Saturday, 18 July 2015

A Brand Spankin' New Chapter

Greetings from the Land of Grizzlies, Moose and Maple Syrup!
(Disclaimer: This post is from a personal perspective & experience, hence it can be biased. )

Yes, apparently I am slow at updating my blog as I... have.. been.. well.. uh.. busy? Okay, maybe I am lying to a certain extent as I am no longer working and have been bumming at home like a hermit.

A hermit with access to online PC games and the food network.

It has been almost 3 months since my relocation to Canada and am a little Australian homesick. I mean, I have spent almost a decade in Australia so it is a little weird being on the opposite end of the earth (I think I may have the flair for the extreme).

I suppose the hardest thing moving to an unfamiliar country, is adapting to the ever so slight differences which also seems to be the biggest:


  • Coffee: Having an employment history as a barista allowed me to appreciate fine coffee or the usual cappuccino or flat white, commonly found in almost every single Australian cafe. Here, the usual cup of Joe, is percolated coffee with normal milk or cream added to an already diluted coffee. It wouldn't be so bad if I have found a cafe that at least made a decent cappuccino, but so far I haven't found a cafe yet (yes, there's probably a shitload of cafes I have yet to try in downtown Montreal, but being based an hour out of town, means that I am limited to cafes in my surrounding area. I have tried one cafe in Montreal but that failed to impress). Still searching for one that looks like this:
  • Sales tax: Ah, yes... this reminds me of some restaurants in Malaysia, where taxes are added in addition to the advertised price. I am definitely not used to this. Australia: what you see is what you pay. I personally find this system quite confusing and stupid - it would make life soooo much easier if they just added the tax to the price and then label it, so you don't have to go digging through the bottom of your pockets or jeans for that additional missing sum because you forgot about it.
  • Tipping: I tip when the service and food is uh-mazzzing.. but having to tip 10 - 15% unconditionally is a little weird for me. I get that wait staff in North America get paid way less than Australia but it shouldn't be expected, especially if you get mediocre service and food. 
  • Language barrier (Quebec-related): Oh dear lordy, this wouldn't be too much of an issue if I was based centrally in Montreal. Most of the outskirt suburbs is in French. The actual signs and menus aren't too bad as there are some words that seem oddly familiar in English or in Spanish and it makes a bit of sense when I try my best to put them together. Spoken French, on the other hand, throws me completely off. For now, I mostly smile and nod :) whilst my partner deals with the translation. 
  • Bacon: I finally see what the fuss is all about in North America!! Whilst in Australia, my partner has been complaining about bacon; he thinks the Australian bacon is like bacon-flavoured ham (he wasn't kidding. I mean, short-cut bacon with no lard? Just label it bacon-flavoured ham for the health-conscious gym junkies). So far, my favourite is the Maple syrup coated bacon. It's streaky, smokey, and just with the right hint of sweetness from the syrup. This probably explains my extreme weight gain.
  • Asian food source: Really, really, really wish I was closer to Montreal now. So far, the only thing that is keeping me going at home is soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce and Sriracha. That isn't too bad as I am able to cook some of my comfort food and other recipes easily. The hardest thing I'm missing badly is my ABC chilli sauce omfg wahhh!! *cries* Sriracha just doesn't taste the same :( Also, the pad thai in the few places I've been to, such as Thai Express and Chez Sak in Sorel-Tracy sucks. THIS IS NOT PAD THAI! 
Oh, pad thai... how much I miss you :(
(Image taken from: http://gentolizo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/pad-thai-shrimp.jpeg)

This is it for now. Hopefully I'll be updating more frequently now that I am a hermit lol.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Bali Trip (24OCT - 31OCT14)

***This took me ridiculously long to post :( Been so caught up at work!!*** 

This is my second trip to Bali, whilst a first for my partner! He wondered why I wanted to go back - my reason is because things are relatively cheap, and it is definitely cheaper to fly to somewhere like Bali than it is to travel domestically in Australia. 

I started planning this trip around June/July this year, and finding a time to suit. I had initially planned for us to go beginning/mid October as it would be like a birthday trip for the both of us (our birthdays is exactly two weeks apart). However, due to annual leave reasons and the airfares, turns out that we had to go at the end of October :(

On top of that, I was initially excited about the fact that Garuda Indonesia had really good agent rates, but was told last minute that of September 10th, it was no longer offered. FML.

Regardless, I was determined to make this trip happen since my annual leave was already locked in. Flights were still reasonably priced at $650AUD per person with Garuda, so I locked that in. The trouble was actually finding out where to stay at! Bali is such a hit with tourists all-over and with so many options to choose from in different parts of Bali, it took a while for James and I to narrow it down - location, convenience, accommodation type, and of course: price.

This trip was meant to be almost a budget trip, finding the best deals out there. However, after many discussions, we decided that we wanted more of a private villa, rather than a resort. I decided to look at Seminyak, since it was a popular area to be in, plus located conveniently close to Legian and Kuta. Maca Villas & Spa Bali showed up on our booking system and I managed to secure a relatively good agent rate. 

I mentioned in my last post about Maca Villas & Spa, which I recommend looking at as I absolutely adore it.

Anyways, without further ado, here's my latest experience on Bali!

Day 1 [24OCT14]
A day flight from Brisbane direct to Denpasar with Garuda. I must state that I found the legroom in their economy seats somewhat spacious. I am of average height for an Asian woman, around 5ft 4".

We also did the most touristy-cheap-ass thing of ordering a lot of alcoholic drinks. We both stuck to Screwdriver, but for some reason they ended up giving us orange juice and gin. Yuck.

Arrived into Bali around 2:20PM-ish, due to a slight delay. I hold a Malaysian Passport, so I did not need to pay the visa fee and also, a way shorter queue for ASEAN passport holders. Unfortunately for me, and for James, the queue for the visa ($35USD per person) on-arrival was long, and the customs line was even longer.

We ended up waiting like an additional 1 1/2 hours after arrival.

I noticed that the airport looked very different from my first trip - new airport. They also had a licensed money changer, right after customs, which offered a decent rate (around Rp. 10,200 to $1AUD), so I exchanged $100AUD for the time being. Not located too far away, was a taxi stand, where you tell the man at the counter where you were going and he gives you a rate on a piece of paper receipt/ticket, to which you will present to a taxi driver and pay him later.

Past that, is the duty-free section where I bought a carton of Sampoerna Avolution Menthol (one of my favourite cigs brand & type) for around $26AUD (16 x in one pack - 10packs in a carton). Noticed this one guy bought like 3 or 4 cartons lol.

Upon exiting the airport, we were swarmed with taxi drivers, and drivers holding up name cards. A man approached us and we handed over the ticket.

About 40 minutes later, we arrived at our location (by this point, it was like around 4:40pm).

We paid, hopped out of the cab and we were greeted with friendly smiles and I received a mini frangipani bouquet and welcome drinks for the both of us.
Click on the link above to read my review on Maca Villas & Spa!

Nothing much happened after that - we decided to unpack and lounge around the private pool, drinking Bintang beer and Heineken.

We decided to take it easy after a gruelling day of being on a plane for 6-plus hours, and stuck waiting in queues and decided to check out the in-villa restaurant & bar after finishing the beers from the stocked mini-bar.

The waiter who served us was lovely: genuinely friendly, and provided a great service whilst he brought us our large bottles of Bintang each. He later disappeared as we progressed to the other side of the restaurant to order some dinner. The other waiter was equally as lovely, and we had a Negroni each whilst waiting for our food. Although I am not a fan of gin, I occasionally enjoy a strong drink.

James had a craving for a club sandwich, whilst I went straight for the traditional Indonesian fare of Ayam Panggang (direct translation: Chicken grilled). I loved the marinade/spices they used on the chicken. It was well-cooked: moist and well-flavoured.

Not the best photo (the new camera James bought for my birthday, doesn't seem to like night shots), but a damn good dinner!

After the Negroni, we were recommended by our waiter to try the Godfather, which I enjoyed more as it was a sweeter, but just as strong drink. Post dinner, we had a Mai-Tai. Yummy!

We decided to bill this to the room as we did not want to deplete any cash we had on the first day. By this point, we were tipsy but surprisingly not drunk and I ended up skinny dipping in the private pool. You know, just cause I can and why the hell not?

Day 2 [25OCT14]
Had a great sleep, although James woke up with several mosquito bites throughout the night. We had also pre-ordered breakfast the night before and at 08:30AM sharp, the doorbell rang and we were delivered breakfast. *sigh* I wish I had this kind of service everyday of my life! Definitely spoiled whilst we were there.
The perfect start to the day: Nasi Goreng, served with Kicap Manis (dark sweet soy sauce), Acar (pickles), and Sambal. Also comes with eggs and uh.. keropok <-- don't know how to explain this in English.. savoury fried crackers?

Being the most typical Asian, I had to have rice for breakfast. James still laughs at me 'til this day, wondering how I can stomach rice, noodles and sometimes, spicy foods for breakfast. I always shrug and say that was how I grew up and always mention that I prefer savoury foods as oppose to having something like cereal, which only keeps me full for like an hour. 

After breakfast, James wanted to walk to the nearest beach, which didn't sound too far of a walk (estimated 15 minutes?). However, it seemed closer to 20-25 minutes due to the fact that there was no proper sidewalks and access to the beach seems further as the view was blocked by many buildings.

On top of that, it was an exceptionally hot day, scorching sun blazing down on us. If ever find me in this scenario, I get super-cranky and complain-y as I do not like such intense heat. Oh, the irony of being born in a South-East Asian country. Laugh all you want.

We managed to find a back-road lane access to the beach, to which we were greeted with extremely hot sands which felt like Satan had set on fire - yes, our soles were scorched (no pun intended). I tried to speed-walk to the water as fast as I could! After enduring my whining, James finally gave in to me, and we ended up at this restaurant/cafe near the beach, as I was dying for a cool/icy cold drink.

Thankfully, they had granita on the menu - Strawberry & Guava for me, whilst James went for a Lime & Lychee option. I was glad that the granitas we ordered tasted like they were made from fresh fruit, and more importantly, that it cooled me down to a point, where I stopped being cranky. 


 James seems happier after I stopped having my cranky-pants on

Me in a much better mood :P

After cooling down, we decided to head into Seminyak Square, where the shops, cafes, bars, happening things are at. 

Oh, I forgot to mention, that we've experienced a first-ever: locals stopping us to promote a new property. It must have been a gimmick, as James' raffle had a small prize of 2x free t-shirts whilst I gained the first prize. The only catch was to head down to the said property. Additionally, we noticed it was targeted towards foreigners who have to be at least 27 years of age. Unfortunately, we did not qualify, but I was tempted to check it out as the first man (Martin?) was really nice, and if we had popped down he would have earned $50USD for his work. The poor man :( We decided not to at the end of the day. 

Anyways, whilst heading towards Seminyak Square, one of my earrings decided to drop and I lost it forever in Bali as it rolled into one of the bridge's crevice into the water. I was quite upset as I had only just bought it before this trip. 

Oh well. 

Seminyak Square was definitely a happening place! I ended up purchasing a lovely sarong in a teal-blue with cream designs <3 To make up for my lost earring, I had also purchased a cool, silver ring :)
Just an excuse, you know!

After walking for a bit, we decided to stop at a funky little bar, by the name of Red Carpet Champagne Bar. Here, the waitstaff are dressed in cute outfits which resembled old-school bellboys (think the outfit from the Grand Budapest movie). We ordered a couple rounds of Heineken and a Spanish Tapas to soothe our munchies. 

Man, they serve their beers in a mini-ice bucket. A brilliant concept which should be utilised at all bars on a hot, sunny day! 


 The ring I bought at Kapal Laut (Seminyak Branch), which means Sea/Ocean Boat in Bahasa. 

Spanish Tapas: Meatballs (pretty good meatballs), cheese, marinated squid, & olives

After that, we continued our drinking spree at Single Malt Bali, which is attached to/part of Ize Hotel. One thing that caught our attention was the funky cocktails they offered: 
I ordered the Canadian cocktail, which had like Canadian Club, Maple Syrup, lime juice? and candied beef bacon. James ordered a Jalepeno infused cocktail, which had a slight throat after-burn effect. We stuck to something more normal, like a beer, after that.

By this point, we were slightly tipsy and we headed back to the villa. Had another pool session before James decided to have a night out. I advised heading down to Legian, and finding the place I had a fun time at: Vi Ai Pi

From my first experience in Bali, I remember having a great night out. My friend, who I went with, had retired back to the hotel as he had low alcohol tolerance, whilst I carried on with rum & coke. Back then, the band which was playing pulled customers up on stage to sing popular covers, like Rihanna, Adele, etc., I had the pleasure of having a party with the male-lead singer before I ended up too drunk, ditching them without saying good-bye and crashed when I returned at the hotel. Good times.

This time round, they had a different cover band, which only pulled up one customer, and was filled with tourists. Nontheless, it was a great atmosphere, with the band playing hit songs.

We continued on to one of the biggest nightclubs in Bali, Sky Garden, which is part of like 8 clubs & pubs in one building! (Also, it's located right next to Vi Ai Pi). It was insane and one can easily get lost on its grounds. We had to pay a cover fee which included a free drink, so it worked out to be alright. 
Some intense laser-display was going on!

After some intense dancing session, we returned pretty drunk - a.k.a we turn nasty whilst drunk as in a huge disagreement over a completely irrelevant, small topic. That was the last thing I remembered before passing out.

Did I mention that we had a 12-hour day tour the next day?

Day 3 [26OCT14]
Thankfully, in a Mesha-drunk-state, I still and will always remember setting my alarm, so I woke up in time to somehow get out of bed and answering the door when breakfast arrived. I had quite a hangover, feeling nauseous and puke-y, so ended throwing up most of my Mie Goreng before the tour. I had to also force James out of bed, despite the fact he was still superbly mad at me. *sigh*

Otherwise, we were about 20 minutes late, and the poor tour guide had to wait for us. I apologised, but he was still friendly and introduced himself, Gede and the driver (which didn't speak much or at all) Putu. 

The night prior, before heading out, we had received a phone call from the company (I had also forgot to mention that I pre-booked a 12 hour tour, prior to leaving for Bali), asking what we wanted to do. I had always wanted to go back to visit Tanah Lot as I felt that no trip to Bali is complete without seeing one of it's famous landmarks. 

Fortunately, Gede had been around a while to advice what we should do to fit it into our schedule, so our itinerary ended up like this: Visit a Silversmith, Woodcarving, local Balinese community compound village, Holy Spring Temple, Kopi Luwak (Civet cat dropping coffee), lunch near the Rice Terraces at Tegalalang (we wanted a traditional lunch, although our tour did include some bread, pastries and refreshments), Monkey Forest, and Tanah Lot. 

The first stop was a silversmith shop, Dewi Sitha. I asked Gede why he chose this place as there was about a dozen, if not more, silversmiths in Ubud. He said that he had to bring us a to recommended places, which is good enough for clients. 

One thing which stood out, in the silver products was this necklace, which I had not seen anywhere else, and decided to splurge a bit.

Handmade silver, and carved cow bone. Got 40% off the selling price. Still pricey, but I adored it too much to not purchase it.

Next, was to visit a local compound. First of all, I forgot to mention that Gede was a very informative guide, to the best of his ability in English. These compounds are like the traditional living spaces for locals. Gede explained how and why the layout was built the way it was. We had to also tip like $1AUD ($0.50AUD each), as a sign of respect for allowing us to explore, what essentially is, someone's home.

It was a pretty cool experience, as we tend to forget how lucky we are with first world facilities.

 The stove: Gede explained that the meals were cooked in the morning once a day, for 3 meals and family members would help themselves.

 Gede mucking about the kitchen, whilst we were still gobsmacked

One of the residents making rice-cakes. Gede explained that it was going to be sun-dried and later fried to make a local dish during celebrations.

Porcupines kept as pets. Gede explained that porcupines are pests to local farmers. I asked if they ate porcupines, and he said yes. O_O  

There's a dedicated room/hut for the elders in the compound village. After looking at this, I cannot complain about modern cooling-facilities, even a fan. They had none in the tropical weather throughout the year. Respect

Gede also explained how the compound layout was built, representing a human body - the head (north) was the family's private temple, whilst next was the elder's hut, leading down to an open-air hut which the family uses it for ceremonies (and also death rituals for the deceased), to the kitchen and later to the "leg area" where the unclean things, such as the toilet and washing area, pigsty, is located.

 James & I at the entrance of the family's temple

Next we visited a local woodcarving place. We didn't buy anything from here, as I already had 2 small wood carvings for James from my previous trip. It was still pretty cool to see how they turn a block of wood into detailed carved statues.

 Hard at work: From men who are carving from scratch, to women polishing off the end product.

 Insane detail

Next, we visited Tampak Siring - Holy Spring Temple. Gede explained the history, myth & legend (which is explained in the link).

Gede said that we were also lucky to visit at the time when an actual ceremony was taking place, allowing us to fully encounter and learn about their culture.

We also had to don a sarong each as a sign of respect.








Straight after the temple, I was dying for some food (as I threw up most, if not all, of my breakfast) and my nausea had subsided). What was better, was that Gede said we were going to visit a place where they serve Kopi Luwak. Surprise, surprise, we went back to one of my favourite place in the world - Satria Agrowisata. This place blossomed since my first visit, and seems to have doubled in size as well. Nonetheless, it is amazing place where they served samples of various teas and coffees. 

Civet cat - I nearly died of cuteness overload. I read some where that they do suffer in captivity, so I felt quite sad for the 3 in cages. I actually almost had the opportunity to eat a civet cat whilst in Malaysia. WTF O_O 

Washed and dried coffee beans

Roasting of the beans. 

I think that old lady is the same grandma I took a photo of on my first trip in 2012. Seriously! I remember Satria being much smaller, but still provided the same old good service. The young guy in the photo below claimed to be the owner's son (?) or helping to run the family's business. I was glad to see that this time round, their farm had grown larger.

That's what you get! Happy people in Bali :) Photo taken from my 2012 Bali trip.

The number of drinks provided had also grown in numbers, with different coffee & tea flavours. All of them were soooo goood! I wanted to buy them all but was on a tight-ish budget, so we narrowed it down to the Lemongrass Tea (my absolute favourite of all time), Rosella Tea, and James decided to get the Ginseng Coffee.

A new addition Satria provided (good news for smokers like us), is that they provided the shredded tobacco (like the ones you buy in those rollies' pack). The reason, is purely so you can taste the tobacco leaves they harvest from their own farm! 

I had no idea how to roll a cigarette without a filter, so had the girl (photo below) roll us one. Admittedly, one of the smoothest cigarettes I've ever smoked. I mentioned this to the guide and Gede said it's purely because there's no other shit in there, other than the tobacco and rolling paper.  

Yummy! This place is one of the reasons I love Bali!

Next on the list, is Tegalalang: Rice Terraces. I grew up in Malaysia, where I've seen rice fields, but not as impressive as these, here in Bali. For James, it was definitely a first and I think he enjoyed this whole  tropical experience.


We hurried through the photo-taking sessions (bless his soul, Gede just didn't take one photo but offered to take several at a time, from different angles. Cannot ask for a better guide!) as I was starving by then. He led us to this restaurant which had great views, overlooking the rice fields.

Just chillin' with my lemongrass tea :)

Lunch! Fried duck with rice, satay and cheese samosas

After an hour, Gede was back and we were whisked off to the next place on the list! The Monkey Forest in Ubud. Now, there are quite a few places where you're able to find monkeys, temples and lush vegetation in Bali. More often than not, it's in Ubud. In the past, I visited this cool temple in Uluwatu filled with monkeys too. 



This part of the temple was pretty picturesque, with some of the sunlight filtered through the trees and thick vines.

After the visiting the temple filled with monkeys, we headed down to the last stop of our tour - Tanah Lot to make it in time for sunset!


I can finally check Tanah Lot off the touristy Bali check-list!

I just realised how ridiculously long this post turned out to be, so I'm going to summarize the rest of my trip - just to point out the highlights!

Barbacoa:
We went to this restaurant as I saw this in one of the brochures in the villa, and realised that it was not far from where we were. James and I decided to check it out for lunch. It features "southern"American food, including Mexican influences. Initially, I was a bit skeptical - come on, I mean, if I feel like I can't find a good Mexican restaurant in Australia, what are the chances Bali was going to do it better?

Boy, was I wrong.

THE. BEST. TACO. EVER. 

 Pulled pork, pickled red onion,  sweet pineapple on corn tortilla *mind blown*

 Barbacoa's own style spicy snapper cerviche with aji amarillo dressing

 Grilled squid, jalepeno, guacamole & Barbacoa salsa

Definitely one of the place worth checking out if you're ever in Bali. My colleague went a week after I did, and she, as an American, too can vouch for how great the food is!


Jimbaran Bay:
Littered with restaurants to accommodate tourists wanting the on-the-beach dining experience. James and I winged it and took a cab down and the cab driver apparently just chose one for us (literally drove up right into the restaurant!?). The one we went to was called Ganesha Cafe.


The one thing I highly recommend (especially for any Southeast Asians like myself) is the Butter fried squid. Sounds disgusting, but holy fucking hell! I drool every time I think of it!

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Last but not least James and I did go river rafting! A first ever for me and boy was it fun! It was in Ubud, and the best part about the whole thing was there was pit stops where you can buy beer (expensive for Bali standards, but hey, still bloody cheap) and have a smoke, on the river whilst resting.

A reason as to why Bali is ever so popular amongst tourists - and trust me, I've sold a shit load of Australians to Bali!