Nikoi Island: Paradise So Close That Feels So Far Away

We have travelled often during our time in Asia and it is difficult for me to choose a favorite destination.  One place that was fantastically beautiful and relaxing lies just 53 miles southeast of Singapore- Nikoi Island, Indonesia.

The island is small only 42-acres in total or in “Nikoi-time”, a 15 minute walk for side-to-side.  It is privately owned and there are only 15 “rooms” – all open-air bungalows.  It is reached by a boat from Bintan Island, Indonesia, which is easy to get to from Singapore by a ferry service.

The resort is an eco-lodge with bungalows that are constructed with driftwood and there is no air-conditioning.  It is also very quiet.  When we arrived, I asked for a key to the room and the staff told me keys are not needed on Nikoi. Wow! Here are some photos of our place which was Bungalow #15.

The resort was very “kid-friendly”.  Many fellow travelers had children.  There were two dining areas one for those with families and one for couples only.  I loved not having to worry about my kids’ antics ruining someone’s romantic night out.  Every night dining featured one set menu of whatever was fresh and local.  

Beautiful Pink Dragon Fruit

One lunch the preschool crowd tumbled around the tables.  Sydney was the ringleader and ended up covered with sand after her adventures.

The pool area had a friendly staff that always provided bananas.  Sydney amused everyone by the amount she could polish off herself. I guess acting like a monkey inspires a similar appetite.

The bar nightly screened a movie for the children while the parents relaxed.  The kids loved Alvin and the Chipmunks and Andy and I liked the quiet time.

Aidan “Jams” with the Bar Band

The island teems with natural beauty and wildlife.

The water was so clear and snorkeling was easy right off the beach.  Aidan was a thrill to watch snorkeling for the first time.  We saw many fish, coral and even a small jellyfish.

We heard a group of Americans rented the entire island the week before we arrived.  How amazing would this place be for a group of friends and family to spend time together!  Hmmm… I do have a big birthday coming up this fall  (hint Andy).  Alas, come next week I will be so far away from this little paradise.   A woman can dream though, can’t she?

Hanging With the Natives on Bali

One day we hired a guide to show us some interesting highlights of central Bali. The first stop was the Taro Elephant Safari Park. This was a hit with the kids, especially Sydney, who has wanted to ride an elephant for months.

We were able to get up close and personal with the pachyderms.

The kids loved to feed this guy. However, he was quite picky and would refuse all but the freshest pieces of bamboo.

Of course the highlight was actually riding on an elephant. Sydney and I sat high atop “Boris.” Andy and Aidan rode the spunkier “Ramona” who stopped a few times for greenery along the trail.

After our safari it was time to see some temples. We stopped at a small lovely place near Taro.

Religion permeates every aspect of Bali life. Offerings are given frequently and everywhere I found myself taking care everywhere not to accidentaly step on them.

Sarongs are worn to honor the religion even by foreigners. Sydney looks very peaceful at this moment in hers.

Aidan who as a child technically did not have to wear the clothing kept asking Andy why he was wearing a “skirt.” We reminded him it was a “sarong,” but I am not sure he appreciated the difference.

Aidan was hungry and short of patience for temple sights so we headed to our next stop the famous suckling pig restaurant of Ubud.

Pigs have been roasting daily here for years. You must get there early or the best cracklin’ is gone.

The food is delivered in a traditional way.

A short walk down the streets of Ubud led us to the aptly named Monkey Forest.

The monkeys were rascally and would steal objects so you had to hold tight to your belongings.

Visitors were not to feed the monkey unless directed by the staff. We were given some bread and taught the proper technique – hold your hand with bread above your head with a startled child by your side.

We enjoyed our outing so much. Unfortunately, we were so relaxed in Bali it has been hard to break our lazy habits. Poor Andy who works the hardest is still trying to get this monkey off his back :).

Balinese Cooking School

One of the greatest pleasures of a trip to Bali is enjoying the local cuisine. We took advantage of a cooking class offered by our resort to learn a bit more about the wonderful flavors we were sampling.

We started the day in a market. Here Aidan barters a price for some chilies.

He must not have been too tough of a negotiator because he made friends easily with the sellers.

We were given a list of ingredients to put in a basket.

I was glad these rice paddy eels were not among the requisite purchases.

After the market, we headed to a village house that has been in the same Balinese family for four generations. Our ingredients were beautifully displayed and we set off preparing our lunch.

The oven was a traditional wood stove. Coconuts were smoked under rice to add flavor. The oven temperature was controlled by our instructor’s breath.

The kids enjoyed helping; here they clean the rice.

Sydney later rinsed the shredded coconut while Aidan helped me with the sambal paste.

Most Balinese people are Hindu and religion permeates all aspects of their lives. Families have their own shrines and offerings are placed before meals. Our hosts helped us honor the deities in a traditional style.

Lunch was served on the edge of a lovely rainforest.

The food turned out beautiful and delicious.

Black Rice Porridge

I am hoping to recreate some of the dishes at home. Now I just have to figure out where to place the wood-burning stove…

Beautiful Bali

We just returned from Bali, Indonesia!  This is our last family trip before we head back to the States in less than two weeks.  It is hard to believe our adventures are winding down.

We saw many volcanos on our flight to Bali

We decided to skip the beach and head for central Bali which is known for its rice paddies and temples.

We stayed at the Amandari Resort.  It was absolutely lovely.  Here is a view of the paddies outside our back door.

The Amandai was so peaceful.  The resort decorated villas of honeymooners with special flags and flowers.  We were surrounded by young starry-eyed lovers.  Hopefully our spirited children did not set back their family plans for too long.

Even though the hotel had a quite romantic feel, the staff was quite welcoming to the kids.  Local children daily practiced dance and preformed for the guests.  The hotel actively preserves and encourages  the local culture which is wonderful.

Here Aidan and Sydney try to get into the act.

My kids love the water.  Here are few pictures of the pool.

…and Sydney in her favorite water spot the outdoor bathtub where she can make all the bubble mess she wanted without getting into trouble.

I look forward to sharing more of this magical place.

An Afternoon in Jogja: Sultan (Who?) Kraton (What?) Surprises All Around

Indonesia’s heart maybe Jakarta but Yogyakarta possesses its soul.  Yogyakarta or “Jogja” as it is more commonly called has many universities and is a cultural center of dance and arts. It is the second most visited area by tourists in the country after Bali.   It is also a district that continues to be governed by a Sultan.  Who knew?

Lovely Detail from the Kraton Grounds

We visited the Sultan’s Kraton which is a busy palace complex where many people  still live and work.  Here is the bustling street as we approached the entrance.

Th sultan and his family now live in private apartments on the complex grounds.

A View Towards the Sultan’s Private Residence

We had a lovely local guide who showed us around.  We were able to see many gifts the sultans had been given from various countries at the time of his coronation.  She was quick to point out the America had not sent a gift.  Hmmm… I may have to talk to Barry about that one.  He studied in Jakarta and should be more clued in.

The current sultan’s father allowed the nascent Indonesian government to lead their rebellion against the Dutch from the palace grounds.  He was apparently very popular.  He also had four main concubines that bore him many children.

The current sultan has tried to bring the monarchy into the modern age by eliminating polygamy. His single wife bore him five children but they are all girls which apparently eliminates them from royal contention. Well baby steps is still some progress I suppose for women rights.  Plus being the male heir has some drawbacks… Our guide pointed out the current sultan’s picture on the day of his circumcision at age 12!

A view of one of the hall’s. It is not clear if this is where above mentioned “snipping” occurred

One of the highlights of the Kraton tour was a performance of traditional Javanese dancer.  There were many drums involved.

The dancers wore beautiful costumes

The children were very captivated by the performance.  Maybe some day you will visit the Kraton and see a talented drummer who stands out just a bit with blue eyes.

Now that would be surprising.

Borobudur: An Ancient Monument to Buddha at a Lively Time

Borobudur-The name sounds mystical, like something taken straight out of a Tolkien book, and when you gaze upon it you can easily imagine the massive structure in a magical world.

Borobudur was completed in the 9th century is claimed to be the world’s largest Buddhist structure.  We hired a guide and driver to explore the temple located about 90 minute drive from Yogyakarta.

Carvings tell of the life of Buddha

An Elegant Waterspout

The monument has become a place of pilgrimage.  The journey for devotees begins at the base and continues through a winding path to the top.  There are ten terraces which represent the life stages one must go through to reach enlightenment. The stairs are steep because as our guide pointed out nirvana is not meant easy to achieve.

The most important occasion observed at Borobudur is Vesak Day, which is sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday,” but actually represents more.  The holiday commemorates the day the religious leader was born, achieved enlightenment and  passed away.  We happened to visit Borobudur the day before Vesak and the monument was abuzz with preparations and travelers.

As one of the few foreign tourists, we once again became photo props.   The children, who were the youngest blonde-hair blue-eyed ones around, had their photo taken with different groups of travelers around almost ever corner we turned.  They handled the attention gracefully but after a while when Sydney tired of the paparazzi she held out the palm of her hand and said a firm “enough”.  Fortunately she is easily bribed and in this one Sydney poses with a “Chupa-Chup” her favorite candy.  I particularly love the woman’s gentle smile.

Aidan appears very content with the beautiful ladies.  I fear he is going it be a handful in his teenage years, even at five he can never say no to a lovely woman’s request.

During a playful moment, Sydney shows off the traditional Batik cloth we were given to wear.  

Aidan smiles as he is attacked by a stone lion.

It is amazing to recall all the wonderful monuments we have visited over the past five months and I marvel at what the children have learned.   A few days ago when Aidan was playing with his trains I overheard him say in his firm Sir Topham Hatt’s voice “No Thomas you cannot do that yet.  You know Christmas is after Buddha’s Birthday.”  I think Borobudur has had a lasting effect on us all.

Indonesia: A Land of Many Surprises

On a clear day I can see Indonesia from my house.   I know Tina Fey/Sarah Palin pops into my mind too…but I really can.   However, until last week when I visited Yogyakarta and Jakarta  I could not have told you more that a few small facts about the country. What I learned both shocked an amazed me.

#1 Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world just after the US and it is the largest Muslim country (nearly 90% of its 240m people). During our visit to Indonesia the country felt surprisingly vibrant, moderate and progressive.  Contrary to my perceptions, many women did not wear head scarves and those that did displayed their dress with an individual flare.  The people were extraordinarily friendly.  At several tourist areas we could not go three minutes without having our photos taken with fellow Indonesian tourists.  This was at the Buddhist ancient temple Borobudur.

#2. Indonesia is extremely diverse but it is a democracy with an elected legislature and president.  The country consists of 17,508 islands of which 6,000 are inhabited.  There are 300 distinct native ethnicities and 742 different languages and dialects.  In 1998 the people ousted their dictator of three decades, Suharto, and managed in a short time to form functional democracy.  Of course there are growing pains but given the diversity of the population it is amazing that this somehow works.

A women sells snake-skin fruit popular in Indonesia

#3. The economy is growing quickly and the country is very tech savvy.

Since the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998, the per capita GDP of Indonesia has increased by 500% in US dollars. Amazingly, today Indonesia has the second-largest number of Facebook users of any country int he world.

During our visit, as part of his work Andy had the opportunity to meet with many financial institutions.   He remarked how entrepreneurial and optimistic the people were that he met.  Some of the most interesting visits he had were with banks that give out microloans in Yogyakarta.  The bank managers even took him to meet some of their customers.  The people were so excited to have him visit they took photos and served food.

Andy noted how many women he encountered had positions of power.  At one bank the managers were all women and the customers were men.  Here is a photo of a women who used the bank loan to expand her business.

This man took a $1000 loan to by a few washers and dryers to start a laundromat to offer a better life for his child.  Andy usually meets with people such as CEOs, who are removed from the receiving ends of the loans, so I think meeting local people was truly a treat for him.

#4.  Natural Disasters are more common than I realized and more devastating.  Our guide in Yogyakarta said the local people used to be known as “those that did not stop smiling, however since 2006 we have not had much to smile about.” Certainly I remembered Indonesia was so hard hit in the 2004 tsunami.  However, I had forgotten or completely missed that Yogyakarta suffered a devastating earthquake in 2006 that killed 5700 people, injured 37,000 and caused $3.1 billion of damage.

There are also many active volcanos.   This is a  view of Mount Merapi from our hotel in Yogyakarta.  It last erupted in October 2010.  This was the worst eruption in 130 years there.  As we drove around we saw evidence of the continued clean up efforts.

#5.  Many Indonesians seem to really like the US.  They are proud that Barack Obama was a student there. American movies and media are prevalent.  The first Imax opened for commercial movies last week and “The Avengers” was a huge draw.

At a very modern mall in Jakarta I stumbled upon the @America Cultural Center.  It is sponsored by the American embassy as a way to promote interactions with the  Indonesians  and Americans.   I went in the center with the kids out of curiosity.  Ironically they feature an American city every few weeks and this month was Boston.  It was amusing to see photos of where we live and play posted on the walls of this Indonesian mall.

A copy of the brochure I picked up at the first high tech American culture center.

I am intrigued by Indonesia and excited about exploring this fascinating country more in this blog and in further upcoming trips.