You may have noticed we’ve been quiet here. Where have we been? Back to Bali for the first time in six years, to Java to discover Yogyakarta and explore sublime Borobudur, then back to Siem Reap to host our writing and photography retreat and culinary tour. Phew. I’m still recovering.
No sooner had we returned from Penang, where we covered the fabulous Georgetown Festival and mouth-watering street food scene (by the way, we have a Georgetown guide in the December issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller) and we were on a flight to Denpasar in Bali…
Back to Bali to Dig a Little Deeper
If you’ve been with us here on Grantourismo since the start and followed our yearlong grand tour of the world that launched the site, you may recall that we spent a couple of weeks in Bali back in 2010. At the time we joked that we must have been the last two Australians to set foot on the island.
Bali has been to Aussies what Cancun is to Americans – an affordable, close and easy holiday destination. So as travellers who prefer to engage with locals rather than other tourists when we travel, it had never really appealed to us – until 2010 when we had the opportunity to stay in a village surrounded by rice fields for a couple of weeks.
On that trip, we experienced Bali our way – slow, local, experiential. We settled into tranquil Villa Tukad, with a friendly dog called Dina and a few cats to keep us company, and a lush jungle of a garden to explore (watch Terence’s arty and very soothing video here).
We ambled our village, Tumbuk Bayuh, a short drive inland from Canggu, and chatted to locals as we savoured the sunset over the rice paddies. We consulted the Balinese calendar on our kitchen wall so we didn’t miss any local festivals or ceremonies – Terence even got to photograph an elaborate Balinese royal cremation ceremony.
Terence exchanged cooking lessons with Desak, our in-house chef in our villa kitchen. Desak taught him to make Balinese dishes such as bubur ayam, an Indonesian chicken congee, and basa gede (Balinese sauce) and Balinese-style saté and ayam betutu and he taught her to make some European dishes for when guests wanted a break from Asian. Terence also got to photograph Bali’s mythical waves.
We went to Bali’s cultural heart, Ubud, to soak up some art, learn about Balinese textiles, and eat barbecue duck, and ended up signing up for some workshops at the Agun Rai Museum of Art (ARMA). Terence did a gamelan class, and I learnt about the Hindu ritual of bantan and sacred art of making offerings.
As it was our first time in Bali, and my mother was joining us for part of the trip, we also squeezed in some tourist sights, including sunset at Uluwatu Temple to watch the Kecak dance, above, and the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary at Ubud.
On our latest trip, we were determined to dig a little deeper as far as the food was concerned, and were keen to sample more of the cuisine and the restaurants, particularly in Seminyak and Canggu. Aside from the food that Desak cooked us at the villa, which Terence learnt to make, we hadn’t loved the food on that first 2010 trip.
Our trip to Indonesia, at the invitation of Tourism Indonesia and Skyscanner, happened to coincide with a visit to Siem Reap by some food-loving clients from Australia who were big fans of Bali’s restaurants, claiming they were some of the best in the world. If that was the case, then the dining scene had changed dramatically in the six years since we’d been. We were eager to find out if they were right.
To Java to Discover Yogyakarta
I’m not sure why we hadn’t been to Yogyakarta on the Indonesian island of Java before. Okay, maybe because we’d never been commissioned or been invited. As travel and food writers, we tend to travel to where the work is – and that travel is usually initiated by an editor or an invitation from a tourist board, airline or hotel. Sadly, it’s rare that we’ll simply go to a place because we want to these days. And Yogyakarta was somewhere where I’d always wanted to go.
The first time I recalled hearing the strange yet intriguing name ‘Yogyakarta’ was as a young child back in the 1970s. My uncles spent some time bumming around Asia and I remember them returning and talking about Java. I also remember seeing uncle Sandy’s images during a family slide night. A beguiling image of Borobudur temple captured my imagination and has never let go.
It would be another 15 years or so before I heard the name again. I remember a colleague going to Indonesia and returning to work, eyes shining and cheeks flushed, as he excitedly recounted his trip, telling us about sunset at Borobudur as he showed us his holiday snaps. Once again, I made a mental note to add it to the travel wish list, but back then that list was long and there were so many places to see and things that I wanted to do before Borobudur.
The chance to see Borobudur and that special sunrise was the reason I accepted what was a terribly timed trip. A day after we returned from ‘Yogya’, as the locals call it, I was welcoming participants who’d arrived in Siem Reap for our travel and food writing and photography retreat. And just over a week after that first group left – with barely enough time to recover – I was greeting our Cambodia culinary tour group participants, who just left Siem Reap.
As crazy as the timing of the Indonesia trip was, I’m so glad we did it. Not only did I get to experience Borobudur, but I also became beguiled by Prambanan. Follow our series and you’ll soon understand why we fell in love with Java.
This post kicks off a series of stories from Indonesia, from Bali and Java, that we hope you’ll find inspirational and helpful in planning your Indonesia travel. Our trip was supported by Skyscanner, which provided flights, some transport and some accommodation. All reflections, opinions and recommendations are obviously our own.