Indonesia : Meet the Lovely Little Village of Balebo in South Sulawesi

Indonesia – a country I keep going back to. Yes I have only been to Bali and the Gili Islands before but still there is something about this country that pulls me every time. Now that I have the luxury of time by my side, I spent almost the entire month of April as a volunteer in Balebo village, South Sulawesi. Thanks to the wonderful folks of “I am from here”, I got to live and experience the place like a local. There is something about spending days in a rural setting as it brings back memories of my own childhood and my native home in India.

Living a life entirely different from what I was used to over the last eight years has taught me a few lessons. Funny, tough, soothing, realistic and pleasing at the same time, these few things that I have learnt after living for almost a month in Indonesia.

The virtue of Patience

This is something I have not technically learnt on this trip because I already am a quite patient guy. But what these 20 days made me realize is that I need to be even more patient when I am at an entirely new place, surrounded by new people and different cultures. For obvious reasons, English is not widely spoken or understood in the local communities, homes, shops, travel agents etc. That is where the need arises to be more patient when interacting with the people. I used to go to the local shop near my accommodation and it did take me some time to get across my points on what I wanted to buy and asking for the prices. After a while, continuous calls of “Hello Mr” from the kids while I was buying stuff at the shop felt like sweet music. Every place in the world and the people of those places work at a different pace which we might not be used to. With patience and a friendly smile, communicating with people becomes easy. The turnaround time of getting things done might not change but having more patience does allow us to slow down ourselves for good and actually be a part of this different life.

Playing with the village kids in the river

The doorways are not built for tall people  

Well this so true in the rural areas as much as I have seen. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hit my head when entering/exiting some of the sheds and houses. By the end of this trip, the top of my head resembled the landscape of Bali with two big bumps the size of Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung.

Masamba - Indonesia
A hut made from recycled stuff in Masamba village
House made from recycled stuff

Landscapes can be simple yet perfect

Oh the natural beauty of South Sulawesi!! Perfect nature does not always have to be about snow-capped peaks or white sand beaches. Something as simple as an open ground dotted with palm trees, thick green forests and steady flowing rivers. For me it was more of the river and a couple of visits to the nearby waterfall that made me fall for the scenic beauty of this place. Lying down on the grass banks or on the huge boulders by the river and listening to Sam Garret’s “The River” (thank you Emmiina). I could not help but realize that perfection is defined by our own perception of it. Sometimes you can find perfection during a stroll on a windy cloudy evening and sometimes you find it on the beaches of Bali. For me, the beautiful landscape of South Sulawesi will make me explore other parts of rural Indonesia.



Community is family and vice versa

Understanding the people and the community of Balebo village was an real eye-opener for me. When I left my corporate job, I was searching for an environment where respect for somebody would not be determined by the amount of wealth he/she has. I was looking for a place where people would not discriminate each other based on one’s financial abilities. More importantly, I was looking for a place where there would be smiles in abundance rather than faces filled with arrogance and ego. I found that place in this village, to a large extent. Here, the concept of family is not limited to just blood relatives or confined within the four walls of a house. 

A close-knit community where people actually know each other and the doors of homes are open to all. This is a place where people do not hesitate to talk to strangers because there are virtually no strangers in this village. Even foreigners like me were no more strangers after a few hours on our first day. There were days when after I woke up in the morning I took a stroll along the small road just to hear chants of “Hello Mr.” from all the neighbors and the kids. Ironic, because during my 6 years of stay in Singapore, I never knew who my neighbors were.


Playing cards  

Yeah I know I am thirty years old and I never learnt to play cards. That changed when one fine day as we were taking a break after some work at the garden, Katharina said “Do you wanna play cards?”. I wasn’t embarrassed but it did feel weird to say that I don’t know any card games but I would want to learn though. That’s when she taught me a game – which later became quite popular among others during our stay – and it was funnily named “Shithead” (according to her)!!! And spending the evenings with the local guys there led to me learning a couple more of these card games. So now I can at least say that I know how to play cards – although I am still an infant in the world of cards.


You don’t just run an adventure marathon, you train for it and then run it!!

My mind still goes back to that moment when I decided to postpone my departure from Masamba by a couple of days after I heard there was an adventure marathon happening on the 23rd of April. I just knew I wanted to be a part of this marathon because of two reasons – 1. This would be my first ever marathon.  2. If not now then who knows when I would get a next opportunity. But I overestimated the strength in my legs when I decided to just run this marathon. After starting steadily for the first 90 minutes on flat terrain, over the next 3 hours, my legs went through and endured what seemed like an advanced version of an army training exercise. All we had to do was walk fast, climb up, descend down, cross the river and repeat. It was purely due to my excitement (of my first marathon and anticipation of the finish line), some willpower and Alex egging me on, that I could reach the finish line. That entire evening and the next morning, I was just thinking of that episode from How I met your mother when Barney runs a marathon. I realized, you don’t just run a marathon without training for it. Would I run that marathon again? Hell yeah!! Even though my legs hurt and the sun was brutal, I loved it.


The world is huge but people are closer than we assume

Yes, the world is a big big place and somehow I feel that had led us to believe that people are far away from each other too. But I have realized that people are or could be much closer than what we assume. People living in different places have more in common that we can even think of. During my stay, I watched an Indian TV serial(dubbed in Bahasa of course) for far more times than I have watched it when I was in India. I listened to and sang “Tum Hi ho” with the folks there countless times, far more than I did before. While teaching English to the kids, I understood the importance of communication, real communication and not the Facebook/Watsapp stuff.

English Classes

Few friendships that were made during my stay, did not need months to grow. Exchanging cultural notes with Matewai, learning a few Spanish words from Marta, trying to pronounce German words from Katharina without choking myself or learning about an unknown place in India from Alex and Helen and finally calling the elderly couple – who’s family I was staying with – Mama and Papa, makes me believe that times have changed and people are open to us, now more than ever.


For all the memories, the work at the garden, carrying logs with the guys, sitting on top of a loaded truck holding onto a rope while the vehicles trudges through sharp curves on muddy roads with a steep fall into the river on one side, the caring smiles of Mama and Papa, my friends and my lovely students – everyone and everything has taught me something. Big or small – a lesson is always a lesson. Beautiful and near-perfect, Indonesia already feels like home to me.

Rural Indo Pin                   three-weeks-in


Continue Reading
Indonesia : Meet the Lovely Little Village of Balebo in South Sulawesi

Indonesia: Have Fun in Gili Trawangan Island

What is it about island getaways that is so irresistible? Is it the feeling of a free laid back life while being surrounded with so many elements of nature that makes the beer/cocktail/milkshakes taste that extra smooth? Especially when on an island like Gili Trawangan – also known as Gili T – where shenanigans of the outside world take a backseat to a natural rustic charm. An island so small that it can be circled around in one hour riding a bicycle yet it is big enough that even four days of fun might seem less. Once having set foot on the shores of the island one does not need a second invitation to say “When in Gili T, be like how this place deserves us to be”.

Lazying at the beach and/or Exploring the reefs

Beach GiliT
Empty beaches like this are everywhere on the island
The beautiful marine life off the coast
The beautiful marine life off the coast

Well, this is the most obvious and easiest thing to do on Gili T. The beaches are pristine white and the waters are crystal clear. Majority of the shoreline is surrounded by a network of coral reefs hence the scattering of many corals along the beach. Getting a Bintang and lying down on that white warm sand is an easy temptation. Even better, head out to the sea for a swim/snorkel past the shallow water and dead coral reefs to catch a glimpse of famed sea-turtles and beautiful marine life. You don’t even need to go out on a boat for snorkeling. Just rent the equipment from the many shops/bars/restaurants along the beach and head out yourself.

Taking in the sunsets

A shot of the amazing sunset with the backdrop of Bali
A shot of the amazing sunset with the backdrop of Bali
People enjoying the view at the sunset bar
People enjoying the view at the sunset bar

Oh the magical sunsets on display from the west coast of this island!! Every evening there is a grand spectacle put on by the setting sun along with the clouds, sea and the island of Bali at a distance. At around 5:30 PM, people from all over the island throng to the several sunset bars and the beaches on the west cost of Gili T. With a cold Bintang (yes I can’t stop gushing about it!!) and a beanbag chair, I enjoyed watching the sky turning from blue to orange and even purple on some days. Admittedly, this was the first time I witnessed folks clapping at the sheer beauty of a sunset.

Walking up the hill

The machinegun bunker
The machinegun bunker
View from the top of the hill
View from the top of the hill

Not many know that this island was a small but important part of World War II. The hill at Gili T has remains of a huge machine-gun bunker which was used by Japanese forces during the war. The hill itself is not at all high and the walk up to the top takes not more than 20 minutes. Soak in a little piece of history as you have a look at the several small bunkers and the machine-gun post. For the believers in the supernatural, get up to the top to defy a local myth of the hill being haunted. Honestly, the place did feel a bit spooky as it bore a desolate look in the middle of the afternoon with nobody around. Read more about this place here.

Eating – at the night market or elsewhere

Fresh seafood at Gili Trawangan
Food in Gili Trawangan
Barbecue skewers on the grill at Gili Trawangan night market
Food in Gili Trawangan
Food in plentiful at Gili Trawangan

Being an island gives this place an advantage of being an obvious paradise for seafood lovers. However, the food here is beyond just seafood. Cuisines from almost all over the world are to be found here. Places serving Western, European, Chinese and even a restaurant with Indian food are dotted all around the island – especially near to the harbor. Dine it at these many restaurants or head to the famous night market if you want to experience Indonesian cuisine and delicious barbecue in an open communal setting. For as low as 2$, you can have a decent meal while being in the company of unknown friends.

Making new friends

Boat Trips in Gili Trawangan
Take the boat trips from Gili Trawangan

If you are traveling by yourself to this place, chances are that at the end of your trip you will have made at least 4-5 friends. The celebratory vibes of this island makes it so easy to say or respond with a “Hello” to a complete stranger. Be it meeting folks on a snorkeling trip or dancing with folks in to the New Year and even the bartender remembering you after one evening of drinks, making new friends is the way to go here.


People keep saying that Gili T is too much commercialized and is overcrowded. Well, there is a reason why “crowds” of people come to this place and it is because they love this place. Yes, like every place there are a couple of drawbacks to this island. There is an underbelly of drug abuse (which is rampant across most tourist places in Indonesia) on this island due to the party atmosphere during the evenings and late nights. The “crowds” like all other tourist destinations will always have a few bad apples. It gets really really hot here – I mean this is probably the hottest place I’ve traveled to. The horse-driven carts – I did not use them just by looking at the state of those poor horses. I can’t imagine those creatures dragging tonnes of baggage around all day.

But inspite of the above drawbacks, I love Gili T. For me it is one of the best island getaways that can ever be. For its beaches, the friendly turtles, the amazing sunsets and for all the memories I’ve had with people, I will go back there someday soon.

How to reach

From Bali – Take the fast boat from any of the three ports Serangan, Padang Bai and Amed. Tickets cost around 45 USD one way to the island(s) and the journey takes from 60 – 100 minutes. You can book the tickets from any travel agent in Bali. You could also take the public ferry which is much cheaper but takes 5 hours to reach the islands.

From Lombok – Take the fast boat from Teluk Nara or Teluk Kodek located along the West Coast of Lombok. The journey takes roughly 30 minutes due to the close proximity of the islands to Lombok. You could also take the public boats from Bangsal harbor which takes longer but it much cheaper than the fast boats.

**If you are lucky, you can spot some dolphins on the way.



  • Gili Trawangan is the largest among the group of three Gili islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, Gili Meno. These three islands are located in the Lombok Strait between the islands of Bali and Lombok.
  • Renting a bicycle should actually be the first thing you should do after you check-in to your accommodation. The island of Gili T (also the other two Gili islands) does not have a single motorized vehicle which is one of the major reasons I love this place. Bicycles and horse-driven carts are the only two modes of commute here.
  • Stock up on water as this island does not have a water supply of its own. Water is being brought to this island everyday from other places.
  • Avoid taking luggage that have roller wheels. The fast boats will drop you right on the beach. You don’t want to be dragging around that luggage on the sand.
  • Luxury resorts, hostels and homestays are the three types of accommodation available here. For a more social experience, opt for a homestay.


Continue Reading
Indonesia: Have Fun in Gili Trawangan Island

Five places for best local food in Bali

Indonesian cuisine has been widely admired by food lovers and travelers across the globe. In fact, the food in Indonesia is regarded as one of the best in the world due to the wide range of distinctive flavors which in a way highlights the cultural diversity of this country. Bali is probably the most popular destination for people traveling to Indonesia and there are thousands of food options spread across the island. Being a popular tourist attraction, there are plenty of restaurants serving foods from different parts of the world. Western, Mediterranean, Italian, German, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Thai – name it and you will find it here. Bali is probably one of the many tourist destinations where restaurants serving international cuisine outnumber the ones serving local food especially in the popular tourist areas like Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud. During my six trips to Bali since June 2015, I took to the local food and that is how I fell in love with Indonesian cuisine. I must agree that it was real fun to try out the local food in Bali and here are five places that are definitely worth a visit if you want to try some of the best local food in Bali.

Warung Made, Seminyak & Kuta 

Bali local food
Steamed chicken stuffed with spices

“Chicken Betutu”, my friend answered when I asked her what is that one particular dish that is iconic to Bali. And she took me to this restaurant in Seminyak. The place had a rural old-world charm to it with dim lighting and modest looking furniture. This restaurant has an outlet in Kuta which has similar setting but has a smaller area. This restaurant chain is quite popular with tourists for some pretty amazing local food in Bali. Coming to the food, I went just for the Chicken Betutu. This traditional Balinese dish is basically steamed chicken seasoned and stuffed with traditional spices. It is served with rice, vegetables, roasted peanuts and an assortment of spicy sauces. The chicken looked yummy alright and it was delightfully tasty with the perfectly mixed spices adding all the flavors. This was arguably the best food I had in Bali !!

Bebek Tepi Sawah, Ubud

Bali local food
The restaurant area
Bali Local Food
Slow Grilled Duck

The biggest advantage of having a local friend accompany you during your travels is that you get to visit some hidden gems. This restaurant is one such delightful place located in Ubud that not many tourists would know of. With a wonderful rustic and rural outdoor location, this restaurant is built like a farm in itself and is well known for its duck specialties. Small open huts instead of the usual table-chair arrangement for the dining area around a small pond makes for an amazing experience in natural surroundings. With a setting that good, the food wasn’t far behind. One of the restaurant specials, Bebek Pangang or Slow-Grilled Duck was my lunch. The dish was served with rice, vegetables and three kinds of spicy sauce. The entire combination was so spicy, I was literally red-faced yet I enjoyed every bit of it. A place definitely worth visiting and a dish worth trying if you can tolerate spicy food.

Nasi Bali, Legian

Bali Local Food
Nasi Campur – Steamed rice with vegetables and meat

This restaurant is located right on the main stretch of Legian Street that runs across Kuta and Legian areas. The decor is quite simplistic although the restaurant itself is quite spacious. It is the food here that deserves a five star rating. Local favorites like Nasi Campur (Steamed rice served with vegetables and meat/fish/egg) and Nasi Goreng are very popular with the tourists visiting this place. I went for the Nasi Campur with meat addons. The service took a while but the taste of the food was worth all the wait. The price might seem a bit on the higher side for budget travelers however, the food here is among the best in Bali.

Warung Mina, Legian

Bali Local Food
Grilled fish served with rice and vegetables

This is yet another place located on Legian Street that serves some quite amazing seafood. With an extensive list of local seafood items to choose from, the fish preparations here are absolutely wonderful. Whether it is the grilled, barbecued or fried fish, the spices are nicely complimented to bring out all the distinct flavors of the dish. You will have nothing but a fulfilling experience for your taste buds once you try out some of their local Balinese dishes. The restaurant has a cozy and laid-back vibe to it with a live band playing on some evenings. I was particularly impressed with the furniture which is put together from slabs of raw wood, giving the whole place a pleasantly rustic and natural look.

Kuta Night Market

Bali Local Food
Fried Rice and Water Spinach in Oyster Sauce

Probably one of the most chilled-out places to eat in crazy Kuta, a group of small Warungs  (Indonesian for restaurant) located a few meters inside an alleyway make up for what people know as the Kuta Night Market. Do not let the name fool you as the restaurants are open during the day too. The food here is as real and authentic as it can get in Bali with the prices being quite cheap. You could have a plate of rice and vegetables/meat and a juice for as low as 20,000 – 30,000 IDR. Tasty local food with cheap prices makes this place a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

Bali is a big place with a lot of fantastic choice of bars and restaurants. There might be some even better than the ones I have listed. During my six trips to Bali, these are the five places where I have had the best local food. Indonesian food as such is very diverse with different regions having their own special foods. Trying out the local foods of a region is one of the reasons why I travel. Most people call it an incentive but some people might not take to local food that much. However, getting to taste the local food surely makes our travels quite memorable.


Continue Reading
Five places for best local food in Bali