my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

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in which I go to Bali by myself

Tranquility rules at the Tirti Ganga Royal Baths

Tranquility rules at the Tirti Ganga Royal Baths

This picture is my image of Bali: calm, tranquil and peaceful…but it was not like that at all!

Bravely I decided to go on my own as Husband was off to Zurich on business. I contacted my daughter Louise’s friend Charley, who is living there, and she put me on to a local dive operation as the plan was to spend a couple of days in the south and then do a couple of days diving in the North East of the island.

At the Singapore Dive Show, I checked out Tulamben Wreck Divers and Tony reassured me that ‘the most dangerous thing in Bali is drunken Ozzies not the Balinese’. HA!

the intrepid bikers!

the intrepid bikers!

Off we set on the first night, me pillion to Kyle, Charley’s partner, she close behind. Traffic is mayhem in Bali, scooters all sides and all directions, but even so I was slightly unnerved when a bike drew abreast on our inside and I found myself looking into a pair of penetrating evil eyes as I simultaneously felt my bag being yanked from my shoulders  with an almighty ping as the strap gave way; before I could even utter a swear word, the scooter was gone and my bag was missing. With it was Rupiah 5million ($550) for my diving and hotel; credit cards, passport, two phones – and my pride. But Charley to the rescue, her shouting had scared the would-be thief off, and the bag was lying abandoned in the road…

Charley and Kyle after our narrow escape!

Charley and Kyle after our narrow escape!

At dinner a rat scuttled round our feet! Welcome to Bali!

Charley and Kyle were great hosts and we whizzed around on the scooters getting soaked, visiting temples, surfers’ beaches and a Japanese restaurant with a local Jazz band, whose singer thought she was Janis Joplin! We shared a table with Indonesia’s runner up to its version of The Voice. There is no escape from popular ‘culture’.

At Tanah Lot temple

At the tacky Tanah Lot temple

Two days later and I was picked up by the dive resort’s vehicle and we made our way through the countryside up to the NE corner, to Tulamben, home to Bali’s best dive site, the Liberty wreck, a US supply ship that was sunk by the Japanese in the war.

Paddy fields with Mt Agung in the background

Paddy fields with Mt Agung in the background

En route we passed paddy fields nestling under the Mt Agung, the largest volcano which last erupted in 1963. Pretty but not post-card…

Tulumben Wreck Divers Beach VIllas

Tulumben Wreck Divers Beach Villas

Upgraded to a beach villa (see photo of pool) after a quick lunch of satay, I did my first dive. Disappointed that there were so many other divers and that my eyesight is now so bad that, without a prescription mask, I completely failed to see the three miniature sea-horses my guide proudly showed me! But I was proud of myself for my intrepid diving skills, donning weight belt and tanks (having walked or scooted to the beach in my wetsuit and bootees – what a sight!) before entering the sea via an excruciatingly rocky shore. Day 2 I actually did THREE dives…the first at 6.30 am to see a school of HUGE bump-head parrot fish.

The downside of being on one’s own in a remote place is that – apart from eating on my own – there is no-one to drink with, so had to resort to buying a quarter bottle of gin and a couple of tonics that I eked out over my two-night stay! Two nights was quite enough, however, as I had exhausted the novelty of diving in Bali by then and, as I agreed with a Spanish Dive Master I met, it was disappointing on an international scale. No complaints about the professionalism of Tulamben Wreck Divers, however, who were charming and helpful to a lone British woman!

Still feeling disappointed in Bali so far – Kuta and Seminyak were just one long strip of tawdry shops, bars and restaurants, and I had not seen a single grain of white sand, only black volcanic rocks – I decided to take the scenic route to the airport.

Morning offerings at Tirti Ganga Royal Baths

Morning offerings at Tirti Ganga Royal Bath

Chauffeured by my Britney&Bieber-loving driver, we went first to Tirti Ganga, the Royal Baths which were both beautiful and tranquil, luscious greens with calming water features (see top photo); as it was Full Moon, there were even more ceremonial offerings being laid at the ubiquitous shrines outside every home. From there we moved on to the most sacred temple, Pura Besakih, teeming with supplicants and gangs of giggling girls and boys having a great day out with their teachers. Forced to don a Bob Marley sarong, I looked a sight for sore eyes.

Annoyingly I began to notice a new trait in the Balinese – an avariciousness totally out of traditional character: I was stopped everywhere by uniformed men demanding  tourist tax, parking fees, and tips, and vendors as far as the eye can see, all with charming good nature of course. Even lunch, later at the Bangli overlooking the volcano caldera, was a rip-off: an uninspiring buffet for $10 each excluding drinks, which were exorbitant.

beautiful ladies celebrating the full moon at Pura Besakih

beautiful ladies celebrating the full moon at Pura Besakih

Nevertheless I loved the graceful women and the cheeky kids at the temple. Whatever else about Bali that  disappoints, the people are delightful, polite and friendly.

Cheeky kids at the temple

Cheeky kids at the temple

Finally from Mt Batur down to Ubud – another huge disappointment as this is the hippy sanctuary of yore, famed for arts and culture, now reduced to yet another high street of mediocrity – via a coffee estate, where I tried delicious Luwak coffee. This is made from beans that have been eaten by civet cats and passed out as poo. I saw it being roasted and dried, so my squeamishness was banished!

So ended my first foray in what I now call my ‘grown-up gap year’ – a time when I will be going off on my own as and when I am able, or forced to by circumstance, in order to take advantage of this amazing opporutnity to travel the Far East for the next couple of years.

roasting Luwak (civet) coffee

roasting Luwak (civet) coffee

Next week I am off to Hyderabad (with Husband) and then to Mumbai (alone) but to stay with friends…Watch this space!



in which I practise my culinary skills

In an earlier post you will have seen my new wok; well, I realised that this was not good enough so went and bought a ceramic one with a lid. Thus prepared and armed with a local cookery book and the internet, I unleashed my inventiveness.

Meat is very expensive here, so I have concentrated on seafood and chicken dishes. Most Thai and Malaysian dishes have a curry paste as a base, and I ALWAYS make my own. Even local websites say ‘3 tbsp of red/green/chill paste’ and sometimes even ‘3 tbsp of tomato ketchup’. Such recipes are rejected.

5 star dishes

Beef rendang – cooked lovingly for over 4 hours after several hours of marinating the meat. Melt-in-your-mouth or what! Here with  Chinese broccoli.

Beef rendang

Beef rendang

Tom yam soup – it’s critical to make your own fish broth, out of the prawn shells and heads in this case. I also used oyster and shitake mushrooms, and local fish balls.

It's all tin the preparation - making ones own fish stock for tom yam

It’s all in the preparation – making my own fish stock for tom yam

Tom yam soup with prawns squid and fish balls

Tom yam soup with prawns, squid and fish balls

Thai red chicken curry; I used turmeric root as well as galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, tamarind,cumin, coriander, paprika, black pepper and, of course, coriander root; a little Thai basil and fresh coriander at the end. I like to add veg to a curry to create a one-pot meal. Yum! This is in fact adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe – the local ones were some of the worst offenders in off-the-shelf ingredients.

Red chicken curry with aubergine and green beans

Red chicken curry with aubergine and green beans

Four star dishes

Isaan stye grilled chicken and Nyonya-style bean curd salad, with bean sprouts and snow peas. The salad has a delicious roasted cashew nut and tamarind dressing, while the chicken is marinated in lemon grass, ginger and fish sauce. The bean curd is fried to a golden crisp on the outside and melts when you bite it. Marks lost for presentation, not taste: should have had the dressing on the side and then it wouldn’t have looked so brown!

Isaan-style grill chicken (kai yaan) and Nonya style bean curd salad

Isaan-style grill chicken (kai yaan) and Nonya style bean curd salad

Sri Owen Khmer grilled chicken with baby pak choi: I also used the other half of the marinade to bbq some pork fillet which was delicious too. Marks lost for too much soy sauce on the garlic stir fry pak choi

Sri Owne's Khmer chicken cooked on BBQ with baby pak choi

Sri Owen’s Khmer chicken cooked on BBQ with baby pak choi

Blackened local white fish, with confit lentils and green salad. Decided we wanted to be less Oriental one night – so much lemon grass and fish sauce otherwise. The fish was delicious and one of the cheapest on sale.

Blackened snapper with confit lentils and green salad

Blackened snapper with confit lentils and green salad

Other efforts – unclassified, usually taste excellent but dont look as good as they might! Masterchef, help!

My first attempt at Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. Couldn’t get the rolling-up knack, but later found a video which told me how it should be done…a la prochaine! They tasted as they should, however.


Stir fried squid Malay style, with lots of blachan (fermented prawn/anchovy paste). Too much garnish and too much sauce, it all looks a bit monochrome. but it was sure tasty! I adore squid…



Have struggled with local heroine chef Sylvia Tan, where nothing seems to taste of much; anyway I made her mushrooms and white fungus (couldn’t get black) with seared flank steak and it was Ok; other dishes such as Peranakhan favourite ayam (chicken) tempura have been underwhelming.

Ozzie flak steak with Chinese mushrooms and white fungus

Ozzie flak steak with Chinese mushrooms and white fungus

Some memorable delicacies eaten out…

First the top dim sum place, Din Tai Fung, popular for Saturday brunch. We are going to Taiwan in May so will check out its alma mater…


Making the dim sum in front of your eyes



You can also get other stuff – Ross has spaghetti-like noodles with a spicy pork sauce; I had  hot and sour soup, and we shared the broccoli




In Jakarta, I also some quite extraordinary sushi, very hot,  and beautifully presented.IMG_1351


Next week’s blog will come from BALI; I am taking a quick break while husband is travelling; an unaccompanied spouse in fact! I shall be visiting one of Louise’s friends and then going to a dive centre in the north and do some scuba. Good opportunity to see the island.



in which we go to the zoo, zoo, zoo


Gosh, Singapore never ceases to amaze me! I am not a fan of zoos normally (obviously when the children were small we did the rounds) but I was recommended to visit this one, renowned for its design and the relative freedom of the animals.  And SIngapore zoo is host to two new guests, Kai Kai and Tia Tia. (Can’t tell which is which tbh)


singzoo 2

and the gorgeous red panda – Ross says the last time he saw one of these it was a delicious beer in Bhutan!

Singapore zoo is green and luscious, here is Ross walking (mind you it was 33 C yesterday and sticky as hell).


Most of the animals seem happy enough (apart from the white tiger, who paced around his island, while his mate slept – we women know how to relax – though we did catch him having a bathe which was fun).


The monkeys  are kept on islands and swing around with abandon. So much so that these little buggers (squirrel monkeys btw) bit a poor girl who was walking underneath them. Feeding time takes on a new meaning!

singzoo 12

Some plus points for this zoo: one: its research programme, here into the amazing Proboscis monkeys.

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This is the alpha male, you can tell by the size of his…nose!

singzoo 24

Juvenile size nose!

Two, the largest freshwater aquaruim in the world. Here is my one and only photo contribution, a banded sea otter like we saw in Kerala in the lake, here playing with a coconut as we watched underneath. The rest are Ross’s as you really need a proper camera, not an iPhone for wildlife – but this is quite good for an iPhone methinks (apart from my finger!)


Three, a simply fabulous collection of orang utans – again free-ranging. We were lucky enough to get them at feeding time and were two feet away from them.

singzoo 19

So I leave you with a selection of Ross’s other photos and one of mine – the bum of a Hamadryas baboon. BTW a full selection of Ross’s photos can be found here



in which we go to the Gardens by the Bay

These extraordinary gardens, part of Singapore’s strategy to transform itself from being a Garden City to a City in a Garden, were only opened in 2011, after an international competition which was, in part, won by a firm of Bath landscape architects. As Robin Lane Fox said in last weekend’s FT, why on earth did we in London not use our own talent  to create a similar legacy in the Millennium Dome Gardens? Which have now been ploughed over…after £1bn was spent on them.

The major defining landmark of these gardens are the enormous metal ‘Supertrees’, with a 22m high suspended walkway, which overlooks the bay. At night time they are lit up like fairyland! While not yet mature enough, you can see the idea is to have a living vertical carpet of plants – orchids, bromeliads, begonias etc growing up towards the respective crowns. Stunning.



The other highlight is the  Cloud Forest, a recreated highland plant environment, with a 35m gushing waterfall and the cold damp climate of tropical rain-forest and montane areas – again spectacular orchids, pitcher plants, and fine totems from East Timor.



The gallery of photos should give you some idea of this amazing place – even if only taken with my little iPhone. Ross’s website – see link opposite – has much better photos!

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in which we go to Jakarta and I get the hump


My delightful interrogators on Easter Sunday

Not sorry to leave Jakarta. Huge city of 8 m plus people, clogged with motorbikes, taxis, cars, buses; traditional red-roofed houses juxtaposed against enormous sky scrapers – and polluted. But compared to India the traffic is (almost) regulated! Certainly infrastructure – flyovers and roads – superior, and there is a whizzo toll road to and from airport. India could learn from that.


Motos parked as far as the eye can see!

Added to which hotel Manhattan was rotten to the core – dirty (mould growing in bathroom and on shower curtains), bad food and murky pool. Even gym tired. Might have been OK once but seen better days, and it was paid for on expenses. Wah! Reason: 5 mins walk from offices, unheard of in this city of horrendous rush-hour jams. But for accompanying spouse it’s a poor place to hang out and work, as sight-seeing alone is challenging. English is virtually unspoken, even by upmarket Silver Bird taxis; Blue Bird drivers, for the record, were better! So I left two days early.


NB man wearing ManU teeshirt; there was a noisy ManU convention in town over the weekend, can one never escape their fans?

We arrived for Easter so we got a couple of days ‘doing’ Jakarta a deux, enough really. From the enormous Medan Merdeka square – largest in Asia, and Soviet in style, centred round what is known as Sukarno’s last erection, a monument to himself – to the old Dutch Batavian port of Kota, interspersed with some good grub we did ok. But stupendously hot and sticky and 2 hrs max outside excursion in full sun.


Ross being interviewed!


Not sure about this lesson in violence from mother to son!

Holiday weekend so hordes of families camped out in square, having picnics, visiting the erection (5 hours queue to go up top). Ditto Sunday in Kota, where the old Dutch Fatehilla Square was extremely festive: girls in Sunday best, floaty pink, red, and pastel-coloured gauzy outfits with sleeves to keep off the sun, complete with straw hats over their headscarves, being ferried round the square by gallant swains on hired pushbikes; human statues; monkey on a motorbike; marionettes; and street food and drinks galore. Highlight was being interviewed by keen and delightful students in English – obviously a class exercise. Asked what I thought about Indonesian people, first I said ‘very friendly’ and then, ‘they are very small and make me feel very big’. Giggle, giggle. Ross asked much more searching questions on the political system. History does not relate his reply!


Fatehilla Sq, Kota


Sad reminder of glorious past…


Fine old Dutch building on the canal


The old Dutch drawbridge, nicely restored, but the stench from the canal is quite believable looking at this pic!


All in a day’s work


Grab 40 winks when you can…

You could see remains of the old Dutch town, must have been very attractive, now largely crumbling. The canal leading out to the sea full of putrid debris – stank to high heaven, as did the fish market in the shanty town near the sea front (couldn’t see that for building works!). People eking out a living by collecting plastic bottles and sleeping by their stalls, or whatever shelter available. Reality check – Indonesia is a very poor country for most people. Jakarta is a misleading city.

We were nevertheless astounded by the ostentatious wealth on display in Indonesia Grand Mall,

…while the washing dries

largest in Asia apparently but you could be in Bond Street or 5th Avenue given the luxury branded shops, and the immaculately coiffed and coutured ladies, elegant men (all yuppy-young), an army of uniformed nannies minding spoiled and overweight offspring while mums shop and gossip with friends. Let’s hope there is a trickle down effect…


A good cocktail always gets rid of the hump! here we have chargrilled grapefruit martini; followed quickly by pineapple kaffir lime leaf margarita! smile on face!

Upside undoubtedly the helpful, smiling and gracious people, and delicious food. Like Singapore, food courts and restaurants in the malls are very popular, but we went to two recommended restaurants: Samarra, in sumptuous surroundings, carved statues, Indo-Arab fusion, where we had delicious fish satay and a lamb nasi dish, accompanied by a bamboo shoot and coconut soup.


My nasi (rice)dish with lamb


Fish satay on lemongrass skewers


Satay street food, at a fraction of the price!


deep frying must be extremely hot!

On my last night we visited Kembang Goela, Jakarta’s no 1 Trip Advisor-rated eatery. A bit OTT, but splendid decor (we had a ludicrously expensive bottle of wine), but the rendang and deng deng (deep friend beef carpaccio) were out of this world. A purple-suited nanny spent most of our meal chasing an unruly child round the restaurant and feeding him when he stood still. Children are absolutely adored all over the Far East (and they are beautiful) but under-disciplined in my opinion! One wonders what kind of adults they will turn into?

I shall look forward to returning to Indonesia – to the islands – but will give Jakarta a miss next time.


Deng deng beef (left); rendang (right) and our chicken nasi dish (foreground)