itinerary

One Week In Okinawa – The Ultimate Itinerary

One Week In Okinawa – The Ultimate Itinerary

Welcome to the tropical paradise of Okinawa, where aqua-blue waters, white sandy beaches, and lush green landscapes await your arrival. This guide will help you spend the best one week in Okinawa

Use this itinerary any way you want – it isn’t a step-by-step guide to walk you through your one week in Okinawa, but rather a guide where you can take what you want and leave what you don’t. There may be more listed for a location than what time allows, and you definitely shouldn’t rush through your trip to Okinawa.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply looking for a tranquil escape, Okinawa has something to offer for everyone. Explore the historic Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and delve into the rich history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. 

Take a stroll along the picturesque Kokusai Street, where you can shop for traditional crafts and sample delicious local delicacies. Feel the warm sand between your toes as you relax on pristine beaches or dive into the crystal-clear waters of the Kerama Islands for an unforgettable snorkeling or scuba diving experience. 

With its vibrant coral reefs, breathtaking sunsets, and friendly locals, Okinawa is a destination that will leave you in awe. Get ready to explore a place like no other as we uncover the hidden gems of this tropical paradise in the perfect itinerary for one week in Okinawa.

 

View of Nago city and a bay in Okinawa from Mount Katsudake hike

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Check out the top 20 things to know before going to Okinawa, so you can be prepared for the perfect adventure!

Arrive in Naha

No matter where you’re coming in from, you’ll land in Okinawa in the main city of Naha. Here, you’ll see a lot of military personnel, and use this as your starting point whether you continue north on the main island, head over to neighboring Kerama Islands, or take off to any of the other 160 islands in the Okinawa Prefecture. 

You will come to Okinawa and leave from it through Naha, so it doesn’t matter if you stop there first or last! Just be sure not to miss the rich history, lively city sights, and everything else waiting for you in Naha.

Naha - 1 Day

Shuri Castle

The highlight of Okinawa is Shuri Castle. A UNESCO Heritage Site, this is a symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom that used to dominate the area and a must-see in your one week in Okinawa. Although the castle tragically burned down in 2019, you can observe the reconstruction process and learn about its history. 

Surrounding Shuri Castle are more highlights to see, like a traditional Japanese-style home, an old steep stone road, and many shrines, temples, and ancient artifacts. Take some time to walk around the area!

Cost: ¥400 / $2.70 
Time: 
2 hours

Red building of Shuri Castle in Okinawa
Shuri Castle | Image from Atlas Obscura

Kokusai Dori Street

Kokusai Dori Street felt like a mini Vegas. Neon lights, street vendors, trinkets, and tourist stores galore. However, if you head down some of the side streets and the covered market, you’ll get a better taste of local life.

Kokusai Street is a perfect place to try some Habushu, a liquor made with Habu snake venom (with the snake right in the jar)! However, some places can be a bit of a rip-off, so check reviews online first, and don’t be afraid to get off the main strip!

Cost: Free
Time: 1-2 hours

Neon lights and palm trees at Kokusai Dori street in Okinawa's capital city
Kokusai Dori | Imagr from Good Luck Trip

Peace Memorial Park

There is no denying the intense and graphic history that WWII has left in Okinawa. The Peace Memorial Park is the best way to learn and pay remembrance to the Battle of Okinawa, one of WWII’s bloodiest conflicts. Established in 1975, the park honors over 240,000 lives lost through its moving monuments.

Witness the Eternal Flame’s continuous glow ignite a spark of hope for a world free from war. Delve deeper into the battle’s human cost at the Peace Memorial Museum, where artifacts and personal stories paint a vivid picture of the era. Take a guided tour or explore at your own pace, reflecting on the horrors of war and the preciousness of peace. Remember, respect and modesty guide your visit to this significant site.

Cost: ¥450 / $3
Time: 2-3 hours

Green park and a small pond at the Peace Memorial Park in Okinawa
Peace Memorial Park | Image from Ciel Tourist

Thrift Shop!

You may not consider thrift shopping as a fun thing to do on holiday, but thrift shopping in Japan is next level, especially if you know where to go. You can pick up a traditional kimono for less than ¥1,000 / $6.75.

For the best selection, head to “Hard Off / Off House Okinawa Awase”, where they have 3 rows of kimonos of every style, size, color, and material. You can take your kimono to a retail shop that sells them to learn more about the one you bought, learn how to wear it, fold it, and more about its history. Okinawans are very proud to share their culture and kimonos with foreigners!

Where To Eat In Naha

  • Drink Habushu 
  • Conveyor Belt Sushi, whichever one is near you (and has good ratings)
  •  King Taco – they serve Taco Rice which is an Okinawan favorite

Onna - 2 Days

Onna is the best first-stopping place to rest from travel and take in the beauty of the island. Instantly, you’ll see how blue the water is. Onna is a resort destination with soft sand beaches and snorkeling off the coast! Before exploring the rest of this historic and bustling island, take some time at Onna to chill out under the sun and explore the blue water.

Dive Blue Cave

The highlight of water activities is snorkeling or diving at the Blue Cave on Cape Maeda. This area is teeming with travelers in the peak summer months, but a perfect place to explore in the shoulder season. Water temperatures are always comfortable, but the conditions can fluctuate to near dangerous, especially in the winter.

If you’re looking to go on a tour, then you’re in good hands! If you’re more up for traveling at your own pace, then be sure to check out the Cape Maeda website. At the bottom, you’ll find the day’s guidance on whether swimming is allowed or not, with a live cam of a hanging flag.

While there isn’t anyone monitoring the area per se, the cape is known to have a gnarly current and some rough waves so I suggest you heed the advice online. If you can’t swim, it’s still worth some time exploring the area! 

Cost: ¥100/hour for parking
Time: 3 hours

Turquoise water in the Blue Cave in Okinawa, a popular snorkeling destination
Blue Cave, Okinawa

Surfing / Beach Day

Onna is the best place to have a chill beach day. If you stay at a resort, chances are there is a beach right outside! While there are beaches all over Okinawa, they are not all the same. Some have rough coral and rocks, while others are as fluffy as almond flour. The area along Onna and towards Churaumi Aquarium is the best for beach chilling. Also conveniently, a perfect place to watch the sunset. 

There are some expert surf instructors in Okinawa – if you stay at the Tropical Surf House listed below, you’ll be staying with the top surf instructor, and kiteboard instructor in all of Japan! 

Girl on the beach holding a black dog in her lap
The Best Beach Days

Cave Okinawa

A tourist attraction, but also very cool to explore. These limestone caverns are a great way to learn the foundations of these dramatic islands, and fun to do with the whole family! They will often put on light displays, but these geographic features are pretty nifty themselves.

Parking is free and it’s a fun thing to do if you have extra time or a rainy day. If you’re interested but don’t have the time while you’re in Onna, there are a few of these cave excursions around the island!

Cost: ¥500 / $3.37
Time: 1 hour

An underground limestone cavern in Okinawa at Okinawa World
Okinawa World | Image from Japan Travel

Cape Manzamo

Cape Manzamo is the perfect place to see the sunset. The visitor center is modern and nice with a lot of local food options and free to explore. There is a small walking trail that goes out onto the cape for a small fee, but so worth it to see the unique cliffs! 

The area does get a bit busy, so go earlier rather than later. If you’re still up for an adventure then head just 5 minutes south and check out Mermaid’s Grotto on the beach! This area is not for swimming, but it does have cool tide pools to check out!

Cost: ¥100 for small lookout hike
Time: 30 minutes

Head to the 3rd floor of the visitor center (near the escalators) and you'll find a private outdoor deck. There are no signs for it, but you can get impressive views for free!

View of Cape Manzamo at sunset in Okinawa
Cape Manzamo Viewpoint

Where To Eat in Onna

  • Orchid Ryukyu Cuisines – Not the best for food, but it sure is a local experience with a show while you eat!
  • hale’aina HOA – Not Japanese, but the best food we’ve have in a long time (and great for working)
  • Agu Shabu-Shabu and Okinawa Cuisine Kafuu – $$$ but a fun local experience

*Be aware in touristy areas – some restaurants will give you an appetizer or beer you didn’t order.. if you take it, you buy it. Be aware of their sneaky tricks to get more money out of you.

 

Nago - 2 Days

Nago is like the capital of northern Okinawa. A great jumping-off point to both the tourist activities and heading north into the Yanbaru National Park. There are a lot of traditional restaurants in Nago and fun modern things to do. 

Churaumi Aquarium

The Churaumi Aquarium is a must-do for every traveler in your one week in Okinawa, even if you try to skip the touristy stops as we do. This was the most incredible aquarium I’ve ever seen! Not only because of the amount of education and conservation efforts that are taken by the aquarium but also because of the massive Whale Shark that is there.

Although I usually don’t support large mammals in captivity, all of the animals that are there either cannot be released into the wild due to injury or human habituation. The dolphins that are in the show are never forced to perform and only spend a few years in the aquarium before being released (knowing a few extra tricks to show off to their pod).

The owner of the budget accommodation below used to work at the aquarium, so if you stay with him you’ll get the ultimate tour!

Cost: ¥2,180 / $14.69
Time:
3 hours

You can buy discounted tickets at convenience stores close by to save a few dollars!

Whale shark statue outside of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium during sunset

Hike Mount Katsudake

The best views over Nago and the surrounding peninsula & islands are from Mount Katsudake. There is a network of trails that lead to mountain peaks with incredible views. Parking is free and it is never busy! 

This is one of the best-hidden gems in Okinawa and a great way to explore outside without heading all the way north into the denser rainforest. The trek is free and beautiful any time of year, but don’t underestimate the strength of the sun! 

Cost: Free
Time: 1.5 hours

Girl standing on Katsudake mountain looking out over the city of Nago in Okinawa
Katsudake Mountain View

Snorkel Gorilla Chop

Our favorite snorkeling location was Gorilla Chop, a must-do during your one week in Okinawa. It is an easy drive to get there, and just a few meters from a public bus stop! Parking is free, and once you’re on the beach, it’s only a few meters into the water until you’re in one of the best snorkeling spots in Okinawa! Here you may see turtles, octopuses, unique and colorful fish, and of course, other divers.

This is a popular place since it is sheltered from the wind and waves, and it’s easy to access. Although there are a lot of scuba divers, the depth never got more than 10 meters, so it’s very easy to snorkel! Visiting Gorilla Chop in the morning or shoulder season is the best way to experience it with fewer people and less water disturbance. 

Cost: Free
Time: 2 hours

Do Not feed the fish. The animals were habituated to people as a result of tours feeding them. If you go with a tour group, make sure it isn't one that supports unethical animal encounters!

Underwater footage of Gorilla Chop in Okinawa, some of the best snorkeling in Okinawa
Gorilla Chop Coral Reef

Nakijin Castle Ruins

The Nakijin Castle will take you back in time to the 14th century. Here you can explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a testament to the Ryukyu Kingdom’s legacy. Explore the sprawling ruins, imagining the royal court, temples, and defensive structures bustling with life. Climb the observation tower to be rewarded with breathtaking panoramas of the Motobu Peninsula and East China Sea.

Wear comfortable shoes as you navigate the uneven terrain, and remember sunscreen and water during warmer months. Consider this historical gem as part of a day trip exploring nearby wonders like Kouri Island!

Cost: ¥600
Time: 1 hour

Stone wall structure at the Nakijin Castle Ruins in Okinawa
Nakijin Castle Ruins | Image from Japan Travel

Where To Eat in Nago

  • Annetai Chaya Hammock Garden – Incredible views right next to the more touristy Pizza in the Sky
  • Miyazato Soba – One of the oldest Soba restaurants in Okinawa, a traditional meal
  • Sashimi from a fish market – Perfect for a sushi date on the beach, our favorite was at 483 Nakaoshi in Nago. 
  • Orion Brewery – Not really a place to eat, but this is the beer of Okinawa. Take a tour to see where it’s made and try it yourself!

Kunigami & Yanburu National Park - 2 Days

This is the least explored part of the island, but our favorite by far. You can drive deep into the ancient jungle, see more wildlife, and explore on foot. This is the best hiking area and home to most of the island’s waterfalls!

Explore Daisekirinzan & Cape Hedo

The northernmost point of the island has insane views and history. Daisekirinzan is a low-cost way to explore the unique topography of the area and learn about the people who used to live here. There are 3 hiking trails, banyan trees, ruins, and so much natural beauty and spiritual lore which only takes about 90 minutes to walk.

Further north is Cape Hedo, a great lookout and viewing area to see the insane geography of the area you just hiked! Down on the beach is popular for surfers, but waves can get pretty big so beware!

Cost: ¥1,200 / $8.00
Time: 2 hours

View of a steep cliff and jungle from Daisekirinzan in northern Okinawa
Mountains of Northern Okinawa

Hike Hijio Falls

If you’re going to do any waterfall hikes within your one week in Okinawa, let it be Hijio Falls. It is the biggest on the island and the suspension bridge you cross to get there is so dreamy. If you go early morning or closer to sunset, you won’t have much of a crowd. The park closes at 17:00, with the last entry at 15:30 so don’t wait too long!

Although swimming is not permitted, you can still feel the mist from the viewing area at the base of the falls. There are a few spots to enter the water further downstream, just watch out for Habu! If you want to swim at the falls, then check out Ta-Taki – just as beautiful and with swimming permitted.

Cost: ¥500 / $3.40
Time: 2 hours

A waterfall cascading through the jungle at Hijio Falls in Okinawa
Hijio Falls

Mangrove Kayaking

If you’re keen to explore out in nature, then get up and close with a mangrove kayaking excursion. Located on the eastern coast, the Higahi-son Fureai Hirugi Park is a perfect place to get on a kayak and float among the trees. 

You’ll be amazed at the life that lives in these coastal ecosystems, and your guide will educate you on all the birds, fish, insects, and plants that rely on each other to thrive. Mangroves keep coasts protected from erosion, tsunamis, hurricanes, and everything else that the ocean throws at us… crazy how so many places rip them out for ‘a better view’!

If you don’t want to get in the water, you can still walk along the boardwalk and get a glimpse!

Cost: Free park entry, kayak tour booked privately
Time: 1 hour

Lush magrove trees in shallow water with a kayaker in Okinawa
Okinawa Mangroves | Image from Japan Travel

Where To Eat In Kunigami

  • Emi no Mise – Best traditional options, recommended by many locals!
  • Satsukimaru – Great local food when you’re exploring the far North
  • Agachi Mui – Perfect for a break to take in the ocean views
  • Ogimi Sky Terrace – Incredible views over the bay with a walk-out viewing deck

Getting Around in Okinawa

Okinawa is best traveled by rental car. Especially if you want to explore the northern part of the island where public buses don’t run, you’ll need a car. Many hosts have one for rent, or may know someone that can provide it!

Be sure to have your International Driver’s Permit with you, as driving laws are very strict in Japan. Also, Japanese drivers are extremely courteous… like too kind. So drive slowly, and be courteous in return!

The public bus is useful, but only as far an Nago – anything further north is not accessible. The buses work on a pretty regular time clock, although the drivers barely speak English so be ready to know where you’re going!

Best Time To Visit Okinawa

Okinawa is a beautiful tropical paradise any time of year. However, depending on what you’re looking for out of your perfect one week in Okinawa, some times are better than others.

In general, the best time to visit Okinawa is in the shoulder seasons of April & May, or September & October. These months you will still have ideal weather, but without the intense heat and big crowds. 

Explore the other destinations waiting for you in Asia!

Summary - Perfect One Week Itinerary in Okinawa

You can do so much within this one week in Okinawa. This island has a rich history, incredible food, lush nature, and friendly people.

One week may not seem like enough, we spent 45 days there and still wanted to stay longer!

Between the capital city of Nago’s rich history at the Shuri Castle, WWII memorials, and the northern region’s Yanbaru National Park, there is something for every traveler.

You cannot go to Okinawa without exploring the life under the water in the vibrant coral reefs. Also, be sure to try as much of the local food as you can – that may just be the secret to the Okinawan’s vitality and long-lifespan! 

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Japan, 0 comments
14 Best Things To Do in Pula, Croatia

14 Best Things To Do in Pula, Croatia

Exploring the vibrant city of Pula, Croatia? Discover the best things to do in Pula that blend rich history, stunning landscapes, and coastal relaxation.

From ancient Roman amphitheaters to hidden beaches, this guide highlights diverse activities catering to every traveler’s interests. Join us in uncovering the gems that make Pula a must-visit destination, seamlessly combining culture, history, and coastal allure for a memorable experience.

Pula Arena is the highlight in the city of Pula, Croatia

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Why You Need To Visit Croatia If you're not already convinced!

Pula Tourist Card

If you are spending some time in the city to see the historical sites, look into getting a ‘Pula+ Card‘ for access to 6 attractions and sights.

The card grants access to the Arena, Zerostrasse, Temple of Augustus, Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria, Sacred Hearts Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art of Istria!

Swing by the local Tourism Office to get your card when you arrive!

€14 for adults, €6 for students and children under 5 to see the top sites in Pula!

Roman Ruins

Like every town and city in Croatia, the ‘Old Town’ has ancient architecture dating back to the days of the Romans and before. The history that has walked these streets is breathtaking, and the region has done so well to preserve the structures and atmosphere of its rich past. 

The following are some paid and unpaid attractions to get a taste of the city’s history. 

Pula Arena

Pula, Croatia is home to one of the most well-preserved Roman Arenas in the world, and arguably one of the best things to do in Pula! Built in 1 AD, this arena has seen centuries of bloodshed and battles and is still used today where it hosts concerts, the Pula Film Festival, sporting events, and more! 

The magnificence of this arena can be experienced from the outside, with the ability to walk 360 degrees around the perimeter. Seated right near the main harbor, this is a must-see destination in Pula!

Cost: €10 for adults, €5 for students and children
* Included in Pula Tourist Card

Aerial view of the Pula Area, an ancient colosseum from the Roman Empire
Source - History Hit

Fortress Kastel (Pula Castle)

Built on top of a hill in the old town, the Pula Castle has a great vantage point for travelers to explore the city views and rich history that lies within the walls. 

The fortress was constructed by the Venetians in the 17th century, and today it is home to the Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria. The fortress can be walked around the outside, where you’ll also get a glimpse of the Roman Amphitheater, and still get a taste of its impressive size and unique shape. 

On your winding walk down from the castle, stop by Jupiter Pizza for what I can personally confirm as the best pizza in town!

Cost: €2.70 entry tickets
* Included in Pula Tourist Card

Zerostrasse

Directly under Fortress Kastel, there is a series of tunnels that were used as a bomb shelter during the First World War. 

Constructed by the Austro-Hungarian empire, these tunnels have 4 entrances that link the city into this underground 2.5 miles of tunnels. Today the tunnels host signs walking you through the history of this underground world, and occasionally there are some other events held inside!

* Included in Pula Tourist Card

Check out @PulaNightLife on social media for any events or music shows happening inside the Zerostrasse tunnels! 

Roman Mosaic

The Roman Mosaic isn’t an excursion per se, but it’s definitely a fun thing to seek out in the city as you explore the weaving streets, alleys, and staircases that connect the Old Town.

Explore the city streets and find the authentic remnants of the rule of the Roman Empire. They’re a bit tricky to find, but amazing to see the craftsmanship that has lasted centuries.

The mosaic is totally free to see and a fun thing to add to your day of exploration!

Roman Mosaic hidden in the streets of Pula, Croatia
Roman Mosaic in Pula

City Bike Ride

Around the city, you’ll see Tier-branded electric bikes and scooters available for rent for a crazy good price! 

West of the Old Town, there is a network of paved, dirt, and gravel paths that will lead you to abandoned forts, coastline access, and incredible views in every direction. You can also see the well-known Galebijana Cave, but to fully explore it you’ll need to get into the water!

We loved that the bikes were electric because we felt we could ride around all day. 

To rent them, you need to download the Tier Bike and Scooter apps, where you can track down their locations, the battery levels, your ride history, and pay for use. 

There are plenty of parking areas in this area, which allows you to ditch the bike or scooter whenever you want to keep exploring! 

Cost: €1.50 / 30 minutes

They have to be returned to a proper parking area shown on the map of the app, otherwise, you could incur a €26 fee!

Galebijana Sea Cave

Pula has an incredible sea cave that is so easy to get to, and when you go in the off-season you’re guaranteed to have the cave all to yourself! This was by far one of the best things to do in Pula.

The best ways to get there are by bike rental or sea kayak! Even in the off-season, sea kayaking is very comfortable and fun (maybe less so if you plan to get into the water)!

The Galebijana Sea Cave is easy to get to, and a must-see for anyone in Pula no matter the time of year. 

We took a sea kayak, which cost €50 for a 2-person kayak and was worth every penny. In the off-season, contact Istria Kayak Tours via email at istriakayaktours@gmail.com, or by calling +385 098 802 349. 

A kayak floating in a sea cave in Croatia, one of the best things to do outside!
Pula Sea Cave

Beaches

Although you won’t find any white sand beaches around Pula, or any of Croatia for that matter, the beaches here offer a much different experience!

The rocky coast and limestone sea caves offer a more adventurous type of exploration. Be ready to dive into the water (safely, of course) to see what is waiting for you along the Istrian coast!

Lookout for 'FKK', a German word - Freikörperkultur (don't ask me how to pronounce it). This essentially translates to Free Body Culture, AKA, Nude Beach! These are common all around Europe!

Kamenjak

While not directly in Pula, the beaches on the Kamenjak Peninsula, including Safari Bar Kamenjak, are renowned for their natural beauty and unique features.

The Kamenjak Peninsula and Premantura Nature Park offer a variety of beaches with rocky cliffs, hidden coves, and crystal-clear waters.

The surrounding natural reserve provides opportunities for exploration, and the diverse beaches cater to different preferences, making Kamenjak a favorite for those seeking adventure and a connection with nature.

Prementura Beach during sunset in Pula, Croatia
Image from Prementura.net

Havajsko Beach (Hawaii Beach)

Havajsko Beach offers a blend of pebbles and rocks, creating a picturesque setting closely resembling Hawaii, as the name suggests.

The clear waters are perfect for snorkeling, or just taking in the breathtaking views. The beach is relatively secluded, offering a more intimate experience away from the bustling crowds.

Be sure to explore around the Verudela area, and you can’t miss the Verudela Canyon, a favorite swimming spot!

A view of the Verudela Canyon is one of the best things to do in Pula, Croatia!
Image from PulaCroatia.net

Pula Market

Exploring the Pula Market is a much when exploring the city. See how locals shop, sell, and purchase what they need from local vendors, one of the best things to do in Pula for a local experience.

Here, you will find fresh produce, meat, cheese, and items like clothing, and gifts. This is a bustling marketplace and a perfect spot to people-watch!

Even better is the building the market is located in. Although typically these types of markets are located outdoors, the Pula Market is in a 3-story century-old building, filled with local art, and natural light, and always busy with shoppers!

Open daily from 7 am – 2 pm, closed on Sunday, and always free to walk around!

Check out a full one-month budget in Croatia for travelers, so you can do more with your wallet.

Pula Aquarium

The Pula Aquarium is a great way to experience the diverse aquatic life of the Adriatic Sea and inland freshwater ecosystems. It is located in the 130-year-old Austro-Hungarian Verudella Fort on the coast just south of Pula.

The Pula Aquarium is committed to the rich biodiversity of its natural heritage and is persistently working to rehabilitate and release endangered and at-risk species.

Normally I wouldn’t recommend animals in captivity, but the Pula Aquarium doubles as a wildlife rehabilitation location!

Cost: Entry is €17 for adults, and €13 for students and seniors.
**Check out their website to find current discounts!

Brijuni National Park

Brijuni National Park is just off the northwest coast of Pula and hosts intriguing features and activities that will interest any traveler who passes through! The park is a bustling place to visit in the summer months with hotels on the island, a golf course, and many land and water tours. 

Everything is accessible on foot, but if you’re not interested in walking a few miles to see it all there are bikes and golf carts available to rent! In the off-season, you’ll have a massive island to explore at your pace with so many things to see. 

The park has so many things to do, including a Safari Park, exposed 130 million-year-old dinosaur footprints on the rocky beach, a 1,600-year-old Olive tree, picturesque ‘Pine Valley’, and miles of serene walking paths!

Cost: €22 for ferry to the island and National Park access
+
Additional €4 for the bus ride to Fažana

Getting to Brijuni National Park

To get there, first, you’ll need to take a 15-minute bus ride from Pula up to Fažana, a quaint coastal town just North of Pula. 

Near the main harbor area, you’ll find the Brijuni National Park information center where you can purchase ferry tickets to get across to the main island. The ferry ticket also grants access to the National Park and all of the free excursions offered. 

The ferry runs at specific times so be sure to check the timetable for the dates you wish to visit.

A woman standing in the Row of Pines at Brijuni National Park in Pula Croatia
A zebra standing in a field at the Brijuni Safari Park

Istrian Food

Nothing brings you closer to a culture’s roots than through food. Especially with a region as old as Istria, explore the ancient methods of processing and preparing their cultural offerings with the locals themselves!

Olive Oil Tour

Participate in an olive oil tasting tour to learn about Istria’s renowned olive oil production. Learn how to incorporate it into your diet, read the labels, and sample the varying aromas.

There is no better place to experience the history and importance of Istria’s olive oil than at the ‘House of Istrian Olive Oil‘. 

For only €15, get a tour of the process and an all-inclusive tasting. This tour lasts 50 minutes and can be longer for a more thorough experience!

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting anywhere is always a fun time, but when a region has been making wine for thousands of years, you can trust they know what they’re doing.

Wine tasting in Croatia is a must, especially in Istria where the majority of the country’s wine is made! Check around for any tastings and tours that suit your preferences, or include this as a day trip from Pula when you head further North into the heart of wine-country.

Cooking Class

There is no better way to experience the food of an area, than cooking it yourself! There are so many options for a cooking experience in Croatia, but it’s always best to find one that includes shopping for the local ingredients at the market, and always includes local wine 😉

Check out this 6-hour market tour and cooking class, which offers it all for only €210 per person!

 

A typical meal in Pula, Croatia

Check out this Ultimate Europe Packing List so you're ready for any adventure!

More Adventures in Pula

The fun doesn’t stop there! Although this is a curated list of my top 14 suggestions, so much waits for you in and around Pula!

Rent a car and take a day trip from Pula – the best way to see the rest of Istria! 

Or, check out some of the highest-rated tours in Pula.

Summary - Top 14 Things to Do In Pula, Croatia

Pula, Croatia is a must-visit for anyone visiting the coastal country on the Adriatic. The charming culture, cobble-stone streets, and Roman architecture leave you in awe. Not the mention the aqua-blue water with hidden gems tucked along the coast!

Pula is a must-see location, leaving the only question; what will you do first?!

Explore the other destinations waiting for you in Europe!

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Croatia, 0 comments
How To Get To Koh Samui

How To Get To Koh Samui

Planning your escape to the Gulf of Thailand? The first step of the journey is figuring out how to get to Koh Samui, the largest and most convenient of the archipelago, so you can hit the beach and start your tropical vacation!

In this guide, we’ll break down the different route options, cost estimates, and considerations, pros, and cons of each, so you can pick the plan that best suits you. Book your tickets directly from here and start your journey to the island paradise of Koh Samui!

Airport sign in Koh Samui at sunrise, one of the ways on how to get to Koh Samui

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Getting to Koh Samui by Plane

For those prioritizing speed and convenience, flying is the most direct route to Koh Samui. Not to mention that the Koh Samui airport is possibly the most beautiful in the world!

Direct flights from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok to Samui Airport (USM) take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. However, this convenience comes at a cost, with flight prices ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 Thai Baht. 

It’s recommended to book your flight well in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure the best deals! Learn the secrets of booking the cheapest flights!

Pros

  • Speed: The quickest way to reach Koh Samui so you can hit the beach ASAP!
  • Comfort: Direct flights provide convenience and comfort.
  • Airport: Koh Samui Airport is by far the most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen!

Cons

  • Cost: Generally more expensive compared to other options.
  • No Scenery: You will miss the beauty along the way that you get with a bus, train, or ferry.
  • Carbon Intensity: Flying is usually the least sustainable mode of transport. 
View out of a plane with a yellow sky and clouds

Getting to Koh Samui by Ferry

For a more scenic route, ferry travel to Koh Samui offers a more adventurous journey. The main ferry terminal on Koh Samui – Nathon Pier – is centrally located on the west coast. However, there are a few ferry ports so double-check which one you will arrive at to coordinate your arrival!

While most ferries depart the mainland from Donsak Pier, 2 other options exist that may be ideal for your travels. Other ferry options depart from Surat Thani or Chumphon on the mainland, connecting to Nathon Pier in Koh Samui.

From Donsak Pier

Donsak Pier is the most common port to leave the mainland and ferry over to Koh Samui. Located in Surat Thani, 275 km northeast of Phuket, getting there may require a bus or train ride from a main city, so be sure to consider that into your cost!

The ferry ride itself takes anywhere between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours for 450-240 Baht. Typically the ferry runs 2x a day, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, so be sure to plan every leg of the journey with the other.

There are 3 main operators; Lomprayah, Donsak Raja, and Seatran. Not all of them operate year-round, and prices and speeds differ between them so be sure to check them all!

Use 12Go.Asia, or Bookaway to easily compare and find the best travel options for you!

Getting to the Pier

Since getting to the pier may require some extra travel, I will briefly go over some ways to get there! Depending on where you’re coming from, you can choose between bus, train, or flight to Surat Thani By BUS Bus is the most common way to travel on land between cities in Thailand. No reservations are required in many cases, with different options for your ride to suit your preferences (VIP, A/C, standard). The best part, is the buses will take you directly to the Surat Thani ferry terminal, unlike the train and plane options below. 
  • Bus from Bangkok – Surat Thani: 600-900 THB / 9-16 hours
  • Bus from Phuket – Surat Thani: 380 THB / 6 hours
  • Bus from Krabi – Surat Thani: 450 THB / 4 hours
By TRAIN The train is a great way to see the countryside, with affordable options! This is great if you’re coming from Bangkok, and want to lock it in for a long ride down the coast. You can get a sleeper car for extra comfort, but be sure to book your ticket at least 5 days in advance!
  • Train from Bangkok – Surat Thani: 1,000 THB / 9-12 hours
By PLANE
If you don’t want to miss all the action on the ground, you can combine a flight to Surat Thani Airport and a ferry out to Koh Samui! Often, this is cheaper than flying directly to Koh Samui, although it does add some time to your travel. Consider the cost to bus from the airport to the ferry terminal + the ferry cost, to see if it outweighs flying directly to Koh Samui.

Pros

  • Scenery: You get to see Thailand’s beauty along the way!
  • Budget: Ferries are much more affordable than a flight, saving you money.
  • Carbon Intensity: A ferry is a more sustainable option than a flight. 

Cons

  • Duration: Depending on where you’re coming from, this can be a much longer route.
  • Limited Ports: There are only 3 ports that operate between the mainland and Koh Samui, requiring a potential extra leg of travel to get there.

Transportation on Koh Samui

Upon arriving on the island, transportation options are abundant and affordable. Taxis, scooter rentals, and shared trucks, known as Songthaews, are readily available and great for exploring this tropical island.

Taxis are convenient for quick point-to-point travel, with costs ranging from 300 to 500 Thai Baht for short distances. Since flights and ferries arrive on the island at regular intervals, they are often waiting to pick up any travelers who have just arrived. Be sure to have some Thai Baht in cash on you so you’re ready to catch a ride! 

Scooter rentals provide an eco-friendly and flexible means of exploration, most of which will require you to leave your passport with them. Scooter rentals are located all over the island, but you can also ask your host for some recommendations. Cars are also available, but much more expensive and less easy to navigate this mountainous island.

Songthaews offers shared rides with affordable fares. This is basically sitting on a bench in the back of a pick-up truck, but a great local experience to have, and usually very affordable!

Upon arrival on Koh Samui, be sure to ask your accommodation if transport is included for pickup from the airport or ferry terminal. Often, it is included in your stay, relatively affordable, or a great way to find a contact to have someone available to get you when you arrive!

Get an International Driver's Permit before leaving your home country so you're able to rent abroad with no problem, covered by insurance, and won't be extorted for money by local law enforcement!

Girl sitting on a motorbike with 2 backpacks on, an efficient way to travel in Asia

Transportation to Koh Phangan & Koh Tao

Your journey in the Gulf of Thailand doesn’t have to stop at Koh Samui. Continue venturing north to the other 2 islands in this archipelago; Koh Phangan & Koh Tao. Since neither of these islands has an airport, Ferry is your only option to get there!

Koh Phangan is famous for its Full Moon Party, less-touristy atmosphere, and spiritual communities. My favorite destination in all of Thailand!

Koh Tao is an underwater paradise for snorkelers, scuba divers, and free divers. Although a much smaller and further island, don’t discount this little gem’s attraction!

Check out everything you can't miss with this  2 week itinerary in Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao!

Summary - Getting to Koh Samui

Getting to Koh Samui offers a variety of choices catering to different preferences. Whether opting for the swiftness of air travel or taking the scenic journey by ferry, each mode comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Once on the island, the diverse transportation options ensure that exploring Koh Samui is not only convenient but also environmentally conscious. Consideration of the environmental impact, advance ticket booking, and embracing sustainable transportation practices collectively contribute to a well-rounded travel experience on this tropical haven.

 

Now that you know where you're going, make sure you have everything you need with the  ultimate packing list for Southeast Asia!

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Thailand, 0 comments
2 Week Itinerary – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao

2 Week Itinerary – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao

Discover the hidden gems in the tropical archipelago of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao – a two-week adventure designed for the budget-savvy adventurer.

From the lush waterfalls and spiritual retreats of Koh Samui to the vibrant markets, legendary parties, and tranquil beaches of Koh Phangan, and finally, the adventure-packed adventures beneath the waves and atop scenic viewpoints of Koh Tao, prepare for an unforgettable journey in the heart of the Gulf of Thailand. Embrace the charm, discover hidden gems, and immerse yourself in the magic of these tropical havens.

Sunset on the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand, with long tail fishing boats floating in the distance

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Arrive In Koh Samui

Since this is the only island with an airport and the most direct access to the mainland, it’s easiest to start your travel in Koh Samui! Koh Samui is a popular tourist destination and relatively easy to get to from the mainland! 

Koh Samui is the most touristy, and expensive, and has the least to offer of the 3 islands in my opinion – we are still talking pristine beaches, clear warm water, delicious Thai food, and vibrant exploration!

 

You can get to Koh Samui via ferry from the Raja Port, or via plane from any nearby airport including Bangkok and Phuket.

Day 1-2 - Koh Samui (West & South)

Na Muang Waterfall

Begin your island adventure at the enchanting Na Muang Waterfall on Koh Samui. A moderate hike through the lush jungle leads to the two-tiered cascade, surrounded by vibrant greenery. 

Cost: 30 THB

Time: 2-3 hours.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary

Connect with majestic elephants ethically at Samui Elephant Sanctuary. Take a guided tour, providing an opportunity to feed and bathe these gentle giants while contributing to their conservation. You can volunteer to feed the animals, and learn about their rehabilitation process! 

Cost: From 1,500 THB

Time: Half-day.

Not all animal experiences have ethical actions for the animal. Do not support places where: animals are forced or coerced into interacting, there is no education or conservation efforts, and if the animals are used for profit rather than awareness.

Asian elephant with a man reaching his hand out to touch the elephant's trunk at an ethical animal sanctuary

Kerton Hostel

Beds in a hostel in Koh Samui
$

Baan Hin Sai Resort

View of a pool and a beach at sunset on Koh Samui, Thailand
$$

Sea Dance Resort

An aerial view of beach villas and a pool in Koh Samui, Thailand
$$$

Day 3-8 - Koh Phangan

Bottle Beach Viewpoint & Trek

Get an unparalleled panoramic view of one of the best beaches in Koh Phangan – the crescent-shaped Bottle Beach. The viewpoint is accessible by a well-marked trail that winds through the lush jungle. Wear comfortable hiking shoes, and bring a camera to capture the breathtaking scenery from the viewpoint, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot some monkeys overhead! This is a budget-friendly way to appreciate the natural beauty of Koh Phangan.

To continue to Bottle Beach, you can either continue the trek for a total 5-6 hour trip or head back to the lot and catch a lift for only 150 THB! 

Cost: Free!

Time: 2-3 hours round trip

Thongsala Night Market

Immerse yourself in the vibrant Thongsala Night Market. Located in the island’s main port town, the market comes alive in the evening with a myriad of stalls offering everything from street food to handmade crafts. The market is free to explore, and prices for food and souvenirs are budget-friendly. Sample traditional Thai dishes, indulge in local delicacies, and soak in the lively atmosphere. Consider bringing a reusable bag for your purchases and an adventurous palate for trying new flavors.

Cost: Very affordable
Time: 2-4 hours in the evening

Spiritual Escape in Srithanu

Indulge in the serene atmosphere of Srithanu with budget-friendly yoga classes. Drop-in classes start from 300 THB, offering a rejuvenating experience for the mind and body. Join experienced instructors in open-air studios surrounded by lush greenery. Bring comfortable clothing and an open mind for a session of relaxation and self-discovery. Experience an authentic Ecstatic Dance at Pyramid Yoga, or a healing sound bath at the Dome Sauna

Cost: From 300 THB

Time: 2-6 hours

Thai Cooking Class

Explore Thai cuisine (my favorite) with a budget-friendly cooking class in Koh Phangan. Learn the art of Thai cuisine using fresh, local ingredients. Classes typically include hands-on instruction, a visit to a local market to source ingredients, and the joy of savoring your creations. Classes are suitable for all skill levels, and instructors provide insights into the rich culinary heritage of Thailand. We went to Muai’s Thai Traditional Cooking Academy and it was an incredible experience!

Cost: From 800 THB

Time: Half-day

Full Moon Party

Join the legendary Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach, an iconic monthly celebration that draws revelers from around the world. The party kicks into high gear during the full moon, transforming the beach into a pulsating dance floor. Entry is free, and drinks are available for purchase at various beach bars. Bring comfortable beachwear, dance under the moonlight, and immerse yourself in the electrifying atmosphere of this must-attend event. For budget-conscious travelers, it’s an unforgettable night of music, dancing, and vibrant energy. 

Cost: Free entry, drinks available for purchase

Time: Nighttime festivities

Stay Safe! Stay out of the ocean for safety and hygiene (it becomes a toilet), wear shoes since there ends up being broken glass, and be aware of undercover cops selling drugs.

Haad Rin Rock Viewpoint

Hike to Haad Rin Rock Viewpoint for a mesmerizing perspective of Koh Phangan and the Gulf of Thailand. Accessible by a scenic trail, the viewpoint offers breathtaking vistas, especially during sunrise or sunset. The hike takes approximately 1-2 hours from a paved road, but you can get right to it on an off-road bike. Head to the lighthouse after the FMP to get a view from above!

Cost: Free

Time: 1-2 hours

Haad Rin Viewpoint on Koh Phangan, Thailand

Puk's Palace Hostel

Common space in a hostel with chairs and a bar on the beach in Koh Phangan, Thailand
$

Castaway Bungalows

Green Papaya

Days 8-13 - Koh Tao

Snorkel Tanote Bay

Dive into the crystal-clear waters of Tanote Bay for an unforgettable snorkeling experience. Tanote Bay boasts vibrant coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. This is a common scuba dive location, but all of the beauty can be experienced from the surface! Pack sunscreen, a hat, and some extra cash for a fresh coconut after the water.

Cost: Snorkel gear rental around 200 THB

Time: Half-day

Scuba Dive Trip

Koh Tao is known as a prime destination for scuba diving. With the migration of Whale Sharks, unique topography, and vibrant reefs, diving here is unforgettable. Stop by Black Turtle Dive shop to check out their work in Coral Restoration projects and see how you can get involved!

Read more about responsible Diving in Koh Tao, including the best locations and schools to dive with!

Side view of a coral reef that has taken over a sunken ship wreck

Koh Nang Yuan

Be sure to save a day to take a trip to the postcard-perfect Koh Nang Yuan. Boat trips start from 600 THB and typically include snorkeling, beach time, and a hike to the iconic viewpoint. The island’s pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters make it a must-visit destination for those seeking a slice of paradise. Budget-friendly and easily accessible, Koh Nang Yuan is a jewel in the Gulf of Thailand. Although it looks close and accessible by a kayak, the locals thought we were crazy for trying! If you do make it this way, be sure to let me know in the comments!

Cost: From 600 THB

Time: Full-day

Assave Dive Resort

A blue pool and palm trees at a dive hostel in Koh Phangan, Thailand
$

Koh Tao Heritage

Lounge chairs and cabanas next to a pool, with the ocean in the back in Koh Tao, Thailand
$$

Cape Shark Villas

An aerial view of a resort and pool on the ocean in Koh Phangan, Thailand
$$$

Day 13+14 - Koh Samui, Fiserman's Village

Big Buddha Temple

No matter which way you arrive on Koh Samui, it’s hard to miss the ‘Big Buddha’, which has become an icon of the island overseeing the ports and airports on the northern coast. Since this is an active Buddhist temple, entry is completely free, but visitors should be respectful of the customs while in this religious space. After exploring the temple’s grounds, head to any of the nearby shops and cafes to shop the local artisans or a refreshing drink!

Cost: Free

Time: 1-2 hours

Golden Big Buddha with stairs leading to it on Koh Samui

Fisherman's Village

Discover the charm of Bophut Fisherman’s Village, where traditional Thai architecture meets modern boutiques and eateries. The village comes alive in the evening with a vibrant night market, while the day time offers peaceful and laidback living on the beach. The area is definitely well-maintained and nice, and the prices reflect that! So be aware that you’ll be paying US prices in this area since it does attract a wealthier crowd. 

Cost: Free

Time: Evening

Summary - 2 Week Itinerary - Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao

This comprehensive two-week itinerary invites budget-conscious travelers to savor the best of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao. From the serene waterfalls and cultural gems of Samui to the vibrant markets and nightlife of Phangan, and the thrilling adventures and underwater wonders of Tao, each island unfolds a unique chapter of the Thai archipelago. Embrace the diversity, relish every moment, and let this tropical odyssey create memories to last a lifetime.

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Thailand, 0 comments
An Ultimate Guide to Responsible Diving in Koh Tao

An Ultimate Guide to Responsible Diving in Koh Tao

Welcome to the ultimate guide to responsible diving in Koh Tao, where ocean enthusiasts and conservationists unite to explore the depths while preserving the underwater ecosystem. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or planning your first underwater adventure, this guide will equip you with the essential knowledge to enjoy this breathtaking destination responsibly.

In this article, we’ll dive into the importance of responsible diving practices, providing tips on minimizing your impact on the environment and protecting the marine life that calls Koh Tao home. 

Learn about the initiatives taken by local organizations, the best dive operators promoting conservation efforts, and the must-see dive sites around the island. From coral restoration projects to marine life protection programs, find out how you can get involved and make a positive impact during your visit to Koh Tao. 

Let’s dive in, explore the depths responsibly, and leave a legacy for future generations to continue enjoying this marine wonderland.

Dive fins, snorkel, and mask sitting on the beach as a wave comes in

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Importance of Responsible Diving

The marine ecosystem in Koh Tao is a delicate balance of coral reefs, vibrant fish species, and other fascinating marine creatures. These coral reefs provide shelter and sustenance for countless species, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the area. Irresponsible diving, such as touching or damaging corals, can have severe consequences for this ecosystem.

Responsible divers play a vital role in protecting this underwater paradise. By following ethical diving guidelines and making eco-conscious choices, they minimize their environmental footprint. It’s not just about having a memorable dive; it’s about ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same beauty.

Green sea turtle eating from a coral reef in Thailand

Responsible Dive Practices

Local Restrictions

Koh Tao has established specific regulations and guidelines to safeguard its marine environment. These include “no-touch” policies, preventing people in the water from touching marine life, restricted areas, and requirements for dive certifications. 

Koh Tao also has a “no-fin policy“, limiting snorkelers’ ability to use fins to protect coral reefs! If you’re looking to just snorkel from the shore, keep this in mind as you will have limited swimming abilities.

PADI Conservation Specialities

PADI is a global leader in dive practices, with multiple specialized conservation programs. Explore Coral Reef Restoration, Dive Against Debris, and AWARE (Aquatic World Awareness, Responsibility, and Education).  To support the global efforts:
  •  Never touch aquatic life!!
  • Reduce your waste on land to prevent it from ending up in the waterways
  • Support operators committed to responsible diving
  • Get involved and participate in conservation efforts

Responsible Dive Operators in Koh Tao

Before choosing a dive operator, do your homework. Look for dive centers with a strong environmental commitment. You can find online reviews and recommendations from responsible divers who have experienced these operators firsthand.

When inquiring with dive operators, ask about their equipment and practices. Do they prioritize sustainability? Are they involved in marine conservation initiatives? Selecting a dive center that shares your values is crucial.

Black Turtle Dive Center

If you’re interested in conservation diving, nothing compares to Black Turtle Dive Center. Located right near the main port of Koh Tao, the friendly staff is ready to greet any eager traveler to educate you about life under the sea. 

Whether you’re here to take a course and expand your diving, or just want to go out with a fantastic team of passionate conservationists, Black Turtle dive center is the best on the island!

Get ready for your trip to Thailand with this complete Thailand Packing Guide!

Best Dive Sites in Koh Tao

Chumphon Pinnacle

Located to the west of Koh Tao, Chumphon Pinnacle is renowned for its stunning coral formations and diverse marine life. It’s a popular site for spotting schools of barracuda, giant groupers, and reef sharks. Conservation efforts here have focused on preserving the delicate coral structures and protecting the marine inhabitants.

*Advanced Open Water Certification Required

Sail Rock

Positioned between Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, Sail Rock is a vertical pinnacle that attracts divers and underwater photographers. Here, you can witness the remarkable chimney swim-through and potentially encounter schools of chevron barracuda and whale sharks during certain seasons. While Sail Rock remains a hot spot for divers, responsible operators have been proactive in preventing overcrowding and damage to the site.

Hin Wong Pinnacle

Hin Wong Pinnacle is ideal for divers seeking underwater landscapes adorned with massive boulders, gorgonian sea fans, and colorful soft corals. It’s a location where you can explore swim-throughs and observe various species of fish and marine creatures. Conservation initiatives in this area aim to protect the diverse marine ecosystem and coral formations.

White Rock

White Rock is suitable for divers of all levels, with its shallow areas teeming with marine life. You can encounter clownfish, moray eels, and schools of snappers. While it’s a site appreciated for its accessibility, responsible divers are encouraged to respect the marine environment and refrain from disturbing the delicate coral formations.

Japanese Gardens

Located in shallow waters, Japanese Gardens is perfect for snorkelers and novice divers. The site is named after its resemblance to a tranquil Japanese garden, with intricate coral structures and colorful fish. Conservation actions aim to protect the site’s beauty and ensure the ongoing health of the coral and marine life.

Group demonstrating responsible diving in Thailand near a ship wreck

Marine Conservation Efforts

While Koh Tao is a stunning dive destination, it faces several conservation concerns. Overcrowding, coral bleaching, and marine pollution are significant issues. The increasing number of divers and tourists can lead to physical damage to corals and overfeeding of fish, disturbing the ecological balance. In 2019, Thailand enacted the “Marine and Coastal Resources Act,” aimed at protecting and restoring its marine ecosystems. This includes stricter regulations on fishing practices and marine pollution. In Koh Tao, these efforts are reflected in the numerous marine conservation initiatives and projects led by both local and international organizations.

Save Koh Tao

Organizations like “Save Koh Tao” have taken the lead in coral restoration efforts and marine life preservation. Volunteers, including divers, participate in activities such as coral planting, reef monitoring, and underwater clean-up initiatives. Sustainable dive operators and conservationists collaborate to ensure the long-term health of Koh Tao’s underwater environment.

Summary - Ultimate Guide to Responsible Diving in Koh Tao

Responsible diving in Koh Tao is not just a choice; it’s an obligation. The positive impact of responsible diving is evident in the preservation of Koh Tao’s natural beauty. By embracing sustainable dive practices and supporting marine conservation efforts, we can ensure that this underwater paradise remains a sanctuary for divers and marine life alike.

 

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Thailand, 0 comments
Ultimate Singapore Itinerary for a Long-Layover

Ultimate Singapore Itinerary for a Long-Layover

Welcome to Singapore, a kaleidoscope of culture, nature, and innovation! If you’re lucky enough to have a few extra hours to spend in Singapore during a long layover, this guide is for you. The best part is – you don’t even need to leave the airport for the best adventures (well you don’t need to go far anyways). The Changi Airport is a perfect representation of how architecture is inspired by art and a showcase of how innovative and creative the Singapore style is. Check out this Singapore Itinerary for anyone with a long layover!

Let’s dive into the best ways to spend your long layover in the best airport in the world, complete with specific attractions, ideal sleeping locations, and free airport excursions

View from plan window while leaving from Singapore's Changi airport

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No matter which terminal you arrive at, or what time of day, this itinerary can be sliced and diced however works best for you! Transportation between terminals is completely free on the Airport Rail and can be reached via walking. Take what you want and leave out the rest to create the perfect day of exploration for you! 

Keep reading to find out about the FREE Singapore Tours, a list of the best excursions by terminal, and info about navigating the airport!

Free Singapore Tour

For those looking to get out of the airport and explore, Changi offers FREE tours of the city! All tours take 2.5 hours, and attendees must be present 75 minutes prior to the tour start time to ensure a timely tour for all participants. This is available for anyone with a layover between 5.5 hours-24 hours, and a ‘Singapore Arrival Card‘ must be filled out. See the following table to ensure the reporting and returning times work for your travel itinerary! 

For up-to-date information, see the Changi Airport website

Experience what it feels like to live as a Singaporean, through an exploration of the charming east side of Singapore, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is great for people who have seen the main sites already or those that prefer a more authentic local experience. 

The first stop is at Tampines New Town, which received the UN World Habitat Award for its high-quality affordable housing. You’ll then make your way to the Tampines Central Park to enjoy the green social space and some uniquely designed playgrounds! The third stop on this tour is at the Our Tampines Hub, the largest community and lifestyle hub in Singapore! Make your way to the Changi Village, a popular recreational hub with plenty of Hawker stalls and quiet village walks. Finally, the tour stops by Changi Beach Park where you will enjoy pristine white beaches and a serenity rarely found in this bustling city. 

Tampines housing and community center
Precinct Tour | Changi Airport

See the modern side of Singapore, catching all of the iconic highlights. Get a photo of the Merlion against the city skyline and marvel at the magical, Avatar-like Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay. Almost every picture you’ve ever seen of the famous city of Singapore will be seen on this tour! 

The tour starts at City Hall, where you’ll see the famous Raffles Hotel (home of the Singapore Sling), as well as St. Andrew’s Cathedral. You’ll then make your way to the Civic District where you can see the distinction between old national monuments against the modern skyscrapers in the Central Business District. Walk across the Jubilee Bridge for a spectacular view of Marina Bay, as you head towards the Merlion Statue – Singapore’s icon! Enjoy the sun at Merlion Park, as you learn about Singapore’s history in trade and fisheries. In the distance, you’ll see the Gardens by the Bay, a Singapore icon (the constructed trees that make you feel like you’re in the Avatar world of Pandora). If you’re lucky enough to take the tour at night, you’ll get to watch this area come to life with lights and colors! Before returning to the airport, the tour concludes with Marina Bay Sands, a convention center that hosts over 200 luxury outlets, a Skypark, and incredible rooftop views of the city!

 

Gardens By The Bay a part of the city sights tour on the Singapore Itinerary
Gardens By The Bay | Changi Airport

Step into a multi-dimensional destination combining retail, dining, and attractions, and immerse in a lush green sanctuary through this 2.5-hour walking tour.

This tour starts in Terminal 3, where visitors will get a chance to see the Changi Control Tower which is at the heart of the airfield operations, allowing the airport to be a central hub for eastern travel. Next, you’ll hop onto a train and venture into the Jewel to take in the serenity of the Shiseido Forest Valley – where mist-covered lush greenery bathes in the filtered light. Central to it all, is the HSBC Rain Vortex – the icon of all of Changi and the tallest indoor waterfall in the world! Explore some of the foreign and local heritage brands in the 6 story shopping plaza, and find your way to the Changi Experience Studio – a digital attraction that allows you to immerse yourself in games and the world of aviation. The tour concludes after a trip to the Canopy Park, located on the top floor of the Jewel. 

*Admission to Canopy Park is included in the tour, with discounts available to the individual attractions in Canopy Park & Experience Studio.

 

Sheshido Valley in the Jewel Changi is a must see on any Singapore Itinerary
Shiseido Forest | Changi Airport

Discover Singapore’s colonial past and cultural heritage through a visit to the historic Civic District, Chinatown, and the picturesque Kampong Gelam.

The first stop is at Marina Bay, where iconic landmarks such as the Merlion and city landscape show the modernization of Singapore. The next stop is at the Central Business District, where the tour will feast on local (and very cheap) food from the famous Hawker stalls. Chinatown is just a short walk away, a destination you definitely can’t miss here! You will find iconic places of worship, shophouses, and street murals depicting the daily lives of local people. The Singapore River is where this nation’s economy grew from a small fishing region to the powerful trading center that it is today. The final stop on this tour is Kampong Gelam, a traditional neighborhood with strong Malaysian & Arabic influence – the street art is insane here!

Singapore river is a part of the heritage tour on the Singapore itinerary
Singapore River | Changi Airport
Tour Timing Itinerary Reporting Time
9:00 am - 11:30 am
Changi Precinct Tour
Before 7:30 am
11:00 am - 1:30 pm
Jewel Tour
Before 9:30 am
12:00 pm - 2:30 pm
City Sights Tour
Before 10:30 am
3:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Heritage Tour
Before 1:30 pm
6:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Jewel Tour
Before 4:30 pm
7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
City Sights Tour
Before 5:30 pm

* All tours except the Jewel Tour must accompany the group back to the airport. If you wish to explore longer than the 2.5-hour time slot, you must go out on your own! 

Terminal 1

Water Lily Garden

The Water Lily Garden is the perfect destination to head towards to start the day. Nearby you’ll find a ton of local cuisine options, where you can get the local special; Kaya Toast & a Soft-Boiled Egg (try it, you may be surprised at how good it is!)

Grab the food to go and eat outside in the pleasant surroundings of a pond filled with water lilies, open 24 hours a day!

Cost: FREE

Discovery Garden

A perfect place to move your legs and get some fresh air – the Discovery Garden features a winding trail that takes you to different heights of the trees they encircle. Located on the second level of Terminal 1, this is a great place to pause and stroll through, especially since it’s open 24 hours a day!

Cost: FREE

Cactus Garden

When you’re ready for some fresh air, head to the upper floor in Terminal 1 and you’ll find the Cactus Garden – where succulents and cacti from around the world are ready to be explored! This is a great place to reset, it’s not every day that you find a state-of-the-art cactus garden in the middle of the tropics, or in an airport!

Cost: FREE

Rooftop Pool

For those of you that don’t want to walk all day, you may find yourself craving a lounge chair to kick back and relax while you wait for your next flight. There is no better place than the rooftop pool in Terminal 1, where you can hang out in a cabana with a book and a Singapore Sling, soaking up the sun (don’t forget your sunscreen!)

Cost: S$23

Terminal 2

Sunflower Garden

Located on the roof of Terminal 2, the sunflower garden is a great place to relax and reset before the next leg of your journey! Soak up the sun, read a book, or stretch your body in this floral paradise. Don’t skip this at night either – head to the rooftop to see a spectacular show of lights and colors, open 24 hours!

Cost: FREE

Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest is a cute installment featuring impressive orchids and floral arrangements, a walking platform that leads to a little pond area, and nature-inspired art installations. You’ll notice the forest come to life as you walk through, thanks to the interactive exhibit that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the world of Avatar.

Cost: FREE

Terminal 3

Butterfly Garden

Now, for my absolute favorite attraction at the Singapore airport; the Butterfly Garden. Walk into this creative space where butterflies get to feast on fresh fruit and flowers, drink water from a waterfall feature, and you can witness it all! 

Cost: FREE

The butterfly garden in Changi is a must-see on any Singapore itinerary

To get to the Butterfly Garden, you have to pass through a Hawker-style food court. Stop by and see what's on the menu for an authentic taste of Singapore!

Long Bar by Raffles

You have probably heard of the Singapore Sling – a refreshing blend of dry gin, cherry brandy, and lemon juice, created in 1915. The original location is located at the Raffles Hotel, but this local icon is available to you at the Long Bar. At the Raffles Hotel, you can get a Singapore Sling for around S$30 (insane), but they are complimentary for travelers right here in the airport!

Stop by between 3 pm – 11 pm, and get your first drink on the house!

Cost: FREE Singapore Sling Cocktail

Climbing Wall

There’s no better way to spend a layover than moving your body and getting on a climbing wall! Even if you’ve never done it before – there are package options for guided or un-guided sessions so you. can learn or play as you want.

Located in the basement of T3, open between 10:30 am-9:30 pm! For more info check out the Climb@T3 webpage.

Cost: S$19

Giant Slide

The Changi airport is home to the world’s tallest indoor slide, designed with kids & adults in mind, take the chance to zip down this 4-story slide!

Cost: FREE with Changi Membership (Free to join)

*Located land side, meaning you will have to go through security to leave the airport

Jewel

The Jewel is an attraction that is visited by locals and travelers. However, since it is not on the air side of the airport, you must exit the airport by going through security and immigration. If you don’t have enough time to explore the Jewel fully, make sure to hop on the Skytrain connecting Terminal 2 and Terminal 3! This rail goes through the center of the Jewel, with an up-close view of the waterfall.

HSBC Rain Vortex at Changi Singapore airport

Rain Vortex

The main attraction of the Jewel is the HSBC Rain Vortex – a 40m tall waterfall that flows through the center of the roof straight down, 3 floors below the first floor. This spectacle is lit up in vibrant colors at night – an attraction everybody should see! 

The best part is the central area of the Jewel where you can marvel at the waterfall is completely free to enter. There are seating areas and a walking path that encircles the dome building, so you can get a glimpse of the vortex from different heights and angles before checking out the rest of the attractions!

Canopy Bridge

Get the highest view of the Jewel & the Rain Vortex, by walking across the Canopy Bridge. The bridge is suspended 23 meters above the ground floor, with glass floors and the best vantage point! Open from 10 am – 10 pm daily. 

Cost: S$14

Changi Experience Studio

Join this interactive exhibit where you can learn about the airport, play immersive games and so much more! This is where technology, education, and fun all come together to create an experience perfect for any traveler. Located on L4 of the Jewel complex, this studio is open throughout the week. 

See their website for timing and to buy tickets!

Cost: S$25 for adult

If you join the Free Singapore Tour – Jewel, you will receive exclusive discounts to the Changi Experience Studio & FREE entrance into Canopy Park!

Additional Attractions in the Jewel

Canopy Park Walk – Discovery Slides, Petal Garden, Foggy Bowls, Topiary Walk – S$8

Bouncing Net – L5 Canopy Park – S$25

Walking Net – L5 Canopy Park – S$19

Hedge Maze – L5 Canopy Park – S$14

Mirror Maze – L5 Canopy Park – S$19

 

Sleeping in Changi Airport

If you’re traveling on a budget, you likely haven’t booked a cozy hotel to get some rest. Luckily, Singapore has a lot of options for sleep to fit every traveler’s budget and travel style. Changi hosts rest zones, hotels, and lounges, and they used to have sleeping pods pre-COVID (not sure when/if they’re coming back)!

The best sleeping place for you will depend on which terminal you’re arriving at the airport from, and what time. The snooze zones fill up quickly, where sleepy passengers lounge in recliners. Check out the Lounge Buddy app to see what deals and offers are happening in the airports you’re traveling in!

We arrived at 11 pm, so all these areas were occupied. We wandered around a bit and found a quiet corner where we slept on the floor (we never travel without our eye masks & headphones)! Give yourself some time to explore and find the best spot for you!

For more specific details on seeping areas, head over to the expert – Sleeping in Airports.

Luggage Storage

If you have any bags that you don’t want to lug around with you in or outside of the airport, check out these luggage storage options! Anything can be stored for a cost between S$5-S$18, per 24 hours.  There is a storage location in each of the 4 terminals, but during this writing, T2 & T4 are out of use! 

Check out this Baggage Storage link for updates and exact locations! 

Summary - Ultimate Singapore Itinerary - Long Layover

Too often the airports are a boring to-do that comes with travel. But when you find yourself in Changi with extra time to kill, you will be amazed at everything you can do! You can spend days here, and still not see it all while keeping your budget as low as you need to.

My favorite spots in Changi were sitting in the Jewel just watching the vortex, the Butterfly Garden, and taking the Skytrain to get up close to the falls. What things are you excited to explore in Singapore?

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Destinations, Singapore, 0 comments
2 Weeks In Bali – The Ultimate Itinerary

2 Weeks In Bali – The Ultimate Itinerary

If you’re interested in breathtaking landscapes, friendly local people, and cheap prices, Bali should be at the top of your travel list. How do you even plan where to begin with so much available? Check out this Ultimate Itinerary for 2 weeks in Bali that will take you to the vastly different corners of Bali.

Create your perfect holiday with waterfalls, temples, local food, beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and meeting other travelers in this destination hotspot.

Photo by @mattcognac

Have more than 2 weeks in Bali? Check out this list of the top eco-friendly activities in Bali to get more connected to the land and the people.

Table of Contents

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Arrive in Denpasar

The most straightforward and simple way to get to Bali is by flying into I Gusti Ngurah AirportThe airport is big but easy to navigate through immigration and out to the exit. Getting from the airport to your first destination depends on where you’re going. You will have 4 main options:

 

  1. Driver Provided. Your first accommodation may provide an airport pick-up included in your nightly cost, or for an additional fee (always ask!). 
  2. Driver Hire. If they don’t you can hire a driver yourself through various ways online, or by asking your host if they have any driver contacts.
  3. Taxi. Bluebird Taxi Group has a pretty good system set up in the airport, with a pre-fixed rate based on your destination. Taxi’s stick to the southern area closer to Denpasar, so you won’t get much further than Canggu or Ubud. 
  4. Walk to get a Grab / Gojek. Gojek and Grab drivers are not permitted to pick up passengers at the airport, but with just a 10-minute walk you can be off the property, and good to catch a ride to your stay.

Be prepared for your trip by setting up a data plan before your arrival. Check out these options so you can choose the best phone plan while abroad

Day 1+2 - Canggu

Canggu is a bustling area northwest of Denpasar, filled with surfers, digital nomads, and more surfers. This area has definitely been a hotspot in recent years, with a ton of new and trendy restaurants, bars, and shopping! Canggu is a great place to land to start meeting some fellow travelers, and get to the beach to relax and ease into the new atmosphere. 

Surf at Batu Balong

Canggu is the best place for surfers of all levels in Bali. On the main beach of Batu Balong, you’ll find dozens of booths offering 2-hour surf lessons to get you into the water and riding the waves in no time!  While you can surf at any time, there are definitely better and worse times to give it a go. I suggest connecting with an instructor at least 1 day before, to set the best time based on the tides and the crowds.

Surfing lessons cost around 300k-350k IDR ($25 USD), but worth it for the 2-hour coaching lesson. We had an awesome instructor, who was also the owner of the Salty Shakas Bungalows where we stayed!

Tanah Lot Temple

An absolute must-see in Canggu is the Tanah Lot Temple, only 25 minutes by motorbike up the coast and only 60.000 Rupiah to enter. This temple is built near a cliff side, making it appear to be on an island during high tide. Travelers are not permitted to enter the temple, unless they are a practicer of Hinduism and wearing traditional Bali clothing, however walking around the grounds is definitely worth it. 

While at the Tanah Lot Temple, keep your eyes peeled for ‘Ular Suci – Holy Snake’. This is an experience you won’t want to miss! Inside this elusive cave, you’ll find a snake charmer sitting with holy snakes, that you can touch and make a wish. These snakes are venomous (Blue-Lipped Sea Krait), however, they have never bitten anyone!

Pasut Beach

One of the best beaches you’ve never heard of is a 40-minute bike ride up the coast, at Pasut Beach. If you need a break from the hustle of Canggu, get out to nature on this black-sand beach, where you can freely drive your motorbike, swim, and, actually relax. This is a hidden gem of the area, and a great getaway when you need one! There is a 2.000 Rupiah fee to enter the area, and a small stand selling local food, coconuts, and bintangs near the parking area. 

Where To Stay In Canggu

Canggu is a town with trendy cafes, surfing, beach bars, and amazing food. It is a digital nomad hotspot, marketed toward younger Western travelers. It basically felt like San Diego if that’s your thing! If you want to be in the heart of it, stay near the beach – anywhere between Old Man’s restaurant and Finn’s Beach Club. 

If you’re looking for something a bit quieter (and authentic), find a location that is a bit more inland along the rice terraces, or coastal heading northwest from Canggu (southeast is Seminyak – also very crowded and westernized). Canggu still has a lot of charm, you just have to go a bit more out of the way to find it.

Either way, it’s a great place to land after your flight to get your feet in the sand and start to get to know the Bali culture. The town is really well-connected, so with a motorbike or ride from Gojek or Grab, you can get anywhere in under 15 minutes!

Salty Shakas
$
Serenity Eco Guesthouse
$$
Maylie Bali Bungalows
$$$

* We stayed at the Salty Shakas Bamboo Stay and absolutely loved it. It was a place you could be social over a shot of arak, relax in your bungalow, take a swim, work, and more.  Plus, get personal surf lessons with the owner!

Day 3+4+5 - Ubud

Depending on where you’re coming from, you may feel a bit jet-lagged, and Ubud is the perfect mix of relaxation and exploration, surrounded by the rainforest. Ubud is the “love” in “Eat, Pray, Love”, where you can explore your mind, healing, and spirituality through different avenues. But don’t let that fool you, Ubud is a place for adventurers too! Ubud’s central location on the island is also a great jumping-off point to explore somewhere for the day! 

Ubud Monkey Forest

Located in the heart of Ubud, is the Sacred Monkey Forest, where Macaques roam around temples and ruins. While this is a classic tourist stop, it’s for a good reason. Where else can you stroll around a rainforest with hundreds of monkeys casually eating bananas and swimming? 

These monkeys are very intelligent, so do be cautious with what you bring to the forest. They know how to open backpacks and pockets, and they really like jewelry, so be aware of what type of attention you’re attracting from the locals!

Entrance tickets cost 50.000 IDR, and can be purchased at the door. Get there at the opening to beat the crowds!

Yoga & Meditation

You will find yoga culture everywhere, which is great to try out a new style or go to your first class! If you’re a. veteran in the yoga world, go a bit off the beaten path, you will find a more authentic experience to connect with whatever you need! The Yoga Barn is famous for its unique and high-quality classes, and it’s where you’ll find the best Ecstatic Dance in Bali! If you’re looking for a more local experience, my favorite place is Bali Swasthya, led by an Indonesian teacher.

Waterfalls

There are so many waterfalls to explore that are only a quick drive from Ubud! While the bigger waterfalls are further north, you can find lush tropical falls that are perfect for a swim and to get that Instagram shot. While these falls do get crowded since they are closer to the main areas if you go earlier in the morning you can avoid most crowds! Check out the best waterfalls in Ubud, a perfect way to refresh from the jungle heat.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

One of the main attractions in Bali, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces is just 20 minutes by motorbike north of Central Ubud. This is where you can get your photo taken in those iconic swings, or just meander along the impressive terrace walls. You will likely get stopped for a 10.000 Rupiah entrance fee for the maintenance of the fields, and once you’re in you’ll be funneled to a stand where you’re urged to purchase a drink for $1 to support the farmers. Have some extra cash on you!

Tegallalang gets extremely crowded, but you can avoid the crowds and go for sunrise! Also, if you're really looking to escape the crowds, head just a few hundred meters north to the Abian Desa Rice Terrace.

Where To Stay In Ubud

Ubud has a very congested center, located around Jl Raya Ubud, and extends south along Jl Monkey Forest. Where you stay can change your views on the area depending on your preferences. On these main streets, you may be checked into an idyllic zen guesthouse, but have the sounds of motorbikes and crowds in the background. It’s in the middle of the noise, so be prepared!

If your main focus is getting some peace and time for reflection, you’ll want to look a bit more on the outskirts of town. Ubud is surrounded by the jungle and rice fields, creating the perfect environment to reconnect with nature

If you’re looking for a little bit of both, I suggest looking near the Ubud Yoga House, where quiet shalas are tucked along rice paddies, and Ubud Center is only a short ride away. Motorbikes are great to have in Ubud, but the traffic congestion and way of driving aren’t for everyone. Plenty of Gojek’s, Grab’s, and taxi’s are available in the main areas. Check out everything you need to know about transportation in Bali. 

Wenara Bali Bungalows