About Carrie Kellenberger
Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has kept a home base with her husband in Asia since 2003. A prolific traveler, Carrie has funded her travels primarily as a writer, editor, travel blogger and photographer, but she has also worked as an educator, voice over artist, model and nightclub singer. She draws upon her 15+ years of travel experience to write about travel-related issues and the countries she has visited on her award-winning web site, My Several Worlds.
Her photography and travel articles have appeared in both print and online publications around the world, including Travel and Leisure Asia, Unearthing Asia and Hip Compass Escapes.
Latest Posts by Carrie Kellenberger
The hungry ghosts of Taiwan are currently haunting this beautiful island. Yes, you read that right! And they’re going to continue haunting the island for the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar.
Don’t stay out late after dark. Ghosts usually roam the earth at sunset and at night.
This means a number of things for residents of Taiwan. For one, there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of paper burning and alter worship happening in temples and on the streets right now. The Taiwanese are a naturally superstitious people, and this is particularly evident during Ghost Festival, also know as the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Ghost Month typically occurs in August, but in 2017, for example, Ghost Month in Taiwan falls in September.)
The custom originates from China, but it is also celebrated by Buddhists and Taoists in other Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. The most important day of Ghost Month is known as Ghost Day, and it falls on the 15th night of the festival. Taiwanese believe that this is the time of year when spirits and ghosts are nearest to our realm of existence, thus the living are likely to be visited by the dead – unless they are appeased.
This may sound similar to another article that I wrote about Qingming Festival, which is also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival. The difference is that Tomb Sweeping Day pays respect to older generations of ancestors, whereas Ghost Festival pays respect to all the deceased.The ghosts that emerge during Ghost Festival are believed to be the ancestors of families who forgot to pay homage to them after they died. It is believed that these ghosts are coming straight through the gates of hell, where they are free to walk the earth to seek pleasure and food.
This time of year is very auspicious for the people of Taiwan. Alter lamps are lit on the 12th day, paper money and incense are burned, and offerings of food and drinks are made to appease the spirits, keep them happy, and prevent them from visiting private homes. Every year in Banciao, for example, our building complex always hosts a big party in the lobby. With five towers of residents contributing food, drinks, and incense, it’s easy to imagine how busy (and smoky) it gets during the celebration.
There are always at least 20 tables loaded with fruit, vegetables, packaged foods, beer, and other goodies, all strategically spread out with sticks of incense poked in various nooks and crannies for good measure. A make-shift altar is set up at one end of the building complex, and this is where residents can burn incense and joss paper, and offer their blessings. Many families pray to their deceased relatives, but they also offer prayers to other wandering souls so that these ghosts don’t intrude into the family home to wreak chaos.
Standing under a tree at night or visiting a graveyard during Ghost Month is a bad idea.
There are many taboos associated with Ghost Month:
- Don’t stay out late after dark. Ghosts usually roam the earth at sunset and at night
- Don’t whistle at night. That’s a sure way for the ghosts to find you!
- It’s never a good idea to make large purchases during Ghost Festival.
- You shouldn’t have surgery or get married
- Important events are usually avoided during the month to avoid bad luck
- If someone taps you on the shoulder or calls you from behind, it’s best not to turn around. This is an easy invite for ghosts to possess you!
- Travel plans are best avoided
- Do not wear red or black. Ghosts are attracted to these colors.
- Don’t move house during Ghost Month
- Don’t go swimming. Spirits like to hide in the water
- Don’t spit, stare at fire, or open an umbrella at night
- Don’t look under the alter table during prayer session
During Ghost Month in Taiwan, it’s typical to:
- Offer prayers to deceased relatives and other lost souls
- Offer food and drinks
- Burn joss paper and hell bank notes, which are believed to have value in the afterlife. It’s not uncommon to see people burning paper replicas of things like cars and houses to please ghosts
- Hold a large feast for ghosts on the 14th day of the seventh month
- Throw a live performance, such as a Chinese opera or a burlesque show. If this happens, the first row of seats are always left empty so the ghosts have somewhere to sit
- Buddhists and Taoists often hold special ceremonies in the afternoon and at night
- Burn incense in the front doors of homesteads and businesses.
- On the 14th day, people traditionally float water lanterns outside their homes so ghosts can find their way back to hell. These lanterns generally look like a lotus flower on a paper boat
- It’s not uncommon to see people praying by roadsides or crossroads. That is because these areas are believed to be areas that attract ghosts.
- Throw a big feast on the 15th day of the month to bring good luck to your family
You only need to visit Jiufen once to see the magic in this place. A small village situated in the mountains of Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is located in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City.
The village was once home to nine families in the Qing Dynasty, and was named Jiufen for the number of shipments that were delivered to the town. (Jiu means the number nine in Chinese, and fen is a measure word for a portion of something.) Nine portions were always requested whenever shipments were delivered to the village, and the name stuck.
In addition to being one of the prettiest towns in Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is special because of its location. The mountain roads leading to Jiufen are narrow, steep, and winding; and the village itself is set atop a mountain and offers stunning views of the ocean.
There is gold hidden in these mountains, and the discovery of it in 1893 lead to Jiufen’s first gold rush. This sparked an interest in its development as a proper town. The gold rush reached its peak during the Japanese rule, and that is why you can still see so many Japanese inns in the are today. In fact, many of the buildings there have remained unchanged.
The mine was closed in 1971 and Juifen started to fade back into obscurity, but then it became famous once again when it became the focus of two films.
The 1989 film A City of Sadness was filmed in Juifen, and the village experienced a revival owing to the film’s success. In the early 1990s, Jiufen experienced a tourist boom because of how it was portrayed in A City of Sadness, and much of what was built back then to accommodate the tourist industry is still there today.
In 2001, Studio Ghibli released a Japanese animation film called Spirited Away. The movie is about a young girl who moves with her family to a new home and enters a spirit world. It is said that the creators drew inspiration for their spirit world from the streets of Jiufen.
Jiufen is known for its distinctive red lanterns and cobblestone stairways, and its small alleys and lanes that hold untold treasures. It’s also home to lots of cool little retro style Chinese and Japanese teahouses, cafés and restaurants.
Back in the day, these teahouses were very popular with Taiwanese writers and artists, many of which hold articles of historical significance. People come here to purchase beautiful handmade ceramics as well as high quality tea. You can also browse through numerous artisan shops and souvenir stands.
My favorite part of Jiufen, other than the architecture and scenery, is the same as it is in every small town in Taiwan: the food. Fresh deep-fried squid, roasted golden King mushrooms, seafood of all sorts, soft chewy taro balls, and fresh tea can be found everywhere. The rows of food stands that are set up along Old Jinshan Street and Shuqi Road serve delectable Taiwanese snacks.
One of the charming things about living in Taiwan is that every city/town/village has its only speciality. Taichung is famous for its suncakes, Penghu is famous for its cactus ice cream and brown sugar candies, and Jiufen is known for its delightfully chewy taro balls. This is a must-try in Jiufen, and there are plenty of taro ball dessert shops on this street. The most famous is Grandma Lai’s Taro Ball Shop.
Jishan Old Street
Jiufen Old Street snakes through most of the village, and this is where you can find the best shopping. There is a diverse array of local handicrafts and souvenirs on sale here, and there are a number of specialty shops that sell bamboo artwork, wood handicrafts, and children’s toys.
There are also many shops that sell local snacks and dishes. The fried squid is amazing. Local fishermen bring it in fresh every day, and it practically melts in your mouth. Even Caleb loved it. (This is saying something, since it’s practically unheard of for a 7-year-old North American boy that likes squid.)
There are numerous restaurants in the area that offer outdoor patio seating – The perfect place to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean. Once darkness arrives, the village falls under the light of its warm, soft, red lanterns.
Whenever you see photos of Jiufen, you are likely looking at photos of Shuqi Road. This road consists of a number of stairways with teahouses, curry shops, and art retailers to be found on each side. People come to Jiufen to walk along this famous street and to take photos. This street was also the main inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s 2001 Japanese animation film Spirited Away.
Things To Do in Jiufen:
Visitors don’t just go to Jiufen for the atmosphere, shopping, and the food, although shopping on Jiufen Old Street is probably the main reason why people visit Jiufen.
- You can also go hiking on nearby Mt. Keelung.
- The Jiufen Kite Museum displays beautiful kites from all over the world. Classes are available for visitors that want to try their own hand at kite making.
- Enjoy some traditional Taiwanese tea at a local teahouse.
- Visit the Gold Museum and learn about Jiufen’s history as a gold-mining town.
- Spend some time in Jinguashi Park.
- Stay at a local inn and enjoy the evening. Wake up the next morning and have breakfast in view of the ocean.
To Get There:
Take the train to Reuifang Station on the TRA Yilan Line. From there, you can catch a local bus across the street from the train station. Look for the bus stop next to the Welcome Mart and board the Keelung Transit Bus heading to Jiufen.
Buses depart from several points in and around Taipei and from Keelung.
Zhongxiao Fuxing Exit 1 – Take bus1062 (Keelung) to Jiufen.
Wait in front of the pavilion next to the 7-11 to catch the bus home. The 7-11 is next to the Jishan Street Entrance.
The journey takes between one and two hours by public transport.
Medieval castles, fairytale-like towns, and sandy beaches soaked in sunshine – Portugal has it all. Travel here to experience quintessential Iberian culture, to wade through its brilliant blue waters, and relive history in its many tiny coastal villages and medieval towns.
Here are some of the top things to do if you plan to travel around Portugal.
Often considered one of Europe’s most scenic capitals, Lisbon is the heart and home of Portuguese culture. Must-see sights include the Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower, both built in the 1500s (and both on the UNESCO World Heritage Site register), the beautiful architecture of the Madre de Deus Convent, and the Chapel of St. John the Baptist inside Sao Roque Church – called the “most expensive chapel in the world” by many.
If you’re visiting Portugal for the weekend, take a stroll around town and take in its unique heritage, which has plenty of elements borrowed from Asian culture. After all, Macau in China was once a major Portuguese colony!
Visit the Pena National Palace
At first sight, the Pena National Palace looks surreal. Sitting high atop a gentle hill overlooking the town of Sintra, the palace looks like something straight from a fairytale. Dating back to the late 1400s, this Portuguese landmark has walls painted a shade of pink, a yellow tower, and crimson & grey walls. The architecture blends together elements from Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Islamic periods, making it one of the most peculiar (and prettiest) palaces in all of Europe.
Stroll through the historic centre of Porto
Even though it counts among the four largest cities in Portugal, Porto has somehow remained in the side-lines in most tourist itineraries. This means that despite its rich history and heritage, it is free from crowds, touts and expensive hotels. This also means it is a wonderful place to explore on your own. Stroll through the narrow streets in its historic sections by the River Douro, or take in the sunshine at one of its many street-side cafes for a taste of authentic Portuguese life.
Explore the historic city of Evora
With a history that dates back to the ancient Celts, Evora counts among the oldest cities in Europe. Its ancient buildings and medieval fortifications are surprisingly well preserved. Highlights include the Cathedral of Evora (built over 60 years between 1280 and 1340), the palace of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the ancient Roman Temple of Evora which dates back to the 1st century, and the stunning University of Evora built in late 1500s. Taking a weekend-long detour to explore the historic heart of Portugal is highly recommended.
Portugal has two things in abundance: sunshine and history. Visit these four destinations listed above to get a taste of both!
Top photo credit: Image by Pank Seelen, used under the Creative Commons license.
As one of Africa’s premier travel destinations, Botswana offers a high standard of living and it is a politically stable country that travelers enjoy visiting for a number of reasons. It’s no surprise that the most popular activities are the Big Game Safaris, but that’s not all that this gorgeous country has to offer. There are lots of things to do in Botswana, and any list of activities that you read will certainly have great suggestions on how to fill your time there.
Here are our top five favorite things to do in beautiful Botswana.
Get Your Art On in Tsodilo Hills
If the idea of a spiritual outdoor art gallery makes you smile with excitement, consider a visit to Tsodilo Hills, home to more than 4,500 ancient San Bushmen rock paintings. The San Bushmen believe that the creation of man began in Tsodilo Hills, and that this area is resting place for spirits of the dead.
There are over 400 sites in this area, all of which feature traditional hunting scenes, animals, and dances. Some of the rock art in this area dates back to more than 20,000 years ago. Tsodilo is often referred to as the “Louvre of the Desert”, and it’s no wonder that it has received UNESCO World Heritage site status. Archaeologists have determined that people lived in this area as long as 100,000 years ago!
Go on Safari
Because of its massive private animal reserves and beautiful landscape, it’s no suprise that Botswana is known as one of the most famous safari destinations in the world.
The majority of Botswana’s wildlife areas are located in northern Botswana. Okavango Delta, Moremi Gorge, Chobe National Park and Linyanti are all easily accessible and they offer some of the best wildlife viewing on the planet.
Being comprised of mostly desert terrain, Botswana is also a great place to visit if you’d interested in embarking on a desert safari. Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and Central Kalahari Game Reserve are two popular destinations for this sort of experience.
Whether you’re searching for a regular safari up north or you’re looking for a startling contrast to the typical African safari, Yellow Zebra Safari offers some spectacular safari tours in areas all over Botswana.
Try Seswaa, Botswana’s National Dish
The traditional cuisine of Botswana is typically based on meat and maize dishes. Botswana’s national dish, Seswaa, is a tasty meat stew served over a thick polenta/porridge.
The stew is made by boiling meat, typically beef or goat, with onions and peppers for approximately two hours. The meat is then shredded and pounded with salt to add flavor. The mixture is pored over a maize meal and served with a leafy green called Morogo. This may seem like a very basic meal, and it is, but it’s important to remember that meat was once considered a luxury that many families couldn’t afford.
Go on a Literary Journey in Gaborone, Botwana’s Capital City
OK, so maybe this activity isn’t particular exciting, unless you’re a bookworm like me. I wanted to include it though, because I love The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and it’s an unusual way to see some of Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city.
This popular book series has put Gaborone firmly on the map, and since the books have been turned into a popular HBO Series, you can watch Precious Ramotswe’s hometown spring to life before your eyes. A half-day tour features film locations for the books, a drive by Precious’ home on Zebra Drive, and a visit to her office at Speedy Motors.
Image courtesy of Botswana Tourism
Visit Gcwihaba Caverns
Set amongst the rippling sand dunes of the Kalahari Desert, Gcwihaba Caverns are a wonderful option for adrenaline seekers who are seeking something a bit out of the ordinary. The caverns are located in one of the most remote locations in Botswana, and they aren’t easy to get to, but they’re worth every minute of the long journey there. The two-story caves are a maze of linked passageways that are full of stalagmites and stalactites, which have been formed over thousands of years by dripping water. The unusual rock formations and frozen waterfalls are a veritable kaleidoscope of colors. We bet you never knew rocks could be so complex and beautiful!
This completes our list of five things that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Botswana. Have you been to Botswana? What do you recommend doing in Botswana?
The pitter patter of light summer rain on a hot tin roof and the slap of bare feet against a wooden dock are sounds that take me back to my childhood.
As a young child, there wasn’t anything I liked better than spending my summer up at the family cottage on Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario. My parents were both teachers, and come the last day of school, we’d pack our bags up the night before and hightail it out of town the next morning at the ‘early’ hour of 8am with cats and dogs in tow. It was usually closer to 9am, though, because my dad likes to sleep in.
We learned that lesson well from him when we were kids. To this day, my mother is still the only early riser in our house. We three kids would spread our pillows and blankets out in the back of it, and we’d lie there in the sun and count cars and sing along to my Dad’s ZZ Top tape. ABBA, Dire Straits, and Wilson Philipps were also frequently played during those journeys, so much so that we knew those albums front and back.
It was during those long summer road trips that I caught the travel bug.
The journey there was every bit as important as the places we were headed to together as a family.
We always took the back roads from Carleton Place through to Almonte before making a pit stop at MacDonald’s in Arnprior. I’ve never been a big fan of sausage and egg McMuffins, but no one else in my family can pass them up, and we all believed in being well fortified for our four-hour journey along Highway 17, also known as the TransCanada Highway. This highway follows the Ottawa River along the old fur-trading route, passing through pretty little town after pretty like town.
Two hours later, we’d stop at the Laurentian Diary and Ice Cream Shop in Deep River, where my brother, sister and I would make short work of their famous Pig’s Trough. We’d move on through Mattawa, home of Big Joe Mufferaw. The highway here snakes through rugged Canadian Shield all the way to Manitoba. From time to time on our way home, we’d stop at Myrt’s Grill, which I first remember visiting with my grandfather when I cwas just a little girl. We always looked forward to their diner style milkshakes, thick cut fries, and juicy hamburgers. They pack a mean turkey and gravy sandwich too.
Eventually we’d start seeing more and more signs for North Bay, which sits on the eastern end of beautiful Lake Nipissing. North Bay is the largest city in this area, but it’s still very much a small Canadian town in a lot of ways. Summer beach homes and cabins stretch along the shoreline, and the Aboriginal tribes that live in this area have been here for around 9,400 years. The area is rich in cultural heritage, and it is also a beautiful place to vacation at during the summer.
Our family cottage is nestled in Tillicum Bay.
There are a number of cottages for rent in this area, including Cozy Cove Cottages, which are probably the best known cottages in the area. Idle Tyme Fishing Camp is also in this area, and it offers some of the best fishing expeditions on the lake. People really love cottage life on Lake Nipissing, and some of the families who own cottages here have been here for generations, like my family.
Tillicum Bay YMCA. This used to be a cadet camp. When I was a little girl, we used to hate to be woken up by the sound of a bugle playing Reveille.
Nippissing is also referred to as the gateway to northern Ontario, and it’s one of the best fishing lakes in Ontario. Some of the trophy fish coming out of its waters are frickin’ huge. Nippissing is well known for its giant muskie, walleye, Northern Pike, and Jumbo Perch, to name a few.
For those of you who don’t know your fish, consider this photo. A muskie is big enough to pull your canoe around the lake for a few hours, which is exactly what happened to my brother when he went fishing in our bay several years ago!
Ice fishing is also a popular activity on Lake Nipissing. I’ve never stayed on Nipissing much past November, but my brother was an avid outdoorsman, and there’s nothing he liked better than being up at the lake to ice fish throughout the winter.
Marshall Cottage, with its sunny yellow frame and white trim, has been our second home for as long as I can remember. As cramped as it is for a family of five, it was an easy life of swimming, fishing, reading, sunbathing, canoeing and bbq-ing. We’d have visitors throughout the summer. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all made the journey north; close family friends like the Dales and the Grahams would come with their own children, and as we grew up, we started bringing our friends.
Those hot, golden days passed long and slow, and we moved in and out of each summer day with a familiar fluidity that isn’t hard to recapture 20 years later.
Little footprints and handprints of all the children who have spent their summers at the cottage everywhere. We are everywhere.
As the years have gone by, my siblings and I moved through a love/hate relationship with our cottage, especially when we were in high school and two months with our parents at the cottage was just about the last place we wanted to be, but that time passed quickly.
Nowadays, our family get-togethers are different. But they aren’t any less fun than those days we had growing up in North Bay. We spend more time sitting and basking in the sun in the backyard or on the beach, content to be with one another. Canadians are known for loving their cottages, and this writer is no exception. If you’ve spent any time on a lake looking out over the placid surface of its water, you’ll understand how nothing beats life on the lake.
Head to Indonesia for a l’il luxury! The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. The islands are a popular destination for tourists looking for a remote island experience.
There are loads of great options for accommodations on Gili Trawangan. We decided to try two resorts, but we honestly wish we could’ve stayed at a few more. We biked around the island to have a look at some of the other hotels and mini-resorts, and some of them were really posh! With that said, we were not disappointed with our accommodations on Gili Trawangan at all.
Our front porch. Astonishingly, there were no bugs to deal with at night.
We stayed in a deluxe bungalow at Villa Ombak Sunset for our first night, and we would’ve happily stayed longer! Our ocean-facing bungalow was stylishly decked out with Balinese accents, such as polished wooden floors, a giant wooden bed, gorgeous handwoven textiles, a sunny outdoor bathroom, and a pretty little front porch. The fresh water swimming pool is one of the biggest (and cleanest) pools on the island; it’s also one of the nicest, as far as I could tell.
Villa Ombak Sunset hosts a super relaxed sunset party on their beach every night (hence the name), and their claim to having one of the prettiest sunsets on the island is 100% true. Get out to the beach around 5:30pm if you want your own beanbag chair or hammock. Trust me, they go fast. Watching that technicolor Lombok sunset while listening to chilled out beats with a beach cocktail in my hand was easily one of the most memorable moments of our trip.
Below is the beach you can spot just over the road. Yep, it’s that close.
Sunset cocktail area with beanbag chairs and swings.
When the tide is in, you can swim out to the swings and face the waves as they come crashing in. At night, it’s the perfect couples spot.
The next day we moved to Vila Ombak to be closer to the harbor area. Vila Ombak is located on the main strip, and there are a number of restaurants, bars, and shops right outside the main entrance. In other words, we moved closer to the party.
While Vila Ombak is a bit older than its sister resort, we were pleased that it was clean and well maintained. Our room was huge, and we had a gorgeous outdoor bathroom that included a bathtub that I never got around to enjoying. We were a bit worried about the noise from neighboring restaurants and bars, but our bungalow was set far enough back that we weren’t bothered at all.
I admit, part of our decision had to do with their slick slogans, gorgeous al fresco dining area and the candlelit tables. Simply put, they had the nicest display of seafood and meats for grilling. It ended up being our favorite restaurant on the island. Our food was served within 15 minutes of ordering, the seafood was fresh and piping hot, and the prices were really reasonable. The service is excellent, by the way. We liked it so much, we went back for our last evening meal on the island.
Owning an off-road motorcycle tour company in Cambodia I get to see some incredible places. One of my favorite motorcycle tours in Cambodia is a rural village called DaSian, 100km to the east of Siem Reap. To get there by dirt bike we head deep into single track jungle trails until we come out at the deserted Preah Kahn Temple. My favourite of all temples in Cambodia so far, Preah Kahn has all the beauty of the temples at Angkor but without the hordes of tourists. Arriving late afternoon at this stunning location is just amazing – we’re able to ride the bikes right up to the entrance, the sun is setting behind the temples (which make for some cracking photos!) and we’ve got the place to ourselves.
After a hard day’s riding on tough trails, there’s nothing better than arriving in DaSian, being welcomed by the Chief of the village (our host for the evening), with an esky full of beers and a barbecue feast. We have on occasion even been invited to local weddings in the village, which never fail to be anything less than an amazing night!
While not every traveller will have the chance to be invited to a Khmer wedding, for those that do it will be an experience you’ll never forget. Be prepared to drink a lot, dance and drink some more! I’d seen a lot of Khmer weddings in the town where I live and in Phnom Penh but had never had the chance to attend one until we were on tour and staying in this beautiful village…
The fact that we were in a remote village definitely helped our cause – we were the only white people or ‘barrang’ around for miles and this novelty certainly appealed to the locals. We were getting ready to sit down for dinner with the village chief when a woman came over and spoke to us – our mechanic translated that we had all been invited to a local wedding. We finished our hog roast and strolled down the road… the next few hours were a blur!
The music was insanely loud, drink kept coming & everyone was dressed to the nines, dancing round and round the centre table and every time someone shouted Joel Moy (cheers) you had to down whatever was in your hand, be it beer or rice wine. I know us foreigners must have all looked ridiculous, dressed in shorts and flip flops, sticking out about 2 feet above the heads of everyone else & attempting to dance like the locals but we had one of the best nights of the tour.
It was impossible to sit down for more than 5 minutes before someone was pulling you back onto the dance floor – probably because the sight of us dancing caused so much laughter. Attempting to show them all a jig at one point certainly wouldn’t have helped the cause. I had heard that when attending a wedding you should bring $5 with you but the hosts refused and let us help ourselves to the drink available. So my advice for anyone attending a traditional Khmer wedding is to be prepared to laugh at yourself & for a night of craziness. Take your comfy shoes but leave your pride at home.
I think we were all in agreement that it was one of the highlights of the tour (admittedly an impromptu random night) and one that we have repeated many times since whenever there is a wedding in town, a friendly local and a group of hairy bikers.
This guest post was written by Anna Giddings.
We recently returned from a trip to Bali and Lombok in Indonesia where we enjoyed a four-night stay in Nusa Dua, courtesy of The Grand Mirage and Samabe Bali Suites and Villas before moving on to another week of fun in the sun in Lombok.
A luxury all inclusive resort in Bali that is situated on a cliff top overlooking the Indian Ocean, Samabe Bali Suites and Villas earns its five-star ranking with ease. It turned out to be the real star of our travel itinerary in Bali. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful, the service is amazing, and Samabe boasts one of the most creative gourmet menus we’ve experienced in all our travels.
The eight-hectare resort property is beautifully landscaped; every inch of it has been paved, adorned, and manicured to create an oasis of bliss. The front lobby is cast in cool stone and accented with teak woodwork, and the wide green fishpond that encompasses most of the main area overlooking the suites and Indian Ocean is positively zen. Simply put, it’s a very special location.
A lot of careful thought and deliberation has gone into molding Samabe into the serene Bali getaway that it is today. It’s incredibly quiet and private; we honestly felt that we had the whole place to ourselves at times. I was surprised to learn that Samabe was only at 40% capacity while we were visiting. We rarely ran into other guests, and that’s one of the things we really liked about Samabe.
Samabe opened midway through 2013; and although they haven’t had their Grand Opening yet, they’ve already had some high profile guests. The King of Malaysia has stayed here, and it has already attracted some celebrity names because of its all inclusive luxury package.
The King of Malaysia had his own private villa, deck, a rather large front lawn with chairs for sunbathing, and his own personal infinity plunge pool overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Your Own Private Butler? Yes, Please!
Private butler service is not a new concept in Bali. In fact, Bali resorts excel at this type of specialty service. We experienced our first private butler service in Ubud, Bali in February 2006, and even then, we loved the idea of being able to lock ourselves up in a private villa with its own plunge pool and have freshly cooked meals delivered to our door throughout the day.
This service is also available at Samabe, and it’s available 24/7. You can order as much off the menu any time you like, and it’s all gourmet and organic, and its delivered to your door.
Your private butler is there to organize activities for you, arrange dinner reservations, help you book travel tickets, and turn down your bed at night. They’ll even unpack you suitcase for you and do your laundry for free. In other words, you can count on having a completely relaxed and stress free break from life. All you have to do is eat, swim, enjoy the sun, and engage in whichever resort activities tickle your fancy.
After being picked up at the lobby in a golf cart, we were taken to our massive private suite in the West Suites. Our room was marvelous, as was our balcony. We had a spacious living room, complete with a telescope for looking at the night stars. The desk was a solid beast of a table, and the giant California king bed was piled high with pillows. We had thoughtfully been provided with his and her matching hats and a beach bag, a fully stocked mini bar, and a nice welcome gift that included a fresh tray with rambutans (One of my favorite fruits!), sweet tea, and little containers of homemade cookies.
Things happen a little differently at Samabe to ensure that you have a comfortable and stress-free vacation. Samabe is a luxury all-inclusive resort, thus guests are entitled to many kinds of benefits.
A free flow fresh fruit and vegetable juices, as well as soft drinks, coffee, and tea are available all day. The mini-bar is re-stocked once a day, but they’ve imposed a rule that free alcohol is only available from 5pm to midnight. This was the only thing we truly disliked about our experience at Samabe. All-inclusive means all-inclusive. It’s misleading to say that a resort is all-inclusive and then tell guests on arrival that they can only have alcoholic beverages on the all-inclusive plan after 5pm.
Guests have unlimited access to food, though, and you can order as much as you want whenever you want it. Samabe also offers a range of signature activities for their guests. Guests can choose to participate in one signature activity each day. Activities include village tours, yoga classes, sea kayaking, Balinese massage, and cooking classes, to name a few.
Have a Relaxing Massage, Take a Morning Yoga Sessions, or Try a Balinese Cooking Class
You can’t beat doing yoga at 9am on a cliff top overlooking the Indian Ocean; nor can you beat high tea at the poolside. I enjoyed high tea greatly, but I was disappointed I didn’t have time to do the yoga class. The setting is beautiful for it. Instead, I opted for the next best thing and did some yoga on our balcony.
After that, we had a couples massage in our suite. The massage was lovely, and we really enjoyed looking out at the ocean and the night stars.
The next day we took a Balinese cooking class as our Samabe Signature Activity for the day. Wantilan, Samabe’s outdoor Balinese kitchen, overlooks the beautiful water scenery in front of the main lobby. It’s hard to tear your eyes from the view, but our gracious chefs quickly had us focused on the task at hand. We received a thorough lesson in Balinese spices and traditional ingredients. Then we started chopping and dicing our ingredients to create a spicy fish dish called Pepes. It’s a spicy mixture of Mahi Mahi, shallots, garlic, chilis, coriander, galangal, ginger, turmeric, and tomatoes rolled into banana leaves and grilled to perfection. So good!
Gourmet Dining and High Tea
Samabe really shines in the culinary arts. Executive chef, Tashia Jelita Yunasz, joined the Samabe team just a few short months ago, and what an impression her presence makes! Every plate of food that was delivered to us looked mouthwateringly delicious, and it tasted even better!
Samabe’s al-fresco restaurant is truly a special venue. It’s one of the nicest places we’ve dined at in Bali. The grill serves 51 tables, but each table is designed in its own special alcove for a completely private dining experience. Crystal Blue serves lunch and dinner with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean. Add some stars and a cool ocean breeze, and you’re instantly transported to one of the most romantic dinner places on Earth.
This is where Tashia Yunasz’s specialty European creations really shine. Her prestigious four-course a la carte meals offer tantalizing morsels of Oscetra caviar blinis and marscapone cheese, lobster ravioli with sea urchin foam, and wagu steak.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at Rempeh Restaurant, which offers up Balinese, Asian, and Mediterranean delights. Many of the ingredients used in their signature dishes are grown in their very own herb garden.
The restaurant overlooks the resort and Indian Ocean, while the beautiful fish ponds, stone sculptures and wood furniture lend a timeless elegance to the dining room.
After dinner, kick back with a healthy concoction or an evening cocktail at Te Ja Co Lounge & Var. The bar draws its name from its drink menu: TE – tea, JA – jamu, a traditional herbal drink, and CO – coffee.
Samabe Room Service
Samabe’s in room service is fantastic, but then it would have to be when room service is unlimited.
Most things on Samabe’s extensive menu are available 24/7. Gourmet pizzas, steak and pasta dishes, a nice selection of salads and soups, plus sandwiches and deli selections are all on offer.
We really liked the option for 24-hour breakfast. You can order breakfast at any time, and they had a massive selection of items to choose from. They had a nice selection of breakfast cereals, natural yogurt with muesli, pancakes, Belgian waffles, a selection of local breakfast dishes that included Nasi Campur BNli, Mie Goreng and Chinese porridge, or you could eggs cooked any style and with a selection of sausage, bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, hash browns and local spinach to choose from.
Samabe owns a nice stretch of beach that is easily accessible by stairway. Unfortunately, our time at Samabe was cut short because we had to catch a boat to the Gili Islands, so we didn’t make it down to the beach.
Ocean kayaks are available for rent by the beach, as is private snorkeling equipment. You can also charter a boat, go catamaran sailing, and go diving or fishing. You can even go windsurfing if you so desire.
This is an all-inclusive resort that will probably be out of most people’s travel budgets, and while we’re not quite at the point that we can afford to spend that much on a resort vacation, we would seriously consider it if we knew we could go back to Samabe.
All photos from My Several Worlds.