Tag Archives: asia travel

Bali: Your Trip to Paradise

beach and Pura Batu Bolong temple Nusa Dua, Bali.jpg
Pura Batu Bolong Temple – Nusa Dua, Bali

When it’s time to think about a warm winter getaway, time to think Bali. The popular tour company, World Spree, is offering an 11-day Exotic Bali package for only $1,899 from New York or San Francisco ($200 more from Los Angeles) that includes round-trip air on China Airlines, taxes, fuel surcharges, fabulous hotels, daily breakfast, five other meals, all ground transportation, sightseeing tours and a professional English-speaking guide.  And $1,899 is probably less than you’d spend to go to the  same old Caribbean or Hawaii.

Why Bali?

borobudur-night
Borobudur by Night

Bali is a chance to experience a totally different culture, while also enjoying a sun-splashed beach vacation. The trip starts with five nights in Bali’s cultural capital, the picturesque hill town of Ubud, full of color and chaos, artists’ studios, handicrafts shops and garden restaurants. Here, you’ll stay in the stylish boutique resort Alaya Ubud, which is surrounded by emerald green rice paddies but within walking distance of downtown. Its elegant Balinese-style rooms are complemented by a spa, swimming pool and restaurant.

Bat cave (Goa Lawah), Bali, Indonesia.jpg
Bat Cave (Goa Lawah)

Balinese Hinduism, the predominant religion, shapes much of the island’s life and culture.  There are thousands of temples and shrines and colorful religious ceremonies can be seen regularly.  You’ll visit a temple fed by local springs and have the chance to take part in a traditional purification ceremony, and visit a Monkey Forest that’s home to three holy monkey temples. Just remember, they’re wild monkeys and not afraid of humans, so keep an eye out as they can get frisky! Other excursions include a famous coffee plantation,  the Mother Temple , lunch on the edge of a volcano caldera with a breathtaking view of Lake Batur, and a  special day in a village where you will be warmly welcomed by the locals.

Beach Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia.jpg
Beach Nusa Dua

Then comes the totally relaxing part of the vacation: four nights at  the luxurious Melia Bali Resort in Nusa Dua, famous for its glorious white sandy beaches lapped by warm shallow waters and surrounded by lush green foliage.  There are tons of possibilities here (a safari, ocean rafting, a catamaran cruise, shopping in Kuta, a traditional fire dance) or just soaking up the sun and enjoying the serenity of this exotic  beachfront resort that overlooks a reef-fringed lagoon , exhuberant tropical gardens and a swimming pool that winds through the grounds.

Beach chairs on perfect tropical white sand beach Bali.jpg
Beach chairs on a perfect tropical white sand beach… sigh

Two post-trip options are offered on the way home: a 4-day Stopover in cosmopolitan Singapore, with its exciting cuisine and great shopping ($599 per person) or a 3-day Stopover in Taiwan, which has wonderful Chinese food and a world-class museum ($220 per person). All prices quoted are per person, double occupancy, and are subject to availability.  There is no additional charge for credit cards. 

www.worldspree.com

 

Beautiful Bali: Monkey Mayhem and Filthy Gorgeousness

Last week, I ventured off to Bali for a little R&R and, accordingly, I must share a few photos with the highlights. It was a whirlwind trip (just a weekend in Bali, folks), but I managed to pack in both Jimbaran Bay and Ubud and monkeys, of course, lots of devilishly cute, but don’t mess with ’em monkeys. I look forward to spending more time in this fascinating Goddess filled land of rice and Ganesha!

Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali
Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali 

We arrived late in the evening to gracious staff who had us beat a gong three times to announce our entrance. Although it was pitch black, the grounds were more impressive than we could imagine. After making reservations the very day we were to arrive through one of my new favorite websites for Asia, Agoda, we booked garden rooms at the Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali for approximately $350 USD and, to our amazing surprise, they had overbooked those rooms so we were upgraded to villa rooms. And, when I say villa rooms, I mean, one bedroom villas, each with it’s own private pool and a separate sitting area with enough space for three people as the sofa was large enough to nap comfortably.

A quick photo of my private villa pool
A quick photo of my private villa pool

Needless to say, when we each awoke to see the villas in daylight, we were blown away. We were very close to staying at the Four Seasons or InterContinental, but Agoda showed that the Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali had last minute availability (and a better price), so we were thrilled. We were also keen to stay somewhere that felt authentically Balinese and this did the trick. With offerings and statues scattered around the lush grounds, along with a massive common pool and beachfront dining, it was really a no brainer.

Complete with entertainment in the evenings…

Firedancers at the Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali
Fire Dancers at the Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali

Next up, we took a quick (way too quick, but we were short on time) jaunt to Ubud, where we dined amid rice fields and visited the Ubud Market. I am still kicking myself for not having enough time to visit all the cool shops in Ubud, but my wallet is probably thanking me.

Dining in the rice field on satay and smoked fish
Dining in the rice field on satay and smoked fish

When we ordered Smoked Fish, I’ll admit, I thought it would be smoked like Whitefish or Salmon, but it was more like Steamed Fish. A tasty melange of garlic and subtle curry flavors rounded out this impressive looking snapper.

Balinese Smoked Fish
Balinese Smoked Fish with a salad of cooked bean sprouts and green beans, and a sugar cane covered fish cake on the side

But wait… I forgot to mention Monkey Forest in Ubud! How could I forget? This hanging forest meets monkey haven is an experience worth flying 20 hours to see. Monkeys and little monkey babies run wild and have no shame! You buy bananas at the entrance without realizing that once the monkeys see you they will jump on top of you and go, quite literally, bananas.

This little mom and her baby stole my heart (I was out of bananas).

Monkey Forest - Ubud, Bali
Monkey Forest – Ubud, Bali

We finished our day trip with a stop at Tanah Lot, a Hindu temple sitting on a rock formation on the coast, along the beach. It was quite interesting in that it felt as if we had stepped back in time (complete with a Holy Snake you could pay a small donation to touch). That said, it was quite crowded which hampered the allure a bit.

Tanah Lot Hindu Guardian
Tanah Lot Hindu Guardian

However, I did manage to capture one nice sunset, even if the actual temple view was obscured by too many tourists.

The sunset from Tanah Lot Temple
The sunset from Tanah Lot Temple

I finished the outing off with a massage at the hotel and a promise to always make the most of life’s brief moments. Even if it means a very rushed weekend trip to Bali after a crazy turbulent flight. In this case, my 60 minute moments equalled a very powerful Balinese massage where I was covered in the most delicious smelling orange bergamot oil.

The Belmond's beachfront outdoor spa
The Belmond’s beachfront outdoor spa

Because like life, and this storefront in Ubud, it’s filthy and it’s gorgeous and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ubud stores

Layla Revis, Editor-in-Chief
Layla Revis, Editor-in-Chief

Passionate traveller, blogger, journalist, mother, and friend. Revis loves almost every type of food, but she won’t eat organs… or water chestnuts.

When she’s not flying to Asia for work as Senior Vice President – Global Digital Strategy Director at Leo Burnett, she can be found shamelessly watching trash television or reading Foucault. High/Low with rarely an ‘in between,’ her recent motto is:

“Live large… and love always.”

The Dancing Nymphs of Angkor

Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

This week, Will Ottley explores the Buddhist/Hindu temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex and discovers that ancient civilizations’ wisdom lives on in the treasure trove of temples and monuments they left behind.

What surprised me most about Siem Reap, Cambodia was not the grandeur and sophistication of the temple complexes. Walking among the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, I was struck by the overriding presence of the ‘feminine’. Carved into every wall of this vast complex are the images of Devata (goddesses) and playful Apsara (nymphs). This beautiful setting blends a rich history of Buddhist and Hindu influences that exude a feeling of peace and hint at the grandeurs of the lost Khmer civilisation.

Siem Reap, a Temple Base Camp

Siem Reap is a short (less than an hour) flight from the international airports of Bangkok, Phnom Pehn, and Ho Chi Minh City. It serves as the base for visiting the surrounding temples and caters for all travellers’ requirements. It can equally be enjoyed as a single traveller or a family. You can stay in a five-star luxury colonial style hotel that offers traditional afternoon tea, such as Raffles (+855 63 963 888), boutique alternatives such as Shinta Mani Club (+855 63 761 998) or mid-range options such as Tara Ankor hotel. (+855 63 966 661).

Shinta Mani
Shinta Mani

There is an array of excellent local restaurants easily reachable from your hotel by tuk-tuk (think horse and carriage, with a motorbike in place of the horse). They offer traditional Khmer and Asian cuisine, such as the local delicacy, Amok, a thick curry soup made with coconut cream. Two good options are the Khmer kitchen (+855 63 964 154) and the Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant (+855 92 733 150).

Khmer Kitchen
Khmer Kitchen

There are traditional dance and dinner shows such as Apsara Theatre (+855 63 963 561). These can be quite touristic and you ideally need to book in advance. There are also luxury spas, such as Bodia spa that offer a full range of body treatments including the traditional Khmer massage (+855 63 761 593).

The Temples of Angkor

Visiting the wondrous temples of the UNESCO Archaeological Park, can, at times make you feel like Indiana Jones. From the 9th to 15th century Angkor, was the heart of the Khmer Kingdom. The most famous temples of Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, exemplify changing periods of Khmer architecture. Mini-buses packed with tourists set off early to see Angkor Wat, on what is termed the inner-circuit route to see the main temples, followed by the outer circuit on subsequent days (it will make sense when you get there).

Bayon
Bayon Temple

These package tours break for breakfast and lunch at the same time each day, leaving the temples virtually empty. My advice is to hire your own tuk-tuk or taxi, from as little as $15 a day, and to visit the temples in the opposite direction to the arranged tours, taking a later breakfast and lunch. By staying out later, you also get to watch the sunsets shimmering above the tree line. A 5am start to see the stately sunrise over Angkor, is also very popular.

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

You can hire a knowledgeable tour guide with good English from $45 per day, or just enjoy the experience of discovering the temples for yourself with a guide book. Each temple is unique. The complex of Bayon for example has amazing head carvings, whilst the complex of Ta Prohm was so overgrown when it was excavated that they had to leave trees in place to protect the structure from collapse. This haunting temple was used when filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and is a definite highlight.

Getting There and Around

You can travel to Siem Reap via Bangkok from London with British Airways (0844 493 0775; ba.com), and Air France (0207 660 0337) from under £500 per person return. Internal flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok with Air Asia from £70.

Cambodian visa information: www.cambodianembassy.org.uk

Will Ottley is a freelance travel writer and author of the inspirational fable, “Mountain Garden”, but does not work with or for any of the parties mentioned in this article.

Follow Will Ottley on: www.mountaingarden.co.uk

Little Tibet

Shakti Ladakh View from Likhir house

They call it, “Ladakhi Love,” because this high-altitude desert is a breathtaking escape where remote wilderness overlooks the Himalayas. Here, one is brought closer to the love in their heart and the SO in their soul.

Ladakh, better known as little Tibet, is in India’s northernmost region. Only comfortably accessible to travelers during the summer and fall months, this time of year, the weather is gorgeous and humidity-free, making it the perfect alternative to the sticky heat that envelopes the rest of India.  We’re highlighting Shakti, operator of bespoke walking tours and homestays, because they’re a small sweet little outfit offering customized, private itineraries for guests to experience the breathtaking beauty of this remote wilderness with a full range of activities including village-to-village walks, treks, visits to monasteries, camping, and rafting along the Shayok and Indus Rivers.

Shakti Ladakh Taru Bedroom

For the 2011 Shakti Ladakh season (May 1 – October 31) there are three new village houses as well as new treks and camping options in and around the Indus Valley.  The village houses have been gently spruced up to meet Western standards and yet maintain their authenticity as British interior designer Ellie Stanton has created a stylish and comfortable décor for each, including all new fittings in the bathrooms that give them a stylish functionality.  All houses feature solar power and grey water recycling facilities; locally-source wood and mud bricks were used in the construction along with sustainably-harvested willow for the interior roofing in the traditional Ladakhi style.

About the new village houses and treks:

Shey: This century-old home offers views from its roof terrace of the nearby Shey Palace and the Tibetan-Buddhist Thiksey monastery. It has three bedrooms, an en suite bath, large sitting room, and traditional kitchen.  Many of the rooms are painted in a traditional style with decades-old motifs.  The village house at Shey provides a great location for walking, trekking, and biking.

Eego: The village of Eego is one of the few locations where guests can enter and exit the valley on foot. This 150-year-old stone baronial mansion, three stories high, is situated above the village near a glacier and some of the oldest Ladakhi dwellings.  It boasts three bedrooms, a sitting room, a dining room, and an open terrace with stunning views of snowcapped peaks.  Eego provides a superb setting for walks and treks.

Likhir: Sitting above the renowned Likhir monastery and just below the glacier that bears its name, the village house at Likhir provides jaw-dropping, alpine-like sights of the valley and snowcapped peaks. It has two bedrooms, en suite bath, and is within easy reach of Alchi village and the famous Alchi monastery, one of the oldest in Ladakh, with its beautifully preserved 11th century wall paintings.

Stakmo to Eego Four-Day Trek: This three-night/four-day trek through the unexplored valleys and villages on the north side of the Indus Valley can be added on to any Shakti Ladakh itinerary.  On daily treks 5-6 hours in length, guests will experience trekking along some of the highest ridgelines as they traverse from west to east across the northern side of the Indus Valley, passing by villages, forgotten valleys, and high-altitude flora and fauna such as the ibex, yaks, and marmots.  Enjoy daily picnics in some of the most stunning valleys and picturesque river settings the Ladakh region has to offer, while evenings are left to explore villages and camp out under the stars in comfortable, domed canvas tents.

Shakti Ladakh Courtyard at Shey

For Shakti Ladakh’s seven-night itinerary, rates start at $890 per night for one person traveling, $530 per night per person for two to three persons, and $461 per night per person for parties of four to six. Included in the rate: private accommodations for group, all meals, drinks, activities, two rafting trips (weather dependent), English-speaking guide, cook, porters, car at disposal, all taxes, 5% service charge, and round-trip transfers between Leh Airport and Shakti Ladakh.  Minimum stay of five nights required; children ages three and older allowed.

For Stakmo and Eego three-night, four-day trek, rates begin at $1,499 per person on a twin/double share basis.  Included in this rate: accommodation in dome tent, all meals and drinks, English-speaking guide, porters, transfers between Stakmo and Eego at the beginning and end of trek.  Children 16 and older are allowed.

www.shaktihimalaya.com