Why you should consider a vacation on board a phinisi

Why you should consider a vacation on board a phinisi
PHOTO: Alila Hotels

As a country spread over a vast archipelago, Indonesia boasts a plethora of beautiful islands that are ideal tourist destinations; the Raja Ampat Islands, Komodo Island, Derawan Islands, Karimunjava Islands, Banda Islands and Togean Islands, just to name a few.

"Straddling the equator for 3,200 miles, Indonesia has more islands and covers more longitude than any other equatorial country. It's a culturally diverse tropical cruising paradise, still mainly undiscovered. With over 17,500 islands and tens of thousands square miles of cruising grounds, Indonesia is the most mind-blowing archipelago on the planet," Mario Gonzalez, cruise director of Alila Purnama, explained to The Jakarta Post Travel.

Being separated from the mainland, it is only logical that these destinations are best explored by boat, though admittedly, cruise trip is still a relatively high-end mode of exploring a destination compared to land-based traveling.

You can opt to sail on a huge cruise ship accommodating hundreds of passengers and equipped with an onboard casino and theatre; or you could charter a luxurious private phinisi wooden ship big enough to carry around ten to twenty people.

The former can be a cheaper option as you can find packages that cost less than a thousand dollars, but the price is not all-inclusive and you must pay for amenities onboard; it also seems to be a more popular choice among elderly travelers.

The two-masted phinisi sailing ship is the preferred choice for younger travelers and big families, as the limited capacity means they can turn it into their own party boat or exclusive family trip.

The price for such exclusivity is quite stellar though; the Alila Purnama, a ship operated by the Alila Hotels and Resorts that can accommodate up to 10 passengers, has package prices starting from US$12,000 (S$16,400) for a night on the ship. Other cruises like the Grand Komodo charge $355 per person per night on their Raja Ampat Explorer ship that carries up to 14 passengers - the trip lasts from five to ten nights.

Of course there are also more affordable and smaller boat trips available; the klotok boat used to explore the rivers of Kalimantan or the dragon boat of Musi River in South Sumatra.

However, our recommendation if you wish to have an enjoyable sea trip over a few nights, is that the phinisi is a more comfortable choice.

"Phinisi boats, as used by the Bugis seafarers from south Sulawesi in Indonesia [for several centuries], are designed for tropical open water journeys," said Gonzalez.

Raja Ampat Islands and Komodo Island are currently the two top destinations for private chartered voyages in Indonesia. Gonzalez explained how it is best to sail according to the season; the region is hot with wet northerlies from October to April, which is the perfect time to be at Raja Ampat, while the drier southeasterlies from May to September is definitely a great season to explore Komodo Island.

Exploring Raja Ampat

"To wake up in the morning each day - finding that you're already in a different place," said Indra Febriansyah, an avid traveler with years of experience working in print and online media -- including our very own The Jakarta Post Travel. The boat from Grand Komodo which he chartered with 13 other friends moved to new spot every night during their trip to Raja Ampat.

This way, Indra was able to get the most of his time in the islands. The cruise's efficient itinerary enabled him to minimise the time to get between places - which he would have wasted if he chose to stay at a resort.

As the ship sailed along the route, Indra and his friends were able to jump out to new water every morning without wasting time during the day to get there and back to the resort afterward.

Raja Ampat is a special destination; its remote location northwest of West Papua is home to the world's most bio-diverse marine region, with nearly 1,200 species of fish and 550 species of coral.

Such seclusion however, rises up the costs of getting there, making Raja Ampat an expensive place to visit - making it more important for travelers like Indra to make the most of their visit.

Having booked the trip as a special offer, Indra and his friends split the fares to Rp 15 million (S$1,500) each person for a five-night trip. With that price, they only have to pay extra for tips and alcoholic beverages, everything else like meals and diving activities are already included.

Holidaying at the Komodo National Park

A cruise trip on a phinisi boat is most suitable for divers who are looking to sample all the available dive spots around an area. Like Raja Ampat, Komodo National Park is also brimming with diving spots, which is one of the reasons why the place is also a popular cruising destination.

Nonetheless, touring the area on a cruise is still an amazing experience even when you are not a diver - that's what famous actress Gwyneth Paltrow did back in 2013. She toured Komodo National Park onboard of Silolona with her two children, and later penned an account of the pleasant experience on her website.

Instead of diving, the Academy Award winner spent her time playing around with her children, doing other water sports like snorkeling, observing Komodo Dragons, trekking in the hills, interacting with the multi-talented crews, and having fancy dinners on secluded beaches.

There are plenty of activities offered on board a typical luxurious phinisi boat. Gonzalez explained how the passengers of Alila Purnama can indulge themselves in a spa session with experienced therapist; those who want to brag about their trip online can do so through the Wi-Fi access available on board; or, you could rest in your air-conditioned room if the sun feels too hot outside -- good enough reasons to splurge on a trip to exotic holiday destinations in Indonesia.

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