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Wednesday 23 November 2011

Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot (image courtesy of

Our holiday included several guided tours and this day we went on the first of these. We boarded a bus in the hotel parking lot and after a head count by the tour guide we were on the road to Tanah Lot, a masterpiece of temples on the coast of the Indian Ocean. It is built on a little island just off shore and is accessible only at low tide. Despite an overwhelming presence of street vendors and stalls selling tourist kitch, this is still an awe-inspiring site. On the day of our visit, the temple had one of its many festivals. People from all over were on their way to worship and bring their offerings. A gamelan ensemble was playing the loud and clanging sounds of Bali, this music makes little sense to me, but the musicians all knew exactly when to strike their bells and drums. To me it was mostly noise.

Worshippers at Tanah Lot

On the drive to the temple our tour guide told us that the sunsets at the temple were the nicest on earth, but since we were there in the rainy season he could guarantee that the sun would set, but not that we would be able to see it. Once at the site we were not allowed to enter the area set aside for the worshippers, because it was a festival day and on these days the sacred grounds are only for believers of the Hindu faith. The ceremony sends out wafts of incense and flower petals are all over the place.

At low tide the temple is accessible

After taking in the sights and sounds of the spectacle, Shelagh and I went up the hill and found a little pub to sit down, enjoy the views, drink a cold beer and wait for the sunset. It was a cloudy day with rain now and then, but the setting sun broke through under the cloud cover and gave a magnificent show with such intense color bouncing from the ocean’s surface to the cloud ceiling above, it made you squint. Tanah Lot became silhouetted against the brilliant color; it was a picture I’ll never forget.

From our perch on the hill

We promised to return to the bus by 7:30 PM and once again the head count went on ‘till everyone was accounted for. Once back at the hotel we had a quick freshen-up and headed out the back way of the hotel grounds to the local pizzeria. We enjoyed a wonderful Italian dinner with cold beer followed by drinks in the hotel lounge. Tomorrow will be a pool day with plenty of R&R.


We met up with Jan and Michelle in the hotel lobbies and hired a taxi, destination Denpassar, and a 20-minute drive away. The driver spoke no English but that did not matter. Just the word Denpassar and he nodded knowing that we could only be interested in the shopping district. Along the road from Tuban to Denpassar we saw many small factories making teak and rattan furniture as well as people selling offerings to be left at the over 1000 temples on Bali; actually if you want to be picky, Bali is said to have over 10000 temples and shrines, and there is always a festival to go to any day of the year.

We were dropped off in the heart of town where the shops sell anything from cloth to woodcarvings and jewelry. Like bees to honey the ladies were immediately attracted to the jewelry stores and soon money exchanged hands for some of Bali’s beautiful silver bangles and necklaces. Shops seem to be clustered by theme, so it is not difficult to price compare between vendors and you can negotiate for a better price on the items that are of a lesser quality. Vendors will not bargain on a high-end piece, full price is expected. The city is also a great place to shop for woodcarvings and paintings for those who cannot find the time to go to Ubud, a Mecca for artisans from all over the island. Denpassar vendors will ship to anywhere in the world, so your selection will come to you eventually, hopefully.

Michelle sampling the selection of fabrics

Shelagh, Michelle and Jan with a good selection of silver 

The city is a busy hub of activity and you must be very cognizant of the traffic. And the fact that Indonesia drives on the left side of the road, to cross the street you must look to the right first or be hit by 200 mopeds. Entire families ride on these little bikes, dad is steering, mom is on the rear seat, a child sits on the gas tank, another one wedged between mom and dad and a third is strapped to mom’s back. So along they go like a swarm of wasps, dressed in their Sunday best to pay respect at their local temple. The clothing is beautiful and surprisingly clean for the dusty road conditions.

Mopeds everywhere!

We checked out the local shopping mall and were impressed with the selection of clothing and electronics on offer. The latest fashions were available from shoes to hats, everything “haute couture”. Also the latest in audio systems and photography equipment were on display. Such a contrast with the simple life outside, it made me wonder who the stores main clientele is.

Après shopping...

A hard day of shopping deserves a reward. Jan was familiar with one of the top end 5 star resorts on the island and we decided to crash their happy hour. Immediately upon entering the place I was blown away by the size and opulence of the hotel. In the huge lobby, a gamelan ensemble was playing the traditional Balinese music. Anantara Seminyak Resort & Spa is a beautiful place but not for Shelagh and I, we prefer the not so Gucci crowd. The bar had a fruity alcoholic concoction on special and we each had two. At the pool side young lads were fanning the coals of a grill loaded with saté. A cool ocean breeze wafted by and it could not be more bliss. We returned to our hotel with the catch of the day and got ready for dinner across the street, in a little local restaurant serving traditional Indonesian fare, followed by another night in the hotel lounge laughing it up with our new found friends.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Singapore to Bali

The alarm woke us at 5:30 AM and we were ready to go an hour later. Our bus to the airport stood ready and we made it to the check in counter without any problems. Soon we were on the plane, a brand new Boeing 777, and airborne for Bali. The airport is right outside Kuta in a place called Tuban. It is a small airport and fitting for a small island in the Indonesian archipelago. The runway is partially built into the ocean. While we were in line for customs Shelagh exchanged a traveler’s check and we were instant millionaires. At the time $100.00 US became 750000.00 Rupiah.

750000.00 Rupiah
Customs was a breeze and soon we were boarded on a bus bound for our hotel along with many other travelers destined for various hotels in the area. The person in charge of getting us all to our destinations was so picky about procedure that it took nearly an hour for all the forms to be filled in correctly, but ultimately the bus became mobile. Traveling along the roads in Bali was, at first, a bit un-nerving. Seeing the squalor and mangy dogs of a third world country is shocking. We were wondering if we had done the right thing coming here.

When we arrived at our hotel, a three star totally adequate place, we calmed down a bit. Our room had all the comforts one would expect and nothing was un-satisfactory. We cleaned ourselves up a bit and headed for the lounge to get a drink and a feel for the place. Like most places in Bali a room is basically four poles with a roof on top, and the lounge was exactly that, open air, cool breeze and friendly. Soon Maria introduced herself as the person in charge of the goings on in the bar and restaurant area of the hotel. It’s always a bit strange when you are the newbie in the lounge but that did not last long. We soon met people from England, Australia and the Netherlands. We enjoyed a nice dinner in the restaurant and started planning our first adventure for the next day.

Kuta Beach
In the morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast of fresh fruit and great coffee. It got us ready for the beach and downtown Kuta. Our hotel was located closer to the airport in Tuban so we had a leisurely walk along the beach to Kuta. Tiny crabs scurried along the sand ahead of us and disappeared into little holes in the sand. The entire beach is lined with resorts and cabanas. Kuta is just a half hour walk away, and once there we meandered along the little streets and checked out the local eateries and party tents. This town is a hot spot for young Australians who come here to let off some steam. The demographic is young and hip, but there is also a more sinister side with drugs and prostitution. Viagra is readily available and delivered to your hotel. There are also a lot of young people selling time-share condos. Our one-day in Kuta was enough and we realized that “our” Bali was out there, away from the tourist traps.

Anker Beer at lunchtime

Kuta Market, every day a new dress

Our holiday deal included several guided tours and we started to plan our 12-day adventure with one day on a tour followed with a day by the pool for R&R. So the next day was a pool day and we enjoyed just chillin’ in our bathing suits going for a dip in the cool water and now and then ordering something to snack on. Saté, spiced pork or chicken on a skewer and barbecued with peanut sauce, was one of our favorites, along with a bottle of “Bintang”, the local beer. Wine, our drink of choice, was too expensive, and hard booze is concocted at the bar by adding flavors to pure alcohol.

After a nice pool day we dressed for dinner and later returned to the lounge where we became a bit better acquainted with some of the other guests. One, who is now a friend for life, was Jan Paul, a real-estate agent, justice of the peace and lecturer from Gisbourne, Australia. We had a great evening with plenty of laughs and we planned to join her and her daughter Michelle the next day on a trip to Denpassar, the capital of Bali, for a shopping spree.

Friday 11 November 2011

Singapore 2009

Singapore, November 1999

While sitting in our small TV room watching the news, Alex’s best travel bets came on. One of his special features was a holiday to Singapore and the Indonesian island of Bali. Shelagh and I looked at each other and pretty much decided then and there that we must go. The holiday comprised of three nights in Singapore and 12 nights in Bali, and came in under $5000.00 on a B&B basis. Pretty good deal! We booked and waited for the departure date, still a couple of months away.

Finally in November were found ourselves at Vancouver’s international airport checking in at the Singapore Air counter. The first of quite a few wonderful experiences with this airline. In flight, the service was impeccable, the flight attendants all beautiful women and the food amazing. We arrived at our stopover in Seoul, South Korea after a 10-hour flight quite tired and eager to move on. The wait was about an hour and we re-boarded the jet for the next flight from Seoul to Singapore, a seven-hour flight. We arrived at Singapore’s Changi International airport at midnight local time, exhausted. A bus took us to our hotel along the beautiful East Coast Parkway. We checked in and shared a bottle of duty free wine to calm our selves down for a good sleep.

The lobby of our hotel as seen from the 23rd floor

The next morning at 8:00 AM Shelagh flung open the curtains and rousted me out of bed. “Get up, you can’t just lay there, we’re in Singapore”! A quick shower and we were ready for a little breakfast at the hotel followed by a walk around town. We walked to the financial district and found it, well, businessy and stark, so we continued along the waterfront to the older parts of town known as the historical district. We wondered along Boat Quay and browsed the shops along the waterfront. There are lots of funky places to eat and sit and people watch, but we had a limited amount of time so we hoofed our way through as much of the city as my legs could stand.

Boat Quay

After a while we wandered into a shopping mall and found a place for a quick lunch of Korean cuisine. Super spicy soup and a delicious noodle dish. Why we were eating in a shopping mall still baffles me but it just happened that way. After lunch we continued our walk and ended up at Raffles Hotel, famous for it’s past elite clientele. The world famous long bar is there and it’s the birthplace of the “Singapore Sling”. We ordered one, and then another one. Total cost $72.00 Sin. A small fortune, but well worth it. Some of the folks whole bellied up to the long bar were the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, Charley Chaplin, Amelia Earhart and Peter & Shelagh Kouwenhoven.

Raffles Hotel

In the Courtyard

The Long bar

Time for a Sling
Next we hit the main shopping district of Singapore, “Orchard Boulevard”. It’s November and the streets were all decorated in Christmas themes, a bit strange, it’s 32°C with 95% humidity and the music says that the weather outside is frightful! But we battle on and I find a nice store to buy a new set of headphones for my Sony Discman. Now nearly 13 years later they both still work fine!

Orchard Boulevard

Christmas Decor

Funky little streets
After nearly nine hours of walking and sauntering through the streets and this great city Shelagh manages to buy some ice cold Heinekens and we drag ourselves into our hotel room for a break from the heat and humidity and enjoy a nice “cold one”. A couple of hours later we’re ready to find dinner!

Boat Quay at night

Boat Quay at night

Along Boat Quay we noticed some lovely restaurants on the waterfront with views of the river, and we decided to walk there, I had taken some Advil to keep my hip joints from killing me. Exactly at 06:30 the sun splashes into the ocean and it’s dark, just like that. All the little lanterns along the quay guide the way to food, drink and entertainment of all varieties. It being wet season there was not much outdoor seating, but some enterprising restaurant owners has put up large market umbrellas to keep the customers happy and dry. We found a nice Lebanese place and had a great dinner in the tropics with a cold beer. We walked back to our hotel because the next morning the bus would be ready for us at 06:30 AM to take us back to the airport for our flight to Bali, Indonesia. In our room we enjoyed the second bottle of duty free wine, and sleep came quickly…

We realized that three nights does not mean three days, our stay in Singapore was much too short, but we do believe that for the time we were there we did see a lot. On the return trip from Bali to Vancouver we had one more night in this great city and we enjoyed another fine dinner along Boat Quay. Some day we will return.