How to eat with locals in Bali

2014-03-14 15.23.01Some of the best and most memorable experiences I had when I was travelling were from getting off the tourist trail and meeting locals. I had a fabulous dinner with a Cambodian family (complete with deep fried tarantulas!!) who were getting ready for a ceremony. Of course let’s not forget the handsome local I met in Bali who changed my life forever :P (that would be my husband!)

Locals cook the best food, know the best places to go (that aren’t in the guidebook) and it’s just generally fascinating and heartwarming to have a proper conversation with someone who lives in the country you’re visiting. I made sure to do this in every country I visited from Nepal to Thailand to Vietnam.

The only problem is that it can be quite hard to meet locals unless you have an existing contact. Safety is also an issue – it’s not always advisable to go off with someone you’ve just met in the street and you really have to use your street smarts to weigh up if it’s a genuine offer of friendship (and turning it down would make you miss out on an amazing experience) or if you’re putting yourself in danger.

So when I heard about Withlocals, I just thought it was a wonderful idea and why had nobody come up with it before? The website connects you, the traveller, with locals in countries all over Asia for experiences including meals, tours and other activities. It’s a much more personal experience than booking a tour with a company and you get the opportunity to forge real connections and friendships with people who can explain more about their culture and lifestyle in the country you’re visiting.

After browsing the available options in Bali, we decided to book a homestyle Javanese meal with Dotty. We chose this experience because we thought she sounded interesting to talk to (we were right!) and Javanese food would make a nice change from Balinese food for me.

IMG_2339 2014-03-14 15.22.24 2014-03-14 15.30.12 IMG_2356 IMG_2350 IMG_2349 2014-03-14 15.34.51 IMG_2361We’d arrived pretty late due to a mixup with directions but were still welcomed graciously into Dotty’s home. Her house was beautiful (the photos really don’t do it justice!) and was located on top of a hill with sweeping rice field views. She also runs a B&B from her home, which you can book through airbnb. We ate upstairs for the fantastic view and then had tea downstairs.

As we were so late, we were starving when we got there, which was a good thing as there was so much to eat! We had a real feast of sweet soy chicken, tempe, sweetcorn fritters, curried eggs and this vegetable which is my favourite – they call it jepang here in Bali. We ate until we were stuffed and there was still loads leftover.

After lunch we had papaya and the most amazing lemongrass tea made with cinnamon, ginger and palm sugar.

While the food was amazing, what really made the experience was Dotty herself. She was incredibly welcoming and friendly and fascinating to talk to. After living in Jakarta, Australia, and now Bali (and having grownup children living in the UK among other places) she’s got a really metropolitan view on the world and it was fascinating discussing her life and the differences between Bali and Jakarta.

We had a lovely afternoon and i could have really stayed chatting well into the evening but our poor taxi driver had been waiting for us for over 2 hours :p

Anyway, definitely a great experience and excellent value for money and if you’re travelling anywhere in Asia I’d strongly recommend seeing what experiences you can do from the Withlocals website (I’m going to be listing Made on there soon if you need a Bali tour guide!)

That time a monkey stole my glasses…

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So I’ve just been sorting out my photos from the end of last year in preparation for backing them up (one of the things I am aiming to do more regularly this year!) and I realised I never told you all this little story from the end of the year.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I took a day trip out with my dad to do some sightseeing in Nusa Dua before having a yummy fish dinner in Jimbaran and then going to collect Sue (his wife) at the airport. I rarely make it down to this part of Bali and dad’s never been there before so it was  a fun excursion for both of us.

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After checking out the beach at Padang Padang (which is the ‘Ubud beach’ in the movie Eat Pray Love, despite it being a 2 hour drive from Ubud) we headed to Uluwatu . Uluwatu is a temple perched high on the cliffs of the south coast of Bali. It’s also overrun with monkeys. Now monkeys are not an usual site in Bali, in fact probably the most famous monkeys in Bali are the ones in Ubud’s very own monkey forest. However the monkeys at Uluwatu are somewhat different from their Ubud cousins… (the monkeys pictured above at Padang Padang are much cuter by the way!)

Of course you always have to be careful with wild animals and avoid getting too close, showing them food etc etc but in general the monkeys in Ubud monkey forest are pretty friendly. Give them a banana and they’ll be your best friend. The Uluwatu monkeys however, give them a monkey and they’ll snatch it off you, hiss at you and then throw the peel in your face.

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We’d been warned by two different people on the way up to be careful with our glasses as apparently the monkeys like stealing them so I was on high guard. I prefer to keep my distance anyway as being jumped on by a monkey is not an experience I wish to have again (see below for previous experience at Sangeh monkey forest). Normally I wear contact lenses but for some reason I didn’t this day. Take note, if you’re going anywhere in Bali where there are monkeys, WEAR CONTACTS!!!

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So I was minding my own business, taking a picture of the cliffs when this huge monkey runs out of nowhere and snatches my glasses right off my face! I try to grab them back but he hisses and tries to scratch me. My dad tries to get them but he’s now baring his teeth and looking pretty threatening. By this point we’ve attracted quite a bit of attention and a few other tourists come over and try to tempt him into swapping my glasses for a banana but he’s not giving them back. Then he decides to bite off the plastic around the bit that goes over your ear. I give up, realising i’m not going to get them back and resign myself to walking around half-blind for the rest of the day. Hey, at least it wasn’t my camera!

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15 minutes later I’m sitting near the top waiting for my dad to finish taking some photos and a guy comes over and hands me my glasses (plastic bit missing but otherwise ok!) no idea how he managed to get them back but I was very grateful!

Telling this story to my dad’s friend who also lives in Bali and he told us of the much worse fate of another tourist when he was visiting Uluwatu. A monkey snatched his glasses and ran up a tree, snapped them in half and threw them at him. While he was distracted by this, another monkey stole his phone. A baby monkey then ran up his leg and he kicked it off at which point he was attacked by all the adult monkeys biting him. Apparently the monkeys at Uluwatu are particularly vicious little bastards – you have been warned!!!

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Exploring in the garden

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One of the things I love most about the new house is how much closer to nature we are. We don’t have a garden at Made’s parents place – we have a compound. Basically a courtyard with a few potted plants and trees that have been gradually dwindled down by the inlaws over the years (because plants are untidy?)

Our garden here is tiny but it’s just big enough for 2 small children to explore in. we have an avocado tree and a mulberry tree and all manner of wildlife visitors (including several rather brave mice and rats, which I don’t mind as long as they don’t come in the house). Of course we’re also surrounded by rice fields which act as an extension of the garden and are great for watching fireflies and bats at night.

The garden is a place for chalk drawing, den making, butterfly hunting, duck chasing and mud jumping. I also read this book recently (which I can highly recommend to anyone with children and slightly hippy ideals) and now I’m dying to make a sandpit, a teepee and an assault course out of tree stumps…

Mini Break at Grand Aston Bali Beach Resort in Nusa Dua

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I’d been wanting to get away with the kids for a couple of days FOREVER and we were planning on going away as a birthday treat – I’d already started scouting out kid-friendly hotels but then I got sick. So I was thrilled when the Grand Aston Bali Beach Resort in Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Dua invited us to come and stay at their newly refurbished resort.

The last time we went away was nearly a year ago when my mum was here and we had a few days in Seminyak. I had high hopes from that trip but I learned a lot about going away with small children – namely, don’t plan to leave the hotel! So this time I scaled back my expectations and I was just looking for a nice hotel by the beach with a pool that we could chill out at for a couple of days.

It’s funny, when I was travelling I nearly always stayed in the cheapest possible accommodation, but when you have kids it changes all your priorities. I’d much rather stay somewhere comfortable now, even if it costs a bit more, as I know we’re probably not going to be leaving the hotel!

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Anyway, the Aston lived up to all my expectations and was truly a family-friendly resort. The staff were lovely and obviously very used to kids and Maya and Kiran loved the attention! There is also a brand new kids club right next to the swimming pool which Maya was most excited about – both kids were actually banging on the doors and crying to get in when they closed for the night, haha!

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The resort is gorgeous, right on the beach, and I can see why it’s a popular location for weddings. I have to say the star of the show is definitely the swimming pool, which is also great for kids as you can walk right into it – there’s an artificial beach complete with sand which is perfect for toddlers splashing around. I felt perfectly at ease alone with both of them in the pool whereas normally I’ll only take one at a time for fear of Maya diving in the deep end when I look away for a second.

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Our room was also lovely and the kids were entertained for a full half hour just by watching themselves dance in the mirror (ah to be 2 again!) My particular highlight of the stay was when Made took Maya out for a walk and Kiran was napping and I got to have a bubble bath in peace in the huge marble corner tub and read my book – heaven!

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We loved just being able to wander onto the beach and sit and let the kids run around. Kiran was fascinated with the jet skis and they would have been happy entertaining themselves there for hours. There’s something about sitting by the sea that just lets go of all your stress and lets you really relax – sometimes I really wish we lived closer to the coast so we could go there every day.

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Also I have to give a shout-out to the buffet breakfast which was the most amazing hotel breakfast I’ve ever had! There was everything you could possibly ever want to eat from pastries to sushi and everything was fresh and yummy – you could have pancakes and eggs cooked to order any way you liked. unfortunately I didn’t get any photos as Kiran was running a fever and wanted to go back to the room (also maya was being a little beast and refusing to eat anything and flinging yogurt on the floor) but trust me, it was fabulous!

I really didn’t want to leave when it was time to head home and it was definitely the break we needed to feel refreshed and pampered! Thanks Grand Aston Bali Beach Resort for having us :)

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A birthday on the beach – Komune Beach Club, Keramas Bali

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As I mentioned last year, I wasn’t expecting Made to do anything or even remember my birthday this year so I took things into my own hands and arranged to go out for lunch with friends. Now Ubud isn’t near a beach (despite what the Eat Pray Love movie would have you believe) – the closest touristy beach is Sanur. However if you drive through Gianyar for 20 minutes you will get to some black sand beaches, deserted except for locals on fishing boats and making sate.

Well these beaches have become popular with surfers in recent years and some clever developer has recognised the missed potential in these beaches and built a seminyak-style surf and beach club – Komune at Keramas beach.

I stayed away from the upscale beach clubs when we were in Seminyak because I’m not an upscale kind of person (ha!) but I think this place has got it just right. The food is on the pricey side but totally worth it as you get to hang out all day by the pool on huge comfy bed-like loungers and cushions on the grass. There were also loads of families there and I’ll definitely be heading back there with the kiddos one day.

We left before it started getting dark as we didn’t want to get lost on the way back (had a bit of an issue with directions on the way there and ended up past Klungkung, nearly Candi Dasa -oops!) but apparently at night they have special floodlights on the ocean and have night surfing displays. How cool is that? There’s also a hotel there for people who want to stay over night.

We spent the whole day eating, lounging and drinking beer watching the waves and the sun was setting before we knew it. Not a bad way to spend a birthday :)

The best of Bali

So naturally I get a lot of questions from people coming to Bali about where to go and what to see. I write a fair bit on this topic for other sites but I thought I would put some tips in here too as I don’t actually have a lot of information about travelling around Bali, apart from day trips and such that we’ve done.

Bali is a tiny island but there is plenty to do – holidays to Bali don’t have to just be sea and sand unless you want them to be. In fact you don’t need to go anywhere near the beach if sunbathing is your idea of hell. We have rice fields! Volcanoes! Elephant parks! Yoga retreats!

If you’re visiting Bali for the first time, here is my list of must-sees. There’s still a lot I haven’t seen of the island and hopefully I can add to this list soon as I explore further :)

Kintamani

P1020318Lots of people include Kintamani in a day trip where they have a quick look at the volcano, get hassled by touts selling souvenirs and eat an overpriced lunch. It’s worth it for the view but I would also totally recommend heading downhill to the foot of the volcano and exploring around (preferably on motorbike). there’s some gorgeous scenery and crazy volcanic landscapes.

Bedugul

P1030005I love Bedugul. It has a pretty temple and a gorgeous huge botanical gardens that costs next to nothing to enter. You can bring a picnic or buy strawberries from the market and have a feast. i wish it was just a little closer so we could take the kids for a run around on the grass without the 90 minute car journey. Also Bedugul is at a high altitude and so a lot cooler than the main tourist areas. If you can catch it on a day when it’s not raining, it’s really quite lovely. Oh and you can hire a boat to go around the lake!

Padang Bai

P1020843It hasn’t got the best beach but I still love Padang Bai. There’s a really chilled out vibe here but plenty of cafes and entertainment to keep you busy for a couple of days if you want to stay.

Amed

P1040991We went to Amed on a weekend trip when i was a few months pregnant with Maya. Made was bored stiff but I loved it here and I’m itching to go back. There’s not much to do, true, but what else do you need when you have that gorgeous black sand, rolling seas and dramatic sky? Also there are dolphins! It’s the perfect place to relax, in my opinion.

Nusa Lembongan

P1030175Catch a boat from Sanur and you can reach this chilled out little island in 90 minutes. Again there’s not much to do but enjoy the white sand beaches, dinner on the beach and tootle around on your scooter. There are no cars here and just one little road that goes all the way around the island so it’s the perfect place to learn to drive a motorbike. I did (on a manual no less!) and then never did it again (4 years and counting). Bali traffic is scary!

Besakih

P1020937If you’re just going to see one temple then you may as well make it the biggest and best. Besakih or ‘Mother Temple’ is impressive any time but even more so if you can visit during one of the big ceremonies that happen only very rarely. I’ve heard tourists having a lot of problems visiting here because they’re forced to hire a guide so I say wear balinese dress and find a balinese family to bring you :)

Nungnung waterfall

_MG_5479You probably saw this already in my sling diaries post. I really think it’s one of the most impressive waterfalls in Bali and one that few tourists visit  – definitely worth a visit!

Campuhan ridge walk

DSC07996Yes it really is that pretty! Another sling diaries photoshoot location. If you find yourself in Ubud, it’s definitely worth doing this walk, preferably around sunset. See it before the developers ruin it!

So that’s it for now. As I said, I really want to explore more – I’ve never been to the west or the north of the island (well no further west than Amed anyway) and I’m hoping to persuade Made to take a couple of trips this year now that the kids are getting better at travelling in the car. Who knows, maybe I’ll even manage to escape from Kiran for a night or two and have a child-free weekend – bliss!

 

Wanderlust: Nepal

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My journey into Nepal started at the Indian border and continued east to Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha. My first days were spent on a 2-day trek through the jungle of Chitwan national park, involving an up close and personal encounter with a real wild charging rhino, a bloodthirsty leech, and an unstable canoe carved from a tree trunk which predictably upturned while I was still in it.

Looking back at my photos of Nepal I see that I hardly took any of my time here and it all seems like a blurry muddle of dreams and reality. I think really I was still reeling from my trial-by-fire start in India and being plunged into the chaos of Kathmandu only stirred up my confusion. Culture shock aside, I loved Nepal and it remains one of my favourite places in the world today, tied only with Laos for beautiful people and beautiful surroundings.

I loved the crazy, dirty, busy life in Kathmandu – fluttering prayer flags, monkeys, street kids, hippy cafe and insane traffic all co-existing together and never stopping for a moment.

My 5-day hike in the Annapurnas was a highlight of my trip and definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone. I didn’t know how I would handle it, having done very little fitness training in preparation. It was tough no doubt, but the rewards were unbelievable. You never realise quite how strong you are until you push yourself. That first photo of the snow covered peak (I can’t remember which one, but no doubt my father will chime in, in the comments) was the first glimpse I had of the real mountains after a hard uphill slog of several hours on the first day. It was worth it.

Nothing can compare to watching the sunrise and sunset over some of the highest peaks in the world and one evening we sat on our balcony in our sleeping bags and just watched the sun go down behind the mountains for hours until it was pitch black – about a million times more entertaining than tv.

It gets cold in the mountains and I was ill-prepared. I would go to bed wearing all my clothes and three pairs of socks but my thin sleeping bag was not enough for the altitudes. I had strange dreams and woke frequently in the night, my body unable to maintain the warmth needed for sleep. In the dark I would sit up with a jolt, not knowing where I was and why my feet had turned to blocks of ice.

My time in Nepal was way too short and I was sad to leave, but one day I will return. I want Made, Maya and Kiran to experience the mountains too.

 

 

Wanderlust: India

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As you may know, I was backpacking around Asia when I stumbled into Bali and ended up staying here. Travel was my first love and where most of my money went when i was working full-time in the UK. I never wasted my holiday allowance and I’d start planning my next trip as soon as I got back in order to stem the waves of depression.

Since settling in Bali I’ve not travelled much. I had a short trip to Australia to apply for my visa, we visited Thailand for a holiday and a friends wedding, I did a visa run to Singapore and we went back to the UK for a month when Maya was still a baby. My travelling days are not over however and from time to time I do get itchy feet again. It’s difficult to go too far from home when the children are so young and the Balinese don’t really ‘do’ travel (well would you if you lived in paradise!) None the less, I am determined to start exploring the world again within the next few years.

In the meantime, I’d like to start sharing some of my past travel experiences here. I was pretty rubbish about blogging when I was actually travelling and most of these photos haven’t been published anywhere else but facebook.

India was my first stop of my life-changing trip around Asia. It’s funny because everyone says not to start with India but of course I can’t bear to follow well-meaning advice. I never even wanted to go to India – I thought it would be dirty and chaotic and I’d hate it. Well it is dirty and chaotic but actually, I loved it. I fell in love with India from the very first day zooming around on my own in an auto-rickshaw in Delhi, laughing at myself and wondering what the hell I’d let myself in for as we weaved in and out of traffic.

In India I watched the sunset over the Taj Mahal, camped by the side of the Ganges River, watched Diwali fireworks explode in the skies over Varanasi, fainted in a temple and recieved many marriage proposals. India really challenged me as a single girl travelling on my own and proved to me that I could really do anything now that I was free to do what I really wanted.

India is dust and dirt and color and life. It gets under your skin and I’d go back there in a heartbeat.

An afternoon at Sanur

IMG_0313 IMG_0315 IMG_0330 IMG_0335 IMG_0338 IMG_0340 IMG_0351 IMG_0369 sanurafternoon IMG_0395 IMG_0401 IMG_0406 IMG_0418 IMG_0423 IMG_0426 IMG_0448Contrary to what the Eat Pray Love movie would have you believe, Ubud has no beach.We are however only half an hour away from the coastal village of Sanur and we do like to take a trip down there from time to time (not often enough) in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not quite so strong.

My dad is here at the moment and we’ve been trying to take more trips out so we took a little trip down to Sanur in the afternoon the other day. We usually go to one of the tourist beaches behind the big hotels as they’re cleaner but this time we decided to head down to the local beach – packed with families, screaming kids, kite flyers and lumpia (spring roll) and barbecued sweetcorn sellers.

Maya seems to have overcome her fear of the ocean and practically threw herself into the waves. Kiran is stil not convinced but he LOVES the sand (in contrast to Maya at his age who refused to walk on it). Both kids spent a happy couple of hours making sandcastles and digging and we got to sit back and relax while they ran around (apart from a few occasions of running after Kiran who was in pursuit of a doggy).

I’m thinking we might have to make a beach trip a weekly tradition

 

Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries – Beauty

IMG_3973 IMG_3975 IMG_3978 IMG_3990 IMG_3996 2013-03-14 IMG_4028 IMG_4010 IMG_3948 2013-03-141 IMG_4003So we’ve finally come to the end of The Sling Diaries. I really can’t quite believe it – 6 months gone in a flash. Kiran has grown from a little baby into a walking, talking (well, grunting!) little person. I’ve had so much fun going on adventures with my baby on my hip and exploring the themes of delight, connection, discovery, expression, tradition and beauty.

So beauty – here is what I know. I’m lucky that my children get to grow up in such a beautiful place as Bali. They are lucky they get to see the world from our height instead of seeing nothing but feet. We are all lucky we get to explore the beauty around us whenever we want.

This is one of my favourite walks in Ubud and I learned recently that the land is for sale and there may very well be a big hotel being built here within a couple of years. There’s a very real possibility that many of my favourite places and walks in Bali may simply not exist by the time my children have kids of their own.

Thank you Sakura Bloom for inspiring us to get out and see all this beauty while it still exists. I hope in some small way by getting out, exploring and posting up my pictures here I will inspire some others to enjoy the natural beauty of the rice fields, forests, hills and rivers in Bali as they are instead of putting up another hotel or villa.

We wear simple linen and silk slings from Sakura Bloom

This post is the final part of a 6 part series for the Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries. We are one of 15 families documenting our babywearing experience over a six month period. You can follow the Sling Diaries on Pinterest, Facebook or Tumblr. You can read all my other blog posts for the sling diaries here.

Photos by my beautiful and talented friend Stephanie Mee

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