Thursday, December 16, 2010

4-0 in Paradise

Crossing a line is always exhilarating and it is usually the result of hard work, detail planning and skilful execution. When I cross the 40 years old cross line I experience nothing of this. I was more filled with happiness or contentment than complacence or comfort. I realized that I made a mark on a calendar for other people to look at rather than a mark in life to look after. In fact I consider that my real life was finally beginning, and my training life was lastly ending.

Maya Bay at Phi Phi Leh

With my wife and my family at my side, my 40 year old birthday took place in paradisiac Thailand. Never in my life I would have imagined that [a] one day I would be in Thailand [b] all the persons I love would be around me for a birthday, and [c] cross the 40 years mark. It runs in my family that men have a tendency to rush to the finish line earlier than most of the rest of the population, and therefore I would also be part of the family ritual. Nothing was certain, but it always lay low in my mind that this is something that could happen not expected though.

Chaise Longue on Khai Nai Island

My early years of my life were therefore dedicated to collect as much as possible for the maybe later stage … if it ever happen. And then the time made its mark, I realized that I could go on longer and maybe faster than most family habits. After careful investigations, deep explorations, and evitable detours I encounter what I consider to be my solid foundation in my new next stage in my life: my wife.

Khai Nai Island

In picture perfect Thailand, next to the beach chaise longue and under the equatorial sun, my decision was made clear then. In my next 40 years I will build on what I was doing so far, enjoying traveling around the world, and build on a new family of my own so that one day someone could also take the person he or she loves in a unique place to celebrate a 40 years birthday.

Elephant at a Farm

In reality 40 is not a big number, not even scary when it passes next to you. It doesn’t have a weird face, large shoulder and strange accent. 40 is in fact a plain normal number. It is what you have decided to do with it that could be big.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Phukhet Addresses

  • Boomerang Village
    9/11-13 Patak Rd | soi 10, Kata, Phuket 83100, Thailand [TripAdvisor] [Link]
    On top of the hill of Kata, 15 minutes away from the beach, resides a hidden place full of bugallows and large smiles. Rooms are simple yet clean and spacious. Views are certainly the best of the place and should be given to anyone in town. A safe place in paradise.

  • Kampong Kata Hill
    4 Karon Road, Kata, Phuket, Thailand [TripAdvisor] [Link]
    service is as good as the place and the food combine together. This must try place in Kata is a sea food place where the best meet the greatest. Among all the best things on the menu, curies and fish are the most rewarding entertainment plate out.

Monday, October 04, 2010

KL Per Hour

There is nothing worse than coming back from a weekend trip with food poisoning … except maybe starting a weekend trip with food poisoning already. This is what happened to J. unfortunately, on our weekend escape to Kuala Lumpur (KL).


On a Thursday night, out of a sparkling moment of joy we decided to change our busy weekend routine to take a flight out of Singapore on a run to the nearest destination. After few clicks and quick investigation, the capital of Malaysia seemed to be a fair deal for the buck: major food capital of Asia, with large and new shopping centers and the famous Petronas Twin Towers.

Twin View from Aside

Hotel was booked, flights were locked, camera was charged, and bag was for once almost packed the day before and all of that within a couple of hours. Nothing could spoil our weekend well deserved after all the work we have been putting in lately. But it all started early in the morning and the breakfast did not stay long enough in the stomach to make a lasting impression on J. With some careful planning and smart logistics we both managed to reach the hotel lobby with less than more damage. Legs were weak and stomach light, but nothing that a long and comfortable night could fix, right?

Smile at the Twins

With no strength to move around the bedroom of the hotel, it was certainly not possible to explore one of the most humid and hottest cities in the world. The goal was then to trick the beast, and to charcoal the bug while refueling fluids to keep a minimum of energy level. The scam seemed to work out perfectly. We squeezed just enough time for the two of us to explore the shopping center district and its AC-ed promise land, and to visit the Petronas tower from afar.

Twin Towers at Night

With so much rebound joy and with the largest Malay food menu in front of you, no one could resist the temptation, and the cooling night at Bijan was a parenthesis in the life of the traveler with a bug. The immediate refueled energy out of the marvelous dinner at Bijan lasted just enough for us to take few pictures of the fantastic tower at night from underneath and from afar at the SkyBar. The night of dancing that we planned before at the nearby Zouk was replaced instead by a mocktail at the hotel Sky Lounge watching the outside line-up growing longer by the night club under a light rain.

Twins under the Spotlights

J. spent instead the long night dancing in the bathroom while I was inconsiderately sleeping my food off in the bedroom. The next day, after a long flight back of 45 minutes fighting against crowd, delays, traffic, low budget airline and bureaucracy we both made it on time back in Singapore for a scheduled recovery in bed and hot congee.

Clouds Stuck in Towers

No traveler with a bug can recover in 24 hours and food poisoning should not be taken lightly at all.

As for KL, the city seems to be as good as it looks. Food seems great, shopping interesting and the city has even some surprising places to entertain the pleasing crowd at night. KL looks like what Singapore was maybe 20 years ago with some pockets of modernity here and there, but in of serious urban planning. We have to go back there to make sure we have the right impression and this time with no bug inside!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Kuala Lumpur addresses

Even though downtown Kuala Lumpur (KL) is small in size, it is quite difficult to move from one district to another. Highways and construction sites prevents tourists from jumping from one spot to the next unfortunately. The best way to discover the city would be to use taxis or the over pass monorail that cross the city from North to South.

  • Hotel Maya
    Off the main road, in front of the tower, Maya Hotel is a brand new modern 20+ levels where you can find design room for your taste. The glass bathroom is as big as the bedroom overlooking the space. Make sure to bring your earplug since you are squeeze between the highway, the Muslim cemetery, Zouk and the main road to the towers.

    Sky Lounge @ Maya Hotel

  • Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur
    Opposite the Towers, across the KLCC park, the Traders host not only the famous SkyBar but also nice restaurants and large room for your stay. Not easy to find but quiet and reclusive. If price is not an issue then Traders will suit you.

  • Nikko Hotel KL
    From outside, the giant chandelier overlooking the entrance is a mark of what bing-bing China could have exported around the world. But for business or leisure Nikko is at an ideal location for any stay in KL.

  • Bijan Restaurant
    If I had to choose one, that would be the one. Not that I try any other restaurant in KL, but this one was nicely placed, decorated and delivered. Malay cuisine at its best with fantastic taste and great presentation. Bill was on the high side but was fine to swallow.

    Bijan Restaurant

  • Jalan Alor (Street Food)
    Less and less food stolls survive the KL's Mall Frenzie nowadays, but the best of the rest are only in on place: Jln Alor. Ask any taxi driver to drop you off at Alor Jln, at night and you will enjoy a great time of pick and choose before you move.

  • Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
    Once enter in the mall, you forget that you are in KL, but wonder if you haven't landed in Dubai or USA. Large space with great inventory shops with plenty of light and seats along the way to make you stay as long as possible to spend your few $. The food court (Food Republic + others restaurants) is a true alternative to street food.

  • KLCC Suria Mall
    Under the Petronas Tower reside a large shopping mall where all brands compete to display their latest inventory. Nice stay over after the visit of the Towers

  • Bukit Bintang Street
    Along the shopping commercial street you will fins all the new and modern mall that you could imagine. Since KL is in constant make-over, don't be surprise to see a 30 yrs old shopping mall next to the latest one.

[[Bar & Dancing]]
  • Sky Bar
    At the Level 33 of the Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur’s international hotel seat a Bar overlooking the KLCC and the Twins Tower. Be sure to come between 8PM and Midnight to enjoy the lights on the Towers and the techno lounge music at the same time. Too bad that the swimming pool could not be converted into a dance floor at night, because it is taking too much of the nice Sky Bar space.

    Sky Bar @ Traders Hotel

  • Zouk
    The sister (or mother I should say) ship in Singapore has an international reputation crossing the ocean. The on in KL has also a fantastic line-up and a splendid location. Saturday night is a fight to get in and a move your body on the dance floor. When on the road to KL do not forget your dancing shoes, that would be a mistake to skip this place.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ski, Sauna & Sushi

The first picture that came to my mind when my friend Y. proposed a few weeks ago to do some skiing in Japan was the now defunct indoor ski slopes at Japan SSAWS dome that you can see when you are taking the bus from Narita airport on your way to downtown Tokyo. Not very exciting, yet interesting to try for a day or so; but I was willing to get myself into trouble for the sake of swallowing some snowflakes.

[Niseko Ski Resort]

The problem was that the last time I spent more than two days skiing in a row, George W. Bush Senior was president of the US, and my skis were bigger than me by a large 20cm. I was a bit anxious to find if the latest technical advancement, the ones called the “curved ski” could fit my feet the same way I remember the large and heavy flat pieces of wood did. Nonetheless I was extremely pleased to picture myself falling in the snow powder, and finally put my four months' of new routine daily running to a more useful goal than the one I found so far: impress the two dog walkers I have met so far in the park.

[Bus Ride to Niseko Ski Resort]

My Japanese friend Y. convinced us that the best place to ski in Japan was to go as far away from civilization as possible. Niseko in the northern Hokkaido Island would be the place to spend five consecutive days for the winter ski vacation. A red-eye flight plus a local connection flight and a bus trip later helped all of us reach safely the lost hotel, which was covered by snow, ready to be spoiled by human giant feet named ski.

[Old Hokkaido Government Building
(Akarengo), Sapporo]

Although Singapore is not the reference on the planet to do winter gear shopping, we managed just before the plane take-off to do a weekend shopping for the minimum equipment needed for enduring the cold days of Hokkaido. To my surprise all of our winter equipment was almost adequate for the trip, but was definitely lacking the sex appeal that now winter sport-men and sport-women inflict upon each other. We neither had flashy pants nor flamboyant jackets; just few supposedly water repellent outfits that might protect us from the lubricious snow which always finds its way down to your underwear no matter how many layers you put on.

[Sapporo Beer Museum]

On my first day on the slopes I was shocked by what I saw around me. Looking at the crowd confirmed that I was now part of the second last generation, and the only way to confirm my age would be now to use the carbon dating technique. I was barely the only skier around with this awkward instrument named skis, everyone around me had snowboards. The over supply in skis at the rental place should have alarmed me, but I was blinded by my over-excitement of going down the slopes again. Details exist to be paid attention to and I should have been more careful. But I didn’t care and confronted the entire planet; and like a pine tree in a snow storm I was ready to bend but not give up. Ski was my decision; ski will be my tools of enjoyment.

[Sapporo Beer]

My first runs were a delight in one of the best powder I had ever had the pleasure to scar. Long curves in a light and dry snow powder were my winter happiness under the sun of Hokkaido. It took me a few slopes to adjust myself to the new style and put back in mind the memory muscle I had built over my young age of downhill race competition across the French mountains. Like a Grandpa would say, “the new skis are easier to turn with and less difficult to manage. In my days…” The first three days were a compilation of hot chocolate drinking, slope runs swallowing, picture and video taking under the glorious sun of Niseko in Japan. With a small caveat though, my fellow winter snowboard companions were complaining more often than usual about sore muscles and weak leg ligaments. And the double intake of Onsen (Hot Spring and Sauna) at the hotel was becoming insufficient to heal the daily effort and contusions. My revenge was touting around the forest of pine trees.

[JR Tower West View, Sapporo]

With an angelic smile and honest suggestion, I proposed to my snowboard friends (yes I have snowboarder friends) to teach them a more easy way to endure the runs, but that would require them to sacrifice their cool factor and switch to the ancient practice of skiing. I think that the curiosity of using a depleted technique as well as the extreme state of pain they put themselves into, pushed them to accept my proposition for the last two days of our winter vacation. I have to say that I was quite impressed by the progress they made over such a short period of time, but it took them only few runs to handle the antique practice of ski and enjoy themselves in a far easier way that the one they were doing prior.

[JR Tower South View, Sapporo]

I was not alone anymore. We were now three skiers on the slopes of Niseko. It took me a few days to convince two snowboarders to switch to ski, and now, only few million left to go.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sapporo Addresses

Sapporo is the fifth-largest city in Japan by population and the capital of Hokkaidō Prefecture. Sapporo is best known outside Japan for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics, the first ever held in Asia, and for the annual Yuki Matsuri in the city, internationally referred to as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws more than 2 million tourists from around the world.

English maps are usually accessible at every tourist office and is a must have to wander around this small city of northern Japan.


Among the central hotels under 5,000 yen a night, some reference-able ones are:
  • Hotel Gracery Sapporo
    [Rakuten] [TripAdvisor]
    Centrally located in front of the JR Train Station, the hotel is known locally by the elderly taxi drivers as the Sapporo Washington Hotel (its previous name). Rooms are small yet modern and clean. Nothing can beat the location and the hotel will give you everything you need for a short stay. The electronic check-out kiosk is a must try if you never did it before.

  • Aspen Sapporo Hotel
    [Rakuten] [TripAdvisor]
    Another under the 5,000 yen a night per person hotel, centrally located but less modern than the Gracery. In case the previous hotel is full.

  • Richmond Sapporo Ekimae
    [Rakuten] [TripAdvisor]
    Back-up plan if you cannot find a rooms in previous spots.

Sapporo is well known in Japan for its fresh Seafood (Hairy Crab, White Crab, Sushi, etc...), locally produced Beer and Ramen culinary expertise.

  • Ebikanigassen (Ph: 011-210-0411)
    F45 Bldg.12F,S4,W5,Chuo-ku,Sapporo

    In this well established place which does more than 70 types of prawn and crab dishes, the view is nice overlooking the Susukino. “All-you-can-eat plan,” which is offered at reasonable prices is very popular among locals and tourists. “Ebikanigassen party course,” which is also substantial and reasonably priced is winning great popularity, even among local people.

  • Kikuzushi (Ph: 011 511 9357)
    Minami 5 Nishi 3, Grand Taiyo Building, Sapporo, 064-0804 [TripAdvisor]

    This sushi restaurant has been in continuous operation since the Taisho period (1912-26), and it is considered to serve the some of freshest fish and seafood in the whole of Japan. The extremely reasonable priced Omakase (which will let the chef choose your meal) includes both miso soup and as much green tea as you can drink. Also renowned for its huge selection of Japanese sake, the restaurant always delivers on what is consider the best place to eat sushi in Japan.

  • Sapporo Noodle Zero (Ph: 011-219-5200)
    Chuo-ku Minami 2, Nishi 1-chome, Sapporo (Tanuki Koji, 1-chome)
    5-min walking distance from South Station subway line 5

    Sapporo Noodle Zero Ramen Restaurant

    Sapporo has two main Ramen streets, the Ramen Alley and the New Ramen Alley to choose from. But a nice Ramen place called Noodle Zero lived up to its local recommendation. Before you sit, pay at the machine by push-button selecting the item you want, give the ticket to the waitress and wait a few minutes to have the bowl of hot noodle in front of you.

Usually located around the Susukino district (Sapporo's version of Tokyo Ginza), bars are everywhere if you look for them. Sunday sees bars closing at midnight and only few places offer some late drinks.
  • eight Ricefield cafe (Ph 011-531-4681)
    The place was one of the few that was open late at night serving food and drinks. An interesting concept at the time was the all-you-can-eat or all-you-can-drink for a limited amount of time (90 minutes usually). A great idea to load up on carbs or alcohol before going to the next step.

[[To Do]]
Sapporo is a walking city. Make sure you are located next to the train station for your shopping experience or at Susukino for your night life experience. If you are in one of these two spots the cab transfer between places will never go over 1,000 yen.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Niseko Addresses

Niseko is the one of the most popular winter resorts in the Hokkaido island in Japan. The area is known for some of the lightest and driest off-piste powder snow in the world. Among the over 500 ski resorts in Japan, Niseko is a unique place that will make every skier or snowboarder happy no matter what the weather or snow conditions.

Although it is divided up into four linked areas, Annupuri, Higashiyama (also known as Niseko Village but not the main base area), Hanazono and Grand Hirafu, making it the biggest ski resort in Hokkaido, Niseko is essentially one large mountain. The all-mountain-pass provides access to all the areas with the exception of Moiwa, a smaller resort on the western side of Annupuri. A free shuttle bus service for all-mountain-pass holders runs every 30 minutes linking all the main resorts.

Skiers are able to use the 38 lifts and gondolas, over 47km of slopes, several terrain parks and many half-pipes. Hirafu's night skiing is accessible with the all-day passes at no additional cost, and is considered to be one of the best and largest night skiing in the world.

The bottom lift starts at 280 meters and the top lift goes to 1200 meters. The summit at 1308 meters is accessible after a 15-minutes hike from the top lift, and offer an amazing panoramic view of the Japan Sea and the Niseko area, including the ever-present volcanic cone of Mt. Yotei considered as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji.

The best option is to get your hands on the Niseko Area Guide from the Niseko Promotion Board. The guide will give you all the latest options for food, bar, shopping, hot springs, and activities.


Kanronomori Hotel

  • Hotel Kanronomori is a boutique Ryokan style hotel located 10 minutes away by bus from the bottom of the Annupuri ski slopes. The hotel provides free bus transportation from and to Annupuri (every hour) and to and from Grand Hirafu (twice a day) for ski activities. The hotel also provides ski/board rental at a moderate price.

    The best part about the hotel is neither the modest yet convenient and quiet rooms, nor the giant Western and Japanese breakfast buffets, but the natural Onsen (hot spring public baths) that will help you to manage the very long days on the slopes. I cannot imagine what would have been my trip without my morning AND evening hot spring bath to wake or relax my muscles. A must-do if you want to enjoy a long stay in Niseko. [TripAdvisor]

  • Higashiyama (also known as Niseko Village) is hosting the famous Hilton Hotel, and is certainly a very convenient but slightly remote place to stay. If you want to sleep in style and have your ski lifts literally at the bottom of your hotel stairs, Hilton will be the place to go. Please notice that commuting time (20 minutes - 3,000 yen by taxi) to Grand Hirafu could be a problem if you wish to enjoy night life.
  • For more action-based and less commuting time (30 minutes - 4,000 yen by taxi), a a better bet would be the Grand Hirafu ski resort area. You will find many restaurants, bars and many more accommodations to make your stay more enjoyable. An interesting combination would be a place with an Onsen at Grand Hirafu.


The food in Niseko is usually fresh and amazing. It's quite difficult to find a bad place to eat but you can always try. Some of the places I tried during my stay in the area:
  • Steak Rosso Rosso (Ph: 0136 21 7100)
    Hidden in a side road of the lower Grand Hirafu village, this classy steak restaurant offers a great option for a carnivore on the roll. Salads are huge and make a great side dish for your choice cut of meat. Plates come with a round heated stone disk for you to adjust your meat's level of 'done' taste in case of need.

  • Sekka Dining Bar (Ph: 0136-21-5022; Email: )
    Sekka is a restaurant within J-Sekka. Located in one of the four corners of the main crossroads of the Grand Hirafu village, J-Sekka is a concept building where you can find a bar as well as a bakery on the first floor, large luxurious apartments and two restaurants in the basement. Mixing Hokkaido products with Western presentation, world-class chef deliver one of the most high service restaurant option in the region. For those who wants to splurge themselves with a credit card around their neck.

  • Senchou 2 (Ph: 0136 22 5454)
    Situated in the upper part of the Grand Hirafu village, the sister restaurant of Senchou 1 is one of best and freshest seafood restaurant in the area. For those who wants to eat sushi and sashimi, shellfish, fish, crabs, anything from the sea without bargaining on the quality. Fairly cheap, great and well-located, what else can you ask for?

Niseko is not the most alive place in Japan when it comes to night life, but after a full day (and sometime evening) of ski, one might just want to sleep to recoup for the next day. If you feel that you wish to swallow a couple of drinks to help you fall in the arms of Morpheus, here are some places you should check out.
  • Paddy McGintys' Irish Pub (Ph: 0136 55 8020)
    Located on the main road of the Upper Part of the Grand Hirafu village, the pub has some Guinness over the counter and some extreme ski movies projected on the wall to help you eat the crackers served at your table. Only if you need an Irish drink.

  • Mina Mina (Ph: 0136 23 4771)
    In a back alley close to the center of the Upper Part of the Grand Hirafu, the 5-table restaurant turns at night into a convivial bar where locals and foreigners mix for few shots. A great place to hang out before going to the next place.

[[To Go]]

  • The best way to go to Niseko is to land in Sapporo's New Chitose Airport, and from there take a bus or a local train to Niseko. Most of the hotels, pensions or accommodations will organize a transfer from Chitose, or if not, will point you to the best way to knock on their door.

  • Skybus for a private transportation (Ph: 011 788 4994) or privates buses (Chuo and Donan lines, see option 2, or this map, and some more explanation here) are common use to go back and forth between Chitose and Niseko. You can buy the bus ticket at the airport counters on the last minute.

  • Train Hypermedia website ( gives a full explanation for every train trip in Japan. Don't forget to look at the JR Train Pass if you wish to go further away in Japan by train in the peninsula.

  • Niseko itself is quite spread away between the villages in terms of distance and if you do not rent a car, the best way to move around would be by taxi. Most of them hang around at Seico Mart the main and only supermarket of the Grand Hirafu village.

  • The most convenient Tour Operators to book for Japan are your local JTB (Japan Tourism Board) [Singapore] or local JNTO [Singapore]. They usually offer great promotions and will help you book and translate for you at the next destination you plan to visit.

  • New Chitose Airport is a great last (or even first) minute shopping. Everything you need to by is at a finger tip for your friends to enjoy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Balinese Delicacies

Bali is said to be "the island of the Gods", I would agree with this statement as it makes all its visitors less divine persons than heavenly happy people.

Tana Lot Temple

In an island more spiritual than religious, temples are everywhere, under different forms and for different reasons. Family temple in the back yard or in the front of the shops, community temple in the center of the villages or historical temple (like Tana Lot Temple for example) in amazing and astonishing place in the island, all have a purpose and a place in the Balinese society.

Temple after Ceremony

They could be use as one of the nine directional strikes, for life ceremonies (wedding, burial) or just to appease the devils and gods of the island for a prosperous day, all temples have a reason and the daily offers in the small banana leaves square boxes, filled with colorful flower, holy waters and perfumed incense stick are there to reminds each and every visitors that the island had been bless by the gods at every step of the way.

Food at Hotel Tugu

Bali has also been touched by the cooking Gods. Most street corners have a local eatering (Warung) where more often locals than tourists mix for a quick snack on a wooden bench. Sharing a meal or sometime even the physical plate is the important time to share stories and relax before re-exploring the island.

Dreamland Beach

Bali is an Indonesian island surrounded by coral reefs. Beaches in the south tend to have white sand while those in the north and west have black sand due to volcanic activities. What is surprising in Bali is that depending on what you like doing (snorkeling, sunbathing, surfing) you can always find the right spot for your activity, you just have to go where the elements are setting the stage for your convenience today. Too windy in the West for scuba diving, move to the North; too flat for surfing in the East move to the South.

Girls Smiling

Paradise would not be without smiling faces, and Balinese have been blessed by the smiling Gods. Each and every inhabitants of the island has been graduated from smile school, and the large smiling banana is given for anything and everything: a picture, a hello, a joke. Nothing is good enough for not smiling.

Rice Paddy

The island is also land of multiple seasons all at once: from the cold night at the Mount Agung peaking at 3,142 m, to the 75km of the Ayung River sleeping over the Sea of Bali, the island is giving more opportunities to enjoy life than any long or short vacation could sustain.

Monkey Alley

When all is put together into one divine place like Bali, visitor could only enjoy their paradisiacal vacation. Just wondering how would that be to be less of a tourist and more of a local.

Sunset at Uluwatu Temple

Bali is truthly the island of all the Gods.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bali Addresses

  • Teka-Teki House
    Jl Drupadi 1, Gg Puri Kubu #23, Seminyak
    Phone +62 81353 204 204 , +62 3619 285 828 |

    From their website to their warm Goodby farewell, everything is great and unique at Teka-Teki House. The B&B experience is much closer to going to a friend's house than going to any accommodation complex that flourish along the coast. Everything is there to make you feel at ease. Ideally placed in Seminyak, the house is quiet, clean, friendly, spacious and comfortable. It's one of these secret places to give only to your best friends and tell them to not tell anyone (which of course they immediately spray around). No wonder why Teka-Teki House is rated #1 B&B on TA. The place to sleep at Seminyak for a quiet and friendly vacation, especially if you like banana pancake.

  • Desamuda Village
    Jl. Raya Basangkasa No 30A
    Seminyak Kuta , Bali- Indonesia
    Ph +62 361 733 088 |
    US$ rates, US$ service for US$ rooms. Could be an alternative stay in Seminyak if you have of course ......... US$.

  • Hotel Tugu
    Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu Beach, Bali-Indonesia
    Tel. +62 361 731 701, or +62 8786 1838 680 |
    No need to present it anymore. The missing link between serenity and earth. A detached and distant place from the rest of the island. Must stay ... if you can.

  • Made's Warung
    Jalan Raya Seminyak - Bali - 80361
    phone +62 361 753039 |

    Times is long gone when Made's Warung was a road side eatering. The dirt road has grown to become the shopping highway, so be the place. Established in 1969, it is now a social eating and meeting venue for locals, expats and tourist alike. The food is clean, copious and safely prepare for an introductory course to the rich and complex Indonesian food. The few stores around the court yard propose expensive but sophisticated and high quality items for the visitors. Tango demonstrations at night for those who like watching while eating.

  • Cafe Moka
    Jalan Seminyak
    Seminyak, Indonesia
    phone +62 (0)36 173 1424 |
    The now everywhere Cafe Moka is an official institution in the touristy spot of the island, but will still offer the western breakfast and pastries you want to have for a quick start surfing day.

  • Aroma
    Kedonganan Beach, Jimbaran Bay Kuta - Bali
    Phone : (0361)708481 |
    It's quite difficult to choose from the Jimbaran restaurant strip the one to sit from and watch the sunset while having seafood, but Aroma is right at the entrance of the main road and as a formula that works well. Choose the sea food by kilos and the way you want to be it cooked. Few minutes later it will come with some seafood spinach and rice to your table. The local Mariachi, beers, and grilled corn will entertain you if ever been bored. Expensive but safe and efficient.

  • Ku-De-Ta
    Jalan Hotel The Oberoi
    Kuta, Indonesia
    Phone (0)36 173 6969 |
    Beautiful people watching other beautiful people. This Easton Ellision place is the epicenter of the watching been watched game, where the white dressed expats and party goers meet the local tribes. Service is as great as the view, but food less important. Bring your sunglasses if you want to be seen.

  • Mozaic
    Jl. Raya Sanggingan, Ubud, Gianyar - Bali 80571, Indonesia .
    Phone & Fax. (+62 361) 975 768 |
    You only have 4 menu choices: the classic, the vegetarian, the chef's recommendation, and the chef's surprise. No matter which one you choose from the 8 menu course will be a delicacies adventure for your taste bud, mixing common ground yet subtil flavors with intricate local ingredients. You should bring an empty stomach along with your check-book (and credit-card ... and you extra cash) when you stop at Mozaic for a great food experience. One advice thus, book in advance!

There is countless shops in Bali to satisfied any professional shoppers, even the more advance one. You can shop until you drop on your knees if you want, and the truth of today will not be the one of tomorrow. Now if you engage in a shopping expedition be prepare for a rough battle with blood, sweet and tears (of joy).

Among some of the interesting shops seen in Seminyak
  • Lucy's Batik
    Jl. Raya Basangkasa No.88, Seminyak - Kuta - Bali
    Tel. +62(361) 7951275 or 736098 |
    Vast variety of batik choice with interesting design and pattern.
  • Just Jen's @ Made's Warung
    Jalan Raya Seminyak - Bali - 80361
    phone +62 361 753039 |
    The Jewelry collection is one of the best designed seen in the island.
  • The Bali Antique Shop
    Address |
    With a couple of spot in the shopping distict, The Bali Antique Shop proposes fine and interesting items at no so interesting price anymore. For rich wallet or enriching experience.
You can skip the 3 villages (Wood Carving, Painting, Gold & Silver) where prices are inflated and design locally touristic. Bargaining as well as smiles are mandatory (should be able to divide the price by 3).

If you have one gallery to go to in Bali, you should stop at
  • Neka Gallery in Ubud (Jalan Raya Campuhan , from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. Phone +62 361 975034 | The gallery was built in 1966 by Mr. Suteja Neka, an art connoisseur and his wife, Mrs. Srimin Suteja in the then small village called Ubud. Still at the same place, the gallery has outgrown the original rooms, but still proposes fantastic paintings from all art works by Balinese artists, Indonesian artists, Asian artists as well as European born artists such as Arie Smit. Their paintings was inspired by natural beauty, people and culture of Bali.

A good driver make all the difference between seeing Bali and driving through Bali.
  • Arya was able to provide not only a safe driving experience, but also was knowledgeable on where, what, when and how to do thing around the island. His patience was as good as his driving experience: impeccable. Made Arya, HP 081 338 537 036 | +62 81 338 537 036

In whichever order you like: Sunset watching, Temples visiting, (Uluwatu & Tanah Lot), Eating, Shopping, Smiling, Sunbathing, Walking, Drinking, Dancing, Sleeping, Resting ... no wonder why Bali is called the island of gods.

If you want more Bali addresses from previous' Mintalo trip, follow the [[click]]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Encore Wat

Three years ago, my previous and first visit to Angkor temples left me … speechless. But I was certain of one thing that I would be back and visit this unique place on the planet again. This time, with only one full day in my hands, the visit was organized in a very different way.

Sunrise @ Angkor Wat

It all started very early in the morning at around 5AM to see the sun rising above the Angkor Wat temple. I bought the entrance ticket the day before to avoid having to line up at the main gate entrance. I was onsite at around 6AM with 1,000 others people ready to photo shoot the main event. Unfortunately the sun rose faster than I expected and the sky did not that sparkling colors that one might have seen in picture poster around the tour operator offices.

Young Girl Smiling

Nevertheless the spectacle (in the crowd and in the sky) was surprising enough to kick start the day of adventure. Around 7AM when the sun was high enough, I started to linger in the Wat temple, walking up and down the stairs, visiting places quiet and empty with particular lighting above the horizon line.

Stone Carving @ Angkor Wat

Sometime in the cool shade of the ending night, sometime in the uplifting heat of the early morning, most of the stone carvings started to propose new 3D pictorial effect in which suddenly forms in the long epic painting started to dance, move and change along the sun lights. Angkor Wat is the most imposing temple of all by its nature, in the middle of the water with large symmetrical and concentric organization. When I arrived at night the overwhelming feeling that one has when seeing and walking toward the site could not occur (similar effect happen at Taj Mahal as well).

Angkor Wat

Instead after discovering slowly the site in-situ, the eyes are used to the almost human size and undercut the woah effect. But what happened was a different experience, more settle this time where everything was reachable by sight and therefore more details like were revealed. Wat became more familiar to me, although more unpredictable because of the early morning lighting.

Monk @ Angkor Wat

At its peak around 1,000 AD, Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate system of infrastructure connecting an urban population of over 1 million people, sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometers, equivalent to modern Los Angeles (closest rival is the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala with between 100 to 150 square kilometers). It only last so long before the first tourist buses arrived in the most popular temple of all in Khmer kingdom. Perfect time to move to the next visit.

Banteay Srei

On the other spectrum of the temple experience is the less preserved yet easy access temple of Banteay Kdei. The 12th century Buddhist temple is less complex and smaller in size than sister Ta Prohm, but give a unique sense of what early discovers were facing when encounter a new temple eaten alive by the jungle. Roof on the floor, stone carving destroyed by the centuries of collectors and ideologists, and trees growing inside walls. Still some colors have been preserved and one can imagine how amazing would have been a solid and colorful temple at the time.


Out of the majors temples restricted and preserved mostly by foreign institutions, Angkor temples are the refuge for local people. It’s quite common to see a line up of sellers and other gifts merchant at the entrance of different site, but most surprisingly is to find a shave head widow or a young boy guarding, cleaning and taking care of the main statue of the temple.


Part of no official organizations the guardian of the temples just stay there days in and days out, and in exchange for a couple of dimes explain you the good luck praying ritual. My last visit, I followed a young girl across the corridors and she shown me a Vishnu statue defended by a widow, this time the young girl moved to another destiny, leaving behind Vishnu and his widow.

Ta Prohm (Tom Raider)

The second most emblematic temple is Ta Prohm, more well know for its movie-picture artifacts in Tom Raider than for its architecture. The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and the newly restored part of the temple by the India government is a delight for the eyes and the cameras.

Ta Prohm (Tom Raider)

Small corridors, wooden path, and other centennial trees make this place a must see temple with a camera in hands. The large trees that shoot from the ruins and the tropical forest near by make the site shadow, and give lines of lights and darkness to perfect picture taking. Ta Prohm is design to become the new star of the Angkor temples visit, and frankly I could not argue more (no sign of Brangelina).

Bayon @ Angkor Thom

A last stop at the capital Angkor Thom was the perfect ending of temple visit. The Bayon's most unique attribute is the large multitude stone faces. The temple is also known for two sets of stone carving bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes, and it was a great place to watch the sun setting among the different 4-faces head.

Sunrise @ Angkor Wat

After four showers and four shirts (personal record), walked from sunrise to sunset, and filled a 4Gb memory card of pictures, I was templed-out and needed a well deserved meal at Meric. Never to say, Angkor temples are impressive to visit and like few others place in the world is the perfect witness across time that no matter how strong and imposing a civilization is at its peak (Inca, Mayan,…) nature can take over and eat it alive. So could be ours.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Siem Reap Addresses

  • Sokha Angkor
    National Route 6 (Airport Road)
    Siem Reap, Cambodia
    Phone (0)63 96 99 99 |
    The centrally located Sokha Hotel is a luxurious 5 stars in the middle of the city. As soon as you step out of the chaos of the main roads, the hotel offer quiet and piece after a day of excursion. Pleasant staff will give you all the adequate services you wish for. One interesting point is that the hotel is part of the industrial group that manages the temples, and can sell you passes in advance. Food see next section.

  • Meric
    Hôtel de la Paix, Sivutha Blvd. Siem Reap, Cambodia
    Phone: 855 63 966 000| Website

    This is the ONLY restaurant you should go to in Siem Reap (breakfast, lunch and dinner). The service is as good as the atmosphere, and a quick pick at the open kitchen will tell you that Kmer cooking can easily yet imaginatively be integrated with French classic food delicacies. Everything is a must on the menu and after a long day of temple visit a refreshing towel is a great opening for a night of enjoyment.

  • Amatak
    Mundul 1 Khum Svay Dnag Kom, Siem Reap (near the old market)
    Phone 063-963-194 |
    A small boutique that offers a large variety of jeweleries and local artifacts for your gifts at home.

  • La Petite Boutique @ Hotel de la Paix
    Hôtel de la Paix, Sivutha Blvd. Siem Reap, Cambodia
    Phone: 855 63 966 000| Website
    The gift shop has a wide variety of cultural items including jewelery, handbags and purses, stone, silk, wood and silver artwork and souvenirs plus some period photographs and prints for guest and non guest to enjoy. A nice stop over to dinner.

  • McDermott Gallery 2
    The passage between pub street & old market
    Phone: +855 (0) 12 274 274 +855 (0) 63 760 |
    In front of a french library lays a 2 storeys Gallery in a house. The photos exhibition are always interesting to see and it should be a good stop over on your way to the old market.

  • Old Market
    This is the place to do your gift shopping, nowhere else. Take your time and bargain hard you will be surprise by the patience and interesting items you might be presented to.


No matter how long you will stay in Siem Reap, you will be able to see all the temples. Choice is the key, but hiring a good driver is even more important. Now if you have only in day, this could be the order I would choose:
  1. Sunrise at Angor Wat Temple
  2. Visit Angor Wat Temple while it's still cool (no trees in Wat)
  3. Banteay Srei
  4. Ta Prohm (Tom Raider)
  5. Bayon @ Angkor Thom
  6. Sunset at Angor Wat Temple

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scary Thaipusam

BEWARE, this entry blog contain sensitive pictures.

The first time I saw Thaipusam was two years ago on my way back home without knowing anything about the procession. A year later I made sure I was available to document what I was able to see, but my camera was not working well under such extreme condition (poor lights and crowded streets).

This year I had everything ready to take the best pictures I could and share with the world this unique devotion procession that happen once a year in Singapore, and some other region where the Tamil communities reside across the planet … at least this is what I though.

Devotees Destination

The 3.2 km from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple is usually a 40 minutes long walk even on the sunny side of the street, but during the Thaipusam the distance seems way much longer for obvious reason and could sometimes takes up to six hours for participants to reach their final destination.

Spiky Shoes

The word Thai-pusam is derived from the month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the ceremony which commemorates both the birthday of the youngest son of god Shiva, the Tamul's God of War, Murugan (also Subramaniam) and his wife Parvati. The legend said that the wife Parvati gave Murugan a spear so he could defeat the evil spirit Soorapadman.

Woman with Pot of Milk

Devotees usually take a vow to offer a kavadi in return for an asked favor or granted request to the God Murugan. The kavadi is usually an metallic instrument to inflict pain that has to be carried over a long period of time in recognition to Murugan.

Lime Display

Before the celebration devotees have to prepare by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting, taking only pure food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. Usually on the day of the festival, disciples shave their heads, covered it later on with an orange powder, before undertake the pilgrimage along the same set route between the two temples.

Tongue Piercing

Accordingly to the request granted or asked by the fan, various physical pains are undertaken during the pilgrimage. It could start with a simple iron pot of milk carried on the head, hooking lemon to the flesh, carrying a wooden temple on the shoulders, or pulling the same temple on wheel with hooks attached to your bared back skin. But the real deal is the metallic skeleton weighting 20kg minimum, surmounted by heavy iron circle to which is attached multiple spikes hooked back to the devotee flesh

Another Tongue Piercing

Mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with long spikes is also very common, reminding constantly of God Murugan and preventing from speaking and complaining while gives great power of endurance. Usually the greater the pain the more god-earned merit is granted.

Men with a Pot of Milk

Along the way, family and friends who have decided to help the devotee provide food and drinks, but also chants and encouragements to facilitate the contrition. It is not rare to see a group of dozen of fans dancing around drums to which the devotee respond in spinning onto himself in a frenzy painful dance.

Dancing with a Kavadi

More often than usual, spike flee out of the human flesh and land on the side walk, picked up by watcher as a souvenir for maybe another time if courage will join. What stoke me the most during this parade were on one side the quietness of the crowd fascinated by the exercise, and on the other the absence of visible blood and slow motion of the devotees.

Body Piercing

No scream, no blood, only visible pain on the face of the people who could after a while (usually many hours), under the hot and humid weather of tropical Singapore, bearably walk with their torture instrument attached to them. Watching someone suffering is never pleasant, but watching someone who self inflict pain is shamefully fascinating.

Pulling the Temple

The contrast that exists between the clean Singapore and the painful procession is striking. One of the Singapore's minorities is taking the lead during one full day over the other ones, but what they are demonstrating is residing essentially around pain, suffering and religion. Spectacular I conjure, but shocking brutal.

Back of the Flesh

Singapore is not the only place that celebrates Murugan. The temple at Batu Caves in Malaysia is a place that attracts usually over one million devotees and many more tourists for this very special public suffering procession. It is mentioned that the more impressive the more sure the wish will be granted, leading to sensational escalation of public suffer.

Corporate Sponsorship

I have to confess I was more intrigued by what I was watching but my reporter job. Maybe next year I will be able to capture better shot to render what the Thaipusam is really about. At the same time I am just wandering what the ceremony near Kuala Lumpur might look like.