Wednesday, October 31, 2012

8 Oct 2012: After dinner adventure

8 Oct 2012 (Mon):

After the dinner, our driver and tour-guide led me and my friend back to our hotel in Kuta, Bali. My friend and I decided that the night was still young. As such, we went to explore the streets nearby our hotel.

During our stroll, we came across people gathering at a communal space which I suppose was called Banjar Anyar Kuta. We spoke to one of the locals who could speak English. She told us that the people were gathering at the place to watch a dance performance, and thereafter, they would attend a prayer. My friend and I watched part of what was taking place from the main entrance of the place.

While we were exploring the streets, we noticed a few street hawkers. However, there were fewer street hawkers by the time we were out exploring the streets than when we were passing by the same streets earlier that evening on our tour bus.

The street hawkers are rather uncommon sightings in Singapore, so I took the opportunity to enjoy the smell of food from these stalls.

When we were back in our hotel room that night, it took a while before we stopped hearing the distant sounds of prayers from the neighbouring vicinity. Somehow, it seemed like a laid-back and simple way to end the night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

8 Oct 2012: Luwak Coffee, terraced rice fields and more!

8 Oct 2012:

After our lunch, my friend and I were led by our tour-guide and drive to explore more of Bali.

Luwak Coffee at Green Land Coffee
Our first stop after lunch was at Green Land Coffee. This place produces Luwak Coffee and many other organic beverages.

We were greeted by one of the staff from Green Land Coffee who graciously introduced us to the processes of making Luwak Coffee, also known as Kopi Luwak.

This is a summary of what I have learnt about one of the world's most expensive varieties of coffee.

Coffee Berries.

1) Plants producing coffee beans are grown. At Green Land Coffee, the Arabica coffee plant is grown organically on the grounds of this farm. These Arabica coffee plants are grown at high attitude.

2) The coffee berries are eaten by the civet, and are then passed through the digestive tract of the civet. The civet will eat the fleshy pulp of the berries. Subsequently, in the enzymes in the civet's digestive tract will seep into the beans of the coffee berries. The beans passed through the civet's intestines and are then defecated, keeping their shape.

3) The defecated coffee beans are collected.

Defecated coffee beans are collected to make Kopi Luwak.

4) They are then washed and sun-dried.

Washed and sun-dried coffee beans, to make Kopi Luwak.

5) The skin of the washed coffee berries are peeled off.

6) Then given a light roasting.

Lightly roasted coffee beans to be made into Kopi Luwak.

7) The roasted beans are grounded.

8) We have the Luwak Coffee powder which are ready to be brewed.

Kopi Luwak powder.

We did not get to sample the Luwak Coffee at Green Land Coffee as it came with a fee. On hindsight, I could have spontaneously agreed to sample a cup of it for a fee. Afterall, it will be very rare for me to drink organic Luwak Coffee at that price when I am back in Singapore.

We were treated to various other organic beverages produced by the farm. These were normal Bali coffee, ginseng coffee, cocoa coffee, lemon-grass tea, ginger tea and herbal tea. The herbal tea was said to be made up of turmeric, tamarind, betel leaf and honey. My favourite were the ginger tea and the herbal tea.

One of the interesting sightings at the Green Land Coffee was the purple-coloured Bali watermelon. It was rather small and looked more than an egg-plant to me.

Bali watermelon.

Green Land Coffee
Br. Sekaan, Desa Sekaan, Kintamani - Bangli, Bali Indonesia
Tel: (0361) 8570826 - 08124670916

Terraced Rice Fields
Our experiences with the beautiful face of Bali continued as we were driven up to Tegalalang Sebatu  to experience the views of the terraced rice fields. The view was scenic. It felt nice to be close to Nature. Somehow, the rice fields felt like sacred spaces in the ordinary world. I marvelled at how these rice fields could feed thousands of people. I was inspired by the greenery of the rice fields that I did a simple sketch during my visit to the village of Tegalalang.

Rice fields of Bali.

Here, I was reminded of the significance of the cultivation of rice in the South-East Asian region. Rice is an important staple in Indonesia. I learnt that the rice goddess, Dewi Sri, is revered in the Indonesian culture.

Wood Carving
At the idle countryside of Bali, we visited a wood carving workshop. I spoke briefly to one of the wood-carving artists and learnt that he had learnt the craft from his father when he was ten years old. I was attracted to a life-sized wood statue of a horse which was so life-like. As photography is not allowed inside the shop areas, I have no photograph of the statue of the horse to show.

Balinese wood carvings.

Chinese dinner at Plaza Dewata

In Bali, the sun sets very early. By 5 p.m. or so, it would be turning dark.

We nourished ourselves with Chinese dinner at Plaza Dewata Chinese Seafood Restaurant. The dinner was included in the tour package. I like the tom-yam soup and the fresh green vegetables from this restaurant. Although Bali is famous for its seafood, I was not in fancy of it that night.

Plaza Dewata Chinese Seafood Restaurant
Jl. Raya Kuta No. 131,
Bali, Indonesia
Tel: (0361) 759 791.

Overall, it was a day to be closer to Nature and to Balinese art. I am thankful for this getaway in Bali. Many thanks to my accompanying friend for her company.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

8 Oct 2012: Handicrafts, Silver crafts, a Hindu temple and more!

8 Oct 2012:

After a treat to Barong and Keris dances, the next half of the morning was spent exposing ourselves to Balinese handicrafts and silver crafts. It left on me an impression that there are many talented craftsmen in Bali.

Indonesian Handicraft Centre
One of our stops was at a handicraft centre where one can find various kinds of Indonesian handicrafts. Perhaps it was because my friend and I had seen similar handicrafts when we were at the Discovery Shopping Mall the day before, the handicrafts did not feel novel to me.

I was however attracted to the fact that the handicraft centre was marketing Luwak coffee as the souvenir to bring home. I was treated to a sample of a few sips of Luwak coffee. It has a finer taste compared to the Bali coffee that I had sampled that very day.

What was more memorable at the Indonesian Handicraft was neither the handicrafts nor the Luwak coffee, it was the chance to play on one of the traditional instruments that was placed on display at the carpark area.

Traditional Bali instrument.

Silver Crafts
If gold and silver crafting interests you, Celuk Village will be your favourite destinations. This is where one can find several workshops that specialises in gold and silver crafting.

During our trip, our guide brought us to this workshop by the name of Fa.SUARDANA. However, I cannot quite determine if the workshop was located in Celuk Village.

Anyway, at Fa. SUARDANA, my friend and I were given an introduction to basic silver crafts. I learnt how much effort and skill would be needed to make one tiny silver beads. While I was at the workshop, I was reminded of an exhibition on Ukraine gold and the art of gold-crafting that I had visited in Singapore. The designs of Balinese gold and silver crafts are very different from those by craftsmen from other parts of the world. I learnt that it takes a good pair of eyes, good skills and patience to make the silver crafts.

Silver crafts.

One of the products of the silver craft workshop.

Phone: 62 361 298241

Pura Desa and Puseh (Temple)
This is an elaborate Hindu temple in the village of Ubud. Its history dates back to the 10th century when it was built by the king of Marakata, in the Caka Year of 944 C.E. On the back of the temple are remains of stone artefacts from the prehistoric time. These are kept in an open pavilion. I learnt that the stone structures are largely made of sandstone.

What was peculiarly interesting to me was how one can find remarkable structures in Bali that demonstrate influences from Hinduism. I realised then that an appreciation of Bali could only be completed after gaining an understanding of its history.

At the temple, we saw a lady praying. I learnt that the Hindu devotees in Bali pray three times a day: once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening.

Praying, the Balinese Hindu way.

Kintamani mountain resort and lunch at Gong Dewata Restaurant
Time seemed to pass very fast even though I would like it to be slower. Before we knew it, we were at Kintamani mountain resort served with buffet lunch at the Gong Dewata Restaurant. The food was satisfactory. Service was hospitable. I particularly like the tastes of the languan satay and the gado-gado. The former has a lingering lemon grass flavour and a nice coconut taste in the meal. The satay sauce for the gado-gado was very nice.

From the mountain resort, we were offered a spectacular view of Mount Batur and Lake Batur. I felt humbled by the magnificence of Nature. While enjoying our lunch, we were treated to cool breeze at the high attitude. I was so inspired by the view and experience that I did a sketch after lunch.  It was a very enjoyable lunch. In fact, it was memorable!

Kintamani mountain resort, Bali.

Sketch of Mount Batur.

Admittedly, the toilet facilities may need some improvement. That aside, generally, the experience at the restaurant was positive.

Gong Dewata Restaurant
Jalan Raya Kintamani, Kintamani, Bali, Indonesia
Tel: 62 857 2257 2617


Friday, October 26, 2012

8 Oct 2012: Barong and Kris Dance

8 Oct 2012:

Our tour of Bali continued with our hospitable driver and tour guide. The couple who was in the same tour group as us decided to give themselves a break from the tour. That left me and my friend to tour parts of Bali with the guide and the driver.

If there was a theme for our second day in Bali, it was probably to get us closer to the arts and the culture of Bali. We began our day travelling on the roads. It took us about one hour to drive to Kesiman Village to watch a performance of the Barong and Kris Dance. The performance started at 9.30 a.m. and it was essential to factor in sufficient time to travel there.

The Barong.
Barong and Kris Dance
The Barong is a lion-like creature in the mythology of Bali. The Barong represents the good. When we reached the venue of the performance, our thoughtful guide passed each of us a copy of the English description of the entire performance. This dance performance was accompanied by a live gamelan orchestra. I was pretty entertained by the music from the gamelan orchestra.

The performance began with a prelude. This was followed by five different acts.

In the first act, two female dancers danced to the music. These two dancers represent the servants of the Rangda, a mythological evil monster.

The second act described the encounters between the servants of Rangda and the servants of Dewi Kunti.

In the third act, Sadewa, son of Dewi Kuti was captured and brought to the forest.

The fourth act showed Sadewa being given the gift of immortality by Siwa, the God. Eventually, the Rangda surrendered to Sadewa.

The concluding fifth act described the fights between Sadewa and one of the servants of Rangda. During the third fight, this servant changes itself to a Rangda. Sadewa mediated and changed himself into a Barong during the third fight. I was told that the fight between the Barong and the Rangda represented the fight between the good and the evil.

I read that the masks of Barong are considered sacred items. Before the masks are brought out, a priest must be present to offer blessings by sprinkling the masks with holy water. While the Barong looked a bit intimidating a first sight, after the performance, I could re-experience it as a benevolent character.

After the performance, members of the audience had the opportunity to take photographs with the Barong. My friend and I took a photo with the Barong too. This is one memorable performance that I was glad to have watched when I was in Bali.

My afterthoughts were perhaps each day, there will be a fight between the good and the evil. May the good triumph.

Gamelan orchestra.

CV. Catur Eka Budhi
(The Barong and Kris Dance)
Jalan Waribang
Kesiman, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
Tel: (0361) 224596


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

7 Oct 2012: The evening at Discovery Shopping Mall

7 Oct 2012 (Sun):

After setting ourselves in the Best Western Resort Kuta, the evening adventure was set to be an exploration of the nearby vicinity. The destination for our evening was the Discovery Shopping Mall which was within 10 minutes walk from our hotel.

This shopping mall offers a good view of the sea and the Kuta Beach. One of the restaurants situated on the higher level offered its guests a dining experience where the guests could enjoy their meals while overlooking the wonderful view of Kuta Beach.

The view from Discover Shopping Mall.

View of Kuta Beach, from Discovery Shopping Mall.

There were several establishments in this mall where one can find interesting local handicrafts and souvenirs. The establishment, Batik Keris, offers high-end quality products. Bamboo, on the other hand offers various home furnishings and gifts at moderate price ranges. There were a few other of such establishments and I was left with good impression of Bali handicraft and art forms.

There were several international brands operating in Discovery Shopping Mall. I was pleased to see Crocs and Bread Talk in the mall.

For dinner, my friend and I had Indonesian-style fast food at Es Teler 77. I ordered a bowl of baso super special. Baso is essentially Indonesian meatball made from beef surimi. The meal was served with noodles and a broth.

My order of Bako Super Special from Es Teler 77, complete with various types of sauces.

While I was at the Discovery Shopping Mall, I was pleased to see A&W restaurant. I treated myself to waffle sundae, which was basically bite-sized waffle bits topped with ice-cream sundae. I miss A&W ever since this establishment stopped its operations in Singapore many years ago.

A&W waffle sundae.

In general, I have had a positive shopping experience at the Discover Shopping Mall. It is a modern shopping mall where many international and local Bali brands meet to entertain and to serve the community of locals and tourists.

Discovery Shopping Mall
Kartika Plaza Street
Kuta - Bali
Indonesia 80361
Phone: 62-361-755522

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The hotel that I had stayed in Bali: Best Western Resort Kuta

Front of the hotel, Best Western Resort Kuta. Bali.

I visited Bali from 7 - 10 Oct 2012 for a short vacation with one of my friends. During our stay in Bali, we stayed at Best Western Resort Kuta. This hotel is located in the Kuta district of Bali. My friend and I had chosen this hotel based on the recommendations from the travel agent. 

Reception. Best Western Resort Kuta. Bali.

Doing the paperwork for checking-in took about 5 minutes which was pretty fast. My friend and I had to wait for another fifteen minutes for the keys to our hotel room which was on the fourth level. On the whole, the staff of the hotel was courteous and friendly. When we asked for directions to the nearby Discovery Shopping Mall and the Kuta Beach, we were given clear instructions. Please be prepared that there may not be maps of the locality that could be available at the hotel's front desk. Thankfully, the verbal instructions were so clear that I could find my way to the Discovery Shopping Mall on foot. 

Here is a tip for guests who wish to explore the areas nearby the hotel at night, please bring along a bright torch. Generally, the area is safe from crimes, yet a bright torch would be needed to see well when walking alongside the roads which have almost no street lamps.

The pool. One could have breakfast by the pool .

The complimentary continental buffet breakfast was satisfactory and pleasing. I was delighted that there is an egg station which cooks eggs according to the preferences of the guests. To add to the delight, the kitchen at the Ambrosia Restaurant, where we had our buffet breakfast would make efforts to vary the menu each day. I  have found the spinach fritters and the potato cakes to be interesting. The former for its interesting taste albeit it was a bit on the salty side and the latter because it was a kind of comfort food for someone who likes mashed potatoes that was baked. The sautéed mushrooms were delicious and worth a good try. The chef also makes efforts to make carvings out of fruits on some occasions. I prefer the Western selection than the Asian selection at the buffet. While enjoying my breakfast, I would be treated to Balinese music played over the sound system. The satisfactory offer of food and the pleasant dining environment led me to wake up each day looking forward to breakfast!

Amenities wise, my friend had experience slow connection when she was attempting to tap into the free Wi-Fi offered by the hotel. Otherwise, generally I was pretty satisfied with the overal amenities. I had enquired about mail services provided at the hotel and I worked out that it would have been cheaper for me to purchase postage stamps from a nearby convenience store or the post-office. The fridge was not that cold so I did not use it. The air-conditioning and the bathroom facilities were in good working condition during our stay. I appreciated the satisfactory room service.

The staff at the hotel have been responsive to our requests. Our room's safe deposit box was not working properly. When we called up the front desk, we were attended to very shortly and the issue was rectified promptly. When I had asked for an extra pillow, my request was promptly met too. 

My friend and I did not have the chance to use the poolside services as well as the spa and massage services that were offered due to time constraints.

Checking-out at 12 noon was relatively easy too. 

Overall, the friendly and attentive service at this hotel has left an impression in me. The location of the hotel was also pretty good. It is about 10 minutes walk to the Discovery Shopping Mall and the Kuta Beach. It is about 12 minutes walk to the Matahari departmental store in Kuta Square. 

Kubu Anyar Street, No 118, KUTA
Bali, 80361, Indonesia

Friday, October 19, 2012

7 Oct 2012: Learning to go with the flow

The Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, in Denpasar.
7 Oct 2012:
Upon arrival at Ngurah Rai, Bali's International airport, we spent time looking for our guide near the guide meeting point. There were a lot of people who were also waiting for their guide or designated drivers at the airport. It would take a trained pair of eyes to find their designated guide or drivers in the crowd.

Thankfully, after close to half-an-hour, I noticed our guide who was carrying a piece of paper that bears my full name. Our tour group is made up of my friend and I, and a couple. There were four of us in the tour group. We were greeted and welcomed by our guide who led us to a van.

Our tour was to start immediately. That is perhaps the best thing about taking up a tour package. If I were visiting Bali on my own without a tour package, I would prefer to get myself settled into the hotel before making way to explore the locality.

On our journey on the van, our guide who spoke in English shared with us about the general demographics of Bali. I learnt that the better times to visit Bali were from May to August. The wet season in Bali will usually start from 20th October to December, so these would be months to avoid unless one loves the rain.

Religions in Bali
We had our first-hand experience of religions in Bali when we visited Pura Jagat Natha Nusa Duar. I learnt that the official religion in Bali is Hindu. Bali's version of Hinduism is different from the version that is practised by Indian Hindus. This special version of Hinduism can be traced to the great Majapahit Hindu kingdom that once ruled Indonesia and had evacuated to Bali as Islam spread across the region. Unlike the other parts of Indonesia, Islam is a minority religion in Bali.

Pura Jagat Natha Nusa Dua.

At Pura Jagat Natha Nusa Dua, we learnt that the colours black and white are intended to symbolize evil and good respectively.

Pura Jagat Natha Nusa Dua.

Near Pura Jagat Natha Nusa Dua were a few other religious buildings. We saw one Catholic church, one Islamic mosque, a Christian church and a Buddhist temple located on the same row as the Hindu Pura Jagat Natha Nusa Dua temple.

A mosque near Pura Jatha Natha Nusa Dua.

Nyang Nyang beach
Our next stop was at Nyang Nyang beach. Here, I was treated to a nice sea breeze from a high attitude. The beach lies many feet below. I found the monkeys at the place rather amusing. They seem to be finding ways to make life more interesting for themselves.

Here, we were treated to pisang goreng, which is banana that has been dipped in a batter and fried.

Nyang Nyang Beach and the interesting monkeys.

We were treated to pisang goreng near this fountain.

Pura Ulu Watu Temple
I learnt that this temple is officially known as Pura Luhur Uluwatu. "Lulur" means "of divine origin". "Ulu" means "land's end" while "watu" meants "rock".

Ulu Watu. This place reminds me of Watsons Bay in Sydney.

Located at the southern point of Bali, this ancient temple is one of the most spectacular on the island of Bali. It is possibly spectacular because of how it is perched on a steep and fascinating cliff that is 70 metres above the Indian ocean. Entry to the temple is available for a fee, which was included in the tour package. It was quite breathtaking to catch a glimpse of this temple from a distance.

Ulu Watu.

From my reading of online information, the temple was said to have been expanded by a Javanese sage, Empu Kuturan in the 11th century. Subsequently, another sage, Dang Hyang Nirartha, is credited for constructing the padmasana shrines. The only thing was that my tour guide did not explain these to me. When I attempt to ask, I had difficulties communicating with him.

Look harder and you may see monkeys hiding around.

This is one place to keep a very close grip on our belongings and to stow away the eyeglasses. No thanks to the monkeys who are known to snatch the visitors' belongings. Our tour guide had specifically requested that I remove my spectacles. However, it was challenging to see without my glasses so I had them put up while guarding them carefully against the monkeys.

The wooden drum is known as the Kukul.

Spectacular sights at Ulu Watu.

The missed visits to Taman Ayun Temple, Gallery Duty Free shop and Matahari shopping mall
Originally, according to the itinerary, we were supposed to visit the Taman Ayun Temple, Gallery Duty Free shop and Matahari shopping mall that day. However, we did not get to visit these places during this tour to Bali. The couple that was in our tour group was too exhausted to explore Bali, let alone visiting the shopping mall. The initial plan was to make up for the changes in itinerary on another day. However, due to schedule issues, we were not able to visit these places during this tour.

The learning point from the missed visits was to learn to go with the flow. I had attempted to explore if we could cover these places on other days, however, it seemed not feasible with due considerations of traffic conditions and operating hours of these places. I have learnt to be more flexible even when it comes to attending a group tour. On the positive side, this meant changes can be made with the tour so long as there is mutual agreement between the parties involved.

Thankfully, on the whole, the tour package did bring us to a number of beautiful places that had left me a generally positive experience of Bali and the tour package itself.

In the meantime, please stay tune for more on my trip to Bali if you are interested for more.