Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indonesia: Jatiluwih Rice Terraces & the Cultural Landscape of Bali Province

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
An island steeped in deep Hindu-religiosity in a predominantly Muslim nation, with colorful temples and traditions, captivating landscapes and numerous surfing beaches with a vibrant nightlife, visiting Bali can be an unforgettable cultural experience. It is no surprise then that the Cultural Landscape of Bali Province was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2012. This inscription has four locations: (1a) Supreme Water Temple Pura Ulun Danu Batur, (1b) Lake Batur, (2) Subak Landscape of Pekerisan Watershed, (3) Subak Landscape of Catur Angga Batukaru and (4) Royal Water Temple Pura Taman Ayun.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
The Pekerisan Watershed includes Subak Pulagan, Subak Kulub, Kulub Village, Tampaksiring Village, Manukaya Village, Pegulingan Temple, Tirta Empul Temple, Mengening Temple and Gunung Kawi Site. While Catur Angga Batukaru is composed of fifteen subak namely Bedugul, Jatiluwih, Kedampal, Keloncing, Penatahan, Pesagi, Piak, Puakan, Rejasa, Sangketan, Soka, Tegallinggah, Tengkudak and Wangaya Betan.

I went to three sites early this month. These are the Tirta Empul Temple (which I also got to visit in 2009), the Royal Water Temple Pura Taman Ayun, and the subak of the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, said to be the best-preserved of the subak included in the inscription. My immersion in Jatiluwih was quite profound thanks to the invitation of Heru and Grace Tarjoto. The Tarjotos, who own a rice mill in Jatiluwih, contribute quite a lot to the promotion and distribution of Jatiluwih red rice. And Grace, a Filipina who has lived in Bali for so many years, is the honorary consul of the Philippines in Bali.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
It took me two hours to get to Jatiluwih Village from Kuta. There were no highways. Just narrow rural roads that took me through Bali's verdant rice fields. I dozed off at times, having been up quite late the night before. But the view of the rice terraces as we neared Jatiluwih was incentive enough to stay alert. I'd ask my driver to stop occasionally for me to capture the picturesque views of villages amidst the rice terraces.

Towering over Jatiluwih Village are three grand mountains namely Mount Batukaru (2276m), Mount Sangyang (2,093m) and Mount Poohoen (2,063m). Unfortunately, clouds beat me to the view by a good thirty minutes or so. Some photographers stay overnight in Jatiluwih just to capture the scene of the three mountains with fertile rice terraces below.

Jatiluwih Village is further divided into seven communities or tempek that form three subak. Subak Gunung Sari has Umakayu (38ha) and Gunung Sari Desa (45ha). Subak Jatiluwih has Central Jatiluwih (90ha), Besikalong (40ha) and Kesambih (25ha). While Subak Kedamaian has Umadui (30ha) and Kedamaian Utara (35ha).

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Most of the rice in Central Jatiluwih had been harvested over the past few days. So the rice terraces weren't as picturesque as they should be. Good thing the harvest in Gunung Sari wasn't due until a few more days, thus giving me the opportunity to experience beautiful scenes of Bali's agricultural heritage.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Subak is all about water management and the beautiful interaction between man and nature. Water for irrigation comes from several natural springs that bubble in various points throughout the subak. Springs are marked by a water temple (bhet gedong), each providing irrigation to the paddies below through water channels called sungai. Farmers care for the spring but don't get to use the water. Rather it benefits other farmers below. And that's the spirit of cooperation in this unique water management system of Bali.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Even cow sheds have a use, each with two cows, and strategically located across the system. The waste produced by the cows serves as fertilizer, with water from the springs and rain washing the manure to the rice fields. Everything is natural here and Jatiluwih's fragrant red rice is proudly organic since even insects and birds are repelled naturally by certain genetic features of the rice variety.

But with the UNESCO inscription, tourists have started to arrive. There's a construction frenzy for tourist accommodation and facilities in Central Jatiluwih which if unregulated, might erase the charm and essence of this beautiful village. I was also told stories of the local government confiscating funds raised by the village through entrance fees, leaving nothing for the community for restoration and cultural promotion. The local politicians say that the collections are rightfully theirs because the village is in their jurisdiction.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Too bad since the locals wanted to use the funds to purchase instruments to train their children on musical traditions that have faded away. Time is running out as elders who can teach these dying traditions to the local community, are themselves dying of old age. It makes me angry listening to stories and the unfair treatment they get because of a question of turf.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
More than a tourism masterplan which politicians are more keen on preparing, Jatiluwih badly needs a masterplan to restore its irrigation system and to protect the subak, most especially the forest reserve above the village which is unfortunately privately-owned. What will stop the owners from building resorts and other infrastructure in this delicate forest reserve as Jatiluwih becomes more popular to tourists? If the unregulated development continues, Jatiluwih may lose the springs that produce the very water that irrigates its rice terraces. This development may erase the very essence of the subak.

Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Bali Rice Terraces Indonesia Jatiluwih
Before I left Jatiluwih, we passed by the community temple (pura puseh) of Gunung Sari. I was reminded of the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana which the subak system revolves around, the interaction between the spirit, man and nature. This egalitarian and democratic system of farming is the core of this inscription. We should keep that in mind when we visit the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Join our Nepal tour from August 21-28, 2013!

Nepal tour
Why backpack when you can travel comfortably in Nepal for even less? Join us on a tour to Nepal via Kuala Lumpur from August 21-28, 2013! And note that the dates include two holidays!

Our tour price of US$725 already includes twin/triple sharing hotel accommodation (including one night at Nagarkot Resort), all meals as stated, transfers and tours (guides, entrance fees and gratuities). Note that lunch and dinner are included in the package as well as tips and gratuities. Please book your own flights on Cebu Pacific and AirAsia but coordinate with us first via

August 21 (Wednesday) - Ninoy Aquino Day
Flight options are:
MNL – KUL via Cebu Pacific – 5J499 14:10–17:50 or 5J501 20:55–00:35
CRK – KUL via AirAsia – AK1875 11:05–14:50 or PQ7455 15:15–19:15
Overnight in KL

Nepal tour
August 22 (Thursday)
Breakfast at hotel in KL
KUL – KTM via AirAsia D70193 11:50–14:00
Arrive – KATHMANDU – NAGARKOT (32km) (L, D)
Overnight at Nagarkot Resort for a spectacular view of the Himalayas

August 23 (Friday)
NAGARKOT – POKHARA (232km) (B, L, D)
Awake in the morning to the cold but stunningly spectacular sunrise over Nagarkot Hill. The first ray of the sun firing the peak glimmering red, slowly lighting the Himalaya range. You will see Mt. Everest in the east and Langtang and the Dhaulagiri Peak in the west.

At Pokhara, free at leisure walk around the lake side bazaar for some delightful shopping bargains. Late afternoon boating at scenic Lake Fewa and visit Barahi Temple in the middle of the lake.

August 24 (Saturday)
Early morning, drive up to Sarangkot (1200m) sunrise view point for 30 minutes. After sunrise, drive back to Pokhara for breakfast. After breakfast, visit Tibetan Refugees’ Camp, Devi’s Fall and Mahadev Guptes War Cave.

Nepal tour
August 25 (Sunday)
Late afternoon leisure walk in Thamel, a popular tourist district in Kathmandu Valley and a bustling bazaar which offers a glimpse of Nepal’s vibrant ethnic culture.

August 26 (Monday) - National Heroes Day
Visit Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This complex of palaces, courtyards and temples like Hanumandhoka Palace, Kumari Ghar (Abode of the Living Goddess) and Taleju Temple. After that, visit Bouddhanath Stupa, one of the world’s largest stupas. After lunch, explore Asan Tol, the colorful local market area and shopping. Traditional Nepalese cuisine with cultural performance for dinner.

August 27 (Tuesday)
After breakfast, free time. Transfer to airport after early lunch.
KTM – KUL via AirAsia D70192 15:30–22:30
Dinner on flight. Please book your own meals when you purchase ticket.

August 28 (Wednesday)
Flight options:
KUL – MNL via Cebu Pacific 5J502 01:20–04:55
CRK – MNL via AirAsia AK1874 06:45–10:30

Package excludes international airfare, taxes and terminal fees, travel insurance, Nepal visa fees, other meals, beverages not included in meals and all personal expenses. We can arrange your travel insurance by request.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book now for Penang, Malaysia tour with Old Manila Walks!

Penang Malaysia tour
From Manila to Malaysia! Experience culture, architecture and traditional multi-ethnic dining in Georgetown, Malaysia from July 4-8, 2013 with Ivan Man Dy. We’re in love with this northern city on Penang Island. And we like it so much that we are sharing what we love about this place to you.

Old Manila Walks and EEI Global Holidays Corporation bring you our favorites in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Georgetown, especially its food! Best of all, our visit is timed on the weekend of the Georgetown Festival when the city's multi-ethnic communities: Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan and more come out in full force to celebrate Penang's multicultural mix through the arts and performances. It's one big cultural fiesta!

Join us as we immerse ourselves and eat our way to Malaysia's Pearl of the Orient!

July 04, 2013 (Thursday): Manila - Singapore - Penang
Meet and greet by local guide at Penang International Airport. After check-in, pick-up at hotel lobby for
Penang Night Tour with dinner. First things first, chow time! Our tour begins by visiting the famous Gurney Drive Hawker Food Center to try some of the famous local Penang delicacies.

July 05, 2013 (Friday)
To burn off last night’s calories, we take a guided walk and ride tour of Old Georgetown: Khoo Kongsi Temple, Peranakan Heritage Mansion, Chew Clan Jetty, Penang Art Gallery and State Museum as well as many other historical and architectural treasures (time permitting) that make Penang special. Lunch at one of Penang’s most historical sites before taking the afternoon break to recharge your battery in time for a walk-eat-trishaw experience at night to experience more of Penang’s culinary offerings. Free time afterwards to catch the festivities of the Georgetown Festival. Trishaws will be provided but participant pays for the meals to allow you to choose and try what from the selection

July 06, 2013 (Saturday)
The tour is more interesting as it falls during the July month fruit season. We’ll make stop at a durian stall in Balik Pulau, for a typical local fruit tasting stop then visit the Kek Lok Si Buddhist- the largest in SEAsia. For lunch, we’ll stop by a traditional Malay Kampung and try out the local laksa dish! Free time afterwards to catch the festivities of the Georgetown Festival and dinner (own expense)

July 07, 2013 (Sunday): Penang - Singapore
We say farewell to Georgetown by taking a funicular and going up cool Penang hill for a
lovely view of the city. Lunch then off to the airport.

July 08, 2013 (Monday): Singapore - Manila

Tour cost is US$435.00/head (based on twin-sharing) inclusive of transport within Geogetown, guided tour, site entrances, and meals (as stated). E-mail ASAP to book your slots!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Cambodia: Day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Ever since the Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008, I've been wanting to go. Among the numerous temples buult during the Khmer Emprie, Preah Vihear is said to have the most spectacular setting, built on top of a 525-meter cliff with fantastic views of the plains below.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
After many missed opportunities to visit Cambodia the past few years, I was finally back. And the first thing I asked was where to find a day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap. Surprisingly, it was not easy to visit the temple. First, few people know about it which is both good and bad. Good because you'll have this majestic temple built on a cliff all to yourself (so enjoy this Khmer masterpiece before tourists start the invasion). Bad because demand then to visit is not high. So the second problem is that there are no regular group tours to going to Preah Vihear. And you'll be constrained to rent a vehicle which is expensive if you are alone.

It was also not easy finding a vehicle. Well it was, but they'd usually charge you over US$200 for the day trip, too much if I was going alone. Some tour companies charge per head and won't give you car or van rates but the all-inclusive cost that includes lunch and your guide. Plus I couldn't find people who wanted to go really badly to share the costs with me. While I got some people interested, they'd get scared away by the rates. A Cambodian friend also told me that they got to rent a car several months ago for just US$100. So the overcharging was quite evident.

Good thing a day before my visit, a local partner offered to call a friend to get a friendly rate. And a friendly rate I got! Regular price is US$150 (contact details below). So the visit to Preah Vihear was on!

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Banteay Srei is a red sandstone Khmer temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva
Preah Vihear Cambodia
The inner enclosure of Banteay Srei is exquisitely carved with decorative motifs that include kala (a monster symbolic of time), dvarpala (an armed protector of the temple) and devata (demi-goddess)
It takes nearly four hours to get to Preah Vihear. Along the way, you could opt to pass by temples of the Angkor complex, especially a bit far from the main temple group like Banteay Srei, the exquisitely carved red sand stone temple dedicated to Shiva. But note that you will need an Angkor pass to visit, a day-pass costs US$20.

Before you could visit the temple, you have to pass by the ticket office at the foot of the mountain. Entrance is free (as of posting), but you have to register with your passport and they will issue you a ticket which you will have to show at two ticket inspection areas, at the foot of the mountain and right before the temple. Despite roads being well-paved most of the way, your rented vehicle, unless it's a 4x4, will not be allowed up since it can get really steep. So you will have to hire a motorcyle taxi (US$5 per person round-trip) or a pick-up truck (US$25 round-trip) also at the ticketing office to get you up to Preah Vihear Temple.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
By now, it should be nearing lunch. So expect it to be extremely hot and humid. The temple complex is nearly a kilometer long, oriented along a north-south axis. So in total, you will be walking close to two kilometers under the sun. But it's most definitely worth it.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Temple is a series of causeways, steps, gopuras (entrance pavilions) and courtyards before you reach the inner sanctuary. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours to make it to the main sanctuary and back to the drop off point where the motorcycle taxi waits for you.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
Just like most Hindu temples in Cambodia, Preah Vihear was converted to a Buddhist temple. Despite being ruined today, Buddhist pilgrims still visit and pray at its inner sanctuary. I saw a group of pilgrims chanting led by a young Buddhist monk who would bless them after their prayers.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Preah Vihear Cambodia
View of the Thai border from the Preah Vihear causeway
You will go down the same route. And as you near the end, while walking along the causeway, you will notice the Thai flag flying a few meters on the right, a reminder that Preah Vihear Temple has been at the center of a Cambodia-Thailand border dispute for the past few decades. The border with Thailand is just a few meters away and access to Preah Vihear was easier from the Thai side. But I was told the Cambodian side decided to close the border as things got a bit bad.

Preah Vihear Cambodia
Wild boar
After my visit, we went straight to lunch. My driver had suggested a very popular restaurant 20 kilometers away called Phkay Prouk Sroem Restaurant. They serve exotic dishes such as wild boar, deer, rabbit, snake and monitor lizard. The meats are sautéed with eggplant (a small green variety), kaffir lime leaves, chili and maras prov (a viariety of basil). I ordered wild boar and my driver got monitor lizard. And what surprised me is that I only paid US$11 for our food and drinks, about US$5 per person. And to think the serving size of each dish was good for two!

Back in Siem Reap, we passed by Pre Rup Temple before calling it a day. It's one of the favorite places to catch the sunset. But unfortunately, there was none today. We left before 7 a.m. and we were back before 5 p.m., with a lot of time to spare before my evening flight back to Manila.

Phkay Prouk Sroem Restaurant
Telephone No. 012 63 83 78 / 064 677 7727
012 63 66 17 / 0888 48 88 28

So Chet (English Driver)
Mobile No. 012 331 664 / 097 77 55 743
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