Archive | July, 2012

Photo of the Week #17- Fire at Uluwatu

30 Jul

Where- Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

The Kecak dance at sunset is magical. The rhythmic cak-cak-cak of the chorus paired with the stunning backdrop creates an incredible atmosphere and it’s a real must see while in Bali.

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Ubud- More than just Eat, Pray, Love

28 Jul

Mention Ubud to a lot of people and the connection with the (in)famous novel Eat, Pray, Love will probably come to mind. The book didn’t do anything to inspire my trip to Ubud and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must read before visiting Bali but I can understand the appeal.

Needless to say I didn’t go to Ubud looking for any deep spiritual fulfillment but what I found was nothing short of amazing. I stayed in some villas about 15 minutes out of Central Ubud and it was fantastic to be out in the peaceful banjar (village area) and a bit isolated from the tourist throng. Driving into town each day was great looking out at the sprawling rice paddies which make you reconsider your definition of the colour green.

Downtown Ubud

I’ve seen a lot of rice paddies in my time but there were rather special.

Central Ubud itself was very cool. It definitely had a very laid back vibe with all of its alternative culture and yoga classes. The town is focused on a few streets with lots of little shops and it’s really easy to walk around. There are a few popular sights including the Palace and the Monkey Forest. Personally I didn’t go to the Monkey Forest with them not being my favourite animal in the world and around town you hear a few horror stories about how aggressive the monkeys can be.

There is a fantastic arts scene in Ubud. We saw some wonderful traditional dances and whether you want to check out sculptures, wood carving, silver smithing or pretty much any other art form you can imagine you will find it in Ubud.

Busy Ubud Markets

There are specialty villages for each art form scattered across the region and it’s definitely worth going for a drive to check them out and pick up some unique souvenirs.

So that’s my Ubud experience. I didn’t marry a Portuguese man or meet any Balinese medicine men but I had a very enjoyable time exploring the area and highly recommend adding it to your Bali itinerary. It’s best to have a few days there as it is quite a large area and it makes a fantastic base for activities to the north of the island.

Give Bali a Break

23 Jul

Bali. It was a place I traveled to with a degree of apprehension. “It’s not really Indonesia” was something I was commonly told among other horror stories from friends who had been there in the past. I was worried that this island would somehow change my opinion of Indonesia, a country that I love dearly.

It turns out my feelings were somewhat unwarranted. Bali was a truly incredible place. From the rice paddies to volcanoes, temples to beachside resorts, chilled out Ubud to ultra-hip Seminyak- the island has it all. In a week I was able to experience an amazing culture and meet some of the friendliest people in the world and do a wide range of activities which allowed me to immerse myself in the island.

Mt Batur

People there would tell you their stories; the Hindu culture was so different to anything I had seen before with it being so overt yet so laid back. The landscape is breathtaking, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere so green and the beaches were beautiful with blue water lapping the sand either pure white or black from the island’s volcanic past.

I went to Kuta- it wasn’t great but was nowhere near as bad as the media makes it out to be. It was to be honest no worse than Phuket or any other popular beach resort. These are places you go to quite frankly drink and hang out at the beach and not somewhere you go to have a deep cultural experience (although it could be argued that this too is a certain type of culture) but there is still the option to go out and see the “real” Bali if you want which is incredibly accessible with places like Tanah Lot under an hour’s drive away.

Padang-Padang Beach

Bali is diverse, which is something which can be said about the whole archipelago. I’ve never been to two towns in Java which are alike let alone to two separate islands and while I love Java dearly, Bali emphasises what I love most about that country. Unity in Diversity- with hundreds of ethnic groups and thousands of islands there are millions of opportunities to have a wide range of amazing experiences in Indonesia. We need to give Bali a break and recognise it for what it is.

An Update- I’m currently in Borneo and have a bunch of notes from things I did in Bali which will soon turn into several posts. I will attempt to get them posted soon but with so little time to explore Borneo, it may take a few weeks to get it up. There will be a bunch of new content from Bali, Borneo and Singapore soon though!

Return to the Big Durian!

17 Jul

I’ve written about Jakarta before and been here a few times now but this trip is the first time I’ve really made an effort to do anything that vaguely resembles any type of sightseeing. That said I have been here on business so there has been the necessity to do some work.

After arriving in the centre of town I did something which seems natural in Jakarta- I went to the mall and ate some Western food. Yes not the most cultural of experiences (or is it in Jakarta) but the Grand Indonesia complex is amazing- heaps of levels of shops and when I saw a Pho 24 stall well I couldn’t resist the temptation. Then I met a few friends for dinner and we went to a pizza place where we enjoyed pizza and red wine which again while not very Indonesian was rather enjoyable.

So the next morning after a meeting I thought I’d take advantage of how close I was to Monas and finally see what it was all about. It was… well previously I thought the negative reviews from friends were a bit harsh- honestly it wasn’t that bad but it really wasn’t that great. I did find the dioramas at the bottom celebrating the liberation of Irian Jaya and the Integration of East Timor pretty hilarious and if I was the leader of a large country I’d probably build myself an incredibly large monument and deck it out with gold but would I go back to Monas? Probably not.

The National Monument (Monas)

I did have a couple of funny experiences around Monas though- firstly in the taxi going there where the driver was quite the character and tried to convince me to give him my sunglasses in exchange for the taxi fare. That wasn’t going to happen so instead he asked me why so many Western men like Indonesian women. Couldn’t help him there. Then standing beside the road trying to flag a taxi next to Merdeka Square a procession of tanks drove past and all the gunners on top wished me good morning and waved. It seemed rather fitting given the history of the area and it was definitely quite strange.

The afternoon saw me do some more work before meeting up with another lucky person currently enduring thesis writing for coffee which turned into a lovely walk around the neighbourhood and dinner at an amazing little restaurant called Restoran Trio which has been around since the 1940s and all its menus are written in the old style of Indonesian spelling. The place is famous with Indonesian scholars and it was great to hopefully become a part of that history. We also bought beers from the petrol station and drank them in the street watching the traffic jam- only in Indonesia.

Restoran Trio- Charming little place

Jakarta is not really known as a particularly pleasant or even safe part of Indonesia and to be completely honest there isn’t a huge tourist appeal to the place however there are some hidden gems. It was an interesting trip for me because I did 3 things which I have never done before;

  1. Catch a non-Bluebird taxi- not recommended for non-Indonesian speakers or first timers to Jakarta. Express is a reasonable company but it is good to have a vague idea where you’re going and be able to communicate with the driver
  2. Walk around- not something that has appealed to me in the past but it is a really lovely way to experience Jakarta. Use common sense of course. I even walked across an overpass which seemed a bit dodgy but there were plenty of police around due to me being in the CBD.
  3. Ride on an ojek (motorbike taxi)- Only really good for short trips unless you are keen. Jakarta is full of one way streets so these little things are the best way to avoid the horrific traffic by taking back streets or the “Honda highway” (footpaths, tiny spaces between cars etc)

So that’s Jakarta. I could live here but would slip pretty much into the expat life and frequent a lot of Western restaurants which although is not really getting in touch with Indonesian culture it is a fun way to spend time in the city. It’s probably worth a visit for a quick introduction to Indonesian history with some of the museums not updated in recent years and still showing the glorious patriotism of the 1970s.

Singapore in a Day

11 Jul

Singapore is a bit like Hainanese Chicken Rice. It looks plain and sterile with its MRTs and skyscrapers but the second you take a bite and scratch below the surface a little you realise it’s packed through of flavour and a lot more than meets the eye. It is a city which appeals to me immensely. The parts of Asia that I love combined with efficiency and cleanliness- I’d move there in a second if given a chance.

Raffles- founder of modern day Singapore

I had one full day in Singapore on my way to Indonesia and planned it to try and get as much out of it as possible and realistically in the end spent most of the day getting lost. The morning started with Kaya toast and some delicious coffee and condensed milk, you definitely have to go for the sweet and milky option here and not expect Roasters quality. Then the walking began- I walked around Raffles City and saw Raffles Hotel while on a quest to find sunscreen (which was harder than expected seeing nothing opened until 11). Then I headed on over to Little India and walked up and down Seragoon Road taking photos and experiencing the colours and smells of the sub-continent. Tekka Market on a Sunday is a pungent assault on the senses, packed with people and every fruit or meat under the sun. I also got my foot all henna-ed and walked over to Sim Lim Square to look at some headphones while resisting the temptation to buy camera gear.

I then had an idea that seeing I couldn’t be bothered walking up to Little India MRT so I decided to walk until I found another one. I explored some more markets and found some temples then realised that there hadn’t really been any MRT stations. About half an hour later I found one after walking what turned out to be a fairly long way in ridiculous humidity. Afterwards I headed back to Clarke Quay, wandered around the mall and jumped on another train up to Chinatown.

Shop houses in Little India

I had a pretty good idea where the food centre was so sort of just walked in its general direction through streets upon streets of market stalls and then found it. I love Maxwell Food Centre. Unfortunately the pancake stall I really like has appeared to have closed in the last 18 months so it was time to try something new so I did the logical thing and jumped on the end of the longest line of locals and was rewarded with a plate of Chicken Rice for the low price of $3. It was pretty much one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, like some kind of epiphany.

Hawker Centre Heaven

After lunch I headed off walking along the river to the Asian Civilisations Museum which I was quite impressed by. They had some really interesting stuff from Southeast Asia and their SE Asian Islamic artifacts exhibit was particularly interesting. As the afternoon went on I took a stroll along Clarke Quay in the cool breeze and hang out before heading back to Chinatown to eat amazingly delicious meal number 2 for the day- bratwurst. Yep as strange as it sounds in the middle of the stalls of Chinatown is Erich’s Wuerstelstand, an Austrian setup where you can get some delicious smoked pork and cheese wurst (as well as other varieties), sauerkraut and giant pretzels. It was incredibly good food and so cheap.

Bratwurst in Chinatown? Delicious

After walking around a bit and heading back to eat dinner in a bar in Clarke Quay and watch the F1 it was time to head home before the early flight.

Singapore is great. Lots of people don’t particularly like the place but I beg to differ. It definitely isn’t cheap but I don’t think I’ve ever failed to have a good time there if I’ve taken the time to go exploring. I’ll definitely back (in fact I will be going back twice in the next 3 weeks).

Gear Guide: First Aid for travellers

4 Jul

Having ended up in hospital twice while overseas and dealing with a number of annoying (minor) injuries and illnesses I’ve always made an effort to take some form of first aid kit overseas with me. The difficult part is finding a balance between too little and too much with the constant need to try to keep traveling as light as possible. I’ve heard a lot of people argue that most first aid stuff you can generally buy overseas- true but when you have a bruised, swollen foot from falling down a staircase it is not particularly enjoyable to try and mime anti-inflammatories to the chemist in Indonesia (true story and they gave me caffeine tablets?). On the other hand the first time I travelled to Asia my doctor gave me a whole goody bag of every type of sample medication under the sun most of which I never used.

So what is in my first aid kit? I have a small one which comes everywhere and mostly has wound care stuff in it. Band aids, gauze, splinter probes and antiseptic wipes. It’s always in my daypack even when I’m at home and is very useful for everyday problems.

First Aid Kit sans medication

I also travel with

–          Adhesive sports strapping tape- good for supporting twisted fingers, knees, ankles etc. Also has many other uses like taping up windows and fixing broken back packs. Versatile stuff

–          Conforming bandage

–          Anti-inflammatories (see story above), paracetamol for headaches or after a night tasting too much of the local beverages and immodium because sometime your stomach just doesn’t agree with that nasi goreng

–          Betadine- After winding up in hospital with a tropical infection this stuff is a really good idea, keep wounds clean and disinfected in the tropics to avoid the hospital trip.

–          Malaria medication- depends where you are going and you really should consult a doctor. Sadly Doxycycline makes me sick so I have to go for the more expensive Malarone which luckily has very few side effects except some really weird vivid dreams.

–          Any prescriptions you might take at home- pretty self-explanatory.

I was always told the 6 Ps “perfect preparation prevents piss poor performance” this is particularly relevant when traveling, take risks and have adventures but look after yourself! It’s always much more enjoyable to be healthy when you’re on the road.

Photo of the Week #16- Snowgums in the Snowys

1 Jul

Where- Perisher, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW

While I don’t particularly like the cold, I love going to the snow and skiing. A quick trip to Perisher (only 2 hours drive from my house) gave me the chance to muck around in the snow on toboggans with my cousins and snap some photos. The snowgums really are beautiful this time of year and really set a wonderful backdrop.