Nasi Goreng, Hollywood classic music, live bands, pristine beaches, the feeling of carrying millions in your wallet (dinner for 4 costing a funny 500,000 Rupiah) and smiles and a polite matur suksma (thank you) on every lip- Bali, so much more to look forward to! @ Kuta Beach, Pantai Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Day 1: The interplay of good and evil, and how we must recognise the inherent harmony in the two; good cannot exist without bad. The theme was aptly played by the Barong dance-where Sadewa (Sahdeva) successfully sends Rangda (a woman with magical powers; possibly an adaptation of the Hindu goddess Ma Kali) to heaven by vanquishing her. Interestingly, the actors also doubled up as shopkeepers/rice paddy cultivators after playing out their roles on stage! Also, Bali is an architect’s paradise. And luwak coffee (the strongest variety) is actually civet 💩! @ Kuta/Kalimantan (Mount Batur)/ Ubud Village, Bali, Indonesia
Day 1.5-2: You don’t have to be rich to own a picturesque home. The whole family chips in to build the home. Even kids start working (almost every guide/chauffeur/shopkeeper we met was in their early 20’s), to support their own college education. Family, society and the village are all- a very collectivist culture indeed. Also, the radio blares Bollywood numbers that many Indians would find hard to name. And 2 times a day, the radio plays to Gayatri mantra and other chants. It just seems that everyone on the island values peace, togetherness and the simple joys of life very highly. The way they celebrate New Year’s is also very interesting. The whole island takes on a deserted look-no streetlights/cars/radio/TV/vehicles on the road or even plane arrivals/departures. It’s meant to be a day of yoga/self-reflection, and disconnecting from everything!
Hotel we stayed at: Hotel Ramayana
No. of days: 4
Best time to visit: April-June, September (monsoon winds, ahoy!, also non-peak)
Best places to visit:
- Where can I grab a good beer and some lipsmacking Indonesian cuisine?: Flapjaks, Stadium Café, Laba Laba Hibachi Bali (an open-air bar and grill with an amazing Reggae performer and the art of live Japanese cooking!), Sendok
- I want to explore!: Foot and head massages (much-required after a long day at the beach and that too, on foot!) abound the streets, bargain clothes shopping spree, wooden carvings (unique to Bali), street-side architectural marvels/temples, Ubud Village (for the artsy kinds-coffee plantations, art villages, the most beautiful villas ever and a fun bike trail), Mount Batur (fancy lunch in front of an active volcano, anyone?), Ulu Watu (the most romantic temple by the sea). You could try water-sports, but I’d say they’re way too commercialised. Try an off-beat open-sea dive, or there’s always the Andamans 😉
Last leg- Day 7: The similarity is striking. The British built a bustling metropolis in what was a swamp, with the Selangor Club (and a cricket ground,of course) in the centre of town, opposite an Indo-Saracenic-esque palace (Sultan Abdul Samad building). Just a street away, decrepit stalls selling cheap flights, flats and food (most installations are illegal) of migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore and South India. Nearby, signs of a modern financial megalopolis with every building competing to grab every available inch of the skyline. Compare this to Oval Maidan, High Court and Mumbai University, BKC in Mumbai. British imperialists sure know how to make their mark. @ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Hotel we stayed at: Furama Bukit Bintang
No. of days: 4
Best time to visit: All-year round except for March-April and September-November (unless you love the rains and are willing to get drenched!)
Best places to visit:
- Where can I grab some authentic street food?: Berjaya Times Square has most all international brands (Starbucks, anyone?). But I’d suggest walking the streets and just trying out one of the tiny Chinese shops (no, not Indian-Chinese). Very healthy, very pocket-friendly and try learning to use chopsticks- you might never return to Western cutlery again!
- I want to explore!: Berjaya Times Square, Batu Caves (look out for the South Indian restaurant that has a coveted seat where the mega-super-star-almost-divine Rajinikanth sat while shooting for Kabali!), Merdeka Square, and (for the ones wanting to brag back home, but in my opinion clichéd, and slightly over-commercialised Petronas Towers, Genting Highlands– large,expansive malls with almost no sign of sunlight, and apparently the largest hotel in the world). Try looking out for local chocolate shops and for really inexpensive local restaurants over the fancy, touristy, wallet-emptying restaurants!