Monday, March 23, 2015

Symphony in the Streets

Some of the best advice that I read in the Lonely Planet was about crossing the chaotic streets of Siem Reap.  The book advised the you don't rush across the street but rather walk normally (and don't wait for an optimal time because there never will be one) as all of the traffic will work to avoid you - and they do.

This picture does not do it justice but will give you a little insight of the symphony on the streets of Siem Reap.  On their own, each tuk tuk, car, bus and motorcycle looks and sounds like their own piece of randomness but when when all mixed together, it is a symphony of sounds and activity, where every piece seems to know what to when and where to be - it just works.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I debated whether or not I should take this picture but then I realized that if I didn't, then how could I share with others the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 70s.

This photo was taken in the "killing fields" in Siem Reap and these bones are just some of the bones that have been found on this site.

I cried here.  I cried a lot.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Balinese Cooking & Bad Service

I think that I have mentioned on previous blogs that I really am not the biggest fan of travelling by myself as I get bored with being with just me.  And contrary to common belief, I am not an extrovert but rather an introvert, so getting out there and "just meeting people" is not easy or comfortable for me, so I am have started to explore different things to do when I am travelling that will 1) expose me to people other than me and 2) give me something to do.  One thing that I decided to do early in my planning for my weekend away in Bali was to do a Balinese cooking class, firstly because I had no idea what Balinese food was like, and secondly, when I went to Thailand, we did a cooking class there and I really enjoyed it.

I turned to my trusty colleague when it comes to trip planning - TripAdvisor and found a couple of different cooking classes in the Denpasar area.  The first one that I had wanted to do, and that one that goes rave reviews, didn't have any classes on the weekend, so they were out.  I then went with choice #2 - Anika's Balinese Cooking School and was not disappointed in the least.  The class ran for about 4.5 hours and included a trip to a local Balinese market with our cooking teacher/guide who explained the ins and outs of the market, as well as introduced us to some new fruits and veggies.  Did you know that tumeric is a root kinda like ginger?!  I was blown away by that - I did not know!  After the market tour, we then went back to the cooking kitchen where we were feed a light breakfast with a few local Balinese treats and fruit, including snake fruit, which had a really cool skin (like snake skin) but I was not fond of the fruit.  My class had 4 other people in it - 2 couples, one from Australia and the other from The Netherlands :-)  We then got down to business.  We were all given an apron, assigned a cutting board and a nice and had to put our knife skills to good use finely dicing garlic, ginger, tumeric, shallots and peppers, that would then eventually be ground up to a paste in a large stone mortar and pestle.

Once that was completed by each of us, we then concocted 7 different dishes ranging from a chicken satay with homemade peanut sauce to a bean salad to a fish curry (my recipe)  All of the food that we made was delicious and I would highly recommend doing something like this, as it is a good way to learn a little more about the culture and for a fussy eater like me, it gives me a safe place to try new things without big commitment!  LOL!

The enterprising person who owns Anika's Balinese Cooking School, also owns Anika's Tailor and Anika's Spa and for those doing the cooking class, they have a $25 USD special for a 2 hours spa experience after the class.  And since part of this weekend was about me being a spa whore, I decided to take them up on it.  The spa itself was very good, and we had no violations of the belly button, although she had no issues whatsoever about letting my girls hang out, or massaging them for that matter.  What I learned at this spa was that I had to let go of any modesty that I might have had because she did not seem to care.

Now moving on to the bad service part.  As a part of the whole experience is that they provide transport to and from your hotel and in the morning, the transportation had been very prompt and  very good.  After I was done my spa, I was told that I would need to wait about 10 minutes.  Then I was told that I would need to wait about 15 minutes.  By now, I am just wanting to go back to my hotel, which was on the other side of the island, so I felt like I was being held hostage.  Oh and I should note, that this spa is located down some side street and it is not like I knew the address.  After waiting for 30 minutes, rather impatiently I might add, I asked if they could please call me a taxi as I was not prepared to wait any long and that i just wanted to go to my hotel.  The girl assured me that a ride was coming.  I waited 5 more minutes and asked if my taxi had been called, at which point in time she said that she would call now.  Well. . . that just pissed me off, so I told them firmly, but not snottedly that this was bad service and that it had turned a very good spa experience into a bad experience, and I left.  Fortunately I pay attention when I am going somewhere so I knew how to get back to the main road and managed to easily flag down a taxi to take me to my hotel.  Or so I thought.

Bad Service #2 - I gave my taxi driver the name of my hotel and told him that it was in Sanur.  Now keep in mind that this part of Bali is not that big and I was staying at the Fairmont, which is a very nice hotel.  As we got closer to Sanur, my driver asked me if I knew where my hotel was - that should have been clue #1 that he didn't know where he was going.  Clue #2 was when he asked me repeatedly for the name and tried to google it.  As I mentioned earlier, I generally pay attention to where I am, and I love to read maps, so after a while, I realized that we had gone too far north (but not that far).  I then asked him if he knew where he was going - no.  I then suggested, that maybe he could pull over and Google it again, which he did but left the meter running, which pissed me off.  He started to drive again and I quickly realized that he did not know where he was going still.  So then I asked him if there was not someone that he could call for directions.  Once again he pulled over to make his call, and had the meter going at which point in time I told him that I was not paying for him to figure out where he was going, so he stopped the meter.  I mean seriously, if you are lost, just say so and do what you need to do to figure it out but don't make me pay for it!  After about 2 minutes he figured out where we were going (the good news was that I found out where the Starbucks was)  Turns out, we were about 2 minutes from the hotel.  All told, his ineptness cost me about 25 000 rupiah, which is only about $3, but still on a what should have been a $10 fare, that was a 30% increase.  So we pull up to the hotel and by now, I am not in a happy mood.  The charge is about 123 000 rupiah so I hand him 150 000 rupiah, as I don't have any change.  He then proceeds to only give me 20 000 rupiah back (Lonely Planet suggests that you might round up in a taxi but tipping is not standard).  Bad move buddy - let's just say, he too got a lecture about bad service  and that this was not acceptable and how dare he expect a tip after he kept the meter running when he was pulled over and that I was not tipping bad service.  Yah, my Saturday did not go the best.

My lesson learned here is - always make sure you have the physical address written down and with you and don't assume that even on a small island that the taxi drivers will know where they are going.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blissful Bali & Belly Buttons

I see that it was a year ago since the last time I had posted anything on this blog and it is not because I haven't travelled in a year, because oh have I ever, but rather I get lazy about blogging (and exercising but that is a whole other blog!)  Not sure what inspired me because none of my other trips have, but for some reason I thought that I should blog about my time here in Bali.  Actually, I do know what has inspired me - my friend John who blogs a whole lot more than I do and when I see on his little blog list on the side when the last time something was posted on a blog he follows is a year, the guilt sets in.  So this is for you JB!  LOL!

Unbeknownst to many, I have temporarily relocated to Kuala Lumpur for work to cover off a colleague who has gone on maternity leave.  I will be there anywhere from 2-4 months, but that will be punctuated with a trip back to North America and a trip back to The Hague in February.  But that isn't what this posting is about. . .it is about blissful Bali and bellybuttons.  I have decided to make the most of my time in KL, as I do with most places I travel to with work, and am going to really try and explore SE Asia as much as a I can while I am here because I think the work travel well is likely to dry up once this stint is over due to low oil prices. (Don't worry JB - still working hard to keep your pension funded!).  My first little jaunt is to Bali.  It is a long weekend in KL this weekend (we get Monday and Tuesday off - I am only taking Monday), so I thought that I would check out Bali as it is one of those exotic places that I have always heard about, the pictures look lovely and spas are cheap!  

Bali is a 3 hour flight from KL - I was surprised because everything looks so close on the map and I had a choice of 3 wonderful airlines.  Air Asia, which had just crashed, Malaysian Airlines who had a plane disappear and another get shot down and Garuda which was banned in the EU for quite some time due to an abysmal safety record.  I opted to go with the one where I would get the points that meant the most to me, so I went with Malaysian :-).  As for hotels, I wanted a more "balinese" style experience but still wanted to stay with one my familiar brands, so I opted for a lovely room at the Fairmont Sanur Beach - tres, tres lovely!

My goal of this trip is to be as much of a spa whore as I possibly can and by that I mean, spending as much time at the spa as possible, as it is cheap, cheap, cheap here!  Last night, after I had arrived, I had arranged for a 2.5 hour spa appointment to start my trip.  As with much of my travel, I went on to TripAdvisor to get some advice and found a great spa called Lehela Lehala, which is located about a 5 minute drive from my hotel (they come and get you).  I can't remember which package I signed up for but it was essentially a full body massage, relexology, as well as a head massage - pure bliss. . . except for the belly button.  I HATE belly buttons.  They gross me out.  The name for this is called "omphalophobia" - fear of belly buttons and more particularly of them being touched.  Well, all I can say is that my therapist yesterday crossed the line with my belly button in so many ways!  Not only did she massage around it (as she was massaging my stomach) she also touched it, not once but twice. She pressed it with her finger.  I damn near threw up in my mouth - it just grosses me right out!  So much for my blissful Bali spa!  LOL!