Monday, August 4, 2008

Bali Bargaining

Bali is a haven for souvenir hunters. Everywhere you go, there are so many interesting stuffs to buy and bring home. Unfortunately, the airlines companies recently reduced the allowable baggage for all travellers. Thus, it's really difficult to bring as much as we want. 

If you don't want to venture outside the hot Balinese weather,  there are numerous finds in Discovery Mall along Kuta. From the usual keychains, t-shirts, ballpens and letter openers. They have nice selection of traditional soaps, body oils, scrubs, lotions, and shampoos. Most of them utilizing the essence of Frangipani, the sweet-smelling flower that grows everywhere in Bali.  They're delicate, beautiful  and has become one of the symbols of Bali.

But the best and cheapest place to get Bali souvenirs are from Sukawati Market.  It's a must-visit for souvenirs shoppers.  1hour drive from Kuta, Sukawati is a shopping complex but with the atmosphere of a public market. The price is 50% below the price of the shops in Kuta.  They have everything!

We didn't get to take photos of the place because we were busy bargaining. If you love to bargain, your skills will be perfected in Sukawati. Don't be shy, they expect you to bargain more than half price. Then, you can take it a little bit higher. If the vendor is still adamant, you can pretend that you will just come back & look around first, surely she will pull you again, and give you her final price.

Our best buys are 5 sets of beautiful paintings.  There are so many great artists in Bali.   From sculpture, dance, songs, and paintings.  Their favorite subjects are mostly the beautiful sceneries of like ricefield,  beach, ritual scenes, and the images of their Hindu gods.  Unique and really beautiful... and affordable!

Coincidentally, the owners of our travel agency (my colleague's sister & her dad) were also doing shopping in Sukawati. Aside from their travel agency business, they also export Bali paintings to Europe. They have sent more than 1,500 Bali paintings to Europe! They referred us to one of their suppliers, and we got our own paintings for a huge markdown!

 We also bought small paintings. They are, I was told,  made by artistic Balinese kids, using colored ballpens. They're beautiful when framed. We also bought masks for our collection, several bags, shirts, and balinese slippers. 

My officemates in jakarta love the bali slippers. They usually change to slippers whenever they say their prayers. It's a good thing we bought 2 extra luggages. Otherwise, we have nowhere to place all the goodies we bought. 

Personally, what I really wanted are the Balinese statues and outdoor home decors.  They're so beautiful and cheap!  But it will be next to impossible to bring them home because of the weight!

After a grueling shopping expedition, we then proceed to the next stop in our itinerary....Ubud. 

Ubud is the center of arts in Bali.  This is where the most artists reside and sell their wares. If you're the type of tourist who prefer hiking, trekking and all those activities, away from the beach, Ubud is the place for you. 

There are few big hotels in Ubud.  The biggest is Four Seasons.  But there are a lot of home-stays. We chance upon one eatery, located in a typical Bali home, with all the works (temples, pavillions). The place is called Canderi Home Stay. (  Homestays is one of the cheaper alternative to backpaper hostels.  One gets to mingle with the locals, 24/7.

We didn't go around Ubud that much since we're already done with our shopping. Moreover, the views in Ubud, are mostly rice paddies, attractive to Europeans, but for us Filipinos, it's nothing new.

We dropped by the Sultan's Palace in Ubud.  It's ornate, beautiful and well-maintained. Apparently, the Sultan still lives there and there are ceremonies every night. 

Our last stop in our Bali adventure is Tanah Lot .... The temple by the Sea. It's about 1hour from Ubud, but the drive is worth it.  It's the only temple, under a cave and on an island by the sea.  We got there on a low tide, and can go directly by foot to the island.  There were so many people!

Unfortunately, Tanah Lot is commercialized in a sense that it's one of the most visited places in Bali. There are so many shops selling, not just souvenirs, they even have Crocs sandals outlets and Polo Ralph Lauren shops!

The temple faces the pacific, and during sunset, the sun casts a fantastic glow on the old edifice.

 Definely, Bali is one place that I will surely go back...


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elephants... Temples ... and Italian Pasta in Bali

When you are in a new place, it seems daunting how to go around. You have researched the places you wanted to go, but how to get there? Will you burn holes in your pockets with taxi fares? You might be brave to try the public transportation, but you don't want to waste precious time, figuring out the routes, that will bring you to the location you want.

In Bali, the most convenient and cheapest way to go around the island is to hire a car or van. The vehicle usually comes with a driver, who can also be your tour guide. You can even get a Japanese, Italian, German - speaking driver for a nominal fee. Do not attempt to go around the island in a taxi, it will cost you an arm & leg.  The island is huge! Some places take 2hours to reach!

Most of these vehicles & driver can be arranged through a local travel agency. My colleague's family owns a travel agency and gave us good rates for a Toyota Innova and a driver (450,000 Rp) for 2 days. It's better to arrange beforehand with the travel agency your daily jaunts. Ideally,  arrange this before you come to Bali. Take their suggestions, because they know best for you to maximize your time.

Some activities, like safaris, dolphin watching, have arrangements to pick you up and return you back to your hotel.

We were picked-up by the driver of the Elephant Safari Park at exactly 9am on our second day in Bali. It took us 2 hours cruise along rice paddies and little towns, on the way to  Elephant Safari Park, in Taro, Bali. 

Our driver maintains continuous chatter throughout the trip, but we dozed off, too.  Our driver knows two things about the Philippines ~  fighting cocks and Manny Pacquiao. Apparently, Balinese men also love cockfighting.

The elephant safari park is a 5-hectare property, with 27 elephants from Sumatra Island.  A Sumatran elephant is 3x smaller than the African elephants.  I can just imagine, how huge African elephants are. The park is operated by Australians but the handlers & elephants all come from Sumatra.

When we got in, we were treated to a short elephant show. The elephants are so serene. You cannot rush them!  Even the trainer talk very calmly and lovingly. Some of their skills are ~ Walking on elevated beams, sitting together like huge dogs on the log, walking together holding each other's tails, , shooting basketball, hitting a soccer to the goal, add numerals, and finally Paint! 

Elephants have handwritings distinct from one another.  The elephant art actually looks like a nice abstract painting that anyone can appreciate on their walls.  Elephant's  paintings  are sold for for 75 USD.  Proceeds goes to the foundation that studies, protect and propagate sumatran elephants.

 The elephants here are so friendly to people. You can feed them sugarcane sticks and they will get it from your outstretched hands. So cute! One elephant place a garland on my head! The handlers really want their guests to appreciate, and not fear elephants. The handlers were the ones who took my arms and made me hug the elephant trunk!  Don't be scared, lady!

After that, we rode the saddle at the back of the elephant. I was a bit scared, because the elephant we got was so tall! I think, he's the tallest among the group. His name was Rama. Takes his time walking and sniffing the bushes. We toured the vicinity, for about 45mins. There's a pathway for them, you don't need to be alarmed that you're going off somewhere in the jungle.

During the ride, you can ask the guide, everything about the elephants and they will competently answer you. Our guide has been handling elephants for more than 15years at the Elephant Research Center in Sumatra. When the elephant park opened in Bali, he was offered to relocate with his family. Business was good, but after the infamous Bali bombings, tourists has trickled down, and affected their livelihood.

After the ride, you can have your buffet lunch at the cafe. The lunch goes with the 66 USD /pax ticket to the Safari. Good food! There's a small shop selling souvenir items. Quite pricey though. Not our typical souvenirs though, they have well-crafted trinkets made from Ivory tusks, silver, hardwood. Very nice but not within our budget!

After the Elephant Safari tour, our next itinerary was the Besakih Temple. It's about 2 hours away. Besakih is said to be the mother of all temples and it lies at the on the slopes of the mighty Mt. Agung, the tallest mountain in Bali.

On the way to Besakih Temple, we passed by Kintamani, a small town overlooking Mt. Batur. The place is similar to our Taal Volcano in the Philippines. But Mt. Batur is 5x bigger than our Taal Volcano. It's a volcano within a lake, and there is another huge mountain range that surrounds the whole thing. Really Beautiful.

The only thing that mars the whole experience are the pesky vendors that literally swamps over you, as soon as you get out of your vehicle. Extreme patience is needed here. After a few pictures, we went away because of sheer irritation.

Mt. Batur / Kintamani still has so much potential to be developed like our Taal, where the prices of real estate are now skyrocketing. In this area of Bali, I couldn't find any luxury villas. Maybe because it's far from the city.

Back to our journey to Besakih, our driver stopped to buy flowers & incense from "prayer women." She sprinkled some water on our windshield then placed several stacks of flowers on little baskets in the dashboard. She dotted our foreheads with rice while uttering prayers.

According to the driver, it's a prayer of safe journey Besakih. Nice touch. We paid 20,000 Rp but instead of giving us change of 10,000 Rp, she gave us a bag of lemons. (Her other wares, aside from prayers & flowers). But when we tasted them, it was so sour, that we blamed ourselves for being so gullible again.

 When we arrived at Besakih, they don't allow skirt or shorts in the temple, so we had to buy Sarongs. You also need to 'donate" to enter. The local organization that takes care of the temple are tough squeezing money from tourists. They will tell you, they only want money for donation, you give whatever it is you feel right. When you say, 50,000Rp. They will tell you, madam, the minimum amount that foreign tourists give us 20 Dollars." "But we're not americans or europeans. We're just from the philippines." Okay, for the two of you, you can give 10Dollars!" Talk about donation 'huh!

But my husband, who doesn't want to argue and believes in every cause ~   it's for the maintenance of the temple. He gave 200,000 Rp them for both of us. I would have wanted to bargain because our driver told us that we should give maximum give 50,000 each. But you know how it is, when your husband had made up his mind.

Besakih Temple is a sight to behold. The tall black pagodas are imposing, and gates that lead from one temple to the other, give you a peak of the next beauty.

Our guide looks tough, like one of those collecting money from us, but when he talked, he's actually a simple kind guy devoted to his religion. He tries his very best to share all things he knew about the temple in English.

The guides are not given salary by the temple, they are dependent on the tips that tourists give them, thus, they try their best to please the tourists.  They will tell you where's the best spot to take the photos, too.

I will not attempt to tell you facts & figures about the temple, because I'm not an expert on it. But let me tell you that this is a place that you cannot miss when you visit Bali! You are transported into another era.

After Besakih,we passed through Korta Gosa.  At first glance, it looks like another temple.  However,  It's actually the old Court of Justice during the Dutch colonization period. The most  remarkable features are the beautiful paintings on the ceilings. The paintings are of,  Mahabharata, the classic Hindu epic.

It's amazing those paintings are still preserved despite the location of Korta Goza, which is a busy street with much vehicular traffic.  I wish they would put glass cover on the beautiful paintings, before pollution takes its toll.

My Indonesian officemates gave me a list of where to eat and chill-out in Seminyak, the next happening-est place in Bali. We tried catching the sunset in Seminyak but we didn't make it. We went to Ku DE TA, an upscale resto and bar.  Unfortunately, they've closed off for a  private party.  We moved to  La Siola but we were turned away because we had no reservations. It was a saturday night. 

That was unfortunate, because both Kudeta & LaSiola are one of the best sunset places, fronting the beach, but the ambience are more classy than Jimbaran (the beachfront restos we went to yesterday).  Think Sofitel Philippine Plaza boardwalk. 

We're really famished so we proceeded to the next on the list. Rumours offers reasonably priced and tasteful Italian dishes. The wines are not that expensive. I had the pasta with mahi-mahi fish! Fresh and  uummy. Hubby had the Ocean Fresh spaghetti, while I ordered chicken steak for our driver.  It really pays to get recommendation from friends where to eat, we noticed that Rumours are filled with people and the other restaurants beside it are not.

I was really itching to go around Seminyak. They have very nice quaint shops. Most brands I don't recognize but they look so classy and luxurious. 

However, if you've started the day with elephant rides, climb the mountainous the slopes of Mt. Agung thru the Mother-temple...How do you expect me to have energy left, except to finish my glass of wine?

Our 3rd day in Bali.. next!!


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bali Beautiful

When you're in Indonesia, do not miss an opportunity to visit to Bali.  The world-famous island known for its beaches, spectacular sunsets and amazing Balinese culture. Admittedly, I knew very little of Bali. All I know about Bali, that it's an island in the South Pacific, frequented by Americans & Europeans.

When I was in grade school, we had a play called South Pacific, and one of the dances/ program was Bali Hai, where we performed island dances wearing grass skirts, and floral outfits. After that, my next association with Bali, comes from wedding magazines. It's a dream honeymoon destination. More recently, we associate Bali with the spate of bombings. Bali was bombed by terrorists seeking international attention in the year 2004.

I was assigned to Nu Skin Jakarta for 3 months.  My husband and I took the chance to visit Bali for a 3day holiday. The experience was more than what we expected. Cliche, as this may sound, it was truly unforgettable.

We left Jakarta on a Thursday evening, so we can have a full-three day (fri/sat/sun) in Bali. We took Air Asia costs only 2M Rupiah (220 USD) for round trip / 2 pax.  It was a great deal!  Bali has an international airport.  Even Singapore airlines, Virgin Blue have flights direct to Bali.  Garuda airlines is also cheap.

the courtyard outside our room
The left side is our room.

We stayed at a hotel called Adhi Jaya. We got a good deal also.  The cost was only 220 USD for 4nights! Considering that it's right across Discovery Mall, and in the heart of Kuta.

outside discovery mall in kuta, bali

The capital of Bali is Depansar. But most tourists, especially the backpacker kind, flock to Kuta. Kuta is a seaside town but with all the establishments, its a miniature city in itself. It's your usually touristy town with the franchised establishments like starbucks, krispy Kreme, pizza hut. The bars and discos.

But Bali is more than that. It's an amazing island, where you can find the kind of adventure that your heart desires. They not only have seaside adventures, they have mountains, volcanoes, animals, river rafting, trekking, great shopping, quaint restaurants, luxurious hotels and villas, and of course the unique Balinese culture to be experienced.

Lest, I sound like an tourist guidebook. Let me just share what we did, and encourage you to make the same journey.

My husband wants a paced-vacation. He wants to see the sights but he doesn't want to be hurried. On the other hand, I want to take-in and experience everything! This being the case, we always compromise.  One day of unhurried, vegetative - bliss, and the next 2days, zooming from one place to the next.

Our first day was spent in Nusa Dua, a nearby town where the beaches are more calm and appropriate for swimming.  This is a swimming spot.  In Kuta, the waves are a bit strong.  Kuta is surfing beach while Nusa Sua are more laid-back.  It's about 20mins from Kuta to Nusa Dua.  We took a cab. 

From a couple who honeymooned in Boracay Island, Philippines. We consider Boracay, to have the best beach. Baoracay sands are more fine-grained and super white.  Cool on the feet even at 12noon.  Nothing beats Boracay. 

In Nusa Dua, the sands are bit bigger and there are seaweeds on the shores. But my standard's too high, i know. Don't mind me, the beaches in Nusa Dua is truly wonderful!  It is not congested like Boracay, and the beachfront are long and huge.

When you get off Nusa Dua beachside, you may be approached by well-meaning operators of seaside adventures like banana boat, para-sailing, diving, jet ski, snorkeling. They will ask you to sit and listen a bit. But they are not pushy. Just tell them that you want to look around first and come back if you change your mind.

The thing i notice about Balinese people, from bellboys, cab drivers and waiters. They're very suave in handling tourists. They're not pushy at all. They usually ask you, where you come from, they will thank you first for coming to Bali, ask how long you're planning to stay, and is it for honeymoon?

Then, they segue to ask if you have already arranged a guide to take you around. They will say all of this, without volonteering themselves or their services. When you have already paid the cab fare, that's when they give you their business card. Finesse, I must say!

Back to Nusa Dua, there were very, very few people while we were there. We had the beach to ourselves! When we encounter tourists, they're mostly Caucasians, tanning themselves to brown perfection.

We had some light foods at a small resto called Kendi Kuning.  Unlike parts of  Jakarta, Bali serves pork.  They even have lechon (roasted sucking pig)! 

We played around the beachfront of Club Med. They have beautiful facilities. We just wish next time we can be booked there! But i heard it's so darn expensive.

After awhile, we checked out a the small market in Nusa Dua. But we did not buy anything, since we planned a shopping expedition already on a much cheaper place called Sukawati.

Afternoon snacks was at a small patisserie called Bali Unique.  Nothing fancy.  They serve usual western and european snacks.

For dinner, we set-off to Jimbaran, a town known for its beachfront restaurants,  glorious seafoods and amazing sunset views.   By the way,  nice to know,  Nusa Dua is a Sunrise beach, while Jimbaran is a Sunset beach!  Those little infos, will help you maximize your visits accordingly.

restaurants by the shore

Jimbaran has a series of similarly-built restaurants facing the sea. The cab driver took as to a restaurant called Seaside view. The view didn't disappoint.  Fantastic location. We also noticed that Seaside View,  is the establishment with guests coming in the most.  It was a relaxing moment, waiting for the sunset, deciding what to order, and taking time with our beer bottles. 

When the sun slowly sets, all the guests took out their cameras and started zapping away. It's one of the most beautiful sunset that I've ever seen in my entire life!

 Sunsets in my hometown,  Aroroy, Masbate is also great.  But here in Bali, you can see the full ball figure casting its yellow orange glow on the horizon.  Sooo beautiful.  Words are cheap.  You have to be there and really experience it! The pictures cannot capture the experience.

 After the sunset thrill, we attacked our food.   The food costs is a bit pricey though.  But we're on vacation!  So, we had lobsters, squid, snapper.  Fresh and Yummy! 

During dinner,   a roving acoustic band,  goes from table to table.   They're really experts in entertaining everyone.   They ask  where you're from, say a few words in your language, and ask for the song you want. 

When I requested for a Filipino song, they sang, the classic song by Freddie Aguilar, Anak.  This is the second time I encountered that song here in Indonesia. The first one was a remix version in Taman Ancol while the false killer whales were performing.

You have to give a tip.  I think we've tainted our race forever, with the amount of tip we gave. Hahaha. We were the only Asians there, most are Caucasians, specifically Aussies.

Hey, that's just our 1st day!! There's 2nd & 3rd days to come!

 'till next adventure!


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One Fine Day in Taman Ancol, Jakarta

If you're in Jakarta on a weekend, and has gotten tired of the massive and droolling malls, you can always go to Taman Ancol. It's a themepark near the coastal area about 1hour away.

It's advisable to take a private car. But if you're adventurous souls like us, you can always take the busway. Busway is the main transportation mode in jakarta, operates like a metro rail but utilizes bus with just a special allocated lane on the road.

Be sure to print a copy of the routes, or what they call corridors of the busway. Get it from the internet. You will need it since going there will entail a few transfers from one busway corridor to another.

The nearest busway station from our place is Karet. From Karet, we went straight to the last station of Kota. I've been in that station before, when we went shopping to ManggaDua. (But it's another story altogether)From kota station, just take a cab going to Taman Ancol. It's only 10 minutes away.

We were there too early. Apparently, even on a Sunday, theme parks here opens at 11am. The Taman Ancol is an immense beachfront property. There are actually 4 themeparks within Ancol. There's Dufan (roller coaster rides & the like), Atlantis (pool area & slides for swimming), Samudra (dolphins sea lion shows, animal actors, 4D theaters) and Sea World (various huge aquariums with all sorts of strange fishes.)

Each of these parks is huge, and is a themepark in itself with separate entrance fees. Since my hubby & I aren't keen on rides, and we are reserving our swimming for our weekend in Bali, we decided to go for Samudra & Seaworld.

Samudra will cost you about 70,000 Rp and Sea World a little less. Compared to themeparks in the Philippines, this is cheaper. The first program we watched is the Dolphin Show. For awhile I felt what animal activists felt, when i went inside the tent of the dolphin show. The pool for the dolphins are really cramped, and since the place is hot. I bet the waters are hot, too.

There was a dolphin show in Ortigas, Pasig, Philippines before, which drew a lot of protests from animal activitists. But the dolphins in Ocean Adventure in Subic Bay, is better. They are kept in cages, that are in the sea itself. So, the dolphins have more room to move around.

I hope since Ancol is near the sea, they must have a channel where the dolphins can swim in a more open area.

They have several dolphins. The cutest are the false killer whales. They're huge and scary, but when they do their tricks, they look so cute. Funny trivia, the trainers do their tricks with the animals, with accompanying music. The music was a remix version of Freddie Aguilar's classic song, Anak! It's very popular here, and this will not be the last time, we will encounter that song! Everyone was grooving to the Bahasa lyrics.

Other interesting shows were the Sea Lion Show, the 4D theater (the one playing is called Creatures of the Deep), Variety of animals (birds, dogs etc.) doing tricks, they also have a small room filled with aquarium of fishes, but its not really that impressive. My hubby & i just went inside to rest in the sofas of the air-conditioned aquarium.

If you've been to Disneyland in the US and/or Ocean Park in Hongkong like us, you will be hard-pressed to be impressed with the facilities of Taman Ancol. However, taking-out your biases aside, Ancol is a great place to spend a weekend, with your kids or friends, if you need something new to do and see in Jakarta.