Ubud after Saigon … Memories are made of these! (Part 1)

Posted: October 18, 2019 in Bali, Family, Feel-Good, Leisure, Personal, Travel
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After returning from any trip, I would often reflect and browse through my photos.  Goodness gracious me, or rather, shame on me … I have loads !!!  If a photo has a  tangible weight, seriously, I would not be able to carry my iPhone around with me anymore.  It would be mucho grande heavy. Every time I browse through my photos, I usually feel an outburst of guilt.  Why did I  have to take so many photos and then, having to keep them to myself? To moulder and to fade into oblivionNo way, Jose! It just doesn’t make any sense.  A photo is taken to be shared.  In my own vocabulary, every photo I take tells a story.  And so it goes, sharing is caring 😉

Timestamp: July 2018

Phew! How time flies! 

Has it been a year ago since my trip to the Far East? Gosh! I needed another far-away getaway so badly…

I wish I could take a year long sabbatical leave and backpack to places I have not been to, but I’m not that bold and agile 25-year old anymore. Instead, I feel more secure with my travel sidekicks in the persons of my younger sister and younger son. We did Saigon last year. Saigon is not just about the touristBen Tanh markets and the noisy streets inundated with motorcycles. I’m amazed there’s so much to see and experience off the beaten tracks. We had an awesome experience exploring the Tunnels of Cu Chi, cruising down the Saigon river on the Bonsai River Cruise, taking the Sampan and cruising the many canal ways of the Mekong Delta, cycling in the rain and taking the tuk-tuk on narrow backroads around the Mekong villages and feasting on one of the most memorable home style lunches ever with Vietnam’s famous Elephant ear fish as centrepiece! Unlike Ben Tanh Market, the Ben Tre Floating Markets on the Mekong Delta are magically special. And then there’s Saigon’s yummy Banh Mi and the moreish Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê sua dá).

Memories are made of these …

Sigh!

Getaway 

Vietnam came and went and remained a sweet memory in my mind’s eye. Could our next holiday destination beat Saigon?

Okay … Bali, here we come!

Timestamp: July 2019

Millionaire  

I felt like a millionaire all over again in Bali after Saigon

Oh man, it’s the unending zeroes on the Bank Notes.  LOL!

A million Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is only ca EUR 65 or MYR 300!  There’s no wonder why there are more tourists than the local Balinese on the island of Bali! 

Ngurah Rai International Airport

My son and I met my sister in Kuala Lumpur and we flew together with Air Asia to Bali. I was quite impressed when we touched down I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport Bali, aka Denpasar International Airport. What more could I say if it’s the second busiest airport in Indonesia after Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta?  The first thing we did upon arrival at the airport was buying SIM cards for our mobile phones during the period of our stay in Bali. Seriously, it’s so convenient, as we were out and about most of the time on the island!  Who would want to coop up in the hotel room 24/7 on a not very cheap long-haul trip all the way from Europe, right? Thanks to my sister with her in-depth knowledge of the telecommunication world and lingo, we were not easily deceived by seller(s) at the booths. Uh-uh!

Next (and a must), I bought some IDR. The rates were quite OK at the airport, and of course, better but varying rates could be found in every nook and cranny of Bali.  Be warned, though, of dodgy money changers!

By the way, my holiday to Bali was the maiden trip for my son and I, and the third for my sister.  She made it even easier for us with arranged pick-up from the airport to our hotel in Ubud.  The drive though the busy roads of Denpasar to the narrow roads of Ubud took almost 2 hours in the heavy traffic. Jun, our guide and his cousin (driver) made our journey flawless with on point pick up from location to destination.

Ubud

Originally, I had planned a 10-day stay in Ubud only, however, my Indonesian colleagues said “there’s nothing to see in Ubud” (really??), hence, Kuta was included at the last moment in our itinerary, hence we shortened our stay in Ubud to 7 days while including 3 days in Kuta. We shall see …

Luckily for us, I told my sister to pre-book some arranged tours with Jun.

Jun, by the way, is a freelanced guide for private tours around the island of Bali. As we all know, Bali thrives on tourism and Bali tour planners are mega BIG over there. If tours are not pre-booked, there are booths almost everywhere and one could make day trip arrangements on the spur of the moment. Initially, we were being audacious with our choices of tours and wanted to do and see almost everything, so from a selection of so many different tour packages offered, we decided on 2 full-day packages and 2 activity packages as following –

  • FULLDAY BTO 01. Kintamani – Waterfall tour
  • FULLDAY BTO 03. Marine sport – Uluwatu – Spa – Dinner tour
  • ACTIVITY BTO 02. White water rafting.
  • ACTIVITY BTO 07. Mount Batur sunrise trekking.

However, as time drew near for our ETD from BRU, I told my sister that the activity packages were too physical for our seemingly short stay in Bali.  Furthermore, I needed a relaxing break away from my already hectic day job …

So from 4, it was down to the final 2. We confirmed with Jun the full-day tours of Kintamani – Waterfall and the Marine Sport – Uluwatu – Spa and Dinner. As much as I wanted to experience the beautiful Mount Batur sunrise, the idea of trekking as early as 2 or 3 am in the morning puts me off, actually it puts all 3 of us off 😏.  Why is it so hard to get up in the wee hours of the morning when one is on holiday?  Hmmm… me think we’re not the only ones 😅

Dirty Ducks

Not that Ubud is plagued with dirty ducks; infact I have not seen a single duck while we were there!

It was our first day in Ubud and the much talked-about Bebek Bengil (Dirty Duck Diner) became our first dining stop in Ubud.

Be warned!  Yours truly is a foodie, hence be prepared to read some honest verdicts after a slap-up meal 😜

 

According to the site’s write up, Bebek Bengil was opened in 1990 in Ubud. It soon became an iconic restaurant branching out to other locations in Bali. The Original Crispy Duck Diner is so popular that local politicians like Ibu Megawati and Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jokowi have waddled their way to Bebek Bengil 😉

Why ducks?  Why dirty ducks and not dirty monkeys (there are LOTS of monkeys in Ubud, by the way !). Well, it’s even explained on their menu book! 

So the story goes, in the words of the owners (husband and wife team) … “Many people have asked us how we got the name Bebek Bengil … When we were building the restaurant, we thought long and hard of a name. Many suggestions came from our friends, but none seemed right; we knew we wanted a Balinese name that translated well into English. However, for a long time, the metaphor eluded us. One tropical monsoon morning, when the restaurant was very close to being finished, a flock of ducks from the rice fields across the road ran quacking and squawking into the restaurant and across the floor and tables.  They left their muddy, webbed footprints all over the place. They were our first guest .. these Dirty Ducks !

OK, got it!

Oh by the way the rice fields across the road are no longer in sight. There are shops burgeoning everywhere now. The restaurant itself has become a sight to behold!

To live up to the ducky name, there were several duck dishes on the menu. We had Bebek Bakar Sambal Hijau served with sweet potato rice and vegetable and Grilled Duck served with Balinese sauces and steamed rice, and of course fresh Coconut water

We were told by Jun that a proper and fancy restaurant in Bali with a certain pricetag is where a small portion of  nicely presented rice is served. Yup, we noticed the neatly presented small rice portion on our plates 😀

My verdict? Great location with a gorgeous and comfortable ambience. Friendly staff with surprisingly very fast service. Now the taste? To be very honest, our dinner was so-so. Nothing special. The duck meat portions were rather small too. The grilled duck was rather dry and bland if not for the sambal or Balinese sauces. And the price is somewhat steep, even for non-Balinese standard. For me, a one-time experience in this iconic restaurant was enough.

Healing, Royal, Holy and Sacred

Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali and home to one of Bali’s royal families. My first visual glimpse of Ubud is the innumerable sight of royal palaces and ancient temples. Pharmacies are easily available in Ubud as well.

And that’s how I would define Ubud : Healing, Royal, Holy and Sacred

Healing

Jun told us how Ubud got its name. I thought it was interesting. The confluence of the 2 rivers, West Wos River meeting East Wos River is called Campuhan by Balinese (or Bahasa Indonesia). The meeting point of the 2 rivers serves as a source of holy water with peculiar property to heal sickness. This healing water is called ubad (medicine), hence the word ubad has been transformed and coined into ubud

Royal

The hotel where we stayed was a walking distance to the Royal Palace of Ubud.

Puri Saren Agung is the palace of the Ubud royal family. It hallmarks well-kept Balinese architecture with charming garden setting. The palace is best known among Balinese art lovers as one of the main sites to view traditional Balinese dance performances. We were there a wee bit late and had missed the performances. Anyway walking on our own within the palace compound was already a blessing.

 

Holy

Stop!! Do not step on them! That’s what we’ve been told.

 

For many years, Balinese families have passed down the ritual of daily offerings. Each day, Balinese women create little hand-pleated baskets or trays made from coconut leaves. The little tray is adorned with colourful flowers, fruits, rice and edibles as daily devotional gifts meant to appease and please the various Dieties and Demons of Balinese Hinduism.  These little baskets of offerings are perched all over the city, temples, sidewalks, shops and private house’s doorway and shrines.  That’s right, the Canang Sari (as it is called in Balinese) can be found in every nook and cranny of Bali.

 

I asked Jun what would happen if we accidentally stepped on one of the Canang Saris.  He said, if it is not done intentionally or if we stepped on one accidentally, that’s OK.  A word of caution: out of respect, it is not allowed to step on the Canang Sari when the incense stick is still burning.  The locals believe that the Dieties are feasting while the Canang Sari is freshly offered and by stepping on one, would mean that the spirits might enter your body and possess you as it is simply translated to mean that you have abruptly disturbed their meal.

Sacred

The monkey and its folklore are key elements in Balinese art tradition. This is appearing in some of the traditional Balinese dances, such as Kecak and Ramayana, where the monkey is a notable figure in the story.

 

The type of monkeys that dwell in the Monkey Forest is known as the Balinese long-tailed monkey aka macaques. I understood there are about 900 monkeys in the forest and they are divided into 6 groups, ie, the group that dwells in front of the main temple, the Michelin group (not sure what or where this is), the Central point group, Cemeteries group, Eastern group and Southern or the forest conservation group of monkeys. Each group consists of 100-150 primates ranging from infants to adults. Because of the considerable population, conflicts between groups of monkeys are unavoidable. The common thing about macaques is that they are active by day and will rest as nightfall.  In other words, pretty much like Homo sapiens 😉

 

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a leisurely 15-minute walk from our hotel.

Why a Monkey Forest in the heart of the city? The mission of the Monkey Forest is built as a sacred sanctuary based on the concept of Tri Hita Karana which is one of the philosophies in Hinduism. Tri Hita Karana means “Three ways to reach spiritual and physical wellbeing”

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is not just a tourist attraction or an important component in the spiritual and economic well being of the local community, but it is also a paramount location for research and conservation programs

 

What not to do (in case you didn’t know …)

In general, the monkeys will not come to you if you do not bring bananas or any other foods 😉

By the way, I noticed the monkeys’ daily diet include sweet potatoes, corns, bananas and coconuts

Babi Guling

While Fish & Chips are synonymous to England, Nasi Lemak to Malaysia and Waffles to Belgium, Babi Guling (suckling roasted pig) is a must-have dish in Bali. We vowed not to leave Ubud without having a taste of the infamous babi guling at Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka 1.

The restaurant we went to is the first and main restaurant, located just opposite the Royal Palace of Ubud while Warung Ibu Oka is one of the branches where the late Anthony Bourdain’s loving coverage of the babi guling made the restaurant virally famous.

 

My verdict? Simple and honest homestyle dishes. We ordered a portion of the complete babi guling dish with soup and an extra portion of meat with crispy pork skin.  The complete meal comprised a portion of steamed white rice, vegetables, deep fried crispy pork nuggets, black sausage, meat from the suckling roasted pig and a piece of the prized crispy pork skin.  The price quoted on the menu list is pre 10% tax, so be warned. Either you like it or not, the star item on the platter, ie the crispy pork skin was not my son’s favourite at all, so my sis and I had a piece from each plate. To be honest, the suckling roasted pork and skin were just okay, however, the star dish that stole our heart was the deep fried crispy pork nuggets.  We really enjoyed the crispy, tasty and a bit chewy nuggets. I noticed we were not the only table ordering the extra crispy pork nuggets.  Several tables around us did the same. Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka should be renamed to Warung Babi Gorengan Ibu Oka 😉 . Total spend (after tax) was 253k IDR (ca Eur 17) for 3 pax including fresh juices.  Not bad at all.

Would I go back?  Without a doubt …

 

The Day Unfolds …

With a good pair of shoes or slippers, walking around Ubud on our own was not difficult at all.  While there was a bout of heatwave in Europe in July with a record high of > 40 deg C for a few consecutive days, the weather in Ubud or Bali for that matter, was surprisingly, crisp and cool at a max of 28 deg C! I did not remember sweating profusely at all even with the long walks down Jalan Raya Ubud, Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Hanoman … all done on foot!

After the long and winding walks through the narrow streets of Ubud, we returned to our bungalow and spa, feeling knackered and dead beat from the day’s galivanting. We hit the sack but only to get up early the next morning as a new day unfolded.  As we finished our brekkie in a jiffy,  Jun, our tour guide for the entire day was waiting for us.

A new day unfolded with unexpected tsunami of adventures in store ~ mythical, breathtaking, nerve-racking, impressive, disappointing, addictive

Wanna read more?

Stay tuned to Part 2 😉

 

Cheers

xxx

 

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