Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bike Tour In Ubub, Bali, A Fantastic Way To See Ubud

I started 2013 in the way I like! First to Bangkok then to Bali for some me time. =))

Bestie invited me to bunk in with her at Bali and bf promptly bought me air ticket to send me off. Whee... And it is to Ubud this round in Bali.

Since I had the daytime free to myself, I signed up for some activities to get to know Ubud, Bali a little better. And one of it was the bike tour organised by Bali Eco & Educational Cycling Tour.

It was a pleasant start with prompt replies to my emails to ensure a beginner like me can handle biking in a foreign land.

I got picked up by the tour really early at 7.15am to have breakfast with a view... of Mt Batur, an active volcano.

The whole group was of a comfortable size of only 10 people.

It was a simple meal to start the day and the view was gorgeous. If only bf was with me...

The black soil area is where the lava flowed from Mt Batur's last eruption in 2000. The friendly guide went on to tell us a bit more about this area and also the spiritual significance of the calm lake besides Mt Batur.

Next up was a short educational tour about some Balinese native spices and plants and also a brief history of how some other foreign spices like Vanilla came to being on this sunny island.

Coffee Luwak Beans On The Left Looking Prettier

We were introduced to a live civet cat that poops out the very expensive Coffee Luwak beans. We were told that the coffee beans is foreign to Bali, hence, it was by accident that the civet cat ingest these beans and poop them out. 

Shortly after, we had a break and was given a tray of samples of ginseng coffee, lemongrass tea, Balinese coffee etc.

The guide managed to find a big spider out of nowhere and showed it to us. Reminds me of uni days. 

Just as I thought that the tour felt more educational and cultural, we were driven to pick up our mountain bikes for the real cycling deal. 

It was a breeze cycling as it was mainly downhill on wide roads.

We stopped by a Balinese family house to take a look. 

The guide went on to introduce their way of life and how this family makes their living by producing bamboo products.

The next part of cycling was through the padi fields; Something I was really looking forward to.

We rode through these fields with the blue sky above. 

See how beautiful it is....

The only problem for me was that the cycling path was a tad too narrow. It was more of a psychological issue when I cannot see where the edge of the path was. I was moving slower than usual and before I knew it, I was in the waters after going over a broken concrete patch. Talk about embarrassment. Thank goodness all I got was a refreshing soak for both my feet with no injuries. 

Then came the uphill stretch where a true bike beginner like myself had to dismount and push all my way uphill. There was a guide behind the last person (yours truly) and he offered to push my bike when he saw me struggling. But I managed to get through it, and boy, what a work out it was on my first day in Bali.

We rested under a 500 years old Banyan Tree where the guides brought out bananas for snack. The whole time, there was a van following us, except for the stretch through the padi fields where it couldn't go. So, no worries if you don't have much stamina like me, which is highly unlikely. :|

At this juncture, we were asked whether we wanted to continue with a 40mins downhill cycling route or a 40 mins uphill one.

Of course I opted for the downhill route where a van would be waiting to send us uphill for lunch. We were handed cool towels at the end of our ride too. The bulk of the people opted for the challenging uphill route.

This is the view from the van with the rest working out hard under the hot sun. 1 person gave up midway and the guide took over her bike. 

Before long, we arrived at the lunch venue and the uphill cyclists streamed in one by one, totally drenched in the humid weather. 

The tour ended with a delectable lunch. I can't decide whether this lunch or the one from my cooking class is better. 

Either way, it was a fantastic way to start my holiday in Ubud, Bali. For 360,000IDR, I really like this tour. The whole program was well paced and totally enjoyable. Despite me falling into the waters, I had a really good time that day!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Parador de Carmona, Carmona Town in Seville Spain Review

What a stay, what a trip! Yes, whenever I recall my stay in the Parador de Carmona, it brings a smile to my face.  It has become one of my favourite hotels.

Rolling Hills Of Spain

We had rented a car in Cordoba and drove to Seville, Zahara, Rhonda before ending off our road trip at Granada. So, bf suggested to stay at the restored state owned castle hotel, Parador Carmona, for 2 nights since we could easily drive out to Seville with the car; Seville is just a short drive of half an hour away.

We arrived at the charming town of Carmona, driving through the cobblestoned streets to reach the majestic Parador Carmona, a castle enlarged by King Pedro, sitting atop a hill.

Paradora de Carmona Gate 

Free Parking Spaces Are Readily Available

There's shuttle bus service available from the town centre to Seville. Just check with the reception for the bus schedule. We found it more convenient to drive though. The only challenge was to find parking lots in Seville.

I really love the moorish designed tiles in the lobby and courtyard. The motifs are so beautiful. The place somewhat transported  me to a time ancient enough.

Hotel Lobby With Gorgeous Tiles

Courtyard With A Fountain...

...So Gorgeous That Even The Pigeons Gather To Drink From It

The restaurant has an open area that has this marvelous view of the Andulusian plains. And our bedroom had the same facing too. It was oh so lovely!!!

Hotel Room Corridor

The room was huge and once again, the tile flooring brings me back to the ancient times. It's felt wonderful to be staying in a building that has so much history to it. And it's not just any history, but one that was once lived in by the royals.

My favourite part of the room was by the windows with the view of the endless plains.

Watching The Sunrise

My Favourite Spot In The Room

How can one not fall in love with this view?? It's so calming and you can see miles and miles away from your room. 

It was cool in the daytime in October but I found the waters too cold to enter. So, we just strolled around the hotel grounds taking pics.

View From The Pool

Resident Cat That Followed Us Around The Pool Area

We spent 2 nights in this charming town and the lastd day, we took it easy and went for breakfast at a Creperie.

Carmona Town

It was just perfect that our last day at Carmona fell on a Sunday.... because...

sitting at our outdoor tables, we saw a group of funeral mass goers and wedding guests all decked out in their fancy wears.

And I was surprised that the small town of Carmona has a little restaurant that serves excellent food. I think that it's because were in Spain; Almost every meal we had was a good one. Oooohhh... how I love the food in Spain. :P~~

La Almazara Restaurant

We ordered 2 starters and the anchovies can hardly go wrong here in Spain with their fresh olive oil. But the dish below was simply divine.

It is the one of the few appetizers I'll remember for a long time. Each piece was serve on a chip and has melted baked cheese coasted shrimp. The flavourful taste just burst with each bite and the cheese was so soft and warm. Even though there was 12 pieces, we cleaned up the plate really fast.

I really enjoyed my stay in the Parador Carmona in Andulusia. And to spend a full relaxing day in the small town of Carmona make this part of my trip memorable.

If you intend to visit Seville, you should consider the Parador Carmona. And if you can spare the time, extend a day in this charming town. You'll love love love this place loads!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 Singapore, Eurasia Express, Now Joint Support Powder & Avalon Organics CoQ10 Wrinkle Defense Serum Reviews

I'm a big fan now!!! 

Use my code VEW578 or click here to enjoy a 5USD off for purchases below 40USD and for purchases above 40USD, you'll get an instant discount of 10USD!

I tried their Eurasia Express Shipping which was made free in October 2011 for purchase of 60USD and above and was smiling broadly when my purchases arrive. It took them a mere 7 days to have my items delivered into my hands. And this is inclusive of the weekends too. I'm impressed and delighted! =))

I bought 6 items back then and 1 of them was the Avalon Organics CoQ1O Wrinkle Defense Serum which was disappointing. I expected to see visible results but none whatsoever. However, my facial lady and her staff did comment that my eyes look better and it might just be this serum...

The good thing was that the serum is non greasy and it's good for a base to pile on other eye creams.

The Avalon Organics Eye Serum also comes in a pump bottle and it can be a little messy on the caps. You can see the white serum on the inside of my bottle cap above.

Now, I'm on the hunt of a more effective anti-wrinkle eye product. Do recommend me if you know of one.

Another new product I tried this round was the Now Joint Support Powder. I got 1 for bf since he has knee problems and this product had a better value than Viatril-S. But boy, the smell is a killer... It has a a strong shellfish smell that cannot be masked even when I put it into my fruit juice. :(

We can't tell whether it works because it's such a drag to take it on a consistent basis. :P

The cute thing about is they give away free samples or freebies with every purchase. Lately, I've been receiving stationery and it's cute. That's a pen and a highlighter above.

I've shopped with them 8 times and have never encountered missing parcel. 

So, if you're convinced, do use my code VEW578 or click here to 
  1. Enjoy a 5USD off for purchases below 40USD and enjoy a 10USD discount for purchases above 40USD
  2. Earn commission when you refer new customers who use your code so that you can buy more iHerb products cheaper or maybe even for FREE!
  3. Enjoy their many promotions & hot deals.

Click here to find out more about their rewards.

Read more about my other reviews here:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Santi Mandala Villa & Spa, Bali Ubud Review

I'm doing this review at Santi Mandala's restaurant now. Thought I better write whenever I can as I'm traveling faster than I can spare the time to blog these days. And it's so good that it's raining in hot Bali now. :P

Well, you see, my best friend signed up for a yoga retreat and since her hubby didn't come along this round, she invited me to stay with her in Bali, Ubud. I've always wanted to visit Bali Ubud and preferably stay at a villa facing the padi fields, so I grabbed the chance and accepted the invitation with less than 2 week's notice. As it's a free stay, I'm not complaining even though this villa isn't surrounded by the  padi fields! ;)

At least I have this bunch of padi keeping me company at my table now. Haha..

Santi Mandala Villa & Spa is situated about 25 mins away from Ubud Town Centre by car. Hence, it's a quiet and relaxing place that's away from the crowd. It's also rustic and surrounded by lush greenery.

We arrived late at night with the hotel transfer arranged by Santi Mandala at 250,000IDR one way.

You'll come through this bridge before arriving at the hotel lobby below.

Some days, the locals will come by here to catch fishes in the late afternoon.

And here are some pictures of the hotel grounds.

Full of greenery and peacefulness, it's definitely a place to come for rejuvenation. They also conduct biking, hiking, cooking and yoga classes for those interested.

View Of Pool From Across The Bridge

It's a quiet villa without many guests and much noise in the daytime. Probably it's because of the distance from Ubud Centre and everyone is out and about during the day or chilling in the comfort of their rooms.

Infinity Pool

View From The Pool

The room is comfortable and well worth the money. It's rather private and integrate nature into its design.

The villas each come with a main door to a small garden leading to the room. We stayed in the Garden Villa which was the most basic one available at less than 150SGD per villa per night. My friend paid only 130SGD per night for this stay.

The Romantic Bed

The balcony opens up to the view of the pool and faces the east so that you'd be able to catch the beautiful sunrise.

Welcome Fruit Basket

The washroom was great with an open air shower and a bathtub overlooks the hills down to the pool. People may actually see you when you get out of the bathtub or when you're using the loo if they look hard enough. Just draw the curtain and all problems solved.

Although I really love the open concept of this bathroom, this place does have a lot of insects and even mosquitoes! The sink itself will  have at least 7-8 insects unlucky enough to be trapped by water droplets and drowned when we get back every evening.

And the worst thing is geckos do climb in!! Eeekks!!! It gave my friend a hard time falling asleep every night.

Breakfast is available at the restaurant daily and it's a good thing they change the menu everyday.

Now, there's 3 things I really don't like about Santi Manda Villa. One is the lack of wifi in their basic rooms and it's only available daily from 7.30am to 10.30pm at the restaurant. I know this would help in giving you no choice but to disconnect and relax. But hey, I don't need to disconnect to relax and enjoy nature. And even so, they should at least leave it on the whole day because the restaurant area is open and people who need to hook up to the net can still drop by at night.

The second thing is the transport to Ubud Centre. It can be quite a pain in the ass. They only have shuttle services out at 10am, 2pm, 4pm,8pm  and 10pm. The return service is half an hour later. So, if we need to get out or get back at a different timing, we'd have to pay 80,000IDR. And if you're located just a short walk of 15 mins away from the town centre, you'll need to pay a total of 100,000IDR which I found ridiculous. We almost had to do that for our massage appointments every night in the town centre as Santi Manda; Villa Spa closes at 6pm!! But some spas offer transport at a much better rates. Some spas and day tours even do pick up and drop off for free!

I'll review the different spas and day tours I went to in Ubud in my other posts.

Lastly, the food isn't fantastic. And Balinese food can be really tasty. The first time we ordered Soto Ayam and Tom Yam Goong, we almost died from overdosage of salt!!

This afternoon, I was craving Yum Woon Sen from my Bangkok trip a few days back and just had to order this.

It was oily and bland but after asking for some lime and soya sauce with chilli padis, it tasted better. Maybe it was because I asked them to make it less salty...just in case.

I then asked the waitress to recommend a Balinese dish that is good. So Ayam Bakaka so it was and it was delicious! Once again, I highlighted that I didn't want a salty dish.

Overall, Santi Mandal Villa and Spa is really a value for money place to stay in Ubud. Especially so if you don't intend to go to the town centre much. But then again, I wouldn't want to eat at the villa every night.  I'd rather venture out for some good Balinese food.

Oh and regarding the geckos, my friend spotted a huge one crawling across the wall the first night and freaked out after that. After that, we saw another 2 and had to get the staff to remove 1 last night 'coz it took over our bathroom. :|

At night, little frogs come out to play and mosquitoes are present even with the insect repellent available in every room.

So, if you ain't afraid of these creepy crawlies, insects included, and love nature, this place will be ideal as a value for money and peaceful villa in Ubud, Bali. As for myself, I rather try a new hotel the next round.