Lombok: Rice Fields and Hindu Temples (and Good Food)

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Traffic in Mataram town itself could be rather alarming for a first-timer as there are so many different types of traffic here! Aside from the usual  seemingly blind pedestrians, careening motorbikes and SUVs of all shapes and sizes, there were also horse-drawn carts!

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If there was a sudden slowdown along the way, it was sure to be because the traffic was piling up behind one of these carts being pulled manfully along by a blinkered pony. Such were the traffic snarls we had to get past when travelling across town.

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Out of town, however, was far more peaceful. It was almost surprising how close the padi fields were, they started immediately at the suburbs of Mataram town and when we visited in December 2010, the fields were green with new growth.

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There’s something ineffably tranquil and calming about the sight of coconut trees dotting the padi and kangkung fields. To me, it was a symbol of escape from city life and a return to the bucolic past.

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Hidden in the farm area was Pura Lingsar, one of the few Hindu temples in Muslim-dominated Lombok.

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In the past, the Balinese attempted to colonise part of Lombok and extended its influence fairly deep inland. Near the coast, however, was where most of the Hindu temples remain. Pura Lingsar is believed to be one of the most major Hindu centres in Lombok and its

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A tout approached and asked for a bit too much money than we thought was necessary. He wanted to take us inside to see the inner chamber and pool where an albino eel resided. I read from our guidebook that visitors could buy hardboiled eggs to lure it out from its hiding place. Cute as that could be, the tout was a bit too pushy for our taste and we ended up taking pictures of the outside instead.

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It was enough for me to look at the beautiful carvings on the outer perimeter, like this gracefully etched guardian. Having said that, we were glad that we had a car and could zip in and out quickly. It wouldn’t be worth the hassle to get all the way out there on a special half day trip.

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That evening, we headed back into town to Mataram Mall for some dinner. Again, Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang recommended the place and it was excellent food as usual. I apologise that I can’t remember the name of the place. It serves Indonesian food, is on the ground floor, towards the centre of Mataram Mall and is opposite Istana Gadgets. Have a look at me tucking into our sweet-sour gurame to have a feel of the place.

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This was probably DC’s favourite dish of the night. It was a whole deep-fried gurame topped with sweet and sour sauce. Gurame is a freshwater fish and the flesh is very succulent, never getting stringy like other types of fish when overcooked. I enjoyed the especially juicy bits of the cheeks and also the crunchy fins.

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True to our style, we had lots of side dishes. I felt that the tempeh and squid were rather ho-hum compared to what we’d had before, but the kangkung cha (stir-fried  local kangkong) was a welcome familiar dish.

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We also had the ayam penyet (or deep-fried “smashed” chicken) accompanied by a very spicy chilli sauce. It must’ve been very good because DC ate most of it. He also ate most of the chilli sauce with the tempeh while I was still gnawing on my deep-fried fish fins.

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And as usual, we staggered out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills.

Again, please check in with Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang for directions (and the restaurant name!). It’s at the ground floor of Mataram Mall, towards the centre of the place and opposite Istana Gadgets.

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September in Bali: Out of the Water

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I returned to Bali and took a short break from the diving. From my base of Permuteran up in the northwest of the island, I spent a day relaxing Bali’s Lake District, enjoying the cool air at Tamblingan Lake.

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It was lovely to admire a body of water and not feel the urge to dive in. I enjoyed the feeling of the cool air and being warmed by the sun instead of hiding from its much fiercer rays when down by the sea.

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We then headed to Jatiluwih to view the rice terraces. The intense green terraces were a marvel of human ingenuity and tenacity, and the coconut trees up on higher and cooler ground was a surprise to me.

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I was particularly tickled by how entire herds of ducks would take over harvested fields. They were probably scavenging for the scavengers that scavenged on the spent grain and leftover sheaves.

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Going closer, it seemed as if the entire field was quacking in symphony.

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We stopped by at the Botanic Gardens to admire the fountains…

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…  and the various, sometimes rather impressive greenhouses. This one was a desert hothouse, aridly beautiful in the stark light.

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And there were lily ponds galore, with the noon sun reflecting itself in the water.

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Our last stop was the Gitgit waterfall, a picturesque stream of water cascading down into a shallow pool, covering everyone below in a fine mist.

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Again, there was plenty of that wonderful green that made a good break from the diving.

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July in Vietnam: Going Where the Locals Go

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In spite of my past experience on the back of a motorbike, I decided that it would be better to sit on the back of a motorbike than try to cycle on my home. A splitting headache from a hangover sealed the deal. I was driven through beautifully green rice fields on the way to the Japanese bridge.

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It’s a beautiful bridge in the middle of nowhere, built in the Japanese style to give shelter to the locals in the heat of the day.

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I’m not sure how true it is but legend says that a childless Japanese woman left money for a bridge to be built in her memory so that people would pray to her in her afterlife. In such hot weather I guess more snoozing than praying is done here!

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I stopped for a light and very healthy lunch at a little place along the Perfume River. The rice pancakes stuffed with herbs and pork and washed down with plenty of cold weak tea did wonders to restore me for the rest of the afternoon. The bowl of bun thit nuong, thick rice noodles topped with the usual herbage and barbecued meat did the trick to keep me full till dinner.

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And then it was off to the Thien Mu Pagoda, famous mainly for being the monastery from which a certain special monk originated. It was on a lovely bend of the Perfume River and was quite pretty to look at.

Thien Mu Pagoda, from Wikipedia

Within, there were more halls with Fun with English signs. I have no idea what a “lish” is and how it could be beaten though.

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And here is the car of the monk who drove to Saigon, poured petrol on himself and set himself on fire while meditating. All this in protest of the American interference in South Vietnam. This image was supposedly broadcast all over Western media and played a pivotal role in the anti-war protests in America.

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And then calling it a day, I went to where the locals were – flying kites in the park.

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For dinner, I walked down to Dong Ba market and sat timidly down on the miniature plastic stools surrounding a chao long lady. The rice porridge was thin but the ingredients fresh. I thought I knew my pig parts, but this was a revelation. There was the usual meat, liver, small intestine and congealed blood cube but other stuff I couldn’t identify: large intestine cut longitudinally? strange sausage? bone marrow? Accompanied by basil and a squeeze of lemon, even the blood went down nicely. That hardly made a dent in stomach, so I switched sides and hefted myself 2 metres down to the next lady selling bun thit nuong, which is grilled pork over cold bun (thick rice noodles). Yummy and incredibly cheap (5000 dong approx S$0.45).

I was full by then started to walk back towards hotel. But a chicken noodle stall tempted me and I sat down to a delightful bowl of mung bean noodles (tanghoon) in chicken stock with generous lashings of chicken shreds. Ended up ODing on chilli. While Vietnamese food isn’t particularly spicy, even its “fiery” Central cuisine, I swear their chillies are the hottest in SE Asia. Even Thai chilli padi cannot beat them. There’s a very innocuous looking big yellow chilli that tricks you into thinking it’s going to taste sweet like yellow capsicum but boy does it pack a wallop. I made the very stupid mistake of rubbing my left eye after touching the chilli, ending up crying silently into food for 10 minutes.

(Sorry no photos, the lighting was too poor for the camera to work fine.)

Still, a good foodie end to a good chillout day.