Saturday, December 3, 2011

Invigorating Indonesia!

Image source: www.wikipedia.org

Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia. With 18,110 islands (6,000 uninhabited), it is the largest archipelago in the world. Most of what I had read or heard about Indonesia before setting foot in the country largely had to do with the Komodo dragons, tropical forests, numerous islands, frequent volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters. I was very keen on visiting Indonesia as I knew it would appeal to the nature lover in me. This is one country richly endowed with natural resources and this desirable feature coupled with the ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity within the country probably makes it an interesting destination from a tourist point of view.

So, in this post, I'm going to share with you my travel experiences in Bintan and Bali, two beautiful islands in Indonesia.

Bintan

Bintan is one of the Riau Islands of Indonesia. Me and my husband had been to Bintan in July 2007 for a relaxing getaway. Most visitors from Singapore tend to stay at the Bintan Resorts which is essentially a chunk of Singapore in the northern part of the island.  Bintan Resorts is only a 45 min ferry ride from Singapore, full of expensive resorts and manicured lawns. This area of the island is separated by barbed wire, checkpoints and armed guards from the rest of Bintan which is home to electronics factories, fishing villages and local style resorts. A visit here is excellent for a weekend getaway but offers absolutely no insight into ‘real’ Indonesia. Still, the beaches are much better than anything you find in Singapore!

Ferry to Bintan

We stayed at the Mayang Sari Beach Resort and Spa, Nirwana Gardens. I thought that the resort with its hut-like chalets was delightful. The minute I arrived, I couldn't help but gaze at the sparkling blue water clearly visible from the lobby. The hotel facilities were available at the Nirwana hotel which could be reached by internal shuttle buses or golf buggies. I remember the swimming pool in particular - it overlooked the sea which from a distance gave the illusion of an infinity pool. We tried the Spice restaurant at the Mayang Sari, coffee shop at the Nirwana and the Kelong seafood restaurant. The prices everywhere were quoted in Singapore dollars and quite exorbitant! We still managed to have a wonderful holiday and I look forward to going back again anytime I need to unwind.

Chalets at Mayang Sari


















This was a sign I came across one day on one of our evening walks. I found it so funny that I couldn't help but snap this picture.

Singapore influence eh?!

Bali

The second time we visited Indonesia was in October 2009 when we had been to Bali (also known as the ‘Island of the Gods’). This time, we got the real deal! I love absolutely everything about Bali and it would be one of my top recommendations on a must-see list of places in Southeast Asia. What makes Bali truly fascinating is the varied landscape of hills, mountains, beaches, rice terraces and volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colorful, deeply spiritual and unique culture. Unlike most of Muslim-majority Indonesia, Bali has a predominantly Hindu population (93%) and this is reflected in the religious architecture of the island.

Depiction of Hindu Mythology

We flew to Bali via the national carrier, Garuda Indonesia. We divided our holiday into three consecutive days of sight-seeing and next three days of relaxing. On arrival, we checked into Ellie's, a small boutique hotel nestled in a quiet neighborhood in Nusa Dua. For sight-seeing, we had booked a car and driver through the company Drivers with Distinction. Our driver’s name was Surya and he was a cheerful and friendly local who gave us helpful tips regarding our itinerary.

The first day of sight-seeing included a visit to a Batik showroom, jewelry emporium, Balinese art gallery, handicraft emporium, Kintamani volcano and Lake Batur, Spice garden, Tirtha Empul temple, Tegallalang rice terrace and Ubud palace. We had lunch at a lovely restaurant over-looking the gorgeous rice terraces and later on did a bit of souvenir shopping in the streets surrounding the Ubud palace. If you are not really into art or handicrafts, you could easily skip the first part (most of the drivers take you there as a rule) but if you are interested, then these are good places to stop by for a few minutes. I bought a batik scarf, a couple of carved statues and a lovely Balinese painting (which hangs proudly in the living room of my new home). If you have the gift of the gab, good for you because the final price of any item depends on how well you can bargain!

Batik showroom

Balinese artists at work




Handicraft emporium
Kintamani Volcano & Lake Batur
Tirtha Empul temple
Tegallalang Rice terrace in Ubud
Ubud Palace
Souvenir shopping in Ubud

A new day began with a visit to the exotic Tanah Lot, a rock formation home to the Pura Tanah Lot temple. Our next stop was Jatiluwih, an area nestled in the shadow of Mount Batukaru. We spent a considerable amount of time here admiring the stunning rice terraces and valleys. From here, we proceeded north towards Bedugul which is known for the three crater lakes of Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan. The area of Bedugul is at a very high altitude and hence distinctly chilly. It is a welcome change from the rest of the island which unfortunately has weather very similar to Singapore! We passed by a monkey forest and stopped for a few minutes to feed the cheeky monkeys. By the time we reached Bedugul it was lunch-time so we stopped by a small café called Strawberry Stop. There were strawberry farms behind the café which we explored for a bit before leaving. We then went to the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Temple which is widely considered to be one of the iconic images of Bali. This tranquil temple sits on the shore of Lake Bratan and gives the illusion of floating on the water.

Temple on the sea
Jatiluwih rice terraces - magnificent!
Strawberry farm
Monkey forest
Temple on the lake

The following day was spent mostly in Geger beach, a beautiful ‘hidden gem’ located in Nusa Dua. The combination of white sand and varying shades of the blue water made it a truly marvelous sight. I remember walking the whole stretch of the beach and then unwinding with a cold drink at the beach café while taking in the view. After spending a wonderful morning at Geger, we didn’t go anywhere else as we had to check into The Westin Resort in Nusa Dua. We picked The Westin Resort as a place to relax following an eventful first few days in Bali.

Geger beach
Glorious blue waters

We still had a few more places to visit so we decided to do that before the relaxation mode set in! We set off for the Uluwatu Temple, one of Bali's key temples. Even more remarkable than the temple is its location, perched on a steep cliff above the roaring waves of the ocean. As we had done previously while visiting the Tirtha Empul temple, it was customary to tie a sash and sarong before entering temple premises. This place is a photographers dream....a word of caution though – be careful of the notorious monkeys. Our precious camera almost went plunging into the depths of the ocean thanks to the antics of one mischief maker! We managed to catch it just in the nick of time! On our way back to Nusa Dua, we stopped at the Dreamland beach which we had heard so much about. The beach itself was stunning but a massive ongoing construction on its shore marred its beauty which was a real shame.

Uluwatu cliff

Dreamland beach
Surfer's paradise


Next we headed to Kuta, the best known tourist area in Bali. I was disappointed with Kuta beach as the large number of tourists in the area made it crowded and dirty. Our driver recommended a lovely local restaurant where we had an authentic Balinese lunch. We walked around Kuta for a while and came to the spot where the memorial for the Bali bombing victims was built. More than 200 people were killed in 2002 when a bomb detonated outside two popular nightclubs in Kuta. I had a lump in my throat as I gained further insight into this incident. It is heartbreaking to know that such a horrific tragedy happened in such a beautiful and peaceful island.

Site of the Bali bombing
Memorial for the victims

After we got back to Westin, we headed to Bali Collection, an all-in-one shopping, entertainment and restaurant area for dinner. I would describe Bali Collection as a more 'westernized' place to hang out (primarily designed for tourists staying in the Nusa Dua area), a nice enough place to enjoy good food and drink and indulge in a spot of shopping. There are a variety of restaurants to choose from specializing in different cuisines, ice-cream parlors, department stores, supermarket and handicraft stores. In the evenings they show balinese dances on the stages around the entrance to the restaurant area and many restaurants offer live entertainment. There is also a free shuttle bus offering transport from the several resorts around the area.

The last two days in Bali were spent getting traditional Balinese massages (a must do!), lazing around in the Nusa Dua beach, taking dips in the pool and making periodic trips to Bali collection for meals and shopping. As the day of our departure arrived I really didn’t feel like going back to Singapore! Scenic, diverse, soulful, colorful, mystic, intriguing, laid back....there are so many adjectives that I can use to describe Bali. Do visit when you have the chance.

That wraps up my experiences in Indonesia. Both the holidays I've had there there have been peaceful albeit eventful and most importantly, invigorating. I hope I'll get another chance to visit this interesting country where adventure looms large!

Further reading:
You may check out my hotel reviews of Nirwana Gardens(Bintan) and Ellie's (Bali) on TripAdvisor

7 comments:

  1. Was a nice read :D dint realize monkeys could go after camera's!!
    The only way we can see all these places is work 9 months, take 3 months off!
    btw did u get tickled when they gave you a massage?

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  2. A good way to see Bali is if you come to Singapore first, spend a week with us and then go over there over a long weekend! So, you actually need only 10 days :)
    I am not ticklish anyway so I'm not the right person to ask! LOL

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    Replies
    1. Woow, this is exactly what we are doing 2 years later. Who knew..;)

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  3. Great pics and useful info. Thanks :)

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  4. Thanks Kishan. Glad to hear that :)

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  5. Nicely written account. Wish to visit Bali sometime purely for looking at the art work and the hindu influence. The signboard about tresspassers was hillarious.

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  6. Thanks Sabyasachi. Good to know :)

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