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Where to eat in Bali?

where to eat in bali

What and where to eat in Bali? That was a very important question we didn’t research before our trip to Bali. Fortunately, with the help of friends who were also in town and the recommendations from the locals, we managed to find some great food in the short time we spent in the beautiful Indonesian island.

1. Warung Nasi Ayam Ibu Oki

where to eat in bali

When we checked into the hotel, it was already lunch time. The lady at the check-in counter recommended us to Ibu Oki when we asked about places to get local food. She merely said it was a place selling mixed rice. With the name and address in hand, our driver drove us to this small shop which was packed. The customers included locals and foreigners, which we saw as a good sign.

After we sat down, somebody came and started taking our orders. There was no menu and the lady just asked – how many, spicy or non-spicy. Before the food came, we didn’t even know what we had ordered.

The chicken was very flavourful and the other dishes that came with the rice tasted just like home-cooked food. I wasn’t sure whether it was because the food was spicy (to me) or the weather was really hot, I was perspiring non-stop throughout the meal! Luckily we ordered young coconut drink which was a life-saver!

4 sets of rice with young coconut come up to about 150,000 IDR (approximately S$16).

Address: Jalan Siligita No. 27, Nusa Dua 8am – 9pm

2. Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka

where to eat in bali

Babi Guling is Bali’s most famous local dish and it means Balinese Suckling Pig. Our friends recommended Ibu Oka for their crispy skin. Alas when we arrived, they had sold out all the skin!

Disappointed, we ordered the set lunch they have in the menu which came with a soup and an avocado smoothie to share. The pork was tasty and there were some sides as well. There was something deep fried until it was crispy like chips but up till today we still have no idea what they are. Who cares as long as they taste yummy!

In the set lunch, they also included something like black pudding. Unfortunately none of us eat black pudding so we can’t give any comments about that.

But, DO order some ice cream as dessert. These locally made ice cream were fantastic!

where to eat in bali

Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka have a few branches and we were being directed by another shop to Ibu Oka 3 where there’s parking spaces available. Oh, to ensure you can to savour the crispy suckling pig skin, come between 11.30am – 1pm.

Address: Jalan Tegal Sari No. 2, Ubud Tengah, Ubud

3. Bumbu Bali

where to eat in bali

Our friendly driver introduced Bumbu Bali for a good dinner. This is an authentic Balinese restaurant with a beautiful ambiance. Although it was a proper restaurant as opposed to a warung we did not feel out of place in shorts and t-shirt after a day of sight-seeing

It was tempting to order the tasting-menu but we decided against the idea. With recommendations from the waitress our table was soon filled with food. Satay of different flavours / meat, BBQ pork ribs served with rice and 2 sides of Balinese salad. All for the 2 of us!

The satay was nice but not remarkable even though they have one with duck meat – never tried that before. The BBQ pork ribs however, was almost perfect. The meat was so tender that it fell off the bone with just a poke of the fork.

Address: Jl. Pratama, Tanjung Benoa 80363, Indonesia 11am – 11pm

4. Best Mountain-Top Fried Rice

Countryside cycling tour

Not exactly a place we would have gone on our own but Sari Restaurant’s nasi goreng and mie goreng exceeded our expectations.

As part of our Bali Countryside Cycling Tour, we were brought to Sari Restaurant in Kintamani for our breakfast. There were a few choices on the menu for our breakfast, both western and local. I can’t comment on the western breakfast which included waffles and toast but the nasi and mie goreng were absolutely delightful. My friend MJ calls it the Best Mountain Top Fried she’s ever had!

Address: Jalan Raya Penelokan | Br. Masem, Kintamani 80652, Indonesia

5. Klepon – snack / dessert

where to eat in bali

Suma our tour driver swore by this Klepon sold near Tanah Lot Temple and told us it is the best in Bali.

For those familiar with the Malay kueh called ondeh-ondeh, klepon is similar except that the skin is thicker and stickier. The klepon are wrapped in banana leaves when sold. Once you put it inside your mouth and bite, the melted gula melaka (palm sugar) will flow out and mix with the grated coconut on the outside. Together with the glutinous rice skin, it was a perfect snack for a late afternoon.

This snack was sold by an old lady who set up a stall along the roadside somewhere between the carpark to Tanah Lot. Locals can get the same thing at half the price (10,000 IDR vs 20,000 IDR). So if you are travelling with a local, get them to buy on your behalf.

6. Ulam Restaurant

where to eat in bali

We went to Ulam more because of convenience rather than recommendations. It was near to the place we had our body massage. Ulam mainly serves seafood so we ordered a nasi goreng and a seafood mixed basket. The food looked good but that was all. The fish I had wasn’t fresh and was fishy, the chicken was dry and tasteless and the prawn meat was stuck to the shell.

It was the worse food we had in Bali. Even Sofitel Nusa Dua’s room service was much better than this!

Address: Jl. Pantai Mengiat No.14, Nusa Dua 80363, Indonesia

Hopefully this short list of where to eat in Bali will be useful especially for those staying around the Nusa Dusa area.

For ideas on things to do in Bali, click here and here!

Things to do in Bali – Countryside Cycling Tour

There are so many things to do in Bali but we only had 2 full days to explore. After a fulfilling first day going around the island with a driver, we decided to do a countryside cycling tour on the next. The countryside cycling tour took us through the local villages, bamboo forest, temples and rice padi fields.

The driver collected us from our hotel bright and early before proceeding to Tegallalang Rice Terraces. The journey from our hotel in Nusa Dua took more than an hour. The driver said that we could take some pictures but cannot walk down the terraces. We were disappointed since we only spent like 10 minutes there. But we appreciated the calm and peacefulness in the morning sharing the Rice Terrace with a few other tourists despite the short stop.

Countryside cycling tour

Best Mountain-Top Fried Rice

Our next stop was “up in the mountain for breakfast” as described by our driver. In fact, we were soon seated in Sari Restaurant in Kintamani with one of the best views in Bali.

Countryside cycling tour

Mount Batur right in front of us is an active volcano. Kintamani village sits on the rim of the huge Batur caldera about 1,500m above sea level. There are sunrise treks organised by local tour agencies for Mount Batur for anyone up for it. For us, the view from Kintamani was spectacular enough.

We had a few choices for breakfast – western (waffles, toast) and local delights. Since we were in Indonesia we opted for local food – nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (stir fry noodles) – to share. To our surprise, both the fried rice and noodles were delicious. MJ couldn’t get enough of it and till now still call it the “Best Mountain-Top Fried Rice” she’s ever had. Lol!!

Countryside cycling tour

Countryside Cycling Tour

After the delightful breakfast, we were driven to a village to collect our bicycles. Upon arrival, the entourage was already waiting. There was a van full of bikes (just for the 2 of us!), our cycling tour guide Wayan and the van driver. We were told that the ride will mainly be going downhill which was a relief! Suited up, received some basic safety rules and off we went.

Wayan first led us along the small roads outside the local’s houses. We also stopped outside their community temples and even visited their beautiful garden.

Countryside cycling tour

Shortly after travelling on the main road, we rode into the Bamboo Forest in Bangli. Once we entered the bamboo forest, we could feel the drop in the temperature. It was cooling and peacefully quiet in the forest, a total different atmosphere from the world outside.

Countryside cycling tour

According to the Bali Hai Bike Tours website, they are the only company in Bali cycling through this route, i.e. the Bamboo Forest. I checked with Suma our driver from the day before and he confirmed it too. We are not sure why.

Inside the Bamboo Forest, we met a couple of extremely adorable residents here. They were initially scared of us but tried to follow us and were meow-ing away after we cycled into the distance.

Countryside cycling tour

After we got out of the Bamboo Forest, Wayan led us to the Penglipuran Traditional Houses Village next. This is one of Bali’s Ancient Village with 72 houses, i.e .72 families are staying here. The village houses here retained the layout of traditional Balinese architecture and they look almost identical. At around 700 meters above sea level the village has a cool mountainous atmosphere surrounding it. The Penglipuran Village has evolved into a community based tourism site which means visitors need to pay an entrance fee of IDR 30,000 per person (for a foreigner). Visitors are allowed to enter any of the houses but we felt a bit uncomfortable to intrude.

countryside cycling tour

We walked along the corridor with the houses flanked on both sides and could feel the serenity in the villagers’ lives. As we walked to the end, we saw children coming back from school. One of them even tried to interact with us. Luckily we had Wayan to help translate when the communication kind of broke down. The intelligent young lady walked with us until we bade her goodbye outside her home. Wayan suggested we visit the house since she was so friendly. Still feeling uneasy, we went inside when an elderly lady greeted us with a big smile. Wayan politely told her we were looking around. There was a outdoor sheltered kitchen / store built right in front of the yard between the front gate and main door that looked similar to this:

countryside cycling tour

The young lady re-appeared and looked happy when she saw us. So just before leaving the house, we took a photo with her. Even though the community is now open to the public, personally I still didn’t like the idea of imposing on the locals by walking into their house. But it seems they have gotten used to this kind of lifestyle.

Next up on the countryside cycling tour was the Pura Kehen. This is the biggest and finest temple in East Bali. It is often described as the miniature version of Pura Beskih (the Mother Temple or Bali’s most important temple) and it serves as the state temple of Bangli. On both sides of the entrance staircases are guardian statues.

Countryside cycling tour

After the first flight of stairs in the first courtyard, there is a huge and old Banyan tree, a few hundred years old, with a monk’s cell among the branches. The middle courtyard houses the offertory shrines and the top-most courtyard with 11-tiered meru with a carved wood and stone base. This is dedicated to the God that protects the temple. Around the high meru, there are other smaller merus meant for the mountain gods to rest when they visit the temple.

countryside cycling tour

Wayan warned us about people selling things or pushing things into our hands outside the Pura Kehen before we set out for the temple. “Do not touch any of the stuff they are holding in their hands” he said. Fortunately, when we arrived there was nobody around except a few other tourists.

As we made our way to the lunch place, we were given a choice of using the tarmac road or back road. On the back road we would cycle along a narrow trail in the middle of the nature. We opted for the latter of course. However, before we reached the narrow trail, we had to meander along the big ugly tarmac road first. Then an accident occurred. A small puppy was ran over by a big truck while crossing the street!

As many of you would know, I love dogs. After witnessing the tragedy, I had to stop and try to help the poor little thing. The furry and adorable pup was obviously in excruciating pain. Wayan took a piece of cloth and covered the cute face to avoid either of us being bitten. After he carried the pup to the side of the road, I saw the pup twitched a few more times and then stopped…. That’s it! Wayan tried to console me that the owner will take care of it and we should be on our way. I returned to my bike feeling extremely sorry for the puppy and then my eyes started welling up with tears uncontrollably. (I’m even tearing up a bit now while writing and re-living those moments!)

MJ consoled me that it’s probably better for the puppy that way. I agree but still couldn’t help but get emotional about it. And I was grateful that the guys from the tour company stopped to help when I did.

Wayan tried to make us feel better after that episode and brought us to another temple that looked like it was sited in the middle of a lake. He tried to cheer me up for a bit. Then we cycled past some rice padi fields. Being kids who grew up in the city, we were ashamed to admit that it was our first time looking at and touching unprocessed rice grains.

Countryside cycling tour

We reached the end of our countryside cycling tour at about 3pm and proceeded to have our home-cooked lunch in a simple hut nearby. The hut was right in the middle of the forest / padi fields with plenty of ants and other insects crawling around. It wasn’t the best place to enjoy a well-deserved lunch but we made do.

The countryside cycling tour in Bali was a great way for us to get in touch with the nature and the way the local Balinese lived. Even though it was a long day for us, we were able to enjoy every stop (except the rice terrace) at our own pace. There are many companies in Bali organising cycling tours so I would highly recommend new and repeated visitors to go on one.

Tips for going on a countryside cycling tour in Bali:

  • Remember to apply sun block! MJ’s back was burnt badly by the sun.
  • Spray insect repellent, especially before going into the Bamboo Forest. The mosquitoes were starving and we I got attacked mercilessly!

Pin this for later! 

countryside cycling tour

Have you been to Bali? Check out what other things we did here or the many other things to do in Bali here! See what to eat in Bali here.

Things to do in Bali – 1 Day Itinerary

I was in Bali for the first time this past February to attend a friend’s wedding reception. Since there are many things to do in Bali, we extended our trip to have 2 full days to explore the island. On one of the days we booked a private driver who brought us around to check out the sights. With a driver, we had the flexibility to pick and choose what we wanted to see all at our own pace and at a reasonable price.

There are many companies in Bali offering private driver services so how did I finally decide on Suma Bali Tour? By reading the reviews on the ever-popular Tripadvisor of course, and trusting my own instinct. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made because Suma, our driver and tour guide for the day, was great.

I arranged for the pick-up for the day tour at 9.30am because I wasn’t sure what time the wedding reception would end on the night before. Pick-up was punctual although we had some delay on our side and needed the driver to go back and forth our hotel. By the time we actually set off, it was just after 10.00am. I’ve listed the things to do in Bali in my email to Suma’s company a few weeks earlier.

Tengenungan Waterfall 

Things to do in Bali - Tegenungan Waterfall

He must have been thinking about the route in his head when Suma asked whether we would like to see a waterfall. Since it was a free-and-easy schedule that day, we were happy to accept any good recommendations from the local expert. For some reason, I never linked waterfall with Bali.

After paying our admission fees right next to the carpark, we took a very short walk and could see the waterfall from the viewing deck. It was apparent that this was one of the more popular tourist attractions. Luckily it wasn’t too crowded.

Walking down to the waterfall was easy. After just a few minutes we were standing right in front of it, feeling the power of the water from a distance. Many people were swimming or just cooling off from the heat in the water. There’s a few bamboo deck chairs lying around which nobody seemed to be using. If we had more time or were more adventurous, we would have walked across the bamboo bridge and climbed up by the side of the waterfall. The view from there and right at the top would have been a big contrast from the ground.

I mentioned walking down to the waterfall was easy. Well, going back up wasn’t that bad but the last 10 steps or were a little bit more tiring because of the high steps. A few slightly elderly people were walking in front of us but they had to stop after every couple of steps. So we just took it easy too. It was just the first stop of our day tour, definitely didn’t want to tire ourselves out this early!

Admission Fee: IDR 10,000

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Things to do in Bali - Monkey forest

Second stop on our tour was the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud. The Monkey Forest is owned by the village of Padangtegal. To the villagers, the Monkey Forest is not only a spiritual centre to them, it also has educational and conservation purposes. Other than the almost 700 monkeys living harmoniously with the locals nearby, there are 115 species of trees in the forest. Some of these trees are considered holy and are used by the Balinese in their spiritual practices.

Right after entering the forest, we saw 2 ladies selling bananas on their carts. These bananas are meant for the monkeys in case you are wondering. But if you are not careful, the monkeys will snatch them from you.

Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

Suma cleverly kept the bananas in his bag until we met a marshall. I was asked to sit down and the marshall tried to get the monkey to climb onto me using the bananas. MJ was scared but Charles joined me. Photos and video opp!!

Somebody said I looked terrified but the reason why I kept my hands in that position was because we were not supposed to touch the monkeys. I actually thought Charles looked more scared, right?? It was fun feeding the monkeys so I tried again before we left 🙂

The Monkey Forest wasn’t huge but was big enough to allow visitors to take a nice walk in the premises and enjoy the nature for a change. Charles for one, who had been working crazily hard, was appreciative of the nice little stroll and relaxing time with the monkeys.

Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

Suma even found a swing!

The monkeys could be seen on the trees, railings, statutes, people. They were EVERYWHERE!

Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

Some advice for people visiting on their own / who received no briefing from their guide:

  • Do not stare into the eyes of the monkeys;
  • Do not eat or drink;
  • Do not go near a baby monkey (the mothers are protective); and
  • Do not touch the monkeys.

They are generally not aggressive. If a monkey jump on you, do not scream and run! Just keep walking calmly and try to shake it off. There are marshalls around the forest who can control and scare the monkeys so if you want to feed one, go to them for help. It is safer that way.

One other note, the monkeys are wild animals so you may find some pee / poo stain on your clothes after the close contact. At least I did. And oh, don’t forget the insect repellant!

Useful Information:

Open daily: 8.30am – 6pm, Ticketing: 8.30am – 5.30pm, Admission: IDR 40,000

Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka

One of the many things to do in Bali is to eat! We were hungry after all that fun with the monkeys so we headed to Ibu Oka for some Babi Guling (suckling pig). Babi Guling is one of Bali’s most famous dishes and Ibu Oka is one of the best Warung (small restaurant / café) in town. According to Suma, there were a few Ibu Oka branches but we went to this one which provided parking lots.

Things to do in Bali - Ibu Oka

Our friends recommended the crispy skin of the suckling pig but were told that they were sold out! Next time come between 11am to 1pm they said. We were there at 1.30pm – disappointed! Anyhow, we ordered the lunch set which came with a soup and rice with different dishes by the side. Mmmm… it wasn’t the best food I’ve had but was decent. I also shared an avocado smoothie with chocolate with Charles and MJ. That was thick and delicious.

For dessert, we had the locally-made ice cream which was really yummy! We ordered 2 flavours to share – snickers and durian. And the verdict – Super Good! Especially the durian flavoured one, it was flavourful and light but still rich enough to taste almost like a real durian. It made up for the crispy skin we didn’t get to eat.

Things to do in Bali - Ibu Oka

MJ and Charles totally satisfied with the ice cream!

Bali Geo Coffee Plantation

On the way to Tirtha Empul Temple, Suma asked whether we would like to visit a coffee plantation. It wasn’t in my rough itinerary emailed to Suma because I thought we would be going to one on the following day. I don’t drink coffee anyway so it didn’t bother me much. But since we had some time and both MJ and Charles love coffee, we went. They wanted to try the world’s most expensive coffee – Kopi Luwak (civet coffee / cat poop coffee).

Someone came to the car park and brought us into the Bali Geo Coffee Plantation where we were given an introduction on how coffee were made. We saw plants along the walking path which they used to produce the coffee and some civet cats (luwaks). They were sleeping in a small wooden box. Next to them were the poo they defecated which contained the undigested coffee beans. The poo and coffee beans would then be washed, dried and pounded to remove the skin, sorted and finally roasted like other coffee beans.

Things to do in Bali - kopi luwak

We were given free coffee and tea to taste. I’ll admit that some were unique and tastym like mangosteen tea and durian coffee (I took a sip). MJ and Charles both decided to buy a few packets of the coffee powder but because of the price, they decided on one each eventually lol.

Things to do in Bali - coffee plantation

Coffee and tea tasting

I only realised upon our return that those civet cats we saw were farmed animals. Which means they were captured to only eat and defecate to produce the special coffee beans for sale! Definitely not my cup of tea coffee. Please say no to farmed luwak coffee beans!!

Pura Tirtha Empul

Next stop, the Bali Holy Spring Water Temple. It was founded around a large water spring in 92 AD and in the temple, Balinese Hindus go through ritual purification.

Before entering the temple we were required to cover ourselves with sarong and a sash around the waist. Suma was helpful and saved us the trouble of figuring out how to securely fasten the sarong.

After we entered the central yard, we could see 2 pools with showers. The Balinese Hindus go through ritual purification here with hands pressed together and bow under the gushing water from the first to the eleventh sprout. The last 2 of the 13 sprouts are meant for purification purposes in funerary rites.

Things to do in Bali - Things to do in Bali - Pura Tirtha Empul

Visitors can also experience the cleaning process but must obey and comply with the same rules as the devotees. The rules are written outside the temple. Like all other temples in Bali, ladies who are having their period are not allowed into the temple.

Behind the central yard, we found the origin of the spring water feeding the showers. There were also a section where the Balinese Hindus were undergoing some kind of prayer which was out of bounds to visitors. We took a short and relaxing walk around the compound and even fed some big fat koi afterwards.

Admission Fee: IDR 15,000

Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah – the Elephant Cave is not full of elephant or elephant carvings as the name may suggest. It is a spiritual place built in the 11th century for meditation. From the carpark to the main grounds of the Goa Gajah, visitors will pass by souvenir shops and refreshment kiosks. I read that some visitors were being pestered by the hawkers. We reached there late and had no issue. 

Again, visitors need to cover their exposed legs before entering the compound. But don’t worry, the admission fee include the free sarong and sash, just like the Holy Spring Water Temple. So even if you don’t have one, there is NO NEED to buy any sarong from the hawkers.

On the ground, we saw a pool with 5 statutes. They were supposedly 5 of the 7 statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as waterspouts.

Things to do in Bali - Elephant Cave

We then moved to the Elephant Cave itself. The entrance was an elaborate relief carvings on the cave wall which showed a giant head. Some said this was a Kala (Javanese sea king) Head which symbolises maintaining the sanctity of asceticism and providing protection.

Things to do in Bali - Elephant Cave

The inside of the cave however, was simple and dark. There were 2 statues, one of them of the Hindu Lord Ganesh who is characterised by an elephant’s head. Is that why the cave is called Elephant’s Cave? There are still speculations to-date.

Admission Fee: IDR 15,000

Black Sand Beach

We were at a traffic junction on the way back to the hotel when Suma asked whether we want to go to the Black Sand Beach. One of our travelling companions (( won’t say who) hadn’t seen a black colour beach before so we took a short detour.  Admittedly, this beach was black-er than what I’ve seen and was impressive. It was a looong stretch of beach with many locals enjoying themselves in and outside of the water. There were even people fishing from the edge of the beach.

Things to do in Bali - Black Sand Beach

While we were enjoying the scenery Suma called us over to where he was. He had been writing my name on the beach. How sweet! After the waves washed away the first scribbling, he continued with MJ’s name then Charles’. We had to snap a photo of the writings before the next big wave came along! It was a race against the tide and it was hilarious!

Things to do in Bali - Black Sand Beach

Was really glad that we stopped at the black sand beach and witnessed the beautiful sunset. The orange colour sky set against the black foreground, it was gorgeous. Listening to the rhythmic waves crashing onto the shore also helped us to relax (even more!).  It was a lovely way to end our Bali day tour.

There are many other things to do in Bali and this one day itinerary only scratched the surface. My next post about our cycling tour in Bali will be up soon. Akan Datang (coming soon)! Remember to check back!

Useful Information:

For anyone visiting Bali, I highly recommend Suma from Suma Bali Tour. He speaks good English, has a great sense of humour and goes the extra mile to make his customers, us, happy. He even managed to get us back to the hotel right on time so that Charles could take a quick shower before heading to the airport.

Note: This is in not a sponsored post for Suma or his company. I merely wish to recommend someone honest, patient and who has big dreams, to visitors to Bali. If you mention my blog in your booking, he may take even better care of you 🙂

Have you been to Bali? Which was your favourite attraction? Check out our cycling tour around Bali here.

Things to do in Bali

Northern Lights in Iceland – Grotta Lighthouse

It was New Year’s Eve, our last night in Iceland and our last chance to see some (more) Northern Lights. The weather forecast was great – clear sky and the aurora strength was projected at 4 out of 9. This was the best day for us since we arrived 2 weeks ago, weather-wise. My friend and I decided to try our luck again to catch the Northern Lights near the Grotta Lighthouse in Reykjavik.

Grotta lighthouse

Grotta Lighthouse is right at the edge of the city

The last time we walked, it took almost 1 hour each way to and from the Lighthouse. Our hotel was near the Hallgrímskirkja church then. But it turned cloudy quickly that night and we left disappointed. This time we took a taxi, which took less than 10 minutes. Although the taxi fare wasn’t cheap, it was definitely worth every cent.

The moment we alighted from the cab, I saw the Northern Lights across the sky!

“There, there!” I pointed to my friend. And we scrambled to set up our tripod.

Northern Lights Grotta Lighthouse

Despite the amount of bright lights in the area, the Northern Lights at the Grotta Lighthouse was distinct. The green colours were much brighter than the ones we saw the night before, not pale looking and easily mistaken for clouds.

Since the Aurora Borealis were right above our heads at the carpark, we didn’t want to walk to the Lighthouse. Just in case they disappear soon. Luckily we had the experience from the night before and knew what settings to use on the cameras. So we found ourselves a spot next to the breakwater and started shooting. If you need a helpful cheat sheet on the camera settings for northern lights, check this out.

northern lights at Grotta Lighthouse

In order for one to see the Northern Lights (also known as Aurora Borealis), it is extremely important to have a cloudless night sky. Low hanging clouds are fine because there may be a chance for the Lights to peep through those clouds. But to have a clear sky like we did, in Iceland, we were blessed. Although the recommended time to look out for the Northern Lights is usually from 9pm to 2am, a local guy told me the Lights started dancing outside his house just after 7pm!

We saw some spectacular display of the aurora lights that night and what seems like millions of stars in the sky. It was awesome!

Northern Lights in Iceland Grotta Lighthouse

We hung around the Grotta Lighthouse area for about 2 hours, watching the Northern Lights dancing, changing shapes but also fading and eventually disappeared.

Northern Lights in Iceland, Grotta Lighthouse

Northern Lights in Iceland, Grotta Lighthouse

Last hint of the Northern Lights in the sky

With the last streak of the green lights bidding us goodbye, we packed up and took a cab back into Reykjavik downtown to join hundreds of party revellers for the New Year Eve countdown. What a wonderful way to end 2016!

Tips

If you are not driving, I would suggest that you take a taxi from downtown to the Grotta Lighthouse. I called a few taxi companies that night but only one answered quickly. I even managed to book a taxi to pick us up within 10 minutes from the Lighthouse. That taxi company was Hreyfill, Tel: +354 588 5522. They run by the meter and accept credit cards.

Northern Lights in iceland, Grotta Lighthouse

To read more about my Northern Lights adventure, click here. Tell me about your Northern Lights experiences!

Northern Lights in Iceland – The First Encounter

‘That looks like the Northern Lights!’ I thought to myself as I looked out of the window. I was pleasantly surprised and excited at the sight when I jolted awake from my short nap. The warm and dark mini bus was taking us out of Reykjavik to catch the Northern Lights. This was 2 days before we were due to fly out of Iceland and probably our last and only chance to see the elusive nature wonder.

The mini bus driver spotted the same thing I saw and pulled up by the side road. Everyone got off the bus excitedly with some still uncertain what they were looking for / at. To be fair, the Northern Lights were quite pale-looking from where we were standing – they could easily be mistaken as clouds.

northern lights iceland

Not very prominent Northern Lights at about 11:30pm.

Those with tripods quickly set up our gears and started snapping away. We couldn’t really see the light green colour of the Northern Lights clearly with our naked eyes. It took a few attempts capturing them on the camera before anyone could figure out their exact location.

It was my first time seeing the Northern Lights and couldn’t contain my happiness. I was ecstatic after successfully taking my first proper photograph of the Aurora Borealis.

northern lights iceland

The driver felt that where we weren’t at a good location so he got us all back into the minibus and drove further down the road which seemed to be nearer to where the performance was taking place. There was also less light pollution from the nearby town and cars, definitely a better spot than before. We hung around there adoring, admiring and photographing the incredible nature for the rest of the night.

northern lights iceland

Less light pollution and clearer streaks of aurora display across the sky

I could hear people asking our driver what settings they should use on their cameras. They were fumbling around and literally wasting precious time! Fortunately I was well prepared for the photo shoot (yes I’m gloating (>.<)). I familiarised myself with the newly bought camera (don’t ask, haha) back in the hotel and remembered the camera settings for the Northern Lights. Here is a simple table that should be helpful for beginners like me.

northern lights camera settings

The photo shoot went smoothly right from the start and I only needed to make some minor adjustments every now and then to see the different effects.

northern lights iceland

This was captured on my new Canon G7 Mark II at F1.8, Exposure 10 seconds

We were in for a treat as you can see, the aurora display was magnificent! It kept moving and changing shape allowing us to capture the beautiful lights.

northern lights iceland

northern lights iceland

There was a couple who didn’t bring their tripod and stuck with me the whole time. They checked out the photos on my camera and were exclaiming how beautiful the Northern Lights were each time the camera snapped. I offered to take a few photos for them and even used them as my models when I tested out the iPhone flash. The effects were satisfactory and I managed to get a clearer of my face with the Northern Lights in the background.

northern lights iceland

That’s me with no flashlight

northern lights iceland

With trial and error on others before I got my own photo. It’s not sharp but at least I can see my face 🙂

The trick was to point the flashlight against the white snowy ground to allow the diffused light to reflect onto the subject. Without doubt, it looked better than pointing the flash directly at the subject.

We stayed at the same location for more than an hour and watched the Northern Lights dance around in the sky. They were changing shapes and intensities every minute – what a show!

It was freezing out there and by the end of it all, I almost couldn’t feel my hands and feet. But, definitely no regrets!

When we left, the Northern Lights were still giving their grand performance for the night. It was amazing.

northern lights iceland

So What are Northern Lights?

Simply put, the Northern Lights, are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with the earth’s atmosphere. They are known as the Aurora Borealis when they occur in the northern hemisphere, If the same thing show up in the southern hemisphere, they are called Aurora Australis.

The auroral displays can appear in a range of colours in the shade of red, yellow, green, blue and violet but pale green and pink are the most common. The colours displayed are determined by the oxygen and/or hydrogen levels in the atmosphere. And the duration of the displays also vary from a few minutes to a few hours – it all depends on one’s luck.

We were extremely blessed that night to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis for a good full hour (could be more if we didn’t have to leave). It was such an exhilarating experience that I couldn’t sleep even after getting my much needed hot shower back in the hotel!

*All photos in this post have not been edited in anyway.

northern lights iceland

Have you seen the Northern Lights? Here is how you can watch the Northern Lights without a guided tour.

The Secret Lagoon, Iceland

Iceland is highly geographically active with many volcanoes. The most famous (or infamous) eruption which many people will remember was in April 2010 when a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted since 1821. That eruption caused chaos to air travel across Europe for days. With many volcanoes still active, Iceland have many pools / lagoons fed by natural hot springs. The Secret Lagoon, also known now as “Gamla Laugin” is one of them.

Secret Lagoon

History

The Secret Lagoon is located near the geothermal area Flúðir . It was built in 1891 as Iceland’s first swimming pool. Swimming lessons were offered from 1909 onward until 1947 when newer and more modern swimming pools were being constructed. Slowly, the Gamla Laugin was forgotten and become in disuse.

It was abandoned thereafter until its present owner renovated the place in 2005 for his own private use. He and his friends kept the place a secret for many years until it opened in mid-2014. That’s how the name Secret Lagoon came about.

The Secret Lagoon

It was Christmas Day when we visited the first time so the place was busy. The Gamla Laugin is much smaller in size when compared to the more popular and famous Blue Lagoon. However, because it has not been wildly advertised, the crowd was manageable and the lagoon could fit everyone of us from the tour bus and existing guests comfortably.

Secret Lagoon

Although it does not have services like mud face mask, massage or even a proper restaurant, the Secret Lagoon made up for these with a more intimidate and natural setting. There is a small cafe selling drinks and snacks but no food is on sale though.

Secret Lagoon

The lagoon has a main pool where most people congregate. The warm water stays around 38 to 40 degrees celsius all year round with natural hot spring water steadily feeding the lagoon every second. The steam from the water rising into the cold crisp air made the whole experience even more magical! But if you wear spectacles like me, it might be advisable to change into contact lenses. Otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time trying to clear the fog on the glasses lol!

Secret Lagoon

Secret Lagoon

For people who don’t swim, fear not! The lagoon is not deep. I am about 1.6m tall and the water only came up to just below my chest when I stood up. But in the winter, we preferred to just keep the whole body immersed in the warm water 🙂

Secret Lagoon

Guests are allowed to bring their drinks (wine and beer) into the pool. Free “noodle” floats are also available free of charge. Guests can stay in the lagoon for as long as they like – there is no time limit. But how long can one stay in a hot spring? We soaked in the hot spring for about an hour both times we were there and felt it was just about right.

Helpful tips

There are daily tours available to the Lagoon if you don’t drive. Otherwise, set google map to The Secret Lagoon or Gemma Laugin and you should be able to get there easily. Entrance fee is ISK 2,800 for adult, ISK 1,400 for senior citizens and free for children 16 years old and younger. If you forget your swimsuit or towel, they are available for rent.

After paying at the entrance and collecting the towel, move inside to an area where shoes are to be removed and left on the shelves. Next, move to the respective men’s or ladies’ changing room where there are lockers (free of charge). For the ladies, you may see naked women changing in the open. That’s probably because guests to the Secret Lagoon are required to take a shower (with soap) naked before putting on their swimsuit and jumping walking into the lagoon. However, since many people were anxious and don’t read the signs properly, most just take a shower with their swimsuit on. Some didn’t even bathe and walked right in!

Anyway, assuming a shower has been taken, leave the towels in the rack INSIDE the changing room. It is right next to the door. If you bring the towel outside, do know that there is no place to hang them. They may even get blown away if the wind is strong enough! The advise is leave them in the rack, brave the cold and run to the pool like we did. Fumbling with the towels outside, especially during the winter, is not a great idea!

Secret Lagoon

Another piece of advise – do not stay fully submerged in the hot water for too long then rush when you get out of the lagoon. We witnessed a lady who blacked out in the shower area and had to be given oxygen from the tank!

I really enjoyed myself at the Secret Lagoon and would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like crowds and touristy places (okay fine, most places in Iceland are touristy but you know what I mean). It is called the Secret Lagoon for a reason, even now!

Do you have any other secret places in Iceland you would recommend for my next visit? 🙂 If you want to catch some Northern Lights on your own, check this out.

Secret Lagoon

Note: This is not a sponsored post.

Horseback Riding in Iceland

horseback riding in iceland

**Note: This page contain affiliate links from Iceland Travel which means I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a reservation using this link .**

I am a sucker for horse riding / horseback riding, not as a sport but more for an experience. I tried that in Korea and Hong Kong, but both times we had people leading the horse so it wasn’t all that fun. I’ve been looking for opportunities to do a proper horseback riding again and what better place than in Iceland. I could meet the beautiful Icelandic horses at the same time.

What’s so different about Icelandic horses?

Icelandic horses were first imported from various countries when the first Icelandic settlers sailed from Norway to Iceland. Since they could only bring 2 horses per ship, the best and strongest breeds were selected. When the Icelanders decided to stop importing horses back in the 10th century, the different breeds blended together and formed the Icelandic horse today that have adapted extremely well to the harsh Icelandic conditions.

Although the Icelandic horses are relatively shorter than other horses, please do not call them ponies, as it is an insult! They are strong, patient, docile and adorably friendly to humans so naturally I was even more excited to see these beautiful animals.

Horseback Riding in Iceland – Lava Tour

On the morning of the tour it started to snow accompanied by some pretty strong wind (in our opinions) and we were not sure whether the tour would proceed. With that in mind I called the Iceland Travel office just after 9am to check. The friendly customer service lady was kind enough to call me back on my Singapore mobile number after she made the relevant query and confirmed it was going ahead. Yay!

Our pick-up at Hótel Leifur Eiríksson was right on time and after another couple of stops to fetch the other passengers, we were on our way to Íshestar in Hafnafjörður, about 30 minutes’ drive from Reykjavik.

Upon arrival at Íshestar, we were instructed to find a fitting helmet on the open shelves before they showed us a short but comprehensive introductory cum safety video about the Icelandic horses and how to ride them. We were not allowed to bring our bags or backpacks with us so I decided to leave my DSLR camera in the bag and just use my iPhone. We were then given the choice to put on the overalls available (so as not to dirty our own clothes) or go straight to the stables where one of the staff assigned horses to us. And I met my horse!

horseback riding in iceland

Awww… look at those eyes ( I mean his!)

We had a big group that day, about 15 maybe. Several of the Íshestar staff helped to put the saddles on the horses and taught us how to get onto them ourselves. Once everyone was ready, our guide commenced our ride on the Lava Tour. The Lava Tour is considered an easy tour for beginners with little or no riding experience – great fit for us. The best thing was, we didn’t have anyone holding on to our horses or leading them, we were in control!

horseback riding in iceland

We rode through the snow covered lava fields enjoying the fresh air, my body following the rhythm of my horse’s walk. It was a relaxing ride. Then it started snowing, then sleeting, then back to snowing – unpredictable Icelandic weather! Despite all that, the horses were unfazed, not a wee bit of cold or any discomfort. I, on the other hand, stupidly left my gloves inside my bag and the wind was howling. Luckily the sleeves of the overall on me were long and I was able to use them to cover my freezing hands.

Our guide brought us to an area where we stopped and gave the horses a rest. She took the time to give us some history and facts about the Icelandic horses and horseback riding in Iceland. It was also an opportunity for the guides to remove accumulated snow on the horses’ hoofs so that they could feel the ground better and not lose their footings. The break also served as a photo opportunity but unfortunately my reliable iPhone died after a few shots because of the cold.

horseback riding in Iceland

Guide talking (it was sleeting!)

horseback riding in iceland

My friend – in the distance – with her horse who had a mind of his own 🙂

Many of the horses used this break to feast too. They would eat the dried grass on the ground and dig through the snow with their hoofs if they couldn’t find any – cute! The problem was the leases were too short and we had to bend over (almost hugging the horse) to let them continue eating. It was actually quite hilarious.

Anyway, following the break we made our way back, at which point the snowing stopped.

horseback riding in Iceland

Back outside the stable, I was sad to say goodbye to my horse but couldn’t wait to get back inside the waiting area where it would be warm!

horseback riding in Iceland

Last photo!

I was delighted to see how much the horses were loved and well taken care of through the tour. The horses were lovely, every single one of them and we had a great time with the knowledgeable staff from Íshestar, all thanks to Iceland Travel for providing us with this opportunity!  The tour took approximately 4 hours, that’s including the transport to and back Reykjavik with about 1.5-2 hours of riding and I’d highly recommend it.

If you wish to know more about the different tours offered by Iceland Travel, check out this link!

Disclosure: Iceland Travel very kindly provided the complimentary horse riding tours from Íshestar to my friend and I, but rest assured all opinions are my own.

Check this out for other things you can do in Iceland!  

Hiking The Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

As a kid, I’ve read and heard so much about the Great Wall of China (万里长城). Even though I know I want to see it some day, it was never a priority since I always thought it is in the “backyard” and I can visit whenever I want. So, the visit didn’t materialize until September this year when I FINALLY made it to Beijing.

I’m not a fan of crowds so I wanted to find the less touristy section to see the Great Wall of China. Most tours on the web would introduce and recommend the few most popular ones at (1) Badaling, (2) Mutianyu and even (3) Jinshanling. The first 2 are extremely touristy. But then again if I chose Jinshanling transportation would have been a major consideration.

One day, while chatting over dinner, my friends recommended Beijing Hikers to me. They hiked with the group previously and told me all the good things about them. I found out on their website that the Beijing Hikers originated from a pair of hikers who would go hiking around Beijing’s countryside in the 90’s. Soon their friends and colleagues joined them and their hobby turned into a hiking club. It appeared that the people who are running the business now are still genuine hikers who love what they do. Based on that, and of course with my friends’ recommendation, I signed up for one of their hikes at the Great Wall of China – the Middle Route of Switchback Great Wall in Yanqing District.

Great Wall of China

On the day of the hike, some of us gathered at the designated Starbucks, had coffee and chatted before the bus arrived from the first gathering point. There were about 30 people in the group including 3 guides. 1 of the guides would lead, another stay in the middle and one follow the group at the end to make sure no one gets left behind. Once on the bus, we were given a briefing and points to take note. They showed us a map that indicated the different points and routes. Our route start from Point No. 6 up to No. 3 then to the General’s Tower and back down to No. 7, finishing at No. 8. The total distance was about 7.5km.

Great Wall of China

Fortunately there was no traffic jam and we managed to reach the drop-off point about 2 hours later. It was a windy and overcast day, perfect for hiking although not so great for photographs.

Great Wall of China

New friend Jo posing for me 🙂

Once everyone got off the bus and were ready, the hike started.

I read that the hike would be quite steep (difficulty level 3.5 out of 5) but I didn’t expect the steep portion to kick in right from the start. After just about 20 minutes of climbing my calf muscle started to hurt and burn. That’s when I realized my biggest mistake that day – no warm-up! I had to stop so many times to stretch my legs that very soon I was the last of the group. One of the guides, Victoria, was very understanding and stayed with me throughout the time until I actually reached the Great Wall (Point No. 3). It sucked to have to gone through that and I seriously felt bad.

Great Wall of China

Was so happy to see this sign which indicated General’s Tower on the left!

Great Wall of China

Finally reached the Great Wall and standing on it

At one point, I contemplated turning back so that I won’t hold back the rest of the group. I discussed the thought with Victoria but she assured me that as long as I could continue walking on my own, speed was not a problem. She even asked me to check out the rest of the Great Wall we will be walking on before making the decision.

Great Wall of China

I knew I will regret if I didn’t finish the hike so with Victoria’s assurance, I pushed on! Was glad that I continued the hike because after making the first descend on the Wall, my calf muscle miraculously stopped hurting. I mean it still hurt from the tightness but it wasn’t burning anymore. Not complaining!

Great Wall of China

Since my legs were not hurting as much, I managed to catch up with the rest of the group. From then on, nothing was going to stop me from finishing the hike! I could even pose for photos lol!

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

After taking a break at General’s Tower and gobbling down a banana, I felt so much better and could enjoy the scenery and the hike more. We continued walking on the un-restored portion of the Great Wall of China. Some parts were crumbling and some have already disappeared. Nature had taken over the Great Wall of China in most parts with grass and weeds growing on the wall and through the floor, weakening the incredibly strong structure built thousands of years ago. It’s a shame – but not as bad as laying plain concrete over it!

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

The un-restored parts could be perilous but the view from here was incredible. I could see miles and miles of the Great Wall of China, simply breathtaking.

Great Wall of China

Click to see the bigger and clearer image

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China When we eventually reached Point No. 7, we trekked back down along a slippery path full of small stones and sand to get back down to the village. We had our lunch at the village cooked by the villagers which marked the end of the hike.

Great Wall of China

Doing this hike with the professionals in an area where there’s no tourists (other than us) was a unique experience and definitely a great way of seeing the Great Wall of China. I absolutely love this off the beaten path hike and if I do go back to Beijing, you bet I’m going to join the Beijing Hikers again.

Have you been to the Great Wall of China? Tell me about your experience. 

Review of Beijing Service Apartment

How many times have you arrived at a hotel and realised it is nothing like what the advertisements say? To help you avoid that sticky situation, here are my honest opinion and independent reviews. 

Note: This post contain affiliate links where I will earn some commission if you book hotel through the links at no additional cost to you. 

Beijing Service Apartment – Rich & Young Beijing Guangqumen Service Apartment

(In Chinese, it is called 北京睿邻服务公寓, aka Ruilin Service Apartment)

3 of us were travelling to Beijing. Since we were a bit sceptical about getting an Airbnb in China, we decided to rent a service apartment. Managed to find this service apartment on Booking.com with good reviews and it’s inexpensive – just under CNY 2,800 for 5 nights.

I had issues finding the apartment on the Google Map since the location shown on Booking.com website and the actual address did not match. The apartment is actually part of a bigger development called Mid-Town and it is a mixed commercial and residential development. You can use Fei Tian Hotel as a reference since it is just across the (small) street.

Beijing service apartment

We stayed in unit 812 and it was relatively clean with washing machine and a stove. We had a good size 2 bedroom apartment that came with 2 double beds, a big living room and 1 bathroom with bathtub. However the stove top was stained and we didn’t dare use it.

Beijing service apartment

Even though the apartment is not right in town centre, it is near to Guangqumenwai station which is about 3 minutes walk from the apartment. You just need to travel 4 or 5 stations to get to Tiananmen stations. The fare is CNY 3 per trip if you buy the single journey ticket.

We liked the location of the apartment especially since it is quiet and not in a touristy area. There is also a Maan Coffee café downstairs in the same building where you can have very good waffles all day long! There’s also a Starbucks 2 minutes away, a 24-hours conveniences store, different banks all around and a massage place across the street (which we went almost every day!). We loved the convenience.

Beijing service apartmentOne of the things we didn’t really like about the apartment was the bathtub which had no shower curtain. The toilet floor will get wet after we shower every single time. But it wasn’t a biggie.

For the price and location, I would recommend this service apartment. I think the company has a few other apartments in the same building and it looks like they are all probably pretty similar.

Note: This is not a sponsored post.

Check out how you can visit the Great Wall in Beijing here.

Mid-Autumn Festival Hong Kong–Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

I am writing this post now right after watching the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance earlier this evening. The first time I participated in the festival (as a spectator) was in 2014. I wrote a guest post about it for another blogger here after that. This time, I returned to the same venue on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival to take more notes and more photos to share with you.

where's dariel

The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance is on display for three nights in a row, starting from 14 September 2016, spreading across the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. If you are visiting or if you are living in Hong Kong but have never attended, I would highly recommend you join this local celebration. It is recognized as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritages in Hong Kong.

Legend of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

The legend is that in the 19th century a typhoon slammed into the mainly Hakka fishing and farming village of Tai Hang. A few days before the Mid-Autumn Festival the villagers discovered a python which ate their livestock. They captured it but somehow it disappeared the next day. Then a plague wreaked havoc in the village.  With all the bad luck, one of the villagers dreamt one night that a Buddha instructed the villagers to stage a fire dragon dance for three days and nights during the upcoming festival to stop the chaos. The villages made a huge dragon out of straws and covered it with lit incense sticks. Accompanied by drummers and erupting firecrackers, they danced for three days and nights, and the plague disappeared. The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance continued to this modern day and is still being performed over the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Where's Dariel?

You can still catch the Fire Dragon Dance over the next 2 days. The performance is scheduled to start around 8.15pm but you need to arrive at least 1 hour earlier in order to get a good spot! Based on both my experiences, the actual Fire Dragon Dance won’t start until 9pm (but don’t take my word! Come early!).

Fire Dragon

where's Dariel?

The main frame of the dragon is made from straws (珍珠草) with over 70,000 incense lit and stuck into the straws. The head of the Dragon is about 48kg and the body consists of 32 sections. The whole Dragon is 67 metres long. With that kind of mass and weight, it is no wonder there are over 300 performers involved.

Where's Dariel?

Where's Dariel?

Preparation of the Fire Dragon is a dangerous and painful process. It takes about an hour to create the fire in the Dragon. After that, the dancing starts.

Where's Dariel?

Where's Dariel?

There is a specific route which the Fire Dragon dances, you won’t miss it because there will be police cordoning off the areas. Like I mentioned earlier, unless you come early to book a spot, you will need to meander your way through the sea of people to get a good view and photographs of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon. People even bring their own stools and ladders!

Where's Dariel?

Where's Dariel?

Where's Dariel?

The Dragon will take a break from the dancing after about 45 minutes to change out the incense. We learnt from the locals that we can take those burnt out incense sticks (given out by the performers), pray and make a wish! Mine are now in my bag 🙂

After the second round of incense had been placed on the Dragon, the dancing continued  until approximately 11pm.

There are restaurants and dessert shops littered inside and around Tai Hang so you can choose to come here for an early dinner before the Dragon Dance or just hang around thereafter. If you are looking for more things to do after that, walk to Victoria Park for the annual Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival (only available on 15th September).

Useful Information

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

When: 14 – 16 September 2016

Time:  8.15pm – 10.30pm 14-15 September 2016, 8.15pm – 10.00pm 16 September 2016

Admission: Free (it’s on the streets!)

Website: http://www.taihangfiredragon.hk/home.html

 

Happy Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival everyone 中秋节快乐!

For more tips on travelling in Hong Kong, click here!