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Decadence in Bali

We stayed, ate, and indulged ourselves proper in celebration of Keith’s 30th birthday in Bali. This destination remains a good choice for large groups of friends to holiday as it’s convenient, has numerous restaurants and cafes to dine together at, and is equipped with the service and infrastructure to cater to touristic requests. Gotta give a big thanks to Keith and the organising committee for arranging everything for the 15 of us!

STAY

Let’s start with our fabulous accommodations.

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The exquisite view upon entering the Dwaraka President suite.

A small group of us arrived in Ubud first, and stayed at the new-ish Dwaraka The Royal Villas. We snapped up its President Suite quite some time back as it was on half price, making it an incredible deal for such a treat. Our villa is perched on a small hill facing a little rice field and its surrounding tropical rainforest, which shielded us from every stressor you can imagine.

We were housed comfortably in a two-storey building that’s extravagantly decorated in a mix of traditional Balinese and colonial styles, and every bedroom is designed to pamper the crap out of you. It was such a relief to have such a nice place to stay in for hours on end as there wasn’t much to the rest of Ubud, which has evolved to be much like Seminyak — busy, messy, and expensive. Pretty disappointed by this as most people have said that it’s the artsy hippie enclave of the island.

One of my fondest memories of Dwaraka here is taking my own sweet time to get out of the insanely comfortable bed, and stepping out onto the terrace to take in the panoramic view made up of trees, trees, and more trees. I remember thinking, this must be what luxury is about — being able to appreciate nature’s richness every morning. It’s a great way to start each day, and I hope that I’ll be able to achieve this one day. Life would also be perfect if I could lounge in that infinity pool every day… Guess I’ll keep on dreaming.

It was heartbreaking to move out of this paradise and into bustling Seminyak. The only consolation was that we’d finally be together as a 15-strong herd made up of old and new friends!

We checked into one of Villa Chocolat‘s massive villa which has 6 bedrooms and another 2 in a smaller attached bungalow. The rooms were modern in style, and not much to shout about. The big pool was lovely though, and we spent most of our afternoons here, drinking, chatting, and fooling around with Kylie and Mylie (our swan floaties).

EAT

Eat, drink, and laugh — it was all we did the entire time.

Fair Warung Balie (Ubud)

Clean food for a good cause! I had the mahi mahi salad, and the fish slices were fresh, sweet, and just nicely cooked. Had it with fresh orange and carrot juice. Their Nutella crepe got our unanimous vote too. 

Hujan Locale (Ubud)

My favourites include the Squid ink rice with crispy calamari and coriander aioli and salt fish chili flakes, and chocolate dessert with coconut ice cream. Everything else we ordered didn’t disappoint as well. 

Merah Putih (Kerobokan)

Fancy ass meal (came up to about SGD90 each) in a spectacular restaurant built like a towering greenhouse. I enjoyed the tasting menu very much, but it was a pity that it all came in bite-sized portions. It left us wanting more! Will definitely be back for a proper a la carte meal.

Bossman Burgers (Seminyak)
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“Snacked” on this super satisfyingly thick and juicy beef patty burger. Love it when they get medium rare perfect.
Keith’s birthday BBQ bash (Villa Chocolat)

We arranged for the in-house chef service, and had 3-4 staff cook up a BBQ feast in our villa. It was way too much food! The prawns, which were exceptionally sweet and juicy, won me over. We also had generous servings of lobster, Mee Goreng, Nasi Goreng, mozzarella and tomatoes, seafood skewer, lamb, Babi Guning, and steamed veggies. STUFFED.

La Laguna (Canggu)

This beachfront gypsy-inspired haven is more about the ambiance, but the finger food was delicious as well. We ordered way too many things for me to take notes, but I remember the patatas bravas was heavenly.

Kilo (Seminyak)

Kilo is one of my favourite restaurants of all time. I’ve been dreaming about the yuzu truffle sushi since we had it in Singapore, and I still think of it every now and then after this excessive meal at its Bali branch. Every dish blew my mind. They were hearty, full of punchy flavours, and never missed a beat. I was a very very happy glutton, savouring up every drop of sauce even though my stomach was bursting at the seams. And I want it all again!

Love you Keith! Thanks for bringing this whole thing together.
Love you Keith! Thanks for bringing this whole thing together.

Languid Lembongan

Stillness is a gem for city dwellers. Everyday, I find myself flitting from one screen to another absentmindedly, constantly plugged in or assaulted by noise pollution. Driven by boredom and restlessness to seek senseless distractions, it’s a never ending battle.

It all comes to a halt during holidays. When day to day life is postponed, numbed sensibilities are reawakened and buried dreams are remembered. No I didn’t sign up for a 7-day meditation retreat, but being away from the city with good friends has an equally rejuvenating effect.

The stresses of my life were on hold for eight glorious days in November, where a whole bunch of us congregated for a trip to celebrate Keith’s 30th. The first leg is at Lembongan, a lovely island that’s a 45 minute boat ride from Bali’s Sanur jetty. I know many see Bali as an escape from Singapore, but I’m not a fan of its crowds and high prices. The ride cost SGD20 one way, and I couldn’t stop beaming when we arrived on a beautiful beach that had the languid feel of a rustic island.

DSC03660Our first dinner was a joke. We thought the best way to get good local cuisine was to get recommendations from locals, and we were told to head to Warung Made down the road. It looked unpretentious and fairly authentic, but had few customers. Well, it’s because it was crap. The only thing that was tasty was the Nasi Goreng. Everything else we ordered arrived in very small and sad-looking servings. We found out later that it was ranked #47 out of 82 restaurants on the island. -_- So we only took tripadvisor’s recommendations from then on.

DAY 2

The resort’s breakfast didn’t disappoint. Instead of the usual buffet fair, they had a proper a la carte menu made up of local, Western, and even Japanese and Korean dishes. The best part was that it can be enjoyed with a panoramic view of a splendid, empty beach.

And of course, diving is essential with every beach holiday. It’s exceptionally pricey here though, at SGD60 / dive.


BUT. WE SAW OUR FIRST MANTA! I think it had a wingspan of about 2.5m. Despite its size, it moved slowly and majestically. Was expecting to see a group of them since the site is a cleaning station, but the dive master said they shied away that morning as there were way too many divers. Still, it was a really moving experience so see one of that size in its vast natural habitat. To think that humans put them in “large” aquariums like the one in Resorts World Sentosa, is just depressing.

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Puffer fish

There was none of the crazy currents we experienced in Gili islands, and it was great to see how the waters were teeming with marine life. Spotted stingrays, lion fish, puffer fish, turtle, and a Napoleanfish.

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After diving with Priya, it’s back to our resort’s beach to reunite with the rest. The beach may be photogenic, but it’s not much of a snorkeling or chilling spot. The sea bed was covered in sharp corals, and the waters weren’t very clear.

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Dream beach

Then we set off on a buggy that took us on a half-day tour to see Lembongan’s famous sites including Dream beach, which was an absolute stunner. 

Perched on top of the cliffs was a nice bar with the best vantage point, and an infinity pool. But our tour didn’t allow for much time here to absorb the sights, so we decided to return the next day. 

The tour ended at Devil’s Tear outcrop, where large powerful waves swelled and crashed into the rocky cliffs, creating hypnotic poundings and dramatic sprays that reached up to 6 metres above the cliffs. Our guide would freak out every time we went too far out on the cliffs as you never know how powerful the next wave would be. There have been cases of tourists being swept away. We also saw a tourist taken away by a truck, with blood running down his face when we arrived. Apparently the waves knocked him back on the sharp rocks, causing a deep gash on the head.

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But, if you stay behind where the water puddles begin, you’d be rewarded with an extra day in your life to enjoy the sublime view of the sun slowing dipping beyond the horizon.

It was very nice of our guide to drop us off at Warung Bambu for dinner, as it’s quite a long drive away from our stay. The casual restaurant is located by the beach, and served up the best meal we had thus far. It’s definitely worthy of the #4 spot on TripAdvisor’s list. The tempeh  tofu curry was my favourite — sweet and absolutely delish. The banana leaf chicken, Nasi Goreng, grilled calamari, chicken curry, and grilled prawns were fantastic too. 

Oh and the best thing about our resort? Free pick ups from any where on the island! Such good service.

DAY 3

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Best way to start the day.
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Even better way to start the afternoon.

Back to Dream Beach again! This time around, we had ample time to mill around, and ended up spending our last afternoon in Lembongan here. The service is pretty rubbish here though — we got a terribly ill-mannered waiter who gave us attitude and the evil eye when we added on more orders. The rest of the staff were OK, but don’t expect too much here. Just concentrate on the impressive views!

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We walked over to Devil’s Tear again, and the waves were even more ferocious than yesterday. Can you spot the human figure completely dwarfed by the sprays? Scary!!! We also saw a pod of dolphins jumping out of the water as they swam away from the cliffs! It was magical…

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Just round the bend is Sandy Bay Beach Club, a chi chi spot to enjoy the rest of the day as the skies blushed and shied away from the remaining sunlight. We had drinks and small bites, and got our trusty resort to pick us up again.

For dinner, we decided to try Lemongrass, which was a stone’s throw from our stay, and #7 on TripAdvisor. The creamy prawns with butter rice I ordered was great, but it was the mee goreng that really stole the show. It’s exactly how Indonesian fried carbs should be – oily, tasty, slightly sweet, and so satisfying.

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The three days spent here were unforgettable, and I really hope Lembongan stays this way for a long time. Please don’t morph into the monster that Bali has become!

New Year’s Trip to Gili Islands

So you’d think that if a holiday destination was 1) hard to get to, and 2) relatively unheard of, it’ll be somewhat of an un-touristy paradise right? Well, our trip to Gili Islands over the new year proved how terribly wrong that theory is.

The drive towards Lombok's jetty offered some breathtaking views.
The drive towards Lombok’s jetty offered some breathtaking views.

It started off innocently, with our big smiles as we picked Priya up from her stay in Lombok, and headed towards the jetty for our private speed boat to Gili Trawangan.

It is hard to get to Gili Islands from Singapore as there are no cheap direct flights. And although many Singaporeans haven’t heard of this cluster of islands off Lombok, half of the predominantly white backpacker community already have. So we were pretty let down when we hopped off the boat and found ourselves in a mini Phuket that didn’t have that tranquil beach holiday feel we were all craving for.

But it was nice that our villa, Ambary House, for the next 4 nights was a 5 minute walk inland, nice and quiet and away from the main street. Each of us forked out SGD277 for the whole stay.

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Everything about it was great, except for that horrid bathroom. It has a slight drainage stench that never went away, and the bathroom floor was made up of spread out tiles, which annoyed the hell out of all of us because our feet kept going into the gaps that were filled with dirty water. UGH. This is not how you do a “resort feel”.

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Please look at the gross flooring. (Photo taken from http://www.booking.com/hotel/id/ambary-house.html)

It also didn't help that the first thing we ate was mediocre. It had "white people's taste buds" written all over it. It was bland and lacked the punch that made the Indonesian cuisine so memorable. 

Looks nice right? Don’t be fooled! The flavours of this bowl of mee goreng seemed to be muted for foreign taste buds. It was pretty bland and lacked the punch that made the Indonesian cuisine so memorable. It was from this meal on that we decided against patronising any upmarket-looking restaurant and headed straight for the street food.

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This is what I’m talking about! Murtubak drenched in oil and bursting with flavours. There’s really nothing like good old street food in South East Asia.

We walked all the way down the island’s main street, and it got quieter and more relaxed the further we headed away from the main jetty. We stumbled upon this nearly empty tiki tiki bar, and plonked ourselves onto the bean bags, ordered some beers, took in the sea breeze, gazed up at the night sky, and settled nicely into a beach holiday mood.

DAY 2

We turned in early every night during our time at Gili Trawangan despite being on the “party island”, because Priya and I had to be on time for our morning dives. We signed up for the five-dive advanced open water course (SGD530) at Manta Dive, which meant that we had to dive almost every day there.

Before we went on our very first dive, we passed by a local hawker, and since it was already proven that the street food on this island was way better than the restaurants here, we just had to get our breakfast from her. Our instincts were right — her longtong-like dish (SGD2.2) was gravied with a spicy curry, and the noodles were springy and chewy. It was messy and yummy, just how I like my street food.

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The first dive was rather anti-climatic. I got nervous while descending because I haven’t dived in about 9 months, and was taking in fast, erratic breaths. Had to resurface and calm myself down before heading back underwater. It’s really all in the mind, and I got over it soon after I managed to control my breath.

We spotted a white tip shark, and a handful of turtles. My favourite one was this little turtle that was being tumbled around by the currents while trying to chomp on to some vegetation on the corals. The visibility, however, was absolute crap. It was terribly murky at some points, and I was so disappointed that I asked Priya if we should cancel the rest of the dives and save our money. But we decided to go through with it anyway because the island didn’t offer much else.

Zombie apocalypse
Zombie apocalypse
Caught up with the rest in between our dives.
Caught up with the rest in between our dives.
Cute pony man bun.
Cute pony man bun.

Our second dive of the day was the deep dive, so we went to depths of around 27m. At our deepest point, our dive master cracked open an egg, and it was cool to see how the yolk stayed whole due to the water pressure. The viz was even worse on this dive — there was so much floating sediments that it really looked like we were just diving in a long kang.

For dinner, we took a walk across the island (took us about 30 mins) to Casa Vintage, which was highly recommended by one of the divers in our group.

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The short cut which took us through local villages. Here are the only gays in the village.
Sunset Point - home to gorgeous views and hundreds of sandflies.
Sunset Point – home to gorgeous views and hundreds of sandflies.
Casa Vintage has a lovely vibe to it. Very relaxed, very welcoming.
Casa Vintage has a lovely vibe to it. Very relaxed, very welcoming.

And the food was beautiful. We had beef stew, hummus, tomato soup, and smoothies that were made with fresh fruits and without artificial sugar added (a rarity since this island loves serving cordial). The winner at dinner, however, was the yellowtail fish stew (pictured with the corn) that Priya ordered. The stock was heaven, and I had major food envy.

DAY 3

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It was searing hot and the strong sunlight gave the sea an exquisite turquoise sheen.

The main street on Gili Trawangan was thronging with tourists coming in (probably from Bali) to celebrate new year’s eve. It felt like Orchard Road on a Saturday, and it got claustrophobic.

Priya and I were grateful that we were heading out to sea again for another dive. This morning, we were met with strong currents, and experienced some sort of drift dive. It was very disorientating as I wasn’t used to not being able to control my speed and direction underwater. We were being swept sideways, and had to look out for both our dive master in front of us,  and corals that loomed up unexpectedly on our right. But we were in luck, as we saw a huge school of jackfish, and another school of batfish.

Me and the school of jackfish. (Photo: Priya)

At one point we had to swim against the current, and when I accidentally kicked one foot into the other, a fin came off and I lost sight of it within two seconds. Sadly, we had to abandon the dive. But thankfully there was a spare fin in my size on the boat, and we re-dropped at another calmer spot with better visibility. And it was turtle heaven! We saw as many as eight.

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(Photo: Priya)

For lunch, we met up with the rest and headed to Piluq, which was the top rated restaurant on Tripadvisor. I expected something very touristy, but surprisingly, this little vegetarian place was hidden from view, and was extremely laidback. It’s made up only of a few sheds and a hole-in-wall kitchen, and the food was divine.

The sesame noodles, tortilla salsa, and piluq pasta, mousaka, and “rise and shine” drink (avocado, coffee, chocolate) were winners. It was lovely to just lie in the shed in a food-induced coma after the meal and bask in the languid afternoon, away from the never-ending stream of people along the beach.

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(Photo: Priya)

On our next dive, we saw our very first wild cuttlefish! It was huge, healthy, but rather shy. It was fascinating to observe how they change colours so quickly. It’s really an amazing feeling to be able to see creatures up close in their natural habitat. Also managed a peek at a reticent octopus  hiding in the rocks.

Post-dive bliss
Post-dive bliss

Dinner at Scallywags was expensive, and very average. The live lobster really racked up the bill, and we were all very disappointed as tasted far from fresh. So once again, another restaurant has proved that it can’t hold a candle to the cheap and good street hawker. But at least the restaurant had cute kittens for us to feed our lousy dinner to.

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DAY 4

Gili Air
Gili Air

We were desperate to escape the crowd on Trawangan, so we booked a private boat over to the neighbouring island, Gili Air. It cost us SGD16 each for the return trip. This idyllic island is much quieter, and had the soothing island holiday vibe. We ended up at Manta Dive’s spot on the beach, and decided to settle in. The beach was all right, but not fantastic. So we took to Google in search for the best spot on this island, and guess what — we were already at the “best beach”. Yet another let downs for this trip. Maybe I was expecting too much.

As we headed out into the sea to snorkel, we realised that the sea bed was full of hard corals. Our feet were at their mercy, and it wasn’t much fun wading out. Even taking pictures in the sea was treacherous — we got knocked over by the waves, tumbled like clumsy fools while trying to avoid getting scratched by the corals in the shallow waters. It was hilarious.

Bye bye Air!
Bye bye Air!

Back at Trawangan, we went shark spotting on our last dive trip. I was so impressed at how the local guide knew every nook and cranny that the sharks hide out at! The biggest one we saw was about 1.5m, but it was quite a distance away.

Spot the black tip reef shark!
Most of the reef sharks hid in dark enclaves like this.  (Photo: Priya)
That's all for diving this trip!
That’s all for diving this trip! (Photo: Priya)
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New Rudy’s bar, where shady people of all hues gather.

At night, we finally decided to stay up beyond 10:30pm, and headed out for some “nightlife”. It was shit. We were very surprised that this island doesn’t do any of those typical happy chill beach parties. Instead, it’s full of dodgy as fuck clubs filled with questionable locals and dirty backpackers. It was a really gross crowd and while the music is just one level above utter rubbish, I really wasn’t feeling it. Everyone looked like they were trying to have fun rather than having a good time.

So glad that the diving was amazing. I think non-divers can really skip Gili Trawangan and its sad notion of a beach destination.

DAY 5

It’s the last day of the holiday, and we were going to spend a night at Lombok. It was a very long drive through the island from the ferry terminal to our villa, and much of what we saw through the windows was, for a lack of a better word, crap. I mean I love rural landscapes, but Lombok was devoid of any charm, and looked like it was abandoned halfway through a grand plan to modernise the island.

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Luckily, Kies Villa was an oasis located in the middle of a ramshackle neighbourhood. The pool, bedrooms, bathrooms, and dining area were a dream, and we were so excited to just stay in and be anti-social.

But before that, we needed lunch, and the local staff recommended Warung Bule. It was located at another shabby area by the seafront, and took 45 minutes to prepare our food although there was only one other big table besides us. The Bakmi Goreng and tuna niçoise salad were really good though!

After lunch, we took a private car to Selong Belanak, and the views as we took the windy, hilly roads towards the beach was pretty stunning. The beach was meh, so Weiming and I decided to spice things up by learning to surf.

Selong Belanak
Selong Belanak

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We managed to balance on the board quite quickly, and it’s really thrilling to ride the waves. But you had to work really hard for that short high. We had to keep on swimming out to wait for waves, and duck under the bigger waves to avoid getting smashed by it. But you still get tumbled around by the force — kinda like being in a giant washing machine. We were at it for about two hours, and because of the language barrier, the instructors couldn’t teach us much except telling us to “paddle, paDDLE, PADDLE, STAND!” to guide us to ride the waves at the right time.

I loved how active this entire trip was, and while it was one of the more unimpressive beach holidays, there were many firsts — cuttlefish, drift diving, and octopus were high points that I’ll never forget.

 

Biking and hiking on Samosir island

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View of the morning from our doorstep.With a view like that, it’ll be such a pity not to act like idiots in front of it. So we did.

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This picture takes the cake though… Stef’s face… Simply no words… And don’t you love my high-cut bikini flash?

Samosir Villa Resort’s complimentary breakfast was nothing to shout about at all. It was mostly carbs, but the glass noodles and rice were pretty good.

Samosir Villa Resort breakfast

View from Samosir Villa Resort
Panoramic view from the alfresco dining area.

After spending a night in the presidential suite that was way too big for the 3 of us — it even had a working kitchen which we didn’t make use of — we hopped over to the next accommodation. We wanted to ask about getting a cab there because Stef and Shanna had luggages, which weren’t great for dragging along the pitted roads here, so we approached the concierge on duty that day at Samosir Villa Resort. But he was extremely unhelpful and rude. 

Stef: Hi, can we get a taxi or car to Bagus Bay?
Staff: No. (Looks away)

No. No suggestions, no apologies. Just. NO. Gee, thanks.

So we stomped off grudgingly and made the short, pretty painless walk there. Bagus Bay was recommended by Stef’s colleague, and our room reservation was made over a brief SMS to one of the staff there. No deposit, no confirmation email needed. We simply turned up at the lobby and asked for Sabah.

The place had a very laid-back, shabby charm to it, and I immediately felt more at ease here compared to the more standard hotel we had the night before. And although our room was not ready, Sabah was very nice about it, which put us back into a good holiday mood. So we left our stuff with him, and headed out on our scooters! The plan was to get to Tele tower, an elevated spot on the mainland that promises one of the best views of the lake and Samosir. The lady whom we rented the bikes from estimates that we’ll reach in about 3-4 hours. I was pretty stoked to get on the bike again because my last experience biking around Sapa in Vietnam left me wanting more.

Samosir island villages
Whizzed pass many village scenes like this.

The main roads were good, the air was cool, and there were few cars on the road. So it was pure bliss riding through the surrounding villages, with the lake on one side and greenery enveloping the rest of the area. I had to put a brake on the scenic route, however, when a pile of durians caught my eye. I just got to have it! Eating durians with your hands by the roadside is definitely one of my favourite things to do in South East Asia.

We did just that, and the locals walking by or zipping pass us on their bikes couldn’t stop staring at the three Chinese girls who were stuffing their faces with the creamy durian flesh. After I was very, very satisfied (Stef and Shanna kindly let me have most of it as I fucking love durian) we set off to cross the bridge that connects Samosir to the main land.

Samosir island mountain town

Lake Toba view from Samosir island

Near Tele viewpoint

We arrived at the foot of the mountain that Tele was located on right about the time when the sky started to really darken. You see those cuts in the mountain in the picture below? Those are the windy roads we needed to ride up in order to get to Tele. It was beginning to drizzle, and without the weather on our side, we thought it was better not to risk our amateur riding skills on those roads which had no shelter. So it was with much sadness that we made the decision to turn back.

Route to Tele

Lake Toba foggy weather
The sun was nowhere in sight, but I loved the shroud of mystery this lousy weather brought upon the lake.

Lake Toba panorama

This region was also known for its nautral hot springs, but we were disappointed that all the hot springs were blocked off and chargeable. The entire place looks decrepit and unattractive, so we just settled at a nearby coffee shop for lunch. After we settled down and placed our orders, I spotted a little boy holding a chubby puppy, and the rest was history.

Cute puppies
He showed me to the back of the coffee shop where a litter of the cutest little puppies were stumbling about in their DIY pen.
Cute puppies
Seeing that I had a camera, he proceeded to take out all the groggy puppies to show them off.
Cute puppies with village kids
He was the oldest brother, and instructed all his siblings to pose for this lovely family portrait.

I was very amused at how the kids were real cam whores, and went on to pose for me very willingly. They were in turn very amused when I showed them the images I took on my camera. This was the most fun I’ve had while waiting for food to arrive. The cook was their mum, and boy was she an awesome one.

Samosir island Mee Goreng.
My heavenly plate of oily Mee Goreng.
Village kids
I’ll miss these munchkins… (Photo: Shanna)

The rain poured down relentlessly from the time we started lunch till we got back to Bagus Bay. It should’ve been a miserable ride, drenched to the bone and far from home. But it was still helluva fun. Perhaps it was the holiday mood, but it’s something that I didn’t regret. I was very proud of my girls too because all of us made it back in good spirits. We set out at 9:30am and returned at 5:30pm in one piece! What an adventure.

Riding on Samosir island
All smiles despite the shitty rain!

DAY 2

The day got off to a pretty strange start. I was still feeling stuffed from the awesome dinner at the restaurant in our accommodation the night before, and decided to go for a chicken cheese salad instead. Sounds pretty safe right? Never would I have expected something like this…

Coleslow sandwich
It turned out to be a weird sandwich filled with coleslaw-ish fillings that had chicken, cheese, pineapple, carrot, bean sprouts, and tomato. Yuck.
Badminton at Bagus Bay
A game of badminton in the hot hot sun to warm up. (Photo: Shanna)

The plan for the day was to get a map and hike our way through the jungle and search for the nearest waterfall, which was located behind Tomok. But Sabah advised us not to as the trail is not clearly marked and we’d surely get lost. So he did us a favour and got his cousin, Romano, to take us for USD 25. While we were waiting for him, a group of children, each with a pen and notebook in hand, walked up beside us and kept saying “Miss, miss, do you have a moment please. Miss, you speak English, miss? Where you from, miss?” We got quite scared because we thought they were trying to preach. It was a Sunday, and the majority of the people on Samosir island are Christians.

When we finally spoke to them, we found out that they were just trying to complete their English assignment, which required them to ask tourists some simple questions in English. So they asked us things like what we liked about Lake Toba, how we find the locals, where we’re from, what we’ve done on our trip so far. It was quite cute actually. And to prove that their notes were not made up, it was also required that they take pictures with their interviewees!

Samosir island village kids
Shanna’s 5 minutes of fame.
Samosir island village kids
And this is the group who interviewed me.

Our scenic scenic stroll towards the jungle.

Even before the real hike began, we were already grateful to have a guide as the dirt paths leading towards the start of the jungle trail didn’t have any signs, and we would’ve gotten terribly lost.

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Romano leading us into the bushes.
Samosir island trekking
Don’t you love Stef’s choice of outfit for the hike? Pretty brunch dress, sling bag, and sport shoes. Super on trend.

The hike was not a walk in the park. There were constant inclines, and it was quite challenging to keep up with Romano, who powered on like he does this every day. (Although he doesn’t. So I guess we’re just not as fit. Haha.) But I loved the challenge. I enjoy being in nature, and in this trek was more about the journey than the destination because honestly, the views up there weren’t jaw droppingly gorgeous.

Samosir island trekking view
View from halfway through the trek.
Samosir island trekking waterfall
View from the bottom of the waterfall.

We had to cross some pretty slippery, narrow paths that dropped off to a great height on one side, and I was very proud of Shanna, who overcame her acrophobia and completed the trek despite may attempts to convince us to turn back. As you can see, the view of the waterfall isn’t anything to shout about. But I won’t say that this trek is not worth it because I personally enjoyed the trek itself. It’s quite an adrenaline rush, especially when trying to scale high and slippery rocks. I got my pants and shoes all muddy, but it was good fun.

Samosir island trekking dirty feet

Samosir island farm animals
Passed a farm on the way back.
Samosir island locals gambling
Had a water break next to some locals who were very engrossed in their gambling.
Samosir island trekking outfit
Still amused at my friends’ hiking outfits.
Samosir island waterfall
The waterfall as seen from afar.

Lake Toba view from Samosir island

Samosir island music festival
This was a very trippy moment when an entire orchestra made up of white people came marching past us. They were in town for a music festival.
Bagus Bay on Samosir island
Back at Bagus Bay. We were putting up in the traditional Batak house on the left.
Bagus Bay on Samosir island
The gorgeous view from our front porch.

It was already threatening to rain during the hike, and while we were relaxing in our room and waiting for dinner time, the weather turned from gloomy to a full-on raging thunderstorm. So we were stuck. We wanted to venture out further to Bamboo restaurant which Romano recommended, but we had to stick to Bagus Bay’s restaurant again because the storm wasn’t letting up at all.

Bagus Bay restaurant
Our greedy girls feast.

The Lake Toba lobsters was their signature dish, and it’s not expensive at all. We had the BBQ sauce lobsters the previous night, so this time round we tried the stir fried version. Both were super good, but I preferred the BBQ sauce. My main dish for this dinner was stir fried noodles, and again, their carbs don’t disappoint at all! Bagus Bay has this system where they put all our bills on the final tab, so I don’t have a clear idea of how much each meal cost. But we estimated that each meal should add up to USD 20 for all 3 of us, including drinks. (Their avocado milkshake is the best!) Most dishes, except the lobster, cost around USD 2 – 3.

The final tab for Bagus Bay, which includes 2 nights stay and food (breakfast and dinner on both days), came up to USD 114. The traditional Batak house that we stayed in only costs USD 25 / night during the peak season!

DAY 3

It’s time for one last morning stroll before bidding this lovely lake goodbye and make our looooong car ride back to the airport…

Lake Toba view from Bagus Bay
More gloomy, chilly weather…

It has been a blast, Bagus Bay! I would recommend every backpacker visiting Lake Toba to stay here.

Lake Toba ferry
Bye bye!

Lake Toba: A forgotten destination

“Huh, why you go there?”

That was the most common reaction I got when I mentioned that I was heading to Lake Toba. It was a popular tourist destination when our parents  were still dating, and has long been bumped off the list of trendy places to visit. But when Stef brought up the idea of going there for a short trip and I did a quick Google image search, I knew that I had to witness its beauty first hand.

The journey there isn’t what most comfort creatures would call easy. After the short flight from Singapore to Medan (SGD 223 via Silkair), it took us another 4.5-hour car ride (USD 54 one way for the whole car) to get to the lake.

But hell, was it worth it.

Lake Toba view from mainland
First view of the vast lake.

The lake is gigantic. It’s mind-boggling because it looks as vast as a sea. You couldn’t see the end of it, making it rather hard to believe that we’re standing on a landlocked area. Our main destination is in fact on Samosir, the island in the middle of the lake that’s almost the size of Singapore. (You can get a tiny glimpse of it on the left side of the picture above.)

[stag_map lat=”2.62744″ long=”98.79218″ width=”100%” height=”350px” style=”none” zoom=”6″]

Whilst waiting for the ferry ride (USD 0.80 each) to the island, we were very happy to have a casual lunch at a local Nasi Padang stall. The total bill for the meal added up to a mind blowing USD 5.

Ferry across Lake Toba to Samosir island
That’s our ride on the left.

Ferry across Lake Toba to Samosir island

We planned to stay for 3 nights, and chose Samosir Villa Resort for the first night. It was one of the more upmarket accommodation, and the chalet-like villa we got, that could fit a family of 4-5 comfortably, cost USD 125/night (including breakfast).

Samosir Villa Resort
That’s our suite on the ground floor.

It was already late afternoon when we got everything settled, so we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and headed out for an aimless stroll.

Samosir island village girl with puppy
Shanna endearingly nicknamed her SPG (Sarong Puppy Girl).

We wandered into Hora’s Family Home, which had a lovely backyard filled with unusual plants, a very healthy-looking vegetable patch, puppies, and rabbits.

The entire town seems to be half asleep, so we joined the lethargy by stopping for some drinks at one of the many convenience stores that offered everything from laundry service to magic mushrooms. There was an overly jovial (and we think slightly high) lady mending the store we settled at, and she mentioned that she rented out scooters too. We were planning to explore the island on our own the next day, so we took up her offer to try the bikes out. Everything seems to be in order, and agreed to take 2 bikes (USD 7 each for the entire day) for the 3 us. You simply can’t turn down someone with such an infectious laughter.

Saomsir island lake toba diving board

I went for a dip in the lake in the gloomy evening, and was quite disappointed as the waters were not only cold, but had strong undercurrents too. With the sun shaded by the clouds, it wasn’t that enjoyable to relax by the waters either. The impending darkness and gusty winds soon drove us back into the comfort of our expensive villa.

For dinner, we heeded Wikitravel’s recommendation and headed for Today’s Cafe. I really loved how laid back it was. Our order took damnnnnnnnn long to come as there were only 2 girls cooking and serving. We had special fried noodles and rice, as well as stir fired veggies with tofu. Together with my avacado milkshake with chocolate, the entire meal was nothing but glorious. There’s just something about South East Asian countries and stir fried carbohydrates. I always have to shake my head in disappointment every time I see a white tourist order Western dishes at a local restaurant. Anyway, the dinner cost us a total of USD 12 only!!!

Saomsir island Today's Cafe
Shanna camouflaged.

That’s the end of day 1! Stay tuned for our scooter adventure in the next post.

Rented bike on Samosir Island
Stef in front, and me with Shanna as my pillion behind her. (Image: Shanna)

Have a Bali New Year

Bali over the new year was one major fatty holiday. Based on recommendations from those who’ve been there before, we hopped from one restaurant to the next, gorged on good food and drinks, and got drunk on the holiday spirit.

My first time in Bali was with my family, and I was pretty underwhelmed. Besides the stunning views of the stepped rice terraces and cliffs of Uluwatu, I thought Bali was overpriced and overcrowded. I wouldn’t have stepped foot on the island again if not for the promise of side splitting laughing fits that always came whenever I’m with my friends.

We managed to get a slot at the 5-bedroom Villa Rajapala in Seminyak from Dec 28 to Jan 1 for about AUD2000 in September, and we all jumped on the opportunity to spend NYE there.

Villa Rajapala
It was hard to contain our excitement the moment we stepped into Villa Rajapala.

Our first stop was Potato Head. The sprawling open-concept bar/dining area faced the sea, but because MIA was performing the following day, her stage blocked 90% of the view. Thankfully that was compensated by another beautiful view — the gorgeous crowd lazing around the day beds by the pool in their skimpy outfits.

We dived straight into our holiday mood by splurging on food (try the french fries with garlic and cheese dips, the wagyu meatballs spaghetti) and drinks (I loved the tequila fruit punch), and soaked up the atmosphere by perving at half-naked bodies and camwhoring.

Potato Head
Potato Head’s amusing facade made of window shutters.
The vibe reminds me of LA — or what I’ve seen on TV of LA.
The amazing sunset by the beach.
One shot is not enough!

We then had our first dinner in Bali at Mama San, which had elegant fusion interiors and pretty good dishes. For mains, I would recommend the kang kong vegetable dish as it was tasty without being too oily, as well as the lemongrass chicken and green curry. But the creme brulee there was the winner for me. The custard had the perfect consistency, and it wasn’t too sweet.

Western interiors with Chinese accents.

The first day ended with some club hopping fuelled by free entries to gay clubs (the Bali Joe stretch) and cheap drinks (SGD7 a martini). After the gay partying we headed to Mint, which had a ridiculous cover charge. So we popped by the bar opposite it instead. It’s called Mantra, and I was pleasantly surprised by how UK-like it felt with its laid back crowd and grungy boho interiors. But they had this over-experimental musician who was making terrible scratching noises with his electronic guitar and miscellaneous gadgets, so we left before finishing our drinks. It was that bad.

Mantra’s effortless yard.

Day 2 saw us scooting off to Naughty Nuri’s for some sinful BBQ pork ribs. We were unfortunate enough to get stopped by the traffic police along the way because of our lack of helmets, but we managed to bargain the fines down.

Riding the moped with Colin.
At Naughty Nuri’s.
They have amazing ribs.

We headed towards the Kuta/Legian area after that, and was greeted by the most terrifying traffic jam. All the vehicles came to a crawl at the main road, and many bikers took to the side walk to bypass the bottleneck. It was a hair-pulling journey in the taxi, so we eased our trauma with a round of pampering massage and mani/pedicures.

Metis was in line for dinner plans, and although it was the “poshest” stop in our itinerary, it was surprisingly affordable. But because we ordered a fuck load and a bottle of red, the bill came up to about IDR7 million for the 9 of us. And because it was one of those restaurants where every single dish was impressive, I’m going to list down the items we had and which anyone going there should try. If it’s a small group and there’s not much sharing you can do, be sure to get their foie gras and lava cake, which were both equally heavenly.

Starters

  • Yellow Fin Tuna Sashimi
  • Trio of Tartare
  • Les Escargots
  • Traditional French Onion Soup
  • Legendary Pan Seared Hot Foie Gras
  • Grilled Scallops and Pan Seared Hot Foie Gras

Mains

  • Rabbit Leg and Sauté Macaroni Pasta with Foie Gras
  • Moulard Duck Leg Confit
  • Grilled Australian Lamb Rack
  • Grilled Australian Black Angus Ribeye Steak

Desserts

  • Le Moelleux (lava cake)
We remained happy diners at Metis despite missing the sunset view.
Had rabbit leg for the first time in the form of the Confit of Rabbit Leg and Sauté Macaroni Pasta with Foie Gras and Morel Jus.

On Day 3, we hit up Made’s Warung for lunch (I only liked the chicken satay there but some of my friends loved the mixed vegetables and Nasi Campur), did some shopping around the Seminyak, and then headed towards Rock Bar in hope of getting a table there to watch the sun go down.

The coastline on which Ayana Resort resides.

We arrived at Ayana Resort (where Rock bar is located) at around 5, and there was already a long, long queue to get into Rock Bar. We were told that the place is already filled, so we decided to have dinner along Jimabaran Bay nearby first (had fresh and scrumptious prawns, fish, and sotong at Juking restaurant but the crabs were a disappointment), and then return to Rock Bar after that for a drink.

Where all seafood dinners should be served.
The amazing Rock Bar.
These boys were forced to get a new pair of pants because the door bitch of Rock Bar thought their board shorts material was unacceptable.

Our last full day in Bali fell on New Year’s eve, and we decided to wind things down by spending the day at the villa. And this is what happens when you put us together, Big Brother style.

Weiming, the girl from Ipanema.
Bubbly with the villa’s caretakers to kick off NYE!
Freddy with Philly, the resident terrapin who was enjoying a stroke.
Tigers in the backyard.
This is the life.
Laughing was what went on 90% of the time in the villa.
For NYE’s dinner we ordered in the local fare.
Our beheaded babi guling (roasted suckling pig).
Hello 2013!
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