SSI Open Water Dive Certification In Gili Air, Indonesia

Ahhhhh Gili Air…a magical little island nestled between Lombok and Bali. Picture white sand beaches, sandy roads, epic sunsets, tranquility, delicious fresh seafood, and astonishing snorkeling and diving. It’s tough to describe just how marvelous it really is, but I’ll do my best!

There are three Gili islands, and we chose Gili Air because it is known to be much more chill than its neighboring party island, Gili Trawangan (which you should definitely go to if you want to party!).
Getting There
Getting to Gili Air is a bit of a task, but totally worth the trek.
Option 1: Fly to Denpassar, Bali, then take a small, 50min flight to Lombok. Take a boat from Lombok to Gili Air.
Option 2: Fastboat (our choice): We flew into Denpassar, Bali, really late at night, so we stayed near the airport at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was fantastic. After arriving at the hotel, we booked tickets for the fastboat online, with a company that I would not recommend. I would suggest pre-booking your tickets ahead of time with a company that you research and know has good service. Ours was a last minute booking and wasn’t exactly great.
The next morning, we hired a driver for $21.00USD to drive us 1.5 hours to Padangbai Ferry Terminal. Our fastboat tickets were $50USD each from Padangbai to Gili Air (photo below  is the unloading of our luggage off the fast boat, an experience all in itself).

If you have more time than money, there is a public ferry to the Gili’s that takes 4-5 hours for about $3USD (IDR 40,000).
Once you arrive at the island, you can hop in a horse carriage to your accommodation for $7USD (100,000IDR), or save the money and walk to your accommodation (the entire island of Gili Air is only 5km all the way around). That’s right, I said ‘HORSE CARRIAGE,’ because there are no motorized vehicles on any of the Gili Islands, which add to their character. Riding in these carriages is quite terrifying….imagine the movie Gladiator, without Russell Crow. Close your eyes, it’ll all be over soon!

Being an animal lover, I also felt totally terrible for these poor horses, but, my husband refused to carry 100lbs worth of suitcases across the island…SO, when in Rome…
 http://hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/indonesia/hilton-garden-inn-bali-ngurah-rai-airport-DPSJAGI/index.html?WT.mc_id=zELWAKN0APAC1GI2DMH3LocalSearch4DGGenericx6DPSJAGI
Where To Stay
If budget permits and you want an AMAZING open water dive experience, then Manta Dive is the BEST place to stay and get your training. They offer packages that include the dive cert and accommodation for 4 nights, around $500USDpp. Of course, you can stay elsewhere and just take the course at Manta, but we chose to make it simple and stay at their bungalows instead. The rooms are modern, spacious, air conditioned, come with a safety box, have a partial open bathroom and the service is excellent. Overall, it was much more accommodating and nice than we could have imagined for a remote, rustic island. Breakfast is also included, which is a nice bonus and you get a 10% discount at the neighboring restaurant for being a Manta guest. http://www.manta-dive-giliair.com
We arrived a day early to Gili Air and had to stay one night at Sunrise Beach Resort, which is a 2 minute walk from Manta Dive, and is MUCH more cost effective at $45USD per night, although we did not have air condition in our room and the accommodation was much more rustic. The breakfast buffet (included in the room rate), was great and the wifi was the best on the island. http://www.sunrisegiliair.com

 The Open Water Dive Course
There are two different types of courses available in order to become a certified, open water diver, PADI and SSI. We chose SSI, because the instructors have more freedom to teach you the skills you need help on. In PADI, the curriculum is much more strict and, if you haven’t mastered step A, you cannot move onto step B or C.
For example: I had no issues with many parts of the course, except clearing my facemask underwater. If we took PADI, I wouldn’t have been able to move on to the second open water dive, without first mastering that skill. With SSI, I was able to do the second open water dive and my instructor had the freedom to practice that specific skill with me so I could be comfortable and master it. Thus, SSI was the best fit for us because of the freedom in the curriculum.
The course takes 3 full days, from about 8:30am-4pm, breaking for lunch. Two mornings were spent in the pool and two afternoons were spent in the ocean diving. Manta Dive also has the deepest pool for training on the island, at 3 meters deep (10feet), which helps a LOT with training. The last and final day included a morning and afternoon dive, thus giving four total open water dives. You are required to take a written test, as well as watch 3-4 videos, which focus primarily on safety.
Our instructor, Kimmo, was ABSOLUTELY incredible! He was extremely knowledgeable, patient, kind and you could tell he really enjoyed his job. We had such an amazing experience with this course because of him.

If you’re hesitant about diving, put your fears aside and take the open water dive course. I can honestly say that I was super scared at some points in the deep ocean, but the more I gained experience, the more comfortable I felt. There’s a whole beautiful world under the sea! We saw beautiful sea turtles, clownfish (Nemo!) and many other colorful fish and wildlife! My only regret is not doing the certification sooner and diving in all the amazingly beautiful place Southeast Asia has to offer!

Getting in a good workout in Gili Air
I never dreamed in a million years that we’d be able to find a gym, with weights on the remote island of Gili Air, but we did! Although it’s quite rustic, a bit difficult to find, and the weights aren’t really what they say they are, Holiday Fit Gili Air totally sufficed for getting in some weight sessions. The gym has a bench, Smith Machine, free weights, a pull up bar and basic machines for upper/lower body. The price for one week is approx. $12USD and they even give you a cold/wet towel and water with each entry.
How to get there: The gym is located on the east side of the island. Follow the main road until you get to Gita Gili and there will be a small sign signaling you to go down a back road. Follow this road about 5 minutes and you’ll see Holiday Fit on your left.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g664667-d10308118-Reviews-Holiday_Fit_Gili_Air_Gym_Centre-Gili_Air_Gili_Islands_Lombok_West_Nusa_Tenggara.html

 Food, Drinks and Sunset Spots in Gili Air
The Gilis’ are known for their epic sunsets and the best spot on the island is Mowie’s, located on the southwest part of island (about a 15-20 minute walk from Manta). Here, you can sip wine, a cocktail or have a light dinner while mesmerizing in an EPIC Indonesian sunset. Be SURE to get there early (like 1.5 hours early), as seats fill up quick! http://www.mowiesgiliair.com
Sunrise Café, located in front of the resort, had a GREAT menu for lunch and dinner, with the tuna being the best!

For drinks, there’s an endless amount of bars, but our favorite was Chill Out Restaurant (they offer happy hour- buy one get one free!). They also have a huge menu, which includes cuisines from all over the world. http://www.chilloutbargiliair.com

It was an EPIC trip to remember and we can’t wait to go back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phi Phi Island, Thailand… A Magical Place

I had heard from MANY people that Phi Phi Island was overcrowded and not the best choice for taking my in-laws on their first trip to Thailand.

I am SO happy I didn’t listen to all of those people!

We had one of the BEST vacations we could dream of on Phi Phi Island. Although it’s a bit difficult to get to, it’s totally worth the journey.

How We Got There

We flew via Jetstar from Singapore to Phuket in about 1.5 hours, then hopped a bus to the ferry terminal (30minute commute) and finally took a 1.5 hour ferry ride to the island. This entire commute was arranged by the resort, which was a nice perk, although we had to pay a bit extra. The ferry was comfortable and we slept most of the way. Do note that there is also a public ferry available to take you to Phi Phi Island for a more reasonable rate.

The Resort 

Upon arrival at Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort, we were welcomed with a delicious fresh coconut juice and cold towel. The reception staff was friendly and welcoming, but of course one cannot expect the staff to speak perfect English. I read some reviews complaining about this, although it did not bother us one bit! Do note that this hotel is very isolated and you need to take a boat to get to the other parts of the island.  It is family friendly and the layout is very large, so plan to walk a bit! Every room is its own individual hut that looks as though it was built yesterday. The rooms are spacious, clean and modern and the bed/pillows are super comfy.  There are a variety of hammocks and bean bag chairs for sitting beside the ocean and reveling in all its beauty.

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The swimming pool is clean and ENORMOUS! It’s probably one of the biggest pools I’ve ever seen and (BONUS!) it offers a swim up pool bar with yummy drinks, delicious pool side food (both western and asian cuisines) and a large abundance of comfortable chairs.

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You can even book a massage right next to the ocean for about $30USD/1 hour. Listening to the ocean waves while having my back/neck rubbed was pure bliss. The masseuse even braided my hair at the end. It was magical.

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http://www.phiphiislandvillage.com

Food Food Food 

We ate at every restaurant the resort had to offer and in each, the food was delicious. The Beach House Grill & Chill was our favorite because of the decor and ambiance inside. The pasta with lobster was divine.

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Ruan Thai Restaurant offered up great Thai food at an affordable price-be sure to get the masaman curry. Api restaurant’s salmon and chicken over a bed of rice was delicious, as well as their beef salad.

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The breakfast buffet is HUGE and offers up both western and asian cuisines, complete with an omlet station, cheese boards, endless amounts of pastries and 6 different types of fresh juices. I’m kicking myself for not getting a photo of this! I’ve never seen such an amazing spread before. Be SURE to get the breakfast buffet included in your room rate when you book, it’s definitely worth it.

There is a very small village behind the resort (about a 10 minute walk) with a few good restaurants, a souvenir shop and massages available. Pad Thai Restaurant, which had excellent green curry, pad thai, tom kha gai and pineapple chicken fried rice at about half the price of the resort, is definitely worth a visit.

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https://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Restaurant_Review-g303908-d1997973-Reviews-Pad_Thai_Restaurant-Ko_Phi_Phi_Don_Krabi_Province.html

Another restaurant we LOVED for local Thai food in the village behind the resort was was Aroy Kaffeine. The decor, service and drinks were exceptaional, as well as the food. The owner is especially accommodating  and really friendly. Our only regret was that we didn’t have more time to go back to this restaurant. We ate the pad thai, green curry, fried spring rolls and pineapple fried rice…all of which were delicious! The desserts were OUT OF THIS WORLD delicious!

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https://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Restaurant_Review-g303908-d7160163-Reviews-Aroy_Kaffeine-Ko_Phi_Phi_Don_Krabi_Province.html

The Beach Bar was another great little bar located behind the resort. Chet, the bartender, is super friendly and offers up a lot of great info about the area.

https://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Restaurant_Review-g303908-d5008773-Reviews-The_beach_bar-Ko_Phi_Phi_Don_Krabi_Province.html

Day Trip/Excursion/Snorkeling-MAYA BAY!

Other than just hanging by the pool bar and eating, the resort offers up a lot o awesome excursions/day trips. We decided upon the Island Exploring full day trip (about 6 hours). The cost was about $100USDpp and worth EVERY DOLLAR! This was definitely the highlight of our trip! We bounced around to many different islands and also did a lot of snorkeling (we saw Nemo!) in multiple locations. The trip included stops at:

Maya Bay (famous spot where the movie The Beach was filmed with Leonard Decaprio)-beware this area is FULL of tourist. Get your pics in and go!

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Loh-Samah Bay, Pi-Leh Bay, Viking Cave, Wang Long Bay, Monkey Bay, Nui Bay, and Yoong Island.

The island hopping ends at Bamboo Island, where we had about 1.5 hours to enjoy a pre-packed lunch (prepared by the hotel) and relax in the white sand/blue water.

There is ample amount of time at each stop and the crew members of the boat were absolutely incredible with ensuring our comfort with snorkeling, snacks and music. We even jumped off the front of the boat and they took photos of us that we will cherish forever.

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Day Trek to Phi Phi ViewPoint:

Phi Phi lookout point is a MUST SEE while visiting Phi Phi Island. Unfortunately, to get to the viewpoint,  it is a bit of a trek from the resort. It took us over 2 hours to hike through a winding, quite hilly trail. We are in quite good shape and the hills were tough for us, so I wouldn’t recommend this trek for everyone (alternatively, you can have a long tail boat take you to Tonsai Bay and hike about 30 minutes from Tonsai up to the lookout point). Do wear tennis shoes, sunscreen, bug spray, a hat and bring water/snacks. But MAN are the lookouts worth it when you get up there! There is nothing more beautiful than those views! At the top of the lookout, there is a little restaurant with the sweetest old man who makes the freshest juice smoothies. The banana is to DIE FOR! We sipped our smoothies and reveled in the view for about 30 minutes before we hiked down the back side to Tonsai Bay (about a 30 minute trek down). Do note that there is a a shortcut portion that you must pay for (100baht each) to see another viewpoint and get to Tonsai faster. This is totally elective, as you can choose to take another free pathway, but worth paying for.

After arriving in Tonsai, we walked around the cute village and finally ended up at The Beach Bar Restaurant.  The music here was perfect, the drinks were strong, the pizza was delicious and the view was pristine. We sipped drinks and hung on the beach for the remainder of the afternoon until we noticed the tide creeping out. DO NOTE that the tide will go out and you can be stuck at Tonsai if you don’t leave in time. Luckily, we were able to leave just in time and pay about 800 baht to take a long tail boat back to Loh Lana Bay and walk 15 minutes back through the small village to the resort.

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Overall it was an INCREDIBLE trip and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to! Fee free to ask any questions/leave feedback! Thanks for stopping by and reading!

Stay tuned…next trip is to El Nido, Philippines in January! Hope you all have a happy holiday season and cheers to the new year! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong Day 1: SOHO

I must admit…I wasn’t that excited to return to Hong Kong. I’d been 5 years prior and I remember it being ‘just another city.’ But, it was Josh’s 31st birthday and we were staying in a new area of town, so I was determined to gain a different perspective on it…and I CERTAINLY DID!

We flew the first Singapore Airlines flight out in the a.m., which took about 4 hours. The flight into HK never disappoints, so be sure to grab a window seat!

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After landing, we were slightly disappointed that HK no longer stamps your passport when you go through customs (mine was stamped 5 years ago upon entry/exit). Bummer! We navigated to the taxi line to central, which was much easier than I expected. All the taxi vehicles that go to central are red and line up on the left of the queue. There is also a person there to help with communicating to the driver where you wish to go  because most locals in HK speak Cantonese (dialect of Mandarin, Chinese). Fortunately, our Airbnb owners are smart and gave us the address in Chinese characters as well as English. 20 minutes and about $35USD later, we were in the upbeat area of SOHO on Hong Kong island.

Our Airbnb was AMAZING: the owners, the info they provided about the area, the decor/cleanliness, the location… absolutely wonderful. It’s located on a small side street, which was filled with people hanging out and drinking beer on the street when we arrived. Such good vibes.

Check it out if you’re planning to stay on HK island:

https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/11807597

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The other AMAZING feature of the Airbnb on Peel Street, is that it is located next door to the COOLEST little coffee shop EVER: Peel Street Espresso Bar. The decor, vibe and service are all above par. We went to this place twice, once for espresso (duh) and a cookie, and another morning for breakfast. FYI, the Avo Toast and Banana & Nutella Bagel are DEVINE.

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Just down Peel street, there’s also a daily wet market, which boasts fresh meat, vegetables and fruits. We had so much fun just walking around the streets at the market, observing all the people and items for sale.

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SOHO is the perfect area to visit, because it’s super close to an abundance of bars, restaurants, malls, the Peak Tram and Lan Kwai Fong (I’ll explain this later). There is also a very large expat population in this region, so much so that, at some points throughout the trip, we forgot we were in China. I was SO in love with the winding, hilly, dirty streets (anything is dirty when you’re coming from Singapore, btw). We couldn’t get enough of just walking around and exploring, although it was SUPER hot in end June.

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There are a LOT of happy hour places around SOHO, with really great prices. Otherwise, food and beverage prices are very comparable to Singapore=expensive. After we dropped our bags at the Airbnb, we walked around and found a cute little local pub on Wyndham that brews their own beer called The Tipping Point Brewery Co. Apparently they are Hong Kong’s first brew pub. The Brewery’s lager beer was awesome and the apps we ordered, spicy chicken wings and mini burger sliders, were surprisingly tasty.

http://www.dragonace.com.hk/outlets/?outlet=Tipping-Point-Beer

After consuming a few beverages, we roamed around the streets until we could check into our Airbnb, take a quick cat nap, and then get ready to rock Josh’s birthday dinner.

After doing a LOT of research, I finally decided on taking Josh to Wooloomooloo Prime, although there are two locations in Singapore. This place did NOT disappoint. Although the price is really steep, the view of the city was epic and the steak was divine, not to mention the 5 different sauces that come with the steaks…OMG. If you’re looking for an impressive, special occasion meal, then this is your place. We spent several hours at Wooloomooloo, enjoying the view, sipping Prosecco and reveling in the fact that we were in the great city of Hong Kong!

http://www.wooloo-mooloo.com/hk/wooloomooloo-prime-cwb.aspx

Our view from outside. Beautiful.

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Broiled Sea Scallops: wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon, served with mango chutney & topped with salmon roe. Delicious.

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Tuna & Spanner Crab Tartare: a base of avocado, orange, shallot & coriander topped with sweet spanner crab & sashimi-grade tuna. Finished with sour cream & salmon roe. This was served plain, although we asked for crackers, which complimented it better.

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Our FEAST for dinner: We each ordered the 10oz center-cut Filet Mignon, which was HUGE.  We totally should’ve shared, but we ended up boxing up half of the steak and taking it home. Additionally, we topped each steak with lump crab meat, which went well. The steaks are served with 4 different sauces: Au Jus, Peppercorn Sauce, Mushroom Sauce and Red Wine Madeira. I loved the Mushroom Sauce, while Josh preferred the Red Wine Madeira. Josh also ordered a Horseradish Cream Sauce, which went really well with the steaks. For our sides, I went total American and ordered a baked potato, while Josh ordered the Sautéed Kipfer Potatoes, which were the BEST!

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NOTE: all items are a-la-cart.

It was an unforgettable birthday dinner!

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After dinner, we took a taxi back to our Airbnb to drop off our leftover food and have a drink. Then, we took a 10 minute (just under a half mile, 600 meter) walk to go out at the famous Lan Kwai Fong. There was an awesome vibe on these streets with many bars/pubs that were, surprisingly,  filled with people and loud music on a Monday night. We had a blast!

 

 

 

One Day in Macau

Macau-called the ‘Las Vegas’ of Asia- is actually the gambling capital of the world, housing more casino floor space than Las Vegas, it’s truly a gamblers paradise.

It’s so amazing that you can hop on a high speed ferry from Hong Kong and, in less than an hour, arrive in Macau. There is NO need to spend the money to stay at a hotel in Macau, unless you’re dying to, because there is a ferry always running, 24 hours a day, almost every 15 minutes, so you can come/go whenever you please. We walked the 15 minutes from SOHO to the ferry terminal and purchased our tickets for TurboJet Macau. The ferry was smooth, clean and fast.

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Upon arrival at the ferry terminal in Macau, after clearing customs, simply go outside and follow the signs to the free shuttle buses that take you to the casinos. We hopped on the bus traveling to The Venetian, which is located across the bridge in Taipa, and were there in less than 15 minutes.

I have to be honest, I really didn’t care for Macau. Of all the cities we’ve traveled to thus far, it was probably my least favorite. There really isn’t much to do there, besides casinos and a small historical region. Plus, there is VERY LITTLE DRINKING and restaurants! As an American, I’ve been to Las Vegas and Atlantic City where gambling goes hand in hand with drinking. Free drinks are served while gambling in the USA. There are bars inside the casinos. It’s a perfect marriage. Then I came to Macau…

We literally had to SEARCH and SEARCH and SEARCH for a bar inside the Venetian. And, after walking around forever, we finally found THE ONLY pub. So,  if sober gambling is your thing, then Macau is totally for you!

Don’t get me wrong, the Venetian was beautiful on the inside, but it is almost SO large that it’s difficult to navigate. It’s actually the seventh-largest building in the world by floor area. It’s also the largest casino in the world, and the largest single structure hotel building in Asia. We played roulette for an hour and roamed around for a few hours to get some souvenirs, see the gondolas and of course try a Portuguese Egg Tart (which was totally overrated).

http://www.venetianmacao.com

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After The Venetian, we walked across the street to the ever so beautiful Galaxy. Take my advice, once you’ve seen one casino, you’ve seen them all. We made it about 15 minutes inside and then decided we were officially done with the casino portion of Macau. We hopped another free shuttle from The Galaxy to the historical part of Macau, Senado Square.

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I have to say that Senado Square was my favorite part of Macau. The streets are made of cobblestone and the Portuguese architecture is really apparent throughout this part of town. It really is beautiful, especially at night. After roaming around the streets for a while, we finally came to the #1 site to see, The Ruins of St. Paul.  We snapped a few photos and then realized that we’d much rather spend our last few hours in Hong Kong because there really wasn’t much left to do in Macau, so we hopped back on the ferry to complete our last night out on the town in HK.

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Overall it was an awesome, unforgettable trip to Hong Kong and Macau! Stay tuned…next up is Siem Reap, Cambodia in September! Drop me a message or comment if you like what you’ve read or have any questions! 🙂