Bali, Popular Destination Victim of Its Success

Bali is such a popular destination that I don’t know many people around me who have never been there. Over the years, social media – mostly Instagram – has contributed to its success. There is no place more photogenic than Bali, it’s literally impossible to take a bad picture and I was really keen to discover this place everyone was talking about. Over 2 weeks, we stayed in 4 different locations to have a better chance to visit more places: Seminyak (close enough to the airport so ideal to start with), then took a boat to Gili Air (one of the 3 Gili islands close to Bali), Jasri and then Ubud (perfect to round off our trip).

Enjoying a Mie Goreng at Seminyak Beach

I remember Seminyak for being so crowded. You’ll find an amazing beach at sunset, many cool restaurants dotted around and loads of markets to find clothes and souvenirs. But there are a lot of tourists too, everywhere. It’s one of those places you can hear all sorts of European languages around you and bump into many Australians who are here to party. Seminyak would be for Australians what Ibiza is for Europeans. So we simply enjoyed our quiet villa with our own swimming pool, rather than fighting to find a nice spot at the beach. I feel very old writing this.

In search of a slightly more rustic lifestyle, we took a boat to Gili Air, the smallest of the 3 Gili Islands. We stayed overnight on this tiny island and it was epic to be able to cycle all around it in less than 2 hours (mostly because it’s quite hard to cycle on deep sand…). The island is Muslim – as part of Lombok – so you can hear prayers from the Mosque several times a day (including in the middle of the night) which resonates across the entire island. There are not a lot of inhabitants, they live with almost nothing and yet they seem so happy… Slowly rebuilding everything after the earthquake in 2018.

Gili Air

There was no worse experience than our boat trip back to Bali… Several hours below deck in an overcrowded boat without any AC (fans were also not working), going so fast than we smashed into every wave and I thought I was going to vomit my previous meal (and I’m not usually seasick). We felt like cattle being transported. Visiting the Gili islands is definitely worth it but bear in mind the conditions to get there are not going to be your usual luxury. Don’t forget to read reviews properly before you book your “ferry”, not all companies are equal.

This time we came back to Padang Bay and stayed at Jasri, where it was a lot less touristic than Seminyak. We loved wondering around and about, but you don’t have a lot of autonomy if you’re not local in this area. Our villa did offer services from a chef and a driver, so we used both to make the most of it. Some parts of Bali are more quiet but it also means you need to use extra services, it’s down to you what you prefer!

Jasri Beach – Black sand and no tourists there

Because of all the Instagram pictures I’ve seen about the Heaven’s Gate, I really wanted to go there so we booked a day trip with our driver. Let me tell you something, and it’s not going to be pretty but I want to be honest here, this experience is the reason why I would openly say Bali is victim of its success. Too many tourists with specific needs and a thirst for popularity on social media result in Balinese people trying to meet the demand. I kid you not, we queued 2 hours for a picture of us in front of the gates. Not even a real picture, they used a black mirror to create an illusion of water’s reflection under our feet. A bit disappointing for people like us who were in search of a whole experience and not a tourist trap. So I wanted to share a more genuine picture below, same place but no special effects and no lie:

Heaven’s Gate

Ubud is probably one of the best areas in Bali, a lot more artsy and cultural. It’s also more central so you can easily stay there for your entire holiday and visit most things from one place (unless you want to stay near a beach). The number 1 attraction is the Sacred Monkey Forest. This place is gorgeous, only problem is it’s full of monkeys (as you would expect) and we didn’t feel 100% comfortable walking around. It’s not enough to store food in your bag, they will rip it open if they have to! They don’t understand privacy and their unpredictable nature was a real challenge for my other half who didn’t enjoy the visit as much as I did. Just saying, in case you’re not a fan of monkeys either.

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Ubud is surrounded by rice terraces, but November didn’t seem to be the right time of the year to visit Tegalalang as everything was already harvested. Still worth going, just avoid other tourist traps like swings attached to the trees, that didn’t seem very safe to us. I’m sure it looks great on Instagram though.

Tegalalang Rice Terrace

We’ve been to many places and took a lot of pictures but we still felt like we didn’t learn much about Balinese culture so we also watched a traditional dance and musical drama from Bali: the Kecak & Fire dance. It was an hour of strange show without musical instrument, just a chorus of men repeating “chak, chak, chak!”. We learnt later that it was to represent an army of monkeys. This is usually performed at sunset and at the end they light up a fire to dance on it.

Kecak & Fire Dance

Among other places you have to visit in Bali: Taman Ujung Water Palace, Tirta Gangga, Taman Ayun Temple, Tanah Lot… Just be aware there are not secret spots (as in literally everyone knows them) so it will be busy from dawn to dusk. And I didn’t even mention Kuta Beach and Nusa Penida.

Bali is the island of the gods and demons. We found small offerings (mini baskets made of banana leaves, filled with pretty flowers and some fruits, sweets and/or cookies) pretty much everywhere on the floor. They are a sacred form of gratitude for peace and abundance in the world from the Balinese people, devoted to their gods. Most of the time, they end up being walked over by tourists or eaten by stray dogs though…

Canang Sari – Small offerings to sacred Gods

Other random things I’d like to say about Bali:

  • It’s not safe to drive there yourself, you need a driver. They negotiate a price for the entire day and you can ask them to drive you anywhere. It’s a great way to talk to a local and ask questions about the culture too.
  • In some places there are motorcycles everywhere… Seminyak for example. Some tourists rent them for more freedom but I’ve seen many with bad injuries and again I wouldn’t recommend it. Locals are clearly more comfortable with it and are not bothered carrying 2 adults, 2 kids, a dog and sometimes even loads of extra stuff on it (all at the same time).
  • You have to negotiate before you buy clothes in a market. If you don’t, be aware you’ll pay 4 times more than you should… It’s part of the game and it’s actually fun to do. Don’t go too low though, that would be a form of disrespect and they still have to earn money.
  • The island relies so much on tourism that any service will be charged. They will do their best to keep you happy though, Balinese are lovely people with a constant smile on their face.
  • Don’t drink tap water… It will make you sick. Most villas have a drinking water fountain anyway. Otherwise you can find safe water bottles everywhere but don’t forget to bring some with you when you’re on the road.
  • Fruits are what I miss the most from Bali… They’re everywhere thanks to the climate and they’re so good that I find fruits in Europe very bland in comparison. Watermelon and dragon fruits are definitely my favourite.

Bali will always have a special place in my heart because that’s where I got engaged. But I feel we would pick another destination for our honeymoon as its popularity made us feel too much like tourists, when we wanted to enjoy the scenery a bit more incognito. If you’ve been to Bali too, share your experience in the comments below!

Big Girl x

Kuala Lumpur, Interesting Mix of Asian Cultures and Modern Architecture

kuala lumpur petronas towers

I’ve heard a lot about Kuala Lumpur (KL) but never thought I would ever go. It’s so close to Singapore that it would have been a shame not to include it in our travel plans. We stayed a full week in KL but I feel a long weekend would have been enough. We only visited the capital, we were attracted by its modernity and the famous Twin Towers. I don’t think it represents the rest of Malaysia very well though. To me, there are 3 main attractions not to miss in KL.

1. Petronas Towers

The most iconic attraction is obviously the Petronas Twin Towers. Every article you’ll find online about the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur would mention them. They used to be the tallest building in the world with its 452 metres high but since 2010, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai holds this title at 829 metres. The Petronas Towers can still claim the title of the world’s tallest twin structures though… This impressive building has 88 floors on each tower, linked together by a double-decker sky bridge on their 41st & 42nd floors.

Yes, it would be a miss to go to KL and not do this attraction (except if you have vertigo) but I wouldn’t say it was the highlight of our week. We queued for a long time and then had a very limited time at the top, everything was a bit too commercial for my liking and at the end they look better from outside than inside. It’s a fun experience to walk on the suspended bridge though, enough to give you a thrill! View of the other tower from the bridge (41st floor):

from suspended bridge on petronas towers

2. Batu Caves

No lift there, this time we had to climb these 272 colourful steps to access the Batu Caves. That was what I was looking forward to the most and it didn’t disappoint. As far as I remember, it doesn’t require too high a level of fitness. You can take your time when climbing, but looking down can make you lose your balance… Also you can’t always hold the handrail because of the mass of tourists going against you. Monkeys can be quite intimidating too! They’re not afraid of you and can be a bit aggressive (especially if you have food). The temple is considered an important religious landmark by Hindus, this is why you’ll only find vegetarian food around it.

batu caves entrance colourful steps

3. KL Bird Park

In such a tropical climate, you can imagine how beautiful the KL Bird Park is. I would recommend this place to all animal lovers, even if you’re not especially into birds. This massive park is the largest free-flight walk-in aviary in the world. It impressed me a lot because of all the freedom these birds can enjoy. You will find gorgeous peacocks on your path who will serenade you and try to seduce you with their beautiful colours.

peacocks at kl bird park

Bonus: Malaysian food is amazing

To me, the reason number 1 to visit Malaysia would be the food… Asian markets are amazing, but that’s at Jalan Alor that you will find the best and cheapest food in the city. My favourite meal over there? Roti Canai (see picture below). This flat bread is the best I’ve ever had, their technique is difficult to imitate. It’s served with various spicy sauces, it’s super tasty and you eat it with your fingers… No cutlery needed, obviously (don’t ruin it).

roti canai malaysian food

Other random facts about Kuala Lumpur

  • The capital can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. You can go there on a budget or you can choose to live the high life, the city offers many possibilities.
  • It’s quite difficult to walk when there is no pedestrian access, sometimes you have no choice but to take a taxi. That’s why there are so many of them everywhere (not exactly eco-friendly…).
  • The mobile app you need in Malaysia is called Grab, it’s useful to book a taxi or to get food delivered (either option is incredibly cheap).
  • Skyscrapers are rising everywhere, it’s a dynamic city under development. Our air bnb was on the 32nd floor and it felt like it was the minimum level to be at, compared to the average height in the surrounding area.
  • Shopping centres are very expensive, to a point I have no idea how locals can afford it, compared to the cost of living. The most famous ones are Pavilion and Suria KLCC. If you like Japanese products, you will find an awesome area in Pavilion called Tokyo Street where you can find all sorts of things from Japan (food, accessories, activities etc). Definitely worth a visit.
  • The difference of temperature between inside and out can be really big. It’s very warm and humid outside, and the AC is very cold inside big shopping centres so take a jumper with you just in case, even if you already feel too hot wearing just a t-shirt outside.
  • If you want a nice view from high up, I suggest going to the Menara KL Tower instead of the Petronas Towers. At least you will have them in the view (which is actually better than being inside them) and there is a nice revolving restaurant serving local food.

To conclude, Kuala Lumpur is a very interesting city but maybe not on its own. Let me know in the comments if you’ve been there and what you liked the most!

Big Girl x

Singapore, Beautiful & Modern City Where East Meets West

singapore by night

I’m going to spend the next 2 weeks coming back to our big adventure (pre-covid) as I haven’t had the time to write about it yet! Singapore was our obvious first stop for many reasons: Changi airport is ranked number 1 in the world, we had to see the tallest indoor waterfall, and most flights from Europe to Asia stop there anyway. Not to mention the movie Crazy Rich Asians made us want to go there even more!

changi airport indoor waterfall

Also, this is a great place to visit when you’re a bit jetlagged. It gets very warm during the day so sightseeing at night is actually the best thing you can do… Especially if you’re coming from a country where you’re not used to the heat and humidity. We slowly got used to the temperature during the night, the city itself was looking even better in the dark.

Most popular icons

Everyone would know the most popular icons of Singapore. Among them are the Merlion (statue of a mermaid with a lion head) and of course Marina Bay Sands (Singapore’s most iconic hotel for the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool). The hotel displays illuminations every night at 8pm and 9.30pm (plus 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights). I didn’t know that but caught it by chance… It looked amazing!

singapore merlion and marina sand hotel by night

Gardens by the Bay

If I had to pick only one place in Singapore to absolutely not miss, it would be the Gardens by the Bay… Surely you’ve seen the movie Avatar? It’s like you’re not on Earth anymore. There is something magical about this garden that makes you forget about everything else. It’s very romantic too so it’s probably one of the best locations in the world to propose (according to me).

They display illuminations with music (the Gardens by the Bay light show – Garden Rhapsody) every night at 7.45pm and 8.45pm. It’s free so you just have to show up. The best place to see the show is under the Supertrees. You can even lie down on the floor to take it all in (as many people do).

gardens by the bay supertrees in singapore

Singapore Flyer

And if you want to see the city from above, you have the Singapore Flyer. This big wheel has spacious and very stable capsules (they don’t swing with the wind)! The view you get from it is simply breath-taking. I’m so proud of the picture below, it takes me back just by looking at it. For those interested in Formula 1, you can also see the track from up there. Singapore has hosted the first ever F1 night race in 2008.

singapore view from the flyer at night

Botanic Gardens

Towards the end of our week, we were starting to adjust a bit more to the climate – or at least we thought we were. So we decided to get up early to visit the Botanic Gardens, the only tropical garden honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I think it’s worth mentioning it was way too hot and humid for us there, even early in the morning! It’s not a place you should visit at night though, unlike the previous ones I’ve just talked about. So don’t forget your sweat towels and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.

singapore botanic gardens

Restaurants & Hawker Centres

Now there is something in Asia that I’ll forever miss in the UK… The food! You can find incredibly good value for money in food markets, but a restaurant will be quite expensive as it’s where most tourists and rich businessmen would go. If you want good and cheap food, hawker centres are open until very late – sometimes even all night. But if you want a good view/location as well as good food, then you might need to spend more and pick a restaurant. The one we went to along the Singapore River was really nice, Clarke Quay is where you will find a lot of them on the waterfront.

singapore food at clarke quay

“The” Singapore Sling is at the Raffles Hotel

Last but not least, you can’t really say you’ve been to Singapore if you haven’t had the famous Singapore Sling. This cocktail is made with gin, cherry liqueur and pineapple juice – Yummy. Sipping a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel is the ultimate experience, we queued more than an hour… It’s very popular but so worth it! You’ll also get peanuts in abundance, for free. You just throw shells on the floor, littering is encouraged as a tradition at the Long Bar (don’t do it outside though!).

singapore sling at the raffles hotel long bar

Other random facts about Singapore

In short, we had an amazing week in Singapore, we only wish we stayed longer. There is enough there to do to keep you busy, this post only talks about our best moments! Below some additional random facts and personal opinions about Singapore:

  • The temperature is very uniform throughout the year, from 23-25°C to 30-32°C. It’s also quite close to the equator so days last only 12 hours.
  • Sentosa Island is worth visiting if you like theme parks or if you’re curious about history, there is a cool war museum there. You need to take a cable car or a monorail to access the island.
  • Singapore Zoo is full of gorgeous creatures – their rainforest show is a must-see, it actually made me cry. It was very emotional when they educated us about how important it was to save the planet.
  • You can go on a boat ride inside the shopping mall at Marina Bay Sands.
  • Durian is forbidden in the MRT (underground system) because it smells too bad – I’ve never tried this fruit myself but I heard it tastes great though!
  • Sugarcane juice is delicious and very healthy, they make it fresh from sugarcane sticks in front of you in various markets.
  • Singapore is known for its strict rules but they seem to work as I’ve never seen such spotless public spaces before (apart maybe from Japan)… It’s also very safe.
  • You can still feel the British colonial influence with the music they play in shops and the fact that everyone speaks English. Also, street names sound like London and they drive on the left.

Have you ever been to Singapore? What were your highlights? If not, I hope I convinced you to visit when you have a chance… It’s definitely a place I want to go back as soon as travel restrictions are lifted!

Big Girl x