27 August 2011

Bali - Sanctuaries and Temples

After our previous day out we booked the same driver to take us to a couple of other places closer to Ubud later that week.  We decided to spend the morning at an elephant sanctuary called The Elephant Safari at Taro close to Ubud.  In our guidebook this was described as a place where the elephants that had been used in Sumatra for logging had been retired to after the use of elephants for this purpose was stopped. 

The journey there again reminded me of the vast difference between the landscape of Bali in comparison to Singapore.  We passed through several villages and towns with chickens and dogs running up and down the roads, small side streets and locals selling all manner of things from roadside stalls and shops.  Several stalls were selling petrol in vodka bottles but sadly I did not manage to get a photo.  On the way we made a brief stop at a place in Denpasar that prints batik patterned clothing and other items and sells these.  It was interesting to watch them at work and then to view the finished items.  Batik printing is a very common technique used in Indonesia as well as many other parts of Asia and batik patterned objects are readily available to buy.

As we continued on our way I had my first sight of paddy fields as well.  Having only ever seen these fields on TV I really was excited to see them for real, fields or any crops are not seen in Singapore and whilst obviously there are no paddy fields in the UK I miss that kind of open space.  We passed several fields with cows in as well, again a rare sight for me these days.  Truly wonderful scenery and I'd definitely like to see more of the island to see more of it.

Views above and below from our lunch stop across the paddy fields

When we arrived at the sanctuary we had already decided that we did not want to go on an elelphant ride.  We thought though that we would be able to see the elephants regardless.  Unfortunately though it quickly became apparent that if you did not go on a ride it was either a case of being lucky that you arrived as the elephants were coming back from one ride in the jungle before heading off on another.  Or else having to wait for them to return in order to briefly see them.  There were unfortunately no elephants that you could just see regardless of whether you wanted to go on the ride or not.

Monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

The sanctuary did have some other animals, a few monkeys and some birds but they were in enclosures that, in my opinion, were far too small for them and with nothing in them to keep them entertained and stimulated.  Whilst the elephants all looked well cared for it was a shame there was nothing there for people who did not want to or could not go on an actual elephant ride.

Other than this and the other few animals there was not much else to see at the sanctuary.  As a consequence once we'd seen the elephants (briefly) before they disappeared into the jungle to begin another ride and we'd wandered around we were ready to leave.  It was an expensive disappointment.  

Thankfully the rest of our day was far more enjoyable.  Ahead of our afternoon we stopped at a restaurant near Ubud which sadly I did not take note of the name (more fool me).  The food was good with a varied selection of dishes, but the real delight were the views across the paddy fields.  The back of the restaurant literally opened right out on to the fields with barely anything separating us from them.  It was clearly a popular stop for the drivers of the tourists as the restaurant was fairly busy but I can understand why it would be with views like that.

Following our lunch stop we then went on to the Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana or Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.  This was great!  The forest houses a sacred Balinese Hindu temple, the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal temple as well as a 'Holy Spring' bathing temple and a temple that is used for cremation ceremonies.  The place is held sacred and there is a local belief that the monkeys there are an intrinsic part of the spiritual life of the temple.  Clearly the villagers of Padangtegal are very proud of their temple and work hard to maintain it and ensure the monkeys are well looked after and respected.  

Just like on our trip to Uluwatu the monkeys were very inquisitive and cheeky and as before you could buy fruit in order to feed them.  Being so bold and unafraid of humans means you can walk amongst them, observe them closely and enjoy their behaviours and characters at close hand.  The place was busy with tourists but peaceful too particularly around the temple complex.  I would recommend a visit to the temple if you find yourself in the Ubud area.

It was a shame that our day began with a visit that we did not get a great deal from.  Perhaps if we had decided to do the elephant ride our experience would have been vastly different but we were not keen to do so and had hoped to be able to see the elephants regardless.  The monkeys at the temple though were wonderful and made a lovely end to our day.  As we drove back through Ubud the vast array of individual shops caught my eye, definitely a place to return to, I hope, some day.

22 August 2011

A Bali Experience

As I mentioned in my last post our base for the week we were in Bali was Kuta but we did venture away from there to see other parts of the island during our stay.  Bali is bigger than Singapore and public transport is not as good so we did what was recommended and hired, through our hotel, a driver to take us to the places we wanted to go to.  Driving (and being a passenger) in Bali is certainly an experience and having someone do it for you who knows the roads seems a much more sensible option.  Even with somebody else driving though my heart skipped several beats as dogs ran across the road within feet of our car and the driver barely seemed to break or slow down.  Thankfully though the dogs all made it safely across the roads.  It was also only from our trips away from Kuta that I appreciated the size of Bali in comparison to Singapore.  We may, in reality, have only visited a small part of the island but the journey times combined with the traffic jams we encountered certainly made me appreciate the difference.

Our first trip away from Kuta took us to Uluwatu.  Uluwatu is a temple right on the edge of a cliff at the Southern most point of Bali.  This part of the island is only joined to the rest of Bali by a thin strip of land and is known as the Bukit Peninsula, it really did seem a world away from the commercialism of Kuta.  It must have been a real feat to build the temple right on the edge of the cliff but it is a beautiful spot with fantastic views looking down to the Indian ocean below.  It was wonderful to be able to stand on the cliff admiring the views and to have driven through vast expanses of countryside to reach our destination, both in total contrast to the built up landscape of Singapore.

A temple has been known to exist in that spot since the 11th century when it was significantly expanded by a Javanese sage, Empu Kuturan.  Though it is claimed there was a small temple there before then.  As with many temples you need to be appropriately dressed to enter and there are sarongs which you can borrow, if needed, in order to do so.  There is a charge to go in and although you can wander freely around the temple grounds the inner courtyards are only accessible during certain rituals.

You cannot fail to notice the monkeys that live in the temple grounds and surrounding areas as well.  Be warned though the monkeys are very used to people and very adept at helping themselves to anything they can including food, hats, sunglasses, cameras and so on.  It is best to ensure anything loose is tucked well out of their reach.  As with many places you can buy fruit to feed the monkeys though, no wonder they are so tame and cheeky!

Coconuts ready to be cut open at a cafe near Uluwatu

After our visit to the temple our driver suggested we might like to visit one of the nearby beaches before returning back to the hotel.  He suggested taking us to a beach called 'Dreamland'.  This actually made me think of the theme park that used to exist in Kent (where I come from) and seemed a very un-Balinese name to give the place.  However this Dreamland was nothing like that and the beach, in my opinion, was a much more sandy and nicer one than Kuta's.  To actually get to the beach we had to drive through what has obviously become a very commercialised area with golf courses and new developments emerging.  We also had to pay to get on to the complex and therefore to get to the beach. 

As you'd expect there were several shops selling a variety of tacky souvenirs and snacks but it was a nice place to finish our day by watching the world go by and the sun begin to set.  Whilst there we stopped at a cafe for a drink and I tried Balinese coffee.  It reminded me a little of kopi in that it was very sweet but it was served black.  I'd have it again though.

To reach the beach we had to walk down a fairly steep hill and narrow path past a lot of the little tourist shops.  Once we got there though the sandy beach stretching out before us surrounded by cliffs making the beach seem somewhat of a secret find was very inviting.  The beach was full of families and friends enjoying the late afternoon sunshine by the sea and the last surf of the day, there was even a man practicing his cocktail skills with some empty bottles.  Although there were plenty of people around it felt very relaxed and a totally different experience to the beach at Kuta.  To me it felt as if this place was as popular with locals as with the tourists. 

It was a delightful day with the beauty of the temple combined with a couple of hours by the beach.  I felt like I was seeing a little bit more of the real beauty of Bali.

Balinese coffee

17 August 2011

Bali - Kuta

Whilst our visitors were staying we visited Bali with our base for the week being Kuta.  I'll be honest from the start if I ever go back to Bali (and hopefully I will) I would want to stay somewhere else, perhaps Ubud (more on that soon).  However for a holiday to Bali with children Kuta is probably a good place to be based.  It is easy, yes it is obviously not Singapore and is far more chaotic but there are Western tourists everywhere and the hotels and restaurants are geared up for tourists and families.  The downside to this though is that you could be anywhere, particularly when we were in the hotel complex.  I do not think you can hope to get a true Bali experience if you only stay in Kuta.  That's my opinion though, perhaps yours is different?

Despite that though Kuta was good fun.  The beach or more precisely the surf is popular with surfers.  We visited another beach in another part of Bali later in the week (more soon) and I did personally think that was a nicer beach as was the beach on our recent trip to Bintan.  That said though seeing all the surfers was a great sight and it was great to be on a natural rather than a man made beach.

Our time in Kuta was spent mostly in the hotel complex by the pool, apart from a couple of walks on the beach.  In the evenings though we went out into Kuta trying different restaurants each night.  A lot of the roads in Bali do not have formal names rather they acquire names that the locals give them.  One road we visited several times (as it was close to our hotel) was Poppies Gang 1, there is a restaurant on this road called Poppies (which I believe lent its name to the road).  The place cannot be faulted, it served a mix of local and more Westernised dishes (always handy when travelling with children) and was very family orientated. 

Close by we sampled another place another night called Made's Warung which was one of the original roadside Warung's (meaning small family run business) in Kuta when tourism first came to Bali.  Again it served a mix of traditional local food and Westernised dishes.  I did feel we were slightly rushed here to eat and go, which was not the case anywhere else we visited, but perhaps we just caught them at a busy time.

As is the case with any tourist spot there were a multitude of stalls and shops selling a variety of souvenirs, some more tacky than others.  The local Indonesian beer, Bintang, which we learnt means star features heavily on t-shirts.  Every other tourist we saw had the same Bintang t-shirt on in every colour you can think of.  Before you ask, no we did not buy any.  Unlike the type of souvenirs you can pick up in Singapore there were also plenty that were not really suitable for children's eyes, expecially lots of t-shirts, magnets etc. with some entertaining quotes and statements on them. 

There were motorbikes, mopeds and scooters everywhere often with the owner's entire business attached to the back of it.  Similarly stray dogs are a frequent sight on the streets dodging cars and once you are away from Kuta chickens running down the street were a frequent sight too. 

Kuta may not be a part of Bali I would rush to return to but as a base to explore other parts and for a fun holiday, particularly with children it was a good place to be.  In some ways it is hard to determine where you are but it still has a grittier vibe in comparison to Singapore and is sufficiently different with its busy chaotic roads, bustling stalls and tiny back streets to ensure you know you are away from the norm.

14 August 2011

Staying Put (For Now)

At the start of July I celebrated my first year in Singapore something I have not, up until now made reference to here.  This is partly because I have previously written similar pieces, after I made the decision to remain in Singapore with my fiance and at Christmas time about how life has changed since the move, how I've settled in and so on.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there was a possibility we were about to begin an expat adventure somewhere else.  So writing a piece about my first year here seemed to be tempting fate.

My fiance had not been happy in his previous role for sometime and had been looking for something else.  Whilst he was looking at roles in Singapore there were also other vacancies presented to him by various recruitment consultants based in other parts of the world too.  For me personally this meant having to give serious thought to the fact that when I returned from the UK as a newly wed it might be to somewhere new and not Singapore.  This uncertainty was something that was especially hard given that other than close friends I was not in a position to tell people what was happening and, if needed, say proper farewells.  To all intents and purposes I had to act as if I would be back in Singapore in October after our wedding and accept I might have to announce a move, if necessary, on here and via various forms of social media.  Ideally this is something I would much rather tell people close to me first and then share more widely.

I admit from a selfish point of view that the thought of a relocation to another country on top of organising a wedding was stressful and daunting.  I have spent much time over the past few months wondering what the outcome would be.  Even though, if we had been required to relocate, it would have been my fiance who would have had to organise most of that being as I'm currently back in the UK.  I hoped I'd know for definite what was happening before I came back to the UK but this was not the case and every morning I've been wondering if my fiance will have had any life changing (again) news whilst I was asleep.  Of course I also hoped my fiance would have heard something concrete so he too could plan and organise what needed to happen next and start a new chapter in his working life.

All along I have hoped that we'd be staying in Singapore so I admit to a certain relief now that for the time being at least, I know that is the case.  I hoped before I moved out that I would settle in to my expat life but I never imagined how much I would grow to love living in Singapore.  Therefore the sudden realisation of perhaps having to leave hit me harder than I imagined it would.  I've felt selfish at times as there were moments when I was incredibly unfair on my fiance with my hopes that we would be able to stay where we were.  I also knew though that if the right role presented itself in another country then I would have to adjust to a move.  Whilst I knew from my experience of relocating previously that I would settle in, meet new people and discover a new city I wanted to stay in Singapore as there is still so much to discover there.  As well as many opportunities still to travel easily to other places in the region.

I've come to appreciate that the expat life is transitory in its nature.  In the time I've lived in Singapore I've known people who arrived after me and have already moved on.  Similarly though I'm continuously presented with opportunities to meet new people, both expats and locals.  Through mutual friends, casual conversations and chance meetings with strangers in shops and bars and from writing this blog.  When I think back to when I first moved here I was naive to a lot, perhaps just as well.  I truly believed we would only be here a couple of years then head back to the UK.  Almost as if we had never been away.  I know now that won't be the case and I do not think I'm the same person, in some ways, that I was when I first arrived (remember I never had any plans to live abroad) and I would be sad to see my expat life end.  Having said that I could not contemplate never returning to the UK either.  This past week one of my parents beloved pet cats had to be put to sleep and I was so glad I was in the UK to be with him too.  I guess this proves that no matter how much I may love living in Singapore and view it as my home, there will always be times where there is no place better to be than the UK and the security it provides.

I do know we will not be here forever and that it is likely we'll move on somewhere else at some point.  Hopefully though we'll both have time to prepare and plan for that, perhaps even selecting places we might prefer.  Even if we don't have that luxury I'm sure I'll settle in and have just as much fun as I've so far had in Singapore, but for now I'm glad to be staying and I know not to take a second of this opportunity for granted.

10 August 2011

The King of Fruits

I finally did it, I tried durian.  I'm not going to beat about the bush I didn't enjoy it at all.  I'd previously tried some durian flavoured sweets which were not good.  However I was prepared to try the real thing as well, just in case.

Well I thought the sweets were bad but the actual fruit was no better.  Its only saving grace was that the taste did not linger in my mouth as long as the taste from the sweets did.  I can't explain the taste to anyone who has not had it but it really was like nothing I've ever tried before.  It isn't a taste that as a Westerner I'm used to and I suppose trying it as an adult therefore makes it hard to become accustomed to and to actually like it.  I don't know either whether buying it ready prepared is the best way to try it and if you should, in fact, buy the fruit and prepare it yourself.  However I was not sure how to prepare it and also I could not bare the thought of the smell lingering in our flat. 

Near to us is a fruit shop that sells both the fruit and prepared packs, best of all you can sit there and eat it which is what we did.  We did not eat much I'm afraid and another man already at the shop gained as he got the rest of our pack of durian when we decide we could eat no more.

I will not be having it again but I could not live here either without trying it.  At least I can now say with confidence that yes I've tried it but no I don't like it.

I'm sure even the shop's pet cockatoo thought we were mad for trying durian

08 August 2011

Singapore Bus Tour

Going on tour buses that take in all the main sights of a city is something I'll often do if I'm only in a place for a brief stay.  Singapore has these buses too and whilst our visitors were here I thought it might be a nice way for them to see the main sites and get their bearings a bit.

There are a few bus companies that run tours, as well as a duck tour option (the ones that go both on land and in water).  I picked the hop on and off bus tour which lets you ride as far as you want, get off if you want to and then rejoin the tour once you've explored an area.  The tours pick up and sell tickets at the Suntec shopping mall and there are a couple of tours you can chose from.  We decided on the Heritage tour as this looked to go to all the main areas and take in all the main sights.  In the end we also decided to stay on the bus and do the whole tour ending up back at Suntec again which takes about an hour.

The tour takes in Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, the Central Business District, the Marina Bay Sands area and Singapore Flyer, Raffles Hotel and lots of other touristy areas of Singapore.  The buses are double deckers and we chose to sit on the open top upper deck.  There are sections towards the back of the bus that have a roof so you can avoid the sun but still benefit from the breeze.  The only problem I found with sitting here was that it was a struggle to hear the commentary above the sound of the traffic etc. so maybe sitting downstairs is the better option.

I did not learn anything I did not already know but given I've been in Singapore just over a year now I'm guessing that is not surprising.  Despite that though it was a fun trip and much kinder on us all, to be on the bus touring around, given the temperature and humidity outside.

07 August 2011

Wedding Invitations

Although not strictly about my expat life in Singapore I couldn't resist sharing this with you all.  My friend Lynne made our wedding invitations and given that we live in Singapore we have planned a subtle Asian element to the whole day.

You can see the finished result here.  I think you have to agree they look pretty good!
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