The Beauty of Bali

For the final leg of our 5 1/2 week SE Asia adventure, we decided to spend 10 days in Bali (not near enough time, by the way).  In order to capture the most of our short time here, we opted for 5 days in the mountains and 5 days on the ocean (this would be our first ocean visit here, if you can believe that!)

As I said, our first 5 days in Bali were spent in the mountains in a town called Ubud.  We had been living pretty frugally throughout this excursion (I know it hasn’t seemed that way, but let me tell you….if you want to really explore an amazing part of the world on a “dime”….this is it!)  Let me take a sidebar and elaborate a little bit for those of you who might be considering exploring this part of the world.  We lived a little more upscale, meaning we stayed at very highly reviewed hotels for $40-$75 per night in Thailand and Cambodia.  We later learned that you could stay in a private room, in a very nice hostel, for $10-30 per night.  If you are willing to share a room, dormitory style, we are talking $4 per night.  Meals at the street vendors could be as little as a dollar or two, and nice meals in a restaurant could be done as cheap as $7.  We hired personal drivers who took us around all day long to all the sights, with ice cold water waiting for us, for as little as $20 per day.

So back to Bali….After a little more than 4 weeks of running ourselves ragged, seeing as much as we could in the blazing hot heat and humidity, we decided that Bali would be our splurge.  We found a villa in the jungle mountains of Ubud.  Our villa had an outdoor bathroom (it was a fully enclosed bathroom attached to our bedroom with an open air roof); it also had a living room area, and a private backyard complete with gazebo and private pool.  It was absolute luxury (for a whopping $110 per night)!  Like I said, this was a splurge!  We were set amongst the jungle and rice fields….soooo peaceful!  Not only that, we had a multi-course, decadent breakfast delivered to our villa every morning (included in the price).  It was truly paradise.

Our own private oasis overlooking the rice fields.
Yep this travel thing ain’t too shabby

We didn’t “chill” as much as we said we would.  Thanks to the new friends we had met in Thailand, we were hooked up with another great driver.  We spent 3 days touring the mountains of Bali with his expert guidance.  We spent our first day enjoying our villa and private pool (successfully achieving my first sunburn of the trip).  The next day we met our guide and headed out to some of the sights of Bali. We started at the famous Tegallalang rice terraces (absolutely stunning).  From there, we went to the Pura Tirta Empul temple.  As in previous posts, I will let the pictures and captions tell the story.

The famous terraced rice fields. A must see spot in the mountains of Bali.
Preparing to enter the temple.
Before entering the temple, every person must wear a sarong (provided at the temple, if needed) and women must tie their hair back. This was our awesome guide, Arya, during our stay in Ubud.
Dan’s turn
People stand under the mouth and let the holy water wash over them as they cleanse away their sins/wrongdoing.
Each person makes their way down the line to be washed under each spout. The two spouts where you see no people, are reserved for the monks.

After the temple, we went to Satria Coffee Plantation.  As we wandered through the jungle grounds, our guide told us about the various coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea, spices, and fruits that grew along the grounds.  After, we were told how the beans were processed.  Here is where things get interesting….we were here for the kopi luwak coffee (better known as civet cat poop coffee).  This coffee is made from beans previously eaten, partially digested, and then excreted by the Asian palm civet, a small tree-climbing animal.  It is among the most expensive coffee on the planet (thanks to its undeniably gross production method!)  Here is the cliff notes version:  the civet cat eats the coffee “berries” (coffee beans are encased in semi-hard berry looking fruit);  the cat poop is a log of coffee beans which is collected and the beans are cleaned and dried out;  the bean casings are removed and then roasted by hand over a fire; roasted beans are then ground in a giant mortar and pestle looking piece of equipment. After seeing the process, we were treated to a tasting of 15-18 different teas, cocoas, and coffees from the plantation.  We also had the option to purchase a cup of cat-poo-chino….haha!  Yep….we did.  It was quite a bit smoother than the traditional Balinese coffee but still a bit strong for my taste.  I did love the variety of teas (unfortunately, they were all sweetened).  Before we left, we held a sleepy civet cat (soooo cute), but I’m pretty sure he was “stoned” on a flower bloom that was sitting beside him.  Our guide had told us earlier that if we sniffed the flower for 5 minutes we would get high.  Made me sad to see the flower laying beside this beautiful cat.

Heading into the coffee plantation….which also included cacao beans, many tropical fruits, and a variety of herbs.
Arabica coffee beans
Luwak (asian palm civet) cats taking an afternoon nap. These little guys are known for making the world’s most expensive coffee.
Teaching us the process of preparing the coffee beans prior to roasting.
Kopi Luwak poop! I kid you not! It’s a coffee bean turd. Those sweet little kitties eat the coffee berries and poop out the coffee beans which are then carefully cleaned, husked, and then roasted.
Here, the coffee beans are slowly roasted over a wood fire for hours. Constant stirring is required.
Luwak (civet cat) and the coffee bean berry prior to being consumed.
Now that’s “punny”
And here it is! The world’s finest cup of cat-poo-chino! Yep, we drank it.
Luwak getting high! According to our guide, if you sniff this flower for 5 minutes, you will get high. I later realized that they had this bloom sitting next to the kitty that we were allowed to hold. Now I know why 🙁

Next stop was another beautiful temple- Gunung Kawi.  While the temples up until now have been predominantly Buddhist, we were now seeing Hindu temples.  As always, these were beautiful temples steeped in amazing history (and a horrendous number of steep, steps).  Check out the photos and captions!  At this point, we had been running around for 6 hours straight in the heat and humidity.  We decided that it was time to rest, so back to our slice of heaven we went.  Since the next day had a number of evening events planned, we arranged to meet our guide a little bit later.

Gunung Kawi

Day 2:  We met our driver at 6:30 for a fabulous dinner overlooking the rice paddy fields.  After, he took us to the Royal Palace where we watched a traditional Balinese dance show.  Similar to Cambodia, the costumes were spectacular.  Our driver then wanted to take us to see his friend’s reggae band perform at a local bar.  We spent the rest of our night listening to awesome music (with major participation by our guide and Dan….lol).  Dan decided to order a cocktail made with Arak….which we later learned is basically Balinese moonshine.  We also learned, after the fact, that if it is made improperly it can be deadly!  Apparently it’s estimated that 10-20 Indonesians die daily drinking it. It was known to be safe in the touristy areas (which we were), but two cocktails made for reggae Dan!  It was a lot of fun and a late night by our standards (midnight…haha).

Traditional Balinese Kecak dance in Ubud
Handing Dan a mike never ends well…
This guy had quite the Hindu shaman vibe.

Day 3:  We met at 1:00 and headed for another temple with a secret cave and waterfall.  As we trekked down the hill and headed into the slotted canyon, we came upon a beautiful, tropical entrance.  We had to go barefoot at this point (in the squishy mud….ewwww) through the water and under this spectacular waterfall to a hidden cave.  Unfortunately, we were also soaking wet for the rest of our day!  It was totally worth it!  Next was the monkey sanctuary.  This temple was nestled in the jungle and housed over 100 “wild” monkeys.  I say “wild” because they are use to tourists, but you are not suppose to feed them or touch them.  It wasn’t long before one scampered up the side of my body and rested on my shoulder.  Believe it or not, I remained calm (other than bitter beer face, yet again) and stood perfectly still.  He moved down onto my camera that was sitting around my neck.  At that point, our guide threw a peanut to the ground, and the monkey scampered down.  We then made a stop at our guide’s aunt and uncle’s home.  We were treated to coffee, homemade rice treats, and a giant Balinese orange while we learned about their village and how their homes are structured (very little is indoors).  It was quite a treat to learn how the local villagers lived.  Every home has it’s own little temple dedicated to their ancestors.  I promised to keep this short, but I really feel the need to share the story of how they deal with death.  In this village, when someone dies, they bang out a specific pattern on a wooden drum and everyone is expected to come.  Every house has an open air room with a single bed for the “final sleep.”  When someone dies, their first night is spent on this bed in the family home.  Afterwards, they are buried in a hand dug grave that is only about 4 feet deep.  Because the villagers cannot afford cremation, the bodies are dug back up after they decompose, and a mass cremation is done where the cost is split amongst the villagers.  The bodies are still cremated individually even though they are all done at one time.  The ashes are then spread in the ocean.  After, they create a “statue” which will house the spirit of the deceased who will reside in the family temple.  I’m sure I have not done the story the true justice it deserves, but it was pretty amazing to listen to this personal account of their death ritual in their home and village.  Our last stop of the day was another magnificent temple on the Indian Ocean.  We timed this to be here for sunset which was totally spectacular!  I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Pathway to the secret temple
Through the water fall to the other side…
Sacred Monkey forest king
Statue telling the story of monkey’s aiding a Hindu god
Then this happened….
Hello baby!
There were several wedding photo shoots in progress
Traditional Balinese open air home
Tanah lot temple at sunset
Don’t mind me and my pet snake
Still chasing sunsets!

Sadly, it was time to leave our mountain hideaway for an hour and a half drive to the ocean.  Here, we took things up a notch one more time.  We will spend 5 glorious days, beachside, at the Westin.  Our plan… just chill before the long journey home….haha!  Care to take bets on how much “chillin” we actually do??!!

15 hotels and 13 flights for this tour of South East Asia!

Adventures With Bears To The Devastation Of The Killing Fields

Heading to our little plane to Phnom Penh

After 5 wonderful days in Siem Reap, we caught our next flight to Phnom Penh, the current capital of Cambodia.  Once again, we found ourselves immersed in a culture of incredibly friendly people.  I can’t even begin to describe how warm, caring and friendly the people are in SE Asia.  As you will recall, I was not overly thrilled about flying a 67 seat prop plane to our next location.  The reality….it was one of the best flights we’ve taken from city to city in SE Asia.  Unfortunately, we arrived smack in the middle of traffic hour, and it was horrendous!  Phnom Penh’s traffic rivaled the city of Bangkok.  Our 30 minute ride to our hotel took over 45 minutes.  We checked into our room and this is where the fun begins……

A mechanic adding oil to the prop engine. Just what you want to see before takeoff!
A quick snippet of our flight from Siem Reap on a Cambodian Angkor Air prop plane.

As we started to settle in, Dan quickly realized that his IPad was missing…..not missing, but left in the seat back pocket on the airplane :(. Believe it or not, this has happened once before!  Several years ago on a flight from Europe to Philly, the same thing happened.  Needless to say, the iPad was gone forever.  So, Dan begins to frantically call the airline to try and track down the iPad.  Their advice:  Go to lost and found at the airport.  Are you kidding me???  That means another 45+ minute drive back to the airport in traffic :(. They can’t tell us if the iPad is even there!  So off we go to the airport.  I’m pretty sure I know how this is going to end (been there, done that).  We head to the airport once again.  Oh wait…it gets better!  We end up getting rear ended (I am shocked that this has not happened a few times before given the crazy driving here!).  This results in about a 20 minute delay of arguments between the parties involved.  It was low speed, so there was not much damage and certainly no injuries….we are all perfectly fine!  We finally get to the airport and find our way to lost and found.  They don’t have it….shocking.  They call the airline, and OMG, they have the iPad!  Are you kidding me???  They tell us to go to the check in counter to pick it up.  After a bit of time, and coordination efforts, we get the iPad back.  Score one for the integrity and honesty of Cambodian Angkor Air!  We could all learn a thing or two from their ethics!  After all that, we finally get back to our hotel and settle in for the night.  Tomorrow, we have a big day scheduled…..a full day learning and participating in a rescue bear sanctuary.

They actually found and returned the lost Ipad! Yay the good guys at Cambodian Angkor Air!
Relaxing after a stressful travel day at Phnom Penh rooftop bar

After crossing a mega-lane round-about in frogger type fashion, we arrived at our pick up location.  We had over an hour drive out of the city and into the jungle.  Once again, the traffic was hellacious and downright scary.  Of course, we arrived safely and were ready to begin our adventure.  We started off with a slideshow that taught us about the sun bears and the moon bears, and why “Free The Bears” came into existence.  We learned that bears were captured in order to harvest the bile from their gallbladder for use in Chinese medicine.  Needless to say, it was done in the most horrific and cruel means possible.  In addition, bears were trapped, using steel cables, to be sold as exotic pets and for meat.  This often left the bears (or any other animal caught in the trap) with missing body parts.  This bear sanctuary happened to be a part of a bigger wildlife sanctuary which housed an incredible number of animals (many with missing limbs).  After our introduction, we were taken around to see the various groups of bears and observe their behaviors and interactions.  We then went to the “kitchen” where we chopped up amazing numbers of guavas and mangoes for the bears’ meals.  Once finished, we began the preparation of the bear treats.  These consisted of bamboo tubes and hard balls that we filled with bananas, sweet potatoes, mango, and guava.  It was finished up with peanut butter and grass.  From there, we headed to the enclosures and tossed the treats in (one at a time to ensure each bear got his/her own treat).  We then sat back and enjoyed watching them play with their treats in order to get the food out.

Learning about the “Free the bears” mission
Hello rescued sun bear cub
Moon bear
Robyn hacking mangoes apart with a machete to make bear treats
Assembling the treats into containers that will give the bears some challenge in getting their snacks
Next up were bamboo canisters that the bears could tear open
All done and ready for the field!
Happy bears!

By now, 1/2 the day had quickly slipped away.  We headed off to a Cambodian lunch with the locals.  After a period of rest, we were treated to a tour of many of the big animals in the sanctuary.  We observed lions, tigers, elephants, gibbons, monkeys, otters, leopards, etc.  Some of the highlights…..I held hands with a gibbon (but had to carefully watch out for the male who did not like his female interacting with us), fed an elephant, got close up with a magnificent tiger, and observed an elephant with a prosthetic leg!  It was an amazing experience!  It was now time to feed the bears again.  This time, we entered their enclosure (they were not in there, of course) and hid sweet potatoes, mangoes, and guavas all around (in pipes, tire swings, hammocks, etc.). Afterwards, we observed from outside the enclosure as the bears went on their scavenger hunt in search of the hidden treats.  Needless to say, it was a long and sleepy ride back home….but a very fulfilling day!

Hello baby monkey!
Feeding the baby under the watchful eye of mama
Holding hands with a gibbon while keeping an eye out for the watchful male

For more information visit:

Our final day in Phnom Penh took us on a dark and sombering journey.  We began our morning with a two hour audio tour of the Tuol Sleng (also known as S21) Genocide Museum.  S21 was the secret center of a network of nearly 200 prisons where people were tortured by the Khmer Rouge.  Between 12,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned here.  There are only 12 confirmed survivors.  The photos and captions will take you through the very bleak and gut wrenching walk that we took through the prison.

High schools were converted into prisons….barbed wire added to keep the prisoners from jumping to their death to avoid the horrific torture.
One of the bigger cell blocks. All prisoners were chained or put in leg irons. You can still see blood stains on the floor.
Much tinier cells (just big enough for one human being to lay down in). Prisoners were chained in their cells with a canister to relieve themselves in. As one survivor recounted, if he moved in the night and his chains made a noise, he would be tortured. If one drop of urine spilled or missed the canister, he would be made to lick the floor until it was spotless. The inhumanity of what was done to these people was so overwhelming.
Chilling prison rules.
Prisoners would be hung by their arms from the wooden beam, high in the air, until they lost consciousness. They would them be lowered and their head would be stuffed into these pots of human excrement until they regained consciousness, and the torture would begin again.

From there, we headed to the Choeung Ek Genocide Center and the Killing Fields.  Here we did another walking audio tour through the killing fields.  Choeung Ek is the most well known of over 300 killing fields throughout Cambodia.  Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh on April 17th, 1975.  They forced the evacuation of the cities to fulfill their plan of an agrarian socialist utopia.  As a result, millions of people (many from the highly educated and professional ranks of society) were brutally tortured and killed.  Entire families were wiped out under the premise that they did not want anyone left who might seek revenge.  Approximately 2 million (24%) of the population died.  60% were executed, and the rest died from forced labor and starvation.  Once again, I will let the pictures and captions tell this horrific tale.  Needless to say, the day was emotionally draining, horribly graphic, and heart breaking.  Prior to our experience with the genocide sites, we had been advised by some of the friends we had met here to see the movie, “First They Killed My Father.”  We watched the movie, and after our audio tours, I can say that the movie very accurately portrayed what life was like under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.  I highly recommend seeing the movie.

Temple memorial housing thousands of skeletal remains that have been excavated from this killing field.
One of the hardest sights to comprehend. Here, soldiers would take infants from their mothers, hold them by their ankles, and smash them against this tree. Excavators of this site were said to be completely overwhelmed by the blood and brain matter embedded in the bark of the tree. It is very hard to comprehend how any human being could be so evil.
The many dig sites where skeletal remains were exhumed.
Getting ready to enter the memorial.

Links to places visited in this blog entry: