Melaka, a city with a mix of old heritage and modern living combined into one. In 2008 the historical center in Melaka earned its UNESCO World Heritage City title. IT’s since become a popular destination for the day and weekend trips due to its proximity to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. If you are looking to divulge yourself in the ultimate cultural experience and make the most of what Malaysia has to offer, then you’ll defiantly want to visit Melaka.
Transportation Getting to Melaka is incredibly easy. You can take a 2-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka Sentral, or a 4-hour bus from Singapore.
By far the best way to travel around the city is to walk. Most of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance from each other, and by walking, you will discover less known hidden gems. If you’re looking for something a bit more exciting, why not cycle around the city. Many hotels off rental bikes for their guests and there are even cycling tour groups.
For a different look at the city, take part I the River cruise journey. During your 45-minute sightseeing cruise, you will float past historical buildings, old and ruined warehouses and be able to view the stunning graffiti street art. If you would prefer to keep your feet on dry land but are looking for a unique way of traveling, try a trishaw. A trishaw is a small colorfully decorated vehicle with three wheels and a pedal.
Where to Stay There are many different types of accommodation available in Melaka depending on your budget, from hostels, guesthouses to fancy hostels, you’ll find the perfect lodging for you. If you have a larger spending budget, then check out the Settlement Hotel.
Located on Jalan Ujong Pasir, The Settlement Hotel is a beautiful refurbished ex-government building. It is a stunning four-star boutique hotel that is incredibly unique; you will remember your stay in this hotel. If you need to make your money stretch, then consider staying in a hostel. There are many different hostels available all over the city with different types of rooms available and are often under $10.
Places for Foodies
If you are looking for a fun and cultural experience, visit Jonker Walk Night Market. While walking the bustling streets, you will be surrounded by mouth-watering street food, fortune tellers, souvenirs, craft, and clothing stalls. Anything you could think of, you’ll no doubtingly find at this market.
13 States of Coffee is the best coffee shop in Melaka with coffee themed after the 13 Melaka states. Trust me, after traveling through Southeast Asia, you’ll quickly realize how hard a good cup of coffee is hard to come by. They also have laid back artsy atmosphere for doing some computer work.
No matter what food you are craving, you’ll find it in Melaka. They offer a vast variety of cuisines such as Chinese, Malay, and Portuguese. If you’re looking to be adventurous and try something new Melaka is the perfect place to expand your taste buds.
Activities to Consider
Be sure to take advantage of Melaka’s most Instragrammable spot by visiting the Kiehl’s Wall Mural. The vibrant colors as your background make this your next perfect profile picture.
During your stay in Melaka, you should make some time to visit Stadthuys and Christ Church. This bright red, giant-sized building was built when the Dutch ruled over Melaka in 1641. This neighborhood is a trendy area for tourists due to the museums and churches in the area. The strictly red building is a sight that shouldn’t go unmissed.
Another site that shouldn’t go unmissed is Malacca Sultanate Palace. Right next to the A’Famosa Fort, the Malacca Sultanate Palace is a replica of how it would have looked during the early years of Malacca Sultanate in 1500. It’s now a museum and displays stories and legends of the Malay Kingdom. This museum is one of a kind and should be on your list of places to consider in Melaka.
I’m scared. My face is planted face down into a pool, and I’m supposed to hold my breath to the near point of blacking out. I feel lumps in my throat with the urge to continually swallow, and I’m fighting against every natural instinct to lift my head and gasp for air.
I keep getting these white flashes behind my eyelids because they’re closed; I don’t want to stare at the ground floor of the pool. I’m trying my hardest to meditate and imagine me being in a deep dark blue hole with everything around me silent. I feel my heart rate slow down. The convulsions have slowed. I hear my instructor in the faint distance telling me I still have plenty of air. The convulsions come back. I can’t take it, and I stand on my own two feet gasping for air taking several deep breaths. In and out. In and out. In and out.
It feels good to breathe again. Almost euphoric, and there’s a burning, tingling sensation running through my stomach. My head feels heavy and lightheaded at the same time.
Welcome to the world of freediving. Freediving is THE most mentally and physically challenging sport I have ever tried. I’m disappointed in myself. I thought that if I were to follow all the rules that I could get through my SSI Level 1 Freediving Course in Byron Bay with no problems, but that’s not what happened even with the support of my friends and family.
Let’s back up a second, though and talk about the requirements.
Preliminary work: I signed up for a three-day SSI Level 1 Freediving course with Dive Byron Bay for A$550. It’s another strong aquatic investment that I thought would compliment the recent Divemaster certification I completed in Indonesia.
Before starting our classroom theory training, we were required to complete 4 online modules through the SSI Level 1 Freediving Course. It takes several hours to complete the online course work. Easy enough.
Day 1: Classroom and Pool Skills to complete: Theory and Confined Water
Objectives: (I’ll highlight only a couple to keep your attention span)
Be able to state what triggers the Urge to Breathe
Be prepared to explain how O2 enters the body
Be prepared to indicate the 4 responses of the Mammalian Dive Reflex
Be able to tell how pressure affects Freedivers
Be able to describe proper equalization techniques
Be able to describe appropriate breathing for Freedivin
It began in a classroom setting at Byron Bay Dive with two other girls about my age and one younger guy who also happened to be interning at the dive shop. Andrew, our Freediving Instructor, begins with brief introductions. I learn we are all scuba divers trying to take our skills to the next level. Two of the girls, who also happen to be friends, grew up spearfishing but wanted to learn the proper way to go about it moving forward. Andrew comments on this and shares his perspective about how he sees a huge opportunity for spearfishers to practice safer techniques than what they’re infamously known for, and that’s going into hyperventilation with rapid breaths before taking one deep breath and then holding your breath for as long as possible. This is not Freediving, as many people misconceive.
Now that we’re all acquainted, Andrew puts on an inspirational Freediving video for us to watch. (Time: 20-minutes, if you have it!)
We have an idea of what our potential can be now, so Andrew starts us with our first breath hold exercise and asks everyone to hold their breath from our seats for as long as we can. Easy enough. I hold my breath and then let out one large exhale at one minute and eleven seconds (1:11).
“Now I want you to splash some water on your face and do this again.” Andrew continues.
I splash some water on my face, take another giant breath and then again let out one large exhale.
“2:46. More than double your first attempt. Great job!” Andrew encourages me.
I’m pretty stoked at this point. I don’t know if I have ever held my breath this long, and it’s because of something as simple as splashing water on my face?
This is because of something we call “Mammalian Dive Reflex.”
According to SSI, it’s explained like this: The Mammalian Dive Reflex allows mammals to stay underwater for extended periods. Although manifesting itself strongly in aquatic mammals like seals, otters, dolphins, and whales, the reflex is much weaker in other mammals, including humans. Every animal’s diving reflex is specifically triggered by cold water coming into contact with the face. Submersion of body parts other than the face will not trigger the reflex. It is always exhibited more dramatically in young people and animals, thus granting them longer survival times in cold water.
Pretty cool, right?
The more Freediving we do, the quicker and stronger our reflex gets resulting in longer and deeper dives. It’s like we’re slowing turning ourselves into a real mermaid. I don’t know about you, but I think this is one of the most brilliant discoveries of humanity. Our bodies are so adaptable.
I also learn in our theory lecture that that urge to breathe because you’re out of oxygen is not actually what’s happening at all. I’ll break it down in the simplest terms I can with the basic knowledge I have.
The air that we breathe is 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. So when you are holding your breath and feel the urge to breathe, your body still has plenty of oxygen stored in your lungs. It’s the nitrogen that causes that urge. If you pass that desire to breathe, your body goes through all sorts of crazy things, and, in my case, I had a warm tingling sensation, convulsions, and flashes when my eyes were closed. But if you hang on just a little longer, longer than what your body instinctually tells you, you get past the convulsions, and you feel your heart rate slow down, and then everything starts to get calm again (besides your mind that may be freaking the f*ck out).
(By the way, please don’t try this at home on your own. I’m explaining this while I was in under care of a professional with supervision and only encouraged you to do the same.)
We get through the rest of our theory, break for lunch, and are told to meet at the shop’s on-site pool afterward.
The pool water is only about waist high and where we spend the rest of our afternoon. Andrew has us lie floating face down in our wetsuit and mask one at a time. We go into another breath-hold (also called static apnea) and try doing the same thing we did in the classroom only with our face submerged in the water now.
I felt a lot more fear doing it this way. I knew I was safe, but I am afraid of accidentally swallowing water. My time was 1:58. I’m disappointed I didn’t hold it for 2:46 like I did in the classroom. I know I can do better.
Everyone goes for their third round, and this time the young guy is really pushing his limits. I’m watching his body convulse from the surface and him fighting the urge to get up. Andrew is telling him he still has plenty of air and the guy patting his hands on the edge of the pool still holding his breath. The guy can’t take it anymore and stands on his two feet, but I notice his face is pale and looks sunken in. Andrew tells him to breathe and the guy blacks out.
Andrew catches him holding him in his arms, lightly taps his cheeks on both sides and face and keeps calling for his attention, telling him to breathe…then breathe again in a calm voice…while still lightly tapping his face. The guy snaps out of it, color comes back to his face, and he smiles.
“You all right there, buddy?” Andrew asks.
“Yeah. I feel good.” guy responds.
This is that state of euphoria I mentioned earlier. You learn a little about this mental state also in scuba diving with nitrogen narcosis, also explained as feeling drunk.
It’s my turn to go. After that episode, I’m a little relieved to see what a shallow water blackout looks like. The guy was smiling and said that he didn’t feel scared when it was all happening. Instead, he felt a state of euphoria.
In scientific terms, the human body goes through some amazing-ass shit, and I desperately want to be able to fly underwater. I go again feeling motivated by the blackout and how easy it was to bring the guy back that this time I got my time up to 2:34.
Day 2: Confined Water and Ocean Dive Skills to complete: Dynamic Freediving Objective: Swim 50 meters in lap pool on a single breath
The Dolphin Kick
Confined Water We start the morning at Byron Bay Pool, an Olympic sized pool where we spend our morning going over different techniques and skills. Andrew told us not to drink anything caffeinated or eat anything before class so that we could begin our morning with some thoracic exercises.
For those of you new to Freediving or even yoga, thoracic exercises are diaphragmatic breathing and without going into too much detail, will mainly help you gain the most out of a breath-hold. The average human lungs measure 4-6L where some competitive Freedivers have tripled that. I’ll spare you most of the yoga-Sanskrit jargon and try to break it down for you in laymen terms.
I watch Andrew demonstrate his first exercise, teaching us how to take a proper yogic using 4-7-8 breathing. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, then exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
We move into another exercise and this time compartmentalizing our breath and learning how to breathe separately from our stomach and then our chest. It usually works like this: inhale from your stomach solely for 4 seconds, and without exhaling, continue inhaling through your chest for another 3 seconds. Hold your breath completely now. Then reverse and slowly breathe out from chest to stomach.
Our third thoracic exercise is short, powerful exhales and passive inhales from a seated position.
The pranayama session goes on for about 30 minutes with a few additional demonstrations helping us stretch the thoracic area that prepares us for the rest of our day.
I didn’t have any yogic breathing practice before this, so if you’re new to yoga, I wouldn’t feel alarmed or nervous about it. But if you are getting into Freediving over the long haul, learning proper breathing techniques (pranayama) is essential.
Great! We are feeling zen and ready to gear up for the pool for some dynamic apnea. Something to note is Freediving wetsuits are different from scuba diving wetsuits. First, they are two pieces. Second, they’re made to be mostly at the surface meaning the neoprene is thinner (low-density neoprene) than a scuba diving wetsuit (high-density neoprene) meant to sustain colder temperatures longer. Wetsuits can be stubborn little fuckers, so if you’re having trouble putting either on, baby soap always helps.
Okay, so we’re zen and all suited up. Let’s get into skills.
One of the sets of skills we had to complete was to swim 50 meters in a lap pool on a single breath. This is harder than it seems because you have your fracked up mind playing games with you the whole time telling you, “Breath. Get up. This is good enough. You’re going to pass out. You’re going to drown. Get the f*ck up and breathe, damn it! ” Nobody in my class got it the first round, and for some, it took several attempts, and that was a real struggle for them.
I played sports growing up, and I remember coaches telling me, “It’s all in your head. This is the most mental sport you’ll ever play.”
Bullshit. Freediving is the most mental sport you’ll ever play. I remember when I was caught 22 meters deep diving in a rapid current change in Indonesia and having to escape into a cave until it settled down a bit. I thought I might die at that moment, and so I’d say this sport mentally compares the same to me feeling like I might almost die but instead of that one-off dive incident, this happened each time my head submerged the water. Fear is a bitch, and I can’t wait to get past this stage.
Andrew went over a few other techniques as listed in my objectives above like finning style, dolphin kick (useful for monofins), and streaming. And, at around noon, we all successfully completed our pool exercise.
Ocean Dive In the afternoon, Andrew arranged a boat for us to start our first oceanic Freedive. A red training buoy/float with a line dropped to about 10 meters is set up at Julian Rocks, a favorite dive spot in Byron Bay. The weather isn’t particularly beautiful, and it’s also a little choppy, but I’m excited to give line diving a first try finally.
We gather circled around training buoy and begin with our head submerged in the water and working on our slowing our heart rate and feeling really relaxed and calm.
It’s my turn to go, and I’m feeling like my breath ups were good and began with a duck dive. As I’m approaching a deeper depth, I keep my eyes only on the line in front of me and resisting the temptation to look at the above and below. At about 10 meters, I’m having trouble equalizing. I stop where I am on the line upside down and try to equalize from there, and it’s still not helping. Ugh, I need to go up. I turn my body around and slowly climb my way back to the surface.
I give the okay sign and verbally confirm, “I’m okay.” and take steady breaths in and out.
10 meters, I’m told.
My turn comes up again, and I’m finding myself leaning a bit on the conservative side and not pushing my limits. The equalization brought in an entirely different element into the game.
I remember when I first started diving and having equalization be an issue. Then when I tried to take a refresher course in Los Angeles, it was a huge issue. Finally, when I flew into Labuan Bajo, to dive in Komodo National Park for several months and work on my Advanced through Divemaster certification, I got past the equalization issues, and now I seldom have to equalize unless I’m sick.
I think the same is going to happen with Freediving for me. I don’t know if it’s that I grew up with a lot of ear infections as a child that makes this a hurdle for me or if it’s only science. Either way, I’m going to persevere. There’s still a tiny bit of fear of letting go, but I’ll get there. Progress not perfection, right?
DAY 3: Ocean Dive #2 Skills to Complete: Depth to 20 meters
It’s game day. This is where I get to apply my knowledge, and practical skills learned over the last two days.
My morning already started off a bit wonky. We pull up to the same dive site but are delayed because they spotted a shark in the area. Byron Bay is infamous for bull sharks and shark attacks, but after about 20 minutes, they confirm that they think it was a hammerhead and it went away. This makes me nervous. It’s not like diving where I can see anything and everything coming my way. I hate being on the surface and not knowing what’s below me. The weather is similar to yesterday, and the ocean is very choppy. There’s some wind bringing a slight chill to us.
Conditions are meh, and it’s game time. We do our breathe ups and go for my first try and, ugh, even worse than yesterday. I lost my weight belt sometime in the last 15 minutes and have to borrow one from one of the girls inconveniently.
I go in for my duck dive and get to about 10 meters, and I can’t equalize. Annoyed, I turn around for the surface and feel a sudden sting on my hand. Motherfucker. It’s a jellyfish sting. I tried to avoid them, and I’m protected in my wetsuit, but this one somehow found itself on my hand.
Shark. Jellyfish sting. Choppy water. Equalization issues. Lost my weight belt. Ugh. The Universe is not working with me!
It’s my turn again. I duck dive, focused on the line in front of me, equalizing as I go, and then I’m stuck still. I can’t equalize. I push myself a couple more meters, and the pressure is intense. I have to get to 20 meters to pass, and we only have time for best out of three. I’m going through the convulsions, but the pressure in my head is too intense and turn around back to the surface again. I failed.
I come up to the surface, signal OK, and follow up with I’m okay. After several minutes, I started getting a really nasty headache. The worse I’ve ever had and so when my turn came up, I told Andrew to go without me and I’ll go after the rest of the group was done. I’m lying with my hands on the buoy and face submerged in the water, and then I put my head to rest on the float over my crossed arms and start yogic breathing.
My turn comes up again, and my headache is still pounding. I regrettably tell Andrew I’m not going to be able to finish the exercise. The course pass rate ended up being 50% pass. Only 2 out of 4 of us passed the ocean skills but were told we could make it up another time for free.
I feel like such a failure. How could I not do this? I’m beating myself up, and I’m embarrassed to give the update to friends and family that I didn’t complete my ocean course. But this is life, and I’m more motivated than ever to jump back into the sport and succeed.
I feel like there are many misconceptions about what freediving is – including my own. Some consider breath-holding and diving into water (skin-diving) as freediving or spearfishing as freediving – which technically in a way are. But very few understand the underlying theory, physiology, skills, and safety protocols behind it. How does pressure affect your body underwater? Did you know many experiences a state of euphoria right before a shallow water blackout? Why are more and more people becoming intrigued with the sport? Taking my SSI Level 1 helped me become a better scuba diver. I know I have plenty of oxygen stored in my lungs than my body reflexes want me to think. I’m pretty stoked to have all this knowledge at my fingertips. Last I learned, you can’t pee on a jellyfish sting to make it better. 😉
***Sorry I don’t have more photos to share. It’s hard when you’re in a learning environment to take them and the ones offered to us weren’t that great.
‘Eua is nicknamed “The Forgotten Island” and one of the only islands in Tonga that you can find a rainforest climate. There are great hikes, caves to explore, and, my favorite, SWIMMING WITH WHALES! But before you go to ‘Eua, there are a few things you should know.
Transportation There are two options on getting to Eua from Tongatapu. The quickest way and most expensive way is to take the shortest flight in the world lasting only 7 minutes from the airport.
The more affordable option is to take a 2-3 hour sketchy ferry ride. If you’re coming from Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu Island), all the information you read online is a bit misleading or inaccurate.
It’s difficult to book your ferry in advance as I’ve heard from several travelers I met on the island. Instead, you have to find your way to the Nuku’alofa pier and find a person holding a carbon booklet and selling them to you just before your departure.
The ferry can be unreliable, and you may not leave on time or that day if the weather is unfavorable. I tried getting my ferry ticket one day prior, and she asked me to just come an hour (at 10am) before departure to pick it up. Also, look for a blue and white ferry boat. When I arrived, there is a small outdoor waiting area (search for a large group of locals) and wait until she calls for tickets.
The ride to ‘Eua is a bit choppy. You’re going headwind, and so that makes for a much more bumpy ride. The way back to Nuku’alofa is much smoother and faster.
There is no public transportation on the island, but it is hitch-hiking friendly! Most of the overnight accommodations offer a free shuttle for booked tours.
After Your Arrival Once you arrive, you’ll come to a dirt-covered parking lot. There’s the Ovava Tree Lodge that’s within walking distance and Deep Blue Diving tour operator. This is considered to be “the main town,” but that’s not saying much. Booking accommodation in this area makes things more accessible to the largest market referred to by locals as “The China Shop.” To get there, you’ll find just over the bridge and take the first right (there are no street names here).
SIM Cards Digicel: offers more hot spots and places to top up your SIM around the island, including the China Shop and households. If you choose to top up at a house, look for the Digicel sign. The signs are usually displayed on a window of what looks like someone’s home.
TCC (Tonga Communication Center aka U-Call): the less expensive option, but I wish I went with Digicel mostly because of Digicel’s accessibility. There is only one TCC store in ‘Eua, and that’s in the central area of town, covered during unusual business hours. If you rely heavily on the internet, it’s a frustrating process only being allowed to top up a maximum of 1G at a time, or 5G for a computer. Wifi is not necessarily always available in restaurants either.
UCALL 3G Internet Rates
50MB 24hr $2
100MB 5 days $3
500MB 1 Month $13
1GB 3 Months $25
Accommodation There are very few accommodations on the island, but I hear the tourism board is trying to work on maintaining a standard that caters to travelers being good news for us.
Hideaway: This is my favorite place to stay on the island and what I hear from locals and other travelers as their favorite too. It’s a little ways from town (about 20-minute walk), but it’s right on the coast with an easily accessible beach and partial ocean view from your room. You can actually see whales breaching from the outdoor dining and hang out area.
Other elements that make this my recommended accommodation are hammocks, sun decks and 50MG of free wifi. They will also offer you free ferry or airport pickup and drop off a complimentary continental breakfast, and free lemon or lemongrass tea and/or free rainwater always out in a bin. Not to mention the super friendly staff! I guess you could say these guys have their “ish” together. The rooms are super clean, hot water, reliable toilet plumbing, and crisp white linens tightly tucked in the beds. It’s an overall great value for what you’re getting at TOP 65 ($30 per night).
Ovava Tree Lodge: This is the only lodge located “in town.” It’s actually pretty cute and has a nice ambiance, but I heard from another traveler that you have to climb a staircase (ladder) to get to your bed/room. Otherwise, I had lunch there, and it was decent.
Taina: I don’t know much about this place, but I did meet a couple of travelers who stayed here and didn’t seem to have any complaints.
Highlight Guesthouse: I had an “interesting” local experience here. The host was nice, but I could not in good faith recommend this place to travelers. I hate talking poorly about local businesses, but it was overvalued. There’s little that can be done to make it feel fairer priced and a more comfortable stay for guests in this two bedroom guest house.
The guesthouse charges TOP 60 ($30) per night, $5 ferry pickup, $5 each way to run errands and an additional $5-10 to use the kitchen where half of the appliances don’t even work. There were no locks on my door. No wifi. The shared bathroom connects to the other guest room, but the bathroom door that attached to the guest room didn’t close all the way always leaving a slight crack where you could see in the bedroom a tiny bit or vice versa.
This is manageable when I had female guests, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable once an older man moved in. The bathroom was also dirty with toothpaste in the shower ledge all 3 nights I stayed there. The toilets weren’t clean either, and I often felt like I had to wipe it down each time I used it. One perk is that there was hot water! No towel provided though.
Everything felt dirty. My room had dead insects on the window ledge, lots of mosquitos buzzing through (less when I kept the windows closed and went crazy with insect repellent), and I felt the need to wear flip flops because the dirt debris on the floor would kick up on the sheets. The dresser also was unusable. There was sticky goo in the drawers and looked like mold or mildew had taken over. Also, my bed was a full-size futon that fell at a slight tilt, and the pillow felt like lumpy socks. The blanket she provided was big and warm though! Perfect for the cold winter Tongan nights.
There is also no food in the neighborhood, and she doesn’t have a menu for guests. When I arrived, it was late afternoon, and I asked if we could stop by somewhere to eat, and she seemed surprised that I didn’t bring my own food. I think she eventually felt sorry for me when I pulled out my only two apples and a small bag of almonds to last me until the next day, so she offered to cook me dinner for TOP 20 and also provided me some of her leftover soup her daughter made for her that morning. I did enjoy the dinner, and the portions were more significant than I could finish on a hungry stomach (white fish cooked in coconut milk with root vegetables) and felt it was a reasonable price to ask.
She was also kind enough to make phone calls when I needed it. So, as I said, I don’t like talking poorly about businesses, but there’s definitely a lot that could be done to make the place more beautiful and for a better value. A couple of recommendations I’d have would be to remove the transport pickup and kitchen fees, and include complimentary tea and/or coffee with some biscuits for guests.
Where to Eat Dining out in ‘Eua is scarce. Everything closes early, and food seems to be hard to come by so make sure you bring your own snacks. My first two days I pretty much survived on apples and nuts that I brought over in my backpack. Most of the accommodations offer meals but only during a specific time. It’s also recommended you let them know early if you plan to have dinner so they can prep the food. Otherwise, you may not have anything to eat because meals are made to order with advance notice.
There are no restaurants or dining options otherwise, but the meals are pretty good from the accommodations that offer it.
Swimming with Whales (Our Favorite!) A lot of people choose to go whale swimming here instead of the other islands because it’s known to be cheaper (and better). Tourism hasn’t quite caught up to ‘Eua island yet, so there are only two tour operators who will take you on whale watches and whale swims and only one of those offers scuba diving tours with only two divemasters on the island. Here’s what I think about the two whale operators.
Deep Blue Dive I first chose Deep Blue Dive because they had a familiar name and had a dive shop on Tongatapu. The booking lady at the Tongatapu location was nice enough to help me book an accommodation (Highlight Guesthouse) when the island was already known to be sold out for weeks, so I felt safe going with them – but then a twist of events happened where I lost my trust in them as a tour operator on ‘Eua.
I stopped by their shop located at Ovava Tree Lodge and spoke to the nice lady who is the wife of the Divemaster / Whale Boat Captain. She initially offered me a discount for bringing my own dive gear, but when I spoke to the captain, he wouldn’t honor it saying that the dive gear was complimentary as part of the package. I didn’t fight it and just accepted it. This is sometimes the norm for dive operators.
Deep Blue Dive said they’d call me later that evening to confirm the pickup time, but they never did, and I had to follow up with them. Also, fine. I didn’t mind that.
But here’s where things began to go wrong.
I asked the guy if he could confirm the maximum number of guests that were allowed on the boat. I heard this company sometimes booked over maximum capacity, and I wanted to have as much time as possible with these whales in smaller groups.
The price was a bit steep at TOP 290 for one half-day of swimming with whales (including lunch) and another TOP 90 for one dive. I talked to another whale operator who offered the whale swim for TOP 200 but decided to go with Deep Blue Dive because I wanted to go diving too and knock out both in one day.
Deep Blue Dive said they’d call me to let me know the rest of the details. I found it strange they didn’t ask for my dive card or any dive insurance though. When I asked if their tanks were all up to date, he said that nowhere on the island services tanks, so they service their own (a bit convenient). I also confirmed that everyone on the boat planned to do a whale swim and dive combination that day.
My pickup time from my accommodation was for 9:00 am. It seemed a bit late, but I didn’t question it too much. We make it back into town and get started at around 10:00 am on the dock. Deep Blue Dive asked me to leave all my dive gear, and we’d go diving in the afternoon after lunch.
The water vessel is small but seemed fine for Tongan standards. There was a rusty little nail that was sliding around on the boat, but I let that slide. We received a boat safety briefing before we left and went out about 5 minutes before seeing our first whales. It’s that easy on this island!
I’m excited to go swim with some whales, but these guys wanted nothing to do with us. We see lots of whales, and they seem to be all around, but each time we came close on them, they’d go diving deeper and leave us. It was like a whale game of hide and seek. I’m bummed, but you can’t predict nature.
The entire day was a game of chase. We jumped in once, but they swam away before we could get close. It’s cold, and my group and I were making funny jokes about why they didn’t want to swim with us. Due to how slow the activity was, it would have been an opportune time for our guides to share some fun facts about whale behavior. Instead, one of the guides was seasick hurled over the boat or sleeping it off from the little boat roof. The other guide never said a word to us, and the captain kept to himself.
So, we had no luck the entire day and decided to break for a late lunch at around 2ish. The meal was a small bowl of soup and a loaf of sliced bread for the group to share. Despite the small soup portion, it was still delicious. I had to fill up on bread to get full though.
There was a lot of nice little service touches that Deep Blue Dive was missing. Overall I didn’t feel like I was getting a good value. Water, hot tea, and maybe some biscuits would be a nice touch to offer in between. You don’t want people getting dehydrated in the sun all day, offer some water.
Whale season is also in the winter time, and the breeze gets very cold out on the water. Tea would be a nice way to keep guests comfortable. And something cheap like crackers or biscuits for those who missed their breakfast or have low blood sugar. I kept questioning where all our money went $290 x6 = $1740 TOP ($782 USD). The only expenses I saw flowing out were for 1 Captain and 2 other staff, and gas. Maybe some maintenance on gear but they had an odd assortment of gear. Moving along…
After lunch, our guide canceled our afternoon dive to go continue whale swimming. It turns out that not all guests were signed up to go diving like I asked and confirmed the day before.
Instead, he allowed an ADDITIONAL 5 guests at the last minute onto our boat! This really didn’t sit well with me because now the boat felt overloaded, the dynamic changed, and the group who joined were a bit boisterous and inconsiderate. After telling them how we didn’t see any whales all day when we went back out there, they sort of pushed their way into the water first. I thought there were only supposed to be a maximum of 6 guests at a time with the whales because we don’t want to stress the whales out. But then all rules and communication went out the window, and we felt like we were all racing and chasing to get to the whales. We had a beautiful 5 minutes with the whales, but my intuition felt something wasn’t right. They also refilled their outboard with gas while we were out in whale territory, which also didn’t feel right.
After the swim, he dropped us off to a snorkeling area (which he didn’t have to do, so that was nice, but it was 5:30pm by this time and cold with the sun setting!) We all get in and begin snorkeling to the reef for 10-20 minutes, and when I swam back I noticed we were anchored into the reef!!! I’m screaming “ENVIRONMENT CONSERVATION!!!” in my head.
I brought up the canceled dive (my reason for choosing them over the other whale operator) and then asked why he allowed twice as many guests as he said he would. His response was, “Well, I didn’t have to take you out again after lunch.” I paid my $290 + 3% credit card fee TOP and left feeling unsatisfied. I also didn’t feel comfortable rescheduling my dive for the next day. His word could no longer be trusted.
Hideaway: The Whale Whisperers
I was first recommended to go through Hideaway for the whale swimming by two ‘Eua locals, but I decided not to listen and go with Deep Blue Dive instead. Feeling unsatisfied and believing my experience with whale swimming could be improved, I decided to book for a second day with whales. There was a girl who booked her second whale tour with Deep Blue Dive who also stayed at Hideaway. She booked her whale tour through Hideaway a couple of days prior and said most politely that Hideaway was 100 times better. Two others from the whale tour and I booked with these guys, and it already started off way better. Here’s why:
First, my pickup was between 7:30-8:00am for 8:30am start time. I liked that it started much earlier. We get onto a vessel similar looking to the other dive boat only a bit smaller and head on our way. While we were waiting to load onto the vessel, Marta (from Chile) was already a greater host. She filled our time sharing fun facts about whales when we were getting on the boat and then continued to do so throughout the entire day. She was very warm and hospitable anticipating our needs before we even knew they were needed like offering us free bottles of water, cookies/biscuits, and even peanuts. This felt right. AND IT WAS FOR ONLY TOP 200!
The Captain (rumors say they call him the “whale whisperer”) was a humble man named Kiko. He was born in Tongatapu but grew up in ‘Eua and knows these waters (so say the two locals and even he!). After having some conversation with him when he picked me up from my accommodation, he shared with me how he is the only whale operator in ‘Eua who attended a 3-week course on whale swimming. He was quiet but warm and spoke just enough to hear more about his perspective about whale watching on ‘Eua admitting that September is the best month to go because the whales and their calves are likely to be more social around that time.
Within minutes of us first getting out, we swim with 4 humpback whales. Then throughout the entire morning, we jumped in and swam with more of them. The icing on the cake was when we were all sitting on the boat and began hearing loud whale sounds echoing. We were ecstatic! We eventually jump in the water and start listening to them even louder vibrating through our bodies. It was such an incredible experience.
We ended our day at 1:30pm and had enough time to enjoy the rest of our day doing whatever we wanted. We all left feeling so grateful and satisfied that we tried to make sure he was paid well by the gratitude we felt that day. He even offered one of the girls to pay only ½ because she didn’t get to swim with whales the other day (the weather was too rough and choppy). She said, “Nonsense! I’m paying you the full amount anyway.” THAT, my friend, is excellent service!
This is exactly what I expect from a whale tour operator. Excellent service from both Marta and Kiko, anticipating needs and keeping us entertained with fun facts throughout the quiet time between swims.
My only hope is that they expand into diving, but I’m pretty satisfied if they stick to what they do best – and that’s whale swimming!
Bali is known for its beautiful beaches, yoga culture, and it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. It is filled with geological wonders and natural beauty. You can find romantic restaurants and fascinating infinity pools around the area, and it provides a one-of-a-kind dining experience for its visitors. But there are a few basic things you should know before you go to Bali.
From the Airport
It is best to take a taxi from Bali airport to your hotel. Taxi fares from the airport usually range from $10 to $57 depending on the location. You can also hire a private car service, but that’s obviously a lot more expensive.
The currency of Bali is an Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). You can do a currency exchange at the airport and many are located near the customs office.
You can get Telkomsel Simpati SIM cards at the Bali Airport for only $11.45. You can also find XL and Indosat SIM cards at the airport for around 38 cents, but you have to load some text and call credits to the card to use it.
There’s a luggage storage system at the Bali airport. You can store your bags for $1.53 a day.
How to Get Around Bali Ojek: a motorbike that takes you around town for $1.53
Taxi: taxis in Bali are relatively cheap. In fact, you can travel from Kuta to Seminyak for under $4. The best taxi company for tourists and expats is the Blue Bird Taxi.
Bemo: Bemo is a minibus, and it is the most common mode of transportation in Bali. The fare is about $4.
Dokar: less common these days are dokars (pony wagons) if you opt for a romantic experience.
Spots for Foodies and Adventure Seekers
Bali is a city of adventure. If you have an adventurous spirit, there are a lot of things that you can do in Bali. You can join the bike tour around the rice fields in a traditional Balinese village for only $29. You can visit the Bali Butterfly Park for only $5, or the UNESCO site called the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces which is truly stunning.
If you want to eat authentic Indonesian food, you should visit the famous Balinese restaurant called Kampoeng Bali. It replicates the ancient food handling traditions in a classic Balinese village. Plus, it showcases the rich culture of Indonesia through song, dance, and dramatic performances. If you want to dine above water, it’s a good idea to go to Bale Undang which is located in Ubud and Kuta. The restaurant has a great view and amazing food.
Bali is known as one of the top surfing destinations in the world. If you’re into surfing, you should visit Bali from October to April.
Bali is tied to its religion which is Shivaite or Balinese Hinduism. The country is known for its culture, dance, and drama. It is also known for the Wayang Kulit or shadow play. The display of breasts in Bali is not considered immodest. You can easily see a Balinese woman displaying her breasts, but oddly, the display of thigh is deemed to be immodest.
You can also explore the famous Balinese temples such as the Pura Taman Ayun, Pura Ulun Danu, Pura Besakih, Pura Tirta Empul, and Pura Tanah Lot. If you’re the spiritual type, you can sign up for a yoga retreat in Ubud.
Kuala Lumpur is one of the top destinations in Asia. It is the home of the beautiful Petronas Towers and other tourist attractions such as the Menara KL tower, Jalan Petaling, Batu Caves, Sultan Abdul Samal building, the Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, and many other attractions. Here are a few things you ought to know before you go to the diverse city of Kuala Lumpur.
From the Airport You can take the Kuala Lumpur shuttle from the airport for $3. You can also take the taxi which will cost you around $18.00 and would take about 50 minutes to get to the center of the city. If you want to travel in style, you can take the limo for about $94. The currency used in Kuala Lumpur is called Malaysian Ringgit. You can do the currency exchange at the airport and also in other touristy spots around the city. You can buy Celcom (XPAX), Maxis (Hotlink), DiGi, and U Mobile SIM cards at the airport. These cards cost around $6.22 and come with free local texts and calls.
The KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) offers luggage storage services for the following rates:
Number of Days Price 1 to 6 days $4.48 per day 7 to 14 days $3.73 per day 15 to 24 days $3.23 per day
Getting Around Kuala Lumpur
To get around Kuala Lumpur, you can take the KL LRT (Light Rail Transit) or the KLIA express train service. You can buy an all-day LRT pass for only $1.74 or 7 RM. The traffic is really bad in Kuala Lumpur though so it’s best to avoid taxis and buses around 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and between 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. You can also rent a car and drive around the city. The taxi fare is 75 cents for the first two minutes and then the meter will charge you 5 cents every 45 seconds.
Kuala Lumpur Culture
Kuala Lumpur is the cultural center of Peninsular Malaysia. It is composed of three dominant races — Indians, Chinese, and Malays. Most Malaysians live in the outskirts. The national language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia which is a little similar to the Indonesian language. Malaysians love to weave fabrics and produce beautiful handicrafts.
Spots for Foodies and Adventure Seekers
If you’re a foodie, you should definitely visit the Golden Triangle or the Nasi Kandar Pelita which is located near the Petronas Towers. Nasi Kandar serves Indian Muslim foods such as curried cuttlefish, tangy beef rending, and pucuk paku (fern leaves). If you’re the adventurous type, you should definitely do indoor rock climbing at Camp5 Climbing Gym. You could also try orbing ball at “First in Malaysia.” Other extreme activities include paintball or driving an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) at Extreme Park.
Auckland’s city landscape is breathtaking. It
maintains a balance between nature and modern structures. It is known for its
high culture, food, and beautiful sights. It is also the home of playful
dolphins and whales.
From the Airport
It is best to take the shuttle from the airport
to your hotel. This could cost you around $23.75. But if you are in a hurry, it
may be a good idea to take a taxi which could cost around $53 to $64.
You can exchange your currency at a reliable
money exchanger called Travel Money, which is located at the ground floor of
the Auckland International Airport. It is open from 4 a.m. to 12:59 a.m. every
You can buy Vodafone, Two Degrees, and Spark NZ SIM
cards at the airport. SIM cards usually cost $3.60.
The Auckland airport has a baggage storage system
that you can use to store your luggage which will cost you around $13 per day.
How To Get Around
You can go around Auckland via bus, train, taxi,
shuttle, or ferry. You can also rent a car. You can also check
https://at.govt.nz to find out which transportation option is best for you.
This website allows you to plan your day and get discounts. The Auckland
Transport System also has a text messaging service which you can use to find
the next bus, train, or ferry.
Auckland is a car-dependent city. So if you want
to get around the city easily, the best option is to rent a car. New Zealand
laws allow you to drive in the city for one year if you have an international
license or a license in your home country.
Auckland is the land of sophisticated people. If
you’re into performing arts, it’s best to visit Edge. Edge is a series of
performance venues where you can catch the performance of prestigious cultural
organizations such as the Auckland Philharmonic and the Auckland Symphony
Orchestra. You can also visit Galatos if you’re into edgy video art and cinema.
Spots for Foodies
and Adventure Seekers
If you love food, you should definitely visit the
Auckland food neighborhood called Mt. Eden or the Maungawhau Domain. It
features beautiful cafes such as the Ironiqu, Frasers, and Circus, Circus. You
can also visit the Return of Rad.
If you’re up for some adventure, you should
definitely go canyoning and rafting in Canyonz. You can also try Auckland’s
skywalk and sky jump. You can even do bungy jumping and skydiving via Skydive
Santorini is a beautiful volcanic island that is part of the Cyclades group of the Greek island. It is famous for its stunning sunsets, breathtaking view, and natural beauty. There are a lot of things that you can do on this fantastic island. You can explore the alleys, paths, and beautiful stairwells of Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Fira. You can also enjoy the beach and dine with a fantastic view. But, before you go to Santorini, Greece, here are the things that you should know:
Airport Transfers Santorini is a small but busy airport. Visitors from the United States and even in other parts of Europe have to travel to Athens first and then book a plane to Santorini. There are a lot of shared and private airport transfers in Santorini airport, but to avoid a long line, it is necessary to book in advance long before you go to Santorini.
Getting Around the Island You ride a public bus from the main station at Fira to get to the different destinations around the island. The bus ticket costs around $3.33. You can also take a taxi that typically costs you around $5.21. If you’re more of an adventurer, you can also rent a car from the following car rental companies like: • Avis • Budget Rent-A-Car • Sixt • Hertz Rent-A-Car • Cool cars • SantoriniCarHire.com • Vazeos • Santorini Holiday Cars
SIM Cards You can find many SIM cards around Greece. You can actually buy a Cosmote pre-paid SIM card at the departures hall of Athens airport for about $5.55.
Airport Lockers The Santorini airport does not have luggage lockers, but some travel agencies have luggage lockers that you can rent for a fee.
Money Exchange There are many money exchange stores around the touristy areas of Santorini but these stores have high commissions, so it is best to do the money exchange in the bank.
Neighborhoods for Foodies and Adventurers You can find a lot of delicious eggplant dishes around Santorini. When you’re on the island, it is essential to try the delightful Greek dishes such as taramasalata, dolmades, moussaka, and courgette balls. You can find a lot of restaurants in this beautiful island, including: • Metaxy Mas: this is probably the best restaurant in Santorini. It serves excellent food and has a beautiful view of the Kamari beach. • Argo: Argo does not have a scenic view of the island, but it serves really amazing food. The interior and exterior of the restaurant are also captivating. • Remvi: this restaurant is located in Firostefani. This restaurant serves tasty food and gives you a beautiful view of the sea and the island. • Avocado: this restaurant is located in Imerovigli. This restaurant is charming and serves fantastic food, too.
If you’re up for some adventure, here are the things that you can try in Santorini: • Sunset sailing tour • Watch a movie in an open-air cinema in Kamari • Hike to Oia • Swim in Amoudi Bay • Sailing • Wine Tour • Swim in the hot springs • Go on Volcano boat tour
Culture Greece has one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. The 98% percent of residents in Santorini have Greek ancestry. Most people in Santorini speak Greek, but they can speak English. To discover the culture of Greece, you can visit museums within the area, and you can also visit the Akrotiri ruins.
Santorini is definitely one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It is filled with wonder, beauty, and friendly people. But, before you go to Santorini, it helps to do a little research. This is to ensure that your trip is hassle-free.
Dublin, the capital and the largest city in Ireland, is clean, well-developed and is filled with beautiful buildings. The whole town is charming, and the people are friendly. Dublin also has gorgeous gardens and fascinating castles. But, before you go to Dublin, you should be equipped with the following information.
Dublin Airport Transport There are many taxis at the airport. The taxi fare starts at $34.73. You can also take an airport bus that stops at many landmarks and hotels, including Grafton Street, Dublin City, O’Connell Street, Drumcondra, Sandyford, and Stillorgan. You can also book private transfers ahead. It is best to go for private transfer if comfort, safety, and convenience are your top priority.
Going Around Dublin Dublin is filled with public transport options including trains, buses, and taxis. You can also rent a bike and just bike around the city.
If you want to see the different parts of the city, you can try the “Hop On and Hop Off” tour buses. You can purchase a one-day tour bus pass for about $19. Going on a bus tour is the most comfortable, most convenient, and probably the safest way to see the various tourist spots around Dublin
Currency Exchange You can do the currency exchange in banks to avoid additional fees and commissions. But, if you’re in a hurry, you can easily find a currency exchange shop in top streets of Dublin.
Airport Lockers Dublin airport provides storage lockers for visitors and travelers. The Dublin airport left luggage facility is located in the Car Park Atrium across the road from the terminal.
5 Tourist Atractions to Consider When you’re taking the tour around Dublin, here are the tourist spots that you should definitely visit:
The Guinness Storehouse If you’re a black beer lover, you should definitely visit the Guinness Storehouse.
The Dublin Zoo The Dublin Zoo is filled with exotic animals such as zebras and giraffes. If you’re traveling with kids, it would be a good idea to try the Dublin Zoo.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral This is one of the oldest buildings in Ireland. This cathedral has a fascinating history.
The Ireland Castles There are many castles in Ireland that you can visit, including the Dublin Castle, the Blarney Castle, and Bunratty Castle.
The River Liffey If you have an adventurous spirit, you can swim in the River Liffey. This river is one of the cultural symbols of Dublin, Ireland. If you’re really into exciting activities, you can try water rafting and aerial trekking.
Places for Foodies The Hipster triangle that stretches from Crackbird all away up to Bald Barista and then on Aungier Street and then down to Avoca and then back to Dame Street. There are many restaurants in this area, including La Cave, Chameleon Restaurant, Ciao Bella Roma, and Taste of Emilia.
Culture Dublin was founded during the Viking settlement in Europe. It then became one of the most influential cities. In fact, it was the fortified seat of the British Rule in Ireland in 1922. Irish people are religious and generally happy.
Dublin is one of the most exciting cities in the world, but before you go to this beautiful city, it is essential to do a little research. This will make your trip more relaxed and more memorable.
Barcelona is absolutely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is one of the major cities in the land of siesta, tapas, flamenco, and bullfighting. The town is filled with beautiful buildings and tourist spots such as the La Sagrada Familia Church, Picasso Museum, the FC Barcelona museum, the Montjuic, Font Magica, Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, and La Rambla. But, here are the things that you should know before you go to Barcelona:
Airport Transfer If convenience and comfort is your top priority, it would be a good idea to book a private airport transfer service. You can book different private transportation services in Barcelona online. But, if this is too expensive for you, you can hire a Barcelona airport taxi. You can find a long line of taxis outside the T1 and T2 terminal exits of the Barcelona – El Prat Airport. The taxi fare is around $27.79 to $33.34.
You can also try the following buses: Aerobus: this is an express bus service in Barcelona that is very popular to tourists. It will take you to either Plaza de Catalunya or Placa Espanya. The fare is around $6.56. NitBus: this is a night bus that operates from 10 PM to 5 AM, and it travels from the Barcelona Airport to Plaza de Catalunya and vice versa. The fare is $2.39 as of writing. TMB Airport Bus: This bus operates from 4:50 AM to 11:50 PM and it travels from the airport to the center of Barcelona. TMB airport bus ticket costs about $2.39.
How to Go Around the City You can take a metro bus around the city. This costs around $1.11 – $3.33. You can also take high-speed trains, but it’s too expensive – around $55 to $155.61. But, if you want to get around the city quickly and comfortably, it is best to hire a taxi.
SIM Cards Spain has four major network operators such as Vodafone, Movistar, Yoigo, and Orange. SIM cards cost around $26.66 with a $20 credit.
Airport Lockers The Barcelona Airport has provided a luggage service at Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 where you can leave your bags for the following rates:
Duration / Rate per Bag 1 to 2 hours: $6.66 2 to 24 hours: $11.11 24 hours $11.11 7 days: $57.00 14 days: $67.00
Currency Exchange in Barcelona You can exchange your currencies into Euro or Travel Checks in exchange kiosks in the airport. But, just to be safe, it is best to do currency exchange in conventional banks such as Catalunya Caixa, La Caixa, BBVA, and Caixa Penedes. The regular banking hours in Spain is from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm from Monday to Friday.
Activities for Adventure Lovers If you are adventurous, it would be a good idea to join a Barcelona Tapas Tour, a Biking Tour, or Photography Tour. It is also a good idea to do rock climbing in Montjuic or do windsurfing at Base Nautica. You can also play tennis at Parc de l’Estacio del Nord or do skateboarding at MACBA.
Spot for Foodies The food in Spain, especially in Barcelona, is fantastic. So, here are three recommended foodie places visit when in Barcelona:
Sagas: Sagas serve the best Catalan wines and sandwiches.
Formatgeria La Seu: a great cheese store that foodies around the world really love. This store serves different types of cheese and even cheese ice cream!
Bubo: a fancy bakery that looks a lot more like a jewelry store than a cake shop!
Barcelona is a beautiful city. But, to ensure that your vacation is stress and hassle-free, you must take time to do a little research on where to go and how much to spend before you go to Barcelona, Spain.