Cooking, Temples, & Monkeys – Ubud, Indonesia

Today we had to get up fairly early because we had an early pickup for a cooking class that we booked with Paon Bali Cooking Class, which only cost $35 each. We started off by walking over to the Westin Hotel for a $10 all you can eat buffet, which ended up being pretty good.

After breakfast we walked back, to where our driver was already waiting for us. He first stopped in a local nearby market so we could see where all the locals purchased groceries. After walking around the market he drove us to his house, where his wife taught us how to cook 7 traditional Balinese dishes over the next 3 hours. The food was absolutely incredible!

After our cooking class we were dropped back off at our hotel. We hopped on our scooter and went into Ubud to visit Ubud Palace, and the Sacred Monkey Temple, where there’s over 700 grey long-tailed Macaques. Most of them were minding their own business, but there were a few curious ones, including one that was particularly interested in Julie’s pink shoes. We also saw a few of them get into fights with each other. We even saw a bunch of really cute babies!

After visiting the Sacred Monkey Temple we went back to the hotel for a few hours to relax by the pool, before heading on a bit of an adventure to get dinner. We had to drop off our scooter at 6:30pm because our rental was up, and then we walked a few kilometre’s to a restaurant called Wild Air, however when we arrived we were told that we needed to have a reservation. Darn! We then walked up one of the main streets and settled on a place called Liap Liap, which was actually quite good. After dinner it was pouring rain, so we took a GRAB (think Uber) back to our hotel, which only cost about $3.

Temples! – Bali, Indonesia

Today we took another a custom tour with Bali Customized Tours to Eastern Bali. Our tour included “The Mother Temple” known as Besakih, a Bamboo Forest, Penglipuran Ancient Village, and Gunung Kawi Ancient Tomb. Our driver today was Ambara.

Before we were picked up we had a delicious breakfast prepared by the lovely staff at Hideout Bali. I had a traditional breakfast with eggs and delicious toast, and Julie had porridge and fruit.

First stop was the “Mother Temple”, also known as the Besakih Great Temple. It is a pura complex in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in Eastern Bali. It is the tallest, holiest, and most important temple in Bali, sometimes drawing as many as a million visitors on some of the holiest days of the year. In fact, this is considered one of the largest Hindu complex’s in the entire world. The extensive complex contains 23 separate but related temples, with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. The temple is built on six levels, terraced up the slope. The entrance is marked by a split gate. In the temple there are a plethora of pagoda’s with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 roofs, which symbolize the different gods. This temple is undergoing an extensive $150 million upgrade to allow better parking, access, and more shop fronts. During our visit here we were blessed, and I still wear my red, black, and white bracelet that I was given after I was blessed.

Next stop was the Penglipuran Ancient Village, which was also next door the Bali’s largest Bamboo Forest, spanning over 20 hectares. Penglipuran Village is one of the few traditional Balinese villages remaining. The architecture of the buildings and land processing still follows the concept of Tri Hita Karana, the philosophy of Balinese society regarding the balance of relations between God, humans, and their environment.

The place we visited before grabbing lunch was Gunung Kawi, also known as Candi Tebing Gunung Kawi. Gunung Kawi is an 11th century temple and funeral complex in Tampaksiring, which is North East of Ubud. It is comprised of 10 rock-cut shrines (candi) that are carved into 7 metre (23 foot) high sheltered chines of the sheer cliff face. There are monuments dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty, as well as his favorite queens. On the Eastern side of the complex are five temples that are dedicated to King Udayana, his Queen Mahendradatta, and their three sons Airlangga, Anak Wunsu and Marakata. On the West side of the complex are temples dedicated to the King’s minor Queens.

After visiting the temple it was time to get some lunch. We ended up stopping at a local Warung. I had some duck, which honestly wasn’t very good, and was a rather small portion. After lunch we stopped at Oka Agriculture Bali to do some tea and coffee tasting, which included Kopi Luwak, which is a coffee that consists of partially digested coffee cherries that were eaten and defecated by an Asian Pal Civet. Honestly, which the coffee was quite smooth, I prefer regular coffee. We samples 16 different coffees and teas, and ended up purchasing some Ginger Tea and Mangosteen Tea.

After our coffee and tea tasting we drove a short distance to a local wood carving shop, and were able to see them creating their beautiful art work. It’s amazing how much effort goes into creating these carvings. We opted not to purchase anything due to limited space in our luggage.

It was then time to head back to our final night at Hideout Bali. We ordered some local Balinese dishes for dinner, and enjoyed watching some Netflix in bed, because the mosquitos were too bad to be out on our balcony.

Hideout – Bali, Indonesia

Today we took a custom tour with Bali Customized Tours to Northeast Bali. Our tour included visiting a traditional Balinese salt making village, Lempuyang Temple, and the Royal Water Palace (Tirta Gangga).

We were picked up for our tour at 8:00am. Our driver’s name was Dawa. The tour started with a 2 hour drive from Uluwatu to a traditional Balinese salt making village. Along the way I asked our driver to stop for more cash, as we were burning through it much faster than I thought we would. The cost of food and entry fee’s has increased significantly since I planned this trip pre-COVID. To make salt the traditional Balinese way, salt water is obtained from the sea in two large buckets, spread over black volcanic sand to filter out impurities, and then the water is placed in cored-out tree trunks that are split in half. This water then evaporates over several weeks, and you’re left with pure sea salt. This is tremendously hard physical labour, but I’m convinced the salt tastes better in Indonesia than it does back at home.

After visiting the salt making village we drove another 1.5 hours to Lempuyang Temple. Lempuyang Temple is a Balinese Hindu temple located on the slope of Mount Lempuyang. Mount Lempuyang is believed to predate the majority of Hindu temples on Bali. The history of the temple is somewhat vague unfortunately. The temple was fully restored in 2001. At the temple you need to park at the bottom, and take a bus up a very windy road to the top. This was supposed to cut down on the amount of traffic, and increase safety, but it was still complete chaos. At the temple I saw a guy proposing to his girlfriend at the temple gates. It was a really cute event to experience. Also, at the temple we got some cute photos taken at various Instagram spots, because why not?

Following the temple visit we stopped by a rice field to get some panoramic shots, before continuing on to lunch at Dewata Agung Tirtagangga, where I had some peanut satay chicken, and Julie had a bunch of massive shrimp. I invited our driver to have some lunch with us, although later on I found out that Balinese people typically don’t eat during the day because they are fasting due to their religion. I think he accepted just to be polite. Oops!

After lunch we drove just a few minutes away to Royal Water Palace (Tirta Gangga). Tirta Gangga is a former royal palace in Eastern Bali. It is named after the sacred river Ganges. The complex spans over 1 hectare and was built in 1946 by the late King of Karangsem, and was almost fully destroyed in 1963 when Mount Agung erupted. Mount Agung also erupted again in 2017, but didn’t cause any damage that time round.

It was now time to check-in to our accommodation for the evening. I booked an A-Frame bamboo house called Hideout Bali, located in Selat. This place isn’t cheap, at $250 USD/night, but its certainly worth it. The A-Frame is situated next to a river, which we ended up spending a few hours relaxing in. The accommodation also features an outdoor rainfall shower, but don’t worry it’s completely surrounded by a luscious forest of bamboo so you do have privacy. This was one of the most enjoyable experiences that I’ve ever had throughout all of my travels. During our stay we had access to staff who would cook us dinner. We ordered some traditional Balinese dishes for dinner, relaxed for a few hours, before calling it a night. All this adventuring certainly doesn’t allow for much downtime to relax, so we’ve been ready to go to bed before 9:00pm most evenings.

Singapore

Today we woke up at around 10am, got ready, and set out for the day. We first checked out what The Jewel looked like during the day. It’s an absolute gorgeous piece of architecture.

After admiring the waterfall for a while, we went in search of breakfast. We settled on Starbucks, as it was one of the first food places that we found. I had a breakfast sandwich, and Julie had a granola bar, as that was the only gluten-free item that she could find there.

After breakfast we took the MRT (Singapore Metro) into the city center. We ended up getting a two-day tourist pass for about $26. The journey takes about an hour, and requires you to switch about ¼ of the way into the journey. The metro line to the airport was added afterwards, so it was a bit of an afterthought, but there are plans to have a direct line later on.

When we arrived in the city center it was pouring rain. Before we dive into our adventure lets take a look at Singapore’s history.

Singapore’s History

Singapore, officially known as the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state. Singapore’s territory consists of one main island, and 63 small satellite islands and islets, and one outlying islet. Singapore’s history dates back about 1000 years, having been a maritime hub of many empires. Singapore’s contemporary era began in 1819 when Singapore was established as a trading post of the British Empire. In 1867, the colonies in SE Asia were reorganized and Singapore came under the direct control of Britain as part of the Straits Settlements. Singapore was occupied by Japan during World War 2 from 1942 to 1945, before being returned to British control as a sperate crown colony following Japan’s surrender in 1945. Singapore gained self-governance in 1959 and in 1963 became part of the new federation of Malaysia. Singapore became an independent sovereign country in 1965. After years of struggling due to lack of natural resources the national rapidly developed to become one of the world’s most recognizable countries. It is ranked as the 11th best country to live in by the Human Development Index (HDI), which is defined by the United Nations.

Exploring Singapore

First stop was Raffles Hotel. The Raffles Hotel is a colonial-style luxury hotel that was built in 1887. It was established by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, and was named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was the founder of modern Singapore. It is currently managed by the Accor group of hotels, and features 115 luxurious rooms.

After walking around the hotel in the rain we went and had a buffet lunch at Colony, which is located in the Ritz Carlton. For about $80 you have access to an immense selection of delicious foods from all over the world. While this is a fairly steep price back at home, this is somewhat normal pricing in Singapore. Singapore happens to be the most expensive place I’ve visited in SE Asia, and one of the more expensive places I’ve visited globally, only to be trumped by Switzerland, and eventually Norway when I visit there next year.

After stuffing our faces at the buffet we walked past the Singapore Flyer, which wasn’t operating, but was still neat to see. Singapore Flyer is a 165 metre (541 foot) tall Ferris wheel, and was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel until the 168 metre (550 foot) tall High Roller Ferris wheel opened in Las Vegas in 2014. The High Roller is now in second place, and the Singapore Flyer is now in third place stacked against the Ain Dubai Ferris wheel, which stands at 250 metres (820 feet) tall. The Ain Dubai Ferris wheel was constructed between 2015 and 2021, official opening in October 2021.

We then hopped on the MRT to see the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a Chinese Buddhist temple and museum complex that was completed in 2007. The beautiful temple is four-storey’s tall and contains a relic tooth of Buddha from a collapses stupa (temple). The tooth measures 7.5 cm, which far exceeds the size of a human tooth. The relic tooth is located on the fourth floor, however I was not allowed to take any photographs of it.

We were then going to see the Sri Mariamman Temple, however it was closed for renovations. We walked past it on our way back to the MRT. The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. It’s an agamic temple, built in the Dravidian style. It was completed in 1827 by Naraina Pillai. Pillai was a government clerk from Penang who arrived in Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles on his second visit to the island in May 1819. Pillai setup the island’s first construction company, and also took part in the textile trade business. He quickly became a leader of the Indian community. The original temple was a simple temple made of wood and attap (mangrove palm). The temple grounds were expanded in 1831 when private land was donated to the temple. This event is recognized on a stone tablet, which stand in the temple to this day. The temple underwent numerous modifications since then, with the majority of the current day temple being built between 1862 and 1863. While much of the original structure is no longer there, the oldest parts of the existing structure date back to 1843.

We walked through a traditional market on our way back to the MRT. It was really neat to see the local vendors selling their goods. The smell of warm durian was a bit overwhelming though.

We took the MRT to Marina Bay area. We exited the Marina Bay MRT station into the large mall adjacent to the Marina Bay Sands. There’s a small Venice style canal with gondolas inside the mall, surrounded by shops on both sides. It reminded me a bit of The Venetian in Las Vegas. We took two very long escalators up to the top floor, which connects to the Marina Bay Sands. Marina Bay Sands is a beautiful resort hotel fronting Marina Bay. The resort is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corporation and cost about $8 billion to build in 2010. The resort includes a 2561 room hotel, a 1.3 million square foot convention centre, a 800000 square foot shopping mall, a museum, a theatre, restaurants, two floating crystal pavilions, art-science exhibits, and the world’s largest casino, which includes 500 tables and 1600 slot machines. The hotel is comprised of three towers topped by a 340 metre long Sky Park and infinity swimming pool. A fourth tower is expected to be constructed by 2026.

After walking through the hotel we walked towards Gardens By The Bay. Inside Gardens By The Bay is Floral Fantasy, Supertree Grove, and two conservatories; the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. First stop was Floral Fantasy, which has four beautiful garden landscapes of floral artistry. It also has a 4D ride, however that was closed due to COVID.

Next door is Supertree Grove, which has 18 tree-like structures that tower over the Garden’s landscape with heights ranging from 25 to 50 metres (82-160 feet). The Supertree’s are vertical gardens that perform many functions including planting, shading, and mechanical functions for the gardens. They are covered in exotics ferns, vines, orchids, bromeliads, etc. They are even fitted with solar panels to harness solar energy to be used for lighting, collect rainwater, and serve as air intake and exhaust functions for the conservatories cooling systems. There is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway, which links the two largest Supertree’s so that you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Gardens. Every evening at 745pm and 845pm the Supertree Grove comes alive with a coordinated light and music show, which is known as the Garden Rhapsody.

The Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse is the world at 3.0 acres, and replicates a cool-day Mediterranean climate. It features a changing display, flower field, and eight other gardens; including the Baobabs, Succulent Garden, Australian Garden, South African Garden, South American Garden, Olive Grove, California Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden. While we were they there was a special Hydrangeas display, with cute scenes with bunnies, sheep, a Dutch windmill, etc. The conservatory is designed by WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates.

The Cloud Forest is slight smaller at 2.0 acres, although slightly higher, and replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions in SE Asia, Central America, and South America found between 1000-3000 metres (3300-9800 feet) above sea level. The Cloud Forest features a structure called the “Cloud Mountain”, which is completely clad in orchids, ferns, spike and clubmosses, bromeliads, and anthuriums. The conservatory is also designed by WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates.

The sun was starting to set, and we were getting hungry, so we had some burgers at Shake Shack, which was located inside Gardens By The Bay. On our way out, we walked past the Garden Rhapsody at Supertree Grove to see the tree’s all lit up. It was pretty neat!

We then walked along Fullterton Road, which is located on the other side of Marina Bay. We saw the Fullerton Waterboat House, and Merlion.

The Fullerton Waterboat House is a historic water supply house that was formerly used to supply fresh water to incoming ships in Singapore. This beautiful three-storey Art Deco style building was built in 1919, and was used to supply fresh water to incoming vessels until 1990. In 2002 it was announced by the government that the building would be protected. In 2003 the building was renovated and opened up as a restaurant. While numerous restaurants have called the Fullerton Waterboat House home over the last 20 years, it still is used as a restaurant today. Basque Kitchen by Aitor, and European restaurant chain Picotin now call the building home as of 2021.

Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. It is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. It was first used in Singapore as a the logo for the tourism board as early as 1964, and is now widely used to represent both the city state and its people in sports teams, advertising, branding, tourism, and as national personification. The official Merlion Park was designated by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1964, and in 1972 officially opened the 8.6 metre tall Merlion Statue.

It was around 9pm, and we were fairly exhausted from only sleeping a few hours, so it was time to catch the MRT back to the hotel. It was about 1030pm by the time we settled in for bed.

Eastern Europe Trip – Day 7 – Last Day in Belgrade, Serbia

Today was my final day in Belgrade, Serbia. I slept in until 7:30 am, went downstairs, purchased a sandwich from a shop below, and was eating it when I ran into the receptionist arriving for work. We chatted for a bit before I went out on my adventures for the day, and I owed her money for the airport transfer because she forgot to charge me when I checked in.

It was raining cats and dogs today, and my shoes were starting to get some fairly large holes in them. I felt like a wet dog the majority of the day. The first stop was the Old Belgrade Railway Station. The railway station was opened in 1884 and remained open until just a few years ago in 2018. It was designed by architect Dragutin Milutinovic in academism style. Trains were relocated to a new railway station, and the current one was repurposed into a museum.

A very short walk away are two unique buildings; The Railway Museum, and the Ministry of Defence. The Railway Museum was founded in 1950. The first exhibition was held in 1953 and feature the History of Yugoslav Railways. The museum features over 40,000 objects, however, I didn’t go inside as it was closed today.

The Ministry of Defence building was constructed between 1957 and 1965 and was designed by Nikola Dobrović. The building was built in two parts; building A and building B. Each building was on either side of Nemanjina Steet. The building was destroyed fairly extensively during the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia. It was actually bombed twice, nine days apart. The building was not repaired for over a decade, however, since building B was much less damaged parts of it are still used by the Ministry of Defence of Serbia. In 2005 it was added to the list of protected buildings. In 2015 the first phase of reconstruction of Building A was started, for the purpose of structure collapse prevention. In 2017 the government decided to demolish most of building A, with the obligation to rebuild it to its original appearance once the country has funds. The reason for this decision was that the reconstruction costs were about 7.7 million Euros, whereas the demolition cost was only 1.5 million euros. Over the years there were talks about converting building A into a luxury hotel, building a monument, or building a museum.

It was starting to rain even harder, so I took the bus instead of walking to the Temple of Saint Sava. The Temple of Saint Sava, also known as the Church of Sant Sava is a Serbian Orthodox Church that was designed by architects Bogdan Nestorović, Aleksandar Deroko, and Branko Pešić. The building is built in a Serbo-Byzantine and Neo-Byzantine architecture style. The church took an extremely long time to be built due to a variety of factors. Construction started in 1935 and the building is still under construction, with work scheduled for completion sometime this year. When Yugoslavia was under occupation by the Germans in 1941 the church was only 10 metres (33 feet) high. The incomplete building was used as a depot by the German army. After the war, the church was unable to receive permission to complete the building until 1984. The church has a symmetrical layout and a 12,000 square metre (130,000 square foot) gold mosaic that should be complete sometime this year.

After visiting the temple I took a bus to see a quirky building called the Toblerone Building, which gets its name from it resembling that of a bunch of pieces of Toblerone chocolate pieces stacked on one another. The Toblerone Building is a Brutalism style building designed by architect Rista Šekerinski and was completed in 1963.

I took the bus back to my hotel, where I purchased a salad from the shop below. I chatted with the receptionist for a bit, ate my salad, and relaxed, before heading out to see the Nikola Tesla Museum. The Nikola Tesla Museum is dedicated to the life and work of Nikola Tesla. It has over 160,000 documents, 2000 books and journals, 1500 photographs, various objects and instruments, and over 1000 plans and drawings. The Nikola Tesla Archive is a UNESCO Memory of the World Programme register since 2003. The museum is housed in a residential villa that was built in 1927. It was used for various purposes until the museum open on December 5th, 1952.

The final stop for today was an automotive museum that I found close to my hotel. There were a few dozen fairly well-preserved cars in there, which were fun to look at. Sadly, the roof of the building is leaking, and some of the cars are getting water damage.

For dinner, I had a comically large slice of pizza from a pizza place around the corner, and it was only $2.45. It was basically 1/3 of a 14″ pizza!

Tomorrow I fly to Budapest, so be sure to stay tuned for the next part of my series.

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