Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bali, Indonesia

I can scarcely believe it myself, another post. Shocked at my own creativity, It makes more sense to cook the food while the fire is hot so let me attempt to turn some of this free time and creativity into words, memories for one and all.

It was maybe a month after I got back from Australia, I'd been dating The Chen for about 2-3 months at this point and things were going pretty awesomely. I'd been staying with her quite a bit, she was house sitting for a Latin American friend of hers who had an epic condo on Shelton Road in Bukit Timah. A two story condo with lots of glass. We pretty much other than the surprisingly unfortunately infrequent visits by amazing human beings such as Vicky, Claude, Patrick, his Japanese girlfriend (always forget her name) and Amirah. All amazing humans I've been so lucky to meet, a pro life point right there.

I wanted to do continue the pace of my traveling but this time take The Chen with me. We discussed it and decided we wanted to go somewhere that would be special, not famine evoking expensive, relaxing, interesting and peaceful. Somewhere not too far to travel, somewhere tropical, somewhere bespoke and surfeited with culture but at the same time somewhere down to earth at it's core, a real place and not an island full of aristocrats. After little deliberation we decided on Bali.

The Face of Bali @ Pura Gunung Lebah - Ubud, Bali.

Historically, the Balinese village of Ubud can trace its roots to as far back as the 8th century. It is documented on ancient palm leaf scripts that a revered holy man from India by the name of Rsi Markaneya embarked on a spiritual journey across Java and eventually came to the island of Bali to spread the teachings of Hinduism.

It was on his travels that he received a divine revelation that in Bali he was to bury five precious metals on a mountain slope where the mother temple of Besakih now stands today. Along with a group of followers, Rsi Markaneya was magnetically attracted to a destination located in the central foothills of the island that radiated light and energy. This place was Campuhan in Ubud at a junction in the Wos River and it was here that he felt compelled to build a temple by the name of Pura Gunung Lebah.This is just one of the wonderful temples in Bali. Previously I was saying I'd saturated my temple fever but the Javanese and Balinese temples of rock and earth differ tremendously from the Chinese and Burmese temples of gold and awe. I don't want to get into the temples bit quite yet, let's take a step back and look at Bali. Yes, a bit of a geography lesson but you'll feel smarter for it afterwards, trust me.

South East Asia with Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia

For those of you that can't see Singapore it's at the top of left of the above picture, just below the bottom of Peninsular Malaysia you will see the state Johor Bahru, just below that is The Republic of Singapore.

Bali is a province of Indonesia, it sits in the south east Java sea which itself owes sovereignty to the South China Sea above it and the Indian Ocean below it. The province covers a few small neighbouring islands as well as the isle of Bali itself. The main island is located in the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, lying between Java to the west and Lombok to the east. It is one of the country's 34 provinces with the provincial capital at Denpasar towards the south of the island. The official language of Bali is of course Bahasa Indonesia but close to 4 Million people speak the local language of Balinese. The number of locals speaking the local language daily is low, less than 1 million according to wiki and the language continues to dilute due to changing modern nucleic family values and globally changing marital demographics. One thing I noticed during my time here was that the locals were keen to be known as Balinese and not Indonesians, similar to the people I know who insists on being classified as English rather than British. A bad habit I lean more towards these days.

Why so? Why the insistence on being classified as Balinese when Indonesian is technically correct? I haven't done any research on line on this subject, I'm sure dropping it in on Google and hitting go would result in a preposterous number of hits. It's got to be something as simple as the being proud of and wanting to be recognized for the variances in culture and language. Maybe for the fear of being swallowed by the plethora that is the mega category of Indonesian Culture? I don't expect anything revolutionary. Maybe I should look into that soon..

Sculptures of Bali on a shopping street in Seminyak

This place gets hots, stinking hot and humid too, about the same humidity as Singapore but a slightly higher temperature. I deliberated long and hard over the planning of this trip, especially in the type of accommodation I booked. The Chen and myself being potentially the only people not to have been to Bali in our close nit group of friends in Singapore, so we've heard all about the epic accommodation available in Bali. It's pretty well priced too, especially if you book in advance. I was unsure between a luxury five star hotel with the regular run of the mill hotel B&B experience or to go for a Villa. The problem is, when you look into getting a Villa you open up a whole new can of worms on yourself. First world problems I know but the choices are truely endless with varying sizes, layouts, formats, amenities, locations, colours and overall pimpness level. In the end, I booked The Chen and myself a Villa in the town of Seminyak, a pretty touristy place next to the epicenter of the Caucasian habitat on Bali, Kuta.

The villa was for five nights, and it was a little off the beaten track but walking distance to civilization. It was a hotel that compromised 28 private villas in various formats. I got us the 2nd from entry level, you know not too be completely cheap. This villa was a one bedroom Villa with an outdoor social area and private pool and sunbathing facility and without breakfast it was about 1,000 SGD for the five nights, that's about 500 GBP to my fellow Brits. It was pretty outrageous how nice the place was, the service was also impeccable. The name of the place by the way was La Villais Exclusive Villa & Spa on Jalan Pangkung Sari Br Taman, a short walking distance to the famous eating street Jalan Petitenget. I'm afraid I don't have any shots of the villa but go to, plenty of photos and the place gets an 8.5.

Let's start at the temples.

The Temples

Our schedule was pretty touristy heavy but we took it was easy, meaning we did something touristy most days but we didn't get up unnecessarily early for example. 

Pura Saraswati / Saraswati Temple

Pura Taman Saraswati, as the name suggests is a temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge and Learning).The temple as are most temples I've seen in Asia covered in Temple Guards, officially known as Dvarapala. Sanskrit; a door or gate guardian often portrayed as warrior or fearsome asura giant, usually armed with a weapon. The statue of dvarapala is a widespread architectural element throughout the Hindu and Buddhist cultures, as well as in the areas influenced by them like Java. I have to say that I love Dvarapala, they are one of my favourite things about visiting temples. They do differ by religion, country, origin etc. I wouldn't like to say Balinese Dvarapala are less extreme than Thai or Chinese but they do appear physically less so. I'd love to see a CG movie of Dvarapala fighting, a bit like Transformers. It would be immense.

Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot is a rock formation and the home of a pilgrimage temple, the Pura Tanah Lot (literally "Tanah Lot temple". It's a popular tourist and cultural icon for photography and exoticism. It's a must visit when you go to Bali, it's visually spectacular

There's unfortunately a huge tourist trap as you walk into Tanah lot, it seems as if it was built specifically built in that way for the sole purpose of annoying tourists. Actually they're just listening to our voice; we want competition in the market. They got us competition, instead of 1 store selling Bali themed magnets we get 20. There's some pretty nice photo ops inside Tanah Lot and around the site, it's visually breathtaking as I said before so please dont miss out. If you're the impatient type like me, you can do the whole thing in an hour. The drive there will take you longer.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu

Pura Luhur Uluwatu is a Balinese sea temple that was built in the 11th century, it is one of nine directional temples meant to protect Bali from evil spirits. It is located in Pecatu Village, Kuta South District of Badung Regency of Bali. Itself, up close the temple is not attractive, but the history surrounding Uluwatu, it's godly placement on the cliff and it's monkey infested surroundings make this place special. It's also special for me because me and The Chen and our epic Taxi driver who i'll never forget came here to see the Kecak Dance.

The Kecak Dance - Chanting Mantra
King Ravana & The Princess

The Exotic Photographer

Kecak is a form of Balinese dance and music drama, it originated in the 1930s and is performed primarily by men. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of  performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and throwing up their arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana where the monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana.

 The Sunset

While we're on the subject of the Kecak Dance at Uluwatu, I recalled the sunset that day. It was celestial, it seemed to take hours from the onset of amber to the death of the day. The timing was perfect. It was after all of our walking, hours of taxis and other various missions we'd completed that day and it began just as we were sitting getting ready to watch the Kecak Dance.

Sunset at Uluwatu

The Food

Onto shamelessly my favourite topic, food. The food in Bali is famous for being some of the best food of South East Asia, there are hundreds of heavenly restaurants strewn across Bali, but when we stayed in Seminyak, the famous food street Jalan Petitenget was literally a stones through away, but because me and the Chen are so bourgeois we took taxis. 

Jalan Petitngent 21,Kerobokan
Tel: +62 361 738202
Cuisine: Chic, Contemporary, International
Rating: 8/10

One of the first restaurants we visited came up on a very brief google search. We literally arrived at our room and I was starving, The Chen was in the bathroom doing things women have to do while I was furiously searching for restaurants close by. She was done, I got my wallet and we went, that's just how I roll. 

Sardine, Jalan Petitenget

This restaurant was stunning and such a relaxing and pleasing environment to be in. Sheltered in a wooden pavilion and bathed in perfect tempo and volume background lounge music. The waitresses dressed in long white Balinese dresses, attentive to perfection moved throughout the restaurant and greeted new guests almost without sound. My view filled with perfection, The Chen, sitting content looking at a wine menu. Turning your head a few degrees to the left revealed for me the main USP for this place. The rice field.

Sardines Rice Field

The shot above is not very good actually and hides a lot of the garden, including the mini paddy field directly as you enter the restaurant. It is a beautiful sight at around 2pm in the afternoon, when the restaurant is quiet and the pavilion does its job well of shielding you from the Suns rays. 

Unfortunately I didn't take enough photos of the food at Sardine, of the mains or of the desert but I did of the starters which were indescribably superb.
Delicious Tuna Tartare

Sardines with Pepper Pesto Dressing - Sauteed Carrots, Steamed Buttered Potatoes and sliced onions.

All in all, price wise it was about 70 SGD or 35 GBP which is pretty cheap, we had coconuts and a glass of wine each too if I'm not wrong. Which is cheap, but for Indonesia and Bali on average is probably very high. Still it was worth every single cent and I can't wait to go back.

Naughty Nuri's Warung
Jalan Batubelig 41, Kerobokan, (Seminyak)
Tel: +62 361 847 6722
Cuisine: Tex Mex, Fast Food, Ribs, Burgers
Rating: 10/10

She get's busy so be prepared to wait.

This place is famous, I'd come across it on a web search while also being told about it by Nico before I left. We had to try this place and I've never been so happy at the validity and truth of reviews about a restaurant, I've never in 27 years on this planet eaten Ribs like Naughty Nuri's Ribs. We also had potato wedges, nachos and a few other dishes but the Ribs were the Judge Dredd of the Rib World, by this I meaan they were Judge, Jury and Executioner all in one.

Ribs, Wedges and of course Diet Coke

I don't know why I bother with the diet coke to be honest, there is logic behind my action but no true intent. I may as well go flat out and go with Red If I'm gonna have a meal like that. It tastes better than it looks, trust me, they are the most succulent ribs I've ever tasted and I hate to say it but fuck KFC; I'll give a medal to the first man I see eat these without licking his fingers. If I remember correctly, it worked out around 8 SGD, so 4 GBP for the set meal, all taxes included. If you're anything like me when you stand from the table after consuming this feast, with a belly full of beast you'll feel like you robbed them as you walk away looking for a bed to rest your weary head.

They also have an outlet in Ubud.

Ibu Oka Warung
Jalan Suweta / Tegal Sari 2 / Peliatan (Ubud)
Cuisine: Local Warung, Suckling Pig, Indonesian Food
Rating: 8/10

Ibu Oka Warung - Peliatan, Ubud.

There are three of these restaurants scattered across Ubud. I found out about these Balinese institutions when Googling for good food in Bali. These places came up as a must try while you are out there. Our original destination was for the Main Ibu Oka Warung which is near the old Royal Palace, it's the most famous and crowded one but it's also the one the most flies. I'm not a big fan of the winged misery while eating, although unavoidable in tropical places like Bali, the outlet at Jalan Peliatan is much better for that. It was quieter too until a huge bus of Chinese tourists arrived just after us.

Ibu Oka Babi Guling Special over Steamed Rice with Lawar

For me seriously the only problem with this dish was the temperature it was served it, which was lukewarm. For me, I'd have been happier if it had been Micro nuked just before it was served, that comment might turn the faces of distinguished food bloggers but I'm afraid it's the truth. Well, that was until I tasted it.

The dish comes served with blood sausages, crispy skin (crackling), deep fried skin, soft meat, deep fried meat, urap and lawar. The deep friend meat (you can see it at the bottom of the dish, looks kinda like Tandoori chicken. That and crackling got a big thumbs up from me. It was spicy but not uncomfortably spicy, just left a small tingle on my tongue afterwards. Well worth the travel.

As I'm super greedy...I obviously got a bowl of the deep fried meat (gorengan) as a side, damn it was so good. Vegetarians beware should have been posted at the start of this section.


Sea Circus
Jalan Kavu Ava, Oberoi (Seminyak)
Tel: +62 361 738 667
Cuisine: European, Australian, Central American, International
Rating: 7/10

Chalk board outside of Sea Circus

I'm not going to lie it was probably either fully down to that advertising board regarding gelato or because the building was pretty and it was very hot outside. Maybe a combination of the two. Me and The Chen decided to go inside and sample some of their gelato and Ice Cream. If I remember correctly, I chose gelato and The Chen got some sort of sorbet, see how more Bourgeois than me she is. It just comes naturally to her where as I have to work at it, honestly. 

If you didn't know the difference between gelato and Ice Cream it turns out that gelato is made with a greater proportion of whole milk to cream, so it contains more like five to seven percent fat where as Ice Cream legally must contain a minimum of 10%. Also the gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, so it's denser because not as much air is whipped into the mixture. (Gelato contains about 25 to 30 percent air, while ice cream can contain as much as 50 percent air) Finally, while ice cream is typically served frozen, gelato is typically stored and served at a slightly warmer temperature, so it's not quite completely frozen.
Since there's not as much fat in gelato, it doesn't coat the mouth in the same way. So the flavors are more intense. Apparently.

I rated the place a 7/10 because I only tried the gelato, it was delicious yet and I saw some australians served real food and it looked epic. If i'd tried it, not doubt the place would have got at least an 8 or 9 out of 10.

We did eat at more awesome places other than these above but I didn't take any photos and we didn't really recall the experiences in the same way so for that purpose we didn't include them on the list. Bali has some of the best restaurants I've ever eaten at.

What else did we do?

So by now you can't blame me for feeling melomania over Bali, the place is magic and everyone I speak to  feels the same. While we were there I really wanted to see some Rice Fields, Bali is renowned for them. We didn't get to see the vertically layered Rice fields you see in the travel guides and Google results but we did find a very unique place near Pura Saraswati in Ubud.

Subak Juwuk Manis

We were walking down the street we saw this sign and decided to abscond from the main walkway and do a little bit of off the track exploration while our taxi driver sat patiently. We followed this path which to be honest was a bit surreal, almost lurid. It was deserted, there was not a soul to be found. We walked around the winding narrow dirt track avoiding electrical cables and the odd rat until finally we wandered into an open space. What a pleasant surprise presented us.

Rice Fields of Ubud

The fields although as mentioned not the picturesque ones you become accustomed to when planning a trip to Bali. Like a bastard child of E.L. James we were confronted with 50 Shades of Green. It was absolutely stunning. I wandered with camera in hand for a good twenty minutes absorbing as much culture as possible until we saw life. In the obscure distance we saw shapes, straw hats, Asian style. We headed in the direction of the hats and after a few minutes of walking we noticed they belonged to field workers picking and filtering the rice. We walked towards the horizon and eventually over the brow of the hill and I was stunned yet again by the beautiful scenery and culture of Bali.

Beautiful timing in beautiful Bali

I love this photo above, I'm an amateur with the camera and I take more shit photos than good ones but this is my favourite photo I've ever taken.

So our holiday in Bali was coming to a close, I'd never relaxed so much in a holiday. In Bali, I started a trend that I would stick to, at least up to now anyway of NOT working on Holiday. I didn't even open my laptop once. The final night before our departure the villa we had booked was showing a traditional Balinese dance, assured to infinity and beyond that it was different to the Kecak dance we booked two tickets which included Buffet dinner for around 30USD per person. When we turned up to watch the show at around 7pm there was only one table inhabited by another couple, the villa was dead. With a 10 man Balinese orchestra and a 6 person crew for the dance and only 4 people watching the show including me and The Chen I couldn't help feel sorry for the performers. Yes they would get paid anyway but it was such a shame to see their talent bestowed upon only 8 eyes.

Male Dancer

Part of the dance crew including the incredibly talent young girl on the left hand side.

The show was mesmerizing, similar to the Kecak dance but at the same time different. The extravagant traditional Balinese dress, the music, the movement, the expressions all thrown together made for a breathtaking experience. One I will never forget.

I recommend Bali to everyone who is reading this, I uncovered in 5 days probably 0.00001% of the island giving me plenty more food and culture to explore when I go back.

I'll leave you with a rare picture of myself and The Chen outside the lotus pond of Pura Saraswati. I hope you enjoyed the blog and thank you for reading.