Category Archives: Indonesia

New feature: White – #worldcolours project

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In a project inspired by fellow blogger Naomi, I’ve joined the #worldcolours project. (See here for more details)

To quote from Naomi’s blog:

It’s a joint effort between bloggers all over  to collate our photos that all have ONE thing in common.  COLOR! During the end of each month, we’ll be sharing our version of imagery based on a color calendar … starting with WHITE. ”

So, here’s my first world colours post – welcome to my world of white!

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot - my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot – my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

Old tiles, Vietnam

Old tiles, Vietnam

Selling nuts in Mumbai

Selling nuts in Mumbai

The stunning Taj Mahal - I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

The stunning Taj Mahal – I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Figure in Thailand

Figure in Thailand

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

Making dumplings in Taipei

Making dumplings in Taipei

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

I really enjoyed putting this post together – it was great to look back over some of my photos and revisit all the memories I have associated with them. Looking forward to next months colour!

East Java and Mount Bromo

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It’s been said before, but living in Singapore really does open up Asia for exploration. It’s a fantastic base to jump off from. This was definitely the case when Will & I visited the eastern side of Java. It was not a place either of us had known anything about before moving to Asia, but we were really excited about taking a trip over there. We have decided to make the most of being here and explore places that we perhaps wouldn’t have seen, had we stayed in London.

Will was already in Indonesia on a work trip so I flew into Surabaya to meet him, and to start our Javanese jaunt. We didn’t really spend any time in Surabaya as we wanted to get straight up to Mount Bromo, and it was about a 3 hour car journey to get there.  I had already arranged to be picked up by Eko from the Cafe Lava Hostel, which is based in Cemoro Lawang (the nearest place to Bromo). We had a great drive through loads of little villages and up twisty mountain roads to get there. The scenery was just jaw-dropping, and it was wonderful to see what village life was like in Java (lots of chickens and goats wandering around).

We stayed in the Cafe Lava Hostel, which has mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but we really liked. The staff were super friendly, and the bedroom was basic but comfortable. In the evening the temperature really drops – not something we were used to coming from Singapore! Make sure you take jeans/long trousers and a cosy jumper. I saw one girl shivering in shorts and clearly most of the tops she owned. We had a delicious meal in the cafe before heading off to bed for an early night – we had an 3.30am wake-up call to get up and see the sunrise.  The room is chilly but once you get into bed it’s cosy and you soon warm up.

I was fast asleep when Eko came to wake us up, but we were soon out of bed, wrapped up, and in the back of a 4×4. The journey up to the viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan is pretty scary, as you are bouncing around with dust in the headlights, giving very little visibility, and you know there is a steep drop off the side of a mountain just out of view! Take a sport bra ladies, as the road is anything but even! However, soon we were perched on the edge of the mountain, with about 20 other people, making sure we had a good spot to watch the sun come up. It was great to look back at where we had come from, and see a procession of pinprick headlights snaking up in the darkness.

The sunrise started slowly – just a slight lightness in the east. I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many photos of the same thing! With each increase in light, the landscape was transformed. Slowly you could make out more and more details. The sky turned beautiful colours, highlighting the mist nestled around the volcano on the volcanic plain. Mount Bromo rises out of the mist, with its taller cousin, Mount Semeru smoking in the background. The word magical gets overused, but this definitely felt like an incredible experience, and one that managed to shut both Will & I up, as we gazed out over it in awe.

Mist in the caldera

Mackerel sky

The MOST beautiful sunrise

Sunrise over the caldera

After watching the daylight slowly arrive, we headed back down Mount Penanjakan, and back over the Sea of Sands towards Bromo itself. From here, you can climb up to the top of Bromo, and peer over the edge into its smoky crater! You can hire a pony to take you most of the way, if you  like, but there are quite a lot of steps to climb up at the end. It was quite tough going (we didn’t take the horse) because of the sandy ground, and the thin air, but it was so amazing to look down into the mouth of a volcano, and out at the peculiar landscape that was laid out before us.

View coming back down

View coming down #2

View looking down from Bromo

After another bumpy ride back to the hostel, and a bit of breakfast, we headed off again – our destination this time was the city of Malang, where we planned to spend a few days just relaxing. The drive was just as spectacular. We stopped on the other side of Bromo and the landscape here looks incredibly European – grassy and green! We drove along the tops of hills, with incredible views down into the valleys. I was astounded by how much farming went on – the slopes are so steep! Apparently, they grow a lot of potatoes in this region.

Looks like Europe!

Farming in the hills

We stopped at a beautiful waterfall on our journey – Coban Pelangi. You wander down the hillside, crossing a stream, before rounding a corner and spotting this incredible cascade!

Stream

Coban Pelangi

Malang is a pretty town with lots of buildings dating back from the Dutch colonial era. We stayed in the Tugu Hotel Malang which is a really quirky hotel, with koi ponds, tons of lush greenery and loads of antiquities lining the hallways and restaurants. It is a bit of an oasis from the urban atmosphere all around you.

We wandered down to the bird market which was just a short walk from the hotel. I’ve never been to a market like it! Not only were there loads of different types of birds, chirping away, but there were also monkeys, bats and civets for sale! Next door there is also a big flower market, which is kind of welcome change from the madness of the bird market.

Birdcages at the market

Beautiful Bougainvillea

We took a trip out of the city to some orchards where they grow loads of different varieties of apples, strawberries, guava, oranges and more. It’s peaceful and cool up there, with great views over the city and up the mountains.

View from the orchard

Gorgeous guavas

We also took a trip to some hot springs, tucked away up in the mountains. Will went for a dip but with the conservative culture in Java I didn’t feel right going for a swim in a bikini, especially not when some of the other women were swimming wearing jeans and t-shirts! If you do go, take a t-shirt you don’t mind getting wet to make sure you cover up.

We had a fantastic time in Java – our Mount Bromo experience was one which left us both raving about it for days afterwards. This part of Java is also relatively undeveloped, so you still get to experience village culture. Even in Malang we never got hassled or subjected to endless questioning; the closest we came was men on bicycles waving and shouting ‘hi’ as we walked around! I’d definitely recommend a visit if you fancy doing something a little different.

I’ve put a selection of photos in this post, but you can see more on my Java Flickr set.

Beaching it in Bintan

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Over the Easter bank holiday, we went to Bintan with our friends Fi & Nav for a little bit of beach hut action. Bintan is a firm favourite amongst Singapore residents, as it’s the perfect beach side getaway, but only an hour ferry ride from Singapore. It is part of the Riau archipelago in Indonesia, so you get all the flavour of being in a different country, without travelling very far. To Will’s delight, the time difference between Bintan and Singapore, means that you arrive at the same time that you depart!

On the recommendation of a friend (cheers Adam!), we stayed on Trikora Beach in a lovely little place called the Shady Shacks. Basic but lovely huts right by the beach, with a little restaurant/bar to provide sustenance and refreshment. With some good friends and a pack of cards, what more do you need?! Trikora Beach is on the other side of the island to Bintan Resorts, which is the part of the island that most people visit. We had an hour drive in a car to arrive, but it was nice to really escape all the hustle and bustle.

View from our ‘Shady Shack’

Part of the beach

The accommodation is basic – take a sarong or something similar to sleep under, and some toilet paper! However, the host, Lobo, is super friendly and very helpful. The menu in the restaurant is centered around fish and chicken, and while we didn’t get bored with the small selection during the time we spent there, I think any more than a few days and you’d be craving something else to eat.

Post fish – with Fi & Nav

Mostly we spent our time relaxing on the beach; reading books, swimming and chatting away. We also played lots of cards! On the second day we were there, we arranged a boat to take us to one of the little island we could see from the beach, that had the most gorgeous pale sand, and beautiful turquoise water. It was actually a nicer beach than the one just by the Shady Shacks, and was nice to have a little change of scene. After whiling away a few hours there, we came back and had a massage on the beach – bliss!

Island hopping

The boys relax on the boat over

What a beach!

That evening there was the most gorgeous full moon, and I had a bit of fun trying to spell out letters by moving my camera around to catch the light – what do you think?!

Moon ‘W’

Moon ‘C’

We had a fantastic time on Bintan – it was great going to sleep to the sound of the waves crashing outside, and waking up to see the sun rise over the South China Sea (still sounds impossibly exotic to me!). I can’t speak for the other parts of the islands, but I’d recommend hanging out at Trikora beach if it’s just for a few days, and you don’t mind getting back to basics, whilst soaking up the sunshine and the views.

Mozaic restaurant, Ubud, Bali

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Whilst we were enjoying our Christmas break in Bali, we went and ate at Mozaic restaurant in Ubud. Mozaic is set slightly out of Ubud, so it’s definitely a taxi ride to get there. Inside the decor is very modern, but with hints of Balinese. You can either sit indoors or outside in the gardens.

It’s supposed to be the best restaurant in Ubud, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We had the special Christmas Chef’s Table menu, which was a 6 course tasting menu (and we also opted to do the wine pairing with each course). As we were having the chef’s table menu, we were led through the gardens to a private room at the back, with about 8 tables in it. The kitchen is here, as they often run cooking courses in this room. It’s all very sleek and slick looking, with enough beautiful kitchen gadgets to keep me fascinated, whilst we waited for our first course.

The chef cooking for us was a New Zealander called Blake Thornley. He was incredibly friendly and welcoming, saying from the outset that he wanted people to come up and see what he and his team were doing, as well as ask questions about each dish, and cooking techniques etc. It gave me free rein to ask all my geeky gastronomic questions! Ha!

We started off with a delicious amuse bouche of tuna, with a soy and ginger dressing. Delicious, and it really woke up your mouth, ready for all the other treats coming up.

The next course was ‘Fine de Claire’ oysters, with crushed raspberries and fresh black truffles. It’s here that I must confess that I don’t like oysters. I’ve tried them a couple of times and I just don’t enjoy the texture or taste. It seems a little pointless to gulp down something that you barely taste. My only concession to oysters is when they are cooked (reduces the chance of making you ill as well!). So Will enjoyed his oyster starter, but I had a beautiful alternative of lobster instead, which was perfectly sweet and soft,  complimented with salty vegetable crisps and sauce.

This indulgent fishy starter was followed by a fish course – confied coral trout with wild mushroom crumble, potato espuma and sticky Iberico jus.  I’d never heard of coral trout, nevermind eaten it before. Coral trout is actually a reef fish and found all around Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Blake explained how the coral trout had been confied – slowly oven cooked in a low heat oven in a pan filled with oil, flavoured with herbs, at a low heat, until the trout is perfect. The trout was beautiful – just the right side of cooked, and soft but with plenty of flavour. The potato espuma was potatoes aerated in the same way as whipped cream – a new way of having mashed potato – meaning that it was the perfect light accompaniment to the fish. The Iberico jus was made by boiling pigs heads and trotters to make a stock, which was then reduced down to a jus over 36 hours – that’s some commitment to creating this amazing nod to surf and turf! Gorgeous, and perfectly matched with a 2008 Australian Chardonnay.

Perhaps it is here that I should mention the sommelier. He took the time to come round and speak to all the diners, to talk to them about the meal and the wine pairings. He is Balinese, so becoming a sommelier is quite unusual, as most Balinese people don’t drink. However, he took tremendous pride in his work and was delighted that we were happy with his choices.

After the fish course, we had foie gras. I love foie gras; I know some people think its cruel but I think its delicious! Perhaps that comes of having a French mother, who knows?! We had foie gras two ways (hot & cold) served with a bitter cocoa sauce and poached cherries. I loved the hot foie gras, which was pan-fried. I think it’s the contrast of the crust that forms during the frying against the soft inside, that just melts in your mouth. The unusual combination with the bitterness of the cocoa and sweetly sharp cherries was just gorgeous. Paired with a 2008 Reisling (which I discovered I really, really like!).

After the foie gras, I was feeling rather full, and a little bit tipsy from the wine pairings! The meat course was up next: Australian lamb loin, served with pumpkin and lemon puree, sage, and spiced jus. The lamb was perfectly cooked – pink in the middle – and deliciously meaty next to the soft pumpkin and spicy sage jus. Unfortunately, much to Will’s amusement I was so enjoying the lamb and the Bordeaux that we had with it, that I completely forgot to take a photo …sorry about that folks, but take my word for it that it was divine!

Cheese course next: Vacherin Cheese with baked brioche, and warm mushroom and black truffle vierge. I have a photo of this one! The brioche was soft, sweet and buttery, next to the rich cheese. The mushroom and truffle vierge lifted the richness and stopped it becoming too cloying. I’m not a massive fan of strong cheeses, but this was good match with the sweetness of the brioche.

Finally, we had the dessert course. I was super full by this point, but when I saw what it was, I knew I’d make room, no matter what! Baked hazelnut chocolate fondant, with goat milk ice cream and Armangnac reduction. Died and officially gone to heaven. I was intrigued to find out how they did the fondants, as I’ve watched enough episodes of Masterchef and Come Dine with Me to know the route to being an amateur chef is littered with the graves of failed fondants. Blake was confident in his method – all down to the timing apparently, and the texture of the top as you take it out of the oven (better to err on the undercooked, squidgy side to ensure a fondant centre). We all watched with bated breath as Blake eased the first fondant out of the mould – success! We were all rather in awe. But then, rather embarrassingly, it all started to go wrong – the fondants coming out of the mould started to collapse in on themselves, much to his embarrassment. He brushed it off as not having brought them to room temperature before cooking (they’d been prepped earlier in the day and stored in the fridge) but it made me smile that even a chef who has made thousands of fondants, still finds them tricky!

But luckily, there were enough perfect ones for us to sit down with a plateful, a glass of Sauternes, and start tucking in. Oh wow! Rich oozing chocolate combined with tangy goats milk ice cream – sharp and surprising at first, then deliciously salty and sweet – all with a hit of Armagnac finishing things off. I’d never have thought of such a combination, but it was delicious and unexpected. I could have happily eaten it all over again!

We left Mozaic feeling fully, tipsy but delighted at the wonderful evening we’d had – it really made Christmas special. Thanks must go to Blake Thornley and his team of sous-chefs for all the wonderfully delicious food they created, and for answering all my questions about dish composition and cooking techniques whilst trying to plate up! Also the sommelier – we didn’t catch his name, but he did a wonderful job with the wine pairings – even managing to get me to enjoy a dessert wine for the first time ever! Highly recommended if you find yourself in Ubud and want to eat somewhere special.

A very Bali Christmas

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Christmas 2011 was a series of firsts for Will & I. Despite having been together for more than 7 years, it was the first time we actually spent Christmas Day together. Usually, we spend it with our respective families, meeting up on Boxing Day. It was also the first time that either of us had spent Christmas anywhere other than in England, and the first time we’d ever had a ‘hot’ Christmas.

When we first arrived in Singapore, we decided almost instantly that we should go away for the festive season. We knew flying back to England wasn’t really an option – too far, not enough days holiday, expensive, and potentially rubbish timing as we would be trying to get settled in Singapore, and returning home so soon might have made us feel even more homesick. We did a little bit of Googling and looking on Skyscanner to find affordable flights, and Bali came up trumps. We’d been once before, back in 2009, and LOVED it, so we knew we’d have a great time. 4 nights booked in Ubud.

We left Singapore bright and early, and of course had a super easy time getting through Changi airport! Two hours later, we touched down in Denpasar to an absolutely torrential rainstorm! Not quite what we had expected, and we both looked at each other and wondered ‘is it going to be like this the whole time?’. Thankfully, as we made our way by car from the airport to Ubud, the skies clearer and soon the hot Bali sun had raised our spirits.

It was so wonderful being back in Ubud, just hanging out in the clear air by the paddy fields, and enjoying the sounds of all the wildlife, especially after being somewhere so urban like Singapore (and London of course!). Where we stayed is tucked away down the end of a long road, meaning it’s very peaceful.

We spent Christmas Eve walking around Ubud. We took the road that leads out of the main town, across the river. We walked past lots of interesting little shops selling arts and other craft works. Just as we were beginning to tire we found the Art Zoo run by an American artist called Symon. Its a huge studio on several levels, and we had a great time wandering around, cooling off in the breeze blowing through the big open windows. Symon is a bit of a character, and talked to us about his work, whilst reclining in a hammock, wearing little more than a sarong! But we liked him, and we liked some of his art (some of it is truly bizarre – like a naked man, with the head of a bird) so we ended up buying a painting off him. Hey, who comes to Ubud without buying art right?! After that, we walked back into Ubud, stopping to have a massage, before hiding on our balcony for the rest of the afternoon, due to a sudden tropical downpour.

That evening we had an amazing time, eating at Mozaic restaurant, which is claimed to be Ubud’s best restaurant. We ate a six course tasting menu, at the chef’s table, where you could watch the dishes being prepared, and ask the chef questions about each dish – its ingredients, cooking methods and composition. I think I can safely say its one of, if not the best, meal I’ve ever eaten (you can read my post all about it here). I had such a fabulous evening – fantastic food, delicious wine, and great company! We went to bed feeling sleepy, full and very content.

Christmas Day! It was wonderful to wake up with Will on Christmas morning, and sit in bed opening our stockings that we’d brought with us. Lots of little treats and tasty things, as well as a Singaporean cookbook for me, and a Paul Frank T-shirt for Will, amongst other things. We ate our breakfast in the sunshine, and read on the terrace for a bit. We then went walking around Ubud again, exploring some of the shops along Jalan Dewi Sita, and Jalan Hanoman. We stopped in a cafe for a long lunch, before walking back towards our hotel. We stopped at a spa across the road from where we were staying and then indulged in a massage and beauty treatment, where you get an hour-long massage, before a green tea scrub, being covered in yoghurt, and then soaking in a bath in a garden bathroom, overlooking the paddy fields. Bliss.

In the evening, we Skyped our families (which left me a big teary afterwards) and then walked down to a restaurant where we had ordered babi gulung, or roast suckling pig, to have as our Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I started to feel rather unwell, and had to leave Will to eat everything on his own, whilst I succumbed to the food poisoning curse. I haven’t felt that ill in quite some time, and needless to say it was an early and then rather sleepless night! However, Will reports that the babi gulung was delicious!

We spent Boxing Day just taking it easy, as I was finding it hard to eat much! Lots of sitting by the pool, reading, and relaxing. Later on in the afternoon, we took a trip to the village of Lodtundah, to visit the Semar Kuning artists co-operative that operates there. It’s basically a huge gallery, with every style of Balinese painting you can think of. The co-operative arrangement means that each artist benefits from any sales of art there, so you can invest in the whole community with your purchase. The artists show you around, and are happy to talk to you about each style and the artist who painted each piece. We had actually visited the co-operative before, when we came in 2009 but didn’t remember where it was or what it was called, so we were delighted that we had ended up there. Prices are very negotiable, so don’t be afraid to ask for a discount (we managed to pay a third of the price we were originally quoted!). We bought a beautiful painting of a pair of parrots, which I’ll put up here once we have had it re-stretched and framed.

Before too long, it was time to go home. It’s here that I must mention the only bad thing about our trip: the traffic in Ubud has become crazy. The roads are so congested with big tourist cars and motorbikes, that it took us over an hour to get out of Ubud centre! We just crawled along the streets. Despite the beauty and tranquility of Ubud, that has put me off returning somewhat, and I do think the Balinese need to take some serious steps to address it, as it won’t get any better on its own. Our driver drove like a demon to get us to the airport in time – we arrived 10 minutes before check-in closed! And then before too long we were up in the air again, saying goodbye to Bali, and on our way back home to Singapore.