Asia, Day Trips, Experience, Malaysia, Travel

The Great Melaka Food Trip

“You should go on a Melaka food trip!”

This was the most common (unsolicited) suggestion I got from friends upon them learning that I was going to Melaka. Not particularly a foodie, I pushed those suggestions on the back burner. My fancy with Melaka lay on stuff that I found more interesting. But boy, I didn’t know any better.

It all changed when a Melaka-born friend I met in Indonesia the week prior, drove down from Kuala Lumpur and showed up in my hotel. Nicole and her boyfriend, Casey, very hospitably dragged me on a food trip around town. Bent on awakening the foodporn star in friends visiting their hometown, Nic and Case led me to the best local secrets in Melaka’s merry mix of gastronomic adventures.

Under their tutelage, let me take you to a full day of eating  your way around Melaka — my new, by far, favourite food capital in Southeast Asia. 

0830H | Start the day with Chicken Rice Balls.

Exploring Melaka entails a lot of walking. Therefore, it is imperative to have breakfast. What better way to carbo-load and fully-charge your energy levels for the day than Chicken Rice Balls?

Kedai Kopi Chung Wah, right outside the Jonker Street marker (beside Hard Rock and across H&M), serves the best in town! The place opens up to 3pm on weekdays and 4pm on weekends, but unless you are prepared to line up, it is wisest to go there for breakfast.

Retaining the good old ambiance of traditional Malaysian-style restaurants of open kitchens, Kedai Kopi Chung Wah has no need to hide behind pretty interiors. Its signature Kampung Chicken (steamed) and Rice Balls (rice cooked in chicken stock and rolled into balls) will leave you asking for seconds (or in my case, thirds! LOL).

For spice lovers, a huge jar of chilli sauce is available on every table. Needless to say, it was perfect to tie the whole dish up.

Price: 8RM per single serve (Chicken and 5 Rice Balls)


Kedai Kopi Chung Wah 
Address: 18, Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Monday – Friday 830am-3pm ; Saturday – Sunday 8:30am-4pm
Phone: +60 16-733 0699


1030H | Sip a cup of Melaka Kopi for morning tea.

After a morning stroll around Jonker Street, warm up (or cool down if you want the cold variety) with a shot of Melaka Kopi (Malacca Local Coffee).

Geographer Cafe at the corner of Jonker and Hang Jebat, is housed on a pre-war building, with warm and cozy atmosphere. Its woodsy interior and fast internet make the cafe an ideal chill-out place to catch up on journal writing or blogging.

The coffee isn’t really mind-blowing, considering how the coffee culture is cut-throat in Peninsular Malaysia. But the selling point here is in the explorer vibe that Geographer Cafe is able to perfect beautifully. That, plus, the excellent vantage point for people watching that the cafe has effortlessly provided.

Price: 4.5RM (Hot) | 5.5RM (Cold)


Geographér Café  
Address: Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10am-1am ; Sunday 8am-1am
Phone: +60 6-281 6813


1230H | Feast on Green Salad and Pineapple Beer.

For lunch, do splurge for the things that are worth it. Also, when lost in the bustle of Melaka, seek for a refuge where you can enjoy lunch in the stillness of the town without losing grip on the chaos of its art.

Good news for you, The Baboon House is just the place for that.

Doubling as an art gallery and a mini rainforest, it is every oddball’s happy place. It was mine, right off the bat. There is a catch though: no one is supposed to take photographs inside. (But a little bird told me she steals snaps all the time, so I did, too. Don’t judge! :P)

Much has already been written about The Baboon House’s freshly ground coffee and gourmet burgers, so if you are keen, choose to try something else. For example, their garden salad (read: bacon) and homemade pineapple beer are a must-try!

Price: 9.5RM Homemade Pineapple Beer | 15.5RM Green Salad (+2.5RM Service Charge)


The Baboon House
Address: 89, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Kampung Bukit China, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 10am-5pm
Phone: +60 12-938 6013


1400H | Cool down with a Sugarcane Juice-to-go.

 

I have a deep love for those who work small jobs with big pride. Street vendors, for instance. So I make it a point to buy from them on my travels, hoping to help, even if it only meant 1.5RM of spare change.

This uncle for example, cheerfully said hello whilst I was taking photos of the facade of Cheen Hoon Teng Temple in Jalan Tokong. So I struck a conversation which ended in me guzzling cold sugarcane juice from a plastic bag.

Here, let me tell you a secret: street vendors are the most credible source of local information on a place. They know not only history, but also folklore. Sometimes, even gossip. Thus, if you are running out of twists to your narratives, go find a street food cart. 🙂

Price: 1.5RM (per serve)


(in front of) Cheng Hoon Teng Temple 
Address: 25, Jalan Tokong, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia


1700H | Meet friends over Satay Celup for dinner.

 

The best relationships are forged over food. Communal eating is something that is highlighted in Ban Lee Siang’s Satay Celup.

Similar to the concept of the more well-known Hot Pot, a boiling pot of peanut sauce is sunk into a hole at the centre of the table where skewers of meat, vegetable, tofu and shellfish are dipped into and cooked.

Customers get to choose skewers of food from a buffet style counter, which are then dipped into a boiling peanut sauce. A number of rules are practiced though:

  • The satay sauce is only refilled, and not replaced between customers.
  • Ergo, double-dipping is a big no-no.
  • Skewers don’t get thrown away. You leave it at the table for the attendants to count later.
  • Skewer count determines how much you have to pay.

Price: 1RM (per stick)


Ban Lee Siang Satay Celup
Address: 53-C, Jalan Ong Kim Wee, 75300 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Friday-Tuesday 4pm-1230am
Phone: +60 12-651 5322


1800H | Cap the day off with Putu Piring.

Jalan Tengkera is famed for the Putu Piring sold in the area. Loosely, it translates to Rice Cake Plate, after the delicacy’s plate-like shape. What makes Jalan Tengkera’s Putu Piring is that it specifically uses Gula Melaka, a palm sugar variety that is unique to Melaka.

This family-owned and operated Putu Piring store opens daily (except Sundays) at 6pm, just in time for after-dinner desserts. Try to come a bit earlier though, to beat the queue.

Usually served on a banana leaf with a bed of salted grated coconut, Putu Piring is best eaten while hot.

Price: 1.10RM (per piece)


Putu Piring Tengkera
Address: 252, Jalan Tengkera, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Monday- Saturday 6pm-10pm
Phone: +60 6-282 1505


Did I miss any must-eat food in Melaka?
Please write so in the comments below!


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Foodporn Star, too? Hover on this photo to pin on Pinterest!
Accommodation, Asia, Experience, Malaysia, Travel

HOTEL REVIEW | Hatten Hotel Melaka

Savage Garden had it down pat: “I knew I loved you before I met you.”

That’s how Melaka was to me. That distinctive red square in photos that tugged at the heartstrings. That ruin on a hill that beckoned for my coming. That beautiful mess of a Jalan that even on TV, smelled of good food and better coffee.

Contrary to what most guidebooks say, I knew in my heart that Melaka couldn’t be downplayed as A Day Trip from Kuala Lumpur or “A Weekend Escape from Singapore.”

So when an opportunity appeared out of thin air, I jumped on it. Coming straight from a 2-week media trip in Indonesia, I was haggard as hell. But it was Melaka, so even if it meant having to catch an early bus out of Kuala Lumpur with a suitcase full of dirty laundry, I was ecstatic.

The Hattten Hotel Experience

Hatten Hotel - Words and Wanderlust 10
Lobby of Hatten Hotel

Hatten doesn’t short-change the luxury it offers: this, I knew the moment I walked into its doors.

Soaked in warm, almost golden light, the lobby spelt opulence. A massive chandelier ran through the expanse of the centre ceiling, paving one’s eyes to a lounge set before a feature wall. A number of smaller lounge sets peppered the foyer— a gesture of comfort for waiting guests.

CoffeeVine

I, however, opted to wait for check-in while caffeine-binging at CoffeeVine. Strategically accessible through the hotel lobby and the Hatten Square shops, CoffeeVine was a modern-day rabbit hole that served the freshest skinny latte and the best blueberry cheesecake.

While enjoying my latte, the marketing dynamo in me gasped in admiration at how the Hatten brand is carried over even to the tiniest of details. For instance, the emblem on CoffeeVine’s coasters, stirrers and serviettes.

Paying attention to the nitty-gritty was something that Hatten has flawlessly achieved. And that, sure spoke volumes.

Deluxe Suite

Hatten Hotel - Words and Wanderlust 47

My room was a Deluxe Suite on the 16th floor with sprawling city and sea views. The door opens to a small lounge with an LCD television. A plate of fresh fruits awaited my arrival, with tea and coffee facilities tucked away in a corner. A glazed glass wall divided the lounge from the rest of the suite.

“Perfect!” I exclaimed, glad at how suited the layout was for digital ninjas like myself. Carefully, I wheeled my luggage to the side, getting it out of the way so I can photograph the immensity of my albeit temporary, luxe abode.

My bed was king-sized, with the softest sheets and fluffiest pillows. Sleep-deprived for days already, it was almost hypnotic, to say the least. A study table that doubled as a vanity stood at the foot of the bed, a subtle reminder of the narratives I was yet to write. The marble-tiled ensuite was pristine, and had a rainshower shower head to boot.

The Melaka Cityscape

But the true feature of the room, posh as it may be, was a ginormous, almost floor-to-ceiling  glass window. Outside, a panorama of the historical Melaka Raya bound in an embrace by the equally historical Malacca Strait, flaunted itself.

“I could live here,” I surmised, before burying myself in the comforts of my bed.

Hatten Hotel - Words and Wanderlust 18

Chatterz All-Day Dining

When the initial elation of my staycation eased to a manageable level, it also dawned on me how I was famished. After a quick shower, I headed down to the 11th-floor Chatterz All Day Dining Restaurant.

Consistent with Hatten Hotel’s casual chic interiors, Chatterz did not disappoint. An entire hall of culinary delights awaited guests, with a team of very hospitable men and women who made sure everyone was well-attended to.

I was pleasantly welcomed by one of the waiters and was led to a table near the dessert bar. I looked around and was surprised to see that there were actually a number of other patrons dining. Only, the layout of the place— what with its high ceilings and well-placed dining tables— conveyed an illusion of space . It was a pleasure to have felt as if I had a private space despite being in a buffet hall.

There was a wide selection of food, traditional and western alike. It wasn’t bad. But food, as perhaps everyone would agree, is one thing that should always, only befit superlatives.

To be honest, my food experience was a bit underwhelming. Perhaps, being in Melaka, a gastronomic capital, raised expectations a bit. I thought, “if Hatten could somehow harness that insatiable passion for food that the city is known for, undoubtedly, that would earn them their 5th star.”

Splash Pool Bar

Hatten Hotel - Words and Wanderlust 26

Late in the arvo on my second day in Melaka, I went to see the Splash Pool Bar on the 12th floor of the hotel. I walked straight to one of the high chairs and ordered french fries from the boy manning the bar.

He was gracious, but looked perplexed, seeing me order food and tuck my tummy in at the same time. “Ah, no worries,” I shook of his worries. “No need to be skinny to be sexy. I only need french fries,” I said laughing.

“Right away, miss!” He nodded in  agreement.

After walking the length of the infinity pool, I took a dip and marvelled at the contrast of colours in the skies. “The Golden Hour”, photographers would say. A group of kids broke my brooding, after I overheard them saying they’d do laps. I invited myself and joined in, much to the amusement of their parents who were watching by the sidelines.

When my french fries arrived, I excused myself and got up to the bar. There, I went on brooding, admiring the teeming cityscape sprawling below.

Hatten Hotel - Words and Wanderlust 9
A bronze sculpture; part of Yang Berbahagia Datuk Wira Erik Tan’s personal fine arts collection.

Alto Sky Lounge

Alto Sky Lounge at the 22nd floor was hands down, the best place to see sunset in Melaka.  Exclusive and luxurious, the sky lounge can be likened to my previous experiences in Helipad Bar at the Bitexco Tower in Ho Chi Minh and in Fuego Troika Sky Dining in Kuala Lumpur.

As a solo traveler, I treasured my solitude. Very seldom did I get sentimental and miss people whilst on the road. But that afternoon was different. I was enthralled by an event so spellbinding, I wanted nothing less than sharing the experience with a beloved.

That’s what Hatten Hotel’s grip to the world, I guessed. Whilst it wowed patrons with its central location and superb environment, it was in little packets of less-known secrets— like having a top-floor bar with priceless views of the sunset— that true magic was kept.

So I picked up my phone and shot a rare message to the boylove:

“Wish you were here.”


Hatten Hotel Melaka
Hatten Square, Jalan Merdeka,
Bandar Hilir, 75000
Melaka, Malaysia
Phone: +60 6-286 9696

To book a discounted stay, click here.

Disclaimer:

Hatten Hotel Melaka very kindly sponsored my stay in Melaka for 3 days and 2 nights in exchange for a review. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the hotel.

Accommodation, Asia, Experience, Indonesia, Travel

HOTEL REVIEW | Alila Seminyak

Lemongrass. Its soft, citrusy smell lingered in the air as I aimlessly sauntered into the colossal foyer of Alila Seminyak in Bali. A tunnel of refreshing breeze from the oceanfront met my arrival— an architectural genius made possible by epic use of high ceilings, open-plan design and cross ventilation.

A couple of ladies garbed in colours of the beach, rushed to my side bearing trays: one with cool drinks, and the other with damp towelettes. I dug both at once; potent antidotes against the unforgiving Bali sun. On the table was also a tray of more artillery : after-sun spray, insect repellant, hand lotion and face mist.

“This is like a welcome spa,” I exclaimed, touched at how attuned and sensitive Alila was to the needs of their guests.

Hotel Review - Alila Seminyak 34
The lobby design of Alila Seminyak taps on the tenets of simplicity and symmetry.

The Penthouse

Whilst waiting for my room, the staff at the hotel very hospitably offered a tour to the penthouse. Bad idea. Because after seeing the penthouse—after being in one for the first time ever— I almost didn’t want to be anywhere else anymore.

Imagine waking up in a king-sized bed in a room with views of the Indian Ocean; where the worst of your woes is you cannot make up your mind whether to enjoy a relaxing bath in a fancy tub or take a dip in a private infinity pool.

Boasting three suites, living and dining areas, and a sundeck, it has all the makings of a truly luxurious and very private retreat in the city centre. What with the Potato Head Beach Club only a stone’s throw away, the penthouse is definitely a cocoon right smack in Bali’s party hotspot.

My Garden Suite

Hotel Review - Alila Seminyak 10
So indulgent I stayed in and turned down a party invitation that night.

Shortly after, I got given the swipe card to my room— a garden deluxe suite, just a level up from the main foyer.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have afforded something that grand. But in the same way, I also understood why an Alila staycation is worth the splurge.

When I opened my room, I gaped at the surprise. It looked just like the rooms in the penthouse; a chunk off, really.

Panels of solid wood  cut through the room flawlessly, acting as a partition between the main bedroom and the ensuite. Along the corridor, separating the toilet and bath, ran a bench and a mirror backsplash; just the perfect space for the multitude of cosmetics as I was cramming to prepare for the sunset party that the hotel has prepared for Trip of Wonders.

Sunset Cocktail and Farewell Dinner

I’ve been to Bali twice before. But I do not remember basking in twilight as elaborate as it was that afternoon in the Beach Terrace. Perhaps, it was emotions. It was the conclusion of a fortnight’s worth of adventure with fellow travel influencers from all over Southeast Asia. When strangers become friends, goodbyes become a bit difficult.

So we drank the sadness away, and Alila had the perfect signature cocktail for that: Spicy Cha Margarita.

Spicy Cha Magarita Recipe
Don Julio Reposado
Passion Fruit Puree
Agave Nectar
Lime Juice
Red Chilli
Sweet Togarashi Salt

After sunset, we proceeded to a function room inside the main building for dinner. There, we were regaled with an array of delectable dishes— the perfect accompaniment to a night of celebration.

But even with an enjoyable dinner and a brief after-party, my mind was in a perpetual anticipation of the pleasurable night’s sleep that awaited me. What with the extravagance of my deluxe suite, I could hardly wait.

Morning Swim

Early the next day and well before breakfast, I went to one of the three infinity pools of the hotel for a quick morning dip. The walkway leading to the pool were lined with smooth stones on either side. Likewise, leafy vines crawled along the wooden walls lining the corridors. I was still in the building, but it felt like I’ve gone outdoors.

Perhaps, that was the intent of the Alila brand: to bring in the best of nature and meld it with the comforts of modern living. 

I walked along the edge of the pool, watching the angry waves of the Indian Ocean lap against the expanse of the world-renowned Seminyak beach.

When I was done swimming, I lay on one of the beach beds, parched. As if on cue, the pool attendant offered a bottled water and a towel. He also brought in a basket of goodies: sunscreen, face mist, and an after-sun spray, amongst others.

“Breakfast is downstairs, Miss.” he volunteered, guessing that I must be starving, too.

“Don’t worry, that’s exactly where I’m heading next.” I said, ever impressed at how attentive and outstanding customer service was at Alila Seminyak.

Buffet Breakfast

Hotel Review - Alila Seminyak 14
The Big Breakfast Flatlay

Breakfast was world-class. Featuring both indoor and al fresco sitting options, with communal tables to boot, Alila dining aimed to please.

And it did. I devoured platefuls of bacon, the default Times New Roman of all breakfast dishes, bold and italic.

The buffet was traveling in itself: overflowing with the best selection of dishes from homey East to sophisticated West. There was always something that catered to everyone’s palate. And perhaps, that was exactly the point of Alila’s brand of hospitality:

To have a place in the sun for everyone. 

Hotel Review - Alila Seminyak 20
Walking along the length of the infinity pool before the Indian Ocean

Alila Seminyak – Bali
Jalan Taman Ganesha No. 9
Petitenget, Kerobokan
Bali, Indonesia
P: +62 361 3021 888
Email: seminyak@alilahotels.com

To book a discounted stay, click here.

Disclaimer:

Alila Seminyak hosted the Bali leg of Trip of Wonders – ASEAN Batch 2, an invitational trip for travel influencers, as sponsored by Ministry of Tourism – Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.

Asia, Indonesia, Travel

Trip of Wonders | Labuan Bajo

Labuan Bajo wasn’t part of the original itinerary for Trip of Wonders. But a volcanic activity in the west of the archipelago necessitated some last minute changes in the schedule. Hence, the happenstance to Flores’ tourism epicentre.

Maktub; the Arabs has a term for things that are fated. Serendipity; the English has, too.

When the plane landed in Komodo Airport, a knowing feeling— as if the island always knew I’d be there— stirred inside me. If only to feel the earth under my soles, I was tempted to walk barefoot. Glad to be where I was, I wanted to show gratitude that way.

flores indonesia

But I got up at 3AM that day, having to fly back to Bali from Lombok, before catching another flight to Komodo. Being too sapped out of energy to think poetry, I didn’t walk barefoot. But I was thankful still, albeit in silence.

I ran the shower a little longer that afternoon. It almost didn’t matter that I was in an oceanfront hotel and my room had a boulder for a view. My priority then was to stay awake long enough for the promised sunset on the trip’s guide book.

Paradise Bar

Perched atop a hill, a bit away from the chaos of the town centre, was a shack-cum-bar aptly named Paradise.

At once, I rushed to the invitation of the open deck, boasting panoramic views of the Labuan Bajo coastline and the calm waters of Sumba Strait.

“Front row seats,” I announced whilst grabbing a chair to sit beside Indra, one of my new-found friends.

“HiSo!” he teased, meaning High Society, a moniker we’ve adapted during the trip to denote special privileges.

paradise bar labuan bajo

It was too early to party, so we settled with mocktails. However, judging from the makeshift stage on one corner, and a wooden bar on the other, I was certain what chill a place Paradise Bar is at night.

“Sons of the sea under a star-studded tropical sky, darn.” I mused, just as the yolk of the dying sun sank into the flaming horizon.

Whilst everyone else was on their cameras, I put mine down and sat back. “There is no way still photographs could capture this drama,” I mumbled. I then went back to my drink, savoured the fortune of just being there, and sang along with the soundtrack in my head:

“My youth, my youth is yours!”

Labuan Bajo LOB

The next couple of days passed in a blur as our jaunt was nearing its end. In speed boats, we hopped from one shore to another and explored some of the least frequented but most must-go-to parts of the Lesser Sunda Islands.

In between sunscreen spray retouches, I stood on the hull of the boat like a she-hero in a quest for lands to conquer.

Komodo Island

In factions, we swept the woods of Komodo and came face-to-face with the last of the dragons. Perhaps, also of the dinosaurs.

The book nerd in me kicked in. My name was Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. With a wardrobe ensemble pre-rehearsed the night prior, I completed the look with a wooden staff, borrowed from one of the park rangers.

komodo island

By virtue of semi-matching outfits, Marcos, who was garbed in a multi-colored cape from the weavers of Sasak Sade, became an instant ally

“Travellers are the real fashion bloggers,” I declared, and we guffawed at our shared hilarity.

Pink Beach

My first memory of Pink Beach wasn’t its salmon-coloured sand. Right after disembarking from the boat, someone I had a short chat with back in Komodo Island, asked if we could climb the headland together.

Because I disintegrate at the sight of tall, lanky Southeast Asian Chinese men, I reflexively responded with an excuse that really, meant No— much to the chagrin of my gay friend, Lloyd, who was crushing on Jakarta boy, too.

For the rest of the afternoon, I steered clear of the headland and settled with Woman Versus Wild snaps in the vast mousy field beyond the beach.

pink beach

Kanawa Island

As a popular stop for divers and manta ray spotters, there were more amenities in Kanawa than most of the other islands. Drinks were sold too, albeit a bit overpriced.

There , the sea proved irresistible. Starfishes scattered across sand beds and baby sharks swam through calf-deep waters. Upon seeing the first baby shark, I jumped at once. Thankfully, it seemed uninterested and swam on to the foot bridge before the setting sun.

kanawa island

Padar Island

Nothing prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of Padar. It was the perfect backdrop for everyone’s perfect moment— NatGeo moment for explorers, Wallpaper moment for fashionistas, this-trek-is-so-tiring-imma-eat-afterwards moment for foodies. I was all three.

On one hand, I couldn’t wait to tell the planet about the magic at the summit. On the other, I wanted to keep the place a secret, if only to shield it from commercial exploitation.

I ended up sharing anyway. I am a teller of travel stories, after all.

Padar Island

Rinca Island

An array of mangroves forming a barrier around Loh Buaya was Rinca’s most recognisable landmark. Unlike the other islands we’ve been to, Rinca had no beach. Or at least, I didn’t see one where we were.

A stone arch featuring a giant ora on either side was erected near the dock. From there, we had to walk across a barren field— an area reached by water at high tide, I was certain— to the base camp.

A short trek further into the island led us to sightings of more Komodo dragons, perennially patient but ever poised to slay.

rinca island

Kelor Island

Kelor was a subtle ending to a series of awe-inspiring discoveries. Its underwater wasn’t as colourful as Kanawa’s. Its sand wasn’t as fine as Pink Beach. But Kelor’s secret weapon was the undeniable charm of its twin island, Kukusan, acting as a photogenic backdrop.

There, I climbed on trees, like a warrior surveying distant lands for prey.  I only saw beauty everywhere. 

kelor island

~*~

Labuan Bajo PostScript

Disclaimer:

Labuan Bajo was the last stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.

Asia, Indonesia, Travel

Trip of Wonders | Lombok

Once, in a forest made of moss and morning dew, I found a boy who carried with him grand stories of the mountain, Rinjani. He spoke of days scaling the volcano; scorching under the sun but freezing below the moon. I listened intently, pocketing imageries of the island from the adventures of a stranger. I listened, even to the replays of our conversation in my head, over and over, until the imageries became mine.

Fernweh, as the Germans call the ache for places one has never been to. That was how Lombok was to my muse — like how it was Santorini last year; and Pondicherry the year prior.

But the multiverse conspired and I found myself seated by the window on a plane to Lombok one Tuesday.

Lombok - Words and Wanderlust - Mataram
A gush of arid breeze heralded my arrival, and as if on cue, my eyes found Rinjani peeking through clouds from a distance. I beamed at the thought of finally setting foot in the island, whilst rushing through the tarmac and to the waiting bus.

“At long last” I whispered to myself, bracing for a heap of brooding on the bus ride to lunch.

EL BAZAR

The Mataram in my head wasn’t as expansive as it was in reality, but it was just as unperturbed as I imagined it to be. Its streets bore semblances of an aged countryside with specks of a growing metropolis. Signs of modernity splattered in clusters, amidst vast farming fields and close-knit villages. Whilst the outskirts of the the main town featured locals going about the daily grind, Kuta was filled to the brim with Caucasian travellers.

When the bus pulled over at the teeming thoroughfare of Kuta, my group was led to a small cafe that was distinctively Mediterranean— a pop of colour in an otherwise dusty and sepia-toned strip of town.

Lombok - Words and Wanderlust - Larbi

Larbi Ahassad, the Dutch-Moroccan heart and soul behind El Bazar, ushered our famished selves to an inner courtyard with royal blue walls. He wore a shy smile, but with a pair of eyes that sparked with immense pride. When his team walked in with huge platters of well-curated menu items— a fusion of East, West and the MediterraneanLarbi stepped back with childlike amusement. It was as if he was used to seeing his customers go catatonic before a display of his gastronomic specialties.

After days of gorging on mostly deep-fried, sambal-laden Indonesian fare, El Bazar, unarguably, was a pleasant reprieve.

Lombok - Words and Wanderlust - El Bazar

SASAK SADE VILLAGE

In the afternoon, I went with my group to Dusun Sade, a traditional village inhabited by the indigenous Sasak people. There, where men were farmers and women were weavers, we got the most heart-wrenching welcome of all: belonging.

A group of youngsters stood by the gates to place woven scarves around our necks as we entered. We then gathered around the square, sporting authentic Sasak Sade woven masterpieces. I sat away from the group and beside the neighbourhood kids in front of a store selling handicraft.

As the villagers burst into a series of dance performances, we were transported back in time: to the making of a history of a tribe whose customs were as interesting as the patterns on their sarongs.

Lombok - Words and Wanderlust - Sasak Sade

After the performances, I made my way further in to window-shop. Sasak people were gracious enough to let me take photos of their colourful wares, straw houses, and sometimes, even of themselves.

Fighting back tears, it warmed my heart to see people who were able to keep their joys simple; for giving so much despite having so little. For a while, to give back, I even let them view photos on my camera.

“Rich, lady!” one of the kids who spoke better English than the rest exclaimed, referring to the fancy photographic armaments I was lugging around.

“Study hard,” the words rolled off my tongue like a secret passed from one village kid to another.

GILI TRAWANGAN

Early the next day, our convoy of buses led us to the coast, for a day-long affair with the sea. For a coastal dweller like myself, a week without the beach was already pushing it to the limit. “About time,” I said out loud while excitedly donning on a bright orange swimwear.

Plus, we were going to Gili Trawangan: my single most favourite island in the world.

I’ve been to Gili T once before. It was supposedly just a quick detour from resort-hopping between Seminyak and Candidasa after Christmas. But I ended up staying until well into the new year.

On a swing in a bar aptly named Exile, farthest from the party central, I saw the last sunset of 2015 and the first sunrise of 2016. If that wasn’t special, I don’t know what is.

Gili Trawangan - Words and Wanderlust

After snorkelling, and a quick cruise to Gili Air and Gili Meno, I shared a rather satisfying lunch with friends at Villa Ombak. Soon after, we rushed to Black Penny, my second most frequented watering hole, next to Exile.

The rest of the group cycled around the island, whilst others snorkelled some more. Meanwhile, my friends and I sprawled on bean bags at Black Penny’s, guzzling on ice-cold Bintang, before an immaculate strip of sand.

“What did you do when you were here?” one of my friends asked after my nth rave about the island.

“This,” I answered while fixing my pair of Clubmasters. Proceeding to take the most sophisticated sip from my cocktail, I then added, “exactly this.”

Lombok - Words and Wanderlust - Gili Trawangan

Lombok

There are two types of destinations: to where viral marketing strategists tell you where to go; and to where the most interesting people you meet on the road have already gone.

Lombok was borne out of the latter— as the setting of a story told by a fellow traveler who liked to hold hands in mossy slopes on rainy Saturdays. Our dynamics was very much like that of Rinjani’s: potentially earth-shattering but muffled in countless of unspeakable ways.

Maybe Lombok was a pick-up line; I’d never know. But I’m a wordsmith; and if there’s anything I am ever good at, it is with words. I never got to say much to those who didn’t quite happen.

But to those that did, with thoughts and longing to those that didn’t, allow me: Lombok, I lava you.

Lombok Accommodation

Disclaimer:

Lombok was the third stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.

Asia, Indonesia, Travel

Trip of Wonders | Yogyakarta

If names have anything to do with destiny, then Royalty is Yogyakarta’s birthright.

Derived from Javanese words Yogya and Karta, it befits prosperity. The latter, splendidly worn in the fabric of Jogja’s history: from architecture to heritage to cookery.

My welcome to the city came late in the evening, in the form of a jasmine lei and a cup of tea extracted from a native red bark. Shaken from a massive turbulence from the flight out of Bandung and bursting from binging platefuls of Ayam Goreng at dinner, such gesture of hospitality from Royal Ambarrukmo was impeccable.

Even without counting my top-floor room with pool view, the platter of dessert at bedside was more than enough indulgence. Imagine the romance.

BOROBUDUR

My first restful sleep at Royal Ambarrukmo however, was promptly interrupted by a 2AM wake up call. But Borobudur, as I later saw for myself, was one of the few things worth rising up early for. How can it not be when from there, it meant having the pleasure of seeing the morning sun rage against the distant Mt. Merapi?

Yogyakarta - Borobudur Sunrise

I remember racing through the gates of the compound, only to be arrested by the magnificence before me: over 2,500 square-metre huge, multi-level superstructure— perhaps the greatest in all the world’s Buddhist temples.

After the sun has risen, a stroll around left me astonished. Circling the stupas, a sea of clouds blanketed farming fields and villages sprawled low at the foot of outlying mountain ranges. It got me thinking: Borobudur, living up to its legacy, has indeed, proudly withstood tests of time and forces of nature.

By mid-morning, just before an impromptu crash course on batik-making and pottery, I explored the village surrounding Borobudur a little deeper. In a vintage bike, I cycled through rice paddies: partly alongside my friends, but mostly by myself. Introspection was necessary because as a village girl myself, I saw glimpses of home on that morning bicycle ride.

Yogyakarta - Borobudur Cycling

It made sense then. The simplicity of rural Central Java, and the generosity of its people to live and let live, was what enabled the Buddhist Borobudur to last through the millennium amidst a Muslim dominion.

AMBARRUKMO

After lunch, a trip down the lanes of Jogja’s opulent yesteryears was held by way of a guided walking tour around Royal Ambarrukmo. I made my way around with the crowd, palming stories stuck beneath age-old murals and symmetrical pillars; all pregnant with rhyme and reason.

As the day came to a close, I perched before a lavish display of local canapés for afternoon tea, peeping through how royals fared through their days. My mortal self could not barely contain the experience’s overwhelming sense of marvel. At that point, my heart knew no other language, but that of Gratitude.

Yogyakarta - Royal Ambarrukmo

RATU BOKO

Whilst sunrise was incredible, sunset was stellar.

As the crowd swarmed through the gateway of the main terrace, I sprinted to the grounds, away from the gates. When I looked back, the yoke of the sun was just sinking into the horizon, a rich orange against the shadow of Ratu Boko, or remnants of.

How did you know?” A chap from another tour group asked, indicating the angle I was shooting from, farthest from the crowd.

Well, I knew that Ratu Boko was once a palace.” I was awkwardly rolling off the grass, trying to shoot from a low angle.

And?” He pressed.

And kings don’t usually stand by the doors. They marvel at their riches from afar.” I answered, smug, like a true royal.

Right after, like true commoners, we shared a hysterical laugh.

Yogyakarta - Ratu Boko Sunset

On the second morning, I bade goodbye to Yogyakarta with a promise to return. As I made my out of the hallowed halls of Royal Ambarrukmo, I ran my palm along its walls one last time, relearning the stories it cradled: those of religion and royalty; of glory and grandeur.

Yogyakarta - Postscript

Disclaimer:

Yogyakarta was the second stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect the view of the Ministry.

Asia, Day Trips, Indonesia, Travel

Trip of Wonders | Bandung

Art, Culture and Nature — these comprise the trifecta from which the Indonesian city of Bandung stands firmly on.  My introduction, however, began with food: a hearty lunch of bebek goreng and an overload of sambal, in particular.

Following a 3-hour and 20-minute journey by rail from Jakarta— and after being shown a real-life trailer of West Javanese daily hustle from the train window— it felt I was ready to sit through the whole movie, lunch inclusive.

Nuart Sculpture Park

Nuart Sculpture Park

My first afternoon in the city was spent in the copper and brass wonderland of Nuart Sculpture Park. The compound was littered with installations that demanded space and time. All beckoned not to be merely looked at, but moreso, be looked into.

Women, bare and strong, were showcased intermittently. Along with a multitude of other creations, Nuart’s signature depiction were mostly of Strength amidst Struggle.

Nyoman Nuarta, the Balinese-born, Bandung-educated sociopolitical genius behind Nuart, reeked of inspiration.

“How are you so patient?” I asked him in between selfies, as we were making our way around his smaller installations, after a 3-part film show of his grandest projects.

“When you want something, you wait.” He smiled a smile that was almost cheeky; his eyes deep in introspection, as if in touch with an ever-present hunger to create.

Nyoman Nuarta

Later, an exclusive access to the park’s workshop reinforced my earlier observations. There, metal smiths forged masterpieces from earth, under fire, but before a waterfall. Such display of the marriage of elements was nothing short of impeccable.

That night, I went to sleep beyond impressed. The privilege of walking into Nuart’s doors has also been the reckoning of how beautifully art is made when Protest is done with and by Restraint.

Armor Kopi

Early the next day, I found myself hopping on to a bus, being whisked into the woods. There, nestled amongst pine trees, stood a quirky little cafe aptly named Armor (ARabica Multi ORigin).

Featuring only the freshest coffee beans and tea leaves from the archipelago, Armor Kopi boasted of the best in Manual Brewing. The lads manning the counter also doubled as baristas, preparing concoctions in front of awed customers.

Though a coffee junkie, I already had a generous helping at breakfast that day. Instead, I egged my companions to sample Luwak. Arguably, it is the most expensive and perhaps, the most controversial of coffee varieties.

Armor Kopi

Kopi Luwak is coffee made from beans ingested and defecated by Asian palm civets. As explained by one of the baristas, civet cats eat only the best beans. These beans are further fermented with special stomach enzymes in the digestive tract of civet cats, thus resulting in a less acidic but smoother coffee taste.

I, on the other hand, took advantage of my mortal chance to enjoy a pot of the royally-acclaimed Silver Needle tea. Once served only to China’s Royal Imperial Family, these silver-tipped white tea leaves are harvested only once or twice a year.

Over Pisang Goreng and Rujak Cireng, popular Indonesian delicacies, I savoured my tea whilst my new-found friends raved on their coffee.

Dusun Bambu

Situated on the foothills of Mt. Burangrang, Dusun Bambu stood as a testament for the Indonesians’ regard for family. Built as a retreat for the community to enjoy nature, culture and cuisine, it wasn’t just what I came there for; it was also what I found.

Dusun Bambu

A tower of bamboo manned the entrance like a giant throne fashioned from swords. Further up, there were footbridges that cut across fields, up to a concrete road with bamboo archways. Up in the trees, dedicated dining rooms were cocooned inside what appeared to be huge birds nests.

The principles of Dusun Bambu resonated with me. It was able utilise nature in its architecture and integrate it into modern and practical aesthetics. It also succeeded in harnessing on Bandung’s Sundanese roots whilst transcending beautifully into the present-day Indonesia.

Saung Angklung Udjo

Perhaps, the organisers of our trip knew how to save the best last. I was already a bit knackered when our group was led to a small auditorium, filled to the brim with foreigners and locals alike. But my senses were awakened when the lady manning the till handed the audience necklaces with small angklungs (a bamboo musical instrument) as pendants. On the stage were a group of men playing traditional instruments before an array of puppets.

Bandung Weekend - Angklung Udju

Soon after, we were treated to an entertaining series of cultural performances ranging from puppet shows to dances and songs from and by different Indonesian ethnic groups. My favourite however— and I’d bet, everybody else’s too— was Angklung Interactive, where each guest was given an angklung and we were collectively taught to play songs.

By the time the exercise concluded, I was on my feet, uber energetic to party with the crowd. It dawned on me right there and then, how entertainment strengthens unity and camaraderie amongst communities.

Admittedly, I was a little envious too. The performers of Angklung Udjo ranged from toddlers to septuagenarians— families, neighbours and friends. Outside, first-world factories peppered the city. But in that small auditorium, a culture as rich, as confident and as alive, thrived; and with certainty, will thrive.

Bandung Weekend - Local Designer

Rumah Mode

A visit to Bandung won’t be without shopping. Ours was scheduled on a Sunday before flying out to Jogjakarta. But I was naughty and sneaked out for previews on Saturday night, to some hipster-ish boutiques run by local designers.

It turned out to be a good idea though, since Rumah Mode was packed the next day. I browsed, however, but did not end up buying anything. Instead, I sat with friends in a cafe fronting a small makeshift pond and had Iced Coffee.

Soon after, our other companions came out from the shops in throngs, with multiple shopping bags in tow. Maybe that meant they’ve scored good deals.

As I bade goodbye to the weekend, and to Bandung, I was comforted with pride that the best brands from all over the planet chose the craftsmanship of this small Indonesian city to clothe the rest of the fashion world.

 

Art, Culture and Nature — these comprise the trifecta from which the Indonesian city of Bandung stands firmly on. On the weekend I was there, those aforementioned elements stood apparent everywhere.

Bandung Where to stay


Disclaimer:

Bandung was the first stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.

Asia, Personal Essay, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Siquijor: The Long Way Home

Lineage, they say, is traced back from the father. If that is the case, then mine traces back to Siquijor, the island of fire. Also, of faith; of magic; of saltwater; and of the nocturne.

Only, even my father, a third-generation migrant to Mindanao, hadn’t been to the island himself.

But postal address was the sole thing that was not Siquijodnon about my Dad; about us as a family. Growing up in a region where only a handful bore our surname, we always felt misplaced somehow.

Talks about entire barrios that shared our bloodline– sun-kissed, with wide noses and big teeth— were mouthed as a promise -to-see-someday; a dream, repeatedly told over coconut wine- drinking sessions amongst uncles.

Just after summer this year, when sunshine was still abundant but not as scorching, the whole family embarked on a road trip to Siquijor, to fulfil my father’s lifelong desire for a homecoming.

Lazi - Words and Wanderlust

Our journey started in a church in Lazi. Whilst the rest of the family lit candles of petition, my dad stood distracted, reading a list of names of church benefactors on a cement wall. He gasped at familiar surnames of people from our hometown. After all, many of our neighbours’ forefathers were also farmer-fishermen from Siquijor; just like one Rufino Amantiad, who once loaded his entire kin on to a boat bound for Mindanao, and never returned.

My brother and I joked: maybe an heirloom awaited our Dad— a beachfront property, a hillside mansion, or acres of Molave. Maybe he is heir to some powerful wizard and we have come to the island to claim our destiny— a stone to swallow, a cave to set fire to, or a talisman to be received.

My mom, avid unbeliever, could only roll her eyes.

Minalulan

The first lead we found was from a group of candle vendors outside the church. They spoke of Amantiads they know from some distant barangays in and around the town of Maria. But one that rang a bell was a seaside community called Minalulan, from which, I believe, my father’s birthplace of Minaulon in Mindanao, was derived from.

As we drove away from Lazi and closer to Maria, my dad’s anxiety was almost palpable.

“Look for small houses; for poor people,” he kept on saying. “My grandfather said we were from poor origins,” he emphasized.

“Still poor,” my mom chirped in, antagonistic as ever.

Their bickering was promptly interrupted by a distinct welcome sign on the side of the road. My dad jumped at once, beckoning me to take a photo of him at the welcome sign of Barangay Minalulan. Soon after, the whole family joined in.

Minalulan - Words and Wanderlust

From there, we euphorically asked locals for directions, as if all of them were distant relatives. Eventually, the search led us to a sari-sari store at a corner fronting the public plaza. This was where we found Hilarion and Benedicta Amantiad, who, upon learning about our plight, offered a pack of hopia and a bottle of Mirinda to take with us to Salagdoong.

Lolo Hilarion was too young to remember or know my great grandfather, Rufino; moreso my grandfather, Agustin, who was only 14 when he left the island. But his eyes pocketed passion and pride, just like my late Nanay Teofila’s; his whole face bore the same smiling/crying grimace that was distinctive of my Lolo Leoncio. I’m sure my dad saw it too.

“I may not be able to recall how we are related, but we are; that, I assure you,” Lolo Hilarion, in an unmistakably Siquijodnon lilt, confirmed what we already knew deep down inside.

Hilarion - Words and Wanderlust

Maria

My dad was still on a high from meeting Lolo Hilarion, so he kept striking up conversations with everyone as we made our way to Salagdoong. Upon hearing his narrative, the gatekeeper at the resort volunteered that he knew of a certain Ecoy Amantiad, whose kin runs a stall at the Maria Public Market.

It wasn’t hard to find Lolo Ecoy at all, who received our strange intrusion in shock and silence. He wasn’t in the pink of health having just recovered from a cardiac ailment, but was gracious enough to talk to us. His daughter, Auntie Lucy, very hospitably answered our questions on her father’s behalf.

Surprisingly, the world was small after all. It turned out that Lolo Ecoy was Angelico Amantiad, grandfather of Rainveill, a “cousin” I accidentally bumped into, online, one day many years ago. Long story short, we’ve kept tabs since, both convinced that although we didn’t know how and why, we were from the same bloodline.

Understanding of my father’s need to reconnect with his roots, Lolo Ecoy offered to accompany us to Cangtugbas, where his centenarian parents lived.

Cangtugbas

The road to Cangtugbas was hilly and narrow; a perennial ascent that one would not expect of Siquijor. Lolo Ecoy sat on the passenger seat, his words calculated. My dad sat at the back, elated and uber excited.

Marcial Amantiad, the family patriarch and quite possibly our oldest living relative, was sitting on a balcony when we arrived. His wife, Lola Librada, pleasantly confused due to Dementia, was singing an old folk song on loop.

Off the bat, I was convinced we were family. It was as if seeing my father see his father again after forever. You see, my Lolo Agustin died when Dad was only 17. Since then, he only lived off his stories. We did, too.

It was Lolo Marcial, suprisingly sharp for a century-old chap, who was finally able to trace our lineage. He said that he was first cousins of Lolo Rufino, and had vague recollection of his kids. That being said, it meant that Lolo Ecoy was second cousins with my Lolo Agustin.

I took lots of photos, excited to log online so I can share Rainveill my good news. But we were too far off-the-grid to get internet connection; too off-the-beaten path to even get Waze coverage. But all of it didn’t matter at the time.

All that mattered was, right at that moment, in a bungalow in the hills of Cangtugbas, my father finally found his way— through Hilarion, Angelico and Marcial; through the stories of Rufino; and through the memories of Agustin— back home.

Parents - Words and Wanderlust