As we approached Labuan Bajo by air, its surroundings made it seem like we were in a distant land, not neighbouring Indonesia. We flew past countless islands (Indonesia is known to have some 18,000 islands), with the larger ones showing savanna-like terrains—yellow-brown grasslands dotted with small, round dark green bushes that looked almost like they were placed there on purpose.
The jetty was a short drive from the airport, and soon enough, our dinghy approached a modern-looking phinisi, a traditional Indonesian sailing ship with two masts, although in the case of Rascal, its masts were removed to allow the construction of five spacious above-deck cabins, making it the only phinisi of its kind in the world. Done up in a palette of neutrals, navy and white, this handsome boat would be our home for the next few nights. Led by Cruise Director, Gaz Phillips, the boat boasts 9 crew members, who make sure your every need is catered for. Although a luxury boat, Rascal is laidback in its approach, which is evident the moment you step onboard; there's a barefoot policy, which I was more than happy about, although I had packed 4 different pairs of shoes.
The five en suite bedrooms are spacious and well-appointed in a tropical chic style, and boast Sonos speakers that you can connect your playlist to, although you'll most likely be spending majority of your time out of the room. The plushest room on the boat is of course the master cabin; located at the back on the top deck, the room opens out onto a beautiful lounge, the perfect spot to enjoy a Dark and Stormy, made with Rascal's own brand of rum.
What makes Rascal stand out from other luxury boats is that there's just nothing else like it: it's not an extension of a luxury resort, it's only available for private charters, meaning no screaming children if you're on your honeymoon, for example, and because it's a private charter, your route and trip itinerary is completely tailored to suit your wants and needs. Looking to see the famed Komodo dragons? First thing on the itinerary. Want to dive the tropical waters of the Flores Sea? Gaz knows the top dive spots like the back of his hand. Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is known to be one of the top diving destinations in the world, best covered on a liveaboard, and with a boat like Rascal, you'll be utterly spoilt—but of course this isn't your typical diving liveaboard. In fact, nothing about Rascal is typical.
Owned by Rascal Republic, the same group that owns 1-Altitude and Dallas Bar at Marina Bay Sands Singapore, Rascal knows a thing or two about the good life, and was designed for just that in mind. Private yoga sessions can be organised on the roof deck, or if the weather is right, a movie screening complete with bean bags. There're also paddle boards and kayaks onboard, and if it's a rush of adrenaline you're after, wakeboarding can be arranged, or simply just jump off the rooftop deck (it was higher than expected but so much fun nonetheless). Special dining experiences can also be organised—on our last night, the crew set up a table on the front deck, and very sweetly surprised us by decorating it with paper lanterns and traditional Indonesian umbrellas. Food is a hearty mix of local, Asian or Western food—I woke up to the best mee goreng for breakfast and had that every morning, although if you have stricter dietary requirements, that can also be catered to.
On our adventure across a tiny portion of the vast Flores Sea, we went to visit the Komodo dragons (a must do), magnificent creatures who generally only concern themselves with sun bathing and only move (rather slowly) to the next spot when a shadow falls over them, but don't let their seemingly drowsy state fool you. When it comes to eating time, which is generally once a month, Komodo dragons are capable at running at speeds of up to 20km/h. We had guides with us at all times, who also helped us take a group photo with a 'smiling' dragon, and thankfully left without incident. Other highlights include trekking up Gili Lawa Darat twice, once in the morning, and another time to catch the sunset—the light here really is something else. Then there's the diving. This part of Indonesia boasts incredible biodiversity that will appeal to divers with different interests; larger creatures still excite me more than say, nudibranches, and it was here that I found myself in the closest proximity to a shark that I've ever been.
The best part on being on Rascal, however, must be waking up on the boat in the middle of the ocean at the crack of dawn to complete silence, where I watched the sun rise from the master deck. It's precious, uninterrupted moments like these (there's barely any phone reception out there), watching the colours of the sky slowly change from pink to mauve, to red and orange that I'm truly appreciative of mother nature's beauty.
Rascal was a great introduction to what luxury liveaboard holidays are like, and truth be told, I think it will be tough to beat. Two more boats are currently under construction and will join the Rascal fleet in 2020, covering more unchartered territories in the region. Now, when's the next long weekend?