Daily Archives: July 22, 2010

Sleek & Chic Afloat | Archipelago Adventurer II, Luxury Phinisi Schooner, Indonesia

By Dian Hasan | July 21, 2010

Unbeknown to many visitors who are familiar with Bali, that the island has evolved into a cruise center, from where cruises carrying divers and surfers ply the oceans east of Bali to explore Lesser Sunda Islands of Sumba, Sumbawa, Flores and West Timor. The leading attraction in these waters is of course the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) giant monitor lizard that inhabits the island that forms the Komodo National Park.

Unlike the cruise industry in Alaska, Florida, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean, that are centered on large-scale cruise liners, Bali’s are mostly the smaller, human-scale live-aboard ships fashioned from the traditional Phinisi schooners and converted into modern ocean-plying sail boats. Venturing into Indonesia’s many diving and surfing sites in Derawan (East Borneo/Kalimantan), Wakatobi (Southeastern Sulawesi/Celebes), LembehGangga, Sangihe, Talaud (all four in North Sulawesi), Banda (in the Moluccas), and everyone’s ultimate destination: Raja Ampat in West Papua.

Most of them are just that – traditional – offering a rustic experience, not too dissimilar from the way the Bugis people built the original Phinisis. Now finally a sense of design that brings a level of sophistication unseen before, is emerging.

Archipelago Adventurer II represents this new breed of cruise ships. Luxuriously appointed, with clean modern lines, gourmet food, tasteful amenities and furnishing incorporating good design. A breath of fresh air indeed.

An excellent example of fusing the historical and the modern. The hull and exterior are made of traditional Indonesian wood and give the boat a sleek classic feel; unabashedly modern featuring a brushed-metal alloy finish, and contemporary furnishings.

Being such a large vessel at 35 meters with additional interior space, there is an abundance of lounging area both inside and out, whether in the large air-conditioned lounge equipped with full entertainment facilities, the dedicated dining room, relaxing with cocktails on the shaded upper deck, or tanning on the expansive sundeck.

With 10 beautifully finished en-suite cabins and an emphasis on fine dining, a trip on the Adventurer II through the Banda Sea is an experience in relaxation and luxury living, coupled with days full of world class diving. If you’re enriched air certified, then why not take advantage of the free nitrox usage onboard.

Just like in the Caribbean, Banda and the surrounding islands are home to some of the best preserved European forts in Asia. Fort Belgica, built by the Portuguese, Banda Island. Photo: Tony Ferndez

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Movie helps put Indonesia’s idyllic Belitung Island on the travel map

By Dian Hasan | July 16, 2010

As a travel destination, Indonesia has long held captive the imaginations of many. Arresting sights for the world’s culture- and nature- hungry travelers. Stunning natural environment, an intriguing culture, and beguiling flora & fauna to match. And of course a myriad of idyllic tropical isles to spoil your choice. The world’s largest archipelago is home to over 17,000 islands.

Here’s just one lesser-known island: Belitung (English: Billiton), Indonesia’s tin island renowned for its white sand beaches and giant boulders, similar to those found on Seychelles Island in the Indian Ocean. The small group of tropical islands surrounding Belitung are blessed with clear blue sea, lush tropical forest, and sterling white quartz-like sandy beaches with diverse shapes of stones, fenced by coconut trees. Surrounded by straits and bays, the sea around the islands is calm and shallow and has beautiful underwater scenery.

Located on the east coast of Sumatra between the South China and the Java Sea, Belitung is historically known for its tin mines and pepper. The island was in the hands of the Biritish from 1812 until they lost control and handed it over to the Dutch through the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

Belitung shot into prominence thanks to the popularity “Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), a movie based on a novel by the same name from Indonesian author Andrea Hirata. Both the book and movie shattered new records for Indonesia, and the much-acclaimed movie garnered several awards at International Film Festivals. The movie single-handedly put Belitung on the travel map and renewed people’s interest in it. Belitung’s magnificant beaches with their giant boulders were featured generously prominently in the movie. The book was translated into English by Angie Kilbane.

The movie has attracted a new crop of visitors, intrigued by the film’s setting in Belitung. Travel agents and hotels now offer “Laskar Pelangi” sightseeing tours based on the many filming locations across the island. Accommodation choices in Belitung are fairly limited, but this is changing as more hotels come being built. Here’s a look at some of them.

Belitung’s newest hotel, Hotel and Klub Billiton, is a modern take on a tropical resort. Incorporating an old Dutch colonial office building that today serves as hotel ballroom, Hotel and Klub Billiton is managed by the same team behind The Dharmawangsa luxury boutique hotel in Jakarta.

The hotel has a unique historical atmosphere of the Chinese, the Dutch and the early era of the Republic of Indonesia. It is located in the city of Tanjung Pandan, the capital of Belitung Islands.

Hotel & Klub Billiton can make arrangement for island and sunset tours, barbecue lunches on a private island beach, swimming in the natural lagoon. Fishing, snorkeling, and diving are also available. And for those who are less inclined for water-based activities, have a choice of trekking to Gunung Tajam to see a beautiful waterfall, explore the many tine mine sights, as well as Belitung’s other historical sites.

The small but smartly-furnished hotel features 24 rooms, a pool verandah coffee shop, swimming pool, meeting rooms, and a Grand Ballroom in a Dutch heritage building.

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Caribbean of the East reincarnated through Belitung Islands

By Dian Hasan | July 16, 2010

Belitung’s turquoise and shallow waters set it apart from the volcanic sand beaches found in Bali and Java

Bali is in a league of its own. Indonesia’s most famous island is renowned as the very definition an exotic island destination.  With her artistic people and their unique  culture, captivating natural beauty, idyllic beaches, and of course some of the world’s most unforgettable hotels and spas. Annual international awards and accolades from the world’s travel industry attest to her allure. Some even swear that the Bali Style is emulated at resorts the world over.

It seems that Bali never ceases to capture the imagination, and all-things Bali are embedded deep in the psyche and always make for interesting travel writing. But let’s give Bali a rest, it’s not as if she gloats in the limelight, on the contrary the Balinese make it their responsibility to safeguard their culture against the ebb and flow of global trends.

Brand Bali. Her image overshadows the potential of Indonesia’s other travel destinations. The niche circles of travelers with special interest, ie. the surfers, divers and adventure travelers are already familiar with the the world’s largest archipelago’s offering. And the advent of the internet and social media is witnessing people share information. There are less travel secrets. And everyone wants to seek their own journey of self-discovery to “hidden” remote destinations. Or so it seems.  Belitung Island is one such place.

The giant boulders that Belitung beaches are famous for, Bird Island (bottom left), Pig Island (bottom right)

A short 40-minute flight from perennially “macet” (traffic clogged) Jakarta, lies an under-appreciated and uncrowded tropical isle with arguably the best white sand beach in Southeast Asia.

When the Dutch were busy manning their colonies in the Caribbean and then Netherland Indies (present day Indonesia), they were referring to both as among the world’s most beautiful islands. They were not referring to Bali or Java, but Billiton (as Belitung was known during the colonial days) and the many islands scattered around it.

Belitung and the neighboring Bangka, were part of South Sumatra province, and are now independent as the newly-minted province of Bangka-Belitung, better known for its acronym Ba-Bel. Located on the east coast of Sumatra between the South China and the Java Sea, the islands are historically known for their tin mines and pepper. Surrounded by straits and bays, the sea around the islands is calm and shallow and has beautiful underwater scenery.

The beaches deserve to be called world-class; pure white with sand particles so fine, more akin to powdered sugar. Singapore has acknowledged this little known fact for years, they’ve imported it for their own manmade beaches back home. Beaches on Sentosa Island, home to Universal Studios, is just one place where you’ll find Bangka sand. And the sand’s high silica count is also used in glass making.

Perfect beach days. A different scene in the island’s interior, full of pockmarks from years of tin mining, an ecological blight.

Belitung’s sparse population and remote location, away from Indonesia’s main island, has blessed her with clean beaches. And unlike volcanic islands like Bali, Lombok and even Hawaii, Belitung’s surrounding waters remain shallow for miles on end, giving the sea an incredible hue of turquoise and blue that is more common in Tahiti, The Caribbean or Maldives. It’s location on the eastern side of Sumatra protects it from dangerous currents and fault line that so often hit Sumatra with earthquakes. Continue reading


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