Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘Indonesia’ Category

Balinese Culture Trip

Posted by Monica Johansen on November 14, 2010

Yes, I know… It has been quite a while since my last blog, but it is not because nothing interesting has happened. On the contrary, I have been so busy that I haven’t had much time to write anything but work documents lately.

Temple in the Monkey Forest

In October I spent two weeks in the UK (London and Birmingham) and a weekend in Oslo. The UK trip was work related, and since I happened to be in northern Europe I thought I could just as well spent the weekend in Oslo and see my friends. The entire journey was great, but so busy that I felt that I needed a holiday when I returned to Singapore. Work wise it wasn’t too bad, but when you try to spend time with all your new colleagues and at the same time try to meet all your old friends that you haven’t seen in years, then you quickly run out of time. Being jetlagged on top of it does of course not help on the situation. Nevertheless, I had a blast in Europe, and I hope it won’t be too long before I am going back.

 I also spent a few days in Kuala Lumpur for a project, and I didn’t have time for anything but work. I jumped on the plane to KL just 24 hours after returning from London, and I was struggling with the time difference the first couple of days. I was quite happy when the weekend finally came and I could spend a couple of days doing nothing.

Pura Besakih

Anyway, in this blog I was actually planning to write about my short holiday in Bali. My Swiss friend, Marius, who is currently living in Bali, invited me to come over and spend time with him and his Balinese girlfriend and do some sightseeing on the beautiful holiday island. Since Friday was a public holiday in Singapore and my manager gave me Monday off, I decided to fly over on Thursday night and stay until Monday, and I booked myself into Tjampuhan Spa, a nice little resort just outside the center of Ubud, which is located more in the middle of Bali not far from the mountains. I am not a typical beach person, and I wanted to stay away from all the party places in Sanur and Kuta, so Marius suggested that I stay in Ubud which is closer to the sights that he thought I would enjoy. He had also organized a car and a driver for the long weekend, so that we could get around easily.

I arrived in Denpasar around 10:30 PM on Thursday night, and Marius, his girlfriend and the driver were waiting for me at the exit. I must admit that I love having someone waiting for me at the airport, because it makes me feel welcomed, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often. We drove straight to Ubud, which is about an hour away from the airport (when there is no traffic), and I arrived at my hotel close to midnight. Tjampuhan Spa is a jungle resort built along the edge of a hill, and you had to walk down some rather steep stone steps to get to the bungalows. My bungalow had two floors, and I was in the top floor with a small corner balcony. The room, which was one of the cheaper ones in the hotel, had huge windows with no class, just a mesh to keep the bugs out, and at night I could hear all the sounds from the jungle so it felt like sleeping outdoors. There was no air-condition either, just a huge fan in the middle of the room, but it actually kept he room quite cool.

Balinese dance show

The next three days we traveled around in Bali and did some serious sightseeing. Marius and his girlfriend had prepared a list of places they thought I should see, and I was lucky to have a couple of local “guides” with me who knew the place very well. Bali is a relatively large island, at least compared to Singapore, so we didn’t have time to see everything, but the things we visited were quite nice. I enjoyed the sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud where the monkeys are so tame that will come and sit on your lap. I also loved the Balinese dance show we went to on Saturday night where I had a chance to take photos of the gorgeous traditional outfits.

We visited a number of interesting temples during the weekend, and the most famous one is probably Pura Besakih, also called the Mother Temple, which is the largest temple in Bali located in the mountains on the east side of the island. We were quite lucky because the locals had a ceremony there at the same time we were visiting, so we actually got to see how the temple is used. Another famous temple we saw was Pura Tanah Lot, which is a small temple located on a cliff in the sea. During low tide you can walk out to the temple, but at high tide the temple is surrounded by water, and it looks like it has emerged from the ocean. However, the prettiest temple was in my opinion Pura Ulun Danu, a small temple in Lake Bratan which is located in the eastern mountains. It was something peaceful about the surroundings, the air was rather cool because of the high altitude, and the fog covering the mountain tops made the place look a bit mysterious.

Pura Ulun Danu

A place I really enjoyed was the Batur volcano and Lake Batur which is a crater lake. When we were sitting at the wooden pier the place actually reminded me of the fjords of Norway. The air was cool and fresh, the water was dark blue, and the mountains were steep with dark green bushes rather than the tall palm trees you see everywhere else on the island. In addition, it was raining a little bit and the mountain tops were hidden in thick white fog. Very typical Norwegian, if you ask me…

Bali has definitely many interesting culture sights, which I always find more interesting than spending a holiday on a beach. However, I must admit that I found the place a little bit too touristy, not just because there were so many tourists there, but mostly because the locals were constantly trying to sell you stuff or find other ways of getting money out of you. I actually found it rather annoying, and in the end I just wanted to get away from all the hassle. I understand that people are trying to make a living out of the extensive tourism, but it was just too much for me.

Nevertheless, it was nice to finally have been there. I have heard a lot about the island, and so many of my friends have been there. At least I have ticked the box…

PS. You will find more photos in my Gallery… 🙂

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Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Travel | Leave a Comment »

What I love about Indonesia

Posted by Monica Johansen on November 19, 2009

I am back in Jakarta for the forth week in a row, and as usual I am quite enjoying it here. I am always very busy when I am in Jakarta, but despite heavy work load I seem to relax more here than back home in Singapore. I am not quite sure why I always feel less stressed here, but my guess is that the lovely people make me lower my shoulders and take time to breathe between the battles.

Jakarta

Unfortunately, Jakarta has been the target for several terrorist attacks lately, and because of that the security in pretty intensive. Every time you enter an office building or a hotel the security guards will search your bags and scan you for weapons and bombs, and the procedures can feel a bit over the top sometimes. But one of the great things about Jakarta is that the security guards are always extremely friendly and they will smile and remember you name. Knowing how many people they are checking every day I actually think it is quite impressive that they remember me. I suppose that being a white female I will kind of stick out a bit since there are not that many of us here, and it will make it easier for them to remember me, but still I am quite surprised every time they remember my name.

Indonesia is in many ways a magic country. They have all kinds of nature here, such as mountains, beaches, beautiful islands, jungle, desert and so on. I am planning to explore the country a little more in 2010, especially Sumatra where I haven’t been yet. I also realize that almost everyone I know in this region has been to Bali, so I guess it is time to take a trip there too some time soon.

I would love to write more about what I love about Indonesia, but it is getting late and I have a busy day tomorrow on customer site. So instead I will simply refer to the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ehHCXuxes8

If you still don’t see what is so great about Indonesia I suggest that you come over and take a look yourself. 🙂

Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Travel | 2 Comments »

Exploring Java

Posted by Monica Johansen on November 3, 2009

It is Tuesday evening, and I have been in Jakarta for the last eight days. I have been here so many times before, but never had any time to look around, so this weekend I decided to explore Jakarta and the surrounding areas for once. There are a few sightseeing options that you can book with the tour guides, and the one I was most interested in was the trip to the highlands and the country side.

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Orchids in Bogor Botanical Garden

So early Saturday morning I was picked up at the hotel by my guide. We started the trip by driving out to Bogor, which is commonly referred to as Rainy City because it is surrounded by mountains and hence, the clouds tend to drop water in that particular area. In Bogor they have a very nice botanical garden with both local and imported species of plants, and we walked through the park and had a look at all the lovely orchids growing there. I quite enjoy visiting botanical gardens, because in addition to beautiful surroundings they tend to have a range of insect and bird species. I have never been particularly interested in plants, but I am fascinated by all kinds of animals.

After the botanical garden we went up to the highlands to visit Taman Safari Park. Frankly, I didn’t have too high expectations – after all, I live in Singapore which has one of the best zoos in the world – but the park was in fact a very positive surprise. It was organized as a typical safari where you drive through the area and watch the wild animals roaming around free. It was a rather interesting experience to roll down the window of the car and look into the eyes of a huge tiger without any fences or protection other than the car. Of course, nothing beats the real thing, and I can only imagine how amazing a safari in Africa would be, but Taman Safari Park was definitely a good substitute. The only advice I would give is that Saturday is not the best day to visit the park. It is very crowded on the weekend, so if possible visitors should aim at one of the weekdays instead.

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Tiger in Taman Safari Park

After the safari we went to the baby zoo, where we could interact more closely with youngster of different species. In the baby zoo I had the opportunity to play with a lion cub and meet a young orangutan that was very friendly. Generally, I love all animals, but the baby ones are simply irresistible, and especially the fluffy furry ones.

Our last stop was at the Puncak mountain resort where we grabbed a bit to eat while overlooking the valley covered in tea plantations. The resort is located on an altitude of about 1700 meters, and it was surprisingly cool outside. I actually had to put on a jacket while we were eating since the windows were open and a cool breeze continuously streamed through the premises. It was nice to feel the fresh mountain air for a little while before we headed back to the contaminated air in Jakarta.

The next day I had originally planned to go out to Pulau Seribu, or the Thousand Islands in the Java Sea north of Jakarta. The islands are popular destinations for bathing and snorkeling, and there are a few nice resorts where you can relax and enjoy the good life on the weekend. Unfortunately, the boats to the islands will not leave unless there are a minimum number of participants, and the tour agency was unable to gather enough people for the trip to happen. Instead, I decided to go on a city heritage tour in the old parts of Jakarta, also called Batavia.

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The market

Our first destination was the Dharma Bhakti temple in the old Chinatown (or Glodok). This is Jakarta’s oldest temple, and it was built in the mid-17th century. On Saturday morning the temple was already packed with people lighting candles and burning incense, and it was so filled with smoke that my eyes were running and I could hardly breathe. By the gate outside a bunch of beggars were queuing up and hoping to get a few coins from the tourists or devout Buddhists visiting the temple.

We continued the trip by walking through the old market area. The market basically consists of a network of narrow streets where people are selling food, clothes, jewelry and electrical articles amongst other things. You can find a variety of exotic fruits and vegetables in these markets, and the fish and seafood they sell is fresh from the ocean. In addition, several places you can buy live turtles, and one of the merchants was trying to convince me to buy one. I tried to explain to him that I will not be able to take it with me on the plane back to Singapore, but then he showed me a small box I could keep the animal in while smuggling it across the border. However, I am not a big supporter of illegal animal import, so I politely declined.

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Sunda Kelapa Harbor

The next stop was the Fatahillah Museum, originally built by the Dutch in 1710 as the Jakarta City Hall. The museum is a popular destination for students in Jakarta, and sometimes they come to interview tourists as a school assignment in order to learn English. I was actually approached by a few young people who asked me if I had time for a discussion. At first I didn’t understand what they meant, but my guide informed me that they would like to interview me for a school project, and since I wasn’t in a hurry I said yes. So while a girl was asking me questions on stuttering English carefully read from a piece of paper, a boy was filming us with a small compact camera. One of the questions was what I thought about Jakarta, and my reply was that it is a very chaotic city but the people are lovely.

We ended the trip with a short visit to the old harbor, Sunda Kelapa, which is located in the head of Batavia at the mouth of the Ciliwung River. Frankly, it wasn’t really much to see there, except a number of large sail boats loading their cargo, but it is interesting to note that Sunda Kelapa – which has been in use for centuries – today is one of the world’s last remaining commercial sailing fleet.

The conclusion is that it was a great weekend and absolutely worth staying in Jakarta for. The next time I will probably try to get further out of the city and maybe visit the more remote areas.

By the way, photos can be found in my Gallery.

Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Travel | 1 Comment »

On the road… Again…

Posted by Monica Johansen on October 26, 2009

After a week in Manila I am now back in Jakarta, and this time I am staying for a couple of weeks. I finally managed to organize my multiple-entry business visa so that I don’t have to fill up my passport with visas on arrival, and now I can enter the country as I please for the next 12 months. I have been here a few times before, but I have actually never had the opportunity to do any sightseeing before, so I figured that this time will be different.

I haven’t quite decided what to do on the weekend yet, and I have been thinking about flying out to Bali or one of the other remote but there are in fact a few things to see both in Jakarta and the surrounding areas. Pulau Seribu, or the Thousand Islands, is a group of small islands located only a few kilometers north of Jakarta, and tour agencies can organize both day trips and overnight stays.

Inside the city of Jakarta there are several interesting heritage sights, such as Chinatown, Sunda Kelapa Harbour (the old harbor of Jakarta) and traditional markets. In addition, there are a few interesting museums and a miniature park with small versions of traditional Indonesian buildings. A little further outside the city there is also a botanical garden and a safari park that I am interested in.

Well, so much to see and so little time. At least I am not going to be bored this weekend. 🙂

Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Travel | 2 Comments »

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Posted by Monica Johansen on September 5, 2009

Is there something like cursed weeks? If there is, this must be one of mine.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, it all started when I ended up in a car crash on the highway pretty much as soon as I had entered Indonesia on Sunday night. It didn’t feel so bad in the beginning, but when I woke up in the morning the next day I could hardly move my head. For the following couple of days I lived on ibuprofen in order to function properly, but luckily the neck pain got better after a few days and now I am almost as good as new. Almost…

Busy Jakarta

Busy Jakarta

The next unfortunate event was of course the major earthquake that hit Indonesia on Wednesday. It was a magnitude 7.3 earthquake, which is pretty serious, and a lot of houses outside of the main cities were damaged. They are still counting the casualties, so I don’t have any number on how many people who died, but it was definitely catastrophic for many people in Indonesia. Luckily for me, and many others with me, I was working in an office building in Jakarta when the earthquake stroke. Most of the modern buildings in Jakarta are constructed to handle up to magnitude 8.0 quakes, so as far as I heave heard from the news here there were no major damages to office buildings. Nevertheless, it was quite a frightening experience.

I was doing some policy testing for a customer that day, and suddenly I started to feel dizzy. At first I thought that maybe my blood sugar level was getting low, but then I noticed that some of the guys in the office were looking out the window. There was a helpdesk sign hanging from the ceiling just next to where I was sitting, and I saw that the sign was moving, and suddenly someone shouted “earthquake”. We all got up and moved away from the windows in case the glass would break, and as I leaned towards the wall I could feel it moving. We also heard a small tinkling sound as if pieces of plaster and bricks were hitting the ceiling above us. I looked at the people around me, and they all looked a bit worried, so I asked them if these things were common. They told me that they often experienced smaller quakes, but nothing like this one and not that lasted so long. However, the worst part was that it seemed to get worse every second.

Earthquake evacuation

Earthquake evacuation

All of a sudden we could hear a warning message on the calling, and we all ordered to evacuate immediately. Luckily we were only on third floor, so it was not very far down. As I walked down the fire stairs I looked around, and I could see huge cracks in the walls and pieces of plaster on the floor. At the entrance the water was dripping from the ceiling as if a water pipe was broken. We all gathered on a huge field outside the office, and then we had to wait and see what happened next. A lot of people were desperately trying to call their families, but it was difficult to get through on the phone since pretty much everyone in Indonesia would try to call someone at the same time. One of the guys in the IT team made sure everyone were out and safe, and once we all were registered we were told that we could go home. Unfortunately, I had my computer in the office upstairs, and I couldn’t get any work done without it so I just had to wait and hope that we would be able to get back in. At last the building was declared as safe and I could get my things and get back to the hotel.

The quake caused a little bit of project delays since I lost valuable time, but I managed to catch up to some extend before I had to head out to the airport on Friday afternoon. I was hoping to get a Silverbird taxi outside the office, but I couldn’t find any and since I was running a bit late I had to jump into a Bluebird instead. Now, most Bluebird taxis are OK, but the problem is that you never know what you will get, and this time I wasn’t so lucky. First of all, the driver didn’t speak English at all, which makes it hard to communicate in the event of issues. Secondly, he wanted me to pay for the road toll and he told me that I had to pay 200,000 rupiah (which apparently was the only English he knew), but I noticed the sign that said 5,500 rupiah so he didn’t get away with his scam. However, the real problem started when he suddenly got a flat tire and he had to stop and change tire in the middle of nowhere on the highway with very primitive tools. I was looking at my watch and starting to get very stressed since I was already running late and the driver was not working were fast to change the tire. I was trying to ask him to help me get another taxi, but since he didn’t speak English it was not so easy. My stress level was getting dangerously high at that point.

Traffic jam

Traffic jam

I got out of the car and looked around to see if I could find a solution. There were plenty of taxies on the road with passengers going to the airport, and I could potentially stop one of them and ask the driver if I could join. But fortunately I didn’t have to, because an empty taxi had already seen me standing there, and he pulled over and asked me (in English thanks Heaven!) if I needed a lift. I paid the other driver the meter fare, and jumped into the new car, and luckily there were no more difficulties. When I finally reached the airport I was so happy that he had stopped and picked me up that I paid him double rate. I suppose that was what you would typically call a win-win situation.

The rest of my journey was pretty painless, apart from a delayed airplane of course. But I am quite used to delayed flights on Fridays nights, and back in Europe my London – Oslo flight every Friday night was more or less almost late. Anyway, it is fantastic to be home in good old Singapore. Home, sweet home! 🙂

Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Travel | 2 Comments »