Bali in September 2012

15th September 2012 to 18th September 2012
Bali, Indonesia

The last time I stepped foot in Bali was in 2006. That was six years ago. That time, Jakarta had a bombing at JW Marriot. We were cautious on whether to proceed but we went anyway because all had been paid for. That time, Bali was eerily quiet and crowd free. Since we went during Chinese New Year, we had the entire Bali to ourselves! Everywhere we went, there were only two of us. Restaurants, temples, dances, etc.

This time round, Bali has bounced back to life! It is hustling and bustling with sounds, smells and sights. Everywhere is packed to the brim. Even parking was horrendous. Jams worsened as they were reconstructing several main roads in Kuta town centre. I guess it’s a good sign that, this tourism giant of the south has regained its popularity. This time, I still chose to stay in Kuta as I was rather familiar with the area. I wish I had stayed in Seminyak though – it is more happening and has much more to offer. I stayed at Bali-Kuta Resort by Swiss-Belhotel along Jalan Majapahit. It’s rather secluded with a big swimming pool. However, we didn’t even had the chance to use it because our itinerary was packed to the brim that we only got back to the hotel by 12 am every night! Fave Hotel along Seminyak offered good price for hotel as well as a more, outgoing night. I heard from guests that, it could be rather noisy and rowdy at night because it’s a party street. We booked it for our friends from Hong Kong because they would love to sit down to have a drink. Perhaps, the next time, I might stay in Ubud. Ubud is about 1.5 hours from the airport, it’s a little quaint town with little shops. Prices aren’t cheap though but, I guess, it’s going to be a relaxing trip the next round I am in Bali.😀

Well, I won’t be blogging about the sights, food or shopping as I am sure most of you have been to Bali. I just would like to share with you some photos taken during this trip. I was there for Kat & Rob’s wedding actually (probably the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever been to!), at the same time, went sight seeing – to revisit my favorite temples and shop, shop and shop for old batiks and paintings. I got my driver from this website. The boss is Nengah Polos. We had this guy, Kadek driving for us and he’s most courteous and punctual. We don’t have to worry about anything while with Kadek. The price they quoted was also reasonable too. So I guess if you want a driver in Bali, you may contact Mr Polos here.

Kecak dance. Didn’t manage to catch it the last round, so made do this time. It was worth it!

Kecak dance

In the end, fire! fire!

Breathtaking view at Lake Beratan

People and ducks alike, enjoying the sunset at Tanah Lot

The walkway to the wedding altar, paved with pretty white fragipanis

The awesome and beautiful couple, Kat & Rob

On our way to Ubud, we witnessed a cultural procession

For more photos, look here.

Medan, Day 2

Day 2
12th November 2011, Saturday

We prepared to go out early to catch the earliest ferry to Samosir Island. We had our breakfast at the hotel. It was a lucky thing, Pak Wahab drove to our cottage and we managed to get our luggage into the MPV and he drove us to the breakfast place, which is on top of the hill. No need to hike! Phew!

Breakfast consists of fried meehoon and rice. After breakfast at the hotel, Pak Wahab drove us to the jetty, which is actually next to our hotel only. We could actually walk there ourselves! Since the roads are mostly one-way in Parapat, he took a big round to the jetty. He told us to wait at the jetty while he parked his car.

Patron of boat to Samosir

The fee for ferry is 4,000 rupiah per person. The journey takes an hour to reach Samosir Island. So, you get an hour to soak into the atmosphere of the lake. The lake is so vast and Samosir Island looked like an oil painting from a distance.

View of Lake Toba & Samosir Island

The moment we reached Tomok – one of the many towns in Samosir Island, we got off the ferry. Be careful when you are getting down the stairs from the upper deck of the ferry to the lower deck. I slipped and almost fell into the lake! It was a lucky thing that my cousin brother was in front of me, so he basically acted as a “stopper”. If not, I guess I would end up knocking my head on the side of the ferry or worse, fallen into the lake! LOL!

It was quite funny when my left slipper fell into the lake. The ferry guy tried in vain to get the slipper for me, so I told him it’s ok. We went hunting for a pair of new slippers for me and I had to walk bare footed for awhile to get to a shop. Haha.

Yes.. I have big feet

When we got into a shop, I tried on a few pairs of slippers. The only one that could fit me is this one pair of slipper. A closer look at the slipper, the back of the slipper is gnawed by rats! I negotiated for a discount since it’s been gigit by tikus (gnawed by rat!). The vendor reduced 900 to 26,000 rupiah! Cut throat! But then, I guess I do not have a choice since I was already half bare footed. Haha.

The tomb of Batak Kings

Here in Tomok Island, we visited the Batak Museum and the Mausoleums of the dead kings. Bataks are known to be cannibals before a German missionary landed here to convert them to Christianity. The most interesting tomb is probably the second king of Batak – where there’s a head of a person and a person right below the head who appeared to be covering his private parts with both hands. It seemed that the King has many warriors and one of the famous warrior would go totally naked when going for wars. For Batak people, showing your genitals is a taboo. Hence, the naked Batak warrior used this as his trick to subdue his enemies. A lady like figurine at the back of the coffin depicts the missus of the Batak King. She was a beautiful woman, thus had many admirers. An admirer casted a spell on her and made her insane. Hence the King couldn’t be together with her but she remained a big part in his life that he had to incorporate her being into his coffin. Admission to the museum is free whereas to the mausoleum, you just need to donate some money at the contribution box.

I would say, Batak’s handicrafts are exceptional. You could get many goods from tissue boxes to purses and bags. I really liked an oblong bag – filled with embroidery but it was too expensive for me. I remember I first saw the bag on my flight from Paris. A Caucasian lady was using it and I thought it was from Paris! It was quite eye catching and the embroidery was kinda intricate. I wish I had bargain for it! 300,000 rupiah seemed too steep for me! The last offer was 200,000 rupiah. Should have gotten it! Now I am kicking myself for not getting it!

My cousins bought some sarungs for their mom and aunts from Tomok. They used the roots of a tree which produce fragrant smell. The more you wash the sarong, the more fragrant the smell would be. I didn’t buy anything, except a shawl from a vendor who actually begged me to buy things from her. Since it was morning, it’s good to give her the business for good luck. So I just obliged. Another thing that I find quite interesting here is selling of cross (as in Christianity) as souvenirs. They also have a mini Bible as keychain – which is really cute!

On our way to Berastagi

After a short visit to Tomok, we made our way back to land to get to Berastagi, where we will get to visit the Sipiso piso waterfall and the two volcanoes – Sinabung and Sibayak.

Along the way to Berastagi, we again treated ourselves to magnificent view of Lake Toba. The people of Lake Toba mainly dabble on agriculture and they grow food such as coffee, carrots, onions, jeruk (mini mandarin oranges!), strawberries, ferns and the list goes on. I asked if Luwak coffee is from here too? Pak Wahab said yes. They would rear civet cats in their farms and let them eat the coffee beans from the trees and harvest their stools! I don’t understand why coffee tastes better when it comes from a civet cat’s ass. LOL! I think the only time I had coffee luwak was when we were in Bali and also Hanoi.

Before reaching Sipiso piso, Pak Wahab dropped us at a restaurant nearby for a short tea break. We had some ginger tea and pisang goreng (Banana fritters). The pisang goreng comes free with each ordered cup of ginger tea. I didn’t really like the ginger tea because it was too strong for me!

Sipiso piso waterfall

Sipiso piso waterfall is the main supplier of water to Lake Toba. According to Pak Wahab, this is the end of Lake Toba – where the water of the lake originates from. The water has been streaming for centuries perpetually. Hopefully it would remain this way! The life of the people and creatures surrounding the lake solely depends on this waterfall alone!

We could hike down the stairs nearer to the waterfall but I was simply too lazy! So we just took photos from the top. It was a good thing that we ventured to the opposite side of the waterfall, where we get to view another perspective of Lake Toba! It was breathtakingly beautiful!

Breathtaking view of Lake Toba

There was an abandoned building next to the beautiful view. How we wish that someone would actually maintain this place – perhaps make it into a restaurant with a view and make a killing charging visitors! If I were rich, I would probably buy up this place and make it into an exclusive hotel & spa, using water from the waterfall!

Gunung Sinabung

We made our way to Gundaling, where we would be in the middle of two volcanoes. The name Gundaling was short form of Goodbye, Darling. It seems that, there was a Dutch man in love with a local woman. Then he had to return to his country, so he bid his girlfriend goodbye, as in goodbye darling at this place. So the local named the place, Gundaling – after Goodbye, Darling. Haha. Don’t know how true lah!

Sinabung exploded just last year in August 2010 after 400 years! I didn’t even remember this! Anyway, Pak Wahab showed us that the side which is white in color is due to the eruption. On the other side – is Sibayak Volcano, a smaller volcano compared to Sinabung.

Berastagi town

Berastagi is the small town sandwiched between the two volcanoes. From Gundaling, you may view the town of Berastagi and its many agricultural plots. I simply love the view! The small houses look like lego sets.

Taman Alam Lumphini

After that, we were taken to Taman Alam Lumphini. This is the new temple, I believe it’s a collaboration between the Indonesian and Nepalese government. Since the place is still new, it was quite well maintained. The inside of the hall is yet to be fully decorated and there weren’t many visitors when we arrived. Admission is free.

We were somehow very attracted by the ferns plantation surrounding the temple. All along, I thought ferns are harvested from the wild. I didn’t know it is also planted as food! I think our home grown midin in Sarawak is from the wild, I guess!

After the short visit to the temple, we were on our way back to Medan. By the time we had our lunch, it was already 4 pm. We were famished! It was a lucky thing that I brought along a chocolate bar, otherwise I would be gnawing on my tikus gigit slipper!

The journey back to Medan was not very pleasant. The road was filled with potholes and winding. I was a little worried that I might vomit my late lunch out but sleepiness took over and I slept like a log on the way down, occasionally jolted up from sleep from potholes but soon drifted back to sleep like nothing has happened! It’s a blessing that I could sleep anytime, anywhere, anyhow! (That doesn’t mean I am a slut!)

Medan, Day 1

11th November 2011

I was a little apprehensive to visit Medan. Before the trip, my cousin sister already warned me of what happened to her friends when they visited Medan. A group of them rented a room in some cheapo budget hotel. At night, before they went to bed, they hid their phones under their beds, fearing that someone might rob them. Anyhow, their hotel room was broken into with them sleeping inside. They were aware of the thieves in their room and ransack their things and yet, they couldn’t get up! The thieves casted a spell on them! They could only get up once the thieves had left the room!

The police were of no help either. When they went to report the incident, they were faced with even more extortion! One of the guy friends almost lost his expensive watch to the sergeant in charge. Imagine, so many idiots in law enforcement! When they got to immigration, they too were subject to taunting. The immigration wanted money from them!

Geez. I prayed hard such thing won’t fall onto us when we visit this place.

We got on the earliest Air Asia flight to Medan, 7.40 am. The flight was not really full and I get the entire 3 seats to myself! So damn lucky! There were some people who came on board with very bad body odour sitting behind me. Good gawd! I am not sure WHY these people don’t take bath in such humid weather! They were a group of UNCLE golfers – all four of them.

My cousin sis, Stephy was not so lucky. She was seated next to the smelly golfer! LOL! Luckily the flight was a short one, less than an hour!

It was so damn funny to see people pre-ordered food for this trip! About 15 minutes after announcement of selling of food and beverages, the pilot announced the plane was about to descend! They basically have to shove down the food down their throat! I didn’t even manage to get a wink of sleep!

Aerial View of Sinabung Volcano

Upon descending, I saw a magnificent view of Sinabung volcano! It’s still active and admitting smoke! I got all excited and all apprehension about visiting this place somehow vanished.

The moment we got into immigration, there were two beelines. We were wondering what took the immigration so long, then we realized that they have implemented the biometric system at immigration here. We have to place both hands’ fingers – all 4 of each, subsequently the thumbs at the reader located just in front of the immigration cubicle. Then you have to look at the webcam to get your photo snapped.

We went to get our luggage and were shocked to find that, the conveyor belt delivering our bags were so short and ended abruptly! I think about 20 feet only. So, all bags which are out earlier were already scattered on the floor! We also helped to put other bags properly before our bag turned up.

Besides the immigration form, we also need to fill up a form to declare that we don’t carry any liquor or drugs or a lot of money. The best part is, if you are traveling in group, you just need to fill up one form for all, which I find rather silly. The immigration was kinda slack. Anyhow, I am glad that no untoward incidents like extorting money happening here!

We were greeted by our guide and driver – Mr Abdul Wahab. Reminds me of the names of P. Ramlee’s Bujang Lapoks… Abdul Wahab, Abdul Wahid and Abdul Wahub. Haha! But he’s not a bujang lapok, he’s a 50 year old married man with a son. He helped us with our luggage and took us to the waiting Toyota Innova. We were glad that they choose a MPV for us. I think traveling in a sedan would be less comfy.

Inside of Maimoon Palace

Our first stop was the Maimoon palace. The entrance fee is already included in our package, so am not too sure how much was it. An old man sitting there, guarding the door came to shake our hands and asked where we are from. He welcomed us to the palace.

This palace looked like an ordinary malay house to me. It was made of wood and the deco inside has some Moorish influence. The tourist place of interest was sort of deserted as there were only 2 other local visitors. They turned a room into a shop, selling souvenirs. There’s also a helicopter pad in front of the palace. Since now Indonesia is a republic, the role of the King were merely for customary purposes. The Sultan of Deli, no more stays here. But most of his descendants and next of kin are still living at the adjacent quarters to the palace. In fact, all the vendors selling souvenirs and drinks are the Sultan’s descendants as other common people are prohibited from conducting business within the palace compound.

Grand Mosque

About 200m away from Maimoon Palace is the Grand Mosque. There’s actually an underground tunnel connecting Maimoon Palace to the Mosque. However, due to bad maintenance, our guide said it’s dangerous to use the tunnel because it might collapse anytime! So, he drove us to the mosque instead.

Here, we took pictures just outside the Grand Mosque but then was gestured to go in by the man who was sweeping the floor when we approached the place. we had to pay 5,000 rupiah each as donation to enter. Then we were given a shawl to cover our heads – for ladies. I didn’t want to use them because I brought my own shawl.

Reflection of Grand Mosque

We snapped a few pictures before leaving this place. It was only 9.30 am when we finished walking about the two places of interest. Since we had a light breakfast, we ask Pak Wahab to bring us to a restaurant. He took us to this Kumango Restaurant which served really good seafood fried rice, kueh teow soup and rica-rica chicken. Rica-rica is some form of rendang and it was good!

After the late breakfast, we were on our way to Lake Toba. I read from the internet that, the road leading to Lake Toba is long and winding, so I took a few vomit bags from Air Asia airplane, just in case. Haha. Then we also bought some sweets. Pak Wahab stopped us at a rest stop and told us to buy water, go to the bathroom and do whatever we need as the journey would take 4 hours.

On our way towards Lake Toba, we passed by several small villages from Sei Rampah to Pematang Siantar. Here, they are conducting bird nests businesses too. It’s really mind boggling to see that the houses to house swallows are way bigger than human houses! Swallows are called walit here.

Paten, selling peanuts confectioneries with quirky names

We stopped by at Paten – a shop selling confectioneries using peanuts at Pematang Siantar. The names of the goods are really catchy – we have pang pang, pong pong, ping ping, ting ting, tong tong, teng teng, etc. When Pak Wahab was blabbering away pang pang, tung tung, ting ting.. we thought he has gone nuts! LOL! One box of peanut goods cost 17,500 rupiah. Don’t get conned into buying the entire set of 12 for 210,000 rupiah. We thought we got a good bargain but then 17,500 x 12 boxes would be added up to 210,000 rupiah! Haha! And we don’t even get to choose! My personal favorite is pang pang – it is peanuts mixed with corns biscuits. Simply delicious!

The journey to Lake Toba wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, we didn’t even get car sick. It might be a little jam, so it’s good to start the journey early. We were in luck because we landed at 7.35 am at the airport and were already on our way to Lake Toba during non peak hours. The best part is, since we woke up so early that morning to catch our flight, we basically dozed off in the car throughout the journey.

Food spread

We stopped by Garuda Restaurant in Pematang Siantar for lunch. Here’s the spread of the food. The food here is delicious!

As soon as we reached Parapat, Pak Wahab woke us up to see the magnificent view of Lake Toba! We went “Wah! Oohhh.. oh! Wah lao!” for a good 5 minutes. It was a sight to behold!

We reached our hotel – the Danau Toba Cottage and couldn’t wait to get into our room to see for ourselves the lake up close. But then, we didn’t like the hotel because there were steep staircases everywhere! Imagine having to carry your luggage all the way to the end of the hotel, climbing 3 flights of steps! We wouldn’t mind if the steps are shallow – they were somewhat too steep and it’s definitely not an elderly friendly place! Thank God for potters! We still need to hike back up to meet at the reception for Pak Wahab to pick us up. @#$%^&*

Sunshine through the clouds.. simply amazing!

However, the view soon took away our dissatisfaction. The lake somewhat smell like the sea (reminds me of Port Weld) but the water was crystal clear and there were children fishing and clowning around by the jetty.

Friendly little friends

After freshening up, we went to Parapat town for dinner. Here, most shops closed at 8 pm so there was nothing much to see. After only walking for 30 minutes, we decided to go for dinner already since there is nothing much here to buy. We didn’t want to delay Pak Wahab’s resting time because he has driven us all throughout the journey, so we quickly had our dinner and asked him to go and take a rest. We only got to know the SEA Games had started when we turned on the small tv in our room. Live from Jakarta! Ayo! Indonesia Bisa! (On a separate note, it’s really saddening to see how our athletes and journalists were being treated over there – seriously uncivilized!)