat some vegan food on the beach! Overall I highly recommend this tour, just be aware that your lunch options are pretty limited if you don’t eat meat.

Mermaid Swimming

A popular activity/photo opp on Boracay Island is mermaid swimming with a rentable tail. The tail has two flippers inside which makes it possible to swim in deep waters. When I arrived earlier this month, there were two shops that offered it. One was a small Korean-themed cafe on White Beach that offers fin rentals for photos only. The price was around $13 dollars for this activity. The place that I booked was the Mermaid Swimming Academy in D’Mall which was further up the main road. This shop offers both photos and a private swimming lesson that I wanted to try. The price was $35 dollars for this class, but I was able to wear the fins for much longer. My instructor, Megan, was very kind and taught me different strokes. I ended up hanging out with her later that night because she works at Epic too. If you have never tried this activity and are interested, then Boracay is the perfect place because it’s so relaxed!

Food Recommendations

Due to its tropical atmosphere by the ocean, there is no shortage of fresh fruit and fish on Boracay, plus the restaurants on White Beach have cocktails galore! I was delighted to see that a number of restaurants included vegan options too. Please note that some of the food here is pricey due to it being located in a resort area. To find the best deals, I would walk up and down White Beach in the morning and read the chalkboards that list happy hour specials in front of the shops you want to try. I was able to find some killer deals, like buy one get one free drinks before 8pm and rainy season specials. If you befriend the locals, they can help you find great places too.

Nonie’s

Out of all of the restaurants in Boracay, Nonie’s was by far my favorite! The cocktails and entrees here are to die for. The first time I went here, I had a tempeh bowl with banana pancakes and their award winning ube liquor cocktail. This was hands down the best meal I had in the Philippines because all of the ingredients were on point. I came back here another day and tried a tuna quinoa bowl with some vegetarian siopao and the taste was out of this world. The cocktail I had with coconut shavings in it really complimented my meal too I really wish I would have had time to try everything on the menu, because everything I ate blew my mind. Vegan restaurants in tropical locations rarely disappoint.

Café Maruja

Café Maruja is a mermaid-themed coffee shop and restaurant located on White Beach with amazing décor. I loved the boat-shaped bar table, the neon lights, and the floral seat designs, not to mention the mermaid-themed cups and silverware. I had rose coffee and an acai bowl here for breakfast one morning, and also tried a poke bowl one of the nights after I went swimming. Though a bit pricey, the food here has generous serving sizes and is pretty good. I would still say that Nonie’s is better, but this was my second favorite spot and a great spot to people watch.

Ice Cream & Yogurt

While walking back from the island hopping tour, I found a coconut ice cream place called Coco Mama’s that served coconut ice cream out of a shell. I really liked how refreshing it was. I also found an avocado ice cream shop near Nonie’s and had to try it out. Just like the place I went to in Manila, this stand had absolutely delicious avocado frozen yogurt topped with fresh pieces of the fruit. On my last day, I found a shop on White Beach that serves smoothies in a bottle! You really can’t go wrong with any dessert you order here because all of it is worth trying.

Accommodation

Since I love little island huts, I decided to book one with a single room at Roy’s Rendezvous. I loved this place because it was 5 mins away from White Beach by foot and had hammocks on the balconies of the huts. The average price of these rooms are $40 per night which I think is pretty fair because it includes breakfast too. I stayed for 4 days and 3 nights which was more than enough to see the entire island. The staff was extremely accommodating and helped me book my taxi and ferry ticket back to the airport in advance. I would highly recommend this place because it’s quiet at night too.

Overall I had a fantastic stay with sunny weather and minimal rain. The only thing that was annoying was all of the vendors that tried to sell me things while I was walking from the beach to my hotel, but I expected as much here. It’s important to note that in 2018 that Boracay was closed due to the destruction of ecosystems by tourists, but it reopened the same year with an entry restriction. The island has a capacity of only 55,000 people (and over half are residents) so I would recommend booking your stay here at least a month in advance, especially if you go during the high season.

Thank you for reading my Borcay article. I hope you have the chance to go here and enjoy the nightlife too! My next article will be the last of my Philippines article series and will detail my experience in El Nido. Please look forward to it!

Exploring two of Cebu’s Best Diving Spots: Oslob & Moalboal

Swimming next to a whale shark is a memory you’ll hold for a lifetime!

During my stay in Cebu, I decided to book snorkeling tours to two of the best diving spots on the island: Oslob and Moalboal. In Oslob you have the once in a lifetime opportunity of swimming up close with whale sharks, and in Moalboal you can see beautiful coral reefs, the sardine run, and turtles. I highly recommend booking a local guide for the best experience because they will help you find the ideal spots to swim. These beaches are quite far from Cebu City, so be prepared to wake up early for a long trip. Your effort will reward with the memory of swimming next to some of Cebu’s most interesting aquatic wildlife, however!

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob

On my third day in Cebu, I woke up at 5am for a whale shark tour that I booked through Island Trek Tours on Klook. I liked this tour because it included hotel pickup and had snorkeling as an add-on for those who just want to watch the whale sharks from the boat (of course, I chose the snorkeling option). The average cost of the whale shark tours is $55-$75 depending on how much fuel you need to get to Oslob, but the money is more than worth the experience.

The journey to Oslob took about 3 hours but I slept for more than half the way and was the only person in the vehicle. When I arrived in Oslob, I checked in and received my snorkeling gear, then sat down for a short presentation on the rules of swimming with whale sharks. Basically they ask that you do not touch or feed them and also do not wear sun screen because the chemicals from it can harm them. Your swimming time with them lasts around 30-45 minutes because there are multiple tour groups, but that is more than enough time to take pictures and video. After agreeing to the instructions, I boarded a long paddle boat and arrived at the swimming location in mere minutes. I was astonished at how the whale sharks swim so close to shore, because if you have fins you could easily reach them.

It is suggested that you swim beside the whale sharks and not above or below them to keep them from being distressed. Fortunately whale sharks are patient creatures and will usually swim away if they become overwhelmed. I did not feel any discomfort or fear during this experience and would gladly do it again.

Here are some more pictures of the whale sharks and beachfront that I captured with my GoPro.

Whale sharks are endangered and are currently a protected species in the Philippines. If you book one of these tours, please be sure to be respectful of them.

Tumalog Falls

After the whale shark experience, my driver took me to Tumalog Falls where I had the chance to swim in a waterfall! The water was very clean and refreshing. I have never had the chance to swim in the pool of a waterfall before, so this was another first for me that I will treasure for a lifetime. Cebu truly is a haven for beautiful nature.

Food

Since there were limited restaurants by the whale shark beach in Oslob, I decided to just have snacks for lunch and go to Cebu City for dinner on the way back to my accommodation. I found this amazing upscale cocktail bar and restaurant called Circa 1900 that is located in a restored colonial house near the JY Mall. They have both western and Filippino dishes on their menu and the food and drinks are high quality. I ordered grapefruit and mango cocktails with two different appetizers. This was the best food that I had in Cebu and I can’t recommend this place enough!

Swimming in Moalboal

The next day I decided to book an Moalboal island hopping tour through KKday. This tour was pretty pricey due to the fuel cost needed to reach Moalboal, so I paid around $139 for it. However, the package included 3 different snorkeling spots on a private boat so the price was pretty fair for it. One thing to keep in mind is Moalboal used to be one of the best beach destinations in Cebu, but in 2021 a typhoon caused severe damage to some of the reefs and beaches here. The ecosystem has not been the same since and some areas of the beach are quite grainy. The water was not as crystal clear as I had hoped, but I still had fun venturing out here and seeing the sardine run and turtles.

The first dive spot was a beautiful coral reef near a rocky island. I saw a clown fish which was super cute and my guide helped me take videos of me diving with my GoPro. I was happy to see that this reef was in relatively good condition and that there were so many fish swimming here!

The second dive spot was Moalboal’s famous sardine run. Right off the shore of Panagsama Beach there are huge schools of sardines that gather every day. Their scales shimmer in the sunlight and they constantly move in a flowing motion, so they truly are a sight to behold. I had so much fun swimming with them because I had never seen so many tiny fish at once. Though I wished the water visibility was a bit better, I was happy with my experience here.

The last destination was swimming with turtles in the shallow waters of Panagsama Beach (which was very close to the sardine run). I loved seeing the turtles because they were huge and friendly. They didn’t seem to mind people swimming nearby them at all. The sad part was I noticed there was plastic waste in the water and the visibility here was pretty terrible. I had a way better time seeing turtles in Okinawa because the waters were pristine and there was no waste at all. In retrospect, I really wish I could have come to Moalboal before the typhoon but there was no way I could have done that during the height of the pandemic. I still recommend coming to Moalboal if you like swimming and diving, but be aware that the water quality is not always the best here.

Food

For lunch I asked my boat driver what he recommended, and he said to try The Boundary which was really close to the starting point of the tour. The restaurant had so many delicious entrees and drinks I didn’t know where to begin, so I ordered noodles, seasoned eggplant, and rice with a pina colada. Everything tasted amazing. The noodles reminded me of yakisoba in Japan and the drinks were as tropical as ever. Definitely don’t skip this place if you’re in Moalboal!

Thank you for reading my Cebu article series! I had a fantastic four days staying on this scenic island and it was overall a great starting point for my diving adventures. In my next article, I will be writing about my stay in Manila. Please look forward to it!

Spending a Sunburned Day at Strata Naha

Last night in Naha, gotta do it big!

After successfully freediving on Aka Island and Zamami Island, I sailed back to Naha via ferry for a final day of adventure in the tropical city before returning to Tokyo. I had already seen most of what I wanted here before, but there were a few new places that I wanted to check out. Namely Umikaji Terrace that is conveniently located near the airport, which contains a number of little shops and restaurants, and also a resort with a pool I had never stayed at before called Strata Naha. Since I was sunburned from not wearing a wetsuit the day before, there wasn’t a lot I could do during the day so I took it leisurely. Consider this a guide of what to do in Naha if you are sunburned, or if you are just looking to take the day easy too! And please check out my Naha Cafe Guide if you are looking for more food recommendations.

Exploring Umikaji Terrace

Umikaji Terrace is a oceanfront hodgepodge of bars, shops, and restaurants with patio and outdoor seating. It is conveniently located near Naha Airport and is a great place to watch the sunset in the city while knocking back a drink. I was impressed with the variety of food and desserts here—they had quite the international selection. I was mainly here to try the drop soda at Gallirallus (see below), but I ended up ordering a avocado salmon toast from a Hawaiian eatery nearby. I ended up killing a lot of time here by watching the ocean from the shade. I loved the bright blue design of the tables outside that matched the color of the sea, not to mention all of the Okinawan décor. One thing that really amused me here was meat taiyaki. I had never seen a taiyaki with a weiner in it before but I guess they think of every food crossover in Okinawa. There was also a really interesting ice bar on one of the terraces that I would really like to check out next time I visit. I look forward to seeing what kind of food trends become popular here!

Address: 〒901-0233 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Senaga, 174−6

Trying Drop Soda at Gallirallus

Here it is—the main event! One of the things I was most looking forward to trying in Okinawa was the ball drop soda because in all of my time trying aesthetic food, I had never seen anything like it before. You can choose from a variety of fruity flavors for the soda base (I chose strawberry), and also decide if you want a scoop of ice cream in the drink or not. The balls in this soda are very unique because they contain edible flowers and pieces of fruits. I thought the strawberry and pineapple balls were the most delicious and was very pleased with the quality of this drink. Compared to tapioca pearls, these flower and fruit balls just pack so much more flavor. If you get the chance, definitely hit Gallirallus up because I haven’t seen any other shop in the world serve drop soda before. You saw it here first.

Accommodation: Strata Naha

Since I am adventurous and enjoy staying in different types of accommodations, I figured this time I would stay in a new resort with a pool so I could relax before my flight the next morning. I found a centrally located resort called Strata Naha with rooms priced around 7000 yen per night online so I decided to try it out. Compared to where I had stayed before at Aqua Citta, this resort was much quieter and I had the pool to myself even though there were other guests around in the garden area. Since I didn’t feel like socializing much, I really enjoyed the atmosphere here, although I would normally recommend Aqua Citta to my friends because it is slightly cheaper and had a better happy hour deal. However, Strata is better for those who want a more private and mature atmosphere. I enjoy both resorts for different reasons and will definitely be back again!

Recommended Food Spots

I wanted to eat something healthy for dinner after swimming so I looked up vegan restaurants that were open at night and found a really nice one called Rakuen Cafe. Rakuen serves a variety of dishes including rice bowls, vegan taco rice, and green smoothies. I really enjoyed my power bowl because it had star fruit in it that reminds me of the paopu fruit from Kingdom Hearts. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries here because I had never seen fries so purple! They really tasted better than traditional french fries so I was so happy I tried them. Though I had already tried Blue Seal ice cream on multiple trips, there’s a really huge shop with a bright neon sign at night right down the street from Rakuen so I took a picture of it. If you’ve never tried Blue Seal, you definitely need to once in your life because it’s Okinawa’s pride! The final place I recommend for breakfast is Lestel Cafe, because it has delicious banana and honey bread and indoor disco décor. Honestly I dig the disco breakfastcore vibe here and I think more restaurants should embrace it. Naha restaurants and cafes are unmatched in style when it comes to Japan.

Final Thoughts

Despite the sunburn at the end, this was yet another successful trip where I checked off everything that I had planned on my itinerary. Revisiting old places, traveling to new islands and getting better at freediving, and ending my trip at this beautiful resort just made the experience all the more memorable. I plan on coming back to Okinawa in the fall because I have a sponsor here, and I think next time I will visit Ishigaki and Iriomote so I can continue to practice swimming and diving on different islands. Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my 2022 Okinawa article series, because this article is the final one (for now)!

Before I go to America this summer, I have one final place that I want to write about which is Aomori! Please look forward to my Aomori article series which will be in the works very soon!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

Revisiting the Tropical Cities of Naha and Okinawa-shi

Though it’s called “Moon Beach”, you can definitely soak up the rays here!

Exactly one year ago before the Golden Week rush, I decided to fly to Okinawa to visit Naha and Miyakojima for the purpose of practicing underwater photography and traveling to newly opened dream destinations such as the Sanrio Hotel. The trip was a total blast and later helped me discover my love for free diving while I was in Hawaii this winter. Since I am planning another trip to Hawaii this month and am going to be diving with an experienced friend, I decided to book a spontaneous trip from Tokyo to Naha, Okinawa, last week so I could get some practice in. I am happy to say that this year’s trip was also a success and I saw a lot of aquatic wildlife all by myself! It’s fantastic to see such an improvement in my diving ability in just a year while travel was extremely limited. I am excited to dive in other Asian countries in the future as the world starts to open up!

If you live in Japan, then Okinawa is hands down the best place to enjoy beaches, surf, and dive. Last year I flew to Miyakojima during my trip so I could go scuba diving tour in a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave. This year I decided to focus on the Kerema Islands that are just a short ferry ride away from Naha’s central Tomari Port. They have beautiful beaches that are easily accessible and great for seeing turtles. Like last year, I decided to stay in Okinawa for 6 days so I could both practice diving and spend time with friends. Roundtrip tickets from Tokyo to Naha are between 15,000 – 20,000 yen this time of year. Please read my previous Naha article on how to best travel to Okinawa from Tokyo. This year due to there being no state of emergency, I noticed more travelers than last year, but the weekdays were still pretty quiet.

Exploring New Cafes in Naha

I arrived to Naha Airport around 12:00pm and was hungry so I decided to hunt for the most aesthetic food on the main island. Since I wanted my first day to be relaxing, this article will mostly focus on cafes, beaches, and restaurants I explored in the major cities before setting sail to the Kerama Islands. Here are my top discoveries for 2022:

DAISY

Like the name implies, DAISY encompasses all food that is aesthetic and floral. I loved the pastel walls and hanging lightbulbs from the ceiling because they definitely added a flair to the dining experience. My very first meal in Okinawa was flowery pizza topped with lemon and lime, a flowery grapefruit drink, and flowery ice cream for dessert! This cafe popped up in my recommendations on Instagram and in all my days I have never seen a pizza in Japan that looked this crazy. It tasted like naan topped with melted cheese and a hint of fruity flavor (and yes, the flowers on top are edible too). Would I recommend this to my friends? Oh, absolutely! If you love cheesy bread then this is the perfect starter for you. The grapefruit drink complimented its tropical taste too. And let me tell you, ordering the ice cream for dessert was a very satisfying way to end this meal. It was a combination of vanilla and raspberry flavors that really hit the spot on a sunny day. After this I had all the energy I needed to set off to my next destination!

Address: 2 Chome-28-24-103 Ameku, Naha, Okinawa 900-0005

LaLa Zorba

Another wonderful restaurant I recommend is LaLa Zorba, which serves ethnic food that is 100% vegan. The shop is owned by a female chef who cooks everything from scratch. I went here as soon as it opened on my second day in Naha and ordered the curry platter which included soy meat curry, rice, vegetables, fruit, and tofu. I could tell all of the food was organic because I felt very clean and healthy after eating it. They also have vegan desserts available for purchase that change daily, though I was too full to eat anything else! I am happy to see that more high quality vegan restaurants have opened here since my initial visit to Okinawa in 2016!

Address: 〒900-0014 Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo, 2 Chome−2−32 2階

Heading to Moon Beach & Toguchi Beach for the Sunset

Moon Beach is a popular resort area near Onna Village that a lot of travelers rave about, so I decided to drive there with a friend for a private photoshoot. Fortunately even if you are not staying at the resort, you can still visit the beach and use the facilities. I was mostly here to catch the aesthetic sunset because I have already seen the beaches in southern Okinawa, and I think the ones to the north are much more beautiful. Though the beach is small and not ideal for swimming or diving, the surrounding scenery is luscious and ideal for photography. We spent around 45 minutes here and decided to drive south to Toguchi Beach after.

Toguchi Beach is rockier and sometimes has low tides during this time of year, but has an amazing arch rock fromation and private areas where you can swim and take photos. The reflection of the clouds on the water was absolutely breathtaking and I had never seen such a beautiful sunset in Okinawa before. I think the scenery here is unrivaled and this was a fantastic place to end the night (though we planned to go barhopping afterwards).

Address: 1203 Maeganeku, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0414

Though we had a car for this trip, you can take a city bus towards Matsuo from central Kokusai Street in Naha to reach the Moon Beach Bus Stop. This trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200 yen but is worth the price.

Moon Beach Sushi

After witnessing arguably one of the best sunsets on the island, we decided to stop at Chinuman for some mouthwatering sushi. This is a wonderful izakaya-styled restaurant with high quality fish that is perfect to relax at with your friends. I ordered a California Roll with a traditional Japanese 10 piece nigiri set, then some extra octopus and eel sushi because I love Okinawan sushi. The fish here hit differently than back in Tokyo. To understand you’ll just have to travel here and try it for yourself! Whatever fish you order here, you really can’t go wrong.

Address: 〒904-0414 Okinawa, Kunigami District, Onna, Maeganeku, 73

Barhopping in Okinawa-shi

Since one of my good photography friends was leaving Japan this week, we decided to go hard by pregaming then barhopping in Okinawa-shi (also known as Okinawa City). This area is more north from Naha and close to the beach resort areas of the central island, but you can still find accommodations here that are cheap. Since I am a lover of fancy cocktails, I decided to order an alcoholic avocado smoothie with a side of sweet azuki beans and a blue cheese Kahlua milk drink at a high-end bar called Bobby’s. Like the cafes I listed earlier, these cocktails were right up my ally because not only were they extremely aesthetic, but the quality was top notch too. We next wandered to an Italian Gyoza restaurant a little ways down the street that had just opened. They had a lot of unique entrees like mozzarella gyoza, Spanish omelettes, and herb fries. By this time we were pretty lit so we just ordered a ton of food and drinks and enjoyed the atmosphere. I can’t stress enough how much I love Okinawan restaurants because the owners here are never afraid to try new things. Italian Gyoza is definitely something that shouldn’t be slept on!

Accommodation

This year I mostly stayed with friends living near Moon Beach, but I highly recommend staying at Hotel Aqua Citta Naha like I did last year because it has free drinks during certain times and a beautiful infinity pool on the top floor. A standard room is around 6000 yen and this hotel is located near Tomari Port so you can reach other islands easily. Naha Airport is also close to this area as well as many bars and clubs. I will be detailing other hotels in my next articles where I visit the Kerama Islands. Please look forward to more island adventures from yours truly!