The beauty that never last

It’s  sunday morning as usual do what I like. Whether being productive like go to the gym or shopping with my daughter. Sometimes I just do nothing but eat, sleep or have massage at home. Today why not give more attention to my blog, since it has been neglecting for years. Yes, blame my laziness !

Throwback a family visit to England few years ago. One crisp winter morning we took a stroll to the Abbey. This is Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds was built in 1152  as a great example of medieval cistercian in Britain. This was not my first Abbey visit, but it brings back my memory with my first visit to Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire many years ago. The construction of the building always impress me. That old stone that shows the age of the building. I like the smell of it. It so well maintain and a truly priceless treasure. No surprise when summer this place always crowded with families picnic and of course, weddings photo shoot. Who doesn’t like this place ? It’s free entrance, no food vendor around and you can use the facility like those benches for picnic. I guess is not only kids playground, this could be photographer playground too. I can not imagine if we have place like this in Jakarta, it must have been being commercial.

The morning walk with the family was truly enjoyable. Our stroll ended at the coffee shop nearby for having cup of english breakfast tea, scone and jam. It was perfect ending and I could not asked for more. Come back here, I feels like falling in love over and over again.

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Another uniquely-themed restaurant has just opened in South of Jakarta. Located at Jalan Senopati Raya and has a different atmosphere that many other restaurants in that area.  Now that there area so many restaurants in town competition is getting serious. Restauranteurs have to be creative and innovative, as people coming to restaurants look for both great food and a good atmosphere.  And, with Jakarta’s traffic many people would rather spend time in a nice restaurant rather than face heavy traffic going home in rush hours.

Jo (from ajourneybespoke; http://www.ajourneybespoke.com) and I became curious when we saw the lovely facade of the building, so we popped in for a lunch at Amber. As soon as we opened the door a friendly staff member greeted us and asked whether we would like to go for a main course or only dessert. The first floor turned out to be their desert lounge – definitely heaven for those with a sweet tooth. The lounge is designed in a french style with elegant and softly coloured furniture. There are so many varieties of beautiful cakes, truffles and macaroons, and specialty teas too.  A perfect place for afternoon tea with your girl-friends. The second floor is called the library room.  The books on the shelves, wooden floors and comfy chairs really make this place look and feel like a small library.  Although the books were acquired for display, I’m sure no one would mind if you wanted to read or look through one.  I recall a restaurant in Sydney I visited that had a library – there you could read and purchase what was displayed.  The third floor is a music lounge – actually located on the roof – but I think that it is only open at night, perhaps because during the day it would be too hot up there.  But definitely a great place for a private party.

After we finished lunch we went downstairs for dessert. Actually we could have asked the staff to bring up our dessert but we preferred to go down and experience sitting at the dessert lounge. It had a very different atmosphere to the library.  We chose to have macaroons; cream cheese (blue) and curry (brown). Curry macaroon may not sound too tempting, especially for those not too keen on curry – but you really must try one. The exotic flavour (masala) will give a little bit of kick to your tongue but I’m sure you’ll find this macaroon rather special and just as unique as Amber itself.

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Back to Bali

Whether we are away for a few days, a few weeks or a few months, at the end of a holiday we often feel that it just was not long enough. It’s true that time passes so quickly when you are having fun. I thought that with a week off and nothing to do but relax, I would have more than enough time to write for my blog.  In fact, the days passed before I had even started one story!  But don’t get me wrong, of course it was a blessing to have quality time with my family and to be able to discover some new places.  Here are some places that contributed to us having such a full holiday.

The Villa Prana in Seminyak is simply beautiful. Open space, a beautiful garden and the minimalist design of this place made it seem like a hidden treasure. Although the villas are new, they are in kept in excellent condition and the grounds are very well maintained. I strongly recommend this place to those who want to stay in Seminyak area. It’s in a good location being within walking distance to the better boutiques and restaurants. The friendly staff and the excellent service made our stay so enjoyable. The Prana Spa is really something that you must experience when you stay – as a villa guest we received a 50% discount.  I spent my “me time” having a great three hour treatment. It was one of the best spa sessions I have ever had, and it only cost $56. The Balinese lady who attended to me, Ibu Sudiani, is excellent therapist.   If you like yoga, they offers a yoga package too.

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Karma Kandara beach. Located in Uluwatu area, this place is only a 45 minute drive from Seminyak. The view from the cliff top there is stunning – quite breathtaking.  You can enjoy this beautiful panoramic view while having lunch at the Al Mare restaurant. If you would like to go to the beach there is a charge of roughly $25  (two hundreds and fifty thousand rupiah) but that includes umbrella rental, use of beach towels and a substantial part-payment for your meal. The prices at the beach side restaurant are reasonable. 

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Another heat place for lunch was Sisterfield in Seminyak. I really loved the simplicity of this place and the food is great.  Friends had recommended Sisterfield for breakfast or brunch. The service is very good and the staff are well-trained, friendly and knowledgeable. Definitely this place became an immediate family favourite eating place.© Nita Strudwick Photography © Nita Strudwick Photography © Nita Strudwick Photography

I found the Feather and Find Boutique quite accidentally. The boutique is actually located next to Sisterfield. It is owned by a Swiss lady who has been living in Bali for many years. I liked everything in this shop, especially the dress collection as all were elegantly simple and well made. The collectable trinkets there are all one-of-a-kind.

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Visited Chinatown, Jakarta

I hope it is not too late to wish Gong Xi Fa Cha for those who celebrate Chinese New year. Some weeks ago, when friends from a journey bespoke (www.ajourneybespoke.com), Liz and Jo asked for some ideas to visit a “pasar” (traditional market) for their blog, I suggested a visit to Chinatown in Glodok, West Jakarta. Particularly as the coming week was when the Chinese there were busy preparing for the New Year. I guess it is not only my western friends who wonder what things were sold for the “preparations” beside vegetables and fruits, I too wanted to know what the atmosphere would be in Glodok. I had imagined that the pasar would be dominated by all things red. The traffic en route was OK, although it still took over an hour from Kuningan, South Jakarta to Pancoran, Glodok, West Jakarta. The place exactly as I had imagined. Red lanterns were hung everywhere, and they looked beautiful. Many vendors were selling red ornaments for house decorations.

Here’s the story of the red colour and Lunar New Year. According to tales and legends, the beginning of the Chinese New Year started with a mythical beast called the Nian. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One day a villager decided to take revenge on the Nian.  A god visited him and told him to put red paper on his house and to place firecrackers everywhere. The villagers then learnt that the Nian was afraid of the colour red. When the New Year was about to arrive, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. They also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian.   From then on, Nian never came to the village again.

Isn’t that interesting story? I truly enjoyed my first visit to Chinatown in Jakarta with my friends. We were delighted to see what was happening before the Lunar New Year. We were like bunch of kids in a candy store. We discovered so many thing that we had never seen before. What a trip we had.  As usual, I am sharing the photographs I took during my visit.

Gong Xi Fa Cha!!!

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Amsterdam in our mind

Happy New Year 2015!

So many unforgetable moments in 2014.  And, we had also so many special events to celebrate in Decembers including fifteen years of marriage and our daughter’s fourteen birthday.  So why not celebrate those events and go to a place we had never been to?  We choose to visit Amsterdam before flying on to the UK to spend Christmas with family. When we arrived at Schiphol airport at 6.30 in the morning it was dark, wet and cold. It brought back the memories of my first winter in US (quite some years ago).  A truly nice feeling, though. We stayed at Ambassade hotel which is located in Herengracht and has a stunning view of one of Amsterdam’s canals.  In 2010 the canals joined UNESCO’s world heritage listing. The hotel is located at the city centre and is walking distance to many museums, restaurants and shopping areas. I think the Ambassade hotel was the perfect hotel for us as we were doing what most tourist do: walking and sightseeing.  Visits to the Anne Frank and Van Gogh museums were on our “must do” list for the trip. To me, both were really worth a visit as each was truly captivating. During a wet day we took a canal tour around the city. It was a great week and although it was winter Amsterdam still looked charming and stunning. I’d love to come back and exploring the city some more. My little wish for this year is that three of us will be able to continue to travel and to see how beautiful the world is.

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After a few days traveling around Sri Lanka by car between Colombo and Trincomallee in the North East, it was time to take a different way back to Colombo.  We flew back  with Sri Lankan air taxi. The small seaplane was like a giant dragonfly. It only accommodated seven passengers  and a pilot and co-pilot. It took an hour and a half to fly from Batticlao to Colombo. The view from above was simply gorgeous. I was speechless. Truly, this flying experience gave us such an unforgettable experience. I found it very funny during our departure to see that while we were waiting for the plane to arrive many local people gathered to watch us, we even had kids waving at us as if we were a movie stars!

The last hotel we stayed at in Colombo, the Wallawwa boutique hotel, is a charming hotel. The simplicity and natural touches in the interior made the place so welcoming and cozy. The Z Spa is a must to try after a long day trip. I felt so energised after my spa experience. The food and the service at this hotel were really fantastic.  Very highly recommended.   There is no doubt,  we will come back and stay at this hotel again.

Last but not least, we have to commend RedDot Tours.  They did such an amazing job.  Our vacation arrangements were excellent: great hotels, excellent driver, comfortable minivan and everything ran so smoothly. They really made everything so much easy as it was so well organised. Well done RedDot.

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These are my favourite photographs from our trip to Sri Lanka. The private walking tour we took in Colombo introduced us to some highlights from a local’s perspective. With a knowledgeable private guide we learned about the city’s architectural history. The company offered half-day or full-day tours, each going at your preferred pace. Although we could not avoid a little hectic traffic, especially on the way to the market, we saw so many interesting things and got to feel the city’s dynamic pulse. I personally like to visit locals’ preferred shops when I travel and I like to know what things are usually sold in local markets. Its always fun to watch the activity in the markets. The colours and the textures of the vegetables and fruits are not just great to photograph but getting to know them adds to my knowledge about the varieties of the local foods available  Visiting Colombo’s historical building was really interesting too, especially the old Grand Oriental hotel building that has been open since World War II and is still quite well maintained.  I never thought that taking a walking tour could be such a great way to get to know so much about a city.

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The memorable journey in Willpattu, Sri Lanka

I must say, our first holiday trip to Sri Lanka was quite an adventurous journey. It was unforgettable. Especially when we spent three days camping with Leopard Safaris in Willpattu National Park. Willpattu is located in the Northwest of Sri Lanka and borders the Indian Ocean in the west. It is Sri Lanka’s largest National park and is now open to public after years of being closed during the war. It took about 4 hours drive to reach there from Nogombo, the area near Colombo where we stayed for a few days before going to the Park. Frankly speaking, I never anticipated that our planned camping at Willpattu would be the best camping we had ever experienced. So many things to talked about with this place!  I don’t know where to start. But let me begin by describing our tent. As this was a holiday,  comfort was our priority: our tent was big and its queen-size comfortable bed provided us with a great place to rest. Although there was no air conditioning, the breeze carried a welcome chill every night. I had thought that there would be plenty of mosquitos at the camp site but there were none at all.

We called this “glamping” (glamour camping) as the staff  from Leopard Safaris were always on standby if we needed assistance. It was the things that we will never forget that made this holiday great: the food was so amazing. The chef cooked delicious meal every day; breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Sri Lankan curry and Lamb chops that I had for dinner were so good. Although we had no electricity and no internet  we found ourselves enjoying nature’s beauty –  it made me appreciate what life is really all about. One morning when I decided not to join the safari crew to the jungle, I stayed at the campsite to enjoy my peaceful morning with a cup of Sri Lankan tea that the staff brought, I listened the humming birds and smell the fresh morning dew. It was so relaxing. Fantastic.

During the days we spent our time driving through the jungle searching for animals and birds. I expected to see many leopards but unfortunately the only one I saw was sleeping after finishing his meal. Although I wanted to photograph him while awake, we left him while he was still sleeping.  We saw plenty of beautiful Sri Lankan birds – so colourful and gorgeous. Definitely all the great memories will bring us back to Sri Lanka again one day. We thank the Leopard Safari team, especially Pila, who made  our  journey so memorable and delighted. Please check their website http://www.leopardsafaris.com.

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Beautiful Minangkabau

Traveling to Sumatra was something I had been really looking forward to. I think for those who never been to Sumatra, visiting Bukittinggi (in West Sumatra) should be on your list. I went with a group of five friends from Jakarta. It was just a four day visit but truly a nice journey. As I love spicy food I was so looking forward to tasting the real flavours of Padang food such as beef rendang (beef curry) and Satay Padang.  I knew it would not be too different from the taste if bought in Jakarta, but I wanted to taste the real thing. We were so lucky that one of our friends in the group is from Bukittinggi.  She guided us to some great places. Particularly when visiting new places I find it a true pleasure to explore the place and do unique things. Beside tasting the food, visiting a traditional market was a must for me, and my thanks to Rino who took me around the market. In fact there were so many kind of products sold there I even managed to get a photograph of a dried eel – Rino also told me how to cook them to make crunchy and spicy. Sounds delicious !

Our journey begin as soon as we arrived at Padang airport. Our tour guide drove us straight to Bukittinggi.  It took three hours. We finally made it to our first stop the Lembah Anai (Anai waterfall).  It was OK – nothing really special though.  I don’t know why this place is so popular with tourists. We did not stay there too long.

We visited Pusat Dokumentasi and Informasi Kebudayaan Minangkabau (Centre for Documentation and Cultural information of Minangkabau). That was quite interesting too. It is a stunning building the shape of rumah gadang (sharp peaks at both ends of the roof).  The inside is more like a library with open space and so many old black and white photographs displayed everywhere. After we listened to a short history of the Rumah Gadang the guide took us to a dressing room – this was the fun part. We had the opportunity to wear a beautiful Minang bridal costume, including the tall head ornaments.  The guide told us the ornament we had on were only imitations and that the originals that were worn by the bride in a Minang wedding weighed an additional five kg.  Wow! Anyway I can tell you we had so much fun in dressing room – six little girls playing dress up!

The Hills hotel (www.thehillsbukittinggi.com; Jl. Laras Dt Bandaro, Bukittingi, Sumatera Barat 26115, Indonesia
+62 752 35000) that we stayed at during in Bukittinggi is just walking distance to the famous Bukittinggi icon Jam Gadang and Pasar atas (a traditional market located upstair where they sell handcrafts and fabrics and a market below where they sell fresh veggies and fruits). Jam Gadang in the evening looked more charming than during the day. They have a night market every Saturday and that gave the place a more “happening” feeling with locals around  as it is likely the products they sell are only for local consume not for tourist.

The last day of our trip we went to Lembah Harau (Harau Valley) and Danau Maninjau (Lake Maninjau) before heading back to Padang.  However, for me the highlight of this trip was when we visited Istana Baso Pagaruyung (Pagaruyung Palace) that was beyond my expectation. It’s real beautiful. Pagaruyung Palace is the istana of the former Pagaruyung Kingdom, located in Tanjung Emas subdistrict near Batusangkar town, Tanah Datar Regency, West Sumatra, Indonesia. The exterior and interior palace are stunning and well kept. Never seen anything like it before. The inside palace is exeptionally well maintained. I loved those colours and the sparkly fabric in every piece of  drapery. This palace used to lived in by a king and queen with their big family (the history of this palace please check Istana Baso Pagaruyung).

Lembah Anai (Anai Waterfall)

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Pusat Dokumentasi dan Informasi Kebudayaan Minangkabau (Centre for Documentation and Cultural information of Minangkabau) in Padang Panjang.

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Istana Baso Pagaruyung (Pagaruyung Palace, West Sumatra)

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Jam Gadang at night, Bukittinggi West Sumatra
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Phuket, Thailand

Returning to Phuket was a dream come true. I remember the first time we visited Phuket – ten years ago – it was wonderful. My daughter and I were so excited to be returning. Not so much had changed, the beach was still clean and beautiful – the markets, however, were more crowded. We were joined by two friends from the UK on this trip.  The moms would have ‘our time’ while the two kids had fun together.  This getaway was not at all planned.  Everything we did just depended on how we felt that day.  Some days we simply stayed on the beach all day, swimming like fishes and relaxing on the pool deck at the resort.

The view from our hotel room was simply stunning – we looked out over Patong beach.  The two things that my daughter wished for from this trip were to go to Phi Phi island to swim and to take an elephant ride. Both were so easy to arrange.  We made all our bookings directly from the hotel.  It  only took an hour from Royal Phuket Marina to Phi Phi Island by speedboat – and cost about 2,500 Bath/person, including speedboat, tour guide, lunch, and snorkelling equipment. They also stopped at Pileh Cove and Bamboo Island. The views were simply gorgeous, especially Phi Phi Island.  Needless-to-say, the kids just jumped into water right away. It was crystal clear with a stunning aquamarine colour. I can’t described how beautiful and relaxing the place was. Last but not least, we took a trip to Kata Island for an elephant ride.  It was really enjoyable.  Although it wasn’t my first elephant ride, i was still quite scared.

The hotel we stayed at, Amari Coral Beach Resort, was a totally relaxing place to be. Not just great food but the staff were so professional and friendly. We will definitely return to this hotel.  If you stay there don’t miss the Wednesday night seafood buffet – first class.

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2mad Gallery and Eatery

Recently I took some photographs for 2mad Gallery and Eatery in Jakarta. I was trilled when Maggie, the owner, contacted me. As one of their clients I do not just adore their stuff but I agree with Maggie that we should support local designers to be competitive and creative. If we don’t, who will? Maggie’s place   accommodates  Indonesian designers who display and sell their products in the gallery. The gallery is located on the second floor, above the cafe.  So while you are waiting for your meal you can go upstair to check it out. Most of the pieces are one of a kind. They also sell custom made furniture, home ware and paintings. So when you see things there probably its never seen anywhere else.

The restaurant concept is very casual and cozy. As soon as you enter the cafe you will see the picture of New York’s Madison Avenue hanging on the wall. This cafe reminds Maggie of New York where she spent a few years studying. This little cafe is located at 46F Broadway, Kemang South of Jakarta. It is easy to find as they are on Jalan Benda Raya – just look for the yellow door. Whether you come for cocktails after office hours or brunch on Sunday morning this place is always great. If you would like to know details about this place you can check their website 2madison.com. BTW, they also sell furniture online and from experience, I can assure you that delivery is always on time.

2Madison Outlet, Jl. Benda Raya No. 46F unit B, Kemang, Jakarta Selatan. Phone : (+62-21) 788 334 80/ 788 393 82 (or wa 087 886 461 788)

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Halooo … Hanoi !!!

Recently we visited Vietnam and spent more than a week exploring Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Danang. It was an amazing trip, especially when we stayed on a boat for a few days in Ha Long Bay. The scenery was simply gorgeous. So breathtaking!  The city of Hanoi is quite something, with the activities in the markets day and night. But believe me, the traffic there is worse than Jakarta. The motorbikes seem to come from every direction – absolute chaos, quite unpleasant for  any pedestrians. Other than that, I really liked the city, there is so much happening. It’s so dynamic. After Hanoi, we flew to Danang, and I visited My’So’n Sanctuary, located about 70km (43 miles) south west of Danang. My’So’n Sanctuary is a large complex of religious relics, the temples and towers there connect to each other and all have complicated red brick designs. It was so mesmerising – and a good thing I hired a personal tour guide to tell me about the history of each temple. Visiting the ancient town of Hoi An was also interesting with wonderful old houses, temples, and pagodas, and the shop lined streets (I wrote detail about Hoi Ann and Danang in different page). At night, with so many beautiful lanterns hanging everywhere the town really came alive. Beautiful. Hoi An is listed as a world cultural heritage site by Unesco. I have also added some photographs the interior of the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi.

HANOI


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Sofitel Legend Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam

15 Ngô Quyền, Hoan Kiem District, Hà Nội, Vietnam

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