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Trip report: Bali with a Baby - Oct/Nov 2019

Discussion in 'Indonesia' started by anchochile, Nov 16, 2019.

  1. anchochile

    anchochile Barracuda

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Northern California

    I’m just wrapping up four weeks and 24 dives in Bali with my wife, her mother, and our 9-month-old, thanks to my company’s moderately generous (by U.S. standards) parental leave policy. This was my first time diving in SE Asia, and I owe a huge thank you to this forum, especially @Luko, @UFOrb, @billt4sf, @chillyinCanada, and @Dan, for excellent advice as we planned the trip.

    TULAMBEN - Last week of October

    We decided to start in Tulamben because my wife is a brand-new diver, with only 6 logged dives before this trip – we thought the easy shore diving with minimal current, warm water, and the option to pick any depth profile would be a great way for her to get more comfortable underwater, and also great for me as a newbie u/w photographer. We spent 8 nights here, with 7 days of diving (I lost one day to Bali Belly, oh well!).

    We chose Liberty Dive Resort on the advice of this forum, thinking that the option for a private guide and setting our own dive schedule would be perfect given that we were also traveling with a non-diver (my mother-in-law) and a baby.


    As lodging, LDR was fine in most respects and great in some.

    What was great: Liberty sent a driver and van to the airport to pick us up. He was cautious and safe, a huge relief on the chaotic Bali roads with a baby in the car for 3.5 hours.

    The resort grounds are lovely. There are beautiful pools around every corner, where we would spend every afternoon with the baby – a great way to keep him cool without having to stay cooped up in the air conditioned room. We’d been told that the Balinese people go crazy for babies, and it was true – our son became a mini-celebrity. At every meal, the restaurant staff would immediately swoop him out of our arms and take turns holding and entertaining him – within our line of sight – until our food arrived. I’d say they were probably better at keeping him happy and entertained than his parents most of the time.

    What was ok but not fantastic: we opted for the deluxe family villa, as it is the only two-bedroom unit with a common living space at LDR, so it would allow my wife, I, and the baby to have one room and grandma to have another. The rooms were clean enough and functional, but definitely on the worn and tired side. The indoor space was also quite dark, with minimal windows and lighting – it wasn’t really a nice atmosphere to spend time in other than sleeping, so we spent most of our time on the shaded back deck or in the pools. From what I saw, some of the other rooms looked newer and cheerier, so next time we’d probably opt for two separate rooms rather than the villa.

    Food was not amazing but perfectly acceptable. We stuck mostly with Indonesian food, and definitely got bored of the menu after several days, but it did the trick. We didn’t venture out to other restaurants for several reasons: none seemed to promise especially better or different food, lunchtime was too hot to walk 10-15 minutes around the village with the baby, and dinner was close enough to the baby’s bedtime that we wanted to keep it quick & efficient.

    My non-diving mother-in-law was able to do some great snorkeling, which kept her from getting bored out of her mind in an area where there is pretty much nothing to do out of the water. She could walk 5 minutes from the resort to snorkel the wreck (the portion of the stern that is shallow enough to snorkel is small, but beautiful), and on other days, the resort gave her rides on their diver trucks to Coral Garden and Drop Off, which both had plenty of good stuff at snorkeling depths.


    The diving was great – our first dive on the Liberty Wreck was a perfect introduction to SE Asian diving for my wife and I – color upon color, hard and soft corals, sponges, tons of fish, exactly what we were excited to experience. I know there's much better to be had in Indonesia, but as a couple of rookies, we were very happy.

    We opted for a private guide, for an extra charge of $12/dive, who was on-call all day every day to dive with either of both of us. After each dive, we would decide when & where to go for the next dive and agree on a meeting time. This could not have been more perfect given our parenting responsibilities. It meant we could do a mix of diving together, while grandma looked after the little one, and doing extra dives on our own while the other was on parent duty. Typically my wife only did one dive per day, together with me in the morning (she’s a not as dive-obsessed as I am), and I would do one or two additional dives in the late morning or afternoon.

    On top of this, the dive setup is super efficient – we would set a meeting time, gather at the central dive staging area of the resort, put on wetsuits while the staff load our assembled gear onto the pickup truck, hop in the truck and drive 2-10 minutes to the dive site, put on our gear and walk into the water. We were generally underwater 15 minutes after our meeting time, and back at the resort 10 minutes after surfacing. This meant that I leave the room to dive and be back on dad duty 80 minutes later. This flexibility and efficiency couldn’t have been more perfect for our group, especially when you think about most dive locales where a dive outing means 4-5 hours on a boat, minimum.

    Our guide was Uji – a super nice guy, great in the water, and an incredible macro spotter. Generally our morning dive (with my wife) would be on the wreck or a different reef/coral site, and then my later dive(s) would be macro sites, as viz tended to deteriorate throughout the day.

    Besides the wreck and macro sites, we dove Coral Garden, Drop-Off, and Kubu reef. We liked Coral Garden ok (some neat critters that we didn’t see elsewhere), had horrible viz at Drop-Off (<10 meters), and liked Kubu Reef, but decided the wreck had them all beat and stuck with that for our morning dives for the rest of the week.

    The early-morning Bumphead dive on the wreck was great – we were underwater at 6am and had the wreck and the bumpheads nearly to ourself. Peaceful and magical. The other days, we started around 8:30 or 9am. There were definitely lots of other divers but the wreck is big enough that it didn’t have a huge impact on our experience, despite what we’d been warned of.


    The other highlight of the wreck for me was hanging out just 15-20 feet deep at the stern. With a light current hitting the wreck, there were tons of fish hanging out there, and at that shallow, sunny depth, it was a riot of color, and a great place to practice my ambient-light wide-angle:


    I would have liked to see some of the other recommended coral sites that are further away – Japanese Wreck, maybe a boat dive – but didn’t want to take the extra time away from my wife & mother-in-law who were already taking on a lot of child care to enable me to get plenty of diving in. Those will have to wait for another trip.

    For macro sites, I let Uji choose. We did the wreck slope twice, Melasti, Seraya, and Agung Resort. It was a great crash course in macro for me, and my learning curve was steep – I even managed to get some halfway non-atrocious images out of the experience.



    As far as conditions, viz was mixed, and never stellar. At best, we had maybe 15 meters on a few morning dives, with lots of large particulate in the water. More typical was 12-15 meters in the morning, dropping to 10 or less in the afternoon. Temperatures ranged from 81-83F (27-28C). We didn’t bring our own wetsuits (gotta make some compromises on an extended trip with an infant!) and it turned out LDR only rents shorties. I was ok in a shorty but definitely got a bit chilled towards the end of the week, and my wife runs quite cold so Uji managed to dig up a 3mm full suit for her. But heads up, if you want something more than a shorty in 27-degree water, bring your own! (This theme was repeated in Padang Bai…)

    There was a new moon during our visit, and as a result, we had more current than is typical for Tulamben. Most dives were pretty mellow, but we had to fight some moderate current on a few dives, and my one night dive (for macro at Wreck Slope) featured washing-machine-like currents – one way for a few minutes, then calm, then the other way, then up, then down…and often too strong to kick against, leaving us hanging to the sand by our muck sticks. Not exactly the best conditions for a new photographer trying to do macro…at night…while my photo subjects are getting blown around by the current. Uji found a few good subjects and I even got a couple decent shots before calling the dive when it became clear that the whole endeavor was ridiculous.

    In sum, LDR was a perfect place for a couple of SE Asia newbie divers, a snorkeler, and a baby to spend a week. I managed 14 dives over 6 days – not bad for vacationing with a baby. If we hadn’t had grandma around to babysit while dived together, we could have still easily fit in 2 dives per day each, alternating while the other was on baby duty.

    After Tulamben, we headed to Candidasa for diving out of Padangbai. To be continued...
    DSR-3, FezUSA, Dan and 11 others like this.
  2. Luko

    Luko Regular of the Pub

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Paris, France
    Thanks for your report, I am still VERY perplex on why you were charged 12USD for a private guide. LDR policy has always been free guide for everyone.
    Has anybody had to pay LDR for asking a guide lately? (hint : I dived with Wayan Jhon in august and paid no surcharge for him guiding me, instead I had a 10% discount for old repeat customer) .
    btw Uji had been my guide for 5 years in a row from 2011-15, he is indeed a very good and reliable guide.
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  3. nashwl

    nashwl Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: WV
    Good review. Glad you had a good trip!

    My LDR package price included my private guide. Not sure if they added that though, they just gave me a total price.
  4. MomZo

    MomZo Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Vietnam
    Thanks for the report. Looking forward for the next destination.
  5. AlMitch

    AlMitch Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Singapore
    Welcome to the world of diving with the family!!
    And well done on surviving your first trip!!
    Great report! Thanks for sharing.
  6. Dan

    Dan ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    Great trip report! Thanks for posting.

    Now you spoil her rotten with such diving experience. :D

    Fantastic picture of schooling bumpheads. Congratulations!

    Looking forward to reading your next diving adventure!
    chillyinCanada and UFOrb like this.
  7. UFOrb

    UFOrb Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Brighton, UK
    Ditto on both counts.
  8. anchochile

    anchochile Barracuda

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Northern California
    Trip report, continued:

    After Tulamben, we headed to Candidasa for the first week of November where we stayed at Sea Breeze and dove with Geko out of Padang Bai. Because the boat dives to advanced sites here are generally a half-day trip, I only booked 3 days of diving, on alternating days, so that mom & grandma could fit in plenty of activities on the days I was not diving.


    Most on this forum advised staying in Padang Bai for diving out of Padang Bai, to avoid the hassle of the 25-minute drive back and forth. After doing our own research, we decided that Sea Breeze in Candidasa looked like a much nicer place for those of us staying put with the baby on any given day – it’s right on the water, down a quiet road a kilometer off the main highway. It is secluded, quiet, and lovely – each room has a shaded terrace with ocean views and breezes, there are multiple pools looking right out on the water, and the views down the coastline of the mountains and across the channel to Nusa Penida are beautiful.

    We were all happy to spend multiple days just hanging out here with the baby, playing on the terrace, in the pools, enjoying the view, enjoying the cool breezes (it felt much less stifling here than Tulamben). Geko sent a driver to pick up whomever was diving at 7:30 every morning, and generally dropped us back off by 12:30-2pm, depending on the length of the trip.

    On my non-diving days, there were plenty of activities for mom & grandma to do, including a cooking class, a trip to visit several villages, and one the final day, they booked a snorkel trip with Geko that took them to Blue Lagoon and Jepun, which they loved.

    If I were coming back on a solo dive trip, I’d stay in Padang Bai, but on a family trip with multiple days to kill without much of an agenda, this was the perfect place. And of course, the staff was again crazy for our son, stealing him from our arms whenever they got the chance.

    The Diving

    Being low season, and mostly diving on my own, the schedule was dictated by the trips Geko had running based on demand from other customers. I booked three days of diving, which would cover Manta Point/Penida North, Crystal Bay/Toyapakeh, and Gili Biaha/Tepekong.

    Unfortunately, the bug I caught in Tulamben was still with me as of the first day of diving, so I missed the Manta Point trip. My wife was able to go, though. They saw mantas at manta point in 72f/22c water (she loved the mantas but froze her butt off in the 3mm fullsuit + shorty combo that Geko provided), and then did a beautiful drift on the north side of Penida, not sure which site.

    I was finally feeling better for the next trip. Crystal Bay was a chaotic mess of waves, eddies, and whirlpools on the surface when we arrived. The crew announced that we’d wait 25 minutes for conditions to improve, and indeed they did – these guys have intimate knowledge of the local sites and conditions. Visibility was less than I had expected given the reputation of Crystal Bay for clear water. Probably 15 meters at best, and often worse.. We followed the DMs down the wall to about 25 meters, where we were hit by an upwelling of 22C water while the guides looked for molas below. If they saw one, they would signal us to descend for a quick look. No luck – not surprising given the very limited visibility. Still a beautiful site, which I’d love to see in clearer viz – we saw a huge snowflake moray, a big turtle, several nudibranchs.

    The second dive had been billed as Toyapakeh on the trip plan, but we ended up at PED – not sure why but my guess would be due to conditions at Toyapakeh, since the channel between Penida and Lemobongan was pretty wild that morning with swell and current. At PED we found warm water, but poor visibility again. I was happy – as a rookie SE Asia diver, I don’t mind a lush reef and plenty of fish in 10m viz.

    At Biaha and Tepekong, the drill was the same as Crystal Bay – cruise along a wall at 20-25 meters while the DM scans below for mola. At both sites, we had poor vis (probably 10m) and no luck mola-wise, but I enjoyed the dives. The shark cave at Biaha was great, with many circling white-tip reef sharks, the topography was very cool, and we had a close pass from a dogtooth tuna along the wall at Tepekong. Back on the boat, we learned that the other group had seen a mola at Tepekong (they went the other way along the wall). Isn’t that how it always it? Cold water again, 22-24C at both sites. In my 3mm suit, it felt like diving back home at Monterey. Scratch that, it felt colder!

    Because I’d missed the first dive, the fam took pity on me and told me to sign up for the next day’s trip. It was back to Biaha again, paired with Gili Mimpang. Visibility was similar or perhaps a bit worse, definitely on the greenish side, and the water was warm warm warm – 26c on both dives. No mola again, but more sharks at Biaha, an octopus and mantis shrimp just outside the cave, and some nice schools of fish at Mimpang. Oh, and a guy on the boat who was working on his DM cert managed to incur an unintended 7-minute deco obligation (he was the only one diving air).:facepalm:Luckily Geko had a safety diver hovering high above us throughout the dive, keeping an eye on us and maintaining an air reserve for the group, so they stuck together to clear his deco while the rest of the group waited on the boat.

    These sites have fantastic topography and I would love to come back and see them in blue water. We also had nearly zero current at Tepekong, Biaha, and Mimpang between these two days – not sure if that’s about the tide timing, or because we were not close to a full or new moon, so I’d definitely be interested to dive here again when there’s some current running – I can imagine there would be more action.

    We headed to Ubud the next day, but I was able to sneak back down a few days later to join the next Manta Point trip, since I’d missed my first chance. Surface conditions were mellow, maybe 1m swell and no wind. But holy moly, the water at Manta Point was frigid pea soup. We’re talking 2-3m viz and 21C/71F. Felt like I was back in Monterey again. The murk was patchy, and it opened up in spots with maybe up to 10m green viz with lots of large particulate. Almost immediately, our guide spotted mantas – a pair, very shallow, making large, lazy circles. We spent 10 minutes with the mantas, including some very close passes. Then a boatload of snorkelers was dropped right on top of them. Some bozos started freediving down aggressively at the mantas, and they split. Our guide took us to a deeper cleaning station at 20m to see if we could find more mantas, but no luck. But it was definitely worth the long ride out and the cold water for those 10 magical minutes.

    A couple terrible pics that captures the scene – note the freediver who ended the show for everyone.



    ...continued in next post
  9. anchochile

    anchochile Barracuda

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Northern California
    In the morning, I’d put in a request for Toyapkeh for the 2nd dive, and the crew obliged (maybe it was the plan all along?). Spectacular site, and finally, good viz! Blue and 20-25m, the only real blue water coral dive I’d have on the trip. This felt like a teaser of the best of the coral triangle, healthy lush coral stretching downslope forever, big schools of fish, exactly what I wanted it to look like. Again, current was minimal – the dive plan was for a drift, but we pretty much moved under our own power.

    We ended up sneaking back to Candidasa for a few days later in the trip and did one more day of diving, to local Padangbai sites Shark Point and White Sand Beach. We caught Shark Point on a rough day – green and murky, with fairly strong current that we were fighting for a good bit of the dive. Saw a huge cuttlefish, a pair of sleeping whitetips under a ledge, and we had a hallelujah moment with a big school of something (sardines? Snapper? Viz was bad!) encircling us gloriously in swooping spirals – would’ve been stunning in clear water. The combo of cold water, bad viz, and strong current was too much for my wife who is a brand new diver, and she thumbed it early. I’d love to come back on a better day – but that’s the ocean for ya. White Sand Beach had blue water and better viz, and some great coral bommies and interesting critters, including a blue-spotted stingray and a beautiful, brightly-colored flying gurnard with wings extended. It was also frigid – after spending much of the dive shivering, I was relieved to see that I had not turned into a total wimp, I had just done a 19C dive in a 3mm suit!

    This is a flag for others headed this way: bring your own wetsuit! Geko, and from what I could tell, other shops in the area, only rent 3mm suits. I’m a cold-water diver and don’t mind toughing it out to see the good stuff, but let’s be real, 19C is probably 7mm territory. I brought all my personal gear except for fins and wetsuit (had to make sacrifices to fit all the baby gear), but next time, I’ll definitely bring a 5mm and hood. My wife is less cold-tolerant and had to call a couple dives early because she was shivering. I think this is more of a general Bali situation than Geko in particular – we talked to people diving with other operators who reported the same thing. Similar deal with Liberty Dive Resort – only renting shorties when a fullsuit would be more appropriate for multiple days of 3+ dives. We probably should’ve asked about this when planning the trip – lesson learned!

    Overall impressions of Nusa Penida/Padangbai/Candidasa diving: I would love to come back earlier in the season for hopefully better conditions, but I enjoyed and saw something new on almost every dive. Some of the big draws of these sites – deep wall dives with chance of pelagics, blue-water coral dives, mola mola – were missing due to conditions while I was there, but I really liked the dives nonetheless and can imagine how spectacular they could be with clear water and some current running. Highlights were Manta Point, Toyapakeh, the shark cave at Biaha, and the topography at Biaha, Tepekong, and Mimpang. I will definitely be back…probably in August or September next time…and hopefully as a stopover before a trip to Komodo.

    Impressions of Geko Dive: they excel in the water – the DMs are top-notch, know their sites intimately, know when to NOT dive a site, and know how to safely lead dives on sites that can get hairy. They also seemed to do a good job of grouping divers – after my first day, they did a great job pairing me with divers with similar air consumption and skill level. I was with Kanox for pretty much every dive and he was great – he also rinsed all of my personal gear after my last day of diving – which happened three times, since I kept adding additional days. Cedric was super responsive and helpful to my many, many emailed questions leading up to the trip (let’s just say I was dealing with a lot of variables in the planning stages). The free 28% nitrox was great – never got close to an NDL with repetitive deep-ish dives. I watched each tank being analyzed and labeled. I will definitely dive with them again next time I’m here.

    Thanks again to everyone on this forum for the guidance in planning this trip. This taste of Indo diving has definitely got me hooked, and I'm already scheming how I can get back (probably without the fam) to see Komodo, Raja, Alor, and of course Bali earlier in the season.
    DSR-3, AlMitch, though13 and 8 others like this.
  10. MomZo

    MomZo Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Vietnam
    Thanks for this long and detailed report.
    Glad you enjoyed Bali, on land and underwater.
    chillyinCanada likes this.

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