September 2004

Snooba Travel. As with a previous booking we had made with Snooba, we were impressed with Nikola’s efficiency in producing a tailor-made schedule to maximise the time between our preferred departure and return dates.

Getting There
We visited Manado during August 2004. Our outbound trip was from Heathrow with Singapore Airlines. The flight time to Singapore was approximately 12 hours. This friendly airline did all they could to make the trip as comfortable as economy class allows and the food was excellent.
There was a 2 hour wait in Singapore until our connecting flight to Manado departed. The second leg of the trip was via Silk Air (a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines).
Singapore Airlines provided an extra 10 kg baggage allowance per diving passenger. It is important that your agent requests this extra allowance when ordering the flight tickets.
On Arrival in Manado, expect to pay US$ 15 for an entry visa and a further US$10 on departure. We would advise any visitors to take some US$ cash to cover these costs.
Transfer to the hotel Santika was about 50 minutes by air-conditioned mini-coach.

So What’s the Location Like?
Well, let’s set the scene by reminding ourselves that we are in a very remote part of Indonesia so bear that thought in mind and just go with the flow and relax.

Hotel Santika is about 10 Km from Manado City. The hotel is rated 4 stars and is very clean, with good-sized rooms and well laid out in beautiful landscaped gardens. As regards evening meals, you will be eating in the hotel, unless you want to make the tedious journey to Manado City. The food at the Santika is good. There was a varied buffet/ barbecue each evening serving Indonesian/Oriental food.
We opted for the Half Board option and were not disappointed. There is also an a-la-carte menu and a separate restaurant serving a-la-carte meals of a more European nature.

The Indonesian staff in both the hotel & Thalassa dive centre are very friendly. We felt that the staff were instrumental in making our stay very enjoyable.

Visiting Manado City
We took the free courtesy bus from the hotel, which dropped us off 5 minutes after the banks closed. Manado City does not cater for tourists - it is a chaotic place to visit. There are a few restaurants listed in the travel Guides, but one visit to Manado was enough to satisfy our curiosity. One hour later and a brief walk round the shopping malls, a taxi back to the hotel cost 50,000 rupiah
(about £4). Rupiah are essential if you plan to make purchases. Not everywhere accepted credit cards and US$ don’t cut it in downtown Manado.

Thalassa Dive Centre
This is a well-run dive centre with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Nitrox is not available.

The cylinders are ‘A’ clamp fitting and filled to a nominal 200 bar.

On enquiring, the centre does have about 10 DIN valve cylinders and some DIN to ‘A’ adapters. If you are going to take your own DIN regs, we suggest to take your own ‘A’ to DIN adapter.
The dive boats are capable of about 10 knots cruising speed. The fast speedboats advertised as a means to getting to distant outlying sites are currently non-operational and awaiting repair. There are no head facilities on the boats, other than the big blue yonder. The boats carry oxygen kits. If you are a certified 02 provider you should ask one of the guides to familiarise you with the kit. These kits are not the type most UK divers would recognise - they rely on a chemical mix with water in a canister before being ready to use (EMOX).

On enquiring, we were advised that the nearest hyperbaric chamber was in Manado Hospital.
You certainly get spoiled by the dive centre - on arrival they take all your kit (your own or rented) and place in a hold-all and tag key items with your name.
A briefing about the local dive sites and ground rules then takes place and then confirmation of your first day’s diving departure times / assigned boat.

Boats leave at 0800, 1000 and 1400 hr. The boats always return to the dive centre between dives, unless the day’s diving is further away than the near sites of Bunakan. Lunch is inclusive and served at the dive centre or on the boat or at a local beach, depending on location. There is also Coke or water available to drink on the boats. You choose your departure time and number of dives per day. No need to get up early unless you are on a trip to a remote area. You can also take a day’s break as well. The Dive centre is very flexible in this respect. The option to dive at times that suited our holiday mood or to take a day off were a real departure to the usual early starts in other parts of the world. Your equipment is taken on board for you and your BC and regs set up on a tank. Why not ? - you are on holiday. However, we would suggest you check your kit is set up and configured correctly and how you like it soon as you board, and that all your other kit is present and ready to go. Also check that your tank contents are about 200 bar. Low fills will be replaced with a spare tank, so no worries there, just don’t get complacent and only discover low air or kit problems as you are about to kit up and dive.

At the end of the day, your kit is packed away by the staff, returned to the dive centre and washed. And as if by magic, will be set up on the boat waiting for you, the next time you decide to dive.
The boats carried anything from 6 to 10 divers. The guides tended to work with small groups of divers in the water, depending on guide to diver ratio.

A photographer getting a dedicated guide was mentioned, but in reality only happened once. Unlike some locations, Thalassa will not let BSAC (or any other agency) divers dive alone as a buddy pair, no matter what experience or grade you may have. However, the guides were adept at finding macro-life for photography and were not imposing or regimented when leading a dive. We were guided by Erwin or Weidy for most of our dives, and were not disappointed with their ability to detect interesting marine life on just about every dive.

The Diving
Bunaken National Park

Entry fee for holiday duration was US$ 16.22c per diver.
Most of the diving takes place in the Park, with a 20-30 minute leisurely boat trip to the more popular sites. The diving here is almost all wall diving with a thirty metre depth limit. The sand is white and the viz typically 15metres plus. The corals are in excellent condition and the marine life is varied. Apart from the usual suspects, we regularly saw reef sharks, turtles, eagle ray & nudibranchs.

The dives were gentle affairs that should suit all levels and diving abilities. There was a mixed-ability group on most dives so the sites had to be selected to satisfy the less experienced divers. The dives therefore would not be classified in BS-AC speak as ‘Adventurous’.
We did encounter the odd thermocline or current and were able to drift for short distances but the current rarely exceeded half a knot, even though we started diving just after a spring tide weekend.
Water temp was a constant 28°C.

Lembeh Strait
We decided to try a one-day excursion to try ‘Muck Diving’ in the Lembeh Strait. Not for everyone I’m sure, but you have to try it to decide.

The excursion involved a 1.5hour overland trip by air conditioned 4X4 to Bitung, were we met our dive boat. The diving here tends to be up/down a gently sloping sandy bottom or closer to shore on shallow walls and overhangs. The diving here is DIFFERENT ! we saw many strange creatures – a bit like being on a sci-fi movie set, and a macro photography heaven. The bottom is a grey/ black volcanic sand which dulls the viz somewhat. Some sites are crawling with weird creatures, others not - One site with a minimal array of marine life reminded us of Stoney Cove, only the water temperature was 26°C!

We managed 2 dives on our excursion to Lembeh, although an earlier start would have enabled three dives to be made. Lunch was taken in a sheltered cove. This excursion cost an extra US$20 per person, but well worth the xperience.

Night Dive
The dive centre boats are not fitted with marine safety lighting. The night dive we did was just a few minutes from the dive centre
(Abang Point). The site provided sightings of an octopus, a banded sea snake various shrimps & spiny lobsters, in addition to the more familiar marine life.

This site is some distance from the dive centre, but well worth a visit. We saw numerous sea horses, The legendary rinopias fish, cuttle fish, flying gunnards and more. The surcharge for this extended trip was US$10.

The only wreck we got to dive was the Molas Wreck. The information was a bit vague regarding this wreck. We are led to believe the wreck was a Dutch freighter sunk during WW2. The name ‘Molas’ might be the nearest village. We would appreciate hearing from anyone who can provide the full details regarding this wreck. A good dive. The wreck is more or less intact. About 30m to the deck and 38 m to the sea bed. The wreck sits upright and is covered in corals. The rudder is intact as is the starboard side prop. The anchors were in place but encrusted in heavy concretion to the bow. Interesting to note the state of a WW2 wreck in tropical waters as opposed to a wreck of similar age in UK waters. Definitely worth a dive.

Cost of Additional Dives
We made more dives than we had pre-paid with the holiday. The additional charges for 2 boat dives was US$56 per day.

Thalassa Dive Centre- Customer Service - going the extra mile.
Towards the end of the trip my trusty Aqualung Glacia regs developed a minor first stage pressure fault. The dive centre let me use a set of their regs at no additional charge for the remainder of the trip.

So what do non-diving members of the family do?
Well, there is an excellent swimming pool (separate shallow pool for toddlers) were you don’t need to be up early to stake your space out with a towel. There is no beach at this hotel, only a mangrove swamp. There is the option of going out on the dive centre boats to snorkel. You can also take a short boat ride and visit the village on nearby Bunaken Island. There are nature trips to nature reserves and a trip to the summit of a nearby volcano. We did not have time to try any of the nature reserve trips but others who made these trips had a good time and enjoyed themselves.

The Trip Home
We left the hotel about 2.5 hours before the published departure time. Check in at Manado Airport was easy, but don’t forget your US$ 10 departure tax - cash only or Rupiah equivalent. We were not ‘dumped’ at the airport with hours of waiting before take off.
Back to Singapore with a late afternoon arrival and overnight stop before departing for Heathrow at lunch time the following day. The cost of eating out in Singapore was good value for money, but we did not have enough time to explore all the delights of Orchard Road. Maybe an extra day stopover next time ?

The Acid Test
Would we go again ? oh yesssss…

Report compiled by Steve and Jeanette Parry.

September 2003
Just to say thanks for arranging our holiday this year. Tasik Ria Resort was fantastic, the diving with Eco was great and Singapore what a place. Well once again thanks.

Bill and Sue Flint

October 2002
The Best Day of a Young Life?!
Our rules for holidays had been, one, do it independently and two, go to places that the people I work with have not heard of.

This is how we came across Tasik Ria Resort near Manado in Indonesia. There must have been a way to find these places before the http//www came along, but short of being Captain James Cook, I don’t know what it was.

They suggested that we had a look at and despite the fact that this broke rule number 1, we did, all by e-mail and accommodating exactly what we wanted. Two resorts near Manado, hotels (a grand term for the beach side idyll that is Pulisan), flights, a few days in Singapore for 3 of our party and a few more for the one who claimed to have some business there). All done without fuss and, much to the chief holiday organiser’s disappointment, more cheaply than she could come up with had she stuck to rule number 1.

The four of us are all divers. This was the first time in tropical waters for Kate (15) and Sarah (14) and the diving is rightly up there with the best in the world (and I have to say Eco Divers are head and shoulders above any other dive operator we had ever dived with – a truly professional operation)

One day before we left Manado, Sarah, who seems to have the ability to come up from her dives with no less air that she goes down with, carried on with the dive master after the rest of us had come up, she immediately encountered a huge shoal of bumphead parrotfish. Estimates of the number varied but everyone who had been there said it was the largest that they had ever seen. A little further along the two of them were joined by an inquisitive turtle who swam along with them for a while, and then, as they were preparing to ascend, a huge reef shark cruised by and circled to say hello – Sarah’s first.

I could see her beaming smile as she broke the surface and she was nearly squealing as she got into the boat (very uncool for a 14 year old) - she had after all seen things in an hour that many divers don’t see in years, and said that if she now saw a dolphin, that day would be the best of her life.

Fate, or luck, did not let her down, for on the journey back we were suddenly surrounded by a huge pod of dolphins, who leapt though the wake, swam next to the bow, jumped for the cameras and generally enthralled us for the best part of half an hour.

After we left Indonesia, we finished or holiday in Singapore, which was as I expected it to be but more. It is a place that has an amazing ability to part you from your money: it is full of things that you need (although didn’t realise it until you saw them) at prices you can’t resist. It is referred to as a shopper’s paradise but to me, and I suspect most men, those two words are mutually exclusive- one or the other but not both. Singapore is different so thank goodness for Singapore Airline’s relaxed attitude to the baggage allowance on our return flight.

I was talking to Nikola of Snooba Travel at the Dive Show a few weeks after we got back and she refused to take any responsibility for our excesses in Singapore so I don’t think I should let her take any credit for Sarah’s perfect day.

The truth is, of course, that without Nikola and Snooba Travel, neither would ever have happened.

P. Foster, London

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