Back to Bali: The River Bridge and Murni’s Warung

The rest of the day in Ubud was spent relaxing and walking around aimlessly. We went to the bridge area of Ubud, just to poke around and admire a steel bridge going across the Campuhan River.

P5261732

DC fiddled about with his camera settings while I played his hapless subject.

P5261727

But we both agreed that the river really was quite scenic – and we decided to have dinner at one of the places overlooking the river.

P5261708

Here’s us going across the bridge to Murni’s Warung.

P5261699

It’s a beautiful place built into the cliff carved out by the river, with four or five floors cleverly making use of the space and scenery to create a warm, convivial atmosphere. We explored a bit of the shop on the ground and upper floor, and then proceeded past the ground floor dining area…

P5261686

… down to just above the river level to have a lovely dinner enjoying the sounds of the river while sipping our drinks. I had a young coconut with lime juice, and DC had a yummy strawberry tamarind drink.

P5261760

Our dinner was sumptuous and very delicious.

P5261777

 

DC had the bebek betutu, a traditional Balinese dish of smoked duck. It came with urap, a firm favourite, and yellow rice. The duck was flavourful and nicely spicy though not chilli hot at all.

P5261778

I much preferred my grilled snapper. I don’t know how they grilled it so perfectly, but unlike most grilled fish, this was insanely tender, I don’t even know how they managed to achieve it. I especially liked how it was charred outside so the fish had a yummy smoky flavour. The bacon and onion potatoes and side salad? Gilding the lily.

P5261780

After being stuffed to the gills yet again, we headed to another intermediate floor…

P5261783

… where we lounged with our post-dinner drinks. Life is good.

P5261792

Bali has a special place in my heart – it’s got good food, laidback resorts and lots to do and not do. It’s one of the places that somehow pulls me back even though there’s so much of the rest of the world to explore.

Back to Bali: Babi Guling at Ibu Oka

Pretty much THE reason for going to Ubud was to eat at Ibu Oka’s, made famous by an Anthony Bourdain feature. I’d tried babi guling in a previous trip to Bali but only had a rather slapdash version. This time, I was determined to make it work. Online accounts told me that babi guling must be had early. There was a rather sketchy description online about a market in Gianyar that had the most awesome babi guling evah! The catch was that it was available only from 6.30am to 9am. Inquiries on this famed market babi guling at the front desk of our resort drew a blank, so that went out of the window. Ibu Oka it was!

I was so obsessive about the babi guling that I dreamt that I’d missed it and they were out of pig by the time I got there. I woke with a start at 6am and was pleased to realise that I was awake bright and early for my dose of pig – even for the market version if I only knew where it was. Sadly, DC didn’t share my enthusiasm to chase down a mythical market babi guling for breakfast and then have lunch at Ibu Oka. We settled for just going to Ibu Oka early to try our luck.

Here it is in Ubud Central, taking up one of the corners where the tourist information centre, Ubud market and Ubud palace meet. The sign is unmistakable.

IMG_6155

Sadly, at 9am it had yet to open.

IMG_6157

DC and I took a detour to do our other business in town – poking around at the various woodcraft workshops in the area slightly out of Ubud central. To our surprise, there was another branch of Ibu Oka out here. Likewise, it wasn’t open yet. I contented myself with a picture, wondering which branch (later I found out there are three branches sprinkled in the area) was the best.

IMG_6162

We made it back to Ubud central at the late timing of 10.30am. By then I was getting antsy, convinced that there’d be a mob of babi guling lovers forming such a formidable line ahead that I’d have to turn back in defeat. But no, it was open and there wasn’t a queue! We perused the menu in leisurely fashion and ordered the babi guling pisah, i.e. suckling pig with different parts. Sadly, our request for more skin was turned down. I was shocked that they’d run out of skin even before official opening hours!

IMG_6163

While waiting, we admired the portrait of Ibu Oka, taking pride of place in the shop.

IMG_6164

Then the moment of reckoning came. There was only one shard of skin, which DC and I divided up clinically, eyeing the pieces to ensure that we had judicious portions. There were thick slices of lean meat, fattier slice of rib meat, deep fried intestine, soup and urap, a salad made from toasted coconut, long beans and cabbage. I tried a piece of skin, and while it was crispy from the roasting on its subcutaneous fat, it wasn’t crispy enough. Chinese-style roast suckling pig achieves the shattering crispness much better. I was starting to feel let down already. Then I tried a meat slice and became a believer. You see, the thing about babi guling is that the skin is but a sideshow. The star of the show is really the juicy meat and the marinade and the urap and how all the textures and flavours marry together in a harmonious symphony. I loved how the mellow chilli and various spices like ginger, onion and possibly turmeric and galangal melded beautifully into the rich meaty flavour of the pork. The crunchy vegetables and toasted coconut in the urap added more flavour and bite.

P5261668

DC was very enamoured of the blood sausage. Since we were thwarted in our skin bid, we went for more blood sausage and more fried intestines. The blood sausage had a slightly mealy texture from the congealed blood, but the flavouring was robust and I liked the bursty texture of the sausage casing (presumably made from pig intestine lining).

IMG_6167

The deep fried intestine was crispy and yummy, a bit like a bar snack. The soup was surprisingly good. In Singapore, most local places pay scant attention to the soup, often merely thinning out any stock and adding msg to make up for the lack of flavour. Here, the soup was done like soto ayam, just a richer porky version. It was so excellent I’d come here just for its soto babi.

IMG_6168

And what tied the whole meal together was the preserved chilli sauce. It looks innocuous enough with the green chillis, but beware – those are green chilli padi and there are also red chilli padi bits in the mix. It’s not quite a sauce as in the liquid was mainly oil (presumably coconut oil). It was more salted chillis and shallot shards in oil. But what a wonderfully spicy, deeply aromatic hit of chilli that was. We dosed it quite liberally on our babi guling and I was soon gasping for breath, but it was so good I kept going until there wasn’t anymore babi guling left.

IMG_6170

As we left the joint, we realised that a crowd had formed and a fresh pig had been delivered. Now we know that the pig comes from a central kitchen, so not to worry which branch is good. It was quite a spectacle to see the pig being carved up. First, the head was cut off neatly, then the chef slid her knife under the skin…

P5261672

… lifted up a corner and pulled off all the skin in a sheet, steam rising voluminously from the meat.

IMG_6178

Then it was time to process the meat into the various parts for the hungry hordes. If we knew that this was the system, we’d have stayed and ordered another serving of pig skin just to see if it was any better. It was just as well that we didn’t – it’s always best to eat your fill and move on. Having more than we could comfortably eat would have compromised our enjoyment.

IMG_6181

There’s always our next visit to Ubud!

Back to Bali: Ubud

Ubud – the famed cultural centre of Bali.

P5261674

And instead of exploring the museum, art galleries and temples in the area, we did a cursory walk pace the palace…

P5261658

… and ducked into the market, where the action truly is. I was especially sad that we’d already had breakfast at the villa, because there was so much to try in the area. Turn up early so you get a good opening price. The shopkeepers here are very superstitious and tend to give good prices for their first customers. Choose from local herbs and spices (vanilla pods are very cheap, but are far inferior to the Madagascan versions), or little handicraft and spa souvenirs, or basketry. Then haggle, keep smiling and agree on a price. Watch bemusedly as the shopkeeper flicks the your newly handed over bank notes over the rest of the wares for luck. Go past the souvenir shops into the maze and find your way to the basement. That’s where the colour is, where you can wander around marvelling at the vast variety of local fruit and vegetables on offer. Pull up a stool at a food stand if you arrive early enough, otherwise risk trying the colourful iced drinks and coconut-based kueh (local desserts) that have been sitting around for a while.

P5261666

After a day wandering around in town, what better is there to do than go for a hearty dinner?

IMG_6154

We’d heard good things about Naughty Nuri’s. A friend who’d just been ate there twice in the trip, the second time because dinner elsewhere was disappointing and they needed something to make up for the poor show. We didn’t try the cocktails, apparently the place does really mean martinis. What we did have was the coldest Bintang beer in Bali. It went so well with the ribs.

IMG_6151

The famous ribs are grilled by the roadside on a surprisingly small grill for a place so jam packed with hungry diners. The ribs were very good – the meat was the right intermediate between tender and chewy, and marinade a straightforward kicap manis (dark sweet soy sauce) base. I liked it, but not enough to like the satay (essentially pork cubes dunked in the same sauce) too. This place seemed a bit one-dimensional to me, but I’d go back for the impossibly cold beers.

P5251624

Naughty Nuri’s Warung Ubud
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud
Bali, Indonesia
Tel: +62 0361 977 547

Back to Bali: Nefatari and the Bad Bugs

After Wakatobi, we stopped over in Bali for a few days to check out the delights of Ubud. A friend recommended us Nefatari Exclusive Villas, a short drive from Ubud proper. As with most Bali resorts, there was a complimentary pick up from the airport and we got there in slightly over an hour. They gave us Villa Pacak, which we got to after being led down a winding corridor that felt like we were in a maze. Check out the rustic finishes and the pretty garden.

IMG_6142

Villa Pacak is actually a two-room villa, but they closed up the second room. That was an unexpected because the pool was huge for a pool villa!

P5261680

The room itself was lovely, spacious with a canopy bed right smack in the middle of the room with a long makeup table with mirror to the back of the bed (which you can’t see in the picture)…

IMG_6138

… the locked adjoining door to the right (not in picture), and a huge bathroom to the left of the room. It was really quite massive and I clean forgot to take photos of it. You’ll have to take my word for it that it was very clean, despite my misgivings from seeing the slightly mouldy exterior walls adding to the atmosphere of the villa. There was a corner bathtub, that was strangely not in a corner, a semi-outdoor shower that let in splashes of rain and a WC area separated by the sink and mirror.

P5251619

A lovely touch was this little alcove where we could sit and read or simply chill out and look out into the pool.

IMG_6139

The view was a bit like this.

P5251623

In the evenings we admired the silhouette of the coconut palms while enjoying cold drinks from the fridge. It was modestly stocked with mineral water and soft drinks. That was a great touch, especially since there aren’t really shops in the surrounding area, just paddy fields.

IMG_6143

And in the morning, we had the choice of having breakfast at the villa at the little outdoor dining table or at the main dining area. They had a special romantic table set between two ponds. We chose the upstairs dining area instead and contented ourselves with just a pretty picture.

P5261678

Their bubur ayam is pretty good for breakfast. It’s a huge bowl of rice porridge with chicken bits, vegetables and boiled egg. A yummy start to the day with fresh juice and cut fruit!

P5261648

Nefatari was a lovely place with lots of great touches. The dropoff and pickup service was wonderful: you tell reception what time you want to leave if you can, otherwise you rock up to the reception and tell them where in Ubud you want to go to, then they’ll find someone to drive you out in their van. When you want to be picked up, you don’t even need to use your own mobile phone to call, they advise to get the restaurant or shop to call, or if in Ubud Central, just go to Tourist Information and ask them to help call. It can occasionally be a bit of a wait, but no more than 30 minutes. What really impressed us was when we asked for a driver with car for a day, fully expecting them to charge us for exclusive use of the vehicle. Instead, they checked what exactly we wanted to do and where to go, and worked out some pickups for us that got us where we wanted at the times we wanted at no extra cost even though it was further out of Ubud proper.

They also had a decent, but not fantastic massage. It’s very atmospheric as the massage rooms are beside a stream, but I found the room too cold (Ubud can get slightly chilly when it rains) and the massage mediocre. Plus I had a mystery bite on my chest that became very itchy. But with such low prices, lower than the flyers in Ubud town, there wasn’t anything really to complain about.

I woke up after our second night a bit sad to leave this great resort, until I started scratching. Thinking that it was just mosquitoes in the bathroom and that the mosquito coils they burn at night had lost effect, I unthinkingly started to scratch, and then found that I had more and more bites appearing all over my body, but particularly on my limbs and around my waist. It was intensely itchy and certainly not mosquito bites. On check out, I showed them a few on my wrist and forearm and was sympathetically clucked over. The reception desk said that they’d check the room and sanitise it for bed bugs.

And so we made our way homeward. On the plane, DC started scratching too. Little red bites started to appear on his body too! Both of us scratched for about one incredibly uncomfortable week. We were scared stiff that we’d brought back bed bugs. Whether they were bed bugs, fleas or something else (definitely not mosquitoes as I get mosquito bites far too often to recognise them easily), we can’t tell. There was no blood or evidence of bugs on the bed (I checked), and no groups of bites either in a breakfast, lunch, dinner line or clear clusters, but there were a lot, and all over the body, indicating that it definitely happened while in bed rather than out walking.

I emailed Nefatari thus:

Thank you for the nice stay at the villa. We enjoyed it all until the morning of check out when we find that we had multiple bites all over the body. Both my husband and I gradually had more and more bites, which only occurred on the morning of check out and thereafter. I alerted your front desk and the person in charge mentioned something about bed bugs. We do not know whether the bites are due to bed bugs or fleas, but would like to let you know so that you thoroughly sanitise the villa and all its furnishings.

And got the reply:

 Dear Madam,

Thank you for your patronage and we glad that your enjoyed your stay at Nefatari Villas.
And we are very sorry about the bites you mentioned, thank you for the information.
Around lobby area there are a lot of vegetation, may be you got bites from gnats or mosquitos

There are no bad bugs or fleas in the villa.
We just do general fogging, sanitise all over the property, villas, inside, out side once a week.

Our staff mentioned about bad bugs ( this is not bed bugs ).
They mean about the bugs ( bad = not good )

We are very sorry that happen on your last day.

Should you have any further input, please feel free to inform us again.

With warmest regards,
made

Bottomline? I don’t know if I could recommend this place. It was really lovely until the morning we checked out. I’d love for friends to experience the great stay, but not the horrible, intense itching for the week after. It was a terribly unpleasant souvenir. What we’re thankful for is that no bugs spread to our home, so all is well.

Nefatari Exclusive Villas
Banjar Katiklantang-Desa singekerta
Ubud – Bali 80571
E-mail: stay@nefatari-bali.com

Wakatobi: Farewell

Too soon the Wakatobi trip came to an end. We were getting used to the pampering experience, with hot and cold selections in the buffet ready for a quick breakfast before the dive, having our gear set up and our own plastic cups (which were later given to us as souvenirs) topped up with fresh water when we got on the boat, having long leisurely dives (70 minutes!!), and coming up to hot drinks and snacks of fresh fruit and biscuits. Two dives in the morning and then return for lunch, which again featured hot or cold selections depending on how fast you want your food. I always looked forward to the pasta cooked to order. The afternoons were fairly unhurried, with only one afternoon boat dive. The beauty of the system was that we could use the rest of the afternoon either to fit in another dive on the house reef (as many unguided dives as you like) or laze on the beach or grab an afternoon nap. Then wander around the resort or fiddle with gear till sunset and get drinks at the bar (avoid the bad cocktails though!) and head for the super yummy dinners. Either that or the hardcore (for lazy lardbutts like us) night dive which leaves at dusk (no cocktails!) and returns for a late dinner.

After dinner, there would generally be a slide show of photos and a mini lecture on reef life. The best evening slide slow was the one on the penultimate night – for guests to share their best shots of the trip. Wakatobi has an in-house naturalist-videographer couple who spend hours and hours taking videos on the reef and they combined their own fantastic shots and previews of their videos with guest photos to make an incredibly awesome video montage (complete with carefully selected music). It was a pity we couldn’t take a copy home due to copyright issues, both with the videographer couple themselves and with other guests’ photos. A pity.

As mentioned before, the staff were lovely, even the expat staff! We’ve been to enough resorts featuring cocksure and arrogant expat staff (of all sorts of nationalities) who think they add another star to the resort simply with their presence. Thankfully, Wakatobi isn’t one of these. I had a slight ear infection halfway through. Miguel took a look at it and said I should sit out a day’s diving just to be safe. And all the other staff somehow knew about my bad ear the next day and asked how I was while I moped around the resort. And they somehow remembered throughout the next few days of the trip. It’s something that no amount of writing down would sort out, these people genuinely care!

So it was a sad day when it was time to leave. All the staff, and I mean all the staff, came out and helped load us up onto the boat. Miguel’s in the mid-left background looking straight at the camera. The rest were all saying their goodbyes and helping sort bags and people out.

P5251590

And when it was time to leave, they all walked to the end of the jetty and waved us off…

P5251591

… and kept waving until they were specks. It was such a sweet touch.

P5251594

I know I say it for too many places, but Wakatobi has a special place in my diving heart. It’s definitely a must-return.

Wakatobi: Snorkelling

We don’t normally snorkel on dive trips, mainly because we’re too tired from the diving and packing up the gear at the end of a trip that it’s not always worth our while. Unsurprisingly, Wakatobi was different. The house reef is really quite something, especially when just standing at the jetty you can see plenty of life. We saw crabs and even an octopus one day. Too bad we couldn’t get to the camera in time. This peppered moray eel, on the other hand, came out often enough for us to get a good shot! Imagine what the snorkelling is like if it’s like this just from the jetty!

IMG_5731

Snorkelling was much less cumbersome than diving. We simply walked into the water from the beach in our booties, with mask, snorkel and fins in hand. When it got deep enough, we slipped on the fins and mask then kicked off. The house reef was full of coral just a few metres away from the sandy beach area. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t much different-looking in landscape than when diving. It was wonderful to see the deep blue of the water even so close to shore.

IMG_6090

What was more astounding was the sighting of a banded sea snake so close to shore. I always thought they were too shy to go close to shore. Maybe it was desperate for air because it shot straight up to the surface. Luckily I managed to take a quick snap before it disappeared.

 IMG_6091

It is much harder to take photos while snorkelling. Even though we weren’t in our wetsuits, it was tough to stay down. Some people snorkel with weights, even. Photos have to be taken quickly and accurately, like how DC got this shot of a honeycomb grouper.

P5241511

Either that or you’ll end up with strange compositions, like this with the same group partially hidden in the coral rubble.

P5241483

I was also surprised to see species that I’d not seen while diving, like this slender green fish with yellow stripes. If anyone can identify it, please let me know. It could be a juvenile, considering that it’s hanging out in the seagrass. Seagrass areas are well-known to be fish nurseries.

 IMG_6092

I was very pleased that DC managed to capture a picture of this freckled hawkfish. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that hawkfish are one of my favourites. Sadly enough, I didn’t get any good shots of hawkfish while diving and was very pleased to add this to my collection of hawkfish shots.

P5241487

There were plenty of other types of fish, but what we got were generally pictures of fish trying to get away from the sudden movements of a snorkeler, like this Picasso triggerfish…

P5241485

… or this palette surgeonfish.

P5241550

We didn’t do so well either with this spotted boxfish, but at least we can show that there really was a lot of life near the shore.

P5241526

Closer to the seagrass were plenty of fish, like this school of parrotfish…

IMG_6086

… and a titan triggerfish that we were glad to see swim away.

P5241543

Right by the jetty were plenty of  network pipefish that were again a pain to photograph, especially with the surge as the waves hit the jetty. DC was very patient and took enough photos so we got this shot.

P5241568

On the jetty itself, we found our good friend the peppered moray. It was lovely to end our two-hour snorkel in the small area by reciprocating a visit!

P5241580

Wakatobi: Crustaceans

Wakatobi yielded quite a few interesting crustaceans. Sure, we’d seen most of them before, but it’s always nice to say hi to old friends. Let’s start with the lobsters. The spiny lobsters with their long feelers are always rather impressive, especially when you suddenly come across one in a crevice at eye level.

IMG_6042

Sometimes they can be quite shy and it’s hard to resist the temptation of reaching out and pulling it it out of its hole by the feelers! In case you’re wondering, yes we all managed not to cave in. After all, Wakatobi is famous for being a no contact dive centre. Do not touch is a central part of their dive philosophy. This is one of the reasons why the reef is so pristine!

IMG_5831

We also saw a bunch of crabs, like this shy hermit crab.

P5220871

There were also some porcelain crabs, but most were very shy. This is the best photo of such a crab in this trip. Sure, there would have been better photos if our guide Yono had used his pointer to push out the crab from under the anemone when it went into hiding. In fact, one dive I found myself staring at the empty anemone top, wondering why Yono wasn’t doing exactly that. Then I caught myself and realised again that keeping a pristine reef also means that you don’t disturb the animals from their normal habits. You just need the patience and the opportunity to get a good photo.

P5210633

Which is exactly what happened with this orang utan crab below. It looks like a piece of red lint at first, but look carefully and you can first make out its eye stalks and then its fragile-looking limbs, all covered by what looks like fluffy red fur.

IMG_5994

We were also lucky to see a collector crab on a night dive. It had pretty white and dark blue banded legs, and a rather fetching mantle of small anemones on its back. You see, it gets its name from the way it picks up charming-looking anemones and sticks it on as camouflage.

IMG_5879

DC managed to get a very impressive close up. The anemone flaps over its forehead, making it look as if it’s frowning.

P5210666

Next up is another DC masterpiece. It’s a spider crab, which is typically rather hard to spot and also hard to photograph, because the camera has difficulty auto-focussing with all the spindly legs in the way.

P5210684
And then the shrimp. One of my favourites are the commensal anemone shrimp. I love wagging my fingers at them in the hope of enticing them onto my nails for a good manicure. Unfortunately, none of them were keen enough this time.

P5200389

There were plenty of banded boxer shrimp in crevices, their trademark red and white colouration on their claws. It’s the same colouration of a barber’s pole and advertises a similar service. The shrimp offers a clean while a barber, a shave. It’s funny how there are these parallels in natural and human worlds.

P5210572

I was very happy to see some saron shrimp as they’re hard to come by. This one is a very red specimen without much marbling that a lot of its cousins seem to have. This pose somehow makes it look very poised, as if it knows that the camera is snapping away!

P5210656

One of the most frustrating crustaceans to shoot is the bubble shrimp. The two photos below are our best shots. There’s something about its frail tendrils and the voluptuousness of the bubble coral that really interferes with the camera’s focus.

P5200262

This is one of those you have to go diving to look at more closely. It’s so amazing to simply observe how a delicate shrimp can wodge itself in the bubble coral.

IMG_5812

And the piece de resistance? We’d never seen this before till Wakatobi. Plus, it’s hard to spot because it’s so darn small and even harder to photograph because the anemone tendrils it lives among tends to block the view of its characteristic head. Here’s the best shot we got so you really have to go diving to see it for yourself. I bring you…

P5230967

… the popcorn shrimp!