Indonesia: Tour de Bali

Breathtaking sights merged with a culture that is so rich and pervasive. That’s Bali, a Hindu island in central Indonesia east of Java. Famous to international tourists and travelers, it took a huge hit when the first bombing happened in 2002, and again after the second bombing in 2005. But the attraction of its natural beauty is hard to ignore for long, and the island continues to recover from those tragedies.

There are many awesome sites in Bali, so a 4-day trip can only cover so much. My cousin, who is studying tourism in college, is very knowledgeable in the culture and background stories of the sites we visited, so that was a nice bonus. Here are the places we visited, and each one of them is highly recommended (there’s hardly a place in Bali I wouldn’t recommend).

1. Uluwatu Temple

At Uluwatu, there is a Hindu temple (well, all temples in Bali are Hindu) on a cliff, overlooking the Indian Ocean. The complex also includes a monkey forest, which has cultural and religious significance, like they guard the temple or something like that. There’s also a back story to the temple, as is the case for every temple, that I’m not well-versed in as well (don’t remember what my cousin said).

Visitors are required to wear sarongs, which are available for free at the ticket counter. The back story of this custom is the believe that evil spirits can enter people through their feet, so you cover your legs to prevent it.

Monkeys are free to roam around the complex, though they stay away from the temple area where they conduct worship ceremonies. The monkeys are vicious! Especially the young ones. They would snatch every possible loose item on your body, so stow them away and hold your bag/purse close. One monkey took my cousin’s glasses, scratching her in the process. Afterwards, they took one of her sandals off her feet, despite her screaming and yelling at them. Then, they took the other one!

To get stuffs back, you need to trade with them, like giving them food, but sometimes they wouldn’t take it from you. The best way is to get the help from the guides, who roam around the complex. These guides are kind of like monkey whisperers. My cousin gave up and was walking barefoot already, but a while after, one guide came and asked what the monkeys took. And he got all of them back! Amazing. Not to mention these monkeys run around like crazy. Maybe he knows all of them by name.

But the best thing about Uluwatu is the ocean view from the cliff. It simply speaks for itself.

Gorgeous shades of the Indian Ocean

2. Padang-padang Beach

Padang-padang is one of the smaller beaches in Bali, as opposed to the hugely popular beaches in Kuta and Sanur. You get to the beach by walking through a narrow path in between rocks. The beach is not exactly the best place to swim in, since the sand is rocky and can be quite sharp. You’re basically swimming in the Indian Ocean and ocean water is usually cooler than sea or strait water. This is probably why it’s not as popular as Kuta and Sanur, which are beaches along the curves of the land, shores of small straits in between islands. These beaches would have softer sand and warmer water.

Padang-padang Beach

3. Dreamland Beach

Dreamland is not that far from Padang-padang, but it’s more swimmable. The currents are very strong, however, so beware of loosing pieces of swimwear when the waves come!

Dreamland Beach

4. Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK)

GWK is a cultural park dedicated to the Hindu god Wisnu (or Vishnu). Garuda means eagle, and kencana means something like a carriage. The park is to house an ongoing statue project of Wisnu riding his eagle, which would be the tallest thing in Bali and probably one of the largest statues in the world. Currently, only sections of it are completed, and they are displayed in different plazas in the park complex.

Wisnu, one of the Hindu gods.

5. Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot is one of the most popular sites in Bali, and one of my personal favorites. The sunset there is absolutely gorgeous, although it is hard to catch a perfectly clear day to watch the perfect sunset. Of all the years I’ve gone to Bali, I’ve only seen one perfect sunset when I was seven or eight. The horizon and the circular line around the sun were defined and crisp, and the sun sank into the horizon quite swiftly. It was probably the first time I experienced real awe and wonder. It just did something to the soul; my entire being was …wow-ed. I still remember the feeling.

The Tanah Lot temple, or Pura Tanah Lot, sits on a rock which would be on or offshore, depending  on the tides. The shape of this rock and the temple is pretty iconic and distinctly Tanah Lot; you would recognize it in paintings or abstract pictures.

Sunset at Tanah Lot.

Pura Tanah Lot.

6. Nusa Lembongan

There are one-day cruise packages now that you can get in Bali to a smaller island called Lembongan. The package would include a buffet lunch, water activities such as banana boat, snorkeling, submersible, kayaking, diving, etc. We did this for an entire day and it was tons of fun. There are 3 main cruise lines, Bali Hai, Bounty, and … I forgot the other one. And the prices are relatively cheap compared to other countries (but maybe not so much for locals).

I didn’t dive in Lembongan, but from the snorkeling sites, I don’t think it would be the best place to dive in, since a lot of the corals are dead. They are still impressive and colorful, but wouldn’t you want to see live corals with even more vibrant colors instead? If you wanted to dive in Indonesia, then the place that you should go is Bunaken in Manado, North Sulawesi, or the islands in the eastern part of Indonesia. They are more remote, but I’m sure the experience is worth the travel.

Nusa Lembongan

7. Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach is the most famous beach in Bali, usually packed in the evenings. Sunsets there are gorgeous too. The beach is perfect for swimming, since the sand is soft and the water not so cold. There are lots of vendors along the beach too that would offer hair braiding, temporary tattoes, soft drinks, boogie boards and surfboards, etc.

Kuta Beach

(Uluwatu, Padang-padang, Dreamland, GWK, and Kuta are in the southern tip of Bali. Tanah Lot is a bit north and west of the island, and Lembongan is an island off the east part of Bali, though it is still part of the Bali province).

Indonesia: Its Underappreciated Talents

Two Sundays ago my mom took me to a place in Jakarta that I had never visited before, even though I was born and raised in the city. Located in the recreational complex in North Jakarta (Ancol) where you would find amusement parks, marinas, Sea World, etc., Pasar Seni, or the Art Market is one of the less popular subsections of Ancol.

We went there to get a customized wood carving for a gift, and there were plenty of shops to choose from. The market is comprised of many small galleries and shops, and its setting natural and open, producing the feel of a traditional market, devoid of modern and sophisticated architecture. The artists are local or regional, and nearly all pieces displayed there, statues, paintings, shadow puppets, etc., are original and handcrafted. In many cases, the artists themselves are attending the shops.

Pasar Seni Ancol, North Jakarta

In other words, it was a sea of talents. One may expect that such a place would be buzzing with visitors and tourists. But that Sunday, the market was empty. The shops were open, the artists were there, but the entire time we were there, we did not pass by or see another visitor. This is not always the case of course, since there are local events and festivals held at Pasar Seni from time to time. But if one were to compare the statistics of the parks in Ancol, I would venture a confident guess that Pasar Seni is the least visited part of the complex.

It really is a shame that Pasar Seni and the artists there are underappreciated. Indonesian artworks are usually very intricate and elaborate, and their price tags would be much higher if they were brought to other countries. I got a 31″ x 23″ oil painting for about $9 USD – not the highest quality, but still very good. Some of the large paintings there were simply breathtaking, and they cost about $600-$800 USD, way lower than similar pieces found elsewhere.

The oil painting I bought.

At a gallery with the most amazing paintings, made by the brother of the shop attendant.

Wayang, or Indonesian shadow puppets.

The guy that I bought the wood carving from sold it for about $16 USD, including customization. He was from Bali, as were many of the artists there, and I think he made the carvings himself. When we asked when we could pick up the final product and whether his shop would be open on Idul Fitri (or Eid ul-Fitr, end of Ramadan, extended public holidays in Indonesia), he said we could pick it up any time we want. He would be there 24/7, since apparently, he sleeps on the floor of his shop, about a 5 meter x 5 meter space with many wood carvings of different shapes and forms.

I’m very curious about the livelihood of these artists…


I really think that more people should visit Pasar Seni in Jakarta, even just for a walk. It’s a fascinating place, one that stores many interesting stories, I’m sure. You get to see beautiful artworks, interact with the artists themselves, and get a good deal. If you were looking for a gift or a piece to decorate your home, try visiting Pasar Seni instead of art shops in malls or department stores. You will likely find a better deal and you get to support local artists directly. You can bargain for lower prices, but I’d say don’t bargain too much. I’m sure the artists would appreciate it.

Indonesia: Jakarta’s Facelifts

Or, The Thrill of Being in a Developing Country

Each time I go home, I have to reacquaint myself to Jakarta because it’s always a different city that I come home to. My 3+ years absence makes this process much more noticeable, since a lot has happened during that period of time.

Take the area around my house. Entirely new buildings have emerged, replacing the older structures, which were not so old in the first place. I could hardly recognize the street a block away from my house, which are now filled with restaurants, a health center, and a car showroom, all newly built.

Certain areas of the city are emerging business districts. New high rises are in construction whose lights glow at night and are quite enchanting. These complexes look less cluttered to me (and believe me Jakarta is a cluttered city), so I find these urban changes exciting.

I like being in a place that’s dynamic, where you can’t stay and operate the same way for years at a time. Jakarta is a place that forces its occupants to be versatile, adaptable, and creative, though not always in a good way. Some things are definitely worse, like traffic. Just yesterday, it took me 1.5 hours to get to a place that’s supposed to be reachable in 20 or 30 minutes max a few years back. Some people adapt to that by breaking the law, i.e., lots of motorcyclists ignore red lights. Some people develop patience.

But basically, the fascinating thing about being in a developing country is to actually experience the development daily. It is visible and its effects influence the way you operate each day. Someone said to me the other day, “We cannot see Jakarta 2012 anymore. When you see the city, you have to see Jakarta 2020 or 2030.” Being an optimist that I am, I think Jakarta 2020 will be a fascinating place, cleaner, healthier, and more organized. And the road to get there, the problem solving that will be required and the lessons learned, will be even more fascinating than the end result.