2014 Bali and Lombok: Back to Bali and Goodbyes

Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

The boat ride back to Bali from the Gili Islands was one of the worst experiences of my life. To be clear, I come from an island nation (NZ) and am no stranger to ferries, water-taxis, even jet-boats. Shortly before my trip to Indonesia, there had been a couple of nasty boat accidents in the area, resulting in tourists stranded or drowned, and I suppose that was in my mind, which didn’t help this dreadful day. The sole criticism I have for our wonderful tour leader Sandi is that he didn’t impress on us what this boat trip was going to be like.

We boarded the upper deck of the boat, rather than the cabin below, thinking to enjoy the breeze and a last view of the islands. Sandi warned us that we would get wet, which we gaily accepted, thinking he meant a bit of sea spray. However, not long after we left shore, the boat was flying at incredible speed and waves were literally crashing over us, threatening to knock us overboard – a fate which, at that speed, would surely have been fatal. The only railing around the deck was shin-height, and we clung to this on our hands and knees as we struggled to make our way against the whipping wind to reach the ladder at the rear of the boat. My bag containing my camera and other belongings was with me, and completely saturated. One at a time, gasping for panicked breaths, we made our way down the ladder to the shelter below.

We landed in a sodden pile on the lower deck, to the bemusement of the passengers who had wisely taken seats in the cabin from the beginning. I found a seat next to my lovely room-mate Claire, but the worst of the trip was not yet over. Due to the ridiculous speed at which the captain held the boat, we flew upwards on each wave crest and thumped down a few seconds later with such great violence that I was sure the hull would fracture any second and we would all go to a watery grave. There was no land in sight, and for the first time in my life I pulled out the lifejacket from under my seat, in order to stand a chance of survival in the open ocean. Clutching this (and Claire’s hand), tears rolled down my cheeks as I prepared to meet my end. To add insult to injury, the onboard playlist consisted of Kenny Rogers and Bryan Adams.

Ok, this all probably sounds very melodramatic, but I assure you it was SHIT SCARY. I strongly recommend anyone travelling by boat in Indonesia NOT to take the high-speed option.

I had a huge wash of relief when Bali was visible at last, and even more when the captain slowed down  his death-vessel for the harbour. The rest of the day I remained pretty grim and shaken…you know something is bad when a Kiwi can’t laugh it off with a “She’ll be right, mate. No worries!”.

Back in Bali, we stayed at the same hotel in Sanur in which we met our group for the first time. We had our final dinner as a group at a European restaurant a short drive away – I had a snapper steak on creamy fettucine.

The next day, people started to drift off to the airport at various times. I was lucky enough to have a little extra time with some friends who didn’t fly out until the evening, and we went for a walk from the hotel down to Sanur beach.


One of the ubiquitous offerings, fallen or cast away from a nearby shrine.


A pile of old offerings.


A typical street in Sanur.




A protest poster. The Indonesian government had promised to protect the mangrove forests in the area, but reneged on that promise in order to build a bridge.


Some typical prices for beauty treatments in Bali. !0,000 Rp is about 1 NZD.


A shrine at someone’s driveway.


Protesters down at Sanur beach.


The boulevard on Sanur beach, these are food stalls.


Stalls selling crappy souvenirs and clothing to tourists.



After our walk, we headed back to the hotel to lounge by the pool one last time.


And who could blame us?


This is a yoghurt-milk drink which was really delicious. I eat a lot of yoghurt at home, and this was the closest I could find in Bali.


Nasi Goreng for lunch.

When my companions departed in the late afternoon, I checked out and made my way by taxi to my next hotel, in Kuta. I had been warned by all my NZ friends who had been to Bali before me to avoid Kuta. For this reason, naturally I had to check it out myself. And they were right, it is a ghastly place, completely out of touch with the rest of Bali and colonised by Australians. Basically, I imagine the kind of people who holiday in Kuta want to say they’ve travelled, but don’t really want to go to Asia and aren’t willing to do without any of the conveniences of home.


Exhibit A: a Western-style beach-front strip of shiny restaurants and shops.


The crowded beach.


Like, are we in Australia?




Oh wait no, too many scooters for Aus.


Off the main strip it looks a tiny bit more authentic – here’s a street of clothing stalls.


Of course there’s a Hard Rock Cafe. And Starbucks.


Signs advertising large sizes for large Australians.


All right, I guess the beach entrance is quite pretty.

My rather poor impression of Kuta wasn’t helped when my room-service pizza for dinner took 2 hours to arrive. I had a quiet evening in, watching Man of Steel and killing the mosquitos inhabiting my room.





2014 Bali and Lombok: The Gili Islands

Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

It’s impossible not to relax on the Gili  Islands. The creamy sand and turquoise water are picture perfect and the temperature is sweet. There are no cars, no concrete, no crowds, no worries. The only forms of transportation are legs, horse-drawn carts or bicycles. Although I imagine cycling on the sand would be pretty strenuous, so it’s probably better to just walk.


The main “road”.


One of the delightful shaded couches at the hotel. Paradise, no?

The  day after our group arrived on Gili Air, we embarked on a day-long boat trip to visit the other Gilis and snorkel in their bays. Our first stop was off the coast of Gili T, where we snorkelled off the boat. The sea was warm but pretty choppy, which made it harder work to avoid inhaling seawater and decreased visibility depth a bit. Nonetheless, we spent a happy half hour or so paddling around and saw a sea turtle and some nice fish and coral. We met up on shore afterwards for a welcome coffee break in a fabulous pavilion.


It was a glass-bottomed boat.


As an engineer, I was very impressed by the cafe pavilion.


Outside the cafe. Glorious.

Next stop was just off Gili Meno. I decided to sit out this snorkelling session, as I was a little tired from the first one, being a mediocre swimmer.


Some of the group in the crystalline blue.


The view from the boat.


The sand on Gili Meno. Chunks of coral litter the sand on all the Gilis – picturesque but a little uncomfortable on bare feet.


This turtle sanctuary is one of the main attactions on Gili Meno. They are quite cute little things!


This guy was injured (his shell was cracked) in a collision with a boat, so he is here to recuperate.


Little cuties!


When the turtles are large enough to survive in the ocean they are released. Tourists can pay a donation to the sanctuary to release one themselves, which is what these guys are doing.


Striking a pose in the main street on Gili Meno.


The transportation options on the Gilis. Some of these poor horses were so scrawny their hips jutted out, it was very sad.

We arrived back on Gili Air in the afternoon a bit pooped from all the sun, snorkelling and salty air. After a group dinner and an expedition for dessert (mousse, yum!), most of us hit the hay.

The next day we were free to amuse ourselves. Some friends and I decided to circumnavigate the island, a walk which takes about an hour and a half at a brisk pace. It was ferociously hot, so we armed ourselves with water bottles and took it at a gentler speed in order to enjoy our surroundings.


So…yeah. There were many places openly selling magic mushrooms or weed. A little odd for Indonesia, where drug offences are punishable by death! But I guess the Gilis have a law unto themselves.


Boats in a little cove.


Not just magic mushrooms, “fucking bloody fresh” ones!


Yet another beach around the corner.


The trail around the island once you get outside the hotel and restaurant strip.


Some locals. Not much grass for them here…


The walk was sometimes hard going on the soft sand and coral, but isn’t it pretty?

Once we got back to the hotel, we had a lazy afternoon by the pool. After that was our final dinner as a group on the Gilis, before we headed back to Bali and went our separate ways.


Sunset that evening. I imagine it looks like this most evenings, really.


Our table on the beach.


Some of the lovely ladies of the group and I.

We ended the night with cocktails and dancing on the beach at a big party at a Bob Marley themed bar. It was awesome.



2014 Bali and Lombok: Senaru to the Gili Islands

 Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

We had a half-day of activities organised for us in and around Senaru, after which we were to make our way to the little Gili Islands. Our guide for the morning was a young local woman called Resi, who belonged to an organisation promoting womens’ rights and education in Lombok. Apparently gender equality in the strictly Islamic Lombok is very poor, and women are definitely second class citizens. Men can have multiple wives, and almost everyone gets married before the age of 20. Apparently the Indonesian government is addressing equality as an issue, and aims to have 30% women in government roles, but I guess that attitude takes a while to filter through to the islands.

While I’m on the topic of marriage, here are some interesting tidbits regarding marriage in Bali and Lombok, as explained to us by our guide Sandi. In Bali these days couples mainly marry for love, rather than by arrangement. It is customary for the man to kidnap the woman, then go to her family to apologise. The wedding ceremony is 3 days later (I don’t recall getting any details on what happens during those 3 days…). Wedding guests all bring a little food and money, which allows the couple to get married even if they have no money, and even live off these proceeds for 6 months or longer. This community spirit of everyone pitching in is the same for funerals.

In contrast, in Lombok the woman is purchased from her family with livestock as the payment. Resi said a woman of noble blood would cost 12 buffalos, and a regular woman would cost 6. Despite the high cost of getting married, divorces are common. Resi told us that her nephew was married at 12, divorced and remarried at 14.

Anyway, back to our day. A traditional stick fighting demonstration was to be staged for us in the forecourt of the hotel. The contestants are each armed with a wooden shield and a long cane, and fight wearing only sarongs. The canes whip through the air and make terrifically loud “crack!”s when they meet the opponent’s shield, making it a fairly dramatic spectacle. Some sore-looking welts formed on the bare chests and backs of the fighters, to which Resi applied some healing ointment.


Two local stick fighters in their opening stance, with the referee between them.


The fight begins!


Getting up close and personal.


One of our group bravely volunteered to give it a go.

After this excitement, we boarded the bus and headed for Resi’s home village, where she showed us around. 94 people still live there, and their way of life is very traditional and (to be frank) bloody hard work. They have no electricity, running water or toilets. Resi explained that they do their business in the trees nearby and bury it, marking the place with a rock to warn the next person heading out there. They use the plants and trees growing around the village for their tools, containers, building materials, medicines, and toiletries. It’s really interesting and ingenious in many ways, and I think that we Westerners can learn from societies like this. However on the flipside, the villagers are so mistrustful of strange modern technology that Resi had to beg a man there to let his terribly sick pregnant wife go to hospital for treatment.


Resi gives us some details of the village.


Apparently these houses are more earthquake resistant than most modern buildings.


A shrine.


Inside one of the houses. Families sleep in tiered bunks, on the floor, in any available space really.


Resi shows us the leaves that people use to clean their teeth, and/or chew for a stimulant effect. They stain the teeth bright red though, so not ideal.


One of the village inhabitants.


I think these are coffee beans drying in the sun, although the colour is a bit strange for coffee…


Resi demonstrating how to use soap nuts.


They actually lather, it’s quite cool.


There is a small child asleep in this sling.


The other side of the village.


A trough where rice is ground by hand to remove the outer husks.

From the village, we travelled a short distance for a wee hike down to a waterfall. This path, unlike many we’d seen, was paved and relatively wide, like our walkways at home. The reason for this was that the waterfall, which falls for 100 m or so, is popular both with locals and those from further afield as a therapeutic treatment for rheumatism.


The path down to the waterfall.


Resi shows us a centipede…ugh.


They have silver ferns too! So much for the NZ national emblem, we aren’t unique after all.


Some shelters near the waterfall, I guess for people who spend the whole day here.


It was an impressive height for sure.


Some monks taking in the waters. They are about as close as you can get to the waterfall without bruising.

Most of us got changed and went for a wade into the waterfall, which was wonderfully refreshing but extremely powerful. The force of the water coming down is such that there’s no  way you can stand directly under the flow, and even a couple of meters away it stings the skin like hail. On a hot day like that it felt great though.

Our morning activities completed, we drove to the harbour and boarded a small boat to make the 45 minute trip across to the Gili Islands. There are 3 main Gili Islands: Gili Air (where we stayed), Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. It was a lovely clear and bright day, and the sea was gentle for our crossing.


One of our crew.


Group photo!


Another little boat making the crossing. I think the mountains in the background are Bali.


One of the Gili Islands we passed.


The water was amazingly clear!

Here we were to spend 3 nights of tropical bliss. There are no automobiles on the Gilis, just bicycles and horse-drawn carts, although the poor condition of the horses we saw meant we didn’t want to use them. Instead, we lugged our bags a couple of kilometres down the footpath (which was soft sand) to our hotel. There was a main stretch about 2.5 km long lined with little bars, restaurants and shops, but that was  the only “street”. It was pretty damn amazing.

2014 Bali and Lombok: Goodbye Bali, Hello Lombok!

 Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

We left Candidasa bright and early, bound for the nearby port and our ferry to Lombok. The bus dropped us off a few hundred meters from the terminal, and we carried our luggage the rest of the way on foot. Various young men approached us offering to carry our bags for a fee, but our guide Sandi warned us that they were a rip-off. Once we finally boarded the ferry, it was more than an hour before we departed. The ferry itself was surprisingly tidy, and I was pleased to see large cabinets full of life jackets right next to where we were sitting. We passed the time during the gentle 4 hour journey reading, chatting, and swapping unhealthy snacks.

From the moment we left the ferry terminal in Lombok, the differences between this island and Bali were obvious. While Bali is predominantly Hindu, Lombok is mainly Muslim, and most of the women we passed wore hijabs. Lombok is less densely populated, less touristy, and relies largely on agriculture. The buildings were plainer in style, although they often featured bright coloured paint – this in contrast to the fairly uniform orange and ornately carved grey stone of Bali. Sandi told us that Lombok is known as the “land of 1000 mosques”, and certainly we drove past a very great many of them, from quite small and simple ones to very grand and beautiful structures.


Some shop fronts we passed near the ferry terminal.


A Lombok street corner.

We arrived at our hotel in Tetebatu mid-afternoon, to a nice welcome from the friendly staff. After dropping our things in our rooms, I set out for a walk down the road with a few buddies. We didn’t have any particular destination in mind, but it was a very pretty area full of rice paddies and little plantations, so we fancied exploring a bit. One of our group recalled that he’d heard something about a waterfall in the area, so we followed a stream down some little lanes to see if we could find it. Dotted here and there amongst the lush grass either side of the path were piles of rubbish, or burning rice husks. In our random wanderings, we crossed paths a couple of times with a local man going about his business. A few minutes later, he came back and told us to follow him for some nice views.


Our hotel in Tetebatu.


A lovely building across the street from the hotel.

We were a little dubious about following a stranger further away from the hotel, but we did outnumber him, and he seemed pretty genuine. He led us uphill through bush, dense plantations and around rice paddies in a route that we couldn’t have possibly found ourselves. As we walked, he pointed out various crops and wild trees such as coffee, cacao, various fruits. Evening was fast approaching and we didn’t know how long a walk this gentleman had in mind, so we explained (a touch anxiously) that we had to be back at our hotel before dark. Fortunately, after only 15 minutes or so, we climbed one last muddy hill to reach our destination. A stunning view over rice paddies and jungle lay below us.


Beautiful. The labour that those hand-dug terraced paddies represent is staggering.


Looking the other way from our viewpoint.

We profusely thanked our impromptu tour guide. We never got his name, but gathered from our little small talk that he was local to this area, but had just returned from Malaysia, where he went for seasonal work. Once we’d taken some photos of the view, he took us back to the main road and pointed the way back to the hotel. We had an awkward moment where we wondered if we should tip the man in thanks, but he didn’t seem to expect anything, he just headed on his way.

The next day we were to have another very similar tour, as it turned out, only this one was official. Our guide was a short local with a toothy grin and an amusing turn of phrase. When showing us the Lombok chillis that the island is named for, he pronounced them “Bloody super spicy!” We walked through rice paddies and saw how the locals gathered their crop, then through some larger chilli plantations. We also had a peek inside one of the farming family’s thatched houses. It was incredibly simple, with no electricity or running water and basically no furniture, and it was far from weather-tight.


Breakfast at the hotel – a tiny portion of rubbery cold scrambled eggs and two pieces of toast.


Rice fields and their workers.


More rice fields.


A pile of freshly cut rice.


A plantation of chilis.


We walked along the narrow grassed borders around the plantations, trying not to slip into the mud.


Rice paddies and a worker.


A group photo.


A view from one of the higher fields.


Inside a farming family’s home.


The kitchen.

As we were heading back to the bus, we spotted a little girl climbing high up in a tree to gather fruit. Sandi said that it was unusual for girls to do this kind of climbing – usually it’s their brothers. They coaxed the little girl down to show us her fruit, which were strange sour cherry-like things.


Can you see her?

Once we finished our country walk, we hopped back on the bus and headed to a village of local Sasak people. The people of this village were known for their weaving skills, so we were here to see them in action. The buildings of the village were plain but sturdy, much more comfortable than the farmers’ hut we saw earlier. One of the gentlemen of the village took us on a stroll through the village, where we saw many women of different ages sitting on their porches, busily clattering away on wooden looms. It was impressive, those are some very skilled ladies!


The street outside the Sasak village.



The entrance to the village.


Our village guide leading us down one of their internal streets.


…and down alleys.


The village well – I think their only source of fresh water.


Hanks of freshly dyed cotton drying.


One of the oldest weavers of the village.


Our guide showing us a cloth in progress on an unattended loom.

We were subsequently ushered into a display room draped with hundreds of gorgeous brightly coloured cloths and scarves. In the middle of this room were set some long dining tables, and a banquet table laden with our lunch, cooked by other villagers. The food was AMAZING. We spent the meal admiring the scarves, and in the end I purchased a lovely bright pink and gold one.


Finished cloths in the showroom.


Our lunch tables.


DSCF0562 Some cloths up close.


Lunch! Pictured: veges with peanut sauce, veges with cooconut, spinach with tomato sauce, egg curry, fried chicken, jackfruit curry, fried vegetables and tofu and of course prawn crackers.


After lunch we boarded our bus once more and set off on a fairly long drive to our accommodation for the night. The variety of landscapes we passed through was pretty amazing – from lush green rural fields to dry safari-like areas, to hilly forests. En route we had one stop at an East coast beach to stretch our legs and take in the view. A car-load of Javanese guys were stopped at the same time, and they were all over us wanting to take photos with our group. They made me a bit uncomfortable to be honest, so I stayed clear.

Our hotel for the evening was in Senaru high in the hills, with a magnificent view over a forest and toward some volcanoes. Once darkness fell, we could clearly see a red lava-like glow on the slope of the largest mountain. Sandi explained that  it was actually a seasonal forest fire, and nothing to worry about. We were told to be wary of the monkeys of the area and not leave any belongings outside. I did a tiny bit of yoga on the little balcony outside our room during our free time before dinner, but soon gave up because of the mosquitos.

Dinner at the hotel restaurant was very nice, and quite reasonably priced. I had nasi campur (25,000 rupiah) and a spicy fried fish (40,000 rupiah). So far, food in Lombok was proving better than that we had in Bali.


Looking down from our room over the hotel garden.


View towards the mountains. I think one of them is Mt Rinjani.

2014 Bali and Lombok: Candidasa and Thereabouts

Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

Our first evening in Candidasa, we really embraced the summer holiday spirit, starting with a refreshing swim in the hotel pool. After we dried off, some of us gathered beside the pool for a yoga lesson from our guide Sandi. Now, I do yoga at home and really love it, so had been looking forward to taking a class in Bali. When I mentioned this to Sandi, he said that it was possible but pricey, but that he would be happy to lead us in a class for free. This was really kind of him, so I and many others from the group accepted his offer. We took the cushions off the sun-loungers to use as yoga mats, and squeezed into the space available. Sandi led us in breathing and meditating on various thoughts…but there was no yoga. At least, not as I’m used to it – you know, with stretching, exercises and sweating.


The hotel pool, complete with sunken bar.


The view from the restaurant.

After our very gentle ‘yoga’ session, we gathered in the hotel restaurant for a seafood bbq dinner. The seafood was nicely done, but the buffet of salads and sides to go with it was pretty limited, and the dessert consisted of cake cut into inch cubes. By my standards, you would need at least 10 of those to make a dessert. We were however treated to a lovely Balinese dance performance. These dancers were less rigidly disciplined in their movements and more flowing, so it didn’t seem as strange and clockwork-doll-like as the show we saw in Ubud.


Beautiful Balinese dancers.

After dinner we headed down the empty and darkened main street to find a bar for a drink. There wasn’t a lot of choice, with only a couple of places open on that night, and we stopped only briefly at a quirky American-themed place with rude slogans on the wall behind the bar and a sticky drinks menu.

The next day, we had a tough decision to make: take a taxi to the nearby white sand beaches for a full day of sunbathing and swimming, or visit some nearby cultural spots with Sandi, before heading to the beach later in the day. I’m not much of a beach babe, so eagerly joined 3 others from our group in soaking up some culture. Our first stop was at a special village. It is very old, traditional, and self-governing. The people of the village are ethnically distinct from most Balinese, with roots in India. Their headman has given leadership training to some significant world leaders – Sandi threw out a few names, but I didn’t write them down quickly enough to remember. The people of the village make a living from tourist entry fees (it was a few dollars to go in), and from selling traditional arts and crafts. As we went in, there were a couple of gentlemen selling beautiful  artworks made by painstakingly scratching pictures onto prepared dry palm fronds, and rubbing them with charcoal. Their designs are marvellously intricate, and they can create many degrees of shading. The pieces for sale were lovely, but quite expensive. I pondered whether or not to buy one for the duration of our visit, and in the end left with a small scroll depicting a wise goddess, for about $50.


The main building of the village, where gatherings are held, and the dead laid out for funerals.


Brightly painted roosters in baskets…I suspect for cock-fighting.


A view down one of the village streets.


One of the village houses. These houses have been built and re-built over many years, so Sandi was able to point out layers using different building techniques.

Inside one of the village houses, we met with an old school friend of Sandi’s, who makes textiles using painstaking ancient methods. In his dark and dusty workroom he showed us the raw cotton, freshly dyed threads (in a limited range of colours due to the use of only natural dyes), his loom, and mountains of finished cloths ranging in size from tablerunners to bedspreads. His family has been doing this for a long time, and amongst the samples of his own work that he showed us were pieces made by his grandmother 80 years earlier. I was impressed by the amount of labour required to produce the cloth, but didn’t buy any.


A shrine in a tree.


Sandi posing for us on one of the village streets.


One of the little hens wandering about the place.


An impressive building technique with little ‘pumpkins’ of clay.


A magic mushroom. Sandi spotted a lady carrying a great log of firewood, which had this growing on it.


The ticket office for the village.

After we had finished wandering around the village, we drove a short distance to the place where Sandi grew up. His family lived behind their little shop, which is now run by his sister. We stopped to say hello, and she very hospitably served us coffee and boiled peanuts.


Our little excursion group for the day.

Our next stop was at a ‘water palace’ built by a king for his many concubines. It was a very beautiful and peaceful place, it was easy to imagine princesses dangling their feet in the water. Warning: many photos to follow.


The first of many fantastic carved stone animals we saw.




A donkey and a peacock watch over the gardens.


One of the large pools, with nicely spaced stepping stones.


A dreamy dragon bridge and its reflection.


One more because it’s pretty.


Pagodas and pavilions in the distance.


A very fine fountain.


Yet another peaceful pool.


I love this romantic light effect.


Not sure if this is a ruin, or just a decorative gateway…but I like it.


Dragon detail on a rooftop.


An elevated view.


Some slightly peculiar guardians, I think they are dancers in fantastical costumes.


Another such one.


Looking back towards the entrance across the largest pool.


Me on one of the dragon bridges.


Fountains in the large central path.


A closer view of one of the dragon bridges.

After we finished exploring the dreamy water palace, we headed back to our van. In the carpark were some stalls selling souvenirs, snacks and fruit. We were getting a little peckish, so decided to try some of the more exotic fruits that we’d been seeing. First on the menu was snake fruit, which is tear-drop shaped, about the size of a plum, and covered in brown scales. The scaley skin peels off to reveal a white fruit with a crunchy texture and crisp taste, most similar to a tart apple, but leaving the mouth peculiarly dry after eating it. Overall, not bad.

Next up was durian (which looks like a blow-fish). I’d seen them occasionally in Asian supermarkets back home, and was familiar with their dreadful garbage smell from my earlier travels in Asia, but hadn’t yet tried one. We bought a small tray of the mushy yellow flesh, and I gingerly took the smallest pinch I could manage, trying not to gag at the smell. People had told me that durian tastes better than it smells, but I can assure you that that is a complete lie. It was superficially sweet, but carried with it a truly vile taste of onions and rotten cheese, which repeated on me for literally hours. Disgusting!

Our van took us along a very bumpy road to join the rest of our tour group on the white sand beach nearest Candidasa, I don’t know what it was called exactly.


Glorious! The water was really warm and inviting, nothing like here in NZ.


At the top of the beach was a little row of bars and restaurants, with sun umbrellas and loungers in front of them.


It was a fairly sheltered bay.

After lunch at a beach restaurant and a swim, we found ourselves some loungers to relax on. Balinese women wandered between the sunbathers offering in situ massages for a pretty reasonable price. Unfortunately, they didn’t easily take no for an answer if you weren’t keen on a massage right then, and pestered us for most of the time we were there.

After a couple of hours, we packed our things and headed back to the hotel in Candidasa for a special treat – complimentary tea or coffee and Balinese sweets beside the pool. There were a range of different sweets on offer, all variations on the theme of cane sugar, coconut, banana and rice. I liked the mainly banana ones best.


Afternoon tea.


Another gorgeous sunset that evening.


A view from beside the pool at dusk.

2014 Bali and Lombok: Ubud to Candidasa

Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

After our exceptionally busy schedule the day before, I decided to spend my free day in Ubud relaxing, while most of our group went off on a river rafting adventure. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, I went for a wander up and down the main streets of the town, seeing what there was to be seen. Like in Sanur, the streets were cracked and in need of maintenance, but there was less rubbish and somehow the town felt more charming than chaotic. I ventured down some alleys to find some market streets selling art and crafts, sarongs, and souvenirs. I was quite impressed by the art that I saw all around, but I asked our guide Sandi about it later and he recommended not to buy it, as most of what one sees is forged from artists who never see any profit from their work. I guess if you were serious about supporting local artists, you’d need to talk to a reputable dealer.


The view from my patio at the hotel, just lovely.


The Three Monkeys restaurant, where I stopped for lunch.


One of the little market lanes. Sandi reckons most of the stalls are manned by locals by unwritten law, which is good.


More stalls. Scooters were zipping everywhere, usually with tourists on them – it pays to watch out!


Back on Monkey Forest Rd. Those cars are parked, by the way, leaving the equivalent of one lane for two directions of traffic.

I didn’t find anything in the markets that I wanted enough to try and cram in my luggage, so stopped in a cafe for an iced coffee before heading back to the hotel. I spent the afternoon doing some yoga on my patio, swimming in the pool and reading a book. Lazy bliss! Well, aside from the monkeys. Unlike the monkeys on Mt Batur, which were relatively well behaved, these were little demons who emerged from the trees around the pool to steal things and occasionally attack people. Our hotel was just down the street from the Monkey Forest, a sanctuary for them, so they were present in great numbers and the security guards spent most of their time chasing them off.

That evening our group reconvened for dinner at the famous Ibu Rai restaurant. Ibu Rai was a local lady who had a humble food stall in the market where she produced such expectional food that she eventually earned the funds to start this restaurant, which is now run by her family. And truly, it was fabulous! I had a prawn laksa, which was absolutely perfect, not too rich but full of flavour. After dinner some of us headed to a cake shop for dessert, while others headed to a nearby nightclub for some partying. Ubud is so compact that there’s heaps to do within a couple of hundred metres’ walk.

The next morning we set out for the largest temple in Bali, Besakih. I should mention that whenever we went for extended bus journeys, we stopped perodically at convenience stores to use their restrooms. I’m guessing that’s because there are no public facilities, or if there are, our guide preferred not to take us there. Sandi called a bathroom by the translation of the Indonesian name for it – a ‘happy room’, which I thought was cute and quite fitting. Most of the ‘happy rooms’ we encountered were western style, which I found surprising but nice.

Upon arriving in the vicinity of Besakih, those who didn’t already own sarongs had to buy or rent them from some stalls in the carpark – even the men must wear them in this holy place. We left the carpark and walked up a sloping path to reach the main gates. From a distance it isn’t apparent how large and impressive the temple is, as behind its walls there are different sections and towers, and many smaller shrines. The whole thing climbs up the slope of a hill, so there are different levels to explore.


Sandi wore his traditional clothes to visit Besakih – here he strikes a Balinese dance pose.


One of the walled sections of the temple. Some were open to tourists, others were only for worshipers.


A guardian at one side of the path.


A group photo on the most impressive tower. Such an amazing place!


There were a couple of little dogs hanging out at the temple – this one was a cutie.


This section is a plateau part-way up the hill. We stopped here, removed our shoes, and sat down cross-legged on the warm stone to meditate for a few minutes, led by Sandi. Afterwards, rice was put on our foreheads with a little water.


Little shrines dotted about on different sections and plateaux.


Looking down on another section.


A perfect hibiscus, on one of the trees dotted about the place.


I think these are prayer flags? Or else symbolic of heaven…


You can see the temple towers going off into the distance – it really covers a large area!


Another dog napping peacefully.


Moi. Here we are at the top of the hill, the best lookout over the temple.


Looking down one path leading up the hill.

It was really a special place. Having said that, once we got to the highest plateau, we found little stalls aggressively trying to sell us souvenirs. That’s part of the deal when you visit places that appeal to tourists, but it does take away from the peaceful experience. A little girl of about 7  was attached to one of the stalls, and trying her best to sell us anything she could. Sandi showed us how clever she was by asking her questions in a number of different languages – all of which she could answer. I thought it was a bit concerning that she wasn’t in school, with such a fine brain! To my horror, I accidentally stepped on her foot when I had been gazing at the view and not noticed her come up behind me…poor child.

When we were finished at Besakih, we climbed back onto the bus and headed toward the coast, our destination: Candidasa.


This was our hotel, glorious!



2014 Bali and Lombok: Mt Batur to Ubud

Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

This was one busy day! We got up at 3am in order to leave the hotel at 3:30am, so that we could climb Mt Batur to see the sunrise. The tour company arranged for us to have one local guide per four of us, thus enabling us to take the better, less travelled path up the mountain. I understand that access to this path is controlled by the local conservation society who hire out the guides. We were picked up from the hotel by cars, which took us for about half an hour through the pitch black, very bumpy forest until we reached our starting point. Wielding torches and carrying backpacks with water for the hike, we set out. I must emphasize, it was very dark, so it was really good having so many guides to keep us all together.

The early part of the hike was pretty easy, a mild upwards slope in the forest. However, once we left the tree line behind, it got steeper and steeper. I’m a tall woman with long legs, but some of the steps up and over boulders were a stretch, so I felt for the shorter ladies of our group. Eventually the boulders gave way to a steep gravel slope, where it seemed that we slid backwards a step for every two we took. By this point we were all a bit sweaty, despite the cool pre-dawn air. Finally we reached a lookout plateau, where there was a wooden shelter over some long tables.We could see strings of torch-light on the main path below us, as hoards of tourists trailed up.  Some of our group stayed here, a bit tuckered out, while the rest of us pressed on up the last, terrifically steep stretch.


Whew, we made it!


Turns out my camera can do a pretty decent panorama. There are two mountains superimposed here: Mt Abang and Mt Agung.


A view down to the right, I’m guessing the edge of a crater.


You can just see the town through the mist.

When the sun was well up and we’d had our fill of the spectacular view, we made our way down to join the rest of our group on the lower landing, where our breakfast awaited. Our guides had prepared boiled bananas, fried egg sandwiches, mandarins and tea or coffee for us. Nice food, but there were masses of flies around, which always makes food look a little unappetising, so much went untouched. In Bali milk is pretty scarce, so we had to get used to taking our hot beverages strong and black.

Once we’d finished, we set of back down the great hill. I’m pretty uncoordinated and have a talent for skidding, so landed hard on my backside twice while picking my way down the gravel slope. I earned a nice lumpy bruise on my hip which stayed with me about a week, but it could have been worse. About halfway back to the cars and before we entered the forest, we reached a sandy plateau where large numbers of monkeys capered about. Our guide Sandi had a bag of peanuts, and those who wanted to could hold them out to get the monkeys to climb up to their shoulders. Me, I’m not a fan of monkeys. These ones weren’t too bad however, they didn’t try to mug us.


Cute? Maybe.


They drew quite a crowd.


Behind this plateau was a fairly impressive cliff, as you see.

Beside this plateau were some interesting geological features which we checked out: a steaming geothermal cliff-side, and a cave. Unfortunately, my camera card chose to corrupt just after the monkeys, so I didn’t get any photos.


A view of Lake Batur from our hotel just before we moved on. Lovely.

After we’d returned to the hotel and had a quick shower, we packed up and hit the road in our bus once more. Today we were bound for the town of Ubud, via an interesting range of attractions. First stop was at a coffee plantation, where we wandered through their extensive and beautiful gardens, learning about some of the local produce, before sitting down to a free coffee and tea tasting. The specialty of this plantation, and others around Bali, was Kopi Luwak (cat poo coffee).


The civet cats who are fed coffee cherries. Their digestive system strips the outer fruit to leave the coffee beans, which are harvested from their faeces, cleaned up and roasted.


Some raw (unroasted) coffee.


Examples of spices grown locally: cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger and turmeric. They also grow cacao, not shown here.


A shrine piled high with offerings.


The traditional method of roasting coffee: stirring continuously for 3 hours over a fire.


The path through the plantation gardens.


The various flavoured coffees, teas and hot chocolate that we were given to try. We shared one of these spreads between two people.

There were some really interesting flavours of coffee and tea to try. Among the teas were lemongrass, ginger, a flower akin to hibiscus, turmeric and mangosteen. They were more like cordials than teas really – very sweet. The same went for the coffee, which was flavoured with coconut, vanilla, chocolate, and I forget what else. I didn’t try the kopi luwak (which we had to pay for) myself, but others from our group did, and by their reports it was unexceptional. After the  tasting I bought some mangosteen tea, which was really delicious, and some coconut coffee…which is still sitting in my pantry, unopened.


Our next stop was at the Holy Spring Water Tirta Empul temple. This was a beautiful spot where a temple had been built up around some natural springs. We bought our entry  tickets and were loaned sarongs to cover our legs before entering. I was feeling a little ill from the heat by this stage, but found a shop selling cold bottled water, and enjoyed the surroundings well enough.


The entrance to the temple.


A beautifully decorated gateway.


People bathing in the holy waters. Some of our group took a dip as well.


It’s pretty ingenious how they have routed water from the spring to all these spouts. As far as I could tell, there was no pumping involved. Or maybe it was just well hidden.


In the area behind the pools, there are little temples and shrines for worshippers to pray at.


One such ornate shrine.


The spring. The water is a remarkable colour – quite turquoise.


Mini temples. I don’t know how one decides which one to pray at!


More ornate decoration.

After the temple, we had a delicious buffet-style lunch at the Senang Hati (happy hearts) foundation for disabled Balinese people. They have a make-shift restaurant at their school, which raises money for them to provide practical aid and education to their members. It was the best meal we’d had up to that point, highly recommended – I think they only do this with tour companies by prior arrangement though. The foundation members also make jewellery and assorted handicrafts for sale, and I picked up a pretty bracelet.


At last, we arrived in Ubud. This is a bustling and prosperous town which has grown hugely in the last decade to cater to tourists and expats. Surrounded by picturesque rice paddies, it is the cultural capital of Bali and home to many artists and performers. Restaurants, bars, art galleries, hotels, spas and other such ‘civilised’ things abound. The main streets are narrow and usually choked with traffic, but to the point that it’s fairly easy to cross the road on foot. I quite liked it here, actually!

We decided to catch a traditional Balinese dance show that evening, at a famous local theatre. I had no idea what to expect, and so was thoroughly bemused by the spectacle. First, we had a performance from the orchestra. Balinese music is unlike anything I’ve heard before, and I’m sorry to say that it isn’t my cup of tea – frankly, it sounds like a hangover. Clanging, squealing, arrhythmic drumming, short high-pitched flute lines repeated over and over and over…It hurts my head to think about it. The least offensive examples of Balinese music I heard while over there sounded like infuriating background music for a jungle-based arcade game.

The dancers were a glory to behold in rich, ornate, brightly coloured costumes and full stage makeup. Their skill was highly impressive, as they exercised exquisite control over every part of their bodies – sometimes freezing everything except for a couple of fingers, or their very wide eyes. At first they reminded me a little of creepy animated dolls, but I came to appreciate the style more as the show went on. What quadriceps they must have as well – they spent a lot of time in squatted down postures.


The only photo I took, as I kept getting the heads of the folks in front.

So there you go – clearly I am an uncultured philistine.


2014 Bali and Lombok: Munduk to Kintamani

 Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

It was lovely and peaceful at our homestay in Munduk, up in the hills. Outside of the wee village we could see miles of rolling forested land. Most of the trees we could see were cloves, which Sandi explained was because the government had decided to cut down the unprofitable native forests to plant them. According to Sandi, they later changed their minds and wanted a monopoly on cloves, so razed swathes of trees once more. We got a few interesting stories like this, and I tried to record them as I understood – forgive me if I get any details wrong.

After a nice breakfast at the homestay (eggs, toast and coffee), our group assembled for a little hike. A local guide along with Sandi led us along a path running through leafy plantations and peoples’ backyards, pointing out interesting plants and wildlife on the way. After no more than 20 minutes, we reached a very pretty waterfall surrounded by greenery. Some of our group went for a dip in the cool water, but I couldn’t be bothered changing, so just enjoyed the location.


Some typical rice paddies – usually quite small fields on terraces, with the farmers’ houses dotted around.


On our walk we passed this guy harvesting cloves. You can’t really tell from this photo, but he is really quite high in the air – I’d guess about 7m up, on a bamboo ladder.


The view looking down from the path.


Cloves drying in the sun. They were really aromatic, quite nice.


Here we are, single file on the wee path.


Baby pineapple!


A very large and colourful spider.


Jackfruit growing. They are the weirdest things. I haven’t tried any raw, but I had some jackfruit curry at one point, and it had a texture like salmon, most unexpectedly.


The waterfall.


This guy was carved out of a boulder at the stairs leading up to the waterfall – I’m not sure why. Perhaps a guardian?


Waterfall and moi.

After making our way  back to the homestay, we piled ourselves into the nicely air-conditioned bus, and hit the road. Our next stop was a seaside restaurant for lunch, after which we were to climb up into the hills once more.


Pretty nice spot for a restaurant.

At this point, I was coming to see that every restaurant we visited had basically the same things on the menu, although there was a little variation in how they were actually made. Most of the food available was fried, it seemed, and the only healthy option was gadogado – vegetables with peanut sauce and occasionally a boiled egg. Sometimes gadogado was basically a salad, other times it was more like a stirfry, and other times again it was a pile of roughly chopped steamed vegetables. Fried rice and noodles were a lot more standard between restaurants, and in my opinion, not nearly as nice as the equivalent dishes we get in restaurants at home.

Sorry if I’m sounding a bit whiny here, but although I had a lovely time in Bali, food was not one of the highlights! To be fair, we were taken only to larger restaurants where the food was known to be safe for Westerners, and indeed I didn’t get sick from any of it. However, I think we missed out on some of the more interesting local cuisine.

We had a fairly lengthy bus trip remaining before we would reach Kintamani, and I really enjoyed looking out the window at the scenery and the villages we passed. After an hour or two of driving, we paused at a roadside stall by a lookout, where tourists could pay to have their photo taken with an anaconda, a large iguana, or a bat. As our tour company was pretty keen on animal welfare, I’m hoping we wouldn’t have stopped if the animals were badly treated, but you never really know, do you?


One member of our group was up for it, but I wasn’t going anywhere near that snake!


Bats, and the iguana sitting on a post in the background.


Some photos out of the bus window. As you see, it got a bit misty up in the hills near Kintamani.


More bus window pictures. There were fewer household temples about up here, possibly meaning the people had less money.


Note the black and white checkerboard house, symbolising yin and yang.


A wee shop, and some household temples.

Finally, after a long drive, we arrived at our hotel in Kintamani – or rather, in the nearby Penelokan village (our itinerary said Kintamani, but I just googled the hotel, and it turns out we weren’t quite there). We had a wonderful view of Mt Batur and Lake Batur from our hotel, and the air was a few blissful degrees cooler than in the beach areas.


Our hotel was an interesting design, with different levels trailing down the hillside – here we look down on a lower courtyard.


Mt Batur peeking through the trees and mist.


Such a beautiful landscape in this area!


Our hotel.


Lake Batur.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t go exploring outside the hotel that evening. Looking back, I should have at least gone for a walk down the road! But I enjoyed a couple of cocktails on the balcony with some excellent ladies from my group, before we all reconvened for dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had fish satay, which was a little peculiar but quite tasty. We didn’t stay up too late this night, as we were to climb Mt Batur in the morning!

2014 Bali and Lombok: Sanur to Munduk

 Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.

After a wonderful few days in Singapore, I headed to Bali to join a 2-week tour of Bali, Lombok and the  Gili Islands. Customs at the airport in Bali was a bit of a nightmare, with giant and slow-moving queues full of badly-dressed Australians. To my relief, there was no issue getting my Visa on Arrival, although I was lucky  to have some spare USD on me, as it  was more expensive than it said on the website ($35 USD  instead of $25 USD). They didn’t require my photos, proof of funds or travel itinerary though.

I sat in my taxi from the airport to our joining hotel in Sanur in a mild  state of shock. Compared to Singapore, which is so beautifully tidy and organised that one can forget how densely populated it is, the urban areas of Bali seemed like  chaos. The traffic was fearfully bad, comparable to China, and people and junk and broken things surrounded us  on all sides. Having been in this kind of environment before, I knew I’d adjust after a few days and barely notice  it, but  it still packs a punch at first.

I’d talked to a few friends and colleagues who’d been to Bali previously, which had given me the impression that it  was a normal holiday destination – all beaches and serenity. I was to learn on this  trip that although places like that do exist in Bali, it is still part of Indonesia (a developing country) and supports a population similar to that of New Zealand with 1/47th of our land area. A wholly different kind of place to anywhere I’d been before, it was certainly an interesting destination!

I was relieved when my taxi finally delivered me to our hotel after 45 minutes of battling traffic. The hotel was gorgeous, with two pools and plenty of gardens and quiet nooks – like a mini resort in the city. I retreated to my room to read a book until the introductory meeting for my tour party, at 6pm local time.


A view from the shady restaurant at our first hotel, quite luxurious.

I very nearly missed our joining meeting, as I’d accidentally set my clocks an hour behind local time (the pilot told us the wrong time when we landed and I’d had no way to check it since). I was just coming out to the restaurant to grab a drink when I spotted a group of people having a meeting and hesitantly approached them. After I collected my papers from my room and sat down red-faced with the group, our guide introduced himself as Sandi. He was Balinese, but had  studied  in Lombok, and knew all the areas we were travelling to really well.

The rest of us took turns introducing ourselves, saying where we were from and why we’d come to Bali. There were 15 of us in total: 4 Germans, 1 Canadian, 2 Dutch, me the only Kiwi, and the rest British. We went out to dinner after our meeting at a restaurant on the beach, and began the process of getting to know each other.

The next day was fairly busy, with some long stretches on the bus. To my surprise, we drove for a good couple of hours through urban streets before we got a glimpse of countryside. Sandi had explained to us that unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, Bali is largely Hindu. The houses we passed were small and frequently crumbling, but most had their own miniature carved-stone temple outside. Painted surfaces were frequently orange, so for most of the drive we were surrounded by orange and dark grey, which gradually gave way to green rice paddies. Billboards advertising cigarettes were in great abundance, something we never see at home.


Some of the many, many rice paddies.

Our first stop for the day was at some hot springs, which were popular with the locals. We got off the bus into sweltering heat and climbed down some winding stone steps through gardens to get to the pools. We queued up to use the three changing stalls, which were damp, slimy concrete and smelled strongly of urine. I juggled my things to get changed without letting my belongings touch the ground, then emerged to make my way over to the single large pool. The water was luke warm and a cloudy yellow due to minerals, while the pool walls were slick with algae. Sandi explained that the pools were considered sacred by the Balinese, according to traditional Animist beliefs. As hot pools go, I have definitely been in nicer.

Next, we headed for lunch at a restaurant further along the road. The food was served buffet-style, and comprised some of the dishes that we were to become very, veeery familiar with over the next two weeks. These included chap chay (stir-fried chicken and vegetables), satay skewers, fried chicken, fried noodles, gado gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), and a little curry.


The view from the restaurant. Wow!

Next up, we visited our first Balinese temple, Bedugal, which was beside lake Bratan. Sandi explained that although Bali is mainly Hindu, they mix it with Buddism and Animism, in a beautiful spiritual ensemble. Indeed, although this was a Hindu temple, there were statues of Buddha, and marks of Animism.


A tree, wrapped in cloth to show that it is sacred. The black and white checks symbolise ‘yin and yang’, the yellow is for religion, and the white for purity.


Gateways in this shape representing the sacred Hindu mountain are very common throughout Bali.


The temple is made up of walled sections, each of which contains little free-standing shrines.


Beautiful detailing and decorations.


One shrine extending out into the lake. When the water level is higher, it is an island.


Right now, not an island but still pretty.

When we’d finished sweating our way around the temple, we hopped back on the bus and started to climb up into the hills. After a little while, we stopped at a market for a bit of shopping. As you expect from tourist markets, it was packed with knick-knacks and “local crafts”, but I was quite taken with the range of sarongs on offer. I bought one with a traditional batik design for 150,000 Rupiah (twice what it was worth). On a whim I bought some strawberries from a fruit seller – we’d seen signs advertising them along the road, so I figured that this was the area where they were grown. Unfortunately, I paid dearly later for my optimism when they made me quite ill (after only having a few). Sandi told us stories of unscrupulous people who inject artificial colour into fruit, or coat them in coloured wax to make them more appealing in the markets, so I wonder if that was what I  experienced.


Some of the more interesting souvenirs on offer. Apparently this is a political statement against the Muslim Indonesian government who try to enforce modest dressing on Bali, against the local customs.

Once we were done parting with money, our bus took us  onwards to our homestay for the evening in Munduk. Despite being called a homestay, it was just like a hotel – we were all housed twin-share, very comfortably. Some of our group booked in for massages before dinner, while others of us chilled out in the open-sided restaurant, enjoying the view of the surrounding forests and the breeze.


The garden outside our room.


From on our little balcony.


The view from the homestay restaurant.


My arty flowers-against-sunset shot.


2014 Singapore Sojourn: Kaya Butter Toast, Haji Lane and Little India

Hello! Are you new to this blog? You might like to start reading here, for a bit of explanation. Or, you could check out my All Posts page to see where you are in the story.


On my last day in Singapore, I  had just a couple of things left to tick off my list: try kaya butter toast, visit Haji Lane, and have a banana leaf meal in Little India. Before I could head out though, I had to do some laundry in the hotel laundromat, as my clothes from my hike on the previous day were muddy and dreadful. That done, I set out for a day of exploring and eating delicious food.

When I was first wandering around in Singapore, I had noticed several Toast Cafes. Although I’m a fan of toast, I thought that it was an unusual thing for a cafe to specialise in, as it’s just a rather humble breakfast food at home. However, after glancing at the menu of one place, I spotted something called ‘kaya butter toast’, which sounded intriguing. I rolled up to a place called Fun Toast, in the subway at Bugis, and ordered the kaya butter toast set menu, which cost about $4.


This is what I got. Strong coffee with a bit of condensed milk, two soft boiled eggs, and a stack of toast sandwiches. Yum!

‘Kaya butter toast’ is two thin slices of crunchy toast sandwiching a layer of ‘kaya’ and a layer of butter. Kaya or ‘coconut jam’ is a spread made with coconut oil, palm sugar and eggs (so Wikipedia tells me, I had no idea what it was at the time), and it is delicious – caramelly and coconutty with perhaps a hint of cinnamon. I had a bit of an unpleasant surprise when I cracked a ‘soft boiled’ egg open, expecting a nice firm white and runny yolk, and it all tumbled out like soup. Apparently the locals like it like this so they can dip their toast in it, but to me that’s basically a raw egg warmed up a little. I set the eggs to one side and dipped my toast in the coffee, and it was a marvellous breakfast. Next time I had kaya toast, I ordered the eggs hard boiled.

Thus enlivened, I set out on foot from my hotel in Bugis to the nearby Arab District, where I’d heard of a funky little street called Haji Lane. It was only a short walk before the flavour of the district was apparent. Shops selling silks and other fine fabrics were most abundant, interspersed with coffee shops and Lebanese and Turkish eateries. I arrived there, as usual, too early in the day for many things to be open, so I guess I didn’t get to experience the full flavour of the neighbourhood, but I thought it seemed like a lovely and really liveable place. I stopped for a very nice iced latte at one of the open cafes on Arab Street.


A pleasant boulevard on my way to the Arab District.


Found it!


Haji Lane. Not a lot was open at this time, but it was full of neat little boutiques and art and craft stores and cool cafes.


Fabric shops on Arab Street. I bought some silk scarves at one for a song.


Looking down a boulevard to a mosque. This might be Sultan Street, I forget.

After wandering around some streets, I spotted the  Malay Heritage Centre, and made my way there for a spot of learning. Like the Peranakan Museum, it was set up in a glorious heritage building, with high ceilings and plenty of elegant wooden features. The exhibits detailed some of the history of the Malay people, showcasing their greatest leaders, artists and other significant figures. There were samples of traditional and modern music, film and art. All in all, it was a very nice place to escape from the heat and quietly explore some aspects of Malay culture, padding along in bare feet on the cool wooden floors (shoes had to be removed at the door). I basically had the museum to myself at that time, which was pretty cool.


A very grand building it is.



Looking back towards the city from in front of the museum. Such a cool mix of buildings!

It was lunchtime when I emerged from the museum, so I set my course towards Little India to try a banana leaf meal at one of the restaurants recommended by my guidebook. It was a very large restaurant with several counters – like a cross between a food court and a restaurant. I got hold of a menu, and had a brief peruse. The specialty of the house was fish head curry, but I’m a little squeamish and it was a little expensive, so I ordered a lamb masala set menu. My meal arrived in stages: first a fresh banana leaf was placed on the table in front of me, then each part of the meal was brought out by a man wielding a large brass pot, who served me up a spoonful of whatever it held. I got a mountain of spiced rice, two vege curries (one with eggplant and tomato, the other with cabbage) and of course the lamb masala. It was fantastic! I washed it down with a mango lassi and practically rolled out of the restaurant.



Naturally, after such a hard day of walking and looking and eating, I needed an afternoon nap.


That evening, I emerged from the hotel with the idea of checking out the Singapore Night Festival, which was on while I was there. I realised that I should be able to walk to the centre of events from my hotel, so set out on foot once more. It should have been a simple route and in straight lines. Unfortunately, at some point I took a wrong turn, and, stubbornly refusing to pull out my map or turn around and (wrongly) convinced of my ability to figure out where I was, ended up circumnavigating Fort Canning Park. As it was getting pretty dark and I didn’t recognise any street names, I finally stopped on a street corner and consulted a map. That’s the only time I really got lost in Singapore, and I blame it on a mixture of over-confidence and fatigue. I was a bit grumpy and footsore by the time I found the events of the Night Festival, and despite my detour, I was still a little early. The only displays I caught were a musical performance at the National Museum, and a light show on the Armenian Church.


The Singapore National Museum was the centre of events.


This man played a giant harp, with strings connected to the top of the museum.

The light show was really fantastic actually, but impossible to capture in a photo. Using lights they gave the convincing impression that the church was 2-dimensional, and showed many different weathers and seasons. As I watched, it started to rain in real life, and I decided that that was enough for one day. I stowed my camera and set off on the (correct) road back to the hotel. On my way back, I noticed a covered food-court which was packed with customers, so I decided to stop for some dinner and wait the rain out. I queued up and picked from a range of meat and vegetable dishes in a cafeteria-style servery. It was much less fancy than my lunch, but boy was it tasty.


All this for about $5: beans, spinach, and sweet and sour pork with rice.