Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kuching 2015 - Spring Food Bazaar

With more and more competition coming up, the existing shopping malls in Kuching are upping their game to keep up. Just opened around seven years ago, The Spring was one of the first proper shopping malls in Kuching. Two years back they started a total revamp of their food court. 

Reopened in mid 2014, The Spring Food Bazaar as the new food court is called - is the first proper food court in Kuching. Some of the existing stalls remain, and there were also some new additions. They moved some of the other outlets like Kenny Rogers, Kluang Station and Manhattan Fish Market to the same venue - making it a much more concentrated food venue. 

The design is really nice and done up to a high standard. It is a very pleasant place for a food break - and this being Kuching you can always find a table unlike in KL or Singapore why it can be a mad scramble to find a place to sit. 

Some of the good stalls are the chicken rice stall, the laksa & Melayu stall, and the hot plate stall. My personal favourite is the Japanese stall which serves good value Japanese meals - especially the Bentos.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kuching Hidden Gems - Bako National Park Part II

Once you arrive at Bako National Park - its beauty is right in front of you. This is one of the few unspoilt spots left in Sarawak - and hopefully it stays that way forever. So remember the saying - leave only footsteps. 

The jetty is located to the left of the National Park Office so you have to take a bit of walk to report at the office. There are some rest rooms and BBQ facilities - otherwise it is quite basic as it should be. For those who want to stay overnight there are also basic quarters available for hire.

There are several hiking trails for visitors - short ones take around 2 hours 1 way, and long ones can take up to 4 or 5 hours. Do bring the maps provided by the National Park Service as the trails are not very well marked and people have been known to get lost.

The natural landscape in Bako is truly beautiful - especially the rocky outcrops. 

There is also a nice beach, though the water is not so clear due to its proximity to the river mouth.

Some areas have a surreal landscape which feels out of this world.

If you hike up to the plateau, you are rewarded with more interesting landscapes that you don't see everyday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kuching Hidden Gems - Bako National Park Part I

Bako National Park is one of those places that seem to be visited more often by foreigners then locals. Sometimes Kuchingites take for granted what is at their door steps - as Bako National Park is easily one of the most beautiful sights within easy reach of Kuching. It takes around 30 min to drive to Kampung Bako where the National Park jetty is located. You then have to take a boat ride to the Park. The boat rides are run by local boatmen but organized by the National Park service. There are many boats around and it doesn't take long to wait for your turn. The boat ride takes around 30 min. 

For those who get sea sick - be warned that the ride actually go into open sea and depending on the season it can get a bit choppy. The boats are not so well-covered so make sure your luggage is well protected in case of rain.

After about 30 min on the boat you will see the Bako Peninsula with its rocky outcrops, giving you some hints of what is to come.

Stay tuned for Part II of this post coming soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bali 2014 - Waroeng Bernadette at Toko Madu

One of the things which makes Ubud such a pleasure to explore are the small lanes with lots of hidden surprises. Just off the main road Jalan Raya Ubud is Jalan Gootama - a backpackers' paradise full of lodging houses and quirky eateries. While exploring this charming neighbourhood, I came across a small restaurant called Waroeng Bernadette. It is housed in a curio shop called Toko Madu which sells all kinds of knick-knacks. The setting is beautiful and and tranquil, it looked like a great place for a quiet dinner. I made a note of the location and decided to come back in the evening.

As things would turn out, after I got back to the resort I went for a swim with the kids - and while getting out of the pool had a slip on the pool side and broke my right wrist. At first I thought it was only a sprain, but the pain got worse. We went to the Ubud clinic and the doctor suspected there was a fracture. Anyway they couldn't do much beside giving me some pain killers and bandage the wrist. Fortunately we were going back the next day and I would get it fixed back home. Which explains the lack of pictures for the dinner.

After the clinic we went straight to Waroeng Bernadette. It looked even better at night with the warm lighting. The menu is a selection of Indonesian comfort food such as Soto Ayam, Rendang, Ox Tail Soup, Gado-Gado, etc. We ordered a few to share. The kids loved the Bakso - noodles with meatballs - which were the best we had in Bali. The rendang was very good, so was the Ox Tail Soup. This is definitely the place to go if you want good Indonesian food at reasonable prices - and with great ambiance to boot. The good food and nice ambiance sooth my broken wrist a little - I had to learn to eat with only my left hand. But it was still a great way to end our trip to Bali.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bali 2014 - Komaneka at Rasa Sayang

Our last trip to Bali we stayed at Komaneka at Tanggayuda - and it was a really wonderful experience. The resort was beautiful, and the service was impeccable. After your check-in, the staff will remember and greet you by name. Komaneka now has a total of 4 resorts in Ubud - and the latest additional is the Komenaka at Rasa Sayang. Since I had a bit of time on my hand, I decided to check it out. 

As is the usual experience in Bali, the resorts are very welcoming to visitors. I just stepped up to the reception counter and requested to view the resort, and was immediately taken by one of the duty managers around the place - no fuss at all. She even showed me one of their standard rooms.

Rasa Sayang is right on Monkey Forest Road, and the compound is much smaller compared to the other Komanekas. The concept is also a bit different - with most of the rooms are housed in a 2-storey building and the rooms are laid out like a standard hotel room - overlooking a private garden. They also have villas here for those seeking more privacy.

Comparing all the Komaneka resorts, my favourite is still the one at Tanggayuda, which has a beautiful garden compound. Komaneka at Bisma would be a close second due to the beautiful swimming pools and views - and also has a wonderful spa. Choose Rasa Sayang only if you prefer to be right in the centre of attractions in Ubud. Some of the perks of staying at Komaneka are the complimentary afternoon tea, which you can enjoy at any of the sister resorts, free shuttle service within Ubud, and the really wonderful service. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bali 2014 - Ubud Market

If you are up early in the morning, take a walk to the Ubud Market. It is a hive of activities when the locals come out to do their daily marketing. They do start early - by the time I got there around 7.00 a.m. many of the stalls were already wrapping up and ready to go home. In places like Bali and many Asian cities most people still do their marketing in markets like this - but sadly modern supermarkets are slowly killing off the traditional markets.

The area in front of the market is mainly for veggies, fruits and livestocks. 

Wonder to the side and the back of the market building and you will see more stalls.  What I like about Bali is the people are usually very friendly and warm - and love to have their pictures taken. Unlike in Vietnam where I had been shooed away by some of the stall keepers.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bali 2014 - 2 Funerals in Ubud

While wondering around Jalan Hanoman I came across a group of locals preparing for a funeral. This is a communal affair where everyone came out to help. I don't know much about Balinese funeral rituals, except that cremation is the most common ceremony. Most Balinese believe that only through cremation will the soul be released from this ephemeral world into the afterlife - and proper rites and rituals must be performed to ensure this. The family will spare no expenses - often spending a small fortune on the funeral. 

Meanwhile next to the Ubud Palace, another funeral is at hand. You can tell from the size of the effigy that the deceased must be from a very wealthy family. We were told that it was one of the relatives of the Royal family.

The magical thing about Bali is that customs and rituals are such an integral part of the life of the people. There is always something happening somewhere. On our last visit to Ubud there was a Royal Wedding. This time around there were 2 funerals. I wonder what we will encounter on our next visit.