Sabbatical/Pause: Mountains are Calling

Sabbatical/Pause: the Mountains are Calling, I Must Go Now

I am going on hiatus for a bit.

I will probably be back, but it is time for some reevaluation.

Where do I want to spend my time? On my dear ones and my professional attempts? At the computer writing and editing? In the woods? Behind the camera? How important is it to finish those cookbooks? I will be honest, it seems like such a waste not to finish the cookbooks—but so close and so far away, and so disillusioned on so many fronts. Forgiving and forgetting.

And when will I realize I am most content focusing on my photography? Can I give myself the permission to focus on being creative in my spare time? Am I too pragmatic to do that? Just say, go to the mountains and sit by the stream and shoot falling water? Or wait for the right light, or clouds? In other words, learn to wait for the right shot?

What do I want the next ten years to look like? [gasp] Twenty years? I *know* I want to be carrying my pack in my eighties, but I know, based on family experience, we do not always get to choose our path.

Blog traffic increased five times in the last year, and I do not want to throw that away (or the Google juice!)—but I know it is time to pause and reevaluate. One of my goals last year was to focus on the elusive author’s platform. But I despise the self-referential nature of blogging and telling my tale—but the information professional loves sharing information, whether it is monetized or not.

In the meantime, the short-term goals are to experience being wild, going solo, and with dear ones. And being ok with doing that close to home—but with an eye toward adventures abroad, because I will be honest, it is the cross-cultural connections that feed my soul. And I want to share that with others, but I am revisiting the cost-benefit of new connections—and I will be honest, I am revisiting what brings me joy in all areas of life.

But today, the sun is shining and I was walking at my happy, beach place, and it is spring, and I ate sorbet at my favorite seasonal place.

As Mr. Muir wrote, the mountains are calling. I must go now. We will see what comes out on the other side.

Copyright 2015 All disclaimers apply.

Guide to Dim Sum

Guide to Dim Sum

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to dim sum , but will get you started with dim sum, whether you are in Hong Kong, the United States, or a dim sum restaurant somewhere along the way.

For more about dim sum (including the dim sum experience, dim sum etiquette, common dim sum teas, and where to eat the best dim sum in Hong Kong), please see Best Dim Sum in Hong Kong.

Savory Dim Sum: Buns (Bao)


    Char Siu Bao and Cheong Fan at Metropol Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

  • Char Siu Bao (Barbecue Pork Buns)
    • Soft, fluffy, dough filled with a slightly sweet, tender, slow-roasted barbeque pork or char siu, usually seasoned with oyster sauce; they can be steamed, baked or fried, but steamed is much more common. Many Hong Kong dim sum restaurants specialize in char siu.
  • Mantou Bao (Plain Steamed Bun)
    • Plain, steamed bun without the filling.
  • Xiao Long Bao (Soup Bun)
    • Delicate bao pockets filled with a richly flavored meat or seafood broth; pork is a very common filling

Savory Dim Sum: Cakes (Gou)

  • Lo Bak Gou (Turnip or Chinese Radish Cake)
    • Mashed or grated and boiled Chinese radish (or daikon radish or lo bak) is mixed with rice flour and and shrimp and/or pork sausage, then steamed, fried, and cut into slices.
  • Maa Tai Gou (Water Chestnut Cake)
    • Made from shredded Chinese water chestnut, the tender cakes are cut into squares and are translucent. Maa tai gou are very popular during Chinese New Year.
  • Nian Gou (Sticky Rice Cake)
    • Steamed, sticky, glutinous rice cake, sliced, and pan fried with egg Nian gou are very popular during Chinese New Year.
  • Wu Tao Gou (Taro Root Cake)
    • Similar to Lo Bak Gou (above), but made from starchy taro root.

Savory Dim Sum: Dumplings (Gao)

Dumplings are divided into three categories, steamed, fried, and boiled.

  • Chaozhou Fun Gao (Chaozhou or Teochew Dumplings)
    • Steamed dumpling made of ground pork, dried shrimp, Shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, garlic, chives, in a thick rice flour wrapper made from glutinous rice flour or Tang flour. Originally from Chaozhou (Teochew) in eastern Guangdong
  • Gao Tio or Jiaozi (Fried Potstickers)
    • Ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped in a round piece of thin wheat dough, folded in half, and sealed with crimped edges; gao tie are steamed and then pan-fried. Gao tio originate from northern China and are not considered traditional Hong Kong dim sum.
  • Haam Sui Gao
    • Oval-shapped, deep-fried, sweet rice flour dough dumpling filled with pork and chopped vegetables.
  • Har Gao (Steamed Shrimp Dumplings)
    • Chopped pieces of shrimp encased in a wrapper of translucent wheat dough, sometimes with bamboo shoots and scallions. Pork or a mixture of pork and shrimp is very common.

    Shumai at Lin Heung Tea Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

  • Shumai (Steamed Shrimp/Pork and Mushroom Dumpling)
    • Open-topped, steamed dumpling made from round pork and/or whole or chopped shrimp, Shiitake mushrooms, green onions, and ginger, wrapped in very thin wheat dough, and steamed, and usually garnished with crab roe or dyed scrambled egg.

Savory Dim Sum: Rolled Dim Sum

  • Cheong Fan (Rolled, Steamed Rice Noodles)
    • Wide, thin rice noodles are filled with beef, pork, shrimp, and or vegetables, and drizzled with soy sauce; the soy sauce is often sweetened.
  • Pei Guen (Fried or Steamed Tofu Skin Roll)
    • Tofu skin is made from soy bean curd and is filled with various ingredients, chicken, pork, shrimp, or veggies. The skin is flavored with stock and soy sauce.

Savory Dim Sum: Other Common Types of Savory Dim Sum

  • Congee (Rice Porridge)
    • This thick, sticky rice porridge is often served with dried fish, peanuts, ground pork, and/or scallions.
  • Fung Zaau (Chicken Feet or Phoenix Claws/Talons)
    • Trimmed and cleaned chicken feet are deep fried and simmered in black bean sauce or cloves, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce.
  • Lo Mai Gai (Sticky Rice Steamed in Lotus Leaf)
    • Glutinous sticky rice with egg yolk, meat (ground pork and chicken), mushrooms, water chestnut, and/or scallions is wrapped inside a triangular or rectangular package in a lotus or bamboo leaf, and steamed. The lotus leaf imparts flavor, but is not eaten.
  • Ngao Yuk Kau (Steamed Beef Meatballs)
    • Ground beef balls are steamed with orange peel, and served with a thin tofu skin.
  • Pai Gwut (Steamed Spare Ribs)
    • Pork ribs are steamed with douchi or fermented black beans.

Sweet Dim Sum

  • Chien Chang Gou (Thousand Layer Cake)
    • A dessert made of several layers of sweet egg dough.
  • Daan Taat (Sweet Egg Custard Tart)
    • This common Guangzhou sweet egg tart (daan taat) is also popular in sidewalk bakeries). It is derived from the Portuguese custard tart (pasteis de natas), which was brought to Macau by Portuguese colonists. The crust is made from flaky, puff pastry or a buttery, non-flaky cookie dough and is filled with a sweet, rich egg custard, and baked.
  • Dou Fu Fa (Sweet Silken Tofu Pudding)
    • Made from soft, silken tofu topped with sweet ginger, jasmine-flavored, or plain sugar syrup.
  • Jin Deui or Matuan (Fried, Glutinous Sesame Rice Balls)
    • Fried, chewy dough made from glutinous rice flour and filled with lotus paste, sweet black bean past, or red bean paste; the pasty is then rolled in sesame seeds and deep fried. Known as matuan in northern China and popular at Chinese New Year.
  • Lao Wong Bao (Sweet Custard Filled Buns)
    • Soft, fluffy, dough filled with sweet egg milk custard, and steamed.
  • Ma Lai Gou (Steamed Malay Sponge Cake)
    • Soft, steamed sponge egg cake; some are made with brown sugar and more brown and others are more yellow and made with yellow sugar.

Copyright 2015 All disclaimers apply.

Photos of the Week: Fresh Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon) and Rice Paper (Banh Trang)

Photos of the Week: Fresh Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon) and Rice Paper (Banh Trang)


Drying Rice Paper (near Battambang, Cambodia)

The light dusting of snow outside my Boston window has me remembering warm places and tropical food from walkabouts past!


Locavore Lunch and Fresh Summer Rolls at K'nyay Restaurant (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)


Making Fresh Summer Rolls at Le Tigre de Papier/Paper Tiger Cooking School (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Goi cuon or unfried, fresh summer rolls are usually associated with Vietnamese cuisine. However, these delightful fresh salad rolls are enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia; I had them in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Indonesia (although it is more common for them to be fried in Indonesia). The ingredients vary, but the elegant rolls are usually made with rice vermicelli, shrimp, carrot, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, and/or green onions, wrapped inside a delicate and translucent rice paper wrapper. The rolls are served cold and are so refreshing in those tropical climates. Fresh salad rolls are often sold at bus stops with a takeaway plastic bag with dipping sauce. Cha gio or fried rice paper rolls are often called spring rolls, and are deep fried.

Rice paper wrappers (banh trang) are normally sold dry. Red Rose is one of the common and reputable brands found in North America; Andrea Nguyen from Viet World Kitchen reports that although Red Rose is always reliable, and she prefers the Three Ladies brand, particularly for smaller rolls. Andrea has a great guide to buying rice paper on Viet World Kitchen.


Drying Rice Paper (near Battambang, Cambodia)

In Cambodia, the best rice paper (banh trang) is found in Battambang Province, which I had the joy of experiencing via motorbike several years ago (in search of temples and Cambodian cognac!) The rice flour and water batter is spread in a crepe-like manner on fabric suspended over a pot of boiling water, thus steaming the batter. Rice paper is traditionally dried on bamboo racks in the sun, which gives the banh trang a charming, woven, rattan-like pattern.

The rice paper wrappers are stored dry until they are ready to be used; they just need to be quickly rehydrated in warm water before making them into fresh summer rolls.

Copyright 2015 All disclaimers apply.

Best Dim Sum in Hong Kong


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Best Dim Sum in Hong Kong

It is said that Hong Kong has the best dim sum in the world. Hong Kong dim sum restaurants are certainly culinary must when visiting Hong Kong. Please see our guide to dim sum.

Translated as “so close to the heart” or “to touch the heart,” dim sum is an important Cantonese culinary institution. Guangdong (formerly Canton Province) cuisine is considered a culinary capital of China, characterized by fresh, crisp, flavors—and dim sum. Food is a very important part of Chinese life and in Hong Kong, an undisputed culinary mecca, dining—and shopping—are two of the most popular activities.


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Small, bite-sized portions of dim sum are generally served on small plates or in small steamer baskets, and is steamed, baked, fried, and deep fried. Dim sum is traditionally eaten for breakfast or lunch, and usually served with tea; in most places in Guangdong, dim sum may be served as early is five in the morning. Dim sum is also a popular weekend brunch activity for friends and family. Cantonese people typically avoid fried food early in the morning, so steamed dim sum is popular on most dim sum menus. In Hong Kong, many of the upscale dim sum restaurants also serve dim sum in the evening.

Steamer baskets of dumplings were originally served as snacks with tea, but now there are hundreds of types of dim sum. In fact, “Let’s go yumcha (drink tea)” means to go eat dim sum.


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

In Chinese culture, a meal is meant to be shared—and as with most meals, it is best to enjoy dim sum with at least several other people. The more people and more variety, the better—however, even a solo diner such as myself managed several rounds of daily dim sum! Dim sum is a quintessential Hong Kong dining experience, and should not be missed, even if you are solo traveler. Unsure what to order? See our guide to dim sum


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

In U.S. Chinatowns, dim sum parlors are classically one or two floors, cavernous halls of delightfully chaotic culinary mayhem, with heaping carts pushed by older woman calling out their cart offerings in Cantonese. They are noisy, somewhat frenetic, slightly overwhelming fragrant odysseys and the beauty of the dining experience is you often are not completely sure what is in the little bamboo steamer basket. So, this prepared me for my Hong Kong dim sum dining experience and my quest to find the best dim sum in Hong Kong!

In contrast to home, Hong Kong dim sum restaurants are very varied, from simple, neighborhood tea houses to chic, très moderne, elegant restaurants, to buzzy, neighborhood tea houses, some with carts and some with menus. In the case of City Hall Maxim’s Palace, it was a cavernous, terribly elegant dim sum ballroom with starched, white tablecloths, silver tea pots, crystal chandeliers, and large glass windows overlooking the boat traffic of Victoria Harbor. In the case of Tim Ho Wan, it was a Michelin-starred restaurant, and in the case of Lin Heung Tea House, it felt a little like an early twentieth century movie set, with elderly locals enjoying some early morning dim sum over their morning paper.

It is said that chefs in British-ruled Hong Kong developed a different dim sum culinary style than the rest of Guandong province, with lighter ingredients, elegant presentation, and specialized ingredients. In some cases, dim sum represents the colonial legacy. For instance, the common Guangzhou egg tart (daan taat) (also popular in sidewalk bakeries) is derived from the Portuguese custard tart (pasteis de natas), which was brought to Macau by Portuguese colonists.

My first stop on the search for the best dim sum in Hong Kong was Luk Yu Tea House. A blue eyed, Arab-looking man opened the door for me, asked how many diners, and motioned me upstairs to the multi-floored tea house. It was still quiet, and just two tables had dim summing diners. The small group chatted quietly, while glancing their iPhones. The silvered-haired waiter poured my tea with a flourish, dropped off a dish of soy, chili and mustard sauce condiments, and shuffled back with a towel moistened with hot water from a tea pot.

Momentary panic set in; how does it work? Is there menu? Or do I need to order? At home, there are almost always carts, and if there is not a cart, there is an English menu.

Then a woman came by with a tray secured to her neck with a strap. A hand carried cart! The regular mysteries of dim sum! Someone will arrive with small plates of delectables, calling the Chinese names and open the basket for viewing! I was not going to be a colossal dim sum embarrassment! And I could actually understand bao, those delightfully doughy, steamed buns. Although one review warned me that Luk Yu service could be surly, I found that the three, underutilized waiters floated about the dining room, attentively poring tea and removing dim sum baskets, and quietly fussing about. Everything about Luk Yu tea house was delightful, including the dim sum.


Metropol Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

How to eat dim sum in Hong Kong? When you arrive at the restaurant, let the hostess know how many are in your group and then wait for the carts or menu. In some cases, you might just be waved to an open seat or table; if it is a crowed, casual place such as Lin Heung Tea House, you may share a table with other diners. A pot of tea will probably be delivered to your table as soon as you sit down; this is the house tea, and depending on the restaurant, there will be other options (Oolong or anxi tie-guan-yin, Bo-lei, black or pu’er, white or shoumei, and jasmine or molihua cha are common). I am a simple gal and usually stick with the house tea. It is polite to pour your companion’s tea first. Lightly tap the table to thank you companion for pouring your tea. Leave the lid of the teapot off to the side when you are ready for a refill. If you are unsure what to order, see our guide to dim sum

In traditional places like Lin Heung, plates and cups are rinsed in a bowl of hot water sitting on the table. Carts will roll by, stacked with metal or bamboo steamer baskets and plates, and the servers will often lift the lids to exhibit their dim sum offerings. Just nod or point if you would like some, and the cart server will stamp your bill. Do not worry if you miss the first round, or change your mind, as the servers will be back around. It is apparently acceptable to follow a cart, if you are afraid they will run out, or fear they will not be back around awhile (I am too timid to chase carts, but I did witness it in the more casual places). If there are carts and a buffet (as with Metropol), take your card with you to the buffet. Even if you do not speak much (or any) Cantonese, just smile at the end of the meal and indicate you are ready to settle your tab, and a server or the hostess will tally your tab.


Metropol Dim Sum Buffet (Hong Kong, China)


Looking for the best dim sum in Hong Kong, and a classic Hong Kong dim sum experience? Here are a sampler of Hong Kong dim sum options:


City Hall Maxim's Palace Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

City Hall Maxim’s Palace Dim Sum

2/F, Low Block, City Hall
Central District (MTR Central or Hong Kong), Hong Kong
2521 1303
Mon.-Sat. 11:00-15:00, 17:30-23:30
Sun., Holiday 09:00-15:00, 23:30


City Hall Maxim's Palace Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)


City Hall Maxim's Palace Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Crisp white linen tablecloths, silver tea pots, English menu explanations, crystal chandeliers, grand and elegant ball room, business diners and some lovers, interspersed with a few tourists, and shu mei sprinkled with roe! So refined and elegant, complete with silver-edged chop sticks. But somehow there are always dim sum commonalities: there were still steamer baskets, the same searching looks, the same furtive gazes at the carts—along with splendid views of Victoria Harbor over to Kowloon. I arrived at 12:30 and was given a number, but only waited five minutes for a table. The other dim sum commonality was that no matter how refined or elegant the restaurant, the female hostess loudly yells your number and briskly escorts you to your table. Credit cards accepted.


City Hall Maxim's Palace Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)


City Hall Maxim's Palace Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Lin Heung Tea House Dim Sum

G/F., 160-164
Wellington Street
Central District (MTR Sheung Wan), Hong Kong
2544 4556
Daily 06:00-23:00

I arrived around 11, and was promptly waved toward the dining room; I shared a table with an older woman reading a newspaper, who gave me a polite nod. We were later joined by an older man; he made some polite chat with the aforementioned elderly woman; he also gave me a polite nod and ignored my penchant for documentation. A man sloshed tea across from me, mounded his used tea in a separate bowl. It is casual, old school place warmed by fluorescent lights and a bustling, very local lunch scene, with communal seating. It was definitely my favorite Hong Kong dim sum restaurant.


Lin Heung Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Luk Yu Tea House Dim Sum

24-26 Stanley Street
Central District (MTR Central)
2523 5464
2523 5463
2523 5465
Daily 07:00-21:00

A wonderfully atmospheric place for quiet morning tea and dim sum! Luk Yu in infused with Old Hong Kong glamour and retro touches, and is frequent location for movie filming; indeed, it feels like a cinematic set. Credit cards accepted.


Luk Yu Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)


Metropol Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Metropol Dim Sum

4/F., United Centre
95 Queensway
Central District (MTR Admiralty), Hong Kong
2865 1988
Daily 08:00-24:00

A Hong Kong local took me out for dim sum—amazing! She made reservations, which was very helpful, as Metropol was packed with a mid-day, business crowd; apparently it is one of the few Hong Kong dim sum restaurants where you can make a reservation. I cannot imagine how bustling it would be on the weekend!. Food is served by trolleys and at several buffet tables. It was a cavernous, banquet hall with cheerful, attentive staff. It is a massive restaurant, apparently seating over a thousand people. It definitely had the largest variety of dim sum options, out of all my Hong Kong dim sum sampling. Credit cards accepted.


Metropol Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)


Metropol Dim Sum (Hong Kong, China)

Yung Kee Restaurant

32-40 Wellington Street
Central District (MTR Central), Hong Kong
2522 1624
Mon.-Sat. 15:00-17:30
Renowned for their roast meats, particularly roast goose, and Chinese barbeque. Yung Kee does a booming lunch takeout business with the Central District business crowd, with a long queue. It is also a favorite for dim sum.



So much dim sum and so little time! Here are some other favorite Hong Kong dim sum restaurants for your quest for the best dim sum in Hong Kong:

Lung King Heen

8 Finance Street, Four Seasons Hotel
Central District, Hong Kong (MTR Hong Kong)
3196 8880

Sun. 11:30-15:00
Sun.-Sat. 18:00-22:30
Mon.-Sat. 12:00-15:30

The first restaurant in Hong Kong to earn three Michelin stars, with dim sum lunches. Reservations recommended.

Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum

Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui
Olympian City Mall
Mong Kok, Hong Kong (MTR Olympic)
Daily 10:00-21:30

The brainchild of former Lung King Heen chef Mak Kwai Pui, Tim Ho Wan. Known as a top quality dim sum at a very good value, it is apparently the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, and is reputed to have very long queues. The original Tim Ho Wan was a hole in the wall, but the original Mong Kok branch has since moved to Olympic, with branches in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong station, and North Point.

Cuisine Cuisine

3101-3107, Podium Level 3, International Finance Center Mall, IFC Tower 2
Central District, Hong Kong (MTR Hong Kong)

Non-traditional, modern, all you can eat, Michelin-starred dim sum in one of Hong Kong’s biggest skyscrapers, served by what are reputed to be some of Hong Kong’s best dim sum chefs.

Tsui Hang Village

Three locations:

22/F, Lee Theatre Plaza,
99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
2409 4822
Mon.-Fri. 11:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Sat.-Sun. 11:00-15:30, 18:00-23:00

2/F, New World Tower
16-18 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong
2524 2012
Mon.-Fri. 11:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Sat.-Sun. 10:30-15:00, 18:00-23:00

Shop 504, L5, FoodLoft, Miramar Shopping Centre
132 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, Hong Kong
2376 2882
Mon.-Fri. 11:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Sat.-Sun. 10:30-15:00, 18:00-23:00

Reported to be tasty, equitably priced dim sum inside a traditional Chinese interior.

Duddell’s Dim Sum

Levels 3 & 4, Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street
Central District, Hong Kong (MTR Central)
2525 9191

Reported to be pricey, but an elegant, beautiful space and dim sum brunch.

Jade Garden (Tsimshatsui)
4/F, Star House, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon
2730 6888

Owned by the Maxim’s group and reported to be finer dim sum than at Maxim’s (which I cannot imagine!) There are other locations, but food blogs report that this location has consistently high-quality dim sum.

Victoria City Seafood Restaurant
2nd floor, Sun Hung Kai Center
North Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Known for char siu so roast pork pastries.

Fu Sing Dim Sum

353 Lockhart Road | Sunshine Plaza
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

Also known for char siu so roast pork pastries.

West Villa Dim Sum
5/F, Lee Gardens One, No.33 Hysan Avenue
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (MTR Wan Chai/Causeway Bay)

Reported to be busy, above average, and consistently, with good char siu.

Fook Lam Moon Dim Sum

35-45 Johnston Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (MTR Wan Chai/Causeway Bay)
2866 0663

Reported to be excellent, high-quality dim sum with excellent service and great roast and barbeque pork.

San Hing Dim Sum

10 Hau Wo St.
Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
2816 0616

Open daily 03:00-16:00

Reported to be packed with late night (morning?) dim sum revelers.

M Garden Vegetarian Dim Sum

Shop D, 6/F, Grand Tower, 639 Nathan Road
Mong Kok, Hong Kong
2787 3128
Daily 11:00-23:00

Reported to be the best vegetarian dim sum, complete with a sunny atrium.

Copyright 2015 All disclaimers apply.

Thai Curry

Thai Curry

Thai Curry Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Thai Curry Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Kaeng (or gaeng) is the Thai word for curry, which can mean the actual curry paste or a dish made with curry and either coconut milk or water. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, there are a lot of variations; curries can be watery or like a thick stew, but the one commonality is that Thai curry is they usually made from red or green chilis, garlic, onions, and shrimp paste.

Khreuang kaeng is a chili-based curry, which is made by pounding ingredients in a mortar and pestle to form a paste. The consistency and thickness depends on the fresh and dried herbs and spices, as well how much shrimp paste or fish sauce is used, and the spiciness depends on how much chili is used.

Northern Thai curry is typically made from water, not coconut milk, as coconut trees do not grow in the northern highlands. Water-based Thai curry is usually spicier than coconut milk-based Thai curry, as the coconut fat neutralizes the heat from the chilis.

Thai Curry Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Thai Curry Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

There are many different types of Thai curry:

  • Kaeng khieo wan (green curry). Typically a very spicy curry—and the spiciest Thai curry—although this depends on the ingredients. Green Thai curry is made with fresh green chilis.
  • Kaeng ped (red curry). Typically a little sweeter than green curry, red Thai curry is made from dried red chilis.
  • Kaeng kari (or karee or leung) (yellow curry), is made from yellow chilis and turmeric, and is usually a little sweeter than green or red Thai curry.
  • Kaeng Massaman (Muslim or Mussaman or Matsaman curry). Massaman Thai curry usually has Middle Eastern spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise, and is less spicy than green Thai curry or red Thai curry. It is more typical in southern Thailand, which has a larger Muslim population. The dish is usually made with peanuts.
  • Kaeng phanaeng (dry curry)
  • Kaeng Penang (Penang curry, also spelled phanaeng or panang). Named after Malaysia’s famous and historic trading port, Penang is a rich and sweet, drier Thai curry.
  • Kaeng som (or sohm) (sour curry), a sweet, sour, and spicy made from tamarind juice and green papaya. Kaeng som uses water instead of coconut milk.
  • Kaeng pa (jungle or forest curry) is a very spicy, water-based curry from northern Thailand.

The flavor and spice level of each Thai curry depends on the ingredients, which can include cardamom pods, red or green chilis, cilantro leaves, cinnamon, coriander root or seeds, galangal, garlic, kaffir lime rind zest or leaves, lemongrass, onions, sea salt, shallots, shrimp paste, and turmeric. Many curry ingredients were brought to Thailand (and the rest of Southeast Asia) as part of the trade routes and the spice trade.

Curries are typically served at dinner with steamed rice, soup, cold salad, and a vegetable dish.

Thai Curry Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Thai Curry Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Sweet, Sour, Hot, and Salty: Thai Food and Thai Food Markets

Sweet, Sour, Hot, and Salty: Thai Food and Thai Food Markets


Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

These photos are from one of the informative (and delicious!) market tours at the Phuket cooking class with Phuket Thai Cookery School in Phuket, Thailand. Please see my Phuket post for more on the Phuket Thai Cookery School, as well as where to stay, eat, etc. in Phuket.


Shrimp Paste at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Dried Fish and Shrimp at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Thai food has four characteristic components, sweet, sour, hot, and salty. Common sweeteners include palm sugar, cane sugar, and coconut sugar; sweetness is present whenever there is an hint of spiciness or tartness. Lime, kaffir lime leaves, and tamarind fruit bring sourness. Chilis add heat and spiciness; like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants, chilis which were brought to Thailand in the sixteenth century. Saltiness comes from fish sauce and shrimp paste.


Sweets at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Market Snacks (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Thai-Style Donuts at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Open air markets (tàlàat) are still prevalent in Thailand, despite the modern economy and supermarkets, department stores, and mini-marts (there was a 7-11 around the corner from my Karon Beach guesthouse). Tàlàat are less expensive than supermarkets, the food is fresher—you experience the food and know what you are buying.


Rice Noodle Stand at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Curry Vendor at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

It is uncertain when noodles became part of Thai cooking, but they are certainly linked to Chinese trade routes and the spice trade. It is often written that the thirteenth-century explorer Marco Polo “discovered” noodles in China, and thus imported the pasta-making tradition to Italy. Silvan Serventi and Françoise Sabban dispelled this theory in their book, Pasta: they document the Chinese development of noodles, but note that pasta was used in the Mediterranean well before Marco Polo’s travels in China. It is believed that the northern Chinese developed noodles before 200 BCE, as well as the first filled pastas (1). Thai cooking (particularly northern Thai cooking) is very influenced by Chinese cuisine; mi or mee being a common noodle dish sold by street vendors (as well as in Indonesia street food).

As with Indonesian food, rice is also important staple and like in Bali, there is almost a spiritual connection to the crop. Thailand is the leading exporter of rice in the world, and Thai jasmine rice is highly prized in neighboring countries. One of the most common Thai greetings is “Kin khâo láew néu yang?” or “Have you eaten rice yet?” Rice is served with soups, stir fries, and curries.


Shelled Coconuts at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Shredded Coconut at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Shredding Coconut at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Coconut milk is not the liquid from the inside the coconut. Instead, it is made by grating the meat of a fully ripe coconut (which contains little or no juice) and soaking it in water for about 15 minutes (I learned this in a Cambodian cooking class). Once you have real coconut milk, you will wonder what canned coconut milk is made of!


Sweet Young Coconut at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


The Food Book: a Journey through the Great Cuisines of the World. Lonely Planet : Melbourne, 2013, pp. 550-583.

(1) Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner : New York, 2004, pp. 571-572.


Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Papaya and Dragon Fruit at the Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)


Market (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Lotus Blossoms and Marigold (Bodhgaya, India)

Lotus Blossoms and Marigold (Bodhgaya, India)

Photo of the Week

This photo of the week is from one of my favorite places in India, Bodhgaya, India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

To say Bodhgaya had an incredible energy is an immense understatement: it was almost as if Bodhgaya vibrated. It was my first time, I think, to be be near so many people meditating and praying all at one time.

The lotus flower is an important symbol in Buddhism, with multiple meanings. The lotus grows in murky, muddy water, so the first symbol is rising above the mire in the quest for enlightenment and self-awareness. The lotus also symbolizes the purification of the spirit born in the murky mire, which is the suffering on this earth. The third meaning is for faithfulness; we can rise above the murky waters to attain enlightenment, but we must be faithful and devoted to the path. In essence, the lotus represents figurative and literal rebirth.

The marigold is a sacred flower in Hinduism and Buddhism and is used for offerings. More on that another day…

I always struggle emotionally this time of year; there are a number of anniversaries of loss, those who have passed on, in one sense or the other. Alas, the holidays compound the situation—I have an extremely small family, just a few remaining blood relatives. My friends are my closest family and when they go missing, it causes much pain.

Yes, it is a reflective time of year, particularly this year, as I ponder some future health decisions and the disappearance of a dear friend. We have so few rituals in this society over mourning; people do not know what to do with those who are grieving. I do understand that, particularly when they have not had any loss and have intact family units. Intellectually, I understand it. But I will be honest, I do not understand when the dear ones disappear.

So, here is to rebirth (or at least an attempt at it)! For the winter solstice and new year is upon us and life is full of blessings and little (and not so little) gifts. It is senseless to be caught in the mire—although that seems to be where I am at the moment.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School—Best Thai Food Ever!

Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School—Best Thai Food Ever!


Sunset from Karon Beach (Phuket Island, Thailand)

I rarely have travel regrets, but I admit, I have some regrets about my decision to stopover in Phuket and Karon Beach, Thailand and to leave Indonesia a couple weeks early.
Sometimes the spontaneity goddesses are not with us.

I know how it happened. I was at a Kumai, Kalimantan cafe, waiting for my travel comrade to arrive; we were going to travel upriver to Tanjung Puting National Park to visit the orangutans.

There comes a time during long haul trips when the foreign starts to seem normal and home fades away. You are in the rhythm of discovery and you crave something new; you want what is fresh and new. Or is that Papa Al and my gypsy blood? He was a lifelong truck driver, restless spirit, and consummate wanderer. My family debates if wandering is a genetic trait, but it seems that about half of us are cursed with a wandering, restless spirit.

There are so many cultural differences between Indonesia’s different islands; I admit, I had more than a little culture shock jumping back to Java and then Kalimantan after Bali. Indonesia is so full of different cultures, landscapes, and languages; there is always something new around the bend. I had another two weeks on my visa, but I was unsure I had the stamina and wherewithal to venture further afield and back to Lombok and points beyond, the land of infrequent buses, etc. I admit, I was a little road weary and felt the need for a cultural change of scenery. And my dear, visiting travel buddy was going home.

So, with a little time at, I booked budget airlines Air Asia and Tiger Air to Phuket Thailand’s International Airport (HKT). I know this sounds so economically decadent, but if you shop around, couple hour flights can be had for less money than it takes to fill the gas tank at home. With that said, I have always avoided flying, due to the environmental consequences, but have started to realize that my protest does not stop the world, and just my own mobility (and still not comfortable with that rationale). My goal was Thai street food in Bangkok, but due to the Thailand political unrest, I made a last minute switch to Karon Beach on the island of Phuket, near Patong, a common switch, given the political situation. Night curfews did not seem to make sense in a night city like Bangkok!


Building for Rent Targeting the Russian Marketplace (Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand)

Well, I am not a big beach person and I did not know Phuket (and Patong Beach in particular) had become a destination for cheap package tours, particularly for Russian and northern European tourists. So many, in fact, most restaurants had their street menus in Russian! Now, this was all fine, but it was strange to sometimes see more Russian than Thai, at least along the streets near the beach.


Main Beach Road (Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand)


Andaman Sea from the Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School (Phuket Island, Thailand)

But the saving grace of Phuket was the best Thai food ever at the Phuket cooking class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School and the very photogenic and instructive market tours! My goal was to experience as much Thai food as possible, which was one of the goals of the Phuket stopover. Mission accomplished with the informative, entertaining, and delicious course offerings at the edge of the Andaman Sea at pristine Siray Beach! Established in 2003, it was the first Thai-owned cooking school and offers seven different courses. I was fortunate enough to attend several of their classes—highly recommended! Wonderful, entertaining, and personable instructors and staff in a stunning beach setting and very professional environment.


Moi at the Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School (Phuket, Thailand)

Phuket Thai Cookery School
39/4 Thepatan Road
Rassada, Muang, Phuket 83000, Thailand

+66 (0)76 252 354, +66 (0)76 252 355


Andaman Sea from the Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School (Phuket Island, Thailand)

2900 THB ($88 USD). Price includes a taxi ride from your hotel; pickup is around 07:30 in the morning (at least from Karon Beach) and the class ends around 13:00. The class begins with a market tour and ends with lunch. Web reservations are available if you book at least one day in advance. Payment may be made with Mastercard or Visa at the school. There is no online payment service. Do plan to bring some small bills, for instructor gratuities, as they do not receive much of the course fee. They were all amazing!


Instructor Waida at the Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School (Phuket, Thailand)


Instructor James at the Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School (Phuket, Thailand)


Instructor Get at the Phuket Cooking Class at the Phuket Thai Cookery School (Phuket, Thailand)


Pineapple Guesthouse Phuket
29 1/4 Patak Road
Karon Phuket Thailand

+66 7639 6223

Private room approximately 900 THB ($27 USB) with en suite bathroom, AC, free wifi, and television. DVD rental and free watersport equipment also available. Airport pickup is available for 750 THB ($23 USD). Dorm rooms 285 THB ($9 USD). Clean, simple rooms just a few blocks/five minute walk from the beach. The guesthouse is run by a a lovely, extra helpful couple, a former English banker, Steve, and his Thai wife, Lek. Karon Plaza is tucked away on a sleepy side street; there are a number of small restaurants and some food carts just around the corner. The Pineapple Guesthouse restaurant is quite tasty and a good value, with an open air patio, and stay as long as you like policy.

Bazoomhaus Phuket
269⁄5 Moo3 Karon Plaza
Karon, Muang, Phuket 83100 Thailand

+66(0)76.396414, +66(0)90.9865.090

I already had reservations (and was quite happy) at the Pineapple, but I investigated Bazoomhaus’ lovely rooms and attractive, contemporary areas. There is a roof top lounge with sun deck and jacuzzi, and the restaurant served Korean and Thai food. 350 THB for AC dorm ($11 USD) or 2100-2400 THB ($64-$73 USD) for a private room with balcony and en suite bathroom.


All of the beachfront places have similar menus, with lots of fresh seafood. If you want to get away from rice and soup and noodles for breakfast, I recommend Sala Bua Karon Place in Karon Plaza (choice of breakfast sets for 165 THB/$5 USD).

Food stalls are just around the corner.


Thai Street Vendors Setting Up Shop (Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand)


Karon Beach is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Phuket International Airport, five kilometers (3 miles) south of Patong, and 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Phuket town. The Pineapple Guesthouse offers airport pickup is available for 750 THB ($23 USD).


Sunset from Karon Beach (Phuket Island, Thailand)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Moving Down the Ganges River (Varanasi, India)

Moving Down the Ganges River (Varanasi, India)

This photo of the week (rather photos) is from a previous post on Varanasi, India, from walkabout I.

Nothing can prepare you for Varanasi (Benares), the sacred Hindu city on the Ganges River.

It is the essence of India: a completely overwhelming sensory overload, where life and death blend too comfortably amidst sacred ritual and mortal details (like death and that pesky grim reaper). Varanasi is one of the holiest places in India, where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away their sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones at the confluence of the Ganges, Varuna, and Asi Rivers. It is apparently an auspicious place to die, as it offers liberation from moksha (the cycle of death and rebirth). Countless people come here to die and to be cremated.

Floating Diyas on the Ganges River (Varanasi, India)

Floating Diyas on the Ganges River (Varanasi, India)

Diyas (lamps) of candles and flowers are lit as a sign of hope; remembrances and wishes are placed in the diya and floated down the sacred Ganges as a symbol of gratitude and compassion.

This morning I am floating a virtual diya, with the hope that negative energy will be transformed into something positive, meaningful, and beautiful. Here is to living purposefully and in the moment, and not living in a cocoon of emotional safety. All we have are connections and on this rainy morning, I celebrate my connections and loved ones (past, present, and those who have passed on), for those connections are the essence of life and what makes us alive. Yes, those connections sometimes cause pain, but we return with love and compassion.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Quintessential Bali, the Village of Sidemen Bali

Quintessential Bali, the Village of Sidemen Bali


Gunung Agung (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Agricultural Fields (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Fertile, verdant rice fields scattered about the tranquil Sidemen valley. Subak, the cooperative water system, edged with roadside shrines. Villagers in fresh white shirts and sarongs, preparing for a Hindu festival commemorating the origin of the village temple. School children walking arm in arm in a light mist. The watchful eye of Gunung Agung, a sacred peak and the tallest volcano in Bali, going in and out of cloud cover. These are just a few memories from peaceful and unspoiled Sidemen Bali.


Subak Irrigation System (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Corn Fields (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Tourism is not yet a solid concept in Sidemen (pronounced seed a men), quite a rarity on the island of Bali. Yes, the guesthouse offered a guide and a couple restaurants offered tours, but it was low key. Tourism is definitely in its infancy in Sidemen Bali.


Woman Going to Market


Going to the Temple (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

The guesthouse provided a map, which provided a little structure to the wandering. In truth, there is little to do her except walk or rent a motorbike and explore the surrounding mountains, villages, and temples (including Pura Bukit Tageh, about a two and a half climb). There is reportedly a six hour trail that runs from Sidemen Bali and Padang Bai; a guide is necessary.


Even the Gods Need Refreshment (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Located in Karangasem regency in East Bali, Sidemen is less than two hours from Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS). It is, however, a world away from the rest of Bali! The elevation is about 426 meters (about 1400 feet) on the slopes of Gunung Agung, so temperatures are a little cooler than the coast. The village is home to about 7000 people, and most of the community is supported by farming.

The traditional art of weaving had almost disappeared from Bali by the 1990s, but the art of songket, endek, and ikat, has carried on in Sidemen. There are three weaving workshops in Sidemen, Swastika and Pelangi on the main street, as well as Arta Nadi on the road to Klungkung. There are also a few small shops selling woven art on the main road in Sidemen and the village of Tabola. Some of the independent weavers are Ayu Klungkung (next to Samanvaya Resort) and Nengah at Rumah Tanun. You may also pass houses with ikat written on the side, welcoming you to drop in and see how the cloth is made. It is always best to buy from the weavers themselves if possible, rather than a middle man gift shop.


Temple Festival (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Temple Festival (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Temple Festival Ornamentation (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Lihat Siwah Guesthouse
Homestay Rice Field View
Banjar Tebola
Karangasem, Bali
62 366 5300516
62 366 5300519

$30 USD budget rooms
$40 USD deluxe rooms
$50 USD private villages (includes first and second floor, plus balcony)

Lihat Sawah is a family-owned guest house with a welcoming and friendly staff. Tina and Dewayu were so helpful and amazing, and very responsive to questions and email. They will arrange transportation (375,000 IDR/$32 USD one way) from Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS), or transport around Bali. Rates include a full breakfast and all taxes. Rooms have delightful outdoor stone bathrooms, and a pool overlooking the rice paddies.

Lihat Sawah can arrange guides for 75,000 IDR ($6 USD/hour) or motorbikes for 60,000 IDR ($4.85 USD).

Credit card payment is available for a three percent surcharge. The village ATM accepts MasterCard, but charges three percent. Be sure to bring cash.

There are also numerous hotels and guesthouses near the village of Tabola, which is a short walk from Sidemen village. I preferred the location of Lihat Sawah, which was a short stroll to the village.


Market (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Woman Going to Market (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


I ate most of my meals at Lihat Sawah, which served delicious and reasonably priced Indonesian, Thai and European dishes. I ventured out one night to Samanvaya (62 0 82 147 103 884) in Tabola village: stunning views, excellent service, and superb food. Samanvaya is also a boutique hotel (about $65-105 USD per night).


Children Walking to School (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Night Sky (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)


Sidemen Bali is about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the village of Paksebali, Ksatria, after Klungkung.

Lihat Sawah guesthouse arranged a taxi pickup from Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS). It is less than a two hour drive and costs 375,000 IDR ($32 USD) one way. Motorbikes rent for about 60,000 IDR ($4.85 USD)/day.

Sidemen Bali is also close to other Bali destinations: Denpasar is one and a half hours; Gunung Agung is about one hour (three and a half hour climb each way); Kuta is two hours; Lovina is three hours; Padang Bai is one hour; Sanur is one and a half hours; and Ubud is one hour.


The village ATM accepts MasterCard, but charges three percent. Be sure to bring cash.

And so ends Bali, Indonesia, etc.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week (and Days that Make You Reflect on Past and Present)

Photo of the Week

Hurricane Ridge (Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington, United States)

Hurricane Ridge (Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington, United States)

This photo of the week is from the splendid overlook at Hurricane Ridge, part of Olympic National Park, in the western United States. There are some trips that truly change your life and your life path, and this was one of them.

My little sister, Lin, was finishing breast cancer chemo and M and I were out for a long weekend. We took a little spin out to Hurricane Ridge, and this was the trip that made us decide to pull up the tent poles and move across country from the east coast.

Everything should have been fine on the health front—and we thought we would move home in a year, after reconnecting with Lin, finding jobs, and having some west coast adventures. We rented our place at home and set everything up so we could return after one year. Alas, sometimes things do not go as planned, which has reinforced that Buddhist notion of impermanence and that fact that we do not know what is on the road ahead.

Today is the ninth anniversary of Lin’s passing and I am remembering the many gifts I learned from her—most importantly, to live boldly and passionately, and to follow your heart. I was always the cautious one and I am still learning those lessons : – ) Needless to say, she has been the inspiration behind some of the things that do not make a lot of sense to normal folk. Blessed be the universe, she had that affect on people!

For Linny:

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom in me a magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time” ~ Jack London

Hurricane Ridge with Lin (Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington, United States)

Hurricane Ridge with Lin (Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington, United States)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Tanjung Puting National Park Wildlife, Plants, History, and Geography—and Survival

Tanjung Puting National Park Wildlife, Plants, and Geography

Tanjung Puting National Park—more than the orangutans! Although the orangutans are indeed one of the main reasons to visit, as this is one of the last places in the world to see orangutans in the wild.

Tanjung Puting Geography

Tanjung Puting National Park consists of diverse habitat of lowland wetlands dry ground tropical rain forest (kerangas), primarily tropical heath forest. The primarily low-lying swampy terrain is interspersed with blackwater rivers which flow to the Java Sea (provided they have not been polluted by mining or forestry operations). Mangrove and nipa palms line the river mouths and seacoast, full of wildlife and biodiversity.

There were once extensive peat swamp and fresh water swamp forests along the south coast of Borneo from Banjarmasin in the east to the Kapuas River near Pontianak in the west. These swamps extended up the northwest coast of Sarawak and Brunei and as far as the Klias peninsula in Sabah. In Sarawak in general, peat swamp forests are very well developed and they are still very important there as a natural resource. In Kalimantan, however, much of the swamp habitat has been converted, both permanently and on shifting cultivation basis, to rice fields. Swamp habitats, as found in Tanjung Puting, are becoming more difficult to find. Although Tanjung Puting has suffered some encroachment from human activity, the Park area is still wild and pristine. The vegetation supports a large population of animals, making this one of the most important areas in Southeast Asia for the preservation primates, birds, reptiles and fish.

Tropical swamp ecosystems are not well-protected throughout Southeast Asia, but are prevalent in Tanjung Puting (2). Here is hoping that change is in the wind! I just read an article reporting that the “new Indonesian president Joko Widodo has ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to review licenses for companies that have converted peatlands for oil palm plantations” and a moratorium on new logging permits—great news!

History of Tanjung Puting National Park

Tanjung Puting National Park has its origins in 1939, when the Dutch government established Kotawaringen-Sampit Wildlife Preserve to protect the orangutan, rhinoceros, and probiscus monkey population. In 1978, the area was redesignated as Tanjung Puting Wildlife Preserve, which included 300,000 hectares (741 acres). In 1981, UNESCO designated 205,000 hectares (507 acres) of this preserve as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Preserve (, an honorary designation, which remains under national sovereign designation, not the United Nations.

The Indonesian government created Tanjung Puting National Park in 1982, which included 300,040 hectares (741 acres). In 1996, Tanjung Puting National Park was enlarged to its current size, 415,040 hectares (1025 acres), making it one of the largest protected tropical forests and peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia (1).

Threats to Tanjung Puting National Park Ecosystem

Tanjung Puting National Park is at risk, and 60 percent of the forest has been damaged and degraded.

Manmade fires occur each year. Some fires are set to lure prey, as wildlife can be attracted to the salty ash and subsequent new growth. Peat fires may remain undetected, as they burn underground, and the peat layer in the Tanjung Puting area is often up to three meters thick. Five million hectares (12.3 million acres) of forest burned in 1994 and 4.6 million hectares (11.3 acres) burned in 1997-1998.

At least 30 percent of the park has been opened to commercial forestry concessions. Fire is used as a cheap way to clear the land, so monocrops such as palm oil can be planted. Some of the land has been replanted, but salination and erosion are unfortunate side effects.

Illegal gold mining in the north and forest conversion to palm oil plantations in the east have also been devastating to the local ecosystem.

Indonesia has lost 64 million hectares (158 acres) of forest in 50 years. Unfortunately, that loss has accelerated in recent decades. About one million hectares (2.4 million acres) per year were lost in the 1980s, but that has now increased to about 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) per year today.

Demand for wood fiber exceeds legal supplies by 35-40 million cubic meters (114-131 million cubic feet) per year. Illegally cut wood accounted for about 65 percent of the wood supply in 2000 (1).

Why Protect the Forests of Tanjung Puting National Park?

There are between 80-200 tree species per hectare, with no single dominant tree species. The most common tree species make up less than 15 percent of the variety. This rich and diverse ecosystem allow many different animal species to flourish (1).

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Rain forests: clean and filter our air supply; protects and conserves water and soil; regulates temperature; reduces landslides and flooding; and provides shelter for wildlife, plants, and people. It can take up to 500 years for a cut forest to regenerate to primary forest (1).

Swamp forests: act as a watershed and reserve water supply; prevent floods; prevent saltwater intrusion into groundwater and rivers; provide a source of energy; provide a natural resource for flora and fauna (1).

Tropical swamp ecosystems are not well-protected throughout Southeast Asia, but are prevalent in Tanjung Puting (2).

The peat swamp and fresh water swamp forests in Tanjung Puting were once common along the south coast of Borneo from Banjarmasin in the east to the Kapuas River near Pontianak in the west. Much of the Kalimantan swamps have been converted to agricultural cultivation such as rice fields. The biodiversity of Tanjung Puting National Park makes it one of the most important preservation areas in Southeast Asia for the survival of primates, birds, reptiles and fish (2).

Tanjung Puting National Park has:

  • The largest wild orangutan population in the world
  • Nine species of primates
  • Three species of primates endemic to Borneo, proboscis, red leaf-eating monkeys, and Bornean orangutans
  • 230 species of birds
  • Two species of crocodiles
  • Dozens of species of snakes and frogs
  • Home to the highly endangered “dragon” fish also known as the arwana (2)

Indonesia is a Mega Biodiversity Hotspot

Indonesia is the third most biologically diverse country in the world, after Brazil and Zaire. The island of Borneo (which includes Malaysia and Indonesia) is a world mega biodiversity hotspot, a biogeographic region with a significant amount of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. Borneo is the second largest biodiversity hotspot, after the Amazon.

Indonesia covers 1.3 percent of the world’s land area, but its forests contain 10 percent of the world’s plant, 12 percent of mammal, 17 percent of reptile and amphibian, and 17 percent of bird species.

Tanjung Puting National Park is one of Indonesia’s most diverse national parks and protects much of Borneo’s biodiversity.

Species Borneo Tanjung Puting
Plants Up to 15000 + 780 trees and +200 orchids
Birds 420 species 230 species
Snakes and Amphibians 266 species Several dozen
Mammals 222 species 38 species
Primates 13 species 9 species

Primates in Tanjung Puting National Park

Tanjung Puting hosts the largest population of wild orangutans in the world, and is this is one of the last places to see them in the wild. Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, they are only extant in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra, and are considered one of the most intelligent primate species. Habitat destruction, poaching, and the illegal pet trade are all threats to the wild orangutan population.

The proboscis monkey—and eight other primate species, including the orangutan—live in Tanjug Puting National Park. Three species are endemic to Borneo, including the proboscis monkey, red leaf-eating monkeys, and Bornean orangutans.

The proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) or long-nosed monkey (bekantan) is one of the largest monkey species native to Asia. Males have a head-body length of 66-76 centimeters (26-30 inches) and typically weigh 16-23 kilograms (35-50 inches). Females measure 53-62 centimeters (21-24 inches) in head-and-body length and weigh 7-12 kilograms (15-26 pounds), with a maximum known weight of 15 kilograms (33 pounds).

The proboscis monkey is also called monyet belanda (Dutch monkey), or orang belanda (Dutchman), as Indonesians thought that the Dutch colonists had similarly large bellies and noses! (3).

Gibbons and macaques also inhabit Tanjung Puting National Park (2).

Plants in Tanjung Puting National Park

The diversity of rainforest flora is a result of the complex relationship between tall trees, smaller trees, and other plants growing together within one environment. When primary forest is burned, it destroys this complex ecosystem.

Plants are the only organisms that produce energy directly from the sun, through a chemical process known as photosynthesis. Plants provide a source of energy for other living organisms, but also provide oxygen, medicine, and energy.

Fern species have existed on earth for over 350 million years. Vines, plants with long, flexible stems, provide foliage, seeds, and fruit sustenance for many rainforest animals.
Indonesia produces over 75 percent of the world’s rattan, an important non-timber forest product. It is found in lowland forest areas and there are 137 different rattan species in Borneo.

Orchids grow on other plants, and the trunk and branches of trees. Tropical environments host the greatest variety of orchids, which Tanjung Puting hosting over 200 different types of orchids.

Nipa palm grow along tidal rivers and estuaries, whre there is a considerable amount of fresh water. Leaves may grow to up to ten meters, and the palm acts as a buffer for waves, protecting river banks from tidal currents. Local people use the leaves for roofing.

Many types of herbs grow in Tanjung Puting: wild gingers; quinine for malaria; akar kuning, which is believed to cure hepatitis; and selong belong, a reputed aphrodisiac.

Borneo has 28 species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes), making it a major center for this genus. The pitcher part of the plant is actually a leaf that holds water, which traps, drowns, and digests insects. Insects are lured into the pitcher by the nectar on the smooth, waxy lip, and then fall into the water below.The upper wall of the pitcher is very slippery, which makes it impossible for insects to crawl away. The lower wall has many glands that secrete acids and enzymes for digesting insects.

Ramin (Gyonystylus bancanus). From the 3000 different species of trees in Borneo, Ramin is one of the few species harvested for commercial timber. When peat swamp forest was first logged, ramin was considered unmarketable and was left unfelled. Today it is one of the most expensive types of wood.

Ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri) or ulin is known for its strength and durability, and is used to build bridges, foundations, and piers, and for flooring. It has been known to resist rotting for up to a century. Ironwood is very slow growing; trees 25-30 years old may only have 10 centimer (four inches).

Agarwood (gaharu in Bahasa Indonesia) or incense wood is an expensive, frangrant wood that has been traded for centuries throughout Southeast Asia, China, and the Middle East. It is used in incense and cosmetics, as well as medicinal uses such as stimulant, tonic, and carminative. It is also used as a perfume in India and Japan.

Rubber is extracted from the milk sap of jelutong (Dyera costulata). Jelutong was an important trade item in the 1990s, and concessions were awarded in prescribed areas. Trees may reach 61 meters (200 feet) in height, with a diameter of 2.5 meters (eight feet). The latex is also used in chewing gum.

Paper bark tree or gelam (Melaleuca sp) is very hard and heavy. It is used for underwater posts and foundations. Gelam can also be used for oars and shipbuilding, and is extremely fire resistant, as the bark protects the cambium from extreme heat (1).

Bird Watching in Tanjung Puting National Park

Tanjung Puting National Park visitors can bird watch (hornbills, deep forest birds, and many wetland species) in the forests, klotoks, Tanjung Harapan watchtower, or Pesalet forest water tower.

Tanjung Puting National Park contains more than 230 species of birds, including seven endemic to Borneo, including the Bornean bristle head and Bulwer’s pheasant.

Tanjung Puting National Park contains large populations of hornbills (Bucerotidae), including the rhinoceros, Oriental pied, and black hornbill. The female nests in hollow trees, sealing herself into the trunk with her own droppings. The hornbills are monogamous, with the female remaining at the nest until the young are hatched, depending on her male mate to bring her food. Their casques, a reinforcement along the curve of the bony upper mandible, are prized by hunters. The casque provides reinforcement in the beak for picking up and managing food and also provide visual signaling.

Seasonal rookeries along the Buluh River are home to a half dozen species of endangered birds, including the only known Bornean nesting grounds for white egrets. The rookeries are also hope to other wetland birds, including darters, night herons, white egrets, and various storks. The critically endangered storm’s stork and Oriental darter are regularly spotted in Tanjung Puting National Park.

Birds of prey—including serpent eagle, Brahminy kite, and white bellied sea eagle can often be seen at Kumai Bay and along the rivers of Tanjung Puting National Park.
Tanjung Puting National Park also has important populations of Argus, black crested, and crestless fireback peasants, and numerous types of pigeons, parrots, woodpeckers, kingfishers, and owls (1).

Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles

Tortoises, terrapins, and turtles (from the order Chelonia) are threatened due to excessive egg collection, beach development, fishing, and pollution.

The endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also known as a green turtle, black sea turtle, or Pacific green turtle, is not actually green on the exterior; the green is the color of the turtle fat. Female green sea turtles come ashore between June and October to lay their eggs on Tanjung Puting National Parks western beaches. They use the temperature of the sand to determine the tideline, and then bury their eggs above the tideline.

Painted terrapins and river terrapins (also known as tuntung) are fresh water tortoises. They have relatively shorter lives compared to green sea turtles, less than 25 years. They feed on riverside vegetation, particularly mangrove fruit as well as shellfish and prawns. They nest in sandy river banks, or on ocean beaches, and their eggs are considered a delicacy (1).

Marine Mammals

Marine mammals such as dugongs and dolphins can be found in the bay and coastal waters around Tanjung Puting National Park. Although they do not have any natural predators, they are critically endangered due to hunting, increased pollution and habitat loss, and accidents with fishing nets and boats.

Dugongs grow up to 3.7 meters (12 feet long) and weigh up to 900 kilograms (1985 meters). Females produce only one calf every three-seven years and individuals may live up to 50 years. They feed on aquatic vegetation, but have a very inefficient digestive system, and must each at least five percent of their body weight each day. Dugongs are hunted for their meat, body oil, and tusks.

Irrawaddy dolphines have small beaks and large, rounded foreheads. They use sonar to locate objects and to communicate. They are very social, and groups have been seen helping to free individuals caught in gill nets. At birth, the mother pushes the calf to the surface to breath, and the baby dolphins nurse their young on milk for two years (1).

Gliding and Flying Creatures

Colugos or flying lemurs have large, gliding membranes that reach from their necks to their fingertips, toes, and nails. This allows them to glide more than 61 meters (200 feet).
Flying dragons are reptiles glide among trees wit the helpf of skin flaps connected to their limbs. They reach lengths up to 20 centimeters (eight inches) and are carnivorous, feeding on insects.

Gliding treefrogs have large, colorful webs between each toe on all their feet. These webs are used to flide from tree tops to the ground, and help the treefrongs catapult from leaf to leaf. Their feet also have adhesive discs.

Unlike gliding mammals, bats are capable of true flight. Fruit bats and flying foxes have good vision, but mostly rely on sonarlike echolation to find food. Bats serve a vital role as flower pollinators and seed dispersers (1).


Ungalates are hoofed, herbivorous, placental large mammals, an order that include horses, cattle, pigs, and deer.

Bearded pigs breakup soil looking for worms and roots, enjoying the muddy wallows in the process. They make nests for giving birth to 3-11 young piglets. They roam broad areas, crossing rivers and climbing mountain ranges.

Lesser mouse deer are diurnal, and usually shy, solitary, and intelligent, and are the smallest known hoofed animal. They are small (about a half meter or 1.5 feet in length) and weigh about two kilograms (four pounds) without antlers.

The Indonesian and Malaysian folk story tells the tale of mouse deer Sang Kancil, but the evil crocodile, Sang Buaya, was waiting in the river to eat him. The mouse deer called to the crocodile and told him the king was having a feast, but the king needed to know how many crocodiles would be attending. Sang Kancil had all the crocodiles queue across the river, with the pretense of counting them, and made them promise not to eat them while he counted. And when he got to the other side, the crocodiles were angry at the mouse deer, who safely feasted on jungle fruit.

Sambar deer are large, usually solitary deer with antlers up to 55 centimeters (21 inches) and standing over 100 centimeters (40 inches) at the shoulder. Their antlers have one-four points and they are subject to aggressive hunting (1)

Bornean red muntjac or barking deer are also found in Tanjung Puting National Park (

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Fish

Reptiles are cold-blooded—that is, their body temperature stays about the same as the temperature of their surroundings. To stay alive, these animals must avoid extremely high or low temperatures. Most reptiles that are active during the day keep moving from sunny places to shady spots (1).


There are several dozen species of amphibians in Tanjung Puting National Park, including frogs, toads, salamanders (1).


The island of Borneo has over 394 species of freshwater fish. Most are found in Tanjung Puting National Park, including the endangered and highly prized collector’s fish, Arwana (bony-tongue) or Arowana (dragonfish). Seluang, bakut, and toman are also caught for consumption (1).


Tanjung Puting has two species of crocodiles, including estuarine crocodiles over five meters (33 feet). Crocodiles have a low metabolic rate and bask in the sun to raise their body temperature. They stay underwater at night to conserve body heat, since water is more insulating than air.

False gharials (Tomistoma schlegelii) resemble small crocodiles, but have long, slender snouts specially designed for catching fish. Their eyes and nose sit on top of the head, so they can see and hear what is around them, even if they are partially submerged (1).


Reticulated pythons can live as long as 50 years, growing to 10 meters (33 feet) and 200 kilograms (440 pounds. Pythons are nocturnal, and use heat sensors sensitive to 0.001 degrees Celcius to locate prey (mice, deer, and wild pig). They often stay by water and swamps. The female incubates her eggs by coiling around them for 2-3 months (1).

Other Tanjung Puting Wildlife

Tanjung Puting is also home to clouded leopards, sun bears, porcupines, monitor lizards, civets (Viverra tangalunga), and wild cattle (banteng), and the giant Bornean butterfly (4).


(1) [Indonesia. Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation.] Tanjung Puting National Park. Tanjung Harapan Interpretive Center text, [circa 2000], visited 2014 March 9, 2014.
(2) Orangutan Foundation International, “Tanjung Puting National Park,” 2014, Excerpted from. Dr. Biruté M.F. Galdikas and Dr. Gary L. Shapiro. A Guidebook to Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan Tengah (Central Borneo), Indonesia. Published by PT Gramedia Putaka Utama and the Orangutan Foundation International, 1994.
(3) Wikepedia. “Proboscis Monkey,” November 5, 2014,
(4) Orangutan Foundation International, “Wild Cats and More! At the Pondok Ambung Research Site,” blog post dated August 22, 2014,

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Kumai Kalimantan: a Glamorous Wedding on the Way to See Tanjung Puting National Park and the Orangutans

Kumai Kalimantan: a Glamorous Wedding on the Way to See Tanjung Puting National Park and the Orangutans

Friendly Children and Locals (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

“Hello missus!” (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

As travelers, we delight in those friendly, small-town places, where people smile and say hello, and small children give a chorus of “Hello missus!” and invite you to their house to practice English. In the spring of 2014, Kumai was one of those places.

Downtown (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Downtown (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Ojek Driver Downtown (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Ojek Driver Downtown (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

I arrived in Kumai a couple days before my travel comrade. My plan was to arrange our independent klotok travel upriver to Tanjung Puting National Park to see the orangutans (and other Tanjung Puting wildlife) in their natural habitat. Fortunately I was able to make all the arrangements in advance by email, which left some time to wander and explore sleepy little Kumai, a delightfully small port town on the Indonesian side of the island of Borneo, Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Tanjung Puting National Park is one of the natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Orangutans are the main reason to visit this part of Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo. Wild orangutans only live in Sumatra and Borneo, and Kalimantan is one of the last places in the world to see orangutans in the wild. Unfortunately, the orangutan habitat is rapidly disappearing due to deforestation from palm oil plantations and mining. I have an extensive trip report and information on Tanjung Puting in an earlier blog post.

Pangkalan Bun Airport (Pangkalan Bun Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Pangkalan Bun Airport (Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Most tourists fly into the Pangkalan Bun airport (PKN), scurry to their klotok, and spend the standard three days and two nights on the river, just in time for an afternoon flight across the Java Sea, usually back to Java or onto Bali. This is a shame, as Tanjung Puting National Park is a mega diversity hotpot, with a variety of wildlife and other activities.

Thanks to Siti Nurul, the guide who organized our independent klotok trip, I discovered the unique and friendly Kumai, and Kalimantan hospitality! She showed me around town and Pangkalan Bun sites, and even took me to a local wedding. I highly recommend connecting with Siti, who is a personable, intelligent, energetic, and delightful woman, and highly capable, outstanding tour guide.

Since that time, Siti started her own tour business, which is Kumai’s only woman-owned tour company (and I am sure the only woman-owned tour company in Kalimantan!) She offers a number of tours to local destinations, as well as Indonesian cooking classes.

Taking a little more time in the area is, of course, a benefit to the local economy. When tourists spend travel dollars for ecotourism (and just around town), it sends a message to the government and local people that this unique environment is worth protecting from palm oil plantation and mining devastation.

Morning Aerobics (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Morning Aerobics (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

It is not immediately evident at first glance, but Kumai is good-sized port town. There is a large, permanent dock at Panglima Oetar, which is large enough to host ships for interisland sea transportation. In Borneo, rivers are more common and provide easier transportation options than roads. Kumai is an import-export hub in this resource-rich environment, as well as a transportation hub, moving people throughout the district, as well as providing ferry service to Java.

Boat Docked at Port Panglima Oetar (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Boat Docked at Port Panglima Oetar (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Boat Docked at Port Panglima Oetar (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Boat Docked at Port Panglima Oetar (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

A lot of transportation takes place along the rivers of Kalimantan and on the seas across Indonesia. The dock at Panglima Oetar port is the hub for inter-island sea transportation, and is where imports and exports enter and leave the district. Goods and people are also transported on various rivers throughout the district via the Panglima Oetar port.

Factory-Farmed Bird Nest Building or Swiftlet Hotel (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Factory-Farmed Bird Nest Building or Swiftlet Hotel (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Another major Kumai industry are swallow nests. The saliva used in the construction of the nests is used for cosmetics, medicine, and food, primarily in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. I was told the nests yield $5,000-10,000,000 USD per kilo (a little over two pounds), so it is big business for those who own the nest farms. One of the first things you notice about Kumai is the constant chirping. I learned that it is really a recorded soundtrack, which attracts the the swallows and keeps them from leaving the nest.

Man on the Street (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Man on the Street (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Downtown (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Downtown (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Life is simpler and quieter in Kalimantan, and land is more affordable than crowded, populated Java. Siti told me a lot of Indonesians are moving to Kalimantan, as her family moved from East Java a number of years ago. I saw at least one sign for new homes. There is also a lot of work here and people are immigrating.

Siti invited me for dinner at a friend’s house. What to bring? A gift? Anything I should know? She told me just wear flip flops and perhaps 20,000-50,000 IDR ($1.65-4 USD) in an envelope. Well. I was not exactly carrying office supplies, but I found a local stationer (ok, the only one in town), who sold me four envelopes. I decided to refresh my Indonesian history, in case I had a chance to talk politics. Siti told me she would pick me up at 18:00 on her motorbike—and that was all for instructions.

Siti looked stunning in a flowing, full-length, floaty dress, with heels too boot. She joked that she never wears heels and actually cannot walk in them. But we hopped on her motorbike and bumped along Kumai’s main dirt road.

We picked up our boat captain, Mr. Ajik, en route to the dinner, and met his wife, Dayang, an amazing freelance cook. She was the co-chef for a wedding and exhausted, and opted to stay in for the evening. Dayang was also the chef for our klotok trip—I knew we were going to eat well. Mr. Ajik and his wife both had a good laugh at Siti’s heels, as she usually wears boots.

So, we bumped down some back alleys and parked the motorbike outside an average-looking Kumai home.

It turned out dinner at her friend’s was a wedding! We entered a long hallway: there were big baskets of party favors, small batik coin bags for the women and some cheerful women passing out the favors and welcoming us to the party. The main room was a grand affair, with Oriental rugs pillows and low-lying tables and sitting cushions in the dining areas.

Fortunately, I had one dress in my backpack, a long, black, conservative number that was barely passable: I was amazed at how glamorous everyone looked. I have never been so thankful for my red shawl (and was wishing it was not so wrinkled!). I must say, it was the only time while traveling that I wished for something sparkly, something posh! It was a very elegant room.

Siti seemed to know everyone at the party and we worked the room, shaking hands and touching the heart afterwards. Many, many people were affiliated with Tanjung Puting, including several guides and a scattering of boat captains. She saw a friend she had not seen for twelve years, Hassan from her Islamic school in East Java. She attended the school from age thirteen to seventeen, an endeavor that involved Qu’ranic teaching and learning to read Arabic.

The buffet dinner was incredible, two chicken dishes and one beef dish, with complex layers of spices, more multi-dimensional than other food on the trip. Perhaps even some cinnamon in one of the chicken dishes? Dessert was a chilled fruit soup that is native to Kalimantan with seeds from a fruit I did not recognize (texture of tapioca) in sweetened coconut milk.

Receiving Line at  Yeny and Arie's Wedding (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Receiving Line at Yeny and Arie's Wedding (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

The women were particularly dressy. Most had a tudung, headscarf that covers the hair, but not the face, with a glittery broach or festive adornment, and floor length skirt. I did not think you could find so much glitter in Borneo, much less a sleepy port town of 10,000! It was also the most makeup I had seen in Indonesia and quite the glammed up event.

Yeny and Arie's Wedding (Kumai Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Yeny and Arie's Wedding (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

The bride and groom, Yeny and Arie, sat in the center of a glittery stage, with the parents on either side. We went through the receiving line, handing the gift envelope to the bride’s parents, followed by more shaking hands and touching of the hearts. The bride and groom thanked me for coming—and I had to contain the urge to give them a hug.

Siti told me that women in rural areas women sometimes get married as young as thirteen or fourteen, but that it was more common for women with good educations and in the workforce to be in their twenties. The bride was twenty six and was trained as an engineer. Siti guessed the dowry was something along the lines of $10 million IDR (about $825 USD) and commented that the paperwork was done earlier in the day, and this was just a party for family and friends. It was quite the drop-in affair and seemed as if everyone in town was invited.

And I was so happy to be included—definitely one of the highlights of my six weeks in Indonesia.


Please see blog post on traveling to Tanjung Puting National Park by klotok to see the orangutans. I also have a separate blog post on Tanjung Puting wildlife, plants, history, and geography, which describes why Tanjung Puting National park is a biodiversity hotspot.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Downtown (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Downtown (Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia)

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Tiger in Kanha National Park (near Khatia, Madhya Pradesh, India)

Tiger in Kanha National Park (near Khatia, Madhya Pradesh, India)

This photo of the week is from Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India. Kanha National Park is near the village of Khatia, a tiny little spot of a place, definitely a sleepy, one-cow town.

I was absolutely amazed, but my safari yielded a tiger sighting—such an amazing and magnificent creature. We spotted him on a hill about thirty feet to the right of the Gypsy (a brand name, like Jeep). He brushed through the grass, crossed right in front of us, and kept walking across the field. It was if he knew we were in his house and he did not have a care in the world. Alas, in those days I was still using a point and shot camera, so the image does not do the splendid creature justice.

At the time—2008!—the hostel was the only place to stay in the park. It was a delightful experience, filled with Indian families on holiday, and I shared my room with a lovely family from Kolkatta. An amazing value, too, just 450 rupees (about $10 USD), which included a family-style dinner in the park canteen. Definitely one of my favorite stops in India!

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Quest for Masjid Ampel and the Arab Quarter in Surabaya, Java

Quest for Masjid Ampel and the Arab Quarter in Surabaya, Java

I had another night of insomnia in Sanur, Bali, an unfortunately common theme this trip. I woke up just in time for my 04:30 alarm, for the morning flight from Denpasar (DPS) to Surabaya Juanda International Airport (SUB) in Java. I was definitely not at my best.

But I am always a fan of pilgrimage sites. I arrived at the hotel at 09:30, so it made perfect sense to hop a taxi to the Arab Quarter to Masjid Ampel (mosque) and the shrine of Sunan Ampel (1401-1481), one of the wali songo, Indonesian holy saints who brought Islam to Java.

Except the hotel man did not know where the Arab Quarter was.

Oh oh.

Not a good sign.

Oh, Ampel! Masjid Ampel!

I remembered that masjid is the Arabic word for mosque (my Arabic is like twenty five years rusty). Oh, Kampung Arab (Arab Quarter)!

Yes, please. That is the place.


Arab Quarter near Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)

So, sleep deprived Elise hopped in the taxi. Without taking a hotel business card. Oh well, no problem, it will be easy, right next to the airport. Hotel Halogen. No, no. Hotel Halojen.

Alrighty then. I could not even pronounce the name of my hotel and I did not know the hotel address. All very unusual for me, but I blamed it on sleep deprivation.

To say Java is a different world than Bali is an understatement. It had been a several weeks since I was in Java, and I forgot a little. No more incense. No more temples. Back to many women in headscarves (but not all—there was a lot of variety). Back to salaam alekum (Arabic for peace be with you—which I love). No more Bintang beer for Pleterski.

Surabaya is the second biggest city in Indonesia, a smoggy snarl of motorbikes, ojeks (motorbike taxis), becak (three-wheeled bicycle rickshaws), and cars. The run-down historic Arab quarter is next to an equally lackluster Chinatown.

I will be honest—there is not a lot to love about Surabaya. However, there is a large international airport (SUB), and stopovers may be necessary on your way to Probolingo (and onward to Gunung Bromo and Kawah Ijen)—or like me, to catch an early flight to Kalimantan (PKN, Borneo) to Tanjung Puting National Park.


Pilgrims near Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Pilgrims near Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)

I popped on my scarf and the taxi man gave me a thumbs up. Just over the shoulders? Or over the head? More thumbs up and big smiles for the headcovering. That is a dumb question, Elise, you know the answer—but it had been awhile.

A scarf that covers the hair, but not the face is called a tudung or kerudung here. Mine is red (staple in my backpack for any place of worship) and the majority of the female pilgrims have green headscarves. Green is a traditional color in Islam and the Prophet, but I could not been able to sort of why so many green headscarves at the mosque. My friend, Siti, in Kumai (owner of Siti’s Tanjung Puting Orangutan Tours), later told me that the women were probably members of Indonesia’s main Islamic political groups, Muhammadiyah or Nahdlatul Islam (NU) (Nahdlatul Islam usually wear the green headscarf and Muhammadiya usually wear a black hijab).

I think the taxi man said he would wait for me. At least we made a lot of hand gestures—Hotel Halojen? We both seemed to be inquiring about the return trip, but the plan was unclear. I knew I was trying to beg him to wait for the return trip, as there was not a taxi to be seen. I frantically thumbed through my Lonely Planet glossary looking for the words for return trip or wait. No dice. He was all smiles, though—it was almost an hour drive from the airport hotel, south of the city, so hopefully it was worth his while to wait.

I do not think they get a lot of bule (foreign) tourists at Masjid Ampel.


Street Food outside Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Street Food outside Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Date Stand in the Arab Quarter (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Prayer Beads, Hand of Fatima, and Snacks outside Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Date Stand in the Arab Quarter (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)

The path into the shrine area was lined with fried snacks, mounds of dried dates, prayer beads, clothing, and prayer caps—but not as many haji caps as you usually see in international Muslim neighborhoods. Surabaya is a long way—and an expensive plane ticket—from Mecca and Medina and the hajj Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their life (if financial resources allow it). It was unlike India, where people bemoaned the fact that haji caps had started to become a status symbol and the number of times you had been on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina was sometimes a cause for bragging rights.

The path wound its way to a simple burial area with a marker for Sunan Ampel (1401-1481), one of the wali songo, the Indonesian holy saints who brought Islam to Java. It was a simple, elevated grave.

The pilgrims dutifully removed their shoes outside the courtyard—and I smiled, as mine were the only hiking boots (Yes! Back in the boots after my injuries!)

A man pulled me aside to show me the rest of the burial markers, simple concrete pillars that showed where the relatives of the saint were buried. Pilgrims gathered around different parts of the shrine reading what appeared to be mini versions of the Qu’ran. It was a quiet, peaceful, and respectfully devout scene.


Outside Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)

So, no taxi man, but the middle age+ becak (three-wheel bicycle rickshaw) guys thought I was a hoot and a half. At least after they realized they were not going to sell me a ride.

I answered the regular questions: where I was from, what my name was, where I am staying, where I was going, and if I was married. I am getting better, as they asked everything in Indonesian! Or at least I thought those were the questions…

Hassan put me on the phone with his friend. Or maybe he is a taxi man? Please, please, please be a taxi man!

Hallo? Hallo to you?

Many rounds of laughter. At least laughter from the becak guys. Their friend was just very keen on the hallo. And I was sleep deprived and getting a little grumpy. One of those days when my adventurous spirit was a little droopy.

Thumbs up for my hiking boots, some classic waffle stampers. Hassan really liked the boots and seemed to think I would need them in Borneo.

My taxi man never materialized, but another one did. They always (usually?) do (although this time, I was not so sure).

And it was a good thing, as Hassan said he was not taking his rickshaw to the airport. More rounds of laughter!


Arab Quarter near Masjid Ampel (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Store in the Arab Quarter (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Hotel Halogen
Jl. Raya By Pass Juanda No. 18
Surabaya Airport/Surabaya
62 031 868-7-111
$31 USD total (including buffet breakfast) via

Modern, quiet, immaculate, Indonesian business class hotel, with helpful, friendly staff, conveniently located near the airport (just three kilometers/almost two miles). The breakfast buffet theoretically started at 05:00, but when I was there, it was closer to 06:00 (which was no problem, and staff also offered takeaway).

A number of flight attendants and pilots seemed to stay here; be forewarned you may hear some music if you have a second floor room near the stairs. It is best to ask for a room on the upper floor. If you are up early, you can watch the flight crews do their morning calisthenics.


To travel from the airport, purchase a prepaid taxi ticket at the taxi desk. There are automated machines, but cheery, helpful staff are available to assist. Zone 2 is 45,000 IDR ($3.70), which will get you to Hotel Halogen.

Hotel Halogen has free airport shuttles every hour; just reserve at the front desk. Hotel Halogen can also call a taxi, if you want to go into the city (about one hour, depending on traffic). The taxi cost depends on traffic (approximately $15-20 USD).

Blue Bird Taxi
62 031 3721234

You might want to take their number, just in case your taxi driver disappears. There were not a plethora of taxis in Surabaya! If it you go to Masjid Ampel, try crossing to the other side of the street outside the masjid entrance to catch a taxi.

Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport (SUB) offers inexpensive flights to Kalimantan, Bali, and other locations in Indonesia. I paid $22 for the one-way Air Asia flight to Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar (DPS). Check


House of Sampoerna
Jl. Taman Sampoerna 6
Surabaya 60163
62 31 353-9000

Open Monday-Sunday 09:00-22:00 (except on the Idul Fitri holiday). No admission fee.

The building was built in 1862 and is now recognized as a historic site. It was purchased by Sampoerna founder Liem Seeng Tee and converted to a factory for Dji Sam Soe, Indonesia’s most famous hand rolled kretek cigarettes (blended of tobacco and cloves). You can watch cigarette production during working hours, but you might want to call to confirm. The company also offers a free sightseeing tour around Old Surabaya (


Mount Bromo, Kawah Ijen, and Other Volcanoes from the Plane (on the way to Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)


Fields near Surabaya from the Plane (Surabaya, Java, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Temple Dancers Relaxing at Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Temple Dancers Relaxing at Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

This photo of the week is from Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was first a Hindu and then a Buddhist temple compound, from walkabout II (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos).

Splendid Angkor Wat is one of the Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites—an absolute must-see, it is worth braving the crowds and tour buses. Go early, and take a bike or tuk tuk into the countryside and the outer loop, where you can hear the wind and have the smaller temples to yourself. The Angkor Archaeological Park is a monument to the ninth to fifteenth century capitals of the Khmer Empire and sprawls on and on—the park covers over four hundred kilometers (250 miles). Do make sure you take some time here.

Here I caught some temple dancers taking a rest—giggling, primping, chatting.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Padang Food

Padang Food

Padang Warung (Food Stall) (outside Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia)

Padang Warung (Food Stall) (outside Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia)

Masakan Padang (Padang food) is one of Indonesia’s most popular regional cuisines. The restaurants are characterized by windows of multilevel, stepped rows of pyramid stacked delights, and usually display a proud sign announcing Masakan Padang.

Padang restaurants are sprinkled around Indonesia, owned and operated by migratory, mostly Muslim, Minangkabu people of West Sumatra. Padang food is popular in most Indonesian cities—as well as Singapore and Malaysia—and is named for Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra.

Silky coconut milk, spicy, hot chilis, and beef, water buffalo, lamb, goat, and poultry are common in Padang cuisine. Offal, or organ meets, are also typical, and fish is common in coastal areas. Since most Minangkabau are Muslim, the food is halal, or permissible according to Islamic dietary law.

Padang Warung (Food Stall) (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Padang Warung (Food Stall) (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

At nasi Pandang restaurants, diners select from delicacies displayed in the front window, and food is served family-style with steamed rice and sambal (spicy condiment). At Padang hidang (serve) restaurants, diners make their selections after the waiter brings the food to the table, sort of a real time menu. Customers are charged by the number of plates and quantity served. Like most warung (food stalls), food is prepared fresh each day and dishes are served until they run out.

The most famous Padang dish is beef rendang, a spicy beef stew made from tender meat braised and slow-cooked in thick coconut milk spiced with cloves, coriander, garlic, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, nutmeg, red chilis, and tumeric. Traditional beef rendang is cooked until the meat absorbs all the coconut milk and there is very little or no sauce remaining.

Just smile and point to make your selections. Do learn a little Indonesian and Indonesian food vocabulary to make your dining experience even more delightful!

Padang Warung (Food Stall) (outside Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia)

Padang Warung (Food Stall) (outside Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

A Pig Roast to End all Pig Roasts—Balinese Spit-Roasted Suckling Pig, Babi Guling

Roadside Warung with Babi Guling (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Roadside Warung with Babi Guling (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Balinese Spit-Roasted Suckling Pig, Babi Guling

Last night in Bali—-warm rain, jalan jalan (walking, walking) down silent back alleys, post-babi guling dinner. I had one last helping of babi guling at Warung Ibu Oka, that succulent, spiced, spit-roasted Balinese pig, this time with a side of kulit (crispy, roasted brown skin melded to a layer of velvety, silky fat) and golden brown, crunchy cracklings. Babi guling should be rich and fatty and kulit is considered one of the best parts.

The ideal pot-bellied pig for babi guling, the Balinese delicacy, is reported to be about four months or 34-45 kilos (75-100 pounds). After the pig is killed and cleaned, it is skewered on a thick bamboo pole, from mouth to tail. The cavity is filled with a bumbu spice paste which may include bird’s eye chilis, candlenuts, cassava leaves, cloves, coriander, galangal, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, oil, pepper, salt, salam leaves, shallots, shrimp paste, and turmeric.

The cavity is then sewn shut, and the pig is roasted over a fire of coconut husks, coconut shells, and bamboo root until the meat is moist and the skin is is a crispy, rich, golden brown (about three hours). The moist, succulent meat is served with sambal, a spicy condiment made from chili, garlic, shallot, and tomatoes.

Roadside Warung with Babi Guling (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Roadside Warung with Babi Guling (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

In the Kitchen at Warung Ibu Oka (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

In the Kitchen at Warung Ibu Oka (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Where to eat babi guiling? Restaurants that specialize in babi guiling usually have a picture of a pig on the sign. It is also fairly common to spot babi guling at roadside warungs (food stalls). Babi guling is all a traditional food at ceremonies and celebrations, and is commonly served at temple meals.

Two Ubud restaurants known for babi guling:

Warung Ibu Oka
Restaurant 1: Jl. Tegal Sari No. 2 (located down a side alley near the Ubud Palace)
Restaurant 2: Jl. Raya Teges
Ubud, Bali
62 361 976345
Opens at 11:00 and serves until they run out (usually about 15:00, sometimes later in the rainy season)

This Ubud institution opened in 2000, serving traditional babi guling, butchered and roasted fresh each day. The open-air Warung Ibu Oka is reported to be of the best places to have babi guiling, not just in Ubud, but in Bali. Pigs are roasted off-site and delivered by motorbike; each pig feeds about one hundred people and the restaurant usually goes through six roast pigs a day. Needless to say, the food is very fresh and moves quickly.

The babi guling spesial (roast pork special) includes sliced meat, a square of kulit (crispy, roasted brown skin melded to a layer of velvety, silky fat), pork blood sausage, rice, and lawar, a mix of chili, coconut, shredded vegetables, and spices for 45,000 IDR ($3.75 USD). Yes, there are a lot of tourists, but there are a lot of locals, too. It is definitely a good first stop for the babi guling first timer.

Warung Rai Pasti
Monkey Forest Road
Ubud, Bali
62 0361 970908

Located off the madness of Monkey Forest Road, the open air patio overlooks serene, verdant rice paddies. Proprietor Rai Pasti turned her former tailor shop into an Indonesian restaurant, but it still highly recommended for babi guling—Rai Pasti’s sister is Ibu Oka from Warung Ibu Oka! Here it is not all pork all the time; the menu has a nice variety of Indonesian dishes and is a good place to go if some members of your group are not interested in babi guling. Also, there is no wait here, which is usually not the case at Warung Ibu Oka. Try the babi guling with arak madu (arak, honey, and ice) for 20,000 IDR ($1.70 USD). Arak is distilled from tuak, a sweet wine made from the coconut palm flower; totally different beverage than arak, the anise liqueur found in Greece, Turkey, and Armenia.

Babi Guling Platter at Warung Rai Pasti (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Babi Guling Platter at Warung Rai Pasti (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Walking to Hong Da Village (near Sapa, Vietnam)

Walking to Hong Da Village (near Sapa, Vietnam)

This photo of the week is from an independent day hike with my Hmong friends, Hue and Zhoun, and Zho, to their village, Hong Da, near Sapa, Vietnam. Some children walked with us near the top of the mountain, at this spot overlooking terraced rice paddies. The Black Hmong are one of the fifty four ethnic minorities in Vietnam; Hmong people living in the mountains of Thailand, northern Laos, Vietnam, and China, and are a subgroup of the Miao in southern China.

I just wrote a post on exploring rural Bali, Indonesia and how rice is part of daily Balinese religion. Rice paddies are part of the Balinese physical and cultural landscape—I most definitely have rice on my mind!

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Quintessential Rural Bali (or Disobeying the Doctor and Exploring the Balinese Countryside by Motorbike)

Quintessential Rural Bali (or Disobeying the Doctor and Exploring the Balinese Countryside by Motorbike)


Worker in a Rice Paddy (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

I am not very good at listening to doctors. Despite my hives and doctor’s orders, I had to bust out of Ubud. I bought a Bali road map and rented a motorbike—if I was to survive the land of Eat, Pray, Love (and hives), I had to have some day trips from Ubud.

The quintessential rural Balinese landscape is verdant, manicured rice paddies sprinkled with road side shrines and temples. Quite simply, rice is the source of life.

Rice (nasi) is ubiquitous in Indonesia, particularly nasi goreng (fried rice). In drier places (such as Nusa Tenggara), taro, corn, and cassava is more common than rice, but in most of Indonesia, rice is an everyday staple and part of almost every meal. There is a saying, “Tidak makan nasi, belum makan” or “If you did not eat rice, you have not eaten yet.”


Terraced Rice Paddies (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

There are many words for rice in Bahasa Indonesia or Malay: cooked rice (nasi); uncooked rice (beras); steamed rice (nasi putih); sticky rice (ketan); sticky glutinous red rice (beras barak or merah); sticky glutinous black rice (beras injin); packaged rice (nasi jengo); and yellow rice (nasi kuning).


Terraced Rice Paddies (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Roadside Shrine of Ganesha (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Gods for Sale at a Roadside Stand (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

In Bali, rice is also part of daily religion. Dewi Sri, the pre-Hindu goddess of fertility and rice, represents birth and life, and she is honored and worshiped in Bali and Java. Dewi Sri protects the planting and harvest, and the subak consults Hindu priests to find the most auspicious day for planting. Rice paddies—where live plants grow—are believed to hold spirits and small, roadside shrines are scattered along and through the rice paddies.


Terraced Rice Paddies (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Rice, water, and subak—the ancient cooperative water management system of canals—are part of Balinese religious life, and an integral part of the physical and cultural landscape. Water flows through temples from canals and springs, and the temples are part of the cooperative water management system. Individuals own paddy fields (sawah) and join their local subak, which coordinates irrigation, planting dates, offering dates and ceremonies, subak repairs, and prevents water theft. The subak system is an example of Tri Hita Karana, the Balinese philosophy that recognizes the unity of spirit, nature, and the human world and balanced life.

Rice—and everything it symbolizes—is so important in Bali that UNESCO has recognized the subak system and rice cultivation as part of Bali’s cultural landscape.


Rice Paddy (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Rice Paddy (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Roadside Shrine (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Chickens in the Rice Paddy (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Entrance to a Balinese House Compound (outside Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Stupa and prayer flags at the splendid Kunzu Pass (Kunzum La in Tibetan), near Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India

Stupa and Prayer Flags at the Splendid Kunzu Pass (Kunzum La in Tibetan), near Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India

This photo of the week shows the stupa and prayer flags at the splendid Kunzu Pass (Kunzum La in Tibetan), 4590 meters/15,060 feet. This high mountain pass is on the eastern Kunzum Range of the Indian Himalayas. Kunzum La connects the Kullu Valley and Lahaul Valley near Manali with the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, India. Truly amazing high-elevation desert and homestay hiking!

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Woman with the Banh Mi Tay Man at the Cai Rang Floating Market (Mekong River Delta, Vietnam)

Woman with the Bánh Mi Tay Man at the Cai Rang Floating Market (near Can Tho, Mekong River Delta, Vietnam)

This photo of the week is at the Cai Rang floating market (near Can Tho, Mekong River Delta, Vietnam).

Light and airy with a crispy, golden brown crust, baguettes (bánh mi tay) are ubiquitous throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Baguettes in Southeast Asia? It may seem like a surprise, but baguettes were brought by the French during the colonial period and are an essential ingredient in bánh mì, the Vietnamese submarine sandwich (which is also found in Cambodia and Laos).

The baguette is hollowed and spread with mayonnaise or butter, then filled with fresh cilantro leaves, cucumber, carrot pickles, pickled daikon radish, and is then finished with a sprinkle of soy sauce and cut chili peppers. The protein varies—the classic version has liver pâté and sliced meat, but other variations may include tofu, pork, chicken, or crispy pork skin. For over fifty five bánh mì recipes (classics and some new twists), see Andrea Nguyen’s new cookbook, the Banh Mi Handbook.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Bali Etiquette and Temple Etiquette

Bali Etiquette and Temple Etiquette

Palau Dewata—Bali is the island of the gods.

Bali is a cultural anomaly in Indonesia, as it is over ninety percent Balinese Hindu in the midst of predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Religion is an everyday part of life in Bali, and small offerings (canang sari) to the gods are ubiquitous, found next to almost every home, business, restaurant, cash register, and rice field—well, everywhere. Temples (pura) and shrines also seem to be everywhere, and temple festivals are never too far away, at least if you stay in one place and watch for them.

As for Bali etiquette, as well as Bali temple etiquette, do:

  • Learn to speak some Indonesian. It is amazing how far you can get with the polite niceties and lots of smiles.
  • Avoid using your left hand to give or receive things.
  • Avoid public displays of affection such as hugging, kissing, or holding hands.
  • Not wave or point.
  • Not touch people’s head or your own head.
  • Ask before taking photos (or smile and mime your request).
  • Excuse yourself if you walk in front of people (maaf permissi).
  • Not talk with your hands on your hips.

In the temple:

  • Do be quiet, respectful, and inconspicuous.
  • Dress appropriately. Men and women should cover their legs and shoulders. Do wear a sarong and a sash around the waist (temple sash).
  • Do not disturb people while they are praying (I know that goes without saying, but you would be surprised).
  • Do not climb on things (again, I know that goes without saying, but again, you would be surprised)
  • Women are not allowed to enter temples during their menstrual cycle.
  • Stay in your seat once prayer starts.

When meeting and greeting, gently shake hands, then touch your heart. Alternately, place palms together in front of your chest and bow slightly, as with a namaste.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Novice Monk Studying at Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Novice Monk Studying at Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

This photo of the week is from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. The main temple site can be pretty busy—best to arrive early in the day, rent a bike, and take in the countryside along the outer loop. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was first a Hindu and then a Buddhist temple compound, and there are amazing bas relief. I also recommend the three day pass, as the sprawling site covers 400 kilometers (250 miles) and there is a lot to see.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Ubud Bali Dance: Eat Pray Love, Hives, and Escape to the Ramayana Ballet

Ubud Bali Dance: Eat Pray Love, Hives, and Escape to the Ramayana Ballet


Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Sometimes a gal just needs to go to the ballet. Well, the Ramayana Ballet.

I did not plan to spend much time in Ubud, Bali. Earlier in the trip I changed buses in Ubud on my way to Padang Bai, and decided there were far too many sparkly Buddhas, yoga studios, businesses named namaste, and “handicraft shops.” The road into Ubud resembled an open air Cost Plus. It was not my cup of tea.

At the time, I did not know Ubud, Bali was ground zero for Eat, Pray, Love fans—or rather, those hoping to follow Elizabeth Gilbert’s path. There were a noticeable number of middle aged women with floppy hats, lots of linen and Ex Officio, and the look of cultivated searching in their eyes, a dreamy gaze. There were droves of them in the cafés—they looked contemplative, gazed into space, and wrote in their journals. They had shopping bags—someone had to buy those sparkly Buddhas and yoga mats. Although Ubud is known as a center for Balinese culture—and center for cultural expression—there sure was a lot of shopping to be had, including a lot of galleries.

My plan was to rent a motorbike and head north, maybe Amed on the northwest coast, and scope out the area around Sideman and Gunung Agung for later in the trip, after Kalimantan (Borneo).

But then the hives started.

I am still not sure what bite me, but I had a major allergic reaction. It was not so terrible in the beginning, just some swollen dots, mostly around my right ankle and a scattering up my left calf and thigh. I remembered brushing some insects off my chair right before I left Kuta, Lombok. Perhaps that was it?

Then it got worse—voluminous pustules with angry red edges. Frantic itching and fear of infection, never a desirable thing in a tropical climate. Thank heavens for the trekking first aid kit and antihistamine!

I asked Mrs. Rai, the guesthouse owner, what she thought. She looked alarmed and declared, “You need to go to the hospital.”

I tend not to worry about much as a solo female traveler, but I confess, I do worry about getting ill. And the only thing I worry about more than getting ill is going to the hospital.

Ubud’s public hospital was simple, but provided good care. At the time I did not know there were also some private clinics, but Ubud’s public hospital was a fine choice for my predicament.

I politely asked in Indonesian if anyone spoke English, and a nurse helped me fill out the forms and showed me the waiting room. The lovely male doctor and his assistant spoke excellent English—he was originally from Lombok and delighted I visited for the Bau Nyale festival. They had me recline on the exam table in what seemed to double as an operating room, drained the pustules, and applied ointment.

The doctor sent me on my way with some prescription antihistamine and antibacterial lotion—the total cost, consultation and all, was 50,000 IDR ($4.15 USD).

The diagnosis: keep the afflicted areas clean and dry, drain as necessary, and apply antibacterial lotion three times a day to the wounds. After the redness increased—and the pustules were looking a little angrier—I self-diagnosed an infection and took some oral antibiotics. On the follow-up visit, the doctor told me it was a wise move, as the infection had subsided. I felt like I had dodged the plague.

But I was supposed to keep the wounds open, clean, and dry until they were completely healed, at least two weeks. No boots. No hiking. No swimming. No Komodo Island or Komodo dragons. No long motorbike trips. The doctor shook his head firmly when I mentioned hitting the road north to rural Bali.

I was stuck in the land of Eat, Pray, Love, and I was not very happy about it.

So, what’s a sullen gal to do? Go to the ballet—well, the Ramayana Ballet!


Final Preparations for the Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

It was an enchanting performance space, set in the ornate courtyard of the Ubud Palace, the royal family’s historic palace. Intricately carved palace doors provided a stately backdrop, and Balinese stone statues of the guards watched over the stage. An elderly woman slowly went around the courtyard making final performance preparations, lighting candles, distributing flowers, and such. The gamelan orchestra settled in and before long, it was sunset and the dramatic, low lighting set the stage for the forthcoming drama.


Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

The Ubud Bali dance ballet is a colorful and expressive version of the Indonesian Ramayana, a local version of the traditional Indian Ramayana. This ancient Sanskrit epic depicts the timeless story of Rama and Sita; Rama is the incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, and is married to his wife, Sita. In the ninth century Javanese version, Rama, Sita, and her brother, Laksamana, are making a journey when they encounter the demon, Maricha, who abducts Sita, as commanded by the nefarious King Ravana. King Ravana is determined to marry the beautiful Sita, but thankfully, the giant bird creature, Jatayu, and the monkey god, Hanuman, intervene. Jatayu is unfortunately defeated, but then Hanuman and his monkey army arrive on the scene. After a raucous battle with the king’s demonic soldiers, Hanuman and the monkey army succeed in freeing the lovely Sita.

And of course, Rama, Sita, and Laksamana are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after.


Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


The Ubud Palace performance starts at 19:30 and lasts about one and a half hours. Do arrive about a half hour early to get a good seat, particularly if you want to take photographs. You may sit on the carpet at the edge of the performance space; I recommend sitting there if you want to take photographs or use a tripod. Tickets are available in the late afternoon and early evening from street vendors, or you can buy tickets at the excellent Ubud Tourist Office (corner of Jl. Raya Ubud and Jl. Wanara Wana or Monkey Forest Road). Tickets cost 80,000 IDR ($6.80 USD).

Dance performances are available elsewhere around Ubud, but in my opinion, it is difficult to beat the location of the Ubud Palace and the quality of performance. Gamelan, kecak, legong, and barong dances, and wayang kulit puppet performances are also available.


Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Ramayana Ballet, an Ubud Bali Dance Performance (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


Numerous tour offices rent motorbikes and cars around Ubud. I rented from Miss Wayan’s tour agency across from the Indraprastha Homestay (around $5 USD per day). Unlike Lombok motorbike rentals, there is a written agreement and basic insurance. Most of the rental motorbikes are black Honda Vario; if you park with other motorbikes, do note your license plate number. I learned this the hard way! Be forewarned, the traffic in Ubud is quite heavy and mostly cars, unlike the rest of Indonesia. I think was due to the number taxis and private drivers.

The Ubud Tourist Office (corner of J. Raya Ubud and Jl. Wanara Wana aka Monkey Forest Road) also has reasonably-priced mini-van excursions to the usual places (about $10 USD). Even though I do do not like tours and like to be under my own transit, it was a tempting way to see the main sights.

Private drivers are also available via the local tour offices. Given the amount of traffic, this was also a tempting option, particularly if you are traveling with other people.


Indraprastha Homestay
Hanoman St. No. 40
Padang Tegal Tengah
Ubud, Bali
62 361 975549
250,000 IDR ($21.30 USD including breakfast)

Indraprastha Homestay has immaculate and lovely rooms, and Mr. and Mrs. Rai are so helpful and absolutely delightful. All rooms have private verandas, but I recommend the second floor rooms, which overlook the verdant green rice patties. Wake up to a symphony of chirping, ring the wooden bell, and breakfast magically appears on your veranda; the menu changes each day, but always includes fresh tropical fruit. Conveniently located close to town, but a little on the edge of the madness, and away from the congestion and day-trippers. Bookings are available on Hostel World. Mr. Rai moves silently about the property with the ritual offerings, and the Rai parents occupy the front building in the family compound.

It was the perfect place to nurse my wounds.

View from Indraprastha Homestay Veranda Ubud Bali Indonesia

View from Indraprastha Homestay Veranda Ubud Bali Indonesia

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week Waiting for the Sunset at the Edge of the Indian Subcontinent (Kanyakumari, India)

Photo of the Week: Waiting for the Sunset at the Edge of the Indian Subcontinent (Kanyakumari, India)

This photo of the week is from Kanyakumari, India, the southernmost point of the Indian subcontinent. Three oceans meet at Kanyakumari—the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean—and it is a sacred spot for Hindus and a major pilgrimage spot. Here the sunrise and sunset are visible from the same spot and during the full moon (Chitra Pournami), the moonrise and sunset are visible at the same time.

I love the sacred pilgrimage spots—Kanyakumumari, Pushkar, Bodhgaya, Dharamsala, Varanasi, and Hampi were some of my favorite places on the India trip.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Which Gili Island? Travel to Gili Air, Quintessential Paradise Found.

Which Gili Island? Travel to Gili Air, Quintessential Paradise Found


Sunset off Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

Alluring, irresistible, tranquil Gili Air! Nestled in the turquoise waters off the northwest coast of Lombok, Gili Air (AH-year) is part of an archipelago of three islands, Gili Air, Gili, Meno, and Gili Trawangan (Gili T). The Gilis—Sasak for small island—are the perfect destination for snorkeling, diving, or just kicking back and relaxing. Multi-hued turquoise sea, pristine white sand beaches, vibrant, deep water coral reefs, gentle waves, tepid water, and beachside bungalows—the three Gilis (Tiga Gili) of the Gili Islands (Kepulauan Gili) are quintessential paradise found.

I confess, I am not much of a beach person. I am a fan of small, quiet places, though, and went to kill a bit of time before the Bau Nyale festival—and so glad I did.

There is no motorized transit on any of the Gilis—transportation is by bicycle, cidomo (small, horse-drawn carriages or carts, pronounced cheeto-mu), or by foot. There are no police or no real medical facilities. Regularly scheduled motorized boats and charter boats are available between the islands.

Each island has its own character, but the commonality on each Gili is that people seem to stay longer than expected. It is one of those places.


Rainstorm and Fishing Boat off Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

As a solo traveler who was looking for some quiet cycling, ample restaurants, but not a party, I chose Gili Air as my home base. Gili Air is the second smallest island, and somewhere between Gili Meno and Gili T in character. It is known to attract couples and travelers seeking quiet—but not as much quiet and solitude as Gili Meno. It is the second largest Gili, and the closest island to the mainland of Lombok Island (although all three are quite close to Lombok). Good snorkeling can be had on the reefs off the coast, or you can go with a snorkeling/dive boat (see Getting Around section). The local economy is based on fishing, coconut farming, and tourism; most of the local restaurants offer local seafood.


Rainstorm over Gunung Rijani (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

Gili Meno is the quietest Gili, and is known for solitude and idyllic, secluded beaches. The local economy is based on fishing, coconut farming, and tourism, but has far fewer lodging options than Gili Air or Gili T. There is also a bird sanctuary and a turtle sanctuary, which you can be visited as a day trip from the other islands.


Children on a Boat off Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

Gili Trawangan (Gili T) is known as a party island, and the economy is mostly centered on tourism. With regularly scheduled parties and beachfront bars, it is the place for nightlife (although I have been told you can avoid that, if it is not your cup of tea). It is the most outlying of the three islands, and due to its small size, has never been able to sustain large scale agriculture. The island is rumored to have a long history of drug tourism.


Biking across the Island (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

Like most island environments, water is scarce. Gili Air is the only island with underground fresh water; air is the Indonesian word for water. Be aware that water is a finite resource on Gili Air. Water is brought from the mainland for the other islands, and used to supplement the water supplies on Gili Air. Use water resources carefully and wisely.

Fast, tourist boats started traveling from Bali in 2005 and the Gilis appeared on the backpacker circuit in the 1990s. The real estate signs are posted, and tourism investment grows each year. Go now, but thread lightly.


Traditional House on Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)


Tyrrell Cottages and Restaurant
Gili Air, 83125 Gili Air, Indonesia
210,000 IDR ($18 USD)

Clean, simple fan room, with garden-view terrace, private bathroom, and shower; rate includes breakfast. Just a few minutes walk to the boat landing (just walk left or west to Tyrrell if you are facing the island) and 45 meters (150 feet) to the beach. Air conditioned rooms are also available.

Beachfront bungalows are available to the left (west) and right (east) of the boat landing, and on the sleepier north side of the island. Local homestays can be found along the main path that runs across the island, just north of the boat landing; rates were around 580,000 IDR ($50 USD) in winter 2014. Note that most of the restaurants are right (east) of the boat landing, so that area is a little busier (at least as busy as Gili Air can be).


Boats off Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)


Bangsal Harbor (Gili boat landing) is about two hours from the Lombok International Airport or LOP (Bandar Udara International in Indonesian). See (also available as an Ipad travel app) for the best flights to LOP.

Fast, tourist boats travel from Bali to the Gilis, and the public ferry travels to mainland Lombok. Do check TripAdvisor, etc. reviews for the fast boats, as there are safety issues. The crossing was not recommended during rainy season, when the seas are rougher.

If you are connecting with a dive shop, they can meet you at the airport and arrange boat transportation.

If you are traveling from other parts of Lombok (such as Kuta), you can purchase a ticket locally that includes car or shuttle transportation, plus a boat ticket.

If you arrive at Bangsal Harbor, tickets cost approximately 28,000 IDR ($2.40 USD) for a shuttle boat and approximately 10,000 IDR ($0.90 USD) for the public boat. Be forewarned that you may be told that the boat is full or has been cancelled, and that you may have to wait for the next boat, buy a special ticket, or wait for a charter. If it seems clear that there is space on the boat—as there was on mine—politely insist that you have a ticket and will be taking that boat. In my case, I just waded to boat (which was the normal way to access the boat), smiled and said terima kasih (thank you) and all was well.

I believe the last boat is at 17:00. After that you maybe have to arrange a room or a charter boat (approximately 185,000 IDR/$16 USD).

If it best to travel in the morning, when the seas are calmer. It takes approximately twenty minutes from Bangsal Harbor to Gili Air.

See the post on extending your tourist visa in Lombok for information on Lombok guides and private drivers.


Cidomo (small, horse-drawn carriages or carts) typically meet the boats; most have a sign that says taxi. They are usually parked near the public boat landing.


Cidomo on Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)


Cidomo Meeting the Public Boat (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)


Cidomo on Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

Mr. Man (across from Ocean 5 Diving by the main dock), rents bicycles for 40,000 IDR ($3.40 USD). The going rate on the rest of the island is 35,000 IDR ($3 USD), but Mr. Man is conveniently located next to the boat landing.

Snorkeling gear can be had for 35,000 IDR ($3 USD) and snorkeling is possible off the beach on the northwest side of the island. Do check with locals on current conditions; there are reportedly strong currents between the islands. A full day (10:00-15:00) snorkeling trip on a dive boat costs 100,000 IDR ($8.60); price includes snorkeling gear and boat transportation to the coral reefs of Gili T, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. There are a number of dive shops on the island, but Ocean 5 seemed consistently busy, with a constant string of dive students and classes.

An island hopping boat runs between Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili T. The boat leaves in the morning from Gili Air to Gili Meno at 08:30 and returns at 15:30, and costs 30,000 IDR ($2.60 USD).


Fishing Boat off Gili Air (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)


Beachside cafes, restaurants and bars serve Indonesian and well-done international cuisine. Most restaurants are right (east) of the boat landing. Scallywags is a little more upscale than the average beachfront restaurant, but everything (Indonesian and western cuisine) is excellent, well prepared, and terribly fresh. There is also a large beach attached to the restaurant and free wifi (quite common on most of the restaurants; ask first).

Raja served the best pepes ikan laut I had in Indonesia. The grilled fish was marinated in fragrant Lombok yellow curry and peppers, wrapped in banana leaves, grilled, and served with steamed rice, bean sprouts, carrots, and long beans. This is typical of pepes ikan, but in this version, the native charcoal seared the banana leaves, allowing the smokiness to permeate the fish curry and meld with the curry. Divine!

The local specialty is ayam taliwang (chicken rubbed with a dip made of lime, chili, tomato, and peanut and deep fried) and pelecing, a Lombok sambal (spicy to fiery condiment), made of tomato, shrimp paste, and chili. A number of beachfront restaurants offered choose-your-own fish for grilling/barbeque.

Warungs (food stalls) can be found along the path that cuts across the island, immediately north of the boat landing. I only saw one street vendor: the woman near the boat landing often sells packets of rice in banana leaves and fried snacks, cylindrical pastry wrapped around banana, a savory fried patty with sweet onion and corn kernels, and round cakes of slightly sweetened fried dough. The initial price was four for 5,000 IDR ($0.040 USD), but she threw in an extra when I turned down the plastic bag and put it in my Lomobok sarong.


Indonesian Street Food (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)


Biking across the Island (Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Waiting for the Monks. Morning Alms Giving and Monk Procession in Luang Prabang Laos

Waiting for the Monks. Morning Alms Giving and Monk Procession (Luang Prabang, Laos)

This photo of the week is from the morning monks’ alms procession in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The sun was starting to rise above the river when I left my guest house, a bit after five am. I paused on the quiet street, not knowing where to go—then some locals motioned up the road and mumbled, “Monks, monks” in a low voice. So I might be in the right place?

The tea vendor across the street was firing up her charcoal brazier. I pulled up a hard, plastic lawn chair ubiquitous to all Southeast Asian food stalls, ordered a cup of tea, and waited. Slowly women emerged from the neighboring homes, and they gently spread their mats on the pavement. They set out woven sticky rice containers, huddled with their neighbors, and chatted quietly—and waited for the monks.

I was fiddling with my camera when the first batch of monks moved silently down the street. If the women did not open their sticky rice containers, I might have missed them—it was such a quiet and serene procession. The young novice monks filed down the street in a single line and each woman put a little rice in their containers, the first of hundreds of monks swathed in orange robes.

The monks’ alms procession starts at the temples, then the monks wind their way through the street to collect alms, usually rice and fruit. This is a common practice in Theravada Buddhist countries like Thailand and Laos, but the monk procession is particularly dramatic in charming Luang Prabang, with its plethora of temples and large monastic community.

Alas, the tak bat alms ceremony has reportedly become so popular that locals joke that there are more falang (foreigners) than lay people. Fortunately that was not the case during my Laos walkabout.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Useful Indonesian Phrases for Traveling and Indonesian Language for Travel

Useful Indonesian Phrases for Traveling and Indonesian Language for Travel

Indonesia has over 700 indigenous languages, but Indonesian (or Bahasa Indonesia; bahasa means language) is the lingua franca that unites 230 million Indonesians. It is easy to learn the Indonesian language; it is very easy to pronounce, phonetic, each letter has one pronunciation, and most letters are pronounced the same way they are pronounced in English. Indonesian in Seven Days also has audio, so you can hear pronunciation.

Bahasa Indonesia is the same as Malay, the language spoken in Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Malay is a product of regional history and Indonesia’s maritime spice trade, and was influenced by Sanskrit, Arabic and Javanese. Malay is known as Bahasa Melayu in Brunei and and Singapore and Bahasa Malaysia in Malaysia.

Whenever and wherever I travel, I try to learn some of the local language. Locals inevitably appreciate any effort to speak their language, and it can be a wonderful ice breaker with new friends—and it is just the polite thing to do. It is amazing how much you can communicate with polite words, smiles, and hand gestures! If you are unsure how to pronounce something, or want to learn new words, just ask a local. I promise they will be delighted to help you speak the Indonesian language and to learn new Indonesian phrases.

I do like the Lonely Planet phrasebooks, as they are pocket-sized, well-organized, and cover a range of situations. Even if you cannot speak much of the language, in a pinch, you can always point to the relevant phrases. A good phrasebook can really come in handy off the beaten path.

You may find it pleasant to learn a few phrases of the local language (for example, Balinese or Javanese). Although local vocabulary is less useful than Indonesian phrases in Bahasa Indonesia, locals truly appreciate the effort, and you may gain some insight into the local culture. For instance, the man at the Sanur, Bali post office taught me to say goodbye in Balinese, “Om santi santi” (like the Hindi “om shanti shanti”). Translation: the universal sound/vibration of the universe and peace peace—simply beautiful.

Following are some useful Indonesian phrases for traveling and a quick guide to Indonesian language for travel. You might also enjoy the Moiwalkabout guide to Indonesian street food, which has useful Indonesian food words or Indonesian food vocabulary, particularly useful if you want to try the warungs (food stalls), or just enjoy delicious Indonesian cuisine. If you want to go a little deeper, try Escape Artistes Twenty Words to Get You Almost Anywhere in Indonesia.

Continue reading


English Indonesian Phrase
Hello (literally peace or peace be with you) Salaam or Salaam a'lakum (if someone is Muslim)
Hello Om swastiastu (if someone is Hindu; safe to start with this in Bali)
Hello Halo
Goodbye Selamat tinggal (if leaving)
Goodbye Selamat jalan
See you later Sampai jumpa
Good morning (until 11:00) Selamat pagi
Good afternoon (until 15:00) Selamat siang
Good evening (until 18:00) Selamat sore
Good night (at night from about 18:00) Selamat malam
Good night (before going to bed) Selamat tidur
How are you? Apa kabar?
I am fine. And you? Kabar baik. Anda bagaimana?
Excuse me (to get attention) Maaf
Excuse me (pardon me) Maaf permissi
I am sorry Maaf
Please Silahkan
Thank you Terima kasih
Very much Banyak
You are welcome Kembali
Yes Ya
No Tidak
What is your name? Siapa nama anda?
My name is… Nama saya…
Do you speak English? Bisa bicara bahasa Inggris? or anda bisa Bahasa Inggris?
I do not understand. Saya tidak mengerti
What does it cost/how much is it? Berapa harganya?
Expensive Mahal
Help! Tolong!
Police Polisi
Be careful or lookout Hati hati
Leave me alone Jangan ganggu saya
What is it? Apa ini?
Where is…? Di mana…?
Where is the toilet? Di mana kamar kecil?
Jalan Street or walk
Boat (general) Kapal
Boat (local) Perahu
Bus Bis
Minibus Bemo
Motocycle taxi Ojek
Plane Pesawat
Taxi Taksi
Train Kereta api
Ticket Tiket
I am lost Saya tersesat.
Can you show me (on the map)? Anda bisa tolong tunjukkan pada saya (di peta)?
Could you write it down please? Anda bisa tolong tuliskan?
I am sick Saya sakit
I need a doctor Saya perlu dokter
I need your help Saya minta tolong.
Buka Open
Tutup Closed
Masuk Entrance
Keluar Exit
Pria Men
Wanita Women
Dilarang Forbidden


When speaking to men, use pak, bapak, or saudara. The literal translation of bak and bapak is father. Bapak is more formal and is used like sir in English. Saudara is more formal, and conveys greater respect. The literal translation is kinsman. A less formal term is om (uncle).

When speaking to women, use bu or ibu for addressing women. The literal translation of ibu is mother, and like m’am in English. Nona is the equivalent of miss. A less formal term is tante (aunt).


Everywhere you go in Indonesia, people will ask questions will ask questions like “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, and “Where are you staying?” The questions are almost like greetings and are meant as polite conversation, and are not meant to be prying. You can give an honest answer or a vague one. Some appropriate responses to “Where are you going?” include: jalan, jalan (walking, walking); ke sana (over there); jogging aja (just going for a jog); or makan angin (eating wind or walking).

Other common questions:

Dari mana?/Tinggal di mana?
Where are you coming from?/Where do you live?

Mau kemana?
Where are you going?

Tinggal dimana?
Where are you staying?

Jalan sendiri?
Are you traveling alone?

Sudah kawin?
Are you married?

Anak-anak ada?
Do you have children?

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week River Scene near Don Det Laos

Photo of the Week River Scene near Don Det Laos

This photo of the week is from Don Det, Laos, a sleepy, Mekong River fishing village in southern Laos, just north of the Cambodian border, part of the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don). At least Don Det was still sleepy in 2009; my understanding is the hazy backpacker circus in Vang Vieng, Laos may have migrated to Don Det, and that would be terribly unfortunate. At the time, locals were very conscious of not becoming another Vang Vieng. Apparently there are even tshirts, Been There, Don Det. I am so happy I Don Det when I did—always the case with getting off the beaten path.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Travel to Kuta Lombok—Where Goats and Indonesian Surfing Meet Stunning Beaches

Travel to Kuta Lombok—Where Goats and Surfing Meet Stunning Beaches


Goats in Downtown Kuta (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Surf Shops in Downtown Kuta (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Downtown Kuta (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Kuta is a sleepy surf mecca, where the rooster’s crowing blends into the call to prayer from the local mosque, and a few bored and wandering goats stroll the main boulevard. Emerald hills hug the crescent-shaped, turquoise harbors around this simple fishing village. It is a splendid landscape.

The best swimming beaches are Kuta and Mawun Beach. If you do not have a motorbike, the main harbor beach, Kuta, is calm and pleasant. Small children will greet you with offers to purchase handmade bracelets, but I found once I bought a few—and wore them—I was in the clear, particularly with a smiling and polite, “Terima kasih” (thank you).

Mawun Beach is about eight kilometers (five miles) west of Kuta, and is simply stunning and delightful for swimming—sparkling clear, calm water and pristine white sand. There are several drink stalls, including a man selling coconuts, and a few shade platforms. Selong Belanak is past Mawun, about twelve kilometers (eight miles) west of Kuta Beach, with a popular surf spot, Mawi Beach, nearby.


Kuta Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Fisherman on Kuta Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Novotel Beach (Pantai Putri Nyale) is about three kilometers (two miles) east of Kuta, but it is not suitable for swimming at low tide. Seger Beach (Pantai Seger) is about four kilometers (two and a half miles) east of Kuta and is a popular surfing beach. Strong currents make it unsuitable for swimming, but there are some drink stands and the rock formations are amazing. It is also the site of the annualBau Nyale celebration.


Mawun Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Mawun Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Drink Stand at Mawun Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Coconut Man at Mawun Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Tanjung A’an is about seven kilometers (four miles) east of Kuta, and has two white sand bays, Pedau to the east and A’an to the west. There are some drink and snack stalls and a couple restaurants.

Locals love to joke that this fishing village is (quite thankfully!) *not* Kuta, Bali. Many an ojek (motorcycle taxi) or driver will laugh, “Oh you wanted *that* Kuta?”


On the Way to Mawun Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Rice Paddies near Mawun Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

But Kuta is on the cusp of change. You cannot miss the land for sale signs as you motorbike about; apparently land is being marketed toward the Australian and New Zealand second home market,and hoteliers are sniffing about. Go now before it is too late and tread lightly, as paradise is most definitely for sale and the beaches—and surfing—are said to be some of the best in Indonesia.

For more information on traveling to Lombok Island and Kuta, Lombok (including accommodation, where to eat, how to get there, how to get around, etc.), see the post on Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.


Motorbike Dreaming (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Seger Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Juice Bar (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Kuta Market (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Flower Hmong Woman at the Sunday Market (Bac Ha, Vietnam)

Flower Hmong Woman at the Sunday Market (Bac Ha, Vietnam)

This photo of the week is from Bắc Hà, Vietnam, a sleepy, rural town in the Lào Cai Province in mountainous northeast Vietnam. Thousands of Flower Hmong Vietnam, congregate at the Sunday market in intricately hand-embroidered dresses, a technicolor whirl of color. The Flower Hmong are one of the fifty four ethnic minorities in Vietnam; Hmong people living in the mountains of Thailand, northern Laos, Vietnam, and China, and are a subgroup of the Miao in southern China.

Bắc Hà is also know for Tam Hoa plums, which must bloom three times before the plums ripen.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Indonesian Visa Extension in Lombok

How to Extend Your Thirty Day Indonesian Visa? Indonesian Visa Extension in Lombok

An Indonesia visa on arrival (VOA) is available at certain Indonesian airports and sea ports. VOAs are valid for up to thirty days, and can be extended another thirty days at Indonesian immigration offices. Applicants must have a passport which is valid for at least six months from the planned entrance to Indonesia; return ticket; and cash visa fee ($25 USD). Alternately, you can apply for a sixty day tourist visa before leaving your home country.

I thought of extending my Indonesian visa in Bali, as there are plenty of visa agents, middlemen who navigate the local immigration office for a hefty fee. However, from everything I read, the visa extension process is more bureaucratic in Bali and can take more time than in Lombok. I must admit, the process made me nervous: not only did Bali visa agents charge $75-100 USD, and you had to surrender your passport for several days or more. Although I read accounts of do-it-your-selfers extending their Indonesian VOA without a Bali visa agent, it was reported to be a time consuming and unpleasant experience. My theory was that more people apply for Indonesian visa extensions in Bali than elsewhere in Indonesia, so the immigration office is a little slower and grumpier—at least that was what was reported via Internet accounts.

Applying for a visa on arrival (VOA) extension in Mataram, Lombok was a fairly simple process in March 2014. Steps for applying for an Indonesian visa extension in Lombok:

  1. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your visa expiration date.
  2. Print a copy of your outbound plane ticket from Indonesia. You will need a paper copy, not an electronic copy. With that said, a dreadlocked Australian surfer at the Lombok immigration office submitted a Garuda flight reservation, not an actual ticket, and it worked.
  3. Photocopy the main passport page, visa page, government departure card, and outbound plane ticket. The first floor photocopy machine was out of order, but the employees pointed me toward a photocopy shop (on the side street with all the food stalls/warungs). The folks in the photocopy shop knew why I was there, and what to photocopy.
  4. Go to the second floor of Kantor Imigrasi (immigration office) (JL. Udayana, No. 2, Mataram, 83122, Indonesia, 62 370 632520). The office is open Monday-Friday 08:00-16:00, and the VOA extension office is closed for lunch from 11:30-13:30. Some Internet accounts reported that the desk says helpful counter, but that sign was missing when I was there (even though the staff was more than helpful!)
  5. Complete a the cover page of the visa extension folder and insert your passport, photocopies, and processing fee, and leave it with the person at the counter in the second floor immigration office. I attached my departure card to my passport with a safety pin, so it did not go missing. The staff will ask you to sign a passport log when you turn over your passport, and then tell you when to return for your passport and new visa. Be sure to smile and say “Terima kashi” (thank you)!
  6. I paid 400,000 IDR ($35 USD) for speedy processing, and the visa was ready by 15:00. Regular processing was 250,000 IDR ($21 USD), which takes two days. Mataram is a rather unpleasant, big city, and I decided one night was quite enough.
  7. When you pickup your passport, you will be asked to sign for it in the passport log.


Oka and Sons Guest House
Jl Repatmaja No. 5 Cakranegara
Mataram 83231 Lombok Indonesia
62 0819 1600 3637

200,000 IDR ($17 USD). Immaculate room with air conditioning, fan, breakfast, television, wifi, and a pleasant veranda. Mrs. Gek and her family were just lovely, always friendly and helpful. They also have motorbikes available for rent and can help with transportation (bus or shuttle tickets, or private transportation).

Some folks in the visa line opted to stay in Senggigi, which is not far from Mataram, but on the water.


There is a super fresh, very friendly warung about one block from Oka and Sons; just walk toward Jl. Pejanggik, the main street. They had an incredible variety of dishes, at least ten different plates of the day.

Mr. Agus Swanda
62 081 805 228 117

Mr. Agus is an independent tour guide for Mataram, Kuta, Gili Islands, and Gunung Rinjani, and is also available as an ojek (motorcycle taxi). He is friends with Mrs. Gek’s family and volunteered to give me a ride to the Internet cafe (so I could print my flight confirmations), and then gave me a lift to the Kantor Imigrasi. Mr. Agus even offered to wait for me and translate, but I assured him I would be fine. Mr. Agus was personable, informative, and helpful, and spoke excellent English. I did not use him as a guide, but he seemed to have a steady freelance business working for other tour offices. It is, of course, financially better for independent tour operators if you can contract with them directly.

Mr. Abello owns Abello Transport (62 81 917 185 286, 62 81 338 989 137); he usually contracts with tour operators and offices, but appreciates independent business. It cost 150,000 IDR ($13 USD) from Kuta to the Gili Island boat landing, but Mr. Abello will travel wherever you want to go on Lombok Island. He was very friendly and accommodating, and encouraged us to stop along the way (which we did not do).

For more information on traveling to Lombok Island, see the post on Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Bau Nyale Festival in Kuta Lombok

Bau Nyale Festival in Kuta Lombok


Seger Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

I traveled to charming little Kuta (Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia) specifically for the Bau Nyale festival. Bau Nyale means “to catch the sea worms” in the local Sasak language and is completely unique to the island of Lombok.

The sea worms, a rare variety of the palolo worm or eunice viridis, are found in tropical waters and in Lombok, Sumba, and Savu in Indonesia. The nyale spawn at certain Lombok beaches when certain lunar and marine conditions are right, and well, when the stars are in alignment. The Bau Nyale festival traditionally takes place in the tenth month of the Sasak calendar closest to the full moon, usually mid to late February. The festivities take place on stunning Seger Beach in a place locals call Putri Nyale (Princess Nyale).


Seger Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Seger Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

There was a festive carnival environment en route to Putri Nyale before the Bau Nyale festival. A steady stream of motorbikes and cars inched toward the beach, sprinkled with truckloads of traditional music and dance performers from local villages. There was a mass of color, with the performers swathed in traditional Sasak ceremonial clothing, a whirl of color and gold-threaded songket cloth. Vendors sold balloons, cold beverages, and ice cream, which added to the merriment.


Performers on their Way to the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Admittedly it was motorbike gridlock and another traveler told me a story of road rage, a young woman in a headscarf who hopped off her motorbike to take a swing at two young dudes who cut her off and almost tipped her over. Mr. Muhammad was very right to question my skill level and sanity for wanting to ride in this scene!


Father and Daughter on their Way to the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Beachfront stages lined the sand for traditional singing and dangdut music, which has its origins in Indian, Malay, and Arab music. Along the way, traditional dance and music groups performed and posed for the camera. It seemed everyone—including the performers—had a camera and was documenting the exuberant and colorful festivities and Princess Mandalika procession.


Musicians in the Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Musicians at the Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Performers at the Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Traditional Malay poetry called (pantun) starts the festival; young men and women use the poetic form as a way to flirt and to meet future partners. I was told that young men and women sing pantun verses back and forth, singing and wooing each other, often a first step to traditional courtship.


Near Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

The Bau Nyale festival culminates in a drama for Putri or Princess Madalika, the princess of the yellow flower kingdom. As the local story goes, the kind, beautiful, and well-loved princess was courted by princes and suitors throughout the land. However, she could not make up her mind, which lead to threats of war from neighboring kingdoms. It was a most distressing situation.

Princess Madalika’s father, King Kuripan, decided enough was enough. He rounded up the various suitors and instructed the princess that she must make a choice before sunrise.


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Princess Mandalika was distraught and feared that if she picked one man, it would make the situation worse and would most definitely lead to war. Instead of making a choice, she declared her love for her parents, her kingdom, and its subjects, stating that she feared the consequences of her decision. She chose to end her life, jumping into the sea from a point high above Seger Beach, promising that she would never leave her people and would return each year.


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Princess Madalika’s parents and the kingdom were understandably distraught. They fervently searched the land and sea for their princess, but only found multi-colored waves of sea worms, the nyale. The dukun (local priest) declared that Mandalika’s body had been transformed and all that remained were the nyale.


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

This legend is celebrated each year at the Putri Mandalika drama at the Bau Nyale festival, as well as the daytime parade of Mandalika performance groups to Seger Beach. Thousands of people gather around midnight to watch the beachside drama, awash in colorful Sasak clothing, drumming, and gamelan music. After the drama, the musicians entertain the crowds while they wait for the arrival of the nyale.


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Princess Mandalika Procession at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Expectant and excited crowds wade into the water with buckets, nets, and lights, all seeking the first nyale. The first catch starts a couple hours after midnight and by early morning, about 05:00, the tide starts to ebb while the exuberant masses return from the ocean with their prized nyale. The Bau Nyale festival highlight is when the dukun (local priest) wades into the ocean and predicts the success of the future rice harvest. Besides being a living manifestation of Princess Mandalika, the nyale are considered a fertility symbol and associated with local agricultural success.


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Young Man and His Nyale at Seger Beach (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

The nyale are a seasonal, local delicacy. They are considered to be an aphrodisiac and rich in protein, and are sometimes eaten raw, steamed, fried, or made into pepes nyale (nyale mixed with coconut and spices and roasted in a banana leaf and roasted over a fire).


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

The Bau Nyale festival was attended by mostly local Sasak people, with a smattering of Indonesian and foreign tourists. There are admittedly some days you wonder why you travel—and why one travels this way. Then there are undeniably awesome days of discovery and adventure and being right in the middle of a cultural event that leaves your head spinning and on pure sensory overload. The Bau Nyale festival was definitely one of the latter days.


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Sunrise at Seger Beach at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Woman Selling Nyale after the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indomesia)


Segare Anak Bungalows and Restaurant
Jln. Raya Puntai
Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia 83573
+ 62 370 654 846, 817 366 457
Near the harbor beach, Segare Anak has fan rooms around 230,000 IDR ($20). There is a quiet courtyard garden and the open-air restaurant overlooks the beach. Room rates include breakfast. The cheerful, friend staff is warm, welcoming, and chatty.

There are numerous homestays if you follow the main street perpendicular to the beach and go a bit inland. I found that it could be a little warm inland and was happy to have the harbor breeze.

If your tastes range toward the luxury, four-star places, the place to try seems to be:

Hotel Novotel Lombok
Mandalika Resort, Pantai Putri Nyale
Kuta Beach, Pujut Lombok Tengah
Kuta, Lombok 83111
$150-200 USD per night


There are a number of small, open-air restaurants along the beach. Most serve a variety of seafood dishes, with a wide variety of Indonesian and sometimes western dishes, and have fairly similar menus. I ate at each of them and enjoyed them all, and found that the beachfront places had more Indonesia food options than the restaurants further inland. Warung Bule (mains 40,000-150,000 IDR/$3.50-$13 USD) is very popular and has a steady stream of people, all foreigners (bule means foreigner in Indonesian). You are more likely to get a more local flavor at the other beachfront places.

There is a very popular and super fresh lunch warung a couple blocks up from the beach, which I highly recommend. Head inland (north) on the main street perpendicular to the beach, pass the surf shops, turn left (west) at the first intersection, and walk about one hundred meters. About 11,500-23,000 IDR ($1-2 USD) depending on how much you eat.

Ashtari Restaurant
If you rent a scooter and travel to Mawun Beach, be sure to stop at Ashtara at the top of the hill above Kuta (about two kilometers or one mile). Nestled in the forest, the restaurant provides stunning views of Kuta Beach and Seger Beach in the distance, as well as the emerald hills that hug the turquoise bays. I stopped in to dodge an afternoon rainstorm as the mist-shrouded hills yielded to sunny, blue skies, and took the opportunity to enjoy Ashtari’s signature ginger coconut pumpkin soup. There is an outside patio, and a mixture of jungle and farming scents, billowy clouds, and emerald mountains hugging crescent-shaped bays. Appetizers, focaccia, salads, and signature dishes (ginger coconut pumpkin soup, meh goreng, and an Indian-style veggie burger) run between 40,000-60,000 IDR ($3.50-$5.25 USD) with crepes, ice cream, and homemade cakes between 15,000-35,000 IDR ($1.30-$3 USD)


Seger Beach is about five kilometers or three miles from Kuta. Ask at your hotel for a motorbike rental (about 50,000 IDR or $4.15 USD per day); if they do not have one available, they will try to connect you with a private individual. Do ask for a helmet and make sure everything is in working order before you hop on the road. Do spring for parking areas at the beaches (5000 IDR or $0.50 USD), as they are more secure and provide some income for the security man. Roadside stands and small stores sell petrol (gasoline) for 6000 IDR/liter ($0.50 USD/liter).

Be forewarned that Kuta motorbike rentals are usually done without a contract or insurance, just a handshake. The longer your rent, the better the rate. I did talk to some folks who had body work done to their rented motorbikes due to minor accidents, and they reported that the repair people in Kuta were reasonable, fair, inexpensive, and reliable. Most rental places include a surf rack at no cost.

The tour shops (which usually double as surf shops) can book bus tickets, Perama shuttles, or private cars to the airport or boat landing to the Gili Islands, Mataram, or Senggigi. All of the offices seem to offer the same prices; I dealt with two separate offices, but unfortunately cannot remember their names, just Mr. Yanna, who was very helpful. I found that sharing a car with other people was about the same price as the Perama shuttle and offered more flexibility.

Our driver, Mr. Abello, has his own business, Abello Transport (62 81 917 185 286, 62 81 338 989 137). It cost 150,000 IDR ($13 USD) from Kuta to the Gili Island boat landing, but Mr. Abello will travel wherever you want to go on Lombok Island. He was very friendly and accommodating, and encouraged us to stop along the way (which we did not do). Kuta is very, very difficult to reach by public transit.

Kuta Lombok is a half hour drive from Lombok International Airport or LOP (Bandar Udara International in Indonesian). See (also available as an Ipad travel app) for the best flights to LOP. The Bali Lombok public ferry travels between Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia and Lembar, Lombok. Tourist fast boats travel between Padang Bai and the Gili Islands, although there have been reports of safety issues, particularly during rainy season. International flights no longer travel to Selaparang International Airport (AMI).

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Renting a Motorbike in Indonesia—or What Does a Gal Have to Do to Rent a Motorbike during the Bau Nyale Festival in Kuta Lombok?

Renting a Motorbike in Indonesia—or What Does a Gal Have to Do to Rent a Motorbike during the Bau Nyale Festival?

What *does* a gal need to do to rent a motorbike during Bau Nyale?

The problem was definitely a shortage of motorbikes. I asked at my hotel and they called around to their friends. Not a motorbike to be found. I checked at the hotel next door and they called around to their friends. No motorbikes.

How about Mr. Yanna? They remember I did a deal with him next to the goats last week. No, Mr. Yanna’s motorbike was too new—not a scratch on it and only 1000 k. It made me nervous. Ah, it did not matter, Mr. Yanna was not answering his mobile.

So, along comes a man with a tshirt that reads Esteem California—well, gotta love a man flying the Bear Republic flag, the flag of independence for my home state.

“But it is high season” said Mr. Muhammad. “There are no motorbikes.”

Yup, so I gathered.

And the price is up—not 50,000 IDR ($4.15 USD) per day, but 60,000 IDR ($5 USD) per day. That is ok.

“Can you ride?” Yes, I rented last week and used to commute by motorbike. Um, awhile ago. Like ten years ago!

Mr. Muhammad seemed nervous. He suddenly needed his motorbike for surfing later (he also teaches surfing, in case I want to learn). He will call the boss and see if there is another motorbike. Yes, there is. But he needs this motorbike until the evening—and he is worried about me riding to the Bau Nyale festival. There is a lot of traffic— *everyone*is going to Bau Nyale. I can see that, Mr. Muhammad—every motorbike, truck, and even car is packed with people and they are all headed toward Seger Beach and the nyale. I thought of hitching, but everything seems full—and I need to get a ride back.


Watching the Bau Nyale Festival Horse Races (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

But there is still horse racing and stick fighting. Do I want to go?

Did Mr. Muhammad want a date?

Oops, I am wearing a dress—I just dropped off my laundry and I have no trousers. I do not mind riding on the back of the motorbike, but I will not ride side saddle with a skirt. Now *that* is scary. No problem, he will wait while I pick up my laundry and change into trousers. Helmet? I will get one when I am on my own, but in the meantime Mr. Muhammad promises me he will drive slowly. No problem, sister.

No problem indeed.


Watching the Bau Nyale Festival Horse Races (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Hundreds of Sasaks were gathered around the track, perched on their motorbikes, waiting for the horses to go round, straining for a better view. “These are not chicken horses–they are very good horses.” And indeed they were—all quite elegant and well groomed. The jockeys clung to horses’ manes as they spun around the the track. )t was a festive atmosphere, with juice vendors and ice cream vendors interspersed in a sea of motorbikes, swirling smoke, and pensive gazes from under the veils. It was almost as if there was money on the race—but I was told that the only money on the table was for the winner, who takes home 1,000,000 IDR ($85 USD).


Watching the Bau Nyale Festival Horse Races (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Back on the motorbike—did I want to see the stick fighting?

Peresean is a traditional form of Sasak fighting or martial arts; the locals call it stick fighting in English, and it only happens during the Bau Nyale festival, August, and new years. Competitors try to strike their opponents with long, dull, rattan sticks while protecting themselves with cow hide shields. It was supposed to be a fast and energetic fight cheered on by an exuberant crowd. Let’s go!


Peresean or Indonesian Stick Fighting at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

We climbed the hillside, which looks out at stunning Seger Beach, as bare chested men in sarongs attacked each other with bamboo sticks, guarded by small cow hide skin and bamboo shields and an announcer called the score (and gave an oddly evil “Ba ha ha ha!” laugh). There was less money on this one, just 450,000 IDR ($38 USD). The man who got the most whacks in did a cocky little dance with a head bob and the crowd cheered. “Come back tomorrow” said Mr. Muhammad. “They are the best Sasak fighters on Lombok tomorrow.”

Indeed I will. In the meantime, early to bed and early to rise. The sea worms, the nyale, do not wait.

For more information on Kuta, Lombok (accommodation, where to eat, getting there and around), see the post on the Bau Nyale festival in Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia.


Crowd Watching Peresean or Indonesian Stick Fighting at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Peresean or Indonesian Stick Fighting at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Peresean or Indonesian Stick Fighting at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Peresean or Indonesian Stick Fighting at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)


Peresean or Indonesian Stick Fighting at the Bau Nyale Festival (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Bali Lombok Ferry Safety, or Choices Made

Bali Lombok Ferry Safety

Bali Lombok Public Ferry and Fishing Boats Padang Bai Bali Indonesia

Bali Lombok Public Ferry and Fishing Boats (Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia)

I admit, I was a little concerned about the safety of Indonesian ferries. Lonely Planet warned that this ferry line had safety issues, and that there have been fires and they have run aground—but I convinced myself it was a traveler’s tale. I do have this thing about an orderly demise, and a watery death with fireballs and explosions was not definitely not part of my end days dealio.

I admit, I was a woman who took note of the life jackets.

My Internet research did not yield any negative information about this public ferry, but there sure were plenty of negative safety reports about the tourist fast boats between Bali and Lombok, including the national tour company, Perama’s, 2011 shipwreck.

Bali Lombok Ferry, Indonesia

Bali Lombok Ferry, Indonesia

I spoke with another traveler who said his outgoing trip went from a four hour trip to a seven hour trip, as the ferry had to go around swells and a storm—but all the fast boats had been canceled for days, so there were definitely rough seas. I convinced myself it was just another traveler’s tale. He was one of those bearded thirty-somethings, with the newly wistful look of wandering and well-cultivated, rough-around-the-edges grunge. He appeared to be a man of the road, or at least that seemed to be the look he was going for. I wanted to tell him I was doing this since before he was born (middle age!), like pre-wifi and almost pre-ATMs, but he appeared terribly disinterested in my stories or information.

I asked many locals in Sanur and Padang Bai about potential ferry issues and they assured me, “No problem!”

But then again, there is never a problem in these parts.

Mr. Guirig from the Padang Bai guesthouse assured me that the government cancels the ferry if there is bad weather and motioned that the crew has big screens, GPS, I think. “But better in the morning, not as much…” making wave motions with his hands. He assured me, “They are bigger than houses.” Indeed, they are car ferries and pretty mammoth.

Mr. Guirig gave me a lift to the ferry on his motorbike. I used to do this all the time in Cambodia, but it has been awhile. He popped my big backpack between his legs and away we went, albeit at slowly, teetering pace.

I motioned to my nonexistent watch at the ticket counter and pantomimed “When?” The ticket man pointed at the ferry and laughed, “Now!” I scurried down the walkway, as the women selling water, banana leaf-wrapped rice, and banana chips cautioned “Slowly, slowly!”

I heard that a lot in Indonesia—it was always a lesson to slow down.

Bali Lombok Public Ferry, Indonesia

Bali Lombok Public Ferry, Indonesia

The public ferry runs the seventy kilometers (forth three miles) from Padang Bai, Bali to Lembar, Lombok, a major ferry and tanker port. The ferry was supposed to run every hour or hour and a half, but the cardinal rule of traveling this way is the boat or bus leaves when it is full—or just when it leaves. The Bali Lombok ferry supposedly runs twenty four hours a day, but I knew I wanted to make the four to six hour crossing during the morning (and preferably daylight!), when the sea is quieter.

It started off so easy—gentle seas, soft, cool winds, Balinese gamelan music, some Indonesian pop music videos, and a man trolling for fish off the back of the ferry.

Calm Seas in Padang Bai before the Bali Lombok Ferry, Indonesia

Calm Seas in Padang Bai before the Bali Lombok Ferry, Indonesia

“No problem!” I thought.

Then, a couple hours into the trip, the rhythmic rolling of the sea was interrupted by the occasional pitch up to two meters (about six feet). I admit, I walked by the life jackets again…

But yes, no problem.

*No way* I would make this crossing in one of the tourist fast boats, small boats seating twenty five people! This is most definitely an open water crossing and there is no way I would do it in a small craft.

But then at 10:45, the calm stopped.

Almost two hours into the journey, the engine heaved a pile of loud and atmospheric clangs and bangs, and tossed a huge billow of smoke. The ferry paused. OK, it stopped. I do not know how long, but it seemed, well, like, forever.

Oh, oh.

The Indonesian woman next to me had huge eyes.

Like, really, really big eyes. Saucers.

Oh, oh.

She motioned toward the lower deck. We scurried down the stairs.

I pondered, “What happened if the engine stopped? Or worse yet, what if there was an engine fire?”

Really, what happens if the engine stops? Do you just drift? Do car ferries drift? Or do they start sinking if they are not moving? I really should have paid attention in high school physics.

Do the currents take you back toward Java? Or Thailand? Where would you land? There are ship radios, but what do you do with a hundred (?) sinking passengers, plus some autos? Hey, how many people are on this boat? Does someone (someone?) come and find you? Does Indonesia have a Coast Guard equivalent?

We came to the middle deck, to the snack bar and the main seating. Men snoozed on sleeping mats and a middle aged British couple sat in a rigidly upright position watching Indonesian pop music videos.

From this vantage point, all seemed right with the world. We were not going to our watery grave.

The ferry chugged forward, but as I tapped on my iPad mini, I admit it, my hands were shaking.

Then, the music of wherever and whenever you are someplace warm and tropical came on the speakers—Bob Marley. “I Shot the Sheriff” played on and oddly enough, no one looked worried—or even seemed to notice the engine malfunction or that anything at all was wrong with the world.

Note to self: sit on the middle deck. Ignorance is bliss.

The Indonesian woman was back to chatting on her cell phone. All was well.

But it was definitely time to pray.


Public Ferry from Bali to Lombok
40,000 IDR ($3.40 USD)
Runs about every hour, twenty four hours a day
Trip takes four-five hours (or longer, depending on weather)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Man Waiting on the Plaza in Copán Ruinas Copán Ruinas Honduras

Man Waiting on the Plaza in Copán Ruinas (Copán Ruinas, Honduras)

This photo of the week is from the village of Copán Ruinas, near the Mayan ruins of Copán, a UNESCO world heritage site. The Mayan temples, plazas, and terraces were excavated in the nineteenth century, and the little village of Copán Ruinas sprouted up around the site to support the archaeologists. The town is a delightfully sleepy place, with a charming plaza where the locals congregate to chat and enjoy a helado de hielo, or frozen fruit popsicle.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

Monastery Kitchen at Ki Gompa near Kaza Himachal Pradesh India

Monastery Kitchen at Ki Gompa, near Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, India

This photo of the week is from one of my favorite places, Kaza, near the Tibetan border in the Indian Himalaya. They somehow manage to feed more than one hundred monks in this monastery kitchen at Ki Gompa, near Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, India. Gompa is the Tibetan word for monastery.

Stopover in Padang Bai Bali for the Padang Bai Ferry to Lombok

Padang Bai Bali

Padang Bai Harbor Beach Padang Bai Bali Indonesia

Padang Bai Harbor Beach, Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia

Today I hit the travel groove. It sure took longer this solo trip, and I have my ideas why. But that is a story for another day!

It was a short bus ride (60,000 IDR/$5 via Perama) from Sanur, Bali via Ubud to Padang Bai (too many places named karma, sparkly Buddhas, and yoga on demand in Ubud!) My plan was to catch the slow boat, or public ferry, to Lombok, the next island over from Bali.

Reported to have a good traveler vibe, Padang Bai Bali is the sort of town where it is easy to find pizza and banana pancakes—along with a lot of grilled or curried fish (mahi mahi, barracuda, marlin, snapper, and calamari) sprinkled with an ample supply dive shops. Despite the laid back scene and atmospheric harbor, most foreigners seemed to roll off the fast ferries from the Gilis onto a taxi to more touristy places in Bali. Besides the underwater scene, there were just a few temples and a small market, and some pleasant beaches. It was a great place to pause.

Girls at the Beach Padang Bai Bali Indonesia

Girls at the Beach, Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia

I was saving snorkeling for the Gili Islands and Komodo Island—this was just an overnight stop. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about the crossing: during rainy season it was reported to be quite choppy, but calmer in the morning. Since I had read about various safety issues with the fast boats—as well as the ferries—I decided to wait. If I went down with the ship, I wanted to see what I was doing. The owner of my guesthouse, Mr. Guirig, assured me that the government shuts down the ferries when there is severe weather. Reassuring! Then again, another traveler told me his ferry took an extra three hours to go around the storm swells—and it is just a four hour crossing. In any case, I decided it would all look better in the morning.


Pondok Wisata Tirta Yoga Inn
Jl. Silayukti
Gg. Tongkol, Pandangbai Bali
62 081 236 514 350 cell
125,000 IDR ($10.60 USD) downstairs rooms
150,000 IDR ($12.70) upstairs rooms. Includes two levels, with the bedroom on the second floor
Quiet and immaculately clean. The rate includes breakfast and transportation via ojek (motorcycle taxi) to/from the bus stop and the ferry.

Chicken Cage Padang Bai Bali Indonesia

Chicken Cage, Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia


Topi Inn
Far west end of Jl. Silayukti
Pleasant outside patio and an assortment of western and Indonesian dishes.

Fish restaurants along Jl. Segara and Jl. Silayukti along the waterfront; most places have similar menus. I enjoyed grilled fish saté lilit (ground fish grilled on a flat, wide bamboo skewer) at Depot Segara (Jl. Segara), which has a lovely little harbor view. It was the first time the smoky, charcoal of the grilled saté melted into the sweet, but just spicy enough peanut sauce. Divine!

Not Really the Shuttle Bus Stop Padang Bai Bali Indonesia

Not Really the Shuttle Bus Stop, Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia


Perama Shuttle to Ubud, Sanur, Kuta, Airport
45,000-60,000 IDR ($3.80-5 USD)
Departs 10, 12:30, 16:30

Public Ferry from Bali to Lombok
40,000 IDR ($3.40 USD)
Runs every hour twenty four hours a day
Trip takes four-five hours (or longer, depending on weather)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Sadhus Holy Men at the Monkey Temple Hampi Karnataka India

Sadhus (Holy Men) at the Monkey Temple (Hampi, Karnataka, India)

Hampi—wow, it has been a long time, six year ago, this photo of the week. The sacred places were always my favorite, and Hampi, land of Hanumen, is still one of my favorite sacred places in India.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Travel to Sanur Bali: Do Not Judge a Book by Its Cover

Travel to Sanur Bali: Do Not Judge a Book by its Cover

Man Fishing (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Man Fishing (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


I learned a lot of lessons this trip—first and foremost, do not book free plane tickets when angry. And in Sanur, I (re)learned to slow down and not to judge a book by its cover.

I landed in Sanur, Bali as an alternative to bustling, middle-class Denpasar—at first it was just a stopover before catching the Padang Bai-Lombok public ferry. I just ended an epic (insane!) travel run: 01:00 climb up Kawah Ijen in Java, public ferry to Bali, and public bus across Bali, just in time to score a room and a little rest in Sanur.

I will be frank, I try to avoid touristy places. I am not even a beach person. My first assessment was that Sanur was an Australian and European version of Florida, with middle aged and elderly, plump Aussies and Euros cruising around on bikes and minibikes, with the occasional football game on the tele. Given, there were ample temples and shrines, but it appeared to be a place for strolling the beachfront promenade rather than discovering Bali. I had a pleasant Sunday bike ride and found a more local and festive beach, but was ready to bolt from Sanur the moment I arrived.

But Sanur reinforced the lesson that if you take a little time and stroll, you can still experience the essence of the place and have wonderfully authentic experiences—for real life and the sacred happens everywhere, even on the sun-kissed promenade.

Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

I was back in Sanur for a few nights, convalescing from my bout with Lombok insect hives (more on that later). I was admittedly grumpy: my plan was to rent a motorbike and head north to Gunung Agung and the northeast coast around Amed, Bali. Instead, I needed to keep my wounds clean and dry—no boots, no hiking, and no swimming until things were healed. So, I decided to make the best of it and bunker down in Sanur, to catch up on some writing and healing, so I was boot-worthy for Tanjung Puting National Park.

On the way into town, my bemo (mini bus) driver mentioned a ceremony. “You should go,” he said. “It starts in an hour.” When I returned to my hotel, I was told the same thing. “Do you know about the ceremony? It is starting soon.” I asked where and the hotel gal motioned toward the street and smiled, “Right here.” No problem, I thought. I will definitely check it out.

I set off to explore the other side of town and find some lunch, thinking I would stop at the ceremony—but no ceremony to be found. And no local warungs (food stalls). So I resigned myself to a beachside cafe, where there was a breeze to accompany my banana juice and writing.

I remembered there were some local warungs on the beach, at the end of Jl. Pantai Karang. There was an unusually festive scene and the older ibu (woman/m’am) at the warung wore a dressy, white long-sleeved blouse, long, lacy skirt, and a temple sash. Huh. A lot of women had the same look. Huh. A *lot* of men in sarongs and a *lot* of people, and some live gamelan (percussion orchestra) music to boot. What is up with that? I pulled up a shady stool, exchanged pleasantries with the elderly men at my table, and ate my mie goreng. There were some bule (foreigners) and local people, with more locals than foreigners—made sense, as my first assessment was it was more of a local stop.


Gamelan Orchestra at the Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Gamelan Orchestra at the Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


The gamelan music continued and I thought, “Wow, I need to come back here for lunch!” It was typical street food fare, mie goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice), and another vendor grilling chicken saté. But what a festive, lunch scene!

Priest at Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Priest at Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Then I noticed women bringing in offerings. No big deal, that is an everyday occurrence in Bali. Then I noticed a priest blessing the offerings. Then an immense bovine statue was carried in on a covered platform. Huh. I did not notice that little pura (temple) off to the side on my first visit to Sanur—but temples are everywhere in Bali.

Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Then it dawned on me—this *was* the ceremony! So, I took a spot in the back, trying to be inconspicuous, and watched it all unfold: blessing the offerings, sacred bovine procession, prayer (facing the wall toward the beach), icy beverages and frozen coconut milk treats, and lots of prayer.

Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

When I walked back to the hotel, one of the men out front asked, “Do you know about the ceremony?” Thank you, sir, yes, I was just there—splendid, absolutely amazing. “You are very lucky. Only once every ten years, to celebrate the beginning of the temple.”

Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


Lesson learned (or reinforced): slow down. Wander. And stop and eat when you see a lot of people! Sometimes the most local experiences are in the most expected places. I must not be so quick to judge—and in the meantime, Sanur was a good place to heal.

Women at the Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Women at the Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


Temple Festival Sanur Bali Indonesia

Temple Festival (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


Hotel Ramayana
Jl. Danau Tamblingan No. 130/152 Batujimbar
Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
62 0361 288429

250,000 IDR ($21.50) including breakfast: tropical fruit, Bali didir (like a crepe, made of tapioca, eggs, coconut sugar, and shredded coconut), and western options such as omelets, pancakes, scrambled eggs, good quality whole wheat bread, and splendid Balinese coffee. Although I love embracing local cuisine, I admit that my body does better with morning protein and embraced a morning omelet. Quiet, clean, private garden terraces, and friendly, helpful staff.

Hotels costs at least four times more on the other side of Jl. Danau Tamblingan.

I like to spread the rupiah around; laundry is available at the shop next door for 25,000/kilo ($2.15 for 2.2 pounds).


Warungs at the end of Jl. Pantai Karang

Pasar Sindhu Night Market
Off Jl. Danau Tamblingan

Sunday Market at Cafe Batu Jimbar Sanur Bali Indonesia

Sunday Market at Cafe Batu Jimbar (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Café Batu Jimbar
Jl. Danau Tamblingan No. 75 A.
Sanur, Bali, Indonesia 80228
62 361 287374

Sort of a miniature rijsttafel (Dutch for rice table) at the Cafe Batu Jimbar’s Sunday market—or a Bali brunch. I loved the amazing nasi kuning (yellow rice) plate for 35,000 IDR ($3 USD).

Hotel Griya Santrian
Jl. Danau Tamblingan 47
Sanur 80228
Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

On the beach. Very elegant and one of my most memorable Bali food memories. I am still dreaming about the yellow curry coconut salad and fish saté lilit (ground fish grilled on a flat, wide bamboo skewer) (60,000 IDR/$5 USD)


Perama Shuttle (grocery store near the beach at the end of Jl. Hang Tuah)

To Airport
9, 11, 12:30, 15:30, 18:30

To Ubud (and onward to Padang Bai, 60,000 IDR or $5 USD)
6:15, 10:15, 13:45, 16:45

Sanur is approximately twenty minutes by taxi from Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS). A pre-paid taxi coupon costs approximately 125,000 IDR ($11 USD).

Green bemos (small mini buses) run along Jl. Danau Tamblingan and to the bus station.

Speed boats and public boats to Nusa Lembongan run from Jl. Hang Tuah.

Bicycle rentals (30,000 IDR/$2.60 USD) and motorbike rentals (60,000-100,000 IDR/$5.15-$8.60 USD) are available around town.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Photo of the Week

Photo of the Week

While at my computer on this misty spring afternoon, I decided I wanted a way to remember past wanderings. Oh, what the heck—it was even a throwback Thursday and I was trying to get inspired for hiking season. Particularly since I was nursing a bum hip—not that I had ever done anything for throwback Thursday. So, I bring you, the photo of the week!

Goats on the Way to Rohtang Pass and Spiti (Indian Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh, India)

Goats on the Way to Rohtang Pass and Spiti (Indian Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh, India)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Island of the Gods: Bali Bound, or Travel to Bali by Public Ferry

Island of the Gods: Bali Bound, or Travel to Bali by Public Ferry

Temple Offerings (Canang Sari) in Bali, Indonesia

Temple Offerings (Canang Sari) (Bali, Indonesia)

Palau Dewata—Bali is the island of the gods.

Bali is a cultural anomaly in Indonesia, as it is over ninety percent Balinese Hindu in the midst of predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Picturesque rice paddies and jungle-swathed mountains are peppered with Hindu temples (pura) and ceremonies, daily ritual, the swirl of incense—and the pulse of more modern dance rhythms in partying Kuta and glamorous Seminyak, which thankfully were not part of my travel to Bali. Package tourism and surfboard-laden travelers (usually bearded, with the wistful, restless look of wandering in their eyes) abound, but it does not take much to get off the beaten path, whether by public transit, motorbike, or bicycle.

Leftover Temple Offerings (Canang Sari) in Bali, Indonesia

Leftover Temple Offerings (Canang Sari) (Bali, Indonesia)

Religion is an everyday part of life in Bali, and small offerings (canang sari) to the gods are ubiquitous, found next to almost every home, business, restaurant, cash register, and rice field—well, everywhere. Temples (pura) and shrines also seem to be everywhere, and temple festivals are never too far away, at least if you stay in one place and watch for them.

Temples are protected by guardian statues of gods and most villages have a temple of origin (pura puseh), temple for the spirits in everyday life (pura desa), and temple of the dead (pura dalem). Multiple generations traditionally live in family homes built around a family temple, which honor the trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu (Wisnu), and Shiva (Civa), as well as the ancestors and local Balinese gods. It is a different flavor of Hinduism from India, bringing together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, animism, and Malay ancestor worship. Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa is the primary deity, serving as a manifestation of the trimurti of Brahma, Wisnu, and Civa. Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa is usually not visible, but is depicted with an empty throne wrapped in a black and white chessboard pattern cloth and tedung umbrella.

Temple Ceremony (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple Ceremony (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple God and Guardian (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple God and Guardian (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Ritual is a daily part of life in Bali, which I learned very soon after landing at the public ferry in Gilimanuk, just across the strait of Java. We were only in the bus for a few minutes, when the bus driver stopped to make an offering at a roadside shrine.

It was official: I had arrived on the island of the gods, albeit on bus ride blessed with gyrating pop Balinese music videos and gamelan (traditional percussion orchestra).

Temple Offerings at Temple Festival (Village near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple Offerings at a Temple Festival (Village near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple Festival (Village near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple Festival (Village near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)

Waiting for  Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Waiting for Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)


The public ferry across the strait of Java to Bali (Ketapung-Gilimanuk) takes about thirty minutes and costs 6500 IDR ($0.60 USD); the ferry runs twenty four hours a day and runs approximately every half hour. It is a short walk to the bus station, where buses (40,000 IDR/$3.50 USD) run to Denpasar, the provincial capital. The bus ride to Denpasar was reported to take three hours, but mine had a lot of stops and took about five hours, a lovely drive across rural central Bali. It was a short and inexpensive bemo (minibus) ride from Denpasar to Sanur.

If you are traveling via a group minivan from Mount Bromo or Kawah Ijen, you can opt-in for a seamless 90,000 IDR ($7.80 USD) minivan/ferry connection that transits across Bali.

Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) or Denpasar International Airport is located in Tuban, approximately thirty minutes from Denpasar, or seaside Sanur. It is the third busiest airport in Indonesia, after Jakarta and Surabaya, and a major travel hub for Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Australia. Flights to Singapore (SIN) take about two and a half hours and can be booked for a little as $50 USD via budget airlines such as Air Asia.

Temple God Shop (Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia)

Temple God Shop (Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia)

Rice Paddy Shrine (Bali, Indonesia)

Rice Paddy Shrine (Bali, Indonesia)

Home Shrine (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Home Shrine (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Roadside Shrine (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Roadside Shrine (Sideman, Bali, Indonesia)

Even the Gods Need Coffee (Outside Starbucks, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Even the Gods Need Coffee (Outside Starbucks, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Indonesian Street Food and Indonesian Food Vocabulary

Indonesian Street Food

No matter how small the Indonesian town, there seems to a warung (food stall or streetside restaurant) or kaki lima (mobile vendor with pushcart; kaki lima means five legs, three for the cart and two for the legs of the vendor). If you do not see a warung, head for the market (pasar).

Warung near the Beachside Temple Festival, Sanur Bali  Indonesia

Warung near the Beach, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch colonists and traders influenced the ingredients of Indonesian cuisine, which include chilis, cloves, coconut, coriander, cumin, curry, galangal, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, limes, nutmeg, palm sugar, shallots, soy sauce, tamarind, and turmeric. As early as 500 BCE, Indonesians sailed to southern China, where they exchanged spices, camphor, and bird feathers for bronze artifacts such as kettle drums and axes. Chinese-Indonesian trade picked up during the Srivijaya era around the tenth century and increased in the Majapahit era during the fifteenth century. Chinese immigrants began to settle in Indonesia, bringing their culture and cuisine. Indonesian cuisine—and Indonesian street food—is truly born from the spice routes and a culture of international trade.

Indonesian Street Food Sanur Bali Indonesia

Warung near the Beach, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

Following are some of the most common Indonesian street food dishes, ones that are found throughout the country (or at least Java, Bali, Lombok, and Kalimantan). I will write more about regional specialties—particularly the divine and alluring food of Bali—as I wind my way down the trail.

Nasi Campur Warung Nasi Be Tutu Ubud Bali Indonesia

Nasi Campur with Sedikit Nasi, Warung Nasi Be Tutu, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Many vendors—particularly those with a small storefront—offer a number of prepared dishes or nasi campur, sort of the plate of the day. Nasi campur is rice with a variety of side dishes; a paper or banana leaf cone is filled with rice and you make your selections from the various options. Sedikit means a little and sedikit nasi means a little rice—a useful phrase to know!

    Nasi Campur

    Nasi Campur

  • Ayam Goreng. Fried chicken.
  • Ayam Goreng Vendor Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

    Ayam Goreng Vendor, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

  • Bakso. Meatball soup.
  • Gado Gado. Salad of lightly boiled vegetables mixed with peanut sauce, usually served with hard boiled eggs and shrimp crackers (krupuk). Typically made with string beans, bean sprouts, cabbage, and carrots, gado gado is often served with tofu, tempe, and hard boiled egg. Depending on the location, the peanut sauce can be quite spicy, and you may be asked how spicy you like the sauce. Gado gado is a good go-to dish for vegetarians.
  • Mie Goreng. Fried wheat-flour noodles served with vegetables or meat. Mie goreeng was introduced to Singapore, Malaysia, and Malaysia by Chinese immigrants, and is served throughout the day, including breakfast. It is believed to originate from Chinese chow mein, a common dish from the Chinese diaspora.
  • Mie Rebus. Noodle soup
  • Nasi Goreng. Fried rice. Nasi goreng is one of Indonesia’s most common dishes, and it is served throughout the day, including breakfast. It is often made with chili, garlic, sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), tamarind, and either chicken, egg, shrimp, or salted dried fish (ikan asin).
  • Pisang Goreng. Battered, deep-friend bananas served warm, sweet, and crispy. They might be served as a dessert (as they were on the Tanjung Puting klotok), or as a snack. It is said that pisang goreng were introduced by the Portuguese, who reportedly introduced flour into the Southeast Asian diet. Plantains are sometimes used instead of bananas.
  • Saté (or satay). Bamboo skewers of grilled chicken, pork, beef, goat, or fish, depending on the island, usually served with a mild peanut sauce as a condiment. Look for vendors fanning the coals of charcoal, hibachi-like grills, and the aroma of seared, smoky meat! It is believed that saté originated on the island of Java, and that it evolved from kebabs introduced by Muslim traders from India. Saté definitely comes from the Arab Middle East, but galangal, coriander, lemongrass, palm sugar, and garlic give it a Southeast Asian flavor. There are regional saté specialties: saté lilit is made of ground meat or fish, and is grilled on a flat, wide skewer. Saté lilit is common in Bali, as are pork saté. Saté is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and southern Thailand.
  • Sate Vendor Sanur Bali Indonesia

    Sate Vendor, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

  • Perkedel. Savory, deep-fried, golden-brown fritters, or deep-fried bits of batter. In Indonesia, fritters are commonly filled with plantains, sweet corn, tofu, onions, and/or potato, and are often served as a snack—although I often saw them around breakfast time. It is thought perkedel evolved from Dutch poffertjes (deep-fried batter), which are said to be related to the Indonesian kue cubit.
  • Savory Deep-Fried Fritters Gili Ai  Lombok Indonesia

    Savory, Deep-Fried Fritters, Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia

  • Telur Balado. Hard boiled eggs in chili sauce. Often served with nasi campur.
  • Tempe Penjet. Deep fried tempe, this dish is often served with nasi campur.
  • Tempe Kering. Diced tempe stir fried with sweet soy sauce.

Useful food words to know when ordering Indonesian street food:

  • Barbequed or grilled (bakar)
  • Breakfast (sarapan)
  • Beef (sapi)
  • Chicken (ayam)
  • Chili (cabai)
  • Chili sauce (sambal ulek). An Indonesian staple, sambal is served as a condiment with most meals.
  • Coffee (kopi). Kopi tubruk is ground coffee with sugar and boiling water.
  • Coconut juice, sweet and young (kelapa muda manis).
    Sweet Young Coconut Juice

    Sweet Young Coconut Juice

  • Cold (dingin)
  • Closed (tutup)
  • Dinner (makan malam)
  • Duck (bebek)
  • Egg (telur). Nasi goreng (fried noodles) may have the egg mixed with the noodles, or you may be asked if you would like the eggs fried and served whole (telur mata sapi or ceplok) or as an omelette (telur dadar).
  • Fish (ikan). Salted dried fish is ikan asin
  • Fork (garpu). Indonesian’s traditionally eat with the fingers, as in Laos. Many warungs will offer you a disposable fork.
  • Fried noodles (mie goreng)
  • Goat (kamping)
  • Hot or warm (panas)
  • Juice (es juice)
  • Lamb (daging anak domba)
  • Lunch (makan siang)
  • Mackeral (kembong)
  • Market (pasar)
  • Meat (daging)
  • Menu (daftar makanan)
  • Noodles (mie)
  • Open (buka)
  • Peanut sauce (pecel or sambal kacang)
  • Peanuts (kacang tanah)
  • Pork (babi). Since the majority of Indonesians are Muslim, you will not find much pork outside of Bali.
  • Rice (nasi)
  • Salad (selada)
  • Seafood (makanan laut)
  • Shrimp crackers (krupuk)
  • Shrimp or prawns (udang)
  • Soup (soto)
  • Snacks (jajanan)
  • Spicy (pedas). “Pedas tidak?” means “Is it spicy?” and “Makanan tidak pedas ada?” means “Are there nonspicy dishes?”
  • Soy sauce (kecap). Sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) is a common condiment.
  • Tea (teh). Teh pahit is tea without sugar.
  • Tempe (tempe)
  • Tofu (tahu)
  • Vegetables (sayur)
  • Vegetarian food (makanan tanpa daging)

Recipes forthcoming! Also see our guide to useful Indonesian phrases and language guide for traveling in Indonesia.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Klotok Hire to Tanjung Puting National Park to See the Orangutans

Klotok Hire and How to Find a Tanjung Puting Guide to See the Orangutans

Copy of IMG_9894.JPG

Our Klotok Boat with Guide Jefri at the Bow, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Want to hire a klotok boat to Tanjung Puting to see the orangutans (and other wildlife) and travel the Sekonyer River?

The following information is meant those planning an independent trip to Tanjung Puting National Park in the forthcoming high season—and for those who want to enjoy some photographs of the area. I will save the amazing journey and the orangutans, of course, for a later post.

This is a how-to guide, an attempt to make independent bookings to Tanjung Puting more accessible and provide alternatives to the standard tour companies. This post tell you how to connect with some amazing local guides and how much it costs to hire a Tanjung Puting klotok boat to see the orangutans and other Tanjung Puting wildlife. There are also some ecolodge accommodation, one run by a conservation NGO and the other, a sustainable ecolodge. I also listed some volunteer opportunities, in case you have more time. This journey was part of my mostly solo, female, budget travel to Indonesia (albeit a friend joined me for this segment).


Orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Tanjung Puting National Park and the orangutans are the main reason to visit this part of Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo: this is one of the last places in the world to see orangutans in the wild. Tanjung Puting National Park is a mega biodiversity hotspot and hosts a variety of wildlife.

I went in low season (March), when there are fewer people than high season (May-September). There are a lot more tourists—and boats—during high season, which would definitely change the experience. During high season you definitely need to make advance bookings at least a few weeks in advance. There are only so many klotok boats in Kumai, and it makes sense that the best ones get reserved. Prices may be higher, too, than what I was quoted in February. Park entrance fees increase May 1, 2014.


Mother and Baby Orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


Orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

The standard tour option is three days and two nights. On day one most web-based tour operators pickup at Pangkalan Bun (PKN) airport, transport you to the dock in Kumai, and have you on on the Sekonyer River for lunch. Day two is spent at one or two feeding stations, and day three is spent heading down the Sekonyer River. Breakfast is served on the klotok, and you are at the airport for an afternoon flight from Kalimantan.

This was a little whirlwind for my tastes. I knew there were only so many feeding stations and hiking opportunities, but I was determined not to be with the rest of the herd on the standard route. I also hoped to bypass a middle man tour operator, so the money went directly to the people running the boat.


Local Boat on Sekonyer River, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

You can arrange three full days on the river if you stay an extra night or two in the delightfully small port town of Kumai, Rimba EcoLodge (on the edge of Tanjung Puting), or Yayorin’s ecolodge (see Where to Stay/Accommodation). Three full days provide additional orangutan viewing opportunities and serenity, as you have more time on your klotok and solo time on the river—and for the same price.


Sunset on the Sekonyer River near Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

We went to the same feeding stations, but had more time at each place, including a delicious river sunset and delightfully pokey morning at Camp Leakey, hanging out for some morning river laundry time (no swimming—and do watch for crocodiles). We caught some impromptu orangutan viewing and saw the local dominant male, Tom, building a nest, so he could mate with his female companion in the next tree. All the boat men and guides know the orangutans, so it was a morning of getting to know the local orangutan community.


Sign at Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Klotok Boat at Camp Leakey Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Klotok Boat at Camp Leakey Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Klotok Boats at Camp Leakey Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Klotok Boats at Camp Leakey Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


I emailed three independent guides in the Lonely Planet guidebook: Andi Arysad (; Erwin (; and Harry (, the owner of the Kingfisher boat. It turned out that Mr. Harry also owned the tour company, Borneo Wisata Permai Tours, and was not an independent tour operator or boat owner, and Mr. Erwin connects people with other guides, if he is unavailable.

The prices were comparable: 2,500,000 IDR/$222 USD per person with Mr. Andi; 2,700,000 IDR/$240 USD per person with Mr. Erwin; and 3,000,000 IDR/$267 with Mr. Harry. Mr. Erwin noted that his rates would go up to 3,000,000 IDR/$267 per person in a few months, due to an increase in park fees on May 1. Mr. Andi was noted as being one of the most experienced guides—and was also the least expensive—so we went with him.


Local Boat near Sekonyer Village, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

The rate typically includes: taxi to/from the airport to Kumai; boat (klotok); English-speaking guide; boat captain; cook; meals; snacks; drinks (bottled water; soft drinks; tea; coffee); and national park permits (including camera fee and boat docking fee). Central Kalimantan is a predominantly Muslim area, so alcohol is not sold or served. Some people bring it along, or find some, but it definitely goes against the local ethos. I strongly advise skipping it.

If you stay at Rimba Ecolodge (like we did), you must also charter a speedboat (300,000 IDR/$26 USD). The trip from Kumai to Rimba takes about an hour.

A typical three day klotok hire stops at:

  • Tanjung Harapan and Sekonyer Village (across the river from Tanjung Harapan)
  • Friends of the National Park Foundation Camp Pesalat reforestation project
  • Pondok Tanggui
  • Camp Leakey. Established in 1971 by Professor Birute Galdikas, a student of Professor Louis Leakey. Professor Leakey was also known as a mentor to Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey in their study of chimpanzees and mountain gorillas.

Sekonyer River near Tanjung Harapan, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


Sekonyer River at Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Tanjung Puting National Park Map at Visitor's Center

Tanjung Puting National Park Map at Visitor’s Center

The klotok rate includes lodging and meals. You sleep on the covered top deck of the klotok; the crew provides single or double bed mosquito nets. There is a simple shower onboard, but if you want more creature comforts, you could stay at a Sekonyer village homestay or at the Rimba Ecolodge (see Where to Stay/Accommodation).

I found everything about the klotok absolutely delightful, however, and the whole experience was absolutely one of my favorite parts of my trip to Indonesia! It was truly some of the best food during my six weeks in Indonesia—Chef Dayang is a freelance cook in Kumai and was one of the primary cooks for the Kumai wedding I attended (see below).

When it came down to the actual trip, Mr. Andi was already booked with another client, so he had his colleague, Siti Nurul (see below) arrange the tour details. He assured me she would book a very knowledgeable guide with good English. All very true! Both Jefri and Siti were absolutely delightful, and made Kalimantan the highlight my six week trip in Indonesia. (see below).


Orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

I arrived in Kumai a few days ahead of my friend, and had the good fortune of having Siti take me around. As she put it, she did not want me to be bored in sleepy Kumai.

So, the first night Siti took me to a local wedding—who knew a sleepy and dusty little port town like Kumai could get so glammed up? On the second day Siti picked me up on her motorbike, and took me to the local market and then Pasir Panjang, a modern Dayak village and the home of Orangutan Foundation International. We met Guide Jefri (see below) in Pasir Panjang, his home village, and went around the Orangutan Foundation International quarantine area and training forest and the village longhouse. We continued to Pangkalan Bun by motorbike, visiting the Istana Kuning (the former sultan’s home, nicknamed the Yellow Palace, as it used to be swathed in yellow fabric). Siti wanted to me for a sunset trip to Kubu Beach, a local beach, but I was exhausted and regrettably opted to stay in.


Jefri is delightful and personable, a young Dayak man from Pasir Panjang, a modern Dayak village. He was a Tanjung Puting National Park ranger for seven years, and before that, worked at the Orangutan Foundation International quarantine and training center, rehabilitating abandoned orangutans and teaching them to live in the wild. This process involves teaching the orangutans what to eat, how to climb, how to take care of themselves, and well, everything—and then tailing the orangutans to make sure they are successful. A mother orangutan typically spends six years with her baby, teaching them these jungle lessons. It is a long process.

Jefri started guiding last year, while his mother continues his work with the Orangutan Foundation International. Your jaw will drop when you see how quickly Jefri can scurry fifty feet or more up a tree. As he pointed out, he had to teach the young orangutans.


Baby Orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


Mother and Baby Orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Jefri can help arrange tours to traditional Dayak communities (just a few hours by taxi from Pangkalan Bun), Kubu Beach, and Tanjung Keluang (Turtle Island). He is also very familiar with the Orangutan Foundation International and their training forest, where he used to work.

Siti is a personable, intelligent, energetic, and delightful woman. She is originally from East Java, but moved to Kumai in Central Kalimantan many years ago. She has extensive experience with several local tour operators and Mr. Andi, organizing klotok boat trips and arranging all the trip details, as well as working as an independent Tanjung Puting guide. She thus knows the guides, boat captains, and cooks, and makes all the klotok arrangements for the tour companies. When she took me to a local wedding, she introduced me to a number of guides and other folks in the industry. It is a small community and she is very familiar with all that is involved with planning a klotok trip. Siti is starting her own business,, which is the only woman-owned tour company. Siti can also help arrange tours to traditional Dayak communities, Kubu Beach, Tanjung Keluang (Turtle Island), the Orangutan Foundation International training forest, as well as Malay and Dayak Indonesian cooking lessons with local women. Both Jefri and Siti speak excellent English.

Mr. Andi trained Siti as a guide, and she is now one of six woman out of a pool of sixty Tanjung Puting National Park guides. I also met her friend, Daisy, another delightful female guide, in Pasir Panjang. As Daisy put it, they are the tough girls.

Mr. Andi, one of the park’s most experienced guides, has thirty years of experience and is a bit of a legend, after surviving the fire of 1997-1998. He trained Siti and many of the younger guides, and connects them with work. You can contact him directly, but his guide services are in demand and he is often unavailable. Based on my experience, he will connect you with a trusted and wonderful guide—but it is definitely better for Siti and Jefri if you contract with them directly.

I highly recommend Jefri or Siti as your guide for the Tanjung Puting National Park klotok trip! They will take care of hiring the klotok, boat captain, and cook, purchasing the food, and arranging transportation. They are both very familiar with the various parts of the tour process, Tanjung Puting National Park wildlife, and interesting local places if you stay a couple extra day (see Other Activities below).

See Contact Information section for more information.


Orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


Yet one more independent klotok hire option!

I also contacted Friends of the National Park Foundation (FNPF) to inquire about their ecotours. FNPF provides klotok trips to Tanjung Puting National Park‘s Sekonyer River, as well as some other options, such as sleeping in tents at their Camp Pesalat reforestation project and day trekking. The FNPF ecotour options were unfortunately out of my travel budget—albeit still reasonable and profits support FNPF, an organization doing some amazing and valuable work in this incredibly endangered ecosystem.

The FNPF director, Dr. Wirayudha, kindly offered to have his staff take care of the klotok hire for us, in exchange for a small donation to FNPF, a very fair arrangement (500,000 IDR/$44 USD). Mr. Andi had already invested quite a lot of time with our requests, so I decided to stick with him. I still made a donation to FNPF—this was on my list!—as they are an organization that does valuable conservation work and habitat rehabilitation from areas damaged by palm oil plantations and fire. This habitat is horribly endangered and the work FNPF does is incredibly important for the survival of local people, orangutans, and other wildlife, as well as preserving ecotourism opportunities available in and around the park. Do support FNPF!

FNPF also offers volunteer opportunities at their Camp Pesalat reforestation project in Tanjung Puting, Central Kalimantan; Nusa Penida, Bali; Besikalung Wildlife Sanctuary, Bali; and their Bali Wildlife Rescue.


Burn Area, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


Wild orangutans only live in Sumatra and Borneo. Unfortunately their habitat is rapidly disappearing due to deforestation from palm oil plantations and mining. Sumatra and Kalimantan are threatened by environmental destruction, with hectares and hectares gobbed up by the palm oil plantations. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimated that 230,000 orangutans lived in the wild one hundred years ago, but now there are only 41,000 orangutans remaining in Borneo and 7,500 in Sumatra. The United Nations recognizes Tanjung Puting National Park as a World Biosphere Reserve, but this does nothing to prevent its destruction.

Deforestation is a huge part of the problem. Go now, before it is too late. And support the organizations doing valuable conservation work in this area!


Sekonyer River near Kumai, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

It is my hope that once the Indonesian government understands the financial benefits of ecotourism—for local people and business development, conservation organizations and even government bureaucrats (including park fees sent to Jakarta)—they will stop caving to logging and mining interests. These industries are destroying Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan—and Borneo—and destroying the orangutan habitat.

These industries also threaten the human population. The lower part of the Sekonyer is so contaminated from gold mining, that the people living in Sekonyer village must import bottled water from Kumai.


Where the Jungle Water Meets the Sekonyer River Contaminated by Gold Mining, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


I found out about the twenty kilometer (twelve mile) jungle trek from Tanjung Harapan to Pondok Tanggui after we landed and the schedule was set. A few months ago this would have intrigued me—but I also entertained the idea of the fifteen day cross-Borneo trek. I have come to the conclusion that jungle trekking is extremely hot and humid business with a lot of creepy crawlies. If you go, hike with your guide, wear gaiters to protect against leeches, and take electrolyte tablets.


Babek Umar, Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Guide Jefri’s elderly uncle, Babek Umar accompanied us for a short walk (about two hours) around the Orangutan Foundation International trails around Camp Leakey. We learned about jungle fruits the young orangutans learn to eat, along with a vine that provides liquid during jungle trekking (which looked exactly like something I learned about in Virachey National Park in northern Cambodia).


Pitcher Plants on our Walk with Babek Umar, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia


The rate for two travelers for three days and two nights was 2,500,000-3,000,000 ($219-262) per person in February 2014. Note that park entrance fees will increase May 1, 2014 and that the price is typically less if you split it with more people.

The price does not include gratuities. Although tipping is not mandatory in Indonesia, it is always appreciated—and I cannot imagine not tipping. The Rimba Ecolodge recommended tipping the equivalent of $15 USD for the guide, $10 USD for the driver, and $10 USD for the cook.

The folks at Friends of the National Park Foundation provided a cost breakdown for hiring a klotok, in case I wanted their staff to make arrangements (see end of article). The Lonely Planet has a similar breakdown, if you need to compare costs, or if you are quoted a price and not sure what it includes.


I paid a fifty percent cash deposit two days before the klotok trip, and we paid the balance one day before, before going to Rimba Ecolodge. I believe web-based tour operators require a credit card deposit. There is an ATM in Kumai and the bank exchanges United States dollars

Bring two copies of your passport for the police and national park permit. There is a photocopy shop in Kumai, but you should not rely on that.

I made all arrangements via email, as I did not have an Indonesian mobile phone. Mr. Andi, Siti, and Jefri are often in the jungle, as they say, so it might take them a few days to reply to email. They did not have cell service within the park, but it seemed to kick in a couple hours from Kumai.


Mr. Andi Arysad (guide)
62 082 148 021 891 cell

Mr. Jefri (guide)
62 085 751 999 944 cell

Ms. Siti Nurul (guide)
62 081 256 721 645 cell

The only woman-owned tour company! Siti also offers outings to local sites in Kumai, as well as Malay and Dayak Indonesian cooking classes with local women.

Friends of the National Park Foundation (conservation NGO with other ecotour options)
Director Drh I Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha,,
62 361 977978/62 82897209633

Even if you do not book a tour with FNPF, please consider supporting their valuable work with a donation. Donations are accepted via Paypal and credit card.



Entrance to Rimba Lodge, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Rimba Ecolodge
Reservation Manager Mr. Gedi Ori
Sekonyer River, edge of Tanjung Puting National Park
62 361 7474205
62 361 7474204
62 81 23995212 cell


Rimba Lodge, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia

The Rimba Ecolodge is perched on the edge of the Sekonyer River and is surrounded by dense, verdant forest. The rooms, restaurant, and main lodge are built on elevated platforms. There are no roads: access is only by boat from the Port of Kumai. Book a charter speedboat (300,000 IDR/$27 USD, one hour) via Rimba Ecolodge, your guide, or at the harbor. There is apparently a public boat that runs between Sekonyer Village and Kumai, but I never saw anything resembling a collective boat or ferry, beyond a few folks in hand-carved, local wooden boats.

There are five categories of rooms: diamond (3), emerald (12), amethyst (6), sapphire (4), and ruby (10); diamond, emerald and amethyst rooms have air conditions and hot water. I booked a sapphire room (with ceiling fan) for $65 nett/night inclusive of breakfast, tax and service charge. I really do not understand air conditioning in that type of environment—you have to go outside eventually! Regular water is lukewarm temperature and quite refreshing with the heat and humidity. Dinner is available à la carte in the dining room. Rimba Ecolodge accepts cash payment in Indonesia rupiah (IDR) or U.S. dollars.

I highly recommend staying here for a night before your tour starts and having the klotok pick you up at Rimba Ecolodge.

Yayorin Homestay Ecolodge
Jl Bhayangkara, km 1
Pangkalan Bun,,,
62 0532 29057
300,000 IDR ($27 USD) including breakfast

Run by Yayorin (Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia), a grass roots conservation NGO. We spent one night here after leaving Tanjung Puting National Park; it is close to the airport and partway between Pasir Panjang and Pangkalan Bun. The rooms have woven fiber walls, batik print linens, and private verandas overlooking wooded gardens. Absolutely charming! They offered to loan us a motorbike so we could go to a nearby restaurant, or offered dinner on the veranda (40,000 IDR/$3.50). Yayorin can also book taxis to the airport, which takes about twenty minutes and cost 50,000 IDR ($4.45 USD).

Hotel Mentari
Jl Gurilaya 98 (street perpendicular to the street that runs parallel to the river)
No phone
200,000 IDR ($18 USD) for a room with shower
150,000 IDR ($13) for non-shower (ladle and basin)

All rooms have air conditioning. Everything is clean enough (particularly if you had been in Indonesia for one month), but hardly pristine, with a tattooed and pony tailed Ahmed sketching at the front desk and some very bored men in the lobby waiting for the customers. It was OK, but I suggest the Aloha, which is reported to be better and very clean (see below). I made the mistake of assuming more expensive meant a better room. Your guide should be able to make the booking for you, as the hotel does not have a phone.

The Hotel Mentari is right next to what appears to be the only internet cafe (about 6000 IDR/$0.50 USD hour), the best rate I had in Indonesia. There is no wifi in Kumai. You might have to wait a bit for a computer during the late afternoon, when the after school crowd is around.

Aloha Hotel
Jl Gurilaya 392 (just a few blocks north of the Hotel Mentari)
60,000 IDR ($5.30 USD)

Although I did not stay here, I think it would be a better bet than the Hotel Mentari. It was recently rebuilt after a fire destroyed the previous building.

Kumai offers simple, but clean accommodation and is a lovely and friendly little port town. I appeared to be the only foreigner staying in town (which I loved!) Most tourists stay in Pangkalan Bun and hop on a flight as soon as they are off the klotok.

Flores Homestay
Sekonyer Village (near Rimba Ecolodge)
62 0812 516 4727
350,000-450,000 IDR ($31-40 USD) en suite including breakfast.

I did not stay here, but it is said to be a good village homestay, just a bit expensive. Flores only has three rooms, and offers twin or double beds with mosquito net and small verandas overlooking the Sekonyer River). Meals are available for 75,000 IDR ($6.70 USD) per meal.

Ojek drivers (motorcycle taxis) seem to hang around near the river near the main intersection in Kumai. It is a small place, however, and you can walk around town. Your guide will book your taxi to and from the airport, and can help you book other rides, if necessary.

The taxi from Pangkalan Bun to Kumai should be included in your klotok tour price, but if you need to make other taxi trips, it costs 150,000 IDR ($13 USD) oneway.


Kumai does not have any tourist restaurants: it is all warung (food stall and simple restaurant) dining. If you are uncomfortable with that, you could self-cater with snacks from the local stores or public market, or you could stay at the Rimba Ecolodge or in Pangkalan Bun. As with any traveling experience, it is always best to know a little Indonesian.

A number of vendors set up shop along the street parallel to the harbor and Jl Gurilaya at night. If you cannot find a warung open for breakfast, head to the pasar (market), the western part of second street parallel to the harbor.

In Kumai, mie goreng costs about 10,000 IDR ($0.90 USD) and a plate of gado dado with tea is around 20,000 IDR ($1.80 USD).


  • Istana Kuning, Pangkalan Bun. The former sultan’s home and nicknamed the Yellow Palace. 5000 IDR/$0.45 USD motorbike parking and 50,000 IDR/$4.45 USD tip to the caretaker, who—as it turns out—was related to the last sultan.
  • Tanjung Keluang, a small conservation project ran by the Indonesian Nature Conservancy Agency (local name, BKSDA), where green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are protected and released. Go by car or motorbike to Kubu Beach, then go by klotok or speedboat to Tanjung Keluang
  • Kubu Beach, a local beach. About one hour by motorbike from Kumai
  • Interpretive centers at Tanjung Harapan and Camp Leakey. Very nicely done!

Siti also has a number of other activities listed on her web site, including market tours and Indonesian cooking lessons.



From Friends of the National Park Foundation:

Boat 600,000/day x 3 = 1,800,000
Food + cook?/day 75,000 x 6 x3 = 1,350,000 or just food
Guide 250,00/day x 3 = 750,000
Registration 170,000/ day x3 = 510,000
Camera 50,000 x 2 = 100,000
Boat parking 50,000
Police permit 25,000 x 2 = 50,000
Tip to rangers 15,000 x 3 = 45,000
Donation 500,000 x 2 = 1,000,000

Taxi PKN to Kumai x 2 150,000 x 2 = 300,000

5,955,000 IDR ($528 USD)

Note that park entrance fees will increase May 1, 2014.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Kawah Ijen Volcano and the Blue Fire (or Night Hike into the Crater of an Active Volcano)

Kawah Ijen Volcano and the Blue Fire

Kawah Ijen Crater  at Sunrise

Kawah Ijen Crater at Sunrise. Note: camera operator error, so unfortunately unclear. Copyright 2014

Sometimes it is better not to have all the details.

My plan was to checkout of my hotel, Catimor Homestay, 04:00 am, have breakfast, walk to the rim of East Java’s Kawah Ijen or Ijen Plateau (2799 meters/9183 feet), and position the tripod for the sunrise. Like most Indonesian mountains (always volcanoes), Ijen is an active volcano, with the last big eruption in 1999 and another in 2002.

Volcano eruptions seem common in Indonesia; just this February, Gunung Kelud erupted in Java and Gunung Sinabung erupted in Sumatra. As for Ijen, she still spews voluminous billows of sulfuric steam from vents next to the volcanic crater lake, inside Ijen’s crater.

On the way to East Java, our driver, Ahmed, kept mentioning Ijen’s blue fire. When we checked into the Catimor (which is set in the midst of a coffee plantation), Ahmed asked,”Don’t you want to see the blue fire?” Again at dinner, “Elise, don’t you want to go to the blue fire?” I tried to explain that although blue fire sounded amazing—truthfully, I was a little unclear about the specifics—I really needed sleep after the 03:30 wake up call for yesterday’s volcano, Gunung Bromo.

I smiled. “I am old. I need sleep.” Alright, I am not old, I am just in my middle years, but sleep deprivation definitely curtails this gal’s adventurous spirit. In fact, sleep deprivation makes me downright grumpy. Doesn’t it make everyone grumpy?

Now I feel quite ignorant, but at the time, all I *really* knew was that blue fire was probably blue, and it meant I had to wake up at 12:30, just four hours later, and it involved night hiking. In my defense, I sometimes do not like too much planning, and like to see how things go. This worked for me in the past—but kind of doubting middle aged Elise lack of planning. I did anticipate some night hiking this trip and sprung for a new headlamp, a new Black Diamond headlamp at REI. Every Indonesian mountain I read about recommended a sunrise hike—besides the sunrise, there was also a better chance of sunrise views, particularly during rainy season. And I needed a new headlamp.

So, I was not totally opposed to the idea of night hiking. But I had a secret suspicion it was a ploy to sell me a 150,000 Rp ($12.50 USD) extra. Really, it meant I had to wake up in four hours.

Indonesians are very nonconfrontational and indirect. I finally figured it out: everyone else on my ride was going to blue fire and Ahmed the only driver. If I wanted to go to Kawah Ijen, I needed to set my alarm for a bit after midnight. No problem—but, Ahmad, just say the word, do not be so male about this night hike!

So, I dutifully stumbled out of bed and grabbed my boxed breakfast, a hard boiled egg and a rather grim looking peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some very bleached bread. I confess I was grumpy, but were so were my fellow wanderers and volcano peepers.

We arrived at the parking lot at around 01:30—it was obviously pitch black and just a few men (guides?) shuffled about the lot. My plan was to sleep until 04:00, then walk to the edge of the crater for the sunrise.

Um, no. According to Ahmed, the path was a little unclear—and everyone was going to the blue fire. And he was worried about me hiking alone. Thank the universe someone is worried about my carcass! Ahmed was a wise man.

So, I grumpily paid my rupiah, grabbed my headlamp, down sweater, tripod, and bandana (my only protection from the sulfuric gases), and started to trudge through the chilly and moonless black night from Pos Paltuding trekking camp (1850 meters/6069 feet).

The air was brisk and misty. The path to Pondok Bunder resthouse and sulfur weigh station (about 2.5 kilometer/1.5 miles) was fairly smooth and well trodden, albeit very steep. In the morning, sulfur miners weigh their back breaking loads, 70-90 kilo/154-198 pound) baskets of neon sulfur. It is 518 meters/1699 feet over 3 kilometere/1.9 miles, about a 17 percent inclination, to the crater rim. The first 2 kilometers/1.2 miles are the steepest, and it takes bout 2-2.5 hours at night to hike to the crater rim.

Kawah Ijen Crater in Early Morning

Kawah Ijen Crater in Early Morning. Camera operator error, so unfortunately unclear. Copyright 2014

At one point the clouds lifted, revealing a stunning, starry night, with an endless Milky Way. It was a difficult walk and even more difficult with the altitude and thin air. We were alone on the way up, but met another group for the descent into the crater.

For me, the descent into the crater was the most difficult and surreal part of the hike. We stumbled along the rough and rocky wet path, gasping sulfuric gases. I was a tumble of rocks and boulders, interspersed with chit chat from fellow hikers. Two Iranian cousins and I were at the same pace, and the younger cousin (new to his Dubai business, exporting grain to China and Russia) was the only one wearing glasses. We debated whether to grasp the face masks, which obscured our vision. He pointed out, “Seeing is more important than breathing.” I agreed.

To call this hike surreal is an understatement. First there is the sleep deprived night hike under starry skies; then hanging with the sulfur miners next to the blue fire and sulfur vents in the crater of an active volcano; and then the morning light, as dawn catches the colors of the turquoise crater lake, reportedly the most acidic lake on earth, the bright turquoise waters equivalent to battery acid.

I offer all the disclaimers: use your own judgement and take your own risks. Check the conditions. See my what to take list (see below). I will be honest, it probably is not a safe or prudent thing to do—but I will be the first to say, it was amazing. I have never had such a hike, and do not imagine I ever will again. It was truly one of my best memories in Indonesia.

Unfortunately I was a victim of camera operator error and my disclaimer is my photos did not work out. Do Google images—it is an incredible bit of nature.


Kawah Ijen (-8.06°S / 114.24°E) is in East Java, Indonesia in the Ijen-Merapi Malang Reserve, which extends over most of the mountainous alpine region west of Banyuwangi. Ijen borders on the Baluran National Park to the northeast.

Kawah Ijen is accessible from Banyuwagi (Banyuwangi-Licin-Jambu-Patuldingor) and Bondowoso (Bondowoso-Wonosari-Sempol-Patulding). Banyuwagi is more convenient if you are traveling from Bali, whereas Bondowoso is more convenient from the west (i.e., Gunung Bromo, Surabaya, or Yogyakarta). Travelers on the Bondowoso route cross a coffee planation covered with Arabica coffee trees.

Although I am always inclined to do things under my own power and generally despise tours, I was glad I was in a group for this night hike. Night hiking is never a safe thing to do, but it is particularly unsafe in these conditions, particularly during the rainy season.

I was pleased I did it as part of an organized group, despite online accounts about being in a herd of people. That was not my experience during the night portion of the hike, although there was a lot more foot traffic during the daylight hours for the descent. My usual philosophy is that half the fun is getting there, but in this case, I do not believe that would be the case. I am not a fan of urban places, and traveling to Probolingo and onto Kawah Ijen would have involved a lot of urban connections and a lot of time in many bus and train stations.

Independent travel may be worth it if you wanted to try something out of the ordinary, like walking around the rim of Ijen, which reportedly takes one day. I was also just one week into my solo, independent trip to Indonesia and was still finding my way, so the group option worked for me.

If you do want to go indie, Be My Travel Muse has a good account of going to Kawah Ijen without a tour. The Paltuding trekking camp site also has good information, as well as lodging information. Regretably, I only found this web site after I hiked Kawah Ijen. Be my Travel Muse also has some incredible photos.


Catimor Homestay
Jl. Gajahmada 249, Jember, Indonesia Hotel

Paltuding Trekking Camp
The road ends at Jampit, where very basic shelter is available. Homestays are reported available if the handful of hotels are booked by tour groups. The Paltuding trekking camp site also has good information about Kawah Ijen lodging.


It is best to hike in this region during the dry season (April-November). Although the rain is usually not much of an issue, you will sacrifice vistas and clear night skies.


  • Close toed shoes and preferably hiking boots, if you are going below the crater rim, which is quite rough, particularly at night
  • Extra clothes. Night temperatures at the rim go to 5 degrees C/41 degrees F
  • Headlamp or flashlight/torch. I was glad I had my headlamp, as I sometimes needed my hands for scrambling
  • Gas mask or surgical mask is recommended, or at least a damp towel
  • Water and snacks. Noodles, water, tea, and snacks are available at the resthouse in the morning, but the rest house is closed for the hike up


The web site Volcano Discovery is a good site for current conditions and observations.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Best Ipad Travel Apps for the Apple Ipad Mini

Best Ipad Travel Apps for the Apple Ipad Mini

I am an Apple Ipad mini newbie and needed the best Ipad travel apps. I used the mini on the Panama trip, but this is the first time I had the mini—or any type of computer, or newfangled device—on a walkabout or long holiday. And I do regard those as two very different things!

Wifi is very prevalent in Indonesia, with internet cafes few and far between (at least compared to my last walkabout a few years ago). I have *loved* traveling with the Ipad mini and it is well worth the weight. It has been almost too easy to stay in touch with the home front, and infinitely useful for note taking. It is not a full computer, mind you, and I often wish I had a laptop for sorting and editing travel photos.

Here are some of the best Ipad travel apps for the Apple Ipad mini, or at least ones that have been immensely useful on my Indonesian walkabout. They may not be the best Ipad travel apps, but they sure have been the best ones for me!

Like lot of my blog, this travel information is geared toward independent, solo, independent travelers on a budget.

Travel Booking

Free. Skyscanner is infinitely useful for finding the cheapest airfare, as well as finding what airlines fly from point A to B. It shows airlines not normally shown in U.S. booking sites, particularly Asia and Southeast Asia budget options. Skyscanner also allows you to search for bargain hotels and car rentals.

Google ITA On-the-Fly
Free. One of my favorite airline shopping web sites! Compare options across airlines, dates, and alternate cities/airports.

Free. Hotel booking app. Watch for their last minute, flash deals.

Free. not just for hostels! As a budget traveler, I use Hostel World for booking guesthouses, small hotels, and bed and breakfasts. This app makes it even easier.

Free (for non-pro version). My hiking buddy pointed me toward TripIt. At first I balked at manually entering information, but there is also an email option for populating the program. The basic version is free, but if you fly a lot, it may be worth upgrading to TripIt Pro, which show schedule changes and delays. TripIt is useful for storing booking information like confirmation numbers, ticket numbers, booking rates, supplier contact information, and frequent flier information. The app also lets you access information offline, so you can use it for etickets. It is very useful if you have to share trip information with multiple people, or are planning group travel.

Fly Delta
Free. My frequent flier miles are on Delta (for now), but all the airlines have apps like this. I love the eboarding passes!

Mapping/Where Am I

Free. My hiking buddy turned me onto to this GPS map app, and I love it. It runs off satellites, so you always have access to your current location and local maps. Apparently you can also use it with free, crowd-sourced Open Cycle maps from the bike community, but I have not tried that yet.


Free. I admit, I do not keep up with news when I am traveling. But if I want a little dose of home and to tune in, I use the NPR app.

Free. Again, I do not look at a lot of news on the road, but I like to take an occasional look at the BBC.


XE Currency
Free. has always been one of my favorite sites for checking exchange rates. The XE Currency app lets you load ten different currencies, and make calculations offline.

Free. Hootsuite allows you to update multiple social media sites, as well as view content on different social media sites.

Google Drive
Free. The Google Drive app makes quick work of uploading files. There is some limited functionality—for instance, it is best to use the full web version for sharing files and folders.

Free. GoodReader allows you to open and store PDF files on the Apple Ipad mini. I really loved using this for flight confirmations and etickets, as it was sometimes difficult to find an internet cafe with a printer.

Overdrive Media Console
Free. Most public libraries (at least ones in Massachusetts) belong to the Overdrive consortium, which allows you to borrow electronic books and audio books from your local public library. You do need a local,library card/log-in, so make sure that is squared away before traveling. Great for travel guides and fiction!

$2.99 USD. Photogene is a handy and well-recommended photo editing app. It also allows access to IPTC and GPS metadata, and also allows watermarking.

Free. Somehow I misplaced my watch, so I have been using Nightstand as my alarm clock. It also shows the local weather and temperature.

What are your favorite travel apps?

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Mount Bromo Tour: to Tour or not to Tour an Active Volcano?

Mount Bromo Tour or No Tour?

One of the first Indonesian words I learned was gunung, which means volcano. Since food and nature were two main reasons for my Indonesian walkabout, gunung were definitely part of my hiking plan. Indonesia is definitely a destination for volcano enthusiasts!

Surreal, Black Volcanic Sands around Mount Bromo

Surreal, Black Volcanic Sands around Mount Bromo. Copyright 2014

Gunung Bromo (2329 meters/7641 feet) is set amidst the lunarlike, black volcanic sands of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. In clear weather, the southern view reveals Java’s highest peak, Gunung Semeru (3676 meters/12,060 feet), which is even more active than Bromo’s steaming caldera. Set amidst the ancient Tengger crater, Bromo’s smoldering cone occasionally poked its head from her cloudy shroud; alas, the views are not the best during rainy season.

Indonesia is an active volcanic landscape: Bromo’s last eruption was in 2011 and Semeru’s last erupttion was in 2013. Two weeks before my trip started, Mount Sinabung in Sumatra erupted and during my trip, Mount Kelud on Java erupted, closing airports for ten days.

The question was whether to take a Mount Bromo tour, or to go to Mount Bromo and tour independently? Anyone who knows me knows I avoid group travel like the plague. I just do not do tours.

But, I rationalized, this really was not a tour, just an economical way to get to Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen (Ijen Plateau). It was a bundled deal of budget hotel and minibus travel for the twelve hour run across Java to Probolingo, and onwards, to Kawah Ijen and the public ferry landing to Bali.

Evidence I was at Mount Bromo and That It Was Rainy

Evidence I was at Mount Bromo and That It Was Rainy. Copyright 2014

The Lonely Planet guidebook (which I fondly call the good book) cautioned against the tour operators, claiming that the mini buses are often AC-less tin cans on wheels with numerous delays. Lonely Planet even suggested that it may be more efficient to take the train (or fly!) to Surabaya in east Java, then take mini buses and ojeks (motorcycle taxis) to the village of Cemoro Lawang.

Frankly, I ran the numbers—and the schedule—and it seemed crazy. My quest for adventure and sincere belief that part of the fun is getting there, yielded to scheduling convenience, economy, and giving in to a fussy tummy. Not that I believe in fussy tummy syndrome (FTS)—and it is always the proper tourist restaurant and not the fresh, street side breakfast in a banana leaf from a silver-haired matron that does it! At least I am convinced of that.

The comfortable, air conditioned shuttle bus was filled an assortment of friendly, gap year sojourners and long haul travelers, topping out at age thirty. I never used to be self-conscious about age differences, but as I am rounding the corner on age fifty, it sometimes makes me pause—and then I ignore it. They were lovely and chatty, too, in that traveler way of where have you been and where are you going and what did you like. I was happy to have the chit chat.

We landed in lackluster, bustling Probolingo after a thirteen hour bus ride, just an hour behind schedule. We stopped in at the local tour operator and I opted for the jeep tour to the sunrise point (100,000 IDR/$9 USD). I also blame that on FTS.

We set off at 04:00 am. Misty, gray clouds enveloped the mountain village of Cemoro Lawang, bumping across the dark and bleak volcanic landscape in a four wheel drive vehicle. Unfortunately I shared my ride with a sullen group of four French gap yearlings, who looked as if they needed a lot more sleep—or a lot of caffeine. I wondered, when did young people stop traveling solo and started traveling in packs? Certainly not that way when I was a young pup—but then again, that was during the cold war.

So, we headed to sunrise point, Gunung Penanjakan (2770 meters/9087 feet), which on a clear day promises views to Mount Semeru and the surrounding volcanic peaks.

I will warn you, sunrise point is not a serene or solitary experience. This is the standard option for Indonesian and foreign tourists from Cemoro Lawang and Probolingo, and the path to the top is lined with tea houses and a sprinkling of souvenir shops—not too horrendous, but definitely some signs of life and beverages, and places to take shelter from the drizzle.

No, this was not a wilderness experience, but a merry gathering of a cheerful, expectant crowd waiting for a sunrise vista. The good news—and the bad news—is that almost everyone is on the same path and schedule. If you are able to travel at another time, I was told there are very few people. It seems everyone wants to see the sunrise over Gunung Semeru.

I optimistically setup my tripod facing the eastern wall of gray clouds. Alas, the weather goddesses were not with me, and that was the extent of the view. I knew it was rainy season until April and there was a chance of compromised views—and I do not just climb mountains for the views. The ethereal, black landscape and to be present at Bromo’s smoldering crater was well worth the bumpy ride in a four wheel drive vehicle with grumpy French youth.

The four wheel drive continued the jilting path across the surreal and spectacular black earth of Laotian Pasir, the Sea of Sands. Horsemen enveloped in clouds of dust appeared out of nowhere to offer rides (almost) to the top of the smoking caldera.

Horseman at Mount Bromo

Horseman at Mount Bromo. Copyright 2014

It *is* possible to walk from the village of Cemoro Lawang to Mount Bromo’s crater edge (about one hour/3 kilometers/1.9 miles). This was my planned path, but I knew I was not up for even a short walk that morning, particularly in the dark and without a marked trail, and certainly not with FTS. These things are left for daylight, I told myself—and definitely for a landscape with ready access to facilities. I also knew it was difficult to find the path—indeed, the couple from my bus who tried it did get lost, and joined forces with two other lost couples wandering the Sea of Sands. They came across some local men who offered to show them the way for 100,000 IDR ($9 USD). They bargained and settled on 10,000 IDR (0.90 USD) per person, a total of 60,000 IDR. So, carry a compass and certainly some extra rupiah!

Please note, Mount Bromo is an active volcano, as are most Indonesian volcanoes (which means most mountains in Indonesia!) Check Gunung Bagging or Volcano Discovery for information on current activity.


As mentioned above, I took the easy and economical route to Gunung Bromo and Kawah Ijen, booking from Yogyakarta to the Bali ferry landing on eastern Java.

We departed the Great Tour office in Yogyakarta at 08:00, and arrived in the non-descript mountain village of Cemoro Lawang twelve hours later. Ahmad, the driver, made a lunch stop and accommodated other breaks, including one for an ATM stop. We arrived in Probolingo to connect with the local tour operator, Abdul, at Bromo Holiday, where he communicated the timings and offered tour extras. If you decide to find your own way to Probolingo, I do recommend connecting with Abdul at Bromo Holiday.

If you decide on the bundled transportation and lodging option, I highly recommend Great Tours (Jl. Sosrowijajayan 29, Yogyakarta, 0274 58221, I booked my travel to Gunung Bromo and Kawah Injen via their office, and their staff was consistently friendly, helpful, honest, and chatty. All staffers also spoke excellent English. If you do not mind traveling with other bule (foreigners), it is not a bad way to go, particularly if you are short on time or have limited Indonesian language skills. Again, not my normal path, but it worked out well this time.

I spoke with two Iranian men on Kawah Ijen and they ended up spending quite a bit more time and money doing the Yogya-Surabaya-Probolingo route independently—and were hiking the exact same way I was, with a guide and with a mix of Indonesian and foreign tourists. They thought they would get better value by getting closer to the mountain, but not so.

If you do have more time and are traveling in rainy season, traveling independently gives you the option of hiking during the daytime—and finding the path across the Sea of Sands. This also gives you the option of bunkering down and waiting for a vista—although sunrise offers the best chance of views. In retrospect, I would have booked just the transit option, made my own hotel bookings, and asked to catch the bus the next day, or day after. I knew I was also eager to make my way across Java and head to points westward and to be Borneo-bound.


Mount Bromo Transport
180,000 IDR ($16 USD)

Prices are for double occupancy; add approximately thirty percent for single occupancy.

Leave Yogyakarta 08:00, arrive Cemoro Lawang approximately 19:00 via air conditioned mini bus

Mount Bromo Transport + Room
370,000 IDR ($33 USD)

Prices are for double occupancy; add approximately thirty percent for single occupancy.

Leave Yogyakarta 08:00, arrive Cemoro Lawang approximately 19:00 via air conditioned mini bus
Includes one night lodging in Cemoro Lawang

Mount Bromo Tour
475,000 IDR ($42 USD)

Prices are for double occupancy; add approximately thirty percent for single occupancy.

Day 1: leave Yogyakarta 08:00, arrive Cemoro Lawang approximately 19:00 via air conditioned mini bus

Included one night lodging and breakfast at Cemara Indah Hotel (see below)

Day 2: walk to Mount Bromo on your own (about one hour)
Leave Cemoro Lewang 04:00 for Mount Bromo

Note: did not include 70,000 IDR ($6 USD) park admission and optional 125,000 IDR ($11 USD) jeep to sunrise viewpoint

Leave Cemoro Lawang 08:00 via air conditioned mini bus, arrive Probolingo 09:30
Leave Probolingo 10:00 via air conditioned mini bus, arrive Denpasar bus station 18:00

Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen Tour
670,000 IDR ($60)

Prices are for double occupancy; add approximately thirty percent for single occupancy.

Day 1: leave Yogyakarta 08:00, arrive Cemoro Lawang approximately 19:00 via air conditioned mini bus

Included one night lodging and breakfast at Cemara Indah Hotel (see below)

Day 2: walk to Mount Bromo on your own (about one hour)
Leave Cemoro Lewang 04:00 for Mount Bromo

Note: did not include 70,000 IDR ($6 USD) park admission and 125,000 IDR ($11 USD) jeep to sunrise viewpoint

Leave Cemoro Lewang 09:00 via air conditioned mini bus, arrive Sempol Village approximately 15:00 (more like 19:00, depending on stops)

Included one night lodging at Kartimore Homestay (see below)

Day 3:
Leave Sempol Village 04:00 via air conditioned mini bus, arrive Post Paltuding 05:00
Leave Post Paltuding 05:00 and walk to Ijen Crater for sunrise

Note: does not include 35,000 IDR ($3 USD) park admission

Leave Post Paltuding 10:30 via air conditioned mini bus, arrive 13:30 ferry station to Bali


(or where not to stay)

Cemara Indah Hotel
62 81358005885
62 81336338844

My room was included in the cost of the Mount Bromo-Kawah Ijen trip, otherwise I probably would not have opted to stay here. Frankly, it depends on the rate; it was clean enough, but I certainly would not pay a premium to stay here. The rooms were clean enough, but tired, albeit the staff was friendly and helpful.

The rooms are unheated and the village is at a decent elevation, so wear layers. The buffet breakfast is a bit grim, with the most mediocre mie goreng (fried noodles) and nasi goreng (fried rice) I had during my six weeks in Indonesia, along with some bleached bread options.

The hotel is allegedly near the crater rim, but everything was under cloud cover and darkness when I arrived.

Yoshi’s Guesthouse
62 0335541018
Just down the road from the village of Cemoro Lawang, in Ngadisari.

Although I did not stay here, some of the older travel comrades recommended Yoschi’s. They reported that the alpine-style rooms were clean and comfortable, and that the guesthouse was a little like the Alps meet Indonesia. A little.


Java’s rainy season runs through April. Be forewarned, rain + mountains do not equal great views. I spoke with some Indonesian travelers in Sanur, Bali, who also had bad vista karma.

But no matter the weather, I strongly recommend this side trip on your way across Java, particularly if you are headed to Bali or flying from Surabaya to Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan (Borneo).

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Travel to Yogyakarta—or How to Survive the Batik Salesmen and Find the Kraton or Sultan’s Royal Palace

Travel to Yogyakarta and the Kraton (Sultan’s Royal Palace)

Street Scene in Yogyakarta Java

Street Scene in Yogyakarta Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

Yogyakarta (or Yogya, pronounced Jo-ja) is a sprawling city of 389,000 people, a tangled, chaotic mix of motorbikes and becaks (bicycle rickshaws), traditional arts, and batik salesmen. Really. I must admit, I did not feel a lot of Yogya love on day one, but it is a city that grows on you. The locals sport “I heart Yogja!” T-shirts—and before you know it, you are buying one too.

In the center of it all is the kraton (or keraton or karaton), the sultan’s royal palace and home of Java’s royal family. The hereditary title of sultan still has some political klout in Java, unlike other parts of Indonesia, where it is a largely symbolic position. In Java, the sultan is the hereditary monarch and governor of the Yogyakarta Special Administrative Region.

Palace Guards at the Kraton Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

Palace Guards at the Kraton Yogyakarta Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

The sultan of Yogyakarta is a hereditary title, as is the honor of being one of the kraton’s royal guards. It is a lifetime position; when guards are too old to serve, they continue to live at the kraton and are cared for in their older years. One thousand active guards and one thousand retired guards live at the kraton.

Palace Guards at the Kraton Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

Palace Guards at the Kraton Yogyakarta Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

The kraton is built on a north-south axis, aligning with Gunung Merapi and the Indian Ocean. It is said that the structure represents the Javanese cosmos, and represents a Javanese version of Islamic mysticism.

Yogya is a center for traditional Javanese arts, and a wonderful place to experience the performing arts. The kraton hosts daily performances are hosted daily from 10:00-12:00:

Monday – gamelan
Tuesday – gamelan
Wednesday – wayang golek (Javanese wooden puppets)
Thursday – gamelan
Friday – Javanese singing
Saturday – wayang kulit (Javanese shadow puppets)
Sunday – classical dance

Performance Area at the Kraton Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

Performance Area at the Kraton Yogyakarta Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

Shadow puppet performances are also offered at Sono-Budoyo Museum (near the kraton at the intersection of Jl Senopati, Jl. KH Ahmad Dahlan, and Jl A Yani, near the kraton) every night from 20:10-22:00 pm and every second Saturday at Sasono Hinggil 21:00-05:00 the next day.

Yogya serves as a good base for visits to UNESCO World Heritage site Borobudur and the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan. There are many tour options that let you pack the sightseeing into one day, although I do not recommend it, unless you are short on time. Many tour offices (see below) are located along Jl Sosrowijayan in Sosrowijayan, the epicenter for backpacker and hotel lodging.


I highly recommend Great Tours (Jl Sosrowijajayan 29, I booked my travel to Gunung Bromo and Kawah Injen via their office, and their staff was consistently friendly, helpful, honest, and chatty. All staffers also spoke excellent English.

Via Via Tours (Jl Prawirotaman 130, in the Prawirotaman area) also comes recommended. Via Via offers an assortment of interesting and innovative options, including jamu, or traditional medicine, and behind-the-scenes with traditional performing arts. Their tour options (particularly the long distance ones) tend to be pricier than the standard Sosrowijajayan menu.

If you prefer the fun of public transit, the public bus on Jl. Malioboro travels to Prambanan and buses to Borobudur go through the Jambor station. Be forewarned that the Borobudur-Yogja bus may drop you off on the outskirts of Yogja for a roadside transfer (at least this happened to me!) If this occurs, keep smiling and ask “Yogya bis?” and it should be okay.


If you are in the market for some Indonesia clothing, Jl. Malioboro has a line of inexpensive clothing shops and printed batik clothing, including short sleeved shirts, baggy trousers, and dresses. I suggest traveling light and buying what you need in Yogya.

Admittedly, I am a market hound, so I also enjoyed the lively central market, Pasar Beringharo (Jl. A Yani, just north of the kraton, on the street that connects with Jl Malioboro). Fruits and vegetables are toward the back and rempah rempah (spices) are on the first floor. Please remember to be respectful and ask before you take people photos. Note that there are numerous warungs or food stalls around the market.

Chip Section at the Pasar Beringharo Central Market Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

Chip Section at the Pasar Beringharo Central Market Yogyakarta Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014


I heartily recommend Bladok Losmen when you travel to Yogyakarta (Jl Sosrowijayan 76, if you do not mind staying in the center of Sosrowijayan (backpacker central, albeit very convenient) It is an excellent value, with spotless rooms, lovely and friendly staff, and courtyard pool with water fountain. Deluxe rooms (250,000 IDR/$22 USD) have ceiling fans, European bathrooms, and a private terrace. Standard rooms (150,000 IDR/$13 USD)—not available when I was there—have ceiling fans and traditional bathrooms. VIP rooms with air conditioning are also available.


When I did not eat at the warungs, my favorite restaurants was Bedhot (which means creative in Indonesian). It was consistently tasty, with many Indonesian—and traditional Javanese—dishes, as well as the usual western offerings. Several special menu items that needed to be ordered a day in advance, included snake, with a choice of cobra or python.

Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) Vendor Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) Vendor Yogyakarta Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.

Travel to Borobudur Temple in Indonesia, the Great Sanctuary and the Spice Trade

Travel to Borobudur Temple Indonesia

First morning in Indonesia!

Borobudur Temple Buddha

Borobudur Temple Buddha Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

It was still pitch black when I left the guesthouse, and the muezzin’s morning call to prayer floated across town. Some motorbikes flew by and there were a few rogue chickens, but otherwise, the streets were silent.

It was not my intention to hitch a ride, but a man stopped, and we negotiated a ride on his motorbike under the cloak of darkness. In Indonesia, this is called an ojek or ojegs, a motorcycle driver who will take a passenger for a price.

A friend recently asked me how I communicate if I do not speak the local language and since I usually travel as an independent, budget traveler. My philosophy is to know at least the basics, particularly the polite niceties. I tried to explain how much you can communicate with a lot of smiles, polite phrases and non-verbal communication. And the more I can speak, the better the experience.

And as I like to say, local people usually have a guess where I am going. The ojek man knew I was probably walking to the ticket gate for the sunrise at Borobudur Temple and had a hunch I might want a ride. Yup! It was dark and I only had a vague idea where to buy the ticket.

So, how did we negotiate? He held some money to the motorbike headlamp to show me how much, and I countered, holding a smaller bill under my headlamp. We had a deal. I threw my scarf on, and tried to remember how to be a passenger on a motorbike without screaming. The sound of panic is universal. This kind of ride is very common in Cambodia and Laos, but it has been awhile and I am out of practice.

It was still dark when I arrived at the Manohara Hotel, where one buys Borobudur sunrise tickets. Borobudur (or temple on the hill) was built between the eighth and ninth century during the fifth to tenth century reign of Syailendra dynasty. It is built in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and is one the world’s greatest—and largest—Buddhist monuments. Borobudur is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Borobudur Temple at Sunrise

Borobudur Temple at Sunrise Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

Friendly guides, particularly eager to practice their English, distributed egalitarian orange scarves (for covering the waist and legs) and flashlights to morning visitors. A friendly guide took me to the top of the temple hill, about a ten minute walk—plenty of time for the 06:30 sunrise.

The temple was seriously affected by the 2010 eruption of Gunung Merapi. Signs showed the before and after from the cleaning process. The monument was dusted with volcanic ash one again, during te February 2014 eruption of Gunung Kelud.

The muezzin`s call continued as the mist from last night’s rain enveloped the verdant hills, and volcanic peaks tucked in and out of the clouds. Morning light slowly opened the day, casting shadows and light over the temple stupas, Buddhas, and south central Javanese plains, known as the Garden of Java. I wandered with the camera and finished with a complimentary banana pastry and java (in Java!) at the Mahoraha Hotel’s outdoor terrace. They also tossed in a complimentary batik scarf made by a local shop, Batik Mandala Borbudur (Jl. Balaputra Dewa 56, Borobudur).

Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Temple Java Indonesia. Copyright 2014

The magnificent monument is a three-dimensional mandala (diagram of the universe) and a visual representation of the Buddhist teachings. It is believed that the universe is divided into kamadhatu, rupadhatu, and arupadhatuthe. Starting at the base, kamadharu represents the place where we are bound to our desires; rupadhatu represents the sphere where we abandon our desires, but are still bound to name and form; and arupadhatuthe represents the sphere of formlessness where there is no longer either name or form. In essence, the monument depicts the cosmos, starting at the base and the everyday world of passion, desire, and attachment, circling up to a place of enlightenment or nirvana. Like all Buddhist sites, circle clockwise, ascending the site through a series of galleys depicting the stages of reincarnation.

I spent part of the morning wandering some roads near the temple and village, an emerald landscape of patchwork rice paddies and cheerful salaam alakum (peace be with you, a traditional greeting in much of the Middle East). Locals flew by on scooters laden with baskets of greens, eggs, lumber—you name it—on their way back from the market.

There are a few warungs (food stalls) at the rotary near the temple entrance. Last night I enjoyed some chicken satay fresh off the grill, caramelized, charcoal goodness married with the sweet nuttiness of mild peanut sauce and wrapped to go in a banana leaf and newspaper (5000 Rp/$0.40 USD).

I highly recommended staying in town instead of taking a tour from Yogyakarta (also called Yoga, pronounced Jo-Ja), where you are shepherded back for the next attraction and cannot revisit the temple during different lights and moods (including the afternoon cuddling of young sweeties amongst the stupas).

There is also a greater economic benefit to the village if you stay in town, where there are also a few adventure touring options (class 2-3 river rafting on the Elo River and bicycling) via the Manohara Hotel, or visiting local cottage industries (pottery, tofu, glass noodles); nearby Mendut temple and monastery; Selogriyo (neighboring rice terraces); or walking to a nearby hillside for a sunrise viewing of Borobudur Temple with Jaker, a local group of community-based guides (Jack Priyana, founder,, 62 0293 788845).

The temple site changes dramatically as the predominantly foreign tourist crowd that arrives for sunset gives way to a predominantly Indonesian audience, with plenty of carriage rides, trolleys, and souvenir hawkers. A lively warung (food stall) scene also appears northwest of the temple, outside the parking (parkir) area, and up the street from the ATM machine. Street vendors also sell cut fruit and small bags of fried tofu (tahu). I returned later in the day to visit the museum and take sunset photographs and did not recognize the site! The Lonely Planet guidebook warns that it can be a chaotic scene, but I found it quite festive.

The small, but informative, Samudraraksa Museum documents Indonesia’s role in the spice trade and the 2003 voyage of the Borobudur ship replica, Samudraraksa (guardian of the ocean) from Jakarta to the Seychelles to Madagascar. The expedition was inspired by the ocean-going ships depicted on the wall of Borobudur temple. The Samudraksa route from Indonesia to the western coast of Africa retraced the spice trading route taken by Indonesian sea traders ten centuries ago.

Indonesia water transportation evolved from a simple bamboo raft used from prehistoric times for mainly for river transportation to ocean-going, single keel ships with double outriggers. A recent shipwreck off the coast of Cirebon (west Java) provides evidence of this type of boat, as well as the maritime history depicted in the Borobudur reliefs. The wooden ship was a design and technology typical in the Indonesian archipelago, which carried a wide variety of cargo: Chinese ceramics, Chinese coins, ingots, beads, Indian bronze statues, glass vessels, semiprecious stones from west Asia, and even Mediterranean amphora from the Mediterranean.

Indonesian maritime trade began as early as 500 BCE, when Indonesians sailed to southern China, where they exchanged spices, camphor, and bird feathers with bronze artifacts such as kettle drums and axes. The maritime spice route later expanded to the western coast of Indian (including Kochi, Kerala, India), Arabian Peninsula, and eastern coast of Africa.

The spice trade included cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Nutmeg was an important ingredient for medicine and religious offering in ancient Europe, and nutmeg seeds were used as a condiment. The Chinese chewed cloves as mouth perfume and Europeans used cloves for cooking (spice and preservative), aromatherapy, and as a preservative and for medicine. Cinnamon was used as a spice and condiment, as well as for medicinal purposes.

Indonesian trade routes ran along the western coast of India, southern Arabian peninsula, and east coast of Africa.


Buy sunrise tickets at the Manohara Hotel

Opens at 06:00

380,000 Rp ($32 USD) sunrise admission
230,000 Rp ($19 USD) if you are staying at the Manohara Hotel
270,000 Rp ($23 USD) for regular (non-sunrise) admission

Visitors staying at Borobudur hotels receive a voucher for fifteen percent off all temple admission rates.

Note: if you are traveling with another person and staying at mid-level hotels—and do mind such a place—ticket savings may make the Manohara Hotel worth a stay.


Manohara Hotel Borobudur
Komplek Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur
Jl. Badrawati Borobudur
Magelang,Jawa Tengah
+62 293 788131

The Manohara Hotel is the only hotel inside the Great Sanctuary.

Advertised room rates are around 1,200,000 ($100 USD). Apartment rooms can be found on Agoda for 4,000,000 Rp ($64 USD; regular rate 1,968,000 Rp/$160 USD). Book far in advance, as rooms sell out, even during the low season.

Budget Options:

There are numerous small hotels and homestays in town. I stayed at the Lotus II, the Lonely Planet pick (200,000-250,000 Rp/$17-21 USD). It is the base for a community-tourism organization, Jaker (founder Jack Priyana,, 62 0293 788845; same contact information for Lotus II). The staff are all friendly, speak excellent English, and are generally quite lovely. Second floor rooms overlook the rice paddies, although first floor guests are also encouraged to enjoy the terrace and the views. The room and cleaniness were fine; it was not my best budget room and not the worse one either.


A visa on arrival (VOA) is issued $25 USD (about 300,000 Rp; the price is quoted in USD). VOAs are issued for thirty days, and can be renewed for another thirty days ($25 USD) at local immigration offices. Change is given in Indonesian rupiah.

In 2014, visa on arrival (VOAs) were available at Adi Sucipto International Airport (JOG), the principal airport for the Yogyakarta area, and Adi Sumarmo International Airport (SOC) in Solo. SOC used to be the principal airport until JOG. Do check with your local Indonesia embassy to determine the current situation with VOAs.

The flight from Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) to JOG is about one hour. Air Asia has great promotional deals (usually $50-60 USD).

Taxis to Borobudur can be booked at the Yogyakarta (JOG) airport taxi transfer desk for 230,000 Rp ($19 USD). Airport transfer by your hotel will probably be a bit more (300,000 Rp/$25 USD). Public transit involves numerous connections and is not recommended. The taxi trip to Borobudur can take one and half hours, and sometimes more on weekends and holidays, when there are more Singapore tourists.

Copyright 2014 All disclaimers apply.