The Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore - A Tour of Maritime Southeast Asia
By Wilfredo R. Valenzuela
January 6 – 17, 2017
The Valenzuela-Rivera family reunited in the Philippines to celebrate the wedding of my niece Jennifer to Dave Laurio on January 6, 2017. Jennifer is the daughter of my brother Danny and his wife Cindy. The wedding ceremony was held at St. Benedict Church in Silang, Cavite. A grand celebration followed at Alta Veranda de Tibig.
A couple of days after the wedding, we went on another family vacation organized by Cindy. We woke up early in the morning to go to the airport for our flight to Bali, Indonesia. It was early evening by the time we arrived at the Denpasar International Airport in Bali via Singapore. It was dark but still hot and humid, more so than in the Philippines.
Agus, the young tour manager with whom Cindy arranged our transportation and tour in Bali, was waiting for us when we arrived at the airport. After bringing us to a reputable currency exchange office so we can get rupiahs, Agus took us to our Airbnb lodging.
Agus explained that we can also call him Wayan, since in the Balinese naming system, the firstborn is called Wayan. The second child is called Made, so we addressed his younger brother as Made. Agus matter-of-factly mentioned that their family belongs in the lowest class of their society’s caste system. We immediately took a liking to Agus and Made. The brothers were very professional, friendly and accommodating. They made sure that our vacation in Bali was both enjoyable and educational.
Our Airbnb residence was quite comfortable. It has two swimming pools and an open-air kitchen where Cindy’s brother Arnel stayed busy each morning and evening preparing his gourmet meals to the whole group’s delight. The place is walking distance from the beach in Canggu, so we spent a couple of late afternoons walking to and along the beach to watch the beautiful sunset. The beach and its nightlife are popular attractions among young tourists, especially surfers.
Made was our guide for most of our tours in Bali. We went to several places on the first day. First, we visited a wood carving shop where we watched native craftsmen skillfully work on intricate wood carvings. Then we drove to Tirta Empul, a temple built in the 10th century in central Bali. Bali’s inhabitants are predominantly Hindu. There are many temples on the island.
Located within Tirta Empul is a spring which flows through fish ponds and bathing pools where devotees dip themselves for a purification bath. Temples are holy places of worship and everyone entering a temple in Bali must dress respectfully. This means modestly wrapping the lower part of the body with a sarong which is usually provided at the entrance. Bleeding is considered impure. Anyone with a bleeding wound is not allowed to enter a temple. Made politely asked if any woman in our party was on her period, and therefore, must not enter the temple.
Next, we proceeded to the Satria Agrowisata tea and coffee plantation for some tea and coffee tasting. We sampled different varieties of tea, and some kopi luwak (civet coffee). The richly flavored kopi luwak is made from coffee cherries eaten and partly digested by Asian civets called luwak in Indonesia. The excreted beans are collected from the ground, cleaned and roasted.
We had lunch of savory Indonesian food in Ubud’s Kampung Resort surrounded by lush vegetation and rice terraces on the hills. Then we went on a brief hike in the Ubud Monkey Forest, a temple complex in a forest inhabited by monkeys.
Visitors are warned upon entering the Ubud Monkey Forest about the “dos and don’ts” of remaining safe while inside. Losing a handbag and valuable belongings to a monkey, or getting bitten by one, are both serious matters.
The next day, we climbed to the Uluwatu Temple. The Uluwatu Temple is located high on a steep bluff with a stunning view of the Indian Ocean. As we sauntered the Uluwatu Temple grounds, we heard a big commotion. A monkey grabbed a careless tourist’s handbag and ran away with it.
After a scrumptious lunch of seafood dishes at a beach restaurant by the Indian Ocean, we went to Tanah Lot where there is another temple near the ocean. At Tanah Lot, we watched a gorgeous view of the sun setting beyond the sea while big waves crashed on the rocky shore.
The following day, my young nephews went white water rafting, while the rest of us visited the Elephant Safari Park & Lodge. The elephant ride in the forest was a novel experience. It made me appreciate the special bond that exists between an elephant and its keeper called a mahout. The mahout of the elephant I rode explained that he has been tending his elephant for almost 20 years. The elephant obediently followed its mahout’s lead as we traversed the forest.
On our last day in Bali, we took glass bottom boats to reach Turtle Island near Nusa Dua. On Turtle Island, we saw, and those who dared, handled turtles, big bats, majestic raptors, large lizards and slippery snakes.
Agus took us back to Denpasar for our flight to Singapore. We stayed overnight in Singapore before going back to the Philippines. There is a small food mall serving tasty Asian dishes beside Hotel Boss where we stayed in Singapore. The Hainanese chicken and the spicy noodle soup laksa at the food mall were delicious. So was the dinner we had that night in a Chinese restaurant, the only one that would still let us in after nine in the evening.
Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit or MRT runs across the entire city-state. The railway system is both convenient and efficient. We rode the MRT to reach the Singapore River Walk. The River Walk is lined with historical buildings, skyscrapers, plush hotels and alfresco restaurants. From the Singapore River Walk, we went to the expansive Gardens by the Bay.
The gardens turn into a world of enchantment at night when the trees and their branches turn into lights of vibrant colors surrounded by darkness while music played. Way above, we walked across the OCBC Skyway between two of the big trees to enjoy a panoramic view of the gardens, the city skyline and the bay below.
Back in the Philippines, we went to Taal Lake in the province of Batangas on the island of Luzon. The view of Taal Lake is breathtaking. Within Taal Lake is an island which is an active volcano. It is aptly named Volcano Island. Volcano Island’s crater is another lake called Main Crater Lake. Within Main Crater Lake is another tiny island named Vulcan Point. It was a bright sunny day, but the whipping wind made Taal Lake very choppy as we crossed it on a small boat. After reaching the other side of the lake, we climbed up a scenic hill on horseback. The 360-view on top was magnificent.
After the horseback ride, we had an excellent native lunch at Paradores del Castillo, a restored 19th century residence in the town of Taal which has been converted into a bed and breakfast. Not far from Paradores del Castillo are the Taal Basilica and the historical Spanish era homes of notables during the Philippine Revolution against Spain. The original basilica was built in the 16th century. It was razed to the ground when the volcano erupted in 1754. A new church was built. The church was destroyed once again by a massive earthquake. The imposing basilica that stands today was inaugurated in 1865.
The kitchen and the furnishings in the rooms of the ancestral homes which are now museums give a good glimpse of what daily life was like in the Philippines during the late 1800’s. We entered the home of Gliceria de Villavicencio who provided financial support to the revolutionaries. Her house was used as a secret meeting place of revolutionary leaders including Andres Bonifacio. We also visited the home of Leon Apacible which is now a museum with exhibits on the Filipino revolutionary Leon and his younger brother Galicano. The brothers are relatives of the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal.
Southeast Asia has rich and diverse cultures. Maritime Southeast Asia has thousands of islands. We barely scratched the surface during our recent tours in the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. There are many more interesting places in this corner of the world for us to discover and visit in the future.
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