In late November 2015, we toyed with the idea of spending the Christmas holiday in Raja Ampat, a remote area of the Indonesian province of Papua. It sounded like a fantastic idea and we made it real by booking it fast and furious, and impulsively, in early December. It eventually turned out to be a spectacular little trip and I was so glad that we actually decided to go.
Getting To Raja Ampat
Getting to the Raja Ampat islands in West-Papua takes effort and determination. It is not that it is hard to get there, but it takes quite some time and you need to plan your trip in advance less you are surprised by sudden high prices for transportation. First, you will need to find a flight to the city of Sorong, Papua. From there on, and depending if you can make it on time, you have to take a public ferry from the main harbour in Sorong to Waisai island. Depending on the condition of the weather and sea, the public ferry only departs once or twice a day, so if you arrive late in Sorong you will have to spend the night there and catch the ferry the following day. The ferry crossing takes about 2 to 2,5 hours. From Waisai, you will have to arrange additional transportation to take you to your homestay or resort. This can usually be arranged by the management of the homestay, but make sure you do it (usually some extra fees apply), because renting a boat from Waisai can be very expensive. Alternatively, you could also arrange a speedboat to take you directly from Sorong to your accommodation, but this option can be rather expensive as well (prices over IDR 10 million, approx. USD 1000, are not uncommon). But if you have money to splurge, this could be an option.
We travelled from Makassar to Sorong by airplane and, after a few delayed flights, we arrived in the late morning. From the airport we made our way to the harbour in Sorong, because suddenly we received information that the public ferry was scheduled to leave earlier than planned that day. It usually departs at 2PM, but that day it was changed to 11AM for some reason. We bought our economy class tickets and hopped on the ferry. There are two kinds of ferry tickets available, economy class and VIP. I thought economy class was really comfortable enough, although the seats do not have much legroom. I suggest you make sure that you get a seat on the second floor of the ferry, as there is an open deck in the back where you can catch some fresh air if needed (and the view is pretty good from there as well). This area also functions as the designated smoking area, so most of the time it is fairly crowded there with people puffing away. The ferry ride was smooth and we reached Raja Ampat quite fast. After arriving on Waisai, we had to wait for the boat from Kordiris Homestay before we could depart to Gam Island. Once the boat arrived and once all our luggage was secured, it took us a solid 30-45 minutes to reach the homestay.
Raja Ampat Marine Park Entry Permits
Before we set out to the harbour, we first made the mandatory stop at Raja Ampat Conservation & Tourism Information Center in Sorong. It is very important that you stop here first, because you will have to buy an entry permit for the park. If you do not have it you might be fined or expelled from the park. Their office is right outside the airport and is kind of small and easy to miss, so keep an eye out for it. The prices of the entry permits now were: IDR 1.000.000 for foreigner tourists and IDR 500.000 for domestic tourists. The permit is valid for one year after purchase and you get a tag of the national park and a plastic card with your personal details written on it. Your money will be used in the preservation of the marine park. If you forgot to buy your entry permit, you can also buy them at the Waisai Tourist Information Centre on Waigeo, near the port of Waisai.
The Kordiris Homestay
When visiting Raja Ampat in Indonesia, you roughly have three options regarding the types of accommodation: pricey live-aboard diving ships, luxurious resorts, or simple homestays. Homestays are by far the most affordable and popular option. You can find these little homely places on pretty much every island in the area. The quality between them can differ quite a lot, so make sure you do some research before you book a place. I’m also certain that most of the homestays are full-board, meaning that breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks like coffee, tea, and water are included in the price. Most, if not all, homestays are also locally owned, so they also offer opportunities for you to learn more about local Raja Ampat and Papuan culture.
We decided to go with the Kordiris Homestay on Gam Island for our short Christmas getaway holiday in Raja Ampat. We really had not much choice as our first, second, and third option were all fully booked at the time. This was not surprising, as it was during the high and busy season of tourism. At the end of our 5-day stay though, we quite loved the place and were very happy we stayed here. The location of the homestay is also a major positive as it is located in central Raja Ampat, so most areas and islands of interest are not too far away. I don’t think I would trade it for any other place. And I would happily stay there again if I could.
The staff and management at the homestay were helpful and friendly. They even made a bonfire on the beach one night, which was a lot of fun. The overall vibe of the homestay was just great; they hung up some homemade Christmas decorations and even a homemade Christmas tree. I really appreciated the effort of making the remote homestay have a Christmas vibe, even though that is quite hard in such a faraway and tropical place.
The Kordiris Homestay in Raja Ampat has a few different types of rooms: shared rooms in a small building and stand-alone little bungalows on the beach or above water. We really wanted to get a bungalow above the water, but those were fully booked since they are very popular and there are only three of them right now. Fortunately, the management is planning to expand the place and build an additional four bungalows above the water later in 2016. So, instead, we booked two of the beach-and-sea-view bungalows.
The rooms were very basic, consisting of a queen-size mattress with two pillows and a klambu, or mosquito net, a tiny table, and an outside sitting area with two plastic chairs and a little wooden table. Each room also has a hammock, which you can string up over the patio if you feel like using it. Perfect for an afternoon nap. For us, these facilities were quite enough and we made it work and eventually grew to love it. The only somewhat negative issue I had with the room, and one which is not really the fault of the homestay, is that the mattress and pillows felt damp from the second day onwards. Other guests reported the same thing. But then again, clothes and other fabrics also felt quite damp if not hung to dry in the direct sunlight; they would never get quite dry. I think it might had been the climate or humidity level of that area.
Since the Kordiris homestay is quite remote and energy is scarce, the electricity generator is turned off for the most part of the day. The generators on the compound are switched on around 5 or 6PM and last until late at night, so during that time you can charge your phone, cameras, or other appliances. It is wise to bring a flashlight as well though, as it is quite helpful walking around the beach at night.
I really liked the design of the homestay as well. The beach is decorated with many plants and trees and it resembles a little garden. There were also many butterflies there. I’ve never seen that many in one place before. It was really something special and it gave the homestay a lot of natural character and a really pleasant atmosphere.
The bathrooms and toilets are shared at Kordiris Homestay. There are two shower cabins and two toilet cabins. I thought the toilets were quite uncomfortable as there are no toilet seats. You also have to flush the water by using a bucket and at times it was quite dirty and wet. I hope management can improve the toilet and bathroom situation by cleaning them more often throughout the day. A few times I also noticed that the toilet paper was empty as well and it took a long time to refill, so bring some tissues of your own for, emergency circumstances.
The Food Situation
Meals at Kordiris Homestay are served in a large common area situated on high wooden stilts above the water. It is the central building of the homestay. All meals are eaten together with the other guests at a large table. It is quite fun as you get to know new people and you can chit-chat and talk about the stay there and whatnot. I found the atmosphere around dinnertime always very enjoyable and fun. But I guess this also depends on who the other guests are at the time of your stay.
The quality and quantity of the food was quite often the subject of discussion among guests. Breakfast was usually not much, consisting of a single fried egg, a slice of cake, or some fried fritter snack. Lunch was usually a bit more varied, some rice with fish or chicken and a simple vegetable dish. The same or a variety on the lunch was usually offered as dinner. Normally, you should not expect any dessert, but since we were there during Christmas time, the staff made a special Christmas Eve dinner that included some fresh fruit afterwards. The quality of the food was hit or miss, we really enjoyed some meals, while others were lacking in taste or saltiness. The lack of fruit was the most disappointing though. You’d expect fruit to be easily grown there, but there was not much of it.
I agree with many other reviewers who recommend bringing a supply of your own snacks and drinks. A few packs of instant noodles might be a good idea. It’s not the healthiest option, but at least you will not go hungry. We also brought a lot of snacks and went through most of our stash during our 5-day stay, because doing activities like swimming and snorkeling in the hot sun makes you hungry.
Activities To Do
The sea in front of Kordiris Homestay is very pleasant for swimming. If you go beyond the sea grass parts you can snorkel over the coral reefs, but the currents can be very strong at times, especially when the tide is changing. You have to exert caution, as you can sometimes feel the currents pull you out into the sea. The best time to snorkel would be at full high tide. Still, swimming and relaxing in the water near the beach is great and refreshing the day whole day through. Returning from our excursions, we would relax along the beach and sea each day or chill and read a book. On our last day I also managed to spot a white-tip reef shark swimming along the beach at the homestay in the morning. It was nice farewell and it is also proof how remote and pristine this area still is.
Unfortunately, in the evenings there is not much to do at Kordiris Homestay. Looking at the night sky is admittedly entirely amazing, especially with a clear full moon hanging in the dark like a glowing light bulb, but it would be cool to have more entertainment options in the common area. For example, some board games like backgammon, chess or checkers, or even encyclopedia and more books about Raja Ampat or Papua to flip through. Our group brought a few packs of cards to play around with and after the first night the cards were in constant use and even the other guests wanted to use them to pass the time. Perhaps some group games could be arranged as well. Just for fun.
You can also go bird-watching by entering the rainforest behind the homestay. We didn’t do that, because we had plans to go bird-spotting on another island already, which you can read about in an upcoming post. I did, however, enjoy the daily calls by the many different birds in the morning around sunrise and during sunset. Their calls were so loud, beautiful, and unlike anything I had heard before. At these times, I wish I had brought some binoculars to try to spot them in the wild. (Tip: bring binoculars!) Also, I highly recommend waking up early to watch the magnificent sunrises there.
Before going to Raja Ampat I was afraid of being stung by mosquitoes and other insects, but in reality we barely encountered any. Still, we sprayed ourselves with anti-mosquito lotion each evening, but in general we were hardly bothered by them. It was definitely not like our stay in The Village Bunaken a few months ago, where we woke up each night with many new bites. Sand fleas, however, were a much bigger problem than mosquitoes. And they can bite as well.
All in all, I can safely say that Kordiris Homestay was really a great place for us. It is basic, but the homely design, great atmosphere, and the awesome staff made this a place to remember. It’s only one of many homestays in the Raja Ampat area, but if I were to go back one day, I would stay here again given the chance. You can’t beat its location and the place is overall very lovely.