Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Places To Visit In Bali

Apart from visiting the beaches in Bali there are many other attractions available all over Bali to visit depending on what the interests are. If it is night life that is of interest, there are many night clubs with live shows all over the town. If it is the culture and the arts that are of interest there are many art studios, cultural shows and dances, wood sculptures, stone sculptures, silversmith, goldsmith and so on. If nature is the fancy there are zoos, gardens, forests, beaches (public, private and also secluded ones), hills and mountains to go to. Sports activities are mostly the water types, like surfing, snorkeling, diving, and so on and these are not restricted to the Bali island alone. There are, I was told, good diving sites on islands close by that can be visited by boat on a day trip. There are also accommodation facilities on these islands for overnight trips as well.

Ram and I had no specific agenda on our visit to Bali. We were there just to relax and take it easy. Hence we moved around Bali at leisure and as and when we felt like it. We spent time at the beach quite a bit, browse around in the shops and stalls all along the main roads and side roads in Legian and part of Kuta on two occasions, visited the three main shopping malls on separate occasions for each, and hired a car with driver to tour the island, visit arts and crafts centres, the mountains and lake, and other attractions. It was fun and we were not pressured for time like we often encounter in our travels, especially those packaged and conducted tours. The tour organizers will take you only to specific places to visit and the choice is theirs not yours. (These organizers get commissions from the outlets they take us to visit).

For the island tour we hired a car (van actually) with driver for the day at a fixed rate that covers usage of the car, driver’s fees, gasoline and parking fees, and the driver will take you anywhere you want to go. I found that the rate the driver charged was even cheaper than the rate of hiring a self drive car at the airport!! This driver was recommended by one of the hotel staff, and the car he used was air-conditioned, comfortable and in fairly good condition. (whoa, I now realized that I made a mistake by hiring a self drive car at the airport when I visited Bali in January this year!!). I studied the brochures, decided on the places and specific locations that I wanted to visit, and when the driver came to fetch us I sat down with him and charted our course for the trip before proceeding. He was very helpful and made constructive suggestions, like see point B first instead of point A that I originally planned because of the opening times and distance to travel etc. So we had a pleasant trip for the day. He even advised us what to look out for, stopped at some locations along the way to admire the sceneries that we were not aware of in our original plans, avoid spots that throng with petty traders and peddlers and so on and even helped us bargain!!. I think it was money well spent.

In the tour we wanted to see a dance performance and were brought to a Barong and Kris dance performance by the driver. There was a big crowd but we were quite early and had the opportunity to get good seats quite close to the stage. The show was about an hour and we had a written description of the dance and what the various acts represents. Generally it depicts a fight between good and evil, love and sacrifices and similar dramas. It was heavily costumed too and fun to watch as they had included quite a bit of humor in their performance. The dances were nice to watch as an entertainment but were not much of an artistic display except for the heavy and nicely designed costumes, the props and live music. It was like, “there you are Mr Tourist, this is the show, and thank you for your contribution ha ha!!” …………….

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya

Our Transport (rented with driver) is the foreground white van Posted by Picasa

"Hillside rice field" somewhere along the way in our tour. Posted by Picasa

Another view of the terraced rice field Posted by Picasa

The mythological lion Posted by Picasa

The female dancers, graceful... Posted by Picasa

The male dancers - not so graceful!! Posted by Picasa

Barong dance musicians  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Restaurants In Bali

The population of Bali is 80% Hindu and 20% others as compared to the majority Muslim population in the whole of Indonesia. Muslim population on the island of Bali is therefore very small. I thought finding reasonable Muslim restaurants would be difficult. However, through the cabbies, I found quite a number of Muslim restaurants available. The saying, “to know more of the place you visit, ask the cabbies” is true then!!

One restaurant that I continue to patronize is the ACC Minang restaurant. It is at the junction of the road from the airport and the Main Kuta street in Tuban. There is a large statue of horses at the intersection. [I notice in my travels that Indonesia has many statues, some really huge, and they are at junctions, major intersections and any place that they fancy. This is apparently true all over the country, Jakarta, Bandong, Palembang and so on. I guess it is a passion amongst previous Indonesian Leaders (Bapak Soekarno especially) to build statues, a symbol of power of sorts perhaps].

ACC Minang restaurant is air-conditioned, clean and provides good food and service. The price they charge is also very reasonable, compared to other restaurants in Bali. They serve traditional Minang food, the preparation of each of them, especially the meats, takes a long time. They are marinated in spices and herbs and then cooked for hours and hours until the meats are tender. These are served with rice and are very tasty. As is the practice in Minang restaurants, you do not have to choose the dishes to be served to you. The various dishes will be served on your table. The waiter will bring the dishes, sometimes in small bowls of ten or fifteen different dishes, in a circus-like balancing act with all the bowls decked on one hand, to your table. I have yet to see any of the waiters spilling or dropping any of the dishes in all my years of patronizing Minang restaurants in my travels. You will only be charged for the dishes that you eat. If you do not fancy any of those dishes laid on your table do not touch them, and you will not be charged. So, if you have kids with you, be careful. It is best that you ask the waiter to leave only those dishes you fancy and take away those that you do not want from your table.

Another restaurant that I frequent is Restaurant Bu Tinuk. It is located further up the street from ACC Minang. The specialty of this restaurant is nasi rawon and nasi pechal. The main dish in nasi rawon is beef soup that contains many different spices and herbal ingredients and is taken with rice (nasi in the Malay language is rice). It is very tasty. Some of the herbs have medicinal properties, but when cooked in meat and its accompanying cholesterol and what nots, I wonder if the medicinal properties are any good in the end. I go for the taste rather than the medicinal properties though. As for nasi pechal, the main dish is a combination of various vegetables and herbal leaves that are preboiled and mixed in a peanut sauce concoction of groundnuts and more herbs and spices. This vegetable mix is normally taken with rice. For me, I can just make do with the pechal only without the rice. There are other types of food that they serve here but I have not tried any of them. Going by the good taste of nasi rawon and nasi pechal, I assume that the other dishes they serve are tasty as well.

There are many other Minang restaurants on the same street as ACC Minang and Bu Tinuk but I have not tried any of them. I was told that these two restaurants are better then the rest and to me that was sufficient for my needs as I was in Bali to relax and eating was just incidental to it.

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,
Petaling Jaya

Restaurants in Bali (continued)

Another Muslim restaurant I found in the Kuta area is the Kebab restaurant, located on the main Kartika Plaza street in the cluster of shops north of Waterbom, the water theme park. This restaurant serves typical Turkish food, bread and meat being their signature fare. It is quite well patronized as it is located within the shopping and tourist belt.

One late afternoon as we were walking back from the beach, we stopped at one restaurant close to our hotel called the ‘Warong kopi Aceh’. Warong in local language is a food stall but this one is more than a food stall. It is a proper restaurant. It is located at the junction of the street just before approaching the Hotel Saphir Mabisa Inn. I found out later, from one of the hotel guests, that it is owned by a young man who graduated from the International Islamic University Malaysia. They serve good food, the fusion type mostly, and also some traditional Aceh dishes and drinks concoction. They serve good coffee too. It is nice to sit at the patio sipping coffee while watching the people go by.

Another good coffee place is ‘The Coffee Shop’ located a few doors away from Warong Kopi Aceh. This shop also serves good coffee and also light meals, cakes and confectioneries. They also have patio seating where people can relax over a cup of coffee.

We went shopping at the new Kuta Mall called the Centro, located on the main Kartika Plaza street. We got hungry and stopped at a restaurant called Bali Colada. It is located at the back of the mall and overlooking the beach and the sea. It has very nice view. I thought ‘advantage of the view’ would be added to the bill, but no. the prices they charge were very reasonable. It has good seating arrangement, ambience and is air conditioned too. They serve fusion food and mostly seafood as ingredients. We had pumpkin soup, mixed seafood salad, a seafood in rice dish, coffee and flavoured tea and all for about USD10.00.

I asked the hotel reception to suggest a good seafood restaurant for us. They suggested the Jimbaran Seafood restaurant, located in Jimbaran, south of the airport. The restaurant can pick us up and send us back to the hotel at no extra charge. One evening we took up this suggestion. The restaurant is located by the beach and is very nicely located to view the sunset. All the dining tables are on the beach. I found that I had to get up from my chair several times throughout and pull it out of the sand as I kept sinking, the chair I mean …… However this is one of those restaurants where the ‘advantage of the view’ is added to your bill as I found their menu (very) pricey. We had grilled fish, prawns and squids with rice and the bill came close to USD40.00. Quite on the upper end compared to other restaurants in Bali, hotel restaurants aside. We had dinner by candle light too as the area had a temporary black-out just after we arrived and power came back just as we were about to leave…. talk about coincidence….. !! It was a romantic dinner, yes but we were eating fish! Looking for fish bones using our tongue in the dark was really a prickly job heh heh! They also had a music group basking good live music going from table to table. We did not plan to go back however, as I thought once was enough for the experience.

On our tour of the north of Bali we stopped at a restaurant in Kintamani, at the peak of a mountain and a very touristy place, where many tourists visit the volcanic mountain and a nearby lake. The restaurant serves buffet and is suitable for Muslims. We requested for their menu and found that the individual menu cost as much as the buffet rate, hence we settled for the buffet. They serve quite a wide variety of buffet dishes and only charge USD5.00 per head, a far cry from the Jimbaran prices, given its location high up in the mountains!!

Other than the above restaurants we also patronized other coffee shops and ice cream outlet, “Haagen-Daaz” specifically. We also found out that the fast food restaurants, MacDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut are all suitable for Muslims. So it was not a hassle finding suitable restaurants. We were apprehensive before we came to Bali but clearly it was un-founded apprehension. Again, if in doubt, ask the cabbie…….

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,
Petaling Jaya

Inside Warong Kopi Aceh ... note the simple decor... Posted by Picasa

The Coffee Shop, next to Hotel Saphir Mabisa Posted by Picasa

Inside Bali Colada Restaurant Posted by Picasa

Outside of Bali Colada Restaurant Posted by Picasa

View from Bali Colada Restaurant Posted by Picasa

Jimbaran Seafood Restaurant, on the beach. Posted by Picasa

The restaurant at the mountain peak, Kintamani. Posted by Picasa

Inside of restaurant at Kintamani  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Beaches In Bali

The beaches in Bali are all around the island. The most popular is, of course the Kuta beach where most of the tourists are. A few kilometers north is the Legian beach and further than that is the Seminyak beach. These are the popular public beaches in Bali. Other beaches are those off Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, Sanur, but these beaches, although open to the public, are more often than not taken up by the large hotels and accommodation establishments for the use of their guests. One can also go to other beaches further north, east, or west of the island, but if it is the normal beach activities that one is looking for, there is no need to go further than those areas I mentioned above. If diving is of interest there are specific areas that one can go to for good dives like, Candi Dasa, or Lovina beaches located some 50 and 90 kilometers respectively from the city of Denpasar or Kuta. Ram does not fancy going for dives so there was no need to visit Candi Dasa. I would, though, if I had gone alone. There is also one beach area, to the south, called 'Dreamland Beach'. It is a somewhat private beach that one can patronise by paying a fee. As it is not 'public' like the ones in Kuta, Legian and others, it is not always crowded and beachgoers are quite free to indulge in whatever is fancied. The place, with high waves, is also very good for board surfing.

The main activity at the beaches is of course showing off your bodily assets, male muscles (protruding tummy paunch for some, I mean!!) and female curves, covering as little of what you have as possible. Quite a few go topless. Next comes sunbathing or some call it sun-worshipping while many others go surfing the waves. It is quite interesting, watching these board surfers. They swim out into the sea to catch that big wave and surf on it to shore. It is to me an exhausting sport but I guess the adrenaline rush one gets with that big wave is something one cherishes no matter how tiring it is. The others spend time frolicking in the water and playing/ following the waves. Ram does that but only remained thigh deep in the water, afraid that she may fall and get herself immersed in sea water which can be disastrous for her eye. The water lapping up the beach every time was just irresistible and she had to get at least her feet wet. I went along with her, ‘in sympathy’ of course.

Beach traders, most of them allocated specific areas to look after by the proper authorities, are all along the beach. They have to keep their allocated areas clean. These traders provide various services some of which are the rental of beach benches, umbrellas, towels, surfboards, and other beach equipment. They also sell drinks and snacks and provide all sorts of services including body massage, hair plaiting, body painting and so on. There are also the small-time traders or peddlers who will pester the beachgoers, and persistently too, to buy the stuff they sell. One will just have to persistently say no to them if one is not interested. In fact these peddlers are everywhere, not only at the beaches, but also at all the tourist attractions all over the island. The trick is not to touch the stuff they sell as doing so is to indicate to the peddler that you are interested, and he/she will go all out to sell.

I do my early morning walks and exercises at the beach daily and spend about 80 to 90 minutes walking and slow jogging. Many others, tourists and locals, were also doing the same thing on the beach. The beach hawkers, peddlers and service providers were up very early too, all busy with their chores of cleaning the beach and preparing the areas allocated to them for the ‘onslaught’ of sunbathers, sun-worshippers and other tourists later in the morning and continuing until dusk.

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya

Hi there. Wide expanse of beach in Legian. That guy is probably persuading the lady to rent the bench and umbrella.... Posted by Picasa

Relaxing. See the beach benches/umbrellas and so on waiting for tourists.... Posted by Picasa

No curves to show, only paunch! heh heh! Posted by Picasa

The water waves and 'walking waves?' Posted by Picasa

The irresistable water. See the board surfers ... waiting for the big wave..... Posted by Picasa

Enough playing with 'waves' Posted by Picasa

Beach Traders (peddlars) awaiting tourists Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bali In August

Sometime in June I visited the Air Asia website for the free and easy packaged holiday and stumbled upon a reasonably cheap ‘go holiday’ package to Bali for August. Since we do not have anything urgent planned for August I booked a nine days package that included air fare and hotel accommodation with breakfast for a surprisingly low cost. We had visited Bali for four nights in January this year, on similar ‘go holiday’ package and stayed at a hotel in Nusa Dua. This time I decided to try another hotel, and in the Legian area, North of Kuta, staying eight nights but paying a little less than what I paid for the January trip.

We took the evening Air Asia flight to the Ngurah Rai Airport, Denpasar, Bali from KLIA. The flight was delayed for about 45 minutes due to some technical problem but it was no big hassle. We arrived in Ngurah Rai Airport at 8.15 pm, not too late and the airport was not too busy. We took a taxi, through the coupon system, from the airport to the hotel. On the way we passed through the Kuta shopping area and then northwards to Legian. Checking into the hotel was a breeze and the staffs handling us were very friendly and helpful. After getting into our room and settled in, we took a quick tour of the hotel area. Its small, has 68 rooms in three three-storied buildings, a restaurant, a swimming pool, spa facilities, and all in an area of about four acres. The room was air-conditioned, with attached bathroom, and was moderately furnished and comfortable. Extra power points were provided in the room which was convenient for me to power up this laptop or recharge the camera and pocket pc batteries, boil water and so on.

Breakfast, provided by the hotel was a reasonable buffet-styled spread of juices, coffee and tea, cereals, eggs, main entries, bread and fruits. Good enough to start the day. Food was timely replenished and the restaurant staff was all friendly and helpful.

The hotel is within a 10 minutes walking distance to the Kuta/Legian beach passing through the shopping streets, cafes and restaurants. There was a short-cut to the beach through a very narrow lane that passed in between tall walls marking the boundaries of private properties and hotels. The short-cut route is only about 5 minutes to the beach and is quite heavily used by pedestrians going to or returning from the beach as well as people on small bikes. The lane is so narrow that when a motorbike passes through it has to stop to allow pedestrians to pass by before moving on. However, the lane is not lighted up hence it is only useful during the day.

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya

The queue at airport - to go to Bali Posted by Picasa

Hotel Entrance and Lobby Posted by Picasa

The narrow path to the beach Posted by Picasa