Tag Archives: Food

Bali Travel: Ubud

This is Part 3 of my Bali Travel Overview which started here and was continued here.

I’ve generally encountered two types of people that enjoy Bali. The beach types and the culture types. The beach types predominantly hang out in the South (Kuta, Legian Seminyak and the Bukit) and the culture junkies in the centre – the centre being Ubud. So what does “culture” exactly mean? Well, it’s a catchall for seeing dancing, galleries, doing yoga, eating great food, staying in plush accommodation and wandering through the ricefields. If you like this stuff, you’ll love Ubud because it has it in spades.

On the cultural front, just about everyone visits a traditional dance in one of the main styles: Legong, Barong, Kecak etc. Although in the centre of Ubud these are put on purely for tourists, they still honour the traditional methods and in some cases offer a better experience than what you find in local villages. The main reason being that it costs a lot of money to have a hire a gamelan and train a bunch of dancers to the level that are on display in the centre of town. The other main cultural activity that people partake in is visiting local artists’ galleries and the woodcarving village of Mas or the stonemasons’ village of Batubulan.

Bali: Dancer
Bali: Dancer

Another favourite of visitors to Ubud is visiting a spa. Now for the blokes, this might seem a little girly, but it’s actually a pleasure to roll up and have a massage for an hour or two. Some places charge western prices and some are as cheap as USD$5 for an hour massage. You generally get what you pay for, but at the cheaper end competition is so fierce that with a little shopping around you can get a top massage in clean surrounds for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.

Accommodation in Ubud ranges from a bare room with cold shower to hotels that rank among the best in the world. Most of the best accommodation options are located so far out of town that you have to use the hotel shuttle to get anywhere and are really only practical for those wanting seclusion. In the centre of town there are any number of cheaper options with common prices being around the USD$15/night and USD$40/night marks. Cheaper than this and you’re likely to get something not very nice.

Bali: Plush Accommodation
Bali: Plush Accommodation

For foodies, Ubud has all that you could ask for. World-class dining, great coffee, locally run eateries (rumah makan/warung) and even an organic food market. Most of the top-quality dining is found at the many top-end hotels around town such as Uma Ubud and the Viceroy. But there are also restaurants such as Lamak and Mozaic that are independently run and offer world-class food. The cafe scene in Ubud is also quite developed with Tutmak and Kakiang Bakery serving the best coffee and some good food too! On the local front, everyone visits Ibu Oka for a plate of pig ($3). But there are a bunch of other places that do good local food too like Warung Mendez (mainly for the goat) and Warung Mina. For the health nuts, you cannot go past Kafe or Bali Buddha for a vast menu featuring fresh local produce.

Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud
Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud

The one thing that I find most people don’t do when visiting Ubud is walk. Yeah, people might walk around the big loop that is Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Hanoman, but people rarely get beyond that. But beyond that loop are the endless surrounding ricefields. The Lonely Planet guide has a bunch of walks around the local area and they are generally very good and not too difficult to accomplish despite the oppressive heat. Just take a hat and some water and all is OK. The tranquillity just a 10 minute walk in any direction around Ubud is phenomenal and should not be missed!

Bali: Endless Ricefields
Bali: Endless Ricefields

Visted Ubud? How was your experience? Want to visit Ubud? What do you look forward to most?

Myanmar (Burma): Mandalay & Bagan

The Road to Mandalay

Looking at the map, Bagan and Mandalay are fairly close to one another, but the bone-crunching reality is that between these two places the road is like a goat track. One shouldn’t be surprised by this given that most roads in Burma seem to be of the goat-track kind! The journey between the two areas is about 7 hours on a local bus along a largely unpaved, dusty road which travels through endless dry plains and poor villages.

Mandalay

Mandalay is the second city of Burma and sits at the heart of the country. Most tourists will pass through here at least once as it serves as a transport hub for all points in every direction. Many of the people I spoke to before arriving in Mandalay had a generally negative attitude towards the place and I think this mainly evolved from the alleged below-par palace charging unsuspecting tourists US$10 to enter. Again, another Government sting but given that it’s not worth visiting anyway, there’s probably no harm done.

Mandalay is HOT in the dry season and the temperature reaches more than 40C (104F) most days. At night, it is also VERY hot and because the electricity in Burma is very sketchy, there is a better than even chance you will spend some sleepless nights in a lather of sweat. No air-conditioning, no fan. Just heat and humidity.

Myanmar: Wooden Bridge
Myanmar: Wooden Bridge

The food in Manadalay tended to be quite cheap and of a fantastic quality. The best by far was the mutton curry from the Chapati Corner. A small dish of oily mutton curry, a couple of freshly made chapatis and bit of biriyani… One of the best street side meals I have ever had. Another good place was the Nepali Restaurant listed in the Lonely Planet. Good food, good price.

Myanmar: Mandalay Monk
Myanmar: Mandalay Monk

OK, so why travel to Mandalay? Are there any sites? Well, yes. I’d recommend going to see the big wooden bridge at sunset and visiting a bunch of the old royal capitals. None of it was spectacular, but definitely worth a visit and easily enough to occupy a full day of touring. One cool thing to observe were the package tourists at the monastery in Amarapura. OK, it wasn’t cool. It was actually quite shocking. At 11am, the monks from the monastery gather to have a feed and there is a bit of ceremony about it. Well, bus loads of tourists roll up to have a look (us included!). But the manner in which people were interacting with the monks was hideous. Hoards of people sticking their cameras in monks’ faces, yelling and asking them to move or pose in a certain way and generally treating the whole situation like is was some sort of zoo exhibition. If this doesn’t make you cringe, nothing will. But at the same time, it was interesting to observe and gives the opportunity for self-reflection. Are we any better? Probably not.

Bagan

I’ve read many stories comparing Bagan to Angkor. First of all, there is no comparison. Totally different feel. I preferred Angkor much more for the following reasons. Firstly, Bagan is not set in a jungle. When we were there, it was like it was in the middle of the desert complete with searing heat. We got a horse and cart around the sites, although some had suggested a bicycle (like in Angkor!) – needless to say biking was out of the question.

I really wanted Bagan to be magnificent, but the polish was removed when travelling into town on the public bus from Mandalay, all foreigners were ordered to leave the bus 5 miles out of town to pay money at a checkpoint. It felt really uncomfortable to be on a bus packed with locals only to be asked to disembark to pay a fee. And the handful of foreigners on the bus felt similarly uncomfortable – especially when one went to pick up a brochure on Bagan and was asked to pay another US$5! Funny in hindsight, but a symbol of the lunacy of the Burmese Government.

There are plenty of reasonable budget accommodation options in Bagan, but food tended to be on the expensive side and was generally of average quality despite the multitude of options. Perhaps this is due to the predominance of package tourists in this small, rural town.

Myanmar: Bagan Temple
Myanmar: Bagan Temple

OK, so the temples – how were the temples!? To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed. Sure, there were thousands of them. But many of the biggest and best could not be fully accessed due to structural concerns. Ordinarily, this would be reasonable – but given the amount of money being generated down the road at the checkpoint from tourists, surely there is enough to fix some of these temples. Sadly, it seems very little of that money goes back into temple restoration/improvement. Many of the smaller temples lack atmosphere and your entry into them is often interrupted by locals selling paintings. Not vastly different to Angkor, but at least in Angkor you could find solace once past the invisible line which is the entryway. In Bagan, no such line exists.

Whilst I’m generally negative about Bagan, it is worth a visit. As is everywhere in Burma. Just don’t expect to come back gushing. Rather, expect to come back questioning everything about the place, just as you do when leaving places like Yangon, Mandalay and Kalaw/Inle Lake.

What a very interesting place this is.

Is it Really Worth Saving a Dollar?

When travelling through South East Asia and probably other parts of the world, you meet all sorts of different travellers.  You meet the package tourist, the flashpacker, the stinky backpacker, the know-it-all backpacker and also a bunch of “normal” backpackers.  But there is a subset of these people that I am really interested in.  It’s the stingy traveller.  The type that will do anything to save a dollar. At times, I’m this person and it annoys me no end because in most cases it’s nonsensical.

Myanmar: Local Transport
Myanmar: Local Transport

I’m particularly frail when it comes to transport – taxis, tuk tuks, becaks, etc.  I will tend to argue for extended periods of time, refuse countless offers of transport and even walk miles just to prove the point that I won’t be ripped off by a taxi driver.  Ripped off, as in, not paying an extra 50 cents or a dollar over what I believe a reasonable price to be.  And I base my pricing on the wages which I know the local populace are getting.  Now, in the heat of battle, it all seems fair – why should a local person get an extra dollar for a short ride when the daily wage is $3?  And from an economic perspective, it does make sense.  There are farmers slogging their guts out in the ricefield for $3 in the beating sun, yet a taxi driver lounging under a tree all day waiting for a tourist to sting can make double that for a short ride.  From a moral perspective, however, it’s probably not right to quibble over a dollar and from a convenience perspective, I’m certainly doing myself a disservice!

Myanmar: Budget Accommodation
Myanmar: Budget Accommodation

As far as saving a dollar goes, the same issues apply to accommodation.  Sure, you can screw down prices to almost nothing, but if you spend an extra couple of dollars when travelling in SE Asia, you can really boost the quality of your digs.  Moving from $4 to $6 can mean attached bathroom, better outlook, less noise and a generally more pleasant stay.

What about food?  Many places in Asia are dirt cheap.  $1 for a substantial meal.  But occasionally, it’s nice to have an even nicer meal that might cost double.  Yes, $2!  I’ve met lots of people that will refuse to pay the extra dollar because it’s essentially a doubling of the expenses for the night.  But come on…  it’s an extra dollar.  And for an extra dollar, it might mean an even more awesome meal than the dollar meal.  More food, better produce and perhaps some meat that might otherwise be missing.

Myanmar: Samosa
Myanmar: Samosa

Some will argue on the flipside that the cheaper you travel, the longer you can travel.  Spending $20 vs $22 per day means you get to travel for 10% longer. For some, this might be wise, but for me…  I’m usually getting travel weary in the last 10% of my journey anyway and getting home a little earlier is no big deal – and I get a more pleasant experience while I’m at it.  What’s your view on saving a dollar?

Cakes and Pastries – My Best Friends

I love cakes and pastries.  I really, really love them.  They bring me so much joy when I munch on those little morsels – chocolate melting, almond meal crumbling, pastry fading away on the tongue to nothing…  So from this day forth, I think I will try to review a cake or pastry once every fortnight and perhaps get a sense of whether there really is a BEST baked good.  For me, I think the important aspects need to be:

Not too big – A large cake or pastry ruins itself.  It just goes on and on and on and doesn’t know when to stop.  It’s like getting a great masseuse who finds a knot in your shoulder, but then continues to kneed it for 10 minutes when 3 would have been ample.

Not too sweet – Really sweet cakes and pastries don’t do it for me unless they are absolutely minuscule.  I quickly find them cloying and no longer satisfying!  Add some sweetened herbaceous flavours and I’m anyone’s.

Cakes: Indian Sweets
Cakes: Indian Sweets

Something away from the norm – Unless something is made spectacularly in its traditional form (like an unbeatable croissant), I look for something a little different from the norm.  So none of this bulk-buying from a central factory business that so many cafes lazily do – that just doesn’t cut it because the lowest common denominator is catered for.  I want something with a twist to allow me to pause for thought and appreciate this new sensation.

So, given I’m living in Melbourne at the moment, are there any suggestions as to where I might find some nice cakes and pastries to try out?