Times they are a changing in Myanmar

Serene: Temples pepper the plain in the ancient city Bagan.
Serene: Temples pepper the plain in the ancient city Bagan.

The budget airplane to Mandalay was rolling along the apron of Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport ready for take off. The flight attendants — all with model good looks — were giving safety instructions.

Excitement started to swell in me. In just one-and-a-half hours, I would land in Myanmar: the fast-changing homeland of Aung San Suu Kyi. The plane picked up speed. There was no turning back. I flicked through my guidebook, a Lonely Planet published in 2011 that I bought months before but had not read. It seemed appropriate to read the “need to know” page before touching down.

My eye scanned a heading printed in blue font: “cash-only economy”. My heart rate quickened. “Myanmar ATMs don’t accept international cards”. It continued: “Budget carefully and get the right kind of bills before your plane lands in Yangon. Otherwise, you’ll end up in financial trouble”.

I was a couple of hundred feet in the air already. I landed in Mandalay and was sure I was in trouble. With only Rp 600,000 (US$58.2) in my pocket and not a single dollar or kyat in hand, I had visions of sleeping on the streets of Mandalay before making my way to the Indonesian consulate in Yangon to beg them to take me in.

I had been feeling that Myanmar was calling me to visit. The military junta finally released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after years of house arrest in 2010. News reports from Myanmar’s Rakhine state detailed the deadly ethnic and religious conflicts between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. There seemed to a parallel to Indonesia, which overthrew its despot long before Myanmar, and which has also been struggling with religious conflict.

My one-week plan was to visit the dusty commercial town of Mandalay, made famous by songs inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem Road to Mandalay, followed by a stop at the ancient city Bagan, where thousands of red-brick pagodas stretch across the plains.

While there are no direct flights from Jakarta to Yangon or Mandalay, the cities with international airports in Myanmar, budget airlines such as Air Asia serve routes such as Singapore-Yangon or Bangkok-Yangon and Bangkok-Mandalay.

The country is transitioning from a reclusive dictatorship hit hard by embargoes to a nation eyed by foreign investors. The economic sanctions that cut off Myanmar (and its ATMs) from the rest of the world were lifted last year. This saved me from a life of indigence on the streets of Mandalay, as I found that the ATMs there and Bagan did indeed accept international cards, thank you very much.

Mandalay, the capital of Burma before the British takeover in 1885, is a bustling town with rows of five-story buildings. Here and there, you will find monasteries with lush trees. While Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Mandalay population, it’s a city of many different faiths. Min, the taxi driver who took me around, said that his wife was Roman Catholic, while he was a Buddhist who believes in nats (spirits). In honor of his wife, he can recite the Lord’s Prayer.

If flying on Air Asia, the airline provides free shuttle bus from the airport to the city, which is an hour’s ride. Mid-range hotels costing between $20 and $40 a night are plentiful.

I chose the Royal City Hotel, which had a rooftop terrace that was good for watching the sunset. Also visible from the rooftop of the hotel, which was near the Mandalay Palace, were the dome of a mosque, the spire of a church and the stupas of the pagoda — as well as ubiquitous satellite-dishes buildings.

Take a boat from the pier to Mingun Paya and climb the giant unfinished red brick stupa. A self-appointed guide said that it was forbidden to climb, as there are cracks and deep cuts between the bricks due to an earthquake. However, teenage boys and young couples were climbing the structure anyway, and I followed suit. From atop Mingun, you can see the river cutting through Mandalay and the white pagodas from afar.

Beautiful: Whitewashed pagodas surround the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay.

Beautiful: Whitewashed pagodas surround the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay.

Mandalay city itself is home to interesting places to discover. There is a Big Ben replica in the Ma Soe Yein Nu Kyaung monastery, where hundreds of monks in red robes wander about in the compound carrying books. A friendly monk gave me a tour after seeing me taking pictures of the clock. We entered a meditation building where the fifth floor was a prayer, complete with a statue of Buddha and fake mango trees.

The beautiful teak monastery Shwe In Bin Kyaung is worth a visit. Mango trees surround the compound, with fruit falling to the ground. Flocks of crows can be seen flitting from branch to branch above the meditation house where people sit silently for hours.

The nicest place for sightseeing and people watching is U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. Fishermen line up with their boats near the bridge and throw their nets into the water. Schoolchildren in green sarongs and with faces adorned
with liquid face powder from Jataka trees walk along the bridge to school. The Burmese use the face paint to protect their skin from sunburn, says Min.

On the road: Girls walk to school over the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.

On the road: Girls walk to school over the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.

Due to time limitations, I chose to fly to Bagan from Mandalay. Another option would have been to take a two-day boat trip along Irrawaddy River. Flying has its advantage though as you can see the thousands of Buddhist temples across the plains.

According to the Lonely Planet Guidebook, the Bagan temples were built during a two-and-a half century building burst that began during the reign of Anawrahta, who developed an edifice complex after converting to Theravada Buddhism in the 11th century. His successors continued his building frenzy.

The result is a magnificent sight. Without any other modern buildings — only the domes of the pagoda — I felt as if I was journeying not only to another place, but to another time.

To explore the temples, bicycle rentals are an inexpensive and convenient choice. A strange security policy in Bagan bans foreigners from riding motorbikes, according Aung Myo, a taxi driver in Bagan. He said that even riding as a passenger was not allowed.

I rode my rental bike on dirt road that led to mysterious temples. Sticking to the dirt road will ensure that you avoid other tourists too.

It is still possible in Bagan to sit on top of a pagoda by yourself while watching the sunset over the horizon. The times, however, are changing in Myanmar. So, pack your bags and go.

— Photos by JP/Prodita Sabarini

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Mandalay/Bagan, Myanmar | Travel | Mon, July 29 2013

Up river in North Kalimantan


Our speedboat glides so fast it bounces off the water on the Makassar Strait. The clouds roll above us and drops of light rain touch our skin.

We are on our way to Sekatak, a remote area in the newly anointed capital of North Kalimantan. For curious travelers, the key to a thrilling trip is to go where not many people (i.e., tourists) have gone before. I was sure that traveling to remote areas of Kalimantan, the second-largest island in the world, would undoubtedly bring on the thrills. But, I got more than what I asked for when my travel partner disclosed her secret expertise of driving a speedboat.

Not to worry for those whose friends are less than a secret speedboat driver. The new province of North Kalimantan has more than its share of excitement. It holds natural beauty untouched by mass tourism. Its large and meandering rivers evokes the charm of the Mekong Delta of Indochina when river trips there were not too much like a theme park. And unlike as in North Kalimantan’s southern counterpart, its forests have yet to be transformed into swaths of palm oil plantations, its hills have yet been run down and the land is yet to be covered by pits made by mining companies.

High gear: A speedboat bounces off the water on the Makassar Strait.

High gear: A speedboat bounces off the water on the Makassar Strait.

My travel partner and I found our little speedboat in Tarakan, an island-city in North Kalimantan, the stepping-off point from Balikpapan in East Kalimantan. We fly out of the mainland Kalimantan to Tarakan to reenter through its water ways. Airlines Lion Air and Sriwijaya Air are some of the carriers operating the Balikpapan-Tarakan route. Another route would be to take the small twin-otter planes operated by Susy Air, straight to Tanjung Selor in North Kalimantan from Balikpapan.

Tarakan holds a historical part in the World War II. In 1941, Japanese troops first entered what became Indonesia through Tarakan. Some relics such as cannons and bunkers have become a testament to the war.

We passed the war sights, however, and headed straight for Sekatak. From asking around, we found that chartered speedboats to Sekatak were moored at a pier in Beringin, a dense area where the houses are built on stilts and stand above the water. Under the houses, trash floats on the water, disgusting and strangely serene at the same time. There is another port in Tarakan, which is the official one and bigger than Beringin.

Boats head to Tanjung Selor, the capital of Bulungan regency and North Kalimantan’s center of administration, depart from Tengkayu port. This port also serves Bunyu Island, Nunukan regency, Malinau and other northern territories.

We chose Beringin as the chartered boats there can go straight to Sekatak via Sekatak river. It costs us Rp 100,000 (US$10) per person to take the two-hour ride to Sekatak. It’s a bit of a gamble with the speedboat’s reliability. Ours broke down in the middle of the Makassar Strait. We were lucky that another speedboat departed Beringin with us. So, after some unsuccessful meddling with the motor, we transferred to the other boat.

Standing by: Speedboats moor by stilt houses at Beringin pier, Tarakan, North Kalimantan. Chartered speedboats are available at the pier to take passengers to mainland Kalimantan from Tarakan island.

Standing by: Speedboats moor by stilt houses at Beringin pier, Tarakan, North Kalimantan. Chartered speedboats are available at the pier to take passengers to mainland Kalimantan from Tarakan island.

Kalimantan is home to hundreds of indigenous groups. In Sekatak, some seven indigenous groups – Punan, Kenyah, Tidung, Belusu and Bulungan live in that district, after they were relocated closer to the river by the Soeharto government in the 1970s to make way for timber company Intraca.

Traveling to the isloated communities, one can see the tension between business and local communities for control of resources.

We stayed in a lodging house by the river in Sekatak Buji as the only guests. The houses overlooking the river are made of wood planks. School children jump into the deep water from an iron bridge. You can rent a long boat and glide along the meandering Sekatak River. Interesting sights pop up, such as a little toy boat adorned with decorations. Our boat driver said that the boat was filled with offerings intended for a white crocodile. He said that there must be a family around the area who holds the traditional belief that they are descendants of the creature.

From Sekatak to Tanjung Selor, we took overland route using an unofficial taxi. We sat for four hours for the bumpy ride. A lack of infrastructure made the 120-kilometer journey bumpy. But the sight of the forest, with the tall Mengaris tree made the journey worth it.

Tall and proud: Mengaris trees stand tall in the forest between Sekatak and Tanjung Selor.

Tall and proud: Mengaris trees stand tall in the forest between Sekatak and Tanjung Selor.

We left at noon and arrived before sunset in Tanjung Selor. The town that is intended to be North Kalimantan’s capital is a hilly laid-back town with low-rise buildings and large parks. A statue of the Lemlai Suri Princess or more popularly known as the broken egg princess stands in the intersection of Sengkawit and Jelarai Selor.

The story of the broken egg princess tells the legend of the Bulungan sultanate that reigned between the 18th and 20th centuries. A childless Kayan tribal leader found an egg and a bamboo and brought home the two. The egg and bamboo turned into a baby girl and a baby boy, who would start the Bulungan Kingdom, the legend goes.

The Kayan River passes through the town, adding a relaxing vibe to Tanjung Selor. As with many rivers in Kalimantan, the Kayan River is a wide river with strong current, which makes it good for white water rafting. For those interested in rafting in North Kalimantan, a number of trekking companies provide white-water rafting trips along the Kayan River.

If you don’t have the chance to raft, the river is as enjoyable to see as to ride on. As the sun sets in Tanjung Selor, we sat on the concrete nook along the Kayan River. The dusk-time ray illuminates the trees on the other side of the river, while the water glimmer with a golden hue. My travel partner and I agreed, in a land of mighty rivers, devouring the last light by the river is most appropriate to end the day.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Bulungan | Feature | Tue, June 25 2013
— Photos by JP/Prodita Sabarini

Giving a voice to the voiceless

Underwater world: Farid and Yunus dive between Kaledupa and Hoga islands near Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi.
Underwater world: Farid and Yunus dive between Kaledupa and Hoga islands near Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi.

Ahmad and Farid kept a travelogue on Zamrud-Khatulistiwa.com, shot more than 70 hours of video tapes and took 10,000 photographs. They plan to write seven books from their journey.

They have recently finished Indonesia: Mencintaimu Dengan Sederhana. (Indonesia: Loving you in a simple way). Farid authored a number of books about mangroves as well as Indonesia’s coral reef.

How did these two prepare for such a trip? The first thing they did was get a diving certificate, Farid said. Farid put his skills to the test in Raja Ampat, Papua; Togean in Sulawesi and many other places in Indonesia.

Farid and Yunus also learned how to protect themselves from malaria, mostly by skipping day naps.

“Because when you nap during the day, you become food for mosquitoes,” Farid said.

There were not so many difficulties in their journey, Farid and Yunus said. Farid added that Yunus’ cooking skills came in handy, as the latter would cook for families they stayed with. It was the perfect icebreaker.

“We wanted to feel like they were strangers. We didn’t want to be trapped into thinking that ‘oh they’re indigenous people’,” Yunus said. “We didn’t see the people we met on our travels as isolated. We saw them as a humans and we tried to integrate into their lives. We tried to be as honest as possible with who we were and everything,” he said. “That’s when people started opening up”.

For Yunus, who was trained at media organization Pantau and worked for Playboy magazine, the journey was a way to apply one of journalism’s core principles.

“I saw this as an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless. That motivated me to work more seriously. And for young journalists, this has to be one of the biggest challenges that can be taken on,” Yunus.

For Farid, the journey allowed him to witness first hand the sheer extent of exploitation in rural areas. He saw how important it was to be critical of public policy on foreign investment.

“Foreign investment doesn’t make sense if its benefits do not trickle down to locals,” he said.

Yes, the journey was a revelation for Farid, who said he discovered so much about the country through his travels.

“But even with this extra knowledge, there are still so many things I don’t know about.”

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Feature | Wed, March 16 2011

Learning through travel

The trip of a lifetime: A map outlines Farid and Yunus’ trip between June 2009 to July 2010
The trip of a lifetime: A map outlines Farid and Yunus’ trip between June 2009 to July 2010

Indonesia with its dozens of thousands of islands is like a great book waiting to be explored. What better way to love it than by getting to know it better?

Two journalists decided to do just that. One was Farid Gaban, a noted journalist with around 25 years of experience covering international events. The other, 20 years younger than Farid, goes by the name of Ahmad Yunus.

From June 2009 to July 2010, Farid and Yunus travelled across the country riding their motorbikes, hopping from one ferry to another, on a journey of discovery.

Their trip was an idealistic one, born from their yearning to know more about their country. They dubbed it the Zamrud Khatulistiwa expedition.

“I was born in the 1980s, and didn’t know much about Indonesia from Indonesian history. We have the feeling we know what the Acehnese are like, what the Dayaks or Papuans are like. But we really don’t,” Yunus, 28, said after a documentary of their one-year trip was screened at the headquarters of the Jakarta Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI Jakarta) in Kalibata.

Farid, meanwhile, said he had gained a lot of journalistic experience abroad over the years but didn’t feel he knew much about his own country. The former Republika and Tempo magazine editor had traveled from Washington to New Orleans while covering the 1988 American election. He had seen quite a bit of Germany, often spending the night in train stations, while reporting on the political ramifications of the fall of Berlin Wall. When the war in Bosnia erupted in 1992, he was one of the few Asian reporters who managed to get through the blockades in Sarajevo.

“However, despite all those exposure overseas, I felt I knew very little about Indonesia,” he said.

In 2008, Farid’s friends floated the idea of sailing across Indonesia using a Phinisi traditional boat. When it looked like the plan might not materialize, Farid joked that he would ride a motorbike across Indonesia instead. The Phinisi plan fell through. So Farid started preparing his expedition on a motorbike.

“At first, it seemed like a crazy idea. But, why not? I was used to riding a motorbike. I ride a motorbike every day in Jakarta, because it’s cheap, and handy to avoid being stuck in traffic jams. And I thought to myself, if we could handle the difficulties thrown at us in Jakarta’s dangerous streets, then else is there to fear out there?” he wrote in his travelogue on zamrud-khatulistiwa.or.id.

Farid explained Yunus and he both liked the film Into the Wild, a true story about Christopher McCandles leaving his worldly life to explore the wilderness of Alaska, where he eventually dies.

They were also inspired by Motorcycle Diaries, a film about young Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who traveled across South America on a motorbike. The poverty he witnessed during his travels reportedly shaped Che into the revolutionary he became.

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“We’re not Che Guevara. At least I’m too old to wish to be a revolutionary. Meanwhile, we had seen poverty in many places across Indonesia, including Java, and read about it in literature on development.

However, Motorcycle Diaries strengthened our conviction that we should travel by motorbike because it was simple, that we should backpack, meet lots of people and see their real problems,” Farid wrote.

They both owned modified 100-cc motorcycles, which couldn’t go faster than 80 kilometers an hour, according to Farid, but were more than adequate for the journey.

Farid and Yunus drew most of their inspiration for this trip from books: Mengejar Pelangi Di Balik Gelombang (Chasing the rainbow behind the waves) by Fazham Fadlil and The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russel Wallace. Fadlil described how he returned to his hometown in Riau Islands after living in New York for 20 years by sailing across the Pacific Ocean on his own.

Meanwhile, The Malay Archipelago by Wallace is the British naturalist’s account of his journey across the Southern portion of the Malay Archipelago including Malaysia, Singapore and the islands of Indonesia.

Farid and Yunus took off in June 2009 and traveled for 10 months on a Rp 120 million budget each. They crossed the Malacca Strait to Lampung in Sumatra, and continued on to Kiluan, a bay that facing the Indian Ocean. There, they sailed accompanied by hundreds of dolphins.

In Bengkulu, they went to Pulau Enggano and hopped to Mentawai, which at first looked like a flourishing mangrove island. However they soon discovered how much it had been exploited when exploring it further.

In Nias, they slept in people’s homes and admired the 300-year old traditional houses made of wood Omo Hada, which had withstood 7.9 earthquake in Nias.

In The Malacca straits they saw pirates.

“We found that the public officials were the ones who acted as pirates,” Farid said.

In Mentawai, Farid lost his equipment — his laptop and camera —, which fell into the sea. In Kalimantan, the duo ran out of money and had to return to Jakarta “to busk”, Farid said, before continuing their journey.

They went to Eastern Indonesia; to Flores, where they visited the house former president Sukarno had been exiled to by the Dutch.

When they reached Java, they visited Sidoarjo and saw the devastation caused by the mudflow. “Our purpose was to go around Indonesia, not just to see what’s beautiful about the country,” Farid said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, March 16 2011

Bali according to hotel insiders

A haven of peace: One of the resorts looking to capitalize on growing demand in the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibition (MICE) sector in Bali is the InterContinental Bali Resort, Jimbaran, whose garden is pictured here.
A haven of peace: One of the resorts looking to capitalize on growing demand in the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibition (MICE) sector in Bali is the InterContinental Bali Resort, Jimbaran, whose garden is pictured here.

It is common knowledge that Bali is the number one tourist destination in Indonesia.

So famous is the island of Gods that it is sometimes mistaken (by the ignorant traveler of course) for an entirely different country.

As of November, more than 2 million foreign tourists have visited Bali, according to Bali’s Tourism Agency. The province has set a target to host 2.3 million foreign tourists this year. With the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, officials are optimistic that they will reach the target.

The island, famous for its beaches, terraced rice paddies and the artistic Balinese Hindu culture, has always been popular with people seeking to escape the daily grind of stressful work life.

The tourism and hospitality industry here is expanding its market, eyeing to grab visitors from
the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibition (MICE) sector — a logical step as MICE guests
usually come in big groups, stay in five-star hotels or resorts and could spend up to four times as much as other travelers.

One of the resorts looking to capitalize on growing MICE demand in Bali is the InterContinental Bali Resort. The 17-year-old establishment recently invited The Jakarta Post for a taste of the luxury it offers MICE guests.

The resort, which boasts 418 rooms and eight meeting rooms, launched a program last week for the MICE market.

Dubbed the Insider Collection, InterContinental Bali Resort sales director Saraswati Subadia said that it was part of a global initiative by the international hotel chain to cater to MICE guests.

Artistic talent: Guests have a go at making their own ceramics.
Artistic talent: Guests have a go at making their own ceramics.

She said that each InterContinental Hotel would offer its own selection of activities to let guests experience the destination. For Bali, this includes visiting ceramic producers and painting your own ceramic mug, releasing baby turtles into the ocean, meditation sessions, learning traditional Kecak dance with Balinese dance experts, cycling to the fish market and then learning how to cook a Balinese seafood dish with the hotel’s chef.

“It’s a chance to experience authentic Balinese culture during the guests stay here,” she said.

As I landed at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, I imagined myself as a serious business traveler, tired after a long overhaul flight (even though it was only an hour-and-a-half flight from Jakarta).

The regular businessman might have their schedule full with meetings and conferences, having to prepare for a stressful mind-draining exercise the next day. Playing my part, I took a welcome one-hour relaxing massage at the hotel’s Spa Uluwatu.

Everyone, except for those who do not like strangers touching their bodies, loves spa treatment. For stressed business people, it is the perfect cure for headaches and tense shoulders. The Balinese massage treatment was relaxing from the get-go. Starting with a footbath, in which the spa therapist would soak your feet in warm water with flower petals and scrub it with pumice and sea salt, the simple treatment immediately made my breathing deeper and heart rate slower.

The massage started with the therapist placing the palms of her hands on the top and the small of my back. I felt like the therapist and I were synchronizing our breathing before the massage session.

The next morning, I joined the hotel staff for a beach clean-up. Hotel spokesperson Dewi Anggraini said that it was a weekly activity for the hotel staff to show their environmental awareness and could be a good group bonding activity for companies.

I personally found it a bit boring, as the beach in front of the resort was already clean. But the view of Jimbaran Bay and a photo session with the hotel’s pretty cows, Dayang 1 and Dayang 2, was worth the early rise.

While these early activities might not suit late risers, for those who love the fresh breeze of morning air, the resort has different morning activities each day. Another activity was the morning exercise Bayu Suci, led by the resort’s recreation manager Ketut Bagiarta. Bayu Suci is similar to Tai Chi, combining elements of Balinese dance with traditional self-defense art Pencak Silat.

The InterContinental Bali Insider Collections boast a wide array of activities as well as cuisine selections from the hotel’s four restaurants. What’s most impressive from the program is the team’s eye for detail, with little tidbits like the afternoon snack prepared at the room, with little cards explaining how the dish was made and why.

For an example: “Es Teler is a traditional Indonesian fruit cocktail made from jackfruit, avocado, young coconut and sweet condensed milk. It is a sweet concoction to boost depleted energy levels during a hot day in the tropics.”

It is pretty basic, I admit. But finding a cup of Es Teler with a flower next to it on the coffee table in one’s room, and a little card explaining about it would at least make one cannot help but smile.

Saraswati said the afternoon snacks such as the Es Teler, the Nata De Coco and the Soursop Juice Shooter are little treats offered at the Insider Breaks for corporate meetings and conferences at the resort.

Another nice touch is the resort’s Sweet Dreams: Good Night Bali stories. Every day, I found a card on the bed with a different traditional bedtime story. The first night, the story was about the tale of the witch Calon Arang, the second night was the story of the Majapahit leader Gajah Mada, and the third was the story of Ande-ande Lumut.

The saying which goes “the way to one’s heart is through one’s stomach” is true as proven by my swooning over executive chef Marcel Driessen’s creativity. As a vegetarian, I was inclined to the possibility of not having mind-blowing meals. It is anyway much easier to satisfy the omnivores than the herbivores.

Healthy start: The hotel serves a delicious healthy organic breakfast, consisting of warm coconut and mineral water with lime, detoxifying fresh apple, mango, carrot, beetroot and ginger juice, a low-fat yogurt, with coconut milk, banana and vanilla-smoothie as well as a rice milk, papaya, ginger, walnuts and muesli verrine.
Healthy start: The hotel serves a delicious healthy organic breakfast, consisting of warm coconut and mineral water with lime, detoxifying fresh apple, mango, carrot, beetroot and ginger juice, a low-fat yogurt, with coconut milk, banana and vanilla-smoothie as well as a rice milk, papaya, ginger, walnuts and muesli verrine.

The satiated state of fellow guests after eating Baramundi fish, grilled squid and red snapper served in Balinese spices is a telltale of the deliciousness of the food at the resort.

But Driessen’s healthy organic breakfast put a big smile on my face. Starting with warm coconut and mineral water with lime, followed by Japanese green tea, we were then served detoxifying fresh apple, mango, carrot, beetroot and ginger juice. A low-fat yogurt, with coconut milk, banana and vanilla-smoothie accompanied the delicious rice milk, papaya, ginger, walnuts and muesli verrine.

The main breakfast course was, Driessen said, inspired by bacon and eggs. I looked at the mouth-watering dish in front of me — a vague smoky brown rectangle substance under poached egg topped with tomato salsa.

“This one’s not for me,” I thought. “But it’s modified!” Driessen added while looking at me. “It’s tofu,” he said. The smoked tofu created a meaty taste, which I love.

But that delicious meal was not what stunned me. The Nicoise salad reconstruction, in which Driessen use green bean, roast tomato, red bell pepper confit, zucchini, olive, potato salad with yogurt and basil dressing was a surprising rich combination that was fresh and nicely filling at the same time.

The Insider Collection aims for guests to experience the culture of their meeting or conference location.

In Bali, what better way to learn about the culture but to listen to the enchanting tales from Balinese culture expert Marlowe Bandem.

On my last day there, in front of the hotel’s Candi Bentar, under Balinese decoration from coconut leaves, with his sister Dewi, Marlowe talks about the Balinese dance and music, inviting guests to play the instruments and teaching them how to dance and chant for the Kecak dance.

I’ve watched the Kecak dance, several times, admiring the bare-chested men waving their hands and energetically chanting. This time, as I raised my hand up, waving my hands and fingers and chanted “chak chak chak”, I felt a surge of energy coming out. Being part of the dance is better than sitting in the audience seat, indeed.

— Photos by JP/Prodita Sabarini


Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jimbaran, Bali | Feature | Fri, December 03 2010