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Sublime Spanish Eats in Bali

When Restaurant magazine released their prestigious list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2013, Spain slaughtered the competition with three restaurants in the top ten, including the number one spot (El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, in case you were wondering). No other country managed to grab more than one spot in the top ten, which is perhaps a testimony to the ingenuity of Spanish chefs and the superb produce that comes out of this incredibly diverse Latin country. With this in mind, is it any wonder that some of Bali’s finest dining establishments are Spanish or Latin inspired?

El Kabron

el kabron

Photo courtesy of El Kabron

Nothing beats the stylish digs and picturesque location of El Kabron, resting high atop a cliff in Uluwatu and overlooking the swells of the Indian Ocean far below. By day, the place is part Mediterranean-style beach club with a freeform infinity pool overlooking the ocean and comfy blue and white bean bag chairs surrounding the pool. Come sunset, it’s all about signature cocktails at intimate tables, authentic Spanish tapas and laid-back grooves by live bands and DJs.

Spanish-born Executive Chef Marc Torices inherited his passion for cooking and love for the natural flavours of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine from his grandmother, and he brings his gastronomic flair to El Kabron’s tapas, paellas and sweet treats. Small plates include imported Spanish Bellota ham and cured Manchego Cheese served with toasted bread sprinkled with fresh tomato and olive oil, Pulpo a la Gallega, Sliced Octopus with Potatoes seasoned with smoked paprika and olive oil, and Montaditos de Butifarra Catalana, Grilled Homemade Catalan Sausage with toasted bread. If it’s sweet treats you’re after, indulge in some of the best Crema Catalana this side of Barcelona.

Torices recently revealed his ‘Rustique Dining’ menu, which features dishes made with fresh ingredients that are loyal to what the ground can deliver at different times of year and prepared simply, avoiding unnatural approaches. This way, the true flavours of the ingredients come out and are celebrated in their essence. The a la carte rustic menu is available from 7:30pm to 9:30pm daily.

When the sun has well and truly set and the stars are twinkling above, El Kabron heats up into a stylish and sophisticated nightlife venue, with live music every night of the week, including smooth jazz bands, acoustic sets by talented local and international crooners and DJs from around the world. Head mixologist, Carlos Gutierrez, keeps the good times flowing with his special version of sangria served by the pitcher, cool cocktails and an enticing selection of international wines and beers.

Tel: 0361 7803416            www.chiringuitoelkabron.com

 

La Finca

Pintxos-f

Photo courtesy of La Finca

Just as you would expect from a vibrant Latin restaurant, La Finca offers heaps of character in their beautiful open-air setting with soaring bamboo beams, rustic wooden chairs and tables and outdoor garden seating amid lanterns and fairy lights. The vibe here is easy-going yet lively, and no attention to detail is spared, right down to the bright ceramic plates and beautifully presented Basque and Mediterranean dishes. The owners at La Finca work under the philosophy of ‘Alimenta El Alma’, which means ‘food for the soul’, so each and every dish is made with soul to feed the soul, using fresh organic ingredients and artisan methods and recipes.

Besides the usual tapas suspects like Jamon Iberico, Patatas Bravas, and special selections of Spanish cheeses, La Finca thinks outside the box with creative dishes like the Paquetito de Foie Gras con Salse de Remolacha y Estragon, Wrapped Foie Gras in creamy red beet tarragon sauce, Paquetitos de La Finca, artisan pasta pockets stuffed with sundried tomatoes, feta, and basil and complemented with capers, olives, rocket and butter sauce, or their famous Carne a la Piedra de la Finca, hot stone-grilled Australian rib-eye steak served with fresh spices, herbs and sauces. Keep an eye out for their weekly croquette specials made with various fillings like truffles, roast chicken and jalapeno, and squid with squid ink.

For those looking for a midday fix, La Finca also recently open for lunch with light bites like authentic Basque Pintxos—bite-sized tapas from the Basque region, and heartier fare like the Fideos Torcidos con Gambas Trufadas al Ajillo, hand-twisted noodles with garlic truffle prawns, as well artisan sandwiches and burgers made with fresh bread prepared in house. Refreshing sangria makes for the perfect liquid lunch, and if that isn’t quite doing the trick, try the Nieve de Leche, an icy dessert made with mint, condensed milk, lime juice and vodka and topped with shaved ice. La Finca is conveniently located between Canggu and Seminyak, just minutes from Batu Belig Beach.

Tel: 0361 2740088            http://www.lafincabali.com

 

La Sal

la sal

Photo courtesy of La Sal

 

Bali’s first Spanish-Argentine restaurant is the brainchild of chef Lino de Zordo and Gonzalo Sanchez, who have been tantalizing palates with their contemporary tapas, tender BBQ meats and creative Latin-inspired specialties since 2005. Here the culinary concept of good food paired with good drinks and good company reigns supreme in their breezy al fresco dining area decked out in warm wood tones and surrounded by frangipani trees, and in the covered dining room with intimate white tables and soft lighting. The space is conducive to long leisurely dinners with friends and family over a few bottles of wine, and La Sal’s unwavering attention to detail in cuisine, ambiance and service makes it no surprise that La Sal is the recipient of the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2013.

La Sal works on the philosophy that ‘Life is no life without salt’—a statement that calls into question blandness and mediocrity in food and in life. This philosophy manifests clearly throughout their menu, which features a healthy mix of hot and cold tapas, innovative salads, hearty mains and decadent desserts with an Argentinian twist. Complementing the culinary creations, the drinks list features classic Spanish sangria, fine international wines and creative cocktails made with top shelf spirits.

The tapas at La Sal never fail to impress, as they are made with the only the best imported and local ingredients and are a mix of both traditional and modern culinary construction. Cold tapas include the Carpaccio with Foie Gras grass and a Manchego cheese cloud, Marinated Spanish Olives, and the fresh and vibrant Bruschetta with vegetables and goat’s cheese. If calientes is more your style, you can choose from Calamari deep fried and drizzled with white and black aioli, Grilled Garlic Prawns with truffle oil, or the sailor’s style Clam Casserole. Fresh salads can also be shared and are hard to resist with offerings like the Soft Shell Crab Caesar Salad or the Warm Goat’s Cheese Salad with a sweet and crunchy honey-walnut vinaigrette.

For those with bigger appetites, the main course menu offers an abundance of savoury meat and seafood dishes. Try the rich Crispy Pork Belly with casserole lentils and chilled mango, or the Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder, roasted for 72 hours so the meat is soft and buttery, and served with a two-pepper sauce and steamed vegetables. The Paella Mixta also gets rave reviews for its generous portions of chicken, vegetables, fresh seafood and subtly seasoned saffron rice. Finish the meal off with a sinfully smooth white chocolate and dark chocolate mousse or the Helado de Dulce de Leche, caramel ice cream prepared in true Argentinian style.

Tel: 0361 738321            www.lasalbali.com

 

Tapeo Gastrobar

tapeo gastrobar

Photo courtesy of Tapeo Gastrobar

 

A welcome addition to Beachwalk’s already vibrant dining scene, Tapeo Gastrobar is both cutting edge restaurant and sleek rooftop bar serving up chilled sangria and Iberian fare in a contemporary setting overlooking Kuta Beach. After a long day of surfing, shopping and sun worshipping, head to their second floor location and grab a seat outside on the expansive wooden deck with oversized day beds adorned with comfortable cushions, or head indoors for a more intimate vibe. Soak up the tropical breezes, ultra-modern decor and chilled beats playing in the background as you dine on rich and flavourful fare prepared by Barcelona-born Chef Victor Taborda.

Taborda’s innovative menu features a mix of traditional Spanish flavours mixed with modern creations. Take for example, their sangria list, which includes six different options to choose from made with either red, white or rose wine. Throw in a creative tapas list, and you’re simply spoiled for choice. Try the wildly popular Queso Brie Frito, fried Brie served with mango marmalade, Atun Marinado, Marinated Tuna with soy sauce and seaweed salad, or the Mini Hamburguesa de Oxtail, which is exactly what it sounds like—a mini hamburger with a oxtail patty, seasoned to perfection and garnished with mayo and rucola. Mains include six different types of paella as well as fresh salads and a wide selection of fish and meat dishes.

After the feast is done, stick around to rock out to live bands or groove to the DJs hitting the decks on the rooftop patio under the stars. The drinks list here is impressive to say the least, with refreshing mojitos, international wines by the glass, draft beer on tap, and the super strong Ibiza cocktail made with eight different types of booze. Check with the staff to see if there are any specials on, as drinks specials and food promotions are almost always running.

Tel: 0361 8465645

 

Serenity Spanish Restaurant & Bar

Serenity Spanish

Photo Courtesy of Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant

 

With an unassuming facade and simple red and white sign reading Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant, you might be tricked into thinking that this is just another run-of-the-mill dining venue. However, like so often is the case, the modest exterior belies what lies within. Drive past it on the Sanur Bypass, and you would be missing out on one of Bali’s newest hidden gems—a temple of opulence, romance, space and muy delicioso authentic Spanish flavors.

A quick tour of the restaurant reveals two levels, with the main dining room and al fresco terrace on the ground floor and a swank cigar lounge, private party room and intimate tables hidden in cozy corners on the upper level. The lavish decor carries throughout each of the rooms, and the sense of light and space is compounded by large windows and a wide balcony that looks down onto the main dining room.

Serenity Bar & Restaurant comes to us from Singapore, where it has a long-standing reputation for Mediterranean-style ambiance and delicious Spanish fare, including tapas, paella and their famous Cochinillo Asado, which has often been referred to as the most succulent roast suckling pig in the city, possibly even giving Bali’s babi guling a run for its money. In traditional Spanish style, the tender pig is carved with a plate at the table (proof of the superlative tender texture of the meat), and the plate is smashed on the floor afterwards for good luck.

Popular tapas choices include the Patatas Bravas, golden chunks of potato drizzled in a mildly spicy romesco sauce and smooth aioli and the Rollito de Bacon y Esparrago for its crisp green asparagus wrapped in warm salty bacon. The Crema de Mariscos, a seafood soup with a rich velvety tomato broth laden with tender pieces of fresh dory, squid, prawns and scallops in the shell is another winner, and of course, the paella and suckling pig is not to be missed. Wash it all down with a red sangria made with smooth Spanish Rioja or a white sangria made with a fruity Australian Sauvignon Blanc.

**This article was previously published in the Yak magazine Sept/Oct/Nov 2013 issue. To check out the latest articles from the Yak, go to www.theyakmag.com.

Some Helpful Tips on Volunteering in Southeast Asia

US Navy 110624-N-VE260-654 Sailors assigned to Naval Air Facility Atsugi teach elementary students English at Terao Elementary School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For travelers seeking a holiday that goes beyond the usual sun, sea, sand and getting sauced escape, volunteering can be an incredibly rewarding experience that allows you to delve deeper into other cultures, meet new people and see a whole different side of your chosen destination. Southeast Asia is home to hundreds if not thousands of organizations that accept volunteers on a regular basis, so the only hard part is narrowing down the options.

 

However, before you sign-up for a week or more of selfless giving, there is the not-so-small matter of responsible volunteering to consider. ‘Voluntourism’ has exploded in Southeast Asia over the past few decades, which means that there are many companies that have jumped on the gravy train in the hopes of striking it rich by charging do-good travelers to lend a hand. Some of these organizations offer little to no benefits for the communities they claim to help, and in some cases they even cause more damage than good. On the flip side, there are also many volunteers who sign up for all the wrong reasons, which can cause a multitude of problems for everyone involved.

 

If you do want to volunteer in Southeast Asia, it pays to do your research first. Start by thinking about what skills you have to offer to people overseas. Sure, you may speak English, but that doesn’t make you qualified to teach it. Invest in some courses before you set out to save the world so that you have something legitimate to bring to the table. When looking into volunteer organizations, check to make sure that they are the real deal. Research where their money goes, how they select volunteers and what former volunteers have to say about their experience there.

 

Also, be honest with yourself, and be aware that volunteering is not for everyone. Many projects require volunteers to live in remote areas where you won’t have access to all the comforts of home. In addition, you may be face to face with rampant poverty, illness, abuse and corruption on a day to day basis. Can you handle being out of your element? And can you fully commit to the time period requested by the organization? For some other tips on responsible volunteering, check out this great article in Southeast Asia Backpacker on Responsible Volunteering in Southeast Asia.

 

If you’re thinking about volunteering in Southeast Asia but not sure where to start, we’ve put together a list of some of the more ethical volunteer organizations in the region to get you started. If there are any that we’ve missed that you think deserve a place on the list, feel free to comment below.

 

EDUCATION-BASED VOLUNTEERING

Conversations With Foreigners

Rather than charging huge sums to volunteers, Conversations with Foreigners has set up a sustainable model of cultural exchange for volunteers and Cambodian students at their conversational English language center in Phnom Penh. The students pay a small fee to learn English and gain a greater understanding of other people and cultures, and the volunteers only pay for Volunteer Housing costs, should they decide to stay in the organization’s accommodation. All of the money from the classes goes to the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), a local NGO that sends skilled Cambodians into some of the poorest rural areas to teach rural people agricultural skills and proper sanitation so that they can empower the community members to improve their own livelihoods.

www.volunteerincambodia.org

Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development

Grassroots works with Burmese teachers, social workers, health workers and migrant workers to promote education, human rights, and a safe working environment for Burmese migrants and their families in Phang Nga, South Thailand and Mae Sot. Their programs aim to provide education to the children of migrant workers, empower women through education and health care, and bridge the gap between the Burmese and Thai communities. Skilled volunteers can help by providing education, healthcare, IT assistance and administrative support.

www.ghre.org/en

Isara Foundation

Isara is unique in that it is one of the only free volunteer programs in Thailand. This non-profit organization provides free education to hundreds of Thai school children and implements projects that raise awareness about personal safety and environmental awareness. You can help by teaching English, computers or art to the children in the free learning center or by helping out at the Recycling Center, rebuilding classrooms and distributing free helmets to the community and the surrounding towns.

www.isara.org

 

US Navy 120109-N-NB694-319 Sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) teach English to students at Nikhom

 

HUMANITARIAN VOLUNTEERING

The East Bali Project

When the team from the East Bali Project first started, they asked the local villagers in East Bali what their main priority was and they said education for their children. Since then, the organization has gone on to increase literacy rates among young people, provide scholarships for disadvantaged school children, raise awareness about nutrition and sanitation, provide free healthcare to those in need and vastly improve water resources and infrastructure in the area. If you have experience and training in the specialist fields of agriculture, education, environment, health, infrastructure, technology, or nutrition and can commit to at least 2 months, you can make a difference with this award-winning non-profit organization.

www.eastbalipovertyproject.org

 

ENVIRONMENTAL/CONSERVATION VOLUNTEERING

ProFauna

Established in 1994, ProFauna is a non-profit organization that works in a non-political and non-violent way to protect wildlife and forests in Indonesia. They currently have two opportunities for volunteers in Indonesia: teaching wildlife and forest conservation at their education center in Malang, and a hands-on sea turtle conservation program in Bali. Volunteers pay a small fee that includes lodging and three meals a day.

www.profauna.net

Baby Sea Turtle

WILDLIFE VOLUNTEERING

Free the Bears

What began as one woman’s plight to stop the harvesting of bear bile has now grown into an vast international organization that aims to rescue bears and other wild animals that have been illegally poached and imprisoned. Free the Bears now has projects in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and India, and they have rescued and rehabilitated thousands of animals. Volunteers can now work with the bear keepers at the world’s largest Sun Bear sanctuary at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center in Cambodia to feed the bears, clean and maintain the enclosures and build new enrichments. The minimum stay is one week, but you can stay for up to 8 weeks, and all of the fees go directly back to support the bears.

www.freethebears.org.au

 

HEALTHCARE VOLUNTEERING

Bumi Sehat

Voted the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year, Bumi Sehat founder Robin Lim started this life-changing non-profit organization when she began providing free healthcare to pregnant women and children under 5 years in 1995 in Ubud, Bali. Today the organization continues to offer free health services for mothers, including pregnancy, birthing, post-partum and breast feeding in their centers in Bali and Aceh, Indonesia. Medical professionals are welcome to apply for volunteer positions, as are English Teachers for the Youth Center.

www.bumisehatfoundation.org

An Interview with Jero Asri Kerthyasa, an Australian-Balinese Princess

Jero Asri Kerthyasa is a woman with a life story that reads like a fairy tale most women would only dream of. Born to a middle-class family and raised in Australia, Jero Asri (formerly named Jane Gillespie) met her future husband, Prince Tjorkorda Raka Kerthyasa of the Sukawati royal family of Ubud, on a vacation to Bali. A year later the couple were married and Jero Asri became the first foreign-born princess to become a member of the Sukawati royal family.

CRW_1936

Can you tell us a bit about your background before you came to Bali?

I was born in Singapore, but grew up in Australia, and in my former life in Australia I was a pre-school teacher.

 

What brought you to Bali?

The first time I came to Bali was for a vacation with some friends in 1972. I later came back in 1977 on holiday with my mother, and that’s when I met my husband.

 

How did you meet your husband?

I was staying in Ubud next to the Lotus Café, and just behind was Tjorkoda’s family temple. Tjorkoda was always there doing the Barong dances, and working with a group of children that he would take around to do performances. As a schoolteacher I loved children, so that brought us together.

 

Was it love at first sight?

Well…more like love at second sight (laughing). It took about a week before I knew I really I liked him. We got married a year later in 1978.

 

What did your family think when they found out that you were going to marry a prince?

My Mother had already met him and knew that he was really just a nice, normal guy and not too ‘princey-princey’, and my father was in the Army and worked for the government, so he was used to meeting foreign dignitaries and VIP’s. So neither of them was very shocked or star struck. I suppose some of my friends were more in awe of the whole situation.

 

Did you choose to change your name or was it something that was required of you?

Actually, the family changed my name and I wasn’t even aware of it until after the fact. Jero is a title given to an outsider who marries into the palace, or someone from an outside caste. Asri means perfect, although I believe they chose it to mean Australia and the Republic of Indonesia, which is not so glamorous.

 

How did Tjokorda’s family react to his decision to marry a foreigner?

His family was less enthusiastic than mine, and in the beginning there was a lot of opposition to the marriage. They wanted him to marry within the royal family, and so at first there was a little hostility and some of his family members wouldn’t speak to me.

 

How did the Balinese community react to the marriage?

Some people accepted me, but others would say to my husband, ‘Why don’t you get a real (Balinese) wife’, so I guess you could say there was a bit of subtle subterfuge going on there.

 

Was it difficult to adjust to life as a princess?

I guess the biggest challenge was not having a choice about doing certain things, for example having to change my religion and my name. After a while that really began to bother me.  I thought ‘Why do I have to change everything about my life. It’s not fair!

 

You have two sons, and one daughter. Do they have any special responsibilities as members of the royal family?

Yes, they still have a lot of responsibilities, roles, and expectations, particularly for ceremonies, but they also still have to work.


You’ve recently opened Biku, a restaurant, lounge and tea house in Seminyak. How did that come about?

Our eldest son Adam is a tea master, which means he had to learn the different tastes and blends of tea. I love tea as well, but I found it hard to find a good cup of tea in Bali, so I wanted to create a place where people could enjoy high quality tea.

 

Is Biku a family run restaurant?

Yes, my youngest son and I manage the restaurant, and my eldest son consults on us on tea selections and gives tea appreciation classes. My daughter just finished school, so she’s into doing her own thing right now, and my husband is very busy, but he likes to hang out here when he has time. Sometimes he lends a hand by clearing tables or taking orders.

 

Any plans for the future?

I’d like to build up Biku a bit more, maybe have special events and dance performances. I also plan to use more products from Indonesia. At the moment we have a number of really great teas from Java, and chocolate as well. I really want to showcase what Indonesia has to offer. But as for another hotel or restaurant, no – I think this is it. You know I’m not really into empire building – I just want to do one thing and do it really well.

 

Note: This interview was originally published in Baru di Bali the Mag, Edition 21. Check out the story and the rest of the issue here.

 

Best Wine Bars in Southeast Asia

Wine Bottle Rack

 

Ah vino—nectar of the gods, social lubricant and a welcome addition to any meal. Although wine is not a traditional drink in many Southeast Asian countries, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a good glass or three on your travels. For serious oenophiles or those who simply want a change from the usual Bintang, Tiger or Beer Lao, check out these top wine bars in Southeast Asia.

 

White Marble Wine Bar & Restaurant

Photos of White Marble Restaurant & Wine Bar, Hoi An
This photo of White Marble Restaurant & Wine Bar is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

Located in the heart of historical Hoi An, this chic wine bar is housed in a 2-story wooden colonial building that has been revamped to offer a contemporary twist. The wine list here is impressive to say the least, with bottles from places as varied as Italy, New Zealand, California and France, and 12 wines by the glass, starting at just $4. The menu is an eclectic mix of Vietnamese and Hoi An cuisine like Fresh Rice Paper Rolls and Grilled Beef in Betel Nut, as well as international fare like the Trio of Dips, Sushi and a heavenly Cheese Platter.

98 Le Loi St

Hoi An Old Town, Vietnam

Tel: +84 (0) 510 3911862

http://www.visithoian.com/whitemarble

 

The Wine Pub

Photos of WP wine pub, Bangkok
This photo of WP wine pub is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Beer may be best for many in Bangkok, but wine lovers in the know head to The Wine Pub for its European-style ambiance and huge selection of bottles. Grab a seat at the huge bar or in one of the cushy booths and choose from over 100 labels from around the world or their 6 wines by the glass that change on a regular basis. If you need something to soak up all that plonk, The Wine Pub offers up a great tapas menu, as well as delicious French cheeses, charcuterie platters, salads and pastas.

Pullman Bangkok King Power

8/2 Rangnam Road, Thanon-Phayathai,

Ratchathewi, Bangkok

Tel. +66 (0)2 680 9999

Hours: Daily: 6pm – 2am

www.pullmanbangkokkingpower.com/promotions/wp-wine-pub

 

Rubies Wine Bar

rubies2

It may be small, but what Rubies lacks for in size it makes up for in vibe and vino. Snag a spot at the wooden bar inside or one of the cozy tables outside and order from a diverse mix of international wines by the glass or bottle. Get here early on the weekends, as the place packs out with expats who come for the great drink specials and live bands and DJs. They also throw lively parties throughout the year on holidays and special occasions.

Corner of Street 19 and 240

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tel: +855 97 884 9664

Hours: Tue – Thu: 10am – 1am, Fri – Sat: 10am – 2am, Sun: 10am – 1am

www.facebook.com/RubiesWineBar

 

VIN+

VIN+ Senayan Arkadia - Escargot in Zuccini

New to Bali’s burgeoning wine scene, Vin+ is hard to miss with its soaring bamboo structure that evokes the shape of a wine barrel and sleek glass windows that offer indoor diners glimpses of the treetops and the lively Seminyak action below. Guests can sit outdoors in the shady garden wine lounge or lush al fresco dining area or enjoy air-conditioned comfort inside. On your way out, hit up the retail shop to peruse over 18,000 bottles, including rare and exclusive vintages. Or even better, call them up to have bottles delivered directly to your door.

Jl. Kayu Jati #1 Seminyak

Bali, Indonesia

Tel: +62 361 473 2377

Hours: Restaurant: 5pm – late, Shop: 10am – late

www.vingroup.biz/index.php/wine-boutiques/vin-seminyak-bali.html

 

Douang Deuane Restaurant and Wine Bar

Wine glass

 

Cheap and cheerful, this charming little spot that serves up great French and Asian dishes accompanied by divine wines by the glass, carafe or bottle. The French owner is super friendly and makes you feel right at home, and the soft lighting and sultry jazz playing in the background add to the ambiance. For a romantic dinner out, reserve the secluded and solo table for two on the upstairs balcony.

Th Francois Nginn

Vientiane, Laos

Tel: (021) 241 154

Southeast Asia’s Coolest Dive Resorts

It’s a well known fact that Southeast Asia offers some of the best scuba diving in the world, so it should come as no surprise that there are also equally impressive dive resorts across the region. For an unforgettable diving holiday, check out these spectacular dive resorts that will impress both on land and under the sea.

 

Amanwana Resort

Wana_JungleTent_hp

Photo courtesy of Amanwana Resort

 

The name Amanwana means ‘peaceful forest’, which is a fitting name considering the resort is the only one on the tropical island of Moyo, which itself is located the middle of a protected marine park. Book into one of the luxury tents here to enjoy stunning views of the secluded cove and the Flores Sea, sugary white sand beaches and pristine coral reefs. In addition to incredible dive trips, the staff here can arrange tours to Rinca and Komodo to see Indonesia’s infamous Komodo Dragons.

Not your ordinary camping tents, the 20 luxury tents at Amanwana feature hardwood floors and wooden walls with huge windows, special waterproof canvas ceilings, eye-catching Indonesian artwork, king-sized beds, divans, sitting areas and ensuite bathrooms. There are also large wooden decks out front for soaking up the sun or taking in the views of the ocean or jungle.

Amanwana has its own dive operation, so guests can take trips out to the Flores Sea to explore the fascinating underwater world. Sites include sea walls and reefs awash in colorful coral and sea fans, and crawling with turtles, eels, manta rays and whale sharks. You can also take single or multi-day PADI certified dive courses here.

 

Sumba, Indonesia

www.amanresorts.com/amanwana/home.aspx

BOOK IT HERE

 

Seaventures

Seaventures Resort

 

Quirky and unique, Seaventure was once a massive oil rig, but it now has a new life as a revamped and renovated dive resort just a few kilometres from the popular Malyasia dive sites of Mabul Island, Kapalai Island and Sipadan. Besides a comfortable dorm, private rooms and communal dining and chill-out areas, Seaventures also offers a custom-made lift down to the house reef under the rig.

Guests at Seaventures can opt for shared accommodation in the dorm cabins that sleep up to 4 people in bunk beds and include a separate dorm guest-only bathroom with six individual hot water shower stalls. There are also roomy Twin and Double rooms with ensuite bathrooms and large Suite Cabins with A/C, fresh linens and towels, sitting areas and huge bathrooms with hot water showers.

Whether you’re a complete newbie to diving or an experienced underwater explorer, Seaventures offers a range of courses and dive trips for you. Learn the basics with a PADI Scuba Diving Course, up your skills with a PADI Advanced Open Water course or go for a specialty course like the Rescue Diver, Divemaster or PADI Adventure Diver. Once you’ve passed with flying colors, head out to amazing sites like Sipadan for reefs and drops with turtles, barracuda and jack fish, Mabul for macro-diving, or Kapalai for intriguing artificial reefs.

 

Semporna, Malaysia

www.seaventuresdive.com

BOOK IT HERE

 

Misool Eco Resort

MER.Tobias.Zimmer.Half.Bat.Fish.slide

Photo courtesy of www.misoolecoresort.com

 

Located on the private island of Batbitim, Misool Eco Resort is an exotic hideaway made entirely of reclaimed tropical hardwood. Eight cottages sit on stilts over the water with stairs that make their way down to the lagoon, so you can snorkel in the clear waters right in front of your suite. The secluded island also sits inside the 46,000 square meter Raja Ampat Shark and Manta Sanctuary, which makes for incredible diving opportunities.

This exclusive dive resort is located amid 1,220 square kilometres of deserted islands, which means you have all the sugary white sand beaches, lush foliage and impossibly clear waters to yourself. The maximum capacity of the resort is just 32 guests, so you never feel crowded, and the rooms feature shady verandas covered with traditional grass roofs that offer a great deal of privacy.

As an added bonus, Misool Eco Resort is in a No Take Zone, which means that fishing, bombing and harvesting of shellfish and turtle eggs is prohibited. This makes this region in the heart of the Coral Triangle incredibly rich in marine biodiversity. Head out on one of the enlightening dive trips to see untouched reefs, vibrant coral gardens, swaying sea fans and over 1,400 species of fish. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from your stay go towards supporting the resort’s conservation initiatives and local employment.

 

Raja Empat, Indonesia

www.misoolecoresort.com

BOOK IT HERE

 

Wakatobi Dive Resort

wakatobi-dive-resort-001

Photo Courtesy of www.wakatobi.com

 

This all-inclusive private dive retreat features beautiful bungalows built out of natural materials like sandstone and wood, and it is located just a short boat ride from over 40 dive sites off of South Sulawesi. One of the key features of the resort is the 3-mile house reef just offshore that offers plenty of thriving coral, glossy sea grass and intriguing drop-offs. You can also feel good knowing that a significant portion of the money from your stay goes towards conserving the reef and supporting the local community.

Guests can choose from three different types of accommodation here: the Villas, Ocean Bungalows or Palm Bungalows. All rooms are bright and spacious and have a king-sized bed or two twin beds, A/C and ceiling fans and balconies with comfy lounge chairs. Some of the rooms even offer hammocks for lazy afternoons spent with a good book and a cold drink, and spectacular views out over the sea.

For an easy diving and snorkeling session, head to the beautiful House Reef directly in front of the resort, or arrange exciting trips farther out to see bizarre sea creatures, unique topography and pristine coral reefs. If you really want to immerse yourself in the underwater world, board the luxurious Wakatobi Dive Yacht, the Pelagian for off the beaten path sites and unforgettable discoveries. Also, unique to Wakatobi is the new science of Fluo-Diving. This involves heading out to the reefs at night armed with a UV light, which illuminates marine life with natural fluorescence in completely different glowing colors, including bright neon pink, green and blue.

 

Sulawesi, Indonesia

www.wakatobi.com

BOOK IT HERE

 

Sangat Island Dive Resort

Sangat Island Dive Resort

Photo Courtesy of www.sangat.com.ph

 

Just the location of this dive resort is enough to make you start packing your bags now. Towering limestone cliffs jut upwards from a 300-meter stretch of pristine white sand beach, native-style cottages and villas look out over the turquoise waters of a tranquil bay, and an abundance of marine life awaits under the surface of the water, including the hulk of a WWII Japanese shipwreck just minutes from your door. When you’re not exploring the sea floor, you can go trekking, rock climbing, sea kayaking or simply lounge on the private beach.

 

Palawan, the Philippines

www.sangat.com.ph

BOOK IT HERE

Arak: Bali’s Favorite Alcoholic Drink or Deadly Cocktail?

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When 45-year old Nyoman Laka accepted a drink from his employer on a cool morning in Ubud, he never imagined he would end up fighting for his life and spending the next two months in and out of hospitals.

For many Balinese farmers and labourers, it is common practice to start the day with a shot of arak, a local spirit made from coconut sap, palm sap or fermented rice. Many believe that arak warms the body and is good preparation for a long day’s work.

Nyoman digs wells for a living, a job that can be especially taxing on the body. On many occasions, his employer would offer arak to the workers before they started to give them a boost of energy. Little did any of them know that the arak he had picked up that day contained the lethal toxin methanol.

“After I drank the arak, I went to the rice field to work, but I didn’t feel well at all, so I went home,” Nyoman says. “Shortly after, I began throw up blood, and then I passed out. I woke up one day later in Sanglah Hospital and could not see properly. One of the guys that I worked with was there as well with similar symptoms, but he died the next day.”

Nyoman was in the hospital for 14 days with methanol poisoning, a potentially lethal affliction that affects the body in a number of different ways. Symptoms include dizziness, disorientation, loss of consciousness, blindness, and convulsions. High levels of the toxin can cause the vital organs to cease working, which can and often does result in death. Nyoman eventually gained back his vision and escaped with his life, but others have not been so lucky.

On New Year’s Eve, 19-year-old Liam Davies ordered what he thought was a vodka cocktail at a bar on the island of Lombok. It was discovered later that the cocktail was actually made with methanol-laced arak. After becoming violently ill, Davies was airlifted to a hospital in Perth, where he was declared brain dead. His family later made the heart-wrenching decision to cut off his life support.

Arak Madu cocktail

Arak Cocktail

Similar stories of holidaymakers in Bali and Indonesia suffering blindness or dying from methanol-laced drinks have sparked a flurry of newspaper headlines and government travel warnings about the dangers of drinking bootleg alcohol in Indonesia. Arak is particularly vilified as a deadly drink that should be avoided at all costs.

While there is no denying that methanol-laced arak has been responsible for many tragic deaths, arak is also very much a part of the history and culture of Bali. Many Balinese use it in ceremonies – where it is sprinkled on the ground to ward off evil spirits; for medicinal purposes as a remedy for headaches; and in boreh, a traditional body scrub for sore muscles. Arak is the social lubricant of many gatherings and supports the livelihood of many villagers.

The biggest arak production centre in Bali is in Sideman, Karangasem, where more than 300 farmers depend on the local spirit for their monthly income. Local arak producer, Ketut Mertika says, “I learned how to make arak from my grandfather, who learned how to make it from his grandfather. It is a village tradition.”

Every day at 4:00 am, Ketut heads into the forest to collect sap from the leafy shoots that grow on the palm trees on his land. The sap starts out as a mildly alcoholic, cloudy beverage called tuak. “Tuak only tastes good for one day”, says Ketut. “After that it goes bad, so it’s better to make arak with the tuak.”

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een verkoper van palmwijn (tuak) op Bali TMnr 10002905

Collecting palm wine

To make arak, the producers in Sideman distil tuak in metal stills over a low burning fire, and collect the clear spirit in plastic containers. It takes Ketut about four days to make 28 litres of arak, which he then sells to distributors from the surrounding areas and the cities for about Rp.200K. The higher the alcohol content, the more expensive the arak is.
“We never add anything to the arak that we produce here,” Ketut says.

“Maybe other people want to make more money, so they water down the arak or add things like methanol to make it taste stronger. If our arak made people sick, nobody would buy it and the government would crack down hard on us. Why would we want to lose our business?”

Ida Bagus Rai Budarsa, founder of Hatten Wines and owner of Arak Bali and Dewi Sri Brem, agrees with Ketut.

He says, “The people in Karangasem never seem to have problems with methanol poisoning, so why does it always happen so far from the source? I think the problem is not the arak, it’s the middlemen who tamper with it.”

Budarsa’s family has been producing brem – Balinese rice wine – since 1968, and later expanded to include arak in 1992, followed by (grape based) wine in 1994. The company sells about 1,000 bottles of arak a month, mainly to hotels and shops in Bali.

arakbali

The arak produced at the Brem Dewi Sri production facility is not only government regulated, but also distilled in copper stills imported from Spain, and then undergoes a series of tests in the Hatten Wines laboratory to ensure that it meets international spirit standards. The company then bottles and seals the arak on site.

Although Arak Bali is made from white rice, which is fermented, pressed and then distilled, Budarsa sees the value in the traditional palm wine that comes from Karangasem.

“In the past, I’ve suggested working with the producers in that area,” he says.

“If they created a cooperative that only certain people could register and join, they could possibly make more money. They could supply us with the tuak, and we could produce the arak in our facilities. But they opted to continue producing and selling the arak themselves.”

While it goes without saying that the arak producers are proud of their product and traditions, once it goes out of the hands of the producers, it can be very difficult to predict what will happen to the product. Unless you buy straight from the producer or a trusted vendor with trusted sources, you can never be sure what goes into the mix.

“I understand that people have concerns about drinking arak in Bali”, says Budarsa. “Of course, even for me, I would not want to drink something that might make me sick. But if you want to drink arak, there are things you can do to be safe.”

Budarsa suggests sticking to a trusted brand, because they have a responsibility to keep the quality high. He also recommends being selective about where you drink.

“If a bar is offering free-flow drinks, think about how they can do that without losing money,” he says.

And herein lies the problem. With alcohol taxes at an all-time high in Indonesia, it makes sense that people would turn to cheaper alternatives rather than the wildly expensive imported spirits available here. Even local producers have a hard time keeping costs low, especially those with small-scale production facilities.

Budarsa says, “If you want to produce alcohol here, you must have a license, as well as a building permit for the facilities, and then you need to register the product.”

Then there are the taxes. In 2010, the Indonesian government increased the excise taxes on alcohol to a staggering 100 to 214 percent, depending on the alcohol content. This effectively created a boom in black market production and sales.

According to a spokesperson from the Directorate General of Customs, “Objects that are charged with excise have their excise tax increased every year, because it is done to protect the health and well-being of our people”.

While the tax increase certainly may have limited alcohol consumption for a large percentage of the population who cannot afford the inflated prices, it has also led others to find imaginative and sometimes deadly ways to cut costs.

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that unethical bar and restaurant owners replace quality spirits with bootleg alcohol, while shady distributors and vendors water down perfectly good arak and add dangerous substances to make it taste stronger.

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Since his terrifying ordeal, Nyoman Laka has made the decision never to drink arak again. “I’m so angry and confused,” he says.

“Why would people purposely do something so terrible, when they know that it can kill people? Arak is supposed to be part of our culture, not just something for people to make money off of with no care for human life. That is the opposite of what our religion and culture teaches us”.

A sentiment most of us would agree with, regardless of religion or culture. When it comes to health and well-being, money should simply not be an issue.

However, until there are cheaper options available, arak will continue to be popular and the risk of methanol poisoning will continue to be a very real possibility. For those who want to imbibe, it is better to pay more for commercially produced arak or invest the time to find a trusted producer who truly values his or her product and customers.

Written by Stephanie Mee and previously published in the Yak magazine issue March/April/May, 2013.

 

Where to Find the Best Street Food in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has long been known as one of the best places on earth to get fresh, tasty and cheap street food. From Singapore hawker stalls to Indonesian bakso carts, Thai night markets and Vietnamese roadside restaurants, we give you the rundown on the top hotspots for street food in the region.

Bangkok P1100339

Best Street Food Spots in Bangkok, Thailand

 

Sukhumvit Soi 38

 For a true Thai street food experience, head to Sukhumvit, Soi 38 where you’ll find a plethora of tin tables and plastic chairs and vendors selling everything from Pad Thai noodles to mango sticky rice. The stalls here are clean and there is a high turnover of locals and foreigners, which means the food is fresh and tasty to boot.

Time: 6pm til late

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Victory Monument

 The Victory Monument acts like a beacon calling hungry office workers, students and foodies to the small laneways shooting off from the traffic circle here. Wander down any of these streets and you’ll find plenty of food stalls selling delectable lunch dishes, including the famous Thai boat noodles. With a dark, rich broth flavored with herbs, spices and pork blood, slippery rice noodles, green vegetables and pork or beef, we bet you can’t eat just one bowl.

Time: 7am til late

Chinatown (Yaowarat)

 After the sun sets, busy Yaowarat Road transforms into a bustling night food bazaar with hundreds of vendors selling classic Chinese specialties like bird’s nest soup and roast duck, as well as some Chinese influenced Thai dishes like fried pork belly in peppery soup and rice noodles with ground pork, fiery chilies and aromatic holy basil.

Time: 6pm til late

Poultry at Chinatowns Talat Leng-Buai-la market (6491924593)

Roast Duck in Chinatown, Bangkok

 

Best Street Food Spots in Singapore

 

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre

 Smack in the middle of Chinatown, this hawker center is a Singapore institution and home to some of the most beloved street food stalls such as Tian Tian Chicken Rice with its succulent chicken served over broth infused rice with a side of fiery chilli sauce and Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon, which offers up golden pieces of fried fish floating in a milky broth with thin rice vermicelli noodles.

Time: 8am to 10pm

Chatterbox ChickenRice

Chicken Rice

Old Airport Road Food Centre

 With up to 30 minute queues for quintessential Singapore hawker dishes like oyster omelette in chili sauce and Char Kway Teow (rice noodles with Chinese sausage, cockles, bean sprouts, chili sauce and dark soy sauce), you know the food stalls at the Old Airport Road Food Centre have got to have something good going on.

Time: Mon to Fri: 11.30am to midnight, Sat to Sun: 10.30am to midnight

 

East Coast Park Lagoon Village Food Centre

It’s all about fresh BBQ seafood like chilli crab, spicy grilled stingray and black pepper crab at the East Coast Park Lagoon Village Food Centre, as well as tasty wonton noodles, braised duck rice and satay. It doesn’t hurt either that the location is right on the beach, so you can grab your grub and have a picnic by the sea.

Time: 8am to 9pm

Chilli crab-01

Singapore Chilli Crab

Best Street Food Spots in Kuala Lumpur

 

Jalan Alor

A favorite foodie pit stop for locals, Jalan Alor runs parallel to Jalan Bukit Bintang, and is packed with hawker stalls selling Malaysian staples like chicken satay, grilled fish, braised duck with rice and fresh tropical fruits like durian, rambutan and mangosteen.

Time: 6pm til late (although some stalls are open during the day)

Kuala Lumpur - Jalan Alor

Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur

Chow Kit Market Hawker Stalls

Chow Kit is the biggest wet market in Kuala Lumpur, and as such, it should come as no surprise that there are tons of hawker stalls here that sell delicious street food made from only the freshest ingredients. This is the place to go to get heavenly nasi lemak—coconut rice with various side dishes such as fried chicken, crispy anchovies, roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg and of course, fiery sambal, golden shrimp fritters, ikan masin (salted fish) and murtabak—flaky pan-fried bread with an egg and minced meat filling.

Time: 9am to 5pm

 

Petaling Street Night Market

Located in the heart of Chinatown, Petaling Street is a warren of shops selling clothing, electronics, handbags and souvenirs during the day, but come evening, the hawker stalls start to emerge. Many of the hawker stalls here have been in operation for decades, so you can sample tried and true recipes for delicious seafood, chicken and rice, BBQ fish, curry laksa and roti.

Time: 4pm til late

Laksa

Laksa

Best Street Food Spots in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

 

Ben Thanh Market

Enter Ben Thanh Market, pass the colorful displays of silk scarves, beaded shoes, leather handbags and glossy lacquerware, and head deep into the interior where you’ll find simple stalls selling everything from steaming bowls of pho to crispy and fresh spring rolls, banh mi pate sandwiches and bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli noodles with BBQ pork, mini spring rolls, fresh herbs and fish sauce). Wash it all down with a rich iced Vietnamese coffee served with sweetened condensed milk.

Time: 6am to 7pm

Pho-Beef-Noodles-2008

Pho Beef Noodles

Ton That Thuyet Street, District 4

Everyday, food vendors and foodies alike flock to this long strip of pavement to grab mouthwatering Vietnamese dishes like bun bo la lot, rice vermicelli noodles topped with grilled beef, pickled vegetables, peanuts, sprouts and herbs, sticky rice with Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, chicken and fried shallots and che dau trang, a sweet dessert made with glutinous rice, beans and coconut milk.

Time: All day

 

Banh Xeo 46A

Banh xeo is a Saigon favourite, and locals in the know head to Banh Xeo 46A in District 1 to fill up on the savory rice flour crepes packed with fatty pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and green onion and just a touch of turmeric and coconut milk. This roadside restaurant also serves up divine fresh and fried spring rolls.

46A Dinh Cong Trang Street

District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Time: All day

 

Best Street Food Spots in Jakarta

 

Pecenongan, Central Jakarta

By day, this street looks like any other, but as soon as night starts to fall, the mobile food carts move in and locals from far and wide flock here for tasty and affordable Indonesian fare. Get your fix of sate kambing (goat satay), martabak (a mix between a crepe and a pancake with sweet fillings like bananas, chocolate or cheese) and nasi uduk (coconut rice with roasted chicken, tofu or tempe).

Time: 6pm til late

Sate kambing sate ayam

Sate Ayam and Sate Kambing (chicken and goat satay)

Jalan Sabang

One block west of Jakarta’s backpacker area of Jalan Jaksa lies Jalan Sabang, a haven for street food that pulls in hungry diners both day and night. This is one of the best places in the city to get cheap eats, including nasi goreng (fried rice), chicken and mutton satay with spicy peanut sauce, fragrant duck rice and pisang goreng (fried banana).

Time: All day until late

Jalan Mangga Besar

If you’re craving Chinese food or seafood, Jalan Mangga Besar is the place to be. Some specialties here include bakmi kepiting (noodles with crab meat, fish balls and crispy fried wontons) and bubur ayam (chicken porridge). For the truly adventurous, try the cobra satay washed down with a shot of cobra blood.

Time: 5pm til late

Bubur Ayam Travelling Vendor 4

Bubur Ayam

 

For more info about Southeast Asian street food, including recipes that you can make at home, check out these great books from Amazon:

 

Unraveling Alternative Healing in Ubud, Bali

Stroll the streets of Ubud, and it may seem like the entire town is one big new age healing center. Flowing white clothes abound, ecstatic dance sessions pack out, and it seems as though ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ healers are more ubiquitous than the motorbikes and cars that plague the streets during high season.

© Romko | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Whether deserved or not, Ubud has earned a reputation as a center of spirituality, and the numbers of people who travel here looking for spiritual enlightenment and self-transformation are increasing at a rapid pace. There’s no denying that there is something special about Ubud, but is it really the magical and spiritual place that so many claim it is? And are all these healers and gurus all they’re cracked up to be?

The name Ubud actually comes from the Balinese word ubad, which means medicine. Once a small village renowned for its medicinal plants and herbs, Ubud soon began to attract the attention of foreigners for its incredible arts, culture and temples. As far back as the 1930s, foreign artists and musicians would visit the town, become entranced by its ‘magic’ and set up camp along river gorges, amid the jungles and perched on the edge of rice fields.

Skip ahead to present day, and Ubud is a rapidly developing international tourist destination, with visitors from all corners of the globe booking into hotels and luxurious villas, frequenting the hundreds of cafes and restaurants that line the main (and not-so-main) streets, and signing up for detoxifying retreats, yoga teacher training courses and raw food classes.

Dig a little deeper and you will find self-proclaimed clairvoyants, aura readers, tantric and sacred sex gurus and past life interpreters. In fact, take a quick flip through one of the local free mags here and you might find that every second article or advertisement contains phrases like ‘harmony transformation process’, ‘absorb shamanic energies of holy volcanoes’, ‘intuitive channel counseling’, or ‘transformative global energy’. And no, I’m not making that up, all of those phrases actually appeared in one issue of one magazine.

Authentic Balinese healers are now outnumbered by global gurus that hail from exotic climes such as California, Melbourne, Manchester and Ohio. Judging from the price tags attached to the spiritual tours, healing sessions, soulmate readings and life transformation workshops, business seems to be booming.

The truth is, Ubud has had its fair share of people seeking and teaching alternative lifestyles and self-improvement for decades. For example, the Anand Ashram opened its doors in 1991, AsiaWorks has been giving its 12-step program of self-discovery here since 1993, and the Ubud Bodyworks healing center has been offering holistic therapies to travelers and locals alike for a staggering 26 years.

There is no disputing that certain holistic therapies and practices are good for the body and the mind. Yoga is a highly beneficial form of exercise, meditation has been proven to lower stress levels, and lets face it—massage just feels damn good. While some may scoff at energy healing like reiki and light therapy, practices like aligning the chakras or re-balancing the body with sacred crystals, or courses designed to ‘Discover the Goddess Within’, others swear by them; and if it makes you feel good, why not do it?

The problem lies not with the practices themselves, but with the simple fact that where there are people willing to part with their cash, there will always be others willing to take it. That’s not to say that all healers or gurus are scammers. In fact, many of them are quite good at what they do and can considerably help people, whether it be with with physical health issues or mental or emotional damage. However, when you visit a traditional Balinese healer with a compound packed with tourists and not a Balinese person in sight, or come across young Australian women claiming to be Balinese shamans offering healing sessions for upwards of $300 AUD a pop, you have to wonder.

 newage

 

Then there are the stories of starry-eyed travelers falling head over heals for that deep, oh-so ‘in tune with the universe’ guy or gal (local and foreign), only to go home at the end their trip with half their life savings gone and nothing to show for it.

The bottom line is—yes, Ubud is a spiritual place and it can feel like magical at times. And yes, there are people out there who truly are healers and people who can improve the lives of others through counseling, holistic therapies and good old psychology. If you really, truly believe that alternative healing may be for you, then by all means, seek out a tarot reader, take some life transformation sessions or get some crystal therapy if that’s what you want. But be sure you know what you’re getting into before you part with your money.

Ask around to find out who the trusted healers are, do some research and read reviews from past clients. Know what to look for when you’re on the search. For example, most Reiki Masters train for at least a year or more before they gain certification, and a massage therapist in the United States must have anywhere from 330 to 1,000 contact hours in addition to classroom training in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology before they can obtain a license to legally practice massage therapy. Even an entry-level psychotherapist must study for at least six to seven years before they can practice – four years for a BA and two or three more for an MA.

Be wary of people who claim to have a great deal of experience but no certifications, or ‘healers’ who take a four-week course and call themselves a ‘master’. Would you take your broken computer to a self-taught, self-proclaimed computer fix-it guy or would you want to go to a trained and qualified professional? The same should be true for your body and mind.

When it comes down to it, you don’t have to be paranoid, suspicious or uptight when it comes to healers, therapists and self-help experts. But at the same time, just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean your common sense should be too.

The Most Bizarre, Unusual and Intriguing Hotels in Southeast Asia

Sometimes it seems as if all hotels are made the same. You know the feeling—you walk into your room, throw your stuff down, look around and realize that you could be anywhere. Bangkok, Hong Kong, even Ohio for that matter. Which is a shame, because if you know where to look, Southeast Asia is full of interesting, unique and artistic hotels that are so much more than just a place to rest your head. Why stay in a cookie cutter hotel chain when you can stay in one of these fabulously unconventional hotels and villas?

 

Hang Nga Guesthouse AKA Crazy House

Crazy House Dalat, Vietnam

Walking into the Hang Nga Guesthouse is like entering into some sort of bizarre dream, where Gaudi meets Alice in Wonderland, with a splash of Swiss Family Robinson and Salvador Dali thrown in. This spectacular array of wood, wire, glass and concrete buildings features imaginative ladders shaped as tree roots, mysterious cubby holes, towering treehouses with jagged peaks, and even an bizarre Indonesian/Swiss style chalet. Add to this spiderweb patterned windows, wooden kangaroos, bears and giraffes, and an explosion of tropical foliage and flowers just for good measure, and you’ve got a feast for the eyes. The architect and owner, Ms. Hang Viet Nga was trained in architecture in Moscow, and considers her Dalat guesthouse to be a masterpiece of curved lines that fuse nature and people. While the locals might think the guesthouse is a tad on the crazy side, tourists from around the world flock here to see this fantastic fusion of architectural styles and imaginative whimsy.

Dalat, Vietnam

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

 

 

The Imperial Boathouse Hotel

Imperial Boathouse Koh Samui

Originally real rice Thai barges that used to ply the Chao Praya River and the open seas, these 34 wooden boats have been renovated into unique luxury suites. Each suite offers a breezy outdoor wooden deck, a spacious living room inside, sky-lit bathrooms, and a master suite below deck. Following the nautical theme, even the pools here are shaped like boats. As an added bonus, the Imperial Boathouse Hotel is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and just steps away from the gorgeous Choeng Mon Beach on Koh Samui.

Koh Samui, Thailand

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

 

Elephant Safari Park Lodge

elephant safari park lodge imageMany people who travel to Southeast Asia make a point to see some elephants on their holiday, but how many people do you know who actually stay in the midst of these beautiful creatures? The Elephant Safari Park Lodge is set in the middle of the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, Bali, and it offers guests an up close and personal experience with the 30 rare Sumatran elephants that roam the grounds. Eat breakfast while overlooking the forest and the elephant trails in the Mammoth’s Head Bar, have your own private elephant chauffeur pick you up at your room for a day of trekking with your elephant guide and bathing, feeding and petting the elephants. End your day with a spa treatment and a four-course dinner before retiring to your luxurious safari lodge room.

Taro, Bali, Indonesia

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

 

 4 Rivers Floating Lodge

4 Rivers Lodge
Far from the well-traveled backpacker trail of Cambodia, Koh Kong is an intoxicating mix of pristine rainforest, deep blue rivers, and untouched mountain ranges. Intrepid travelers can make the trip up the Tatai River to the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, an environmentally friendly collection of luxury tents, floating on a platform along the river. Each tent features a private sun deck with views of the river in front and the Cardamom Mountains behind, as well as plush double and twin beds, flat screen televisions, Wi-Fi and mini-bars. But with so much nature and serenity outside, the chances that you’ll use these modern amenities is slim, as you’ll be much too preoccupied swimming, canoeing, trekking, and enjoying the spectacular sunsets from your deck.

Tatai, Koh Kong, Cambodia

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

 

Wanderlust

Wanderlust Singapore
Once a 1920s schoolhouse, this experimental boutique hotel is the result of a collaboration between four of Singapore’s award-winning design agencies. Each agency was given free reign over one level of the Wanderlust hotel, creating rooms that are funky, modern and unique. Take for example, the Eccentricity Floor by :phunk Studio, with its colorful neon lights, rainbow hallway and vibrant mosaic-tiled jacuzzi; or the Creature Comforts floor by fFurious, which makes use of friendly monsters, spaceship sculptures and twinkling star lights. Even the communal area and bar is cutting-edge, with walls painted in abstract patterns, shag rugs and futuristic furniture.

Little India, Singapore

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

 

Do you know of any other unique or eccentric hotels, guesthouses or villas in Southeast Asia? If so, feel free to comment below.

Country Guide for Teaching English in Southeast Asia

Country Guide for Teaching English in Southeast Asia

Kids in Ou Dong, Cambodia

Brunei

Brunei is an ideal place to teach English, as it is safe, peaceful and the students are polite and respectful of foreign teachers. It also doesn’t hurt that teachers are not charged income tax, so you take home your entire salary every month. Moreover, many schools will grant housing assistance, cutting down your costs even more. However, standards are quite high in Brunei, as most of the teaching jobs are at primary and secondary schools. Therefore, you may find it difficult to find a job without a B.Ed or teaching qualification from your home country.

Requirements:

•You must be a native speaker from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand or the UK

•Bachelor’s degree, preferably a B.Ed, qualified teacher status such as a PGCE, Dip.T or accredited teaching certificate from your home state or province

•CELTA, TEFL and TESL certificates are not necessary, but definitely help

Work Visa:

You must have an employment visa to work in Brunei. Your school will arrange this for you, including all the paperwork and fees.

Expected Salary:

An average teaching salary in Brunei is anywhere from $42,000 BND to $77,000 BND per year (around $34,300 USD to $62,900 USD). Depending on the school, teacher packages might also include a housing allowance, settling in allowance and a bonus upon contract completion.

 

Cambodia

Back in the day, it was easy for backpackers to pick up work teaching English in Cambodia with no qualifications. However, times have changed, and schools in the kingdom have stepped up their game. Don’t expect to find a job if you haven’t invested in the proper education or certification prior to applying. The easiest places to find work are in Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. Overall, teaching in Cambodia is a pleasant experience, as the students are keen to learn, very respectful of teachers and quick to crack a smile or join in a laugh.

Requirements:

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL or TESL certificate

Work Visa:

You must have a business visa to work in Cambodia. You can get a 30-day business visa on arrival in Cambodia and extend it every month, however, most schools will arrange a 6-month or 1-year business visa for you, including all of the paperwork and fees.

Expected Salary:

Anywhere from USD $500 to $3,000 a month. ESL schools in Cambodia typically do not offer plane tickets, housing, settling in allowances or bonuses upon contract completion.

 

East Timor

East Timor is one of the world’s newest independent nations, and is one of those off the beaten path type places where you won’t find hoards of tourists. As such, it can be a very rewarding place to work. The students are eager to learn, the salaries are decent and it is easy to head out on your days off to some of the world’s best diving spots, beautiful retreats in the mountains and miles and miles of pristine sandy beaches.

Requirements:

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL or TESL

•Teaching Experience

Work Visa:

You must have a proper work visa to teach in East Timor, however, this is easy enough to obtain. The school or organization that hires you will usually arrange the visa for you, including all paperwork and fees. You can apply for the visa from a consulate in your home country or from within East Timor.

Expected Salary:

Salaries generally start at around $20.00 an hour, but could be higher depending on the school or organization and your experience. Employers may also include round-trip airfare, health and medical insurance and temporary accommodation upon arrival in East Timor.

 

Indonesia

Your best chances of finding work teaching English in Indonesia will be in the capital city of Jakarta. Here you will find many schools with competitive salaries and benefits. Elsewhere, English First dominates the English teaching scene. Salaries in Indonesia for ESL teachers tend to be lower than other parts of Southeast Asia, and working visas are expensive and slightly difficult to procure. Therefore, many schools may ask you to cover the costs of your own visa or sign a contract agreeing to repay the cost of the visa if you leave before the agreed upon completion date.

Requirements:

•Must be a native English speaker from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL or TESL certificate

Work Visa:

To legally work in Indonesia, you must have a work visa called a KITAS. If you meet all of the requirements, your school should arrange this for you. However, the KITAS is very expensive (about $1,500 USD), so some schools may take the cost out of your paycheck in increments each month, ask you to pay up front for the visa and then pay you back in increments each month, or ask you to sign a contract so that if you leave before the contract finishes, you are obligated to pay back the remainder of the visa.

Expected Salary:

From USD $300 to $1,500 a month, depending on the school. This may or may not include a housing allowance or free board at a house shared with other teachers.

 

Laos

Teaching English in Laos is great for those who prefer a more laid-back vibe over the hustle and bustle of city life. Laos is one of the most chilled out countries in Southeast Asia, even in the capital city of Vientiane, where you will find the majority of jobs. In addition, the friendly people and spectacular scenery are added bonuses. You won’t get rich teaching in Laos, but the cost of living is low and the going is easy here.

Requirements:

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL, or TESL certificate. **Some schools may hire you on without these qualifications, however, you may be looking at low rates per hour and part-time work.

•Experience is preferred but not necessary

Work Visa:

You must have a business visa to legally work in Laos. Most teachers come in on a tourist visa, secure a job, and then arrange the business visa from within the country. Your employer must sponsor you for the business visa, and they will usually arrange everything for you, including paperwork and fees. That being said, some teachers have reported that certain schools expect teachers to pay for the visa themselves at a cost of about $300 USD per year.

Expected Salary:

Salaries vary in Laos. Inexperienced teachers or those with no teaching qualifications may be offered rates are as low as $9 to $10 USD per hour and only a few working classes a week. For experienced teachers with legitimate credentials, the average salary is about $800 to $1,000 USD per month. It is very rare to find a school in Laos that will pay for plane tickets, housing, insurance or offer contract completion bonuses.

 

Malaysia

Teachers in Malaysia are rewarded with amazing scenery, a fabulously vibrant mix of cultures and religions, modern cities and incredible food. ESL students in Malaysia range from young learners just learning the alphabet to university students studying advanced grammar in an effort to study or travel abroad.

Requirements:

•Native speakers from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland are preferred

• Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL or TESL certificate

•Experience teaching

Work Visa:

You must have an Employment Pass to legally work in Malaysia. Most teachers enter the country on a tourist visa, secure a job, and then apply for the Employment Pass from within the country. Your employer must sponsor you for the EP, and they will typically arrange the paperwork and pay the fees. You must leave Malaysia to activate the Employment Pass.

Expected Salary:

Teaching salaries vary in Malaysia depending on the school or organization and your qualifications and experience. Average salaries range anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 USD. Some schools will also include a housing allowance, plane tickets and medical insurance.

Myanmar

Once a destination far removed from the typical ESL teacher’s bucket list, Myanmar is now enjoying a period of change, and English language teaching positions are becoming more plentiful. Yangon is where you will find the bulk of English language teaching jobs in Myanmar, and although the salaries may not be as high as those in other countries in Southeast Asia, the people you meet and the unique experiences you will have here make up for it.

Requirements:

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL, or TESL certificate

**It should be noted that it is possible to find a teaching job in Myanmar without a degree or teaching qualifications. However, if you don’t have these basic requirements, don’t expect to make killer money or receive any benefits.

Work Visa:

You must have a business visa to teach English in Myanmar. If you secure a job before you enter the country, your employer will arrange the paperwork for a business visa for you. Once you have the sponsorship letters, you can apply for a business visa at any Myanmar embassy. The multiple entry business visa is valid for 6 months, but you must leave the country every 70 days to extend the visa.

Expected Salary:

The average salary for an English teacher in Myanmar hovers around $1,000 to $1,500 USD a month, although this varies depending on your qualifications and experience. Some schools will pay for your visa costs, housing, plane tickets and even bonuses upon contract completion. As more and more English language schools open in Yangon and beyond, salaries and benefits will most likely become more competitive.

Philippines

It’s easy to see why so many people want to teach English in the Philippines. With over 7,000 islands, seemingly endless white sandy beaches, soaring mountains, verdant rice terraces, colorful culture and friendly locals, who wouldn’t want to work here? Unfortunately, finding ESL jobs in the Philippines is not easy. So many Filipino people speak excellent English that many schools prefer to hire locals rather than deal with the paperwork for employment visas for foreigners. However, if you really put your heart into it, you can find places that are willing to take on a foreign teacher.

Requirements:

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL, or TEFL certificate

Work Visa:

Once you find work in the Philippines, your employer will have to apply for an Alien Employment Permit, which takes about 14 days to process. After you have this permit, you can apply for an employment visa.

Expected Salary:

Salaries for ESL teachers in the Philippines are quite low compared to the cost of living, at about $800 to $1,000 USD per month. English language schools in the Philippines do not usually pay for flights, accommodation, or insurance. You may or may not get a bonus upon completion of your contract.

Thailand

Once upon a time, it was easy for backpackers with few or no qualifications to pick up English teaching jobs in Thailand. In recent years though, the government and schools have become much more switched on, and now you need at least a bachelor’s degree to get your foot in the door in the competitive English teaching field. That being said, if you have the right qualifications, there are literally hundreds of teaching jobs available at any given time in Thailand.

Requirements:

•Must be a native English speaker from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, the UK or USA

•Bachelor’s degree or higher

•CELTA, TEFL, or TESL certificate

Work Visa:

To work in Thailand, you must have a business visa and a work permit. It is quite common for teachers to enter Thailand on a 30-day tourist visa, find a job, and get a letter of sponsorship from their future employer for a business visa. Once you have the sponsorship letter, you must leave the country to apply for a business visa at a Thai embassy. For those who accept employment before arriving in the country, your employer will arrange the sponsorship paperwork for you, and you can apply for and enter Thailand on a Non-immigrant Business visa. The business visa is valid for 60 days, and can be extended for another 30 days.

Once you enter the country on your business visa, your employer must process the work permit for you. You do not have to leave the country to do this, and once you have the work permit, you can extend your business visa so that it is valid for one year. When your work permit expires, your business visa will also expire.

Expected Salary:

English teaching salaries in Thailand run the full gamut from pitifully meager to more than adequate to save money and have a great lifestyle. Your salary will depend on your qualifications, experience and the school or organization you work for. The best thing to do is try a number of different schools before making a decision. Some schools will also provide accommodation, round-trip airfare, medical insurance and bonuses upon contract completion.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s economy has been booming in recent years, and the influx of money means that more and more students are now able to afford foreign language classes. In addition, an increase in foreign investment and the popularity of Facebook (even though the website is banned in the country), have really motivated the younger generation to learn English as a second language. All this adds up to an increase in jobs and competitive salaries for ESL teachers in Vietnam.

Requirements:

•Must be a native English speaker from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, the US or UK.

•Bachelor’s degree

•CELTA, TEFL, or TESL certificate

•Teaching experience

Work Visa:

To get a work visa in Vietnam, your employer must sponsor you. Most enter the country on a tourist visa, and then either find a job or wait for their employer to submit all the necessary documents. Once your employer has submitted the letter of sponsorship to the government, you have 3 months to submit a police background check, obtain a medical checkup from an approved hospital or clinic, and submit original copies of your degree and teaching certificates. If everything is in order, you will receive a multiple entry work visa that is valid for the length of your teaching contract. You do not have to leave the country to change your visa.

Expected Salary:

Teaching salaries in Vietnam are quite high compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. You can expect to make anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 USD a month, depending on your qualifications, experience and the company that hires you on. Many schools will also offer a housing allowance, medical insurance, plane tickets and bonuses upon completion of your contract.