Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bali, here I come

First time booking and taking a low-cost carrier Air Asia go overseas, it was fun in doing the booking, pre-selecting the meals we want at a discount and also deciding whether to do the same for return trip, every step is new but easy. Went to Bali with Lynn from 11-14 Dec 09 for a 4D3N short break to unwind and experience the sunshine, beach and see the adorable dolphins which Neo Chian has written in his blog.

2 Upon arrival at Denpasar Airport at 8pm, driver Ermai picked us up and recommended us to go for a seafood dinner at Kedonganan Beach, nice restaurant in a carefree setting on the beach. It was packed with locals and tourists, have never dine so close to the sea in a romantic environment, and we can hardly see our food as it was very dim, but still enjoyable. I was attracted by the nearby BBQ corn stall and bought one to try, wow, so delicious.

3 After dinner, we checked into hotel for quick wash-up and retired. The next day, after surfing the net to check out Neo Chian’s blog on North Bali to see dolphins at Lovina Beach and Ermai told us it would be about Rp 800K getting there with 3-star lodging and Rp 700k without lodging, we decided to do our homework further by going down town to speak with the travel agents. So we quickly checked out hotel and put our luggage into the car and proceed to Ubud to do some enquiry with travel agent on the cost and details. You can see these beautiful picues taken at Ubi, The villas and lotus pond where we had our breakfast are at Siti Bungalow where we stayed on 13 Dec at Rp 250K (S$38) per nite.

We settled for the 1-way transport cost of Rp 130K (S$20) per pax and departed for Lovina at 11 am. It turned out to be a charter van with only 2 of us and the driver escorted us all the way to Lovina. It took us some 3 hours to get there and it was a scenic drive up and down the mountains where temperature differs by about 6 degree (as cool as 19 degree up the hill). In between, the kind driver helped us to select durians but at the end we didn’t buy as it was not ripe and more costly than in Spore. Lunch was at the small restaurant near Gitgit twin waterfall, the fried rice was not appetizing and with too much of MSG, it nearly made me sick and vomit. At 2 pm, we arrived at Lovina and started looking for accommodation, the rooms at Niwana Hotel was not bad at Rp 150k (S$23) per night, but the timely sms from Neo Chian has led us to a better hotel Aditya at Rp 300K (S$46), it was not only value for moeny but excellent ambience and comfortable accommodation. Thanks very much Neo Chian.

4 After having a walk in the town centre under the big hot sun for nearly 2 hours, we told ourselves that what we we need was to dip into water urgently. After a good swim, we booked with the front desk for the evening outdoor massage near the beach within the hotel compound. The hotel service and security are very good. They got the security guard to escort us to the beach area and handed us over to the masseurs at 8 pm. It was really a fantastic massage experience i had never had and experienced before at only Rp 66K (S$10) per hour not to be missed, excellent massage skill with lovely rhythm of the sea wave in a quiet ambience. The dinner at the hotel café was also delicious with tomato soup, club sandwich and Bali pancake plus attentive and courteous service.

5 We slept early that nite in order to get up at 5.15 am for the morning dolphin journey at 6 am. The boat men were already up at the beach waiting for us to get ready to board their boats for dolphin mission. The sun about to rise and we took some good shots of it, suddenly we were surrounded with so many boats in the open sea and all with one single purpose: chasing after the dolphins. We were very lucky to see more than 200 dolphins on that morning. Whenever there was sign that dolphins appeared, all boats “chiong” and rush forward, it can be quite harmful to the habitat if without control, maybe the authority should restrict the maximum of boats each day to protect the dolphin habitat.

We went back to the shore about 7.40 am and headed straight for breakfast as we were hungry and supposed to check out and board our transport to Ubud at 930 am. We were lucky to get a good bargain with a good SUV to just ferry us @Rp 220 (S$33). The driver was more skillful than yesterday with a newer SUV so we arrived in Ubud in 2.5 hour.

Looking for accommodation required some luck, at first Lynn thought of settling down in the first hotel along Jalan Kejeng, but I advised her to move on as it was too costly and the landlord refused to give discount at all. It was a blessing in disguise as we subsequently found the Siti bungalows which has 8 units of garden-setting villa and swimming pool and nice caretaker. We like the ambience and the room setting very much @ Rp 250K (S$43).

6 We were lucky to get a good transport (please see our car) with understanding driver Wayan bringing us to Kuta beach for lunch and shopping, view Hard Rock Hotel etc, then to Semiyak to check out other fashion offerings and new hotel development The Haven. The total journey of 8 hours only cost us Rp 350 (S$58). At night we went for another round of massage at Touch as recommended by an European lady @ Rp 60K (S$9) per hour, very skillful massage with good ginger tea (they were suppoed to closed at 9 pm when we arrived at 820 am, but decided to service us after our sweet persuasion), then had a wonderful pizza meal @ nearby Lotus Garden. Very delicious crisspy pizza and found out that they have an outlet in Clake Quay, Singapore.

7 The next morning we did a quick last minute shopping at Ubud and then board Wayan’s car at 1030 am headed for airport. The signage at airport was confusing as travellers were not sure where they should line up for check-in and where to buy airport tax. Hope Bali Airport Management can look into this so as to provide convenient to tourists and visitors. In addition, they can also consider collecting the airport tax when ticket is purchased instead of asking passenger to buy it at airport (as tourists tend to run out of cash on departure day.

8 Overall we found Bali people are nice and friendly. It was a relaxed and wonderful holiday for us, and we shall come back to visit this lovely place again in a less rush manner to really enjoy the offerings and culture.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Singapore zoo discovering

Have not been visiting zoo for the last decade and never realize spore zoo can be so charming and interesting till 30 Nov 09 morning when I went there early in the morning together with some 30 travel trade from China (Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhongsan, Sichuan etc) and Singapore. My main purpose was to experience the famous programme of breakfast with Ah Meng (even though he died last year, but the name of the programme remains unchanged).

2 First, we visited the designated courtyard to view our dear elephants having breakfast. This is really my first time having such a close encounter with elephants, close look at their huge and longish mount, lip and how they used their long trunk to grab the food gently and sending into their mouth, break open the big watermelon and pineapple, they eat just fruits - mango, apple, and pineapple, very healthy right, our animals are all vegetarian, or to be exact, they are fruitarian!! Very interesting elephants breakfast programme, a lot of laughter and interaction among us. This surely is a good programme for kids and adults, connection developed when u are helping each other to feed the elephants and picture-takings.

3 Then we moved to the pool to witness elephants spa, yes animal also like us love to have spa. Look at the pictures u will see how enjoyable they are in the cool pool happily, just like us having our spa, wonderful. Maybe we should name this Animal Spa. Water splashing and laughter everywhere, all worries gone. No gap of age and race difference at all.

4 Never tasted the Zoo’s well-know breakfast with Ah Meng (Orangutan) until today also even though I have heard so much about it. It is really an experience shouldn’t be missed, the ambience of the restaurant in the zoo is so cozy and relax with nature around us, the buffet line up was good, and around us was a big group of 40-member European education group of teachers and students enjoying their breakfast. Food ran out pretty fast, but the replenishment came fast too. All were enjoying their meals till sweet announcement of Ah Meng made their appearance in the compound of the outdoor restaurant, many hi-tech cameras were clipping, people posing with them for pictures, queue quickly formed.

5 Can imagine Zoo promoters have put in efforts to design the programme however, maybe they should do away with the briefing since seeing/experiencing is believing plus the presentation was quite dry especially when the zoo representative from the education unit cannot communicate and market its products in Mandarin then it shows that we are not really in engaging the China education travel specialists seriously. In addition, we noticed a common language challenge facing our promoters when it comes to using Mandarin as a communication medium. Also found it quite strange that they make it a point as though it is a proud thing to make it known that their Mandarin is poor. Why? Should not they just go straight to the point of presenting it instead of announcing proudly to the audience that they are weak in Mandarin, what happen to our bilingualism? Would we do so when we do our presentation in English and tell the European/USA delegations that our English is sub-standard to them

6 Met a young zoo executive Michelle Tan, 18, just completed GCE”A” level and joined the zoo for 3 months, she did a wonderful insects tour (behind the scene nreeding area od butterfly, hundred-leg insect, red-knee spider etc) and tropical forest tour to see fruit bat, 2-toed sloth, butterflies drinking water etc for us with her cheerful and passionate spirit. At first, she did mention that she is not sure whether she could deliver in Mandarin but will try her best and I encouraged her just do it without hesitation as none of us know more than her and she is the expert in this field and we are students. She gladly tool up the challenge and did so thereafter. I hope all our fellow English-speaking Singaporeans would have the same attitude and spirit like Michelle (regret not taking a photo with her) when they are asked to do Mandarin presentation in future. No need to say sorry about it, just do it and believe u can make it. I have learnt a lot from this insect and tropical forest journey, please see the pictures taken during the tour.

7 I would highly recommended u to visit or re-visit the zoo if u have not done so or have done so more than 5 or 10 years ago. It is an absolutely wonderful gem we have in our tourism kingdom. Thanks to the zoo organization and their staff for keep the place so well and charming.

8 I briefly visited 2 hospitals – Raffles Medical and Gleneagle in the next 2 days. Raffles has good hardware and cozy environment, Gleneagle is equally good in hardware but need urgent upgrading as it looks dated and messy. In terms of software and understanding the needs of Chinese travel trade, there is still room for improvement and strengthening so as to capture a bigger share of the medical pie.