Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Sweet Place to Stay: Echo Homestay

(West Sumatera trip, June 22 - 26, 2014)

Of all the hotels we stayed during the Minangkabike trip, there was one accommodation that was full of charm and characteristics: Echo Homestay in Harau Valley, Payakumbuh, West Sumatera. 




Once you get here, you'd be amazed by the landscape around you. High granite cliffs, valleys, rice paddy fields, all the green landscape you can handle, it's there.. waiting to be appreciated by you. This place is truly a hidden gem! 



Echo Homestay has a number of bungalows that are very cozy and gives you a homey feeling. Some of the bungalows have 2-4 bedrooms and bathrooms and the rate varies started from Rp 360,000 - Rp 900,000.- for the whole bungalow. Perfect for a big family! It also has some "bachelor" cottage, which are very cute and basic.. and the rent is only Rp 90,000.-/night! 





What I love most from this place is the vibe. It's very peaceful and quiet. It also offers you fresh air and great landscape. Not to mention, you'll see some wild monkeys walking around and jumping from one branch of tree to another, happily. Isn't it lovely? But, don't forget to close your doors and windows, especially if you have some snacks in the room, or you'll have some "uninvited guests" accompanying you & enjoying all your food…. the monkeys! Hahaha.. 




Kids also have big yards to run around. In the mornings, some kids of the waiters love screaming out loud and hearing their voices echoing between the valleys. It's super cool! 



If I have the opportunity, I would definitely return to this peaceful place and stay with my family… to recharge, relax, and celebrate the beauty of life! 



For more info about places to go in Indonesia, you can visit www.indonesia.travel. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Lovely Coffee House in Batu Sangkar, West Sumatera

(West Sumatera trip, June 22 - 26, 2014)

Bumpy road, little alleys, I have no idea where the driver is heading to. I'm in Batu Sangkar, a little town in West Sumatera, together with a group of travel bloggers on "Minangkabike Trip" organised by the Ministry of Tourism & Creative Economy of Republic of Indonesia. 

Finally… the car stops. I see a sign "Kiniko". Apparently, he takes us to a small coffee house in the middle of nowhere in Tabek Patah area. "Kiniko" means "kini" in Indonesian language, which translated to right now or present time in English.

Entering the coffee house, my eyes fall on the number of traditional snacks and different types of coffee in nice packaging that are laid on the racks. "Is this a coffee house or snack shop?", I ask myself. But hey, don't judge the book by its cover! Walking down to the other side of the coffee house, you'll be surprised by what's waiting for you there… 

An open door area with lush garden overlooking mountains and green landscape! Whoaaaa!!! My heart jumps happily! I don't expect this view at all!!! 



It's such a perfect place to spend your afternoon, sipping their homemade coffee and traditional snacks, surrounded by beautiful landscape and fresh wind breeze. So relaxing and peaceful. I also love the way they put the chairs and tables. Some of us can sit on a mattress like Japanese style, while others can sit on wooden chairs while playing "congklak" - one of Indonesian's games famous among children in villages. 




"Kiniko" coffee house also offers different types of coffee. Coffee with ginger, coffee with herbs, and many more! And what's even better is… all the coffee here is free of charge! Really. Isn't it awesome? It's such a nice gesture and really represent the hospitality of the locals here. 




The coffee house also sells cinnamon sticks for a good price. The sticks smell really good and you can dip them into your cup of coffee to add more flavour. In the kitchen, a lady is busy cutting off the long cinnamon sticks with her bare hands. I bet her hands smell good everyday! 



Oh… while you're in West Sumatera, don't forget to try "Teh Kawa". When I first taste it in Harau Valley, I can't figure out whether it's tea or coffee. It tastes like tea, but it also tastes like coffee. Pretty confusing! Apparently, it's tea that are made of coffee leaf! Ohhhh.. no wonder it has both tastes! The "Teh Kawa" looks even more exotic (not only the taste) as they serve it in a cup that's made of coconut shell. Love it. 




For more info on traveling in West Sumatera, please visit www.indonesia.travel .

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Padang Food : Indonesia's Answer to Apple Pie!

(West Sumatera trip, June 22 - 26, 2014)

Talking about food in Indonesia, Padang food is among one of the most famous cuisines in the country. There's a saying, "Everyone loves Padang food", also "You can't eat just a plate of rice if you go to Padang food. You'd want to have more". It's so true. Padang (a name of a city in West Sumatera) food has made its reputation up there.. even "Rendang", one of the dishes that you can find in any Padang food restaurant, was chosen by CNN as "the best food in the world"! Voila!!! 

Traveling in West Sumatera, of course, you'll get the taste of Padang food everywhere. Your taste buds will be spoiled by the rich taste of all the dishes. To name a few, apart of rendang, you might want to try "gulai kepala ikan" (fish head curry), gulai otak (cow's brain curry -- ok, it sounds scary but people say it's tasty!), sate padang (padang style of satay -- skewered barbecued meat with thick yellow sauce), gulai ayam (chicken curry), dendeng (thin crispy beef) and paru goreng (fried cow lung). 




As for vegetarians like me, don't worry, there are some dishes that you can try, too. My favourites are telur balado (boiled eggs in chilly paste), terong balado (eggplant in chilli), sayur nangka (jackfruit veggie dish), and lalapan daub singkong (cassava leaves). 

All the above dishes won't be complete without sambal balado (chilli paste with large sliced chilli pepper) or sambal lado. 



Hmmm… now I'm drooling!!! 

During the Minangkabike Trip, not only our eyes are spoiled by the beauty of the landscape, our taste buds also dances happily by the yummy delicacies every single day! How lucky! 




On the first day, we find this small restaurant that is famous among the locals. The place is nothing fancy, but it's full of people, which is always a good sign for a restaurant! "Takana Juo" at Simpang SMP Negeri Tiku, that's the name. During lunch time, all the seats are full of hungry fellows. Waiters are busy running around taking orders and delivering the dishes. The heat (as there's no AC), doesn't bother people here. The delicious food on their plate is the only thing that matters. 

In the kitchen, some ladies are busy preparing for the yummy dishes -- cutting vegetables and cooking some food in a wooden fire style of stove. This is probably one of the secrets behind the delicious food. They cook it with wooden fire! People say, dishes that are cook this way tastes better, because all the spices are well absorbed & mixed! 







When we're in Bukittinggi, we have dinner at "Rumah Makan Family". The restaurant is fancier. The building is nice and with AC, too. How about the food? Like in any Padang food restaurants, they serve all the dishes on small plates and put all of them on your table. Yeah.. eat like a king! Some people who have not been to Padang restaurant might be wondering, "Do I have to eat all of these food and pay for everything?" The answer is no. The restaurant will only charge you of the dishes that you eat. 



Everywhere you go in West Sumatera, you'll find good food. Even in small food stalls, they will indulge you with dishes that are rich of taste, mostly use succulent coconut milk and spicy chilli. And if you want to eat like a local, try eat with your hands. The locals don't use utensils. Instead, they will wash their hands in "kobokan", a bowl of water with a slice of lime in it. Use this "kobokan" before and after eating. There you go! You just gain some more respect from the locals by eating with their style! ;) 

Ok, now I'm officially hungry! Let's go to Padang restaurant! Hahaha.. 

More info on West Sumatera, visit www.indonesia.travel. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Exploring West Sumatera, Indonesia

(West Sumatera trip, June 22 - 26, 2014)

I was invited by the Ministry of Tourism & Creative Economy of the Republic of Indonesia to join their trip called "Minangkabike" to explore West Sumatera. A few weeks before the trip, there was a big event held in the area. Maybe some of you have heard of it. Yup… it was "Tour de Singkarak", an annual multiple stage bicycle race, also held by the Ministry, and has become a part of the official Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) International Asia Tour Calendar.

Well, the Minangkabike trip was nothing like the Tour de Singkarak. It was more of a fun trip with several passionate travel bloggers to experience the beauty of West Sumatera. But hey.. we also did some biking in several spots and it was actually a.m.a.z.i.n.g!!! I might consider doing some biking activities in my next travel trips because of this. It was so much fun and refreshing!


Lake Maninjau : One of the Calmest Places in Indonesia


Arriving in Kelok 44, one of the tracks of the Tour de Singkarak, I was hypnotised by the beauty of the landscape before me. The ancient Lake Maninjau, set within a volcanic crater and perched in the mountain highlands, around 461 meters above sea level, the lake that I only learned from the school text book when I was in the elementary school was actually so much more beautiful than how I imagined it.
From a little "warung" (food stall) where I sat and had a cup of hot milk tea, I could really enjoy the beauty of this place. The cool wind breeze made this tea time even more relaxing. I could sit here forever… I told myself. With a good book to read, this place would be such a perfect spot to relax and getaway from the hectic metropolitan lifestyle. No wonder people said it was one of the calmest places in Indonesia…


Jam Gadang : The Icon of Bukittinggi

It was such a bright and sunny day when we arrived in the square where the famous Jam Gadang was located. This 26 meter tall clock was built in 1826 as a gift from the Dutch Queen to the city's secretary, Rook Maker. It was believed that this clock has a twin sister, which was the "Big Ben" in London ;).
Pretty impressive, eh?


The square served as a park where the locals brought their family for a picnic, or just to enjoy the fresh air. There were some guys wearing cartoon characters costumes like Doraemon, Mickey Mouse, etc to entertain the kids and got some tips from the parents for a pose or two. Some balloon sellers also made a living here. Kids running around, teenagers posing in front of the giant clock, some lovebirds sitting  under the trees and teasing each other, this square was really like an amusement park for the locals. And the "Jam Gadang" stood tall and witnessed them all -- thousands of kids, families and lovebirds, with all their happy stories and problems -- since 1826!


The Harau Valley : The Yosemite of Indonesia 

Definitely the highlight of this trip, well at least for me! I really LOVED this place. It was drop dead beautiful!! Seriously.


Visiting the Harau Valley would definitely make your jaw dropped by its beauty. Your eyes would be spoiled by lush green rice fields laid in between huge granite cliffs. Such an awesome view. Riding a bicycle here, with a smooth fresh air, was definitely something! It really made you feel alive!

People on twitter, when they knew I was in West Sumatera, always mentioned "Harau Valley" and recommended this place. "Must visit Harau Valley" -- that's what they said. At first, I didn't really take it seriously. I thought it would just be some "normal" valleys. But then.. when finally I got here.. I was speechless! This place was really something. The huge granite cliffs reminded me a bit of Krabi in Thailand, but these cliffs were even more impressive. It was also a perfect spot for wall climbers. There were just so many cliffs around, one could just pick which one they wanted to climb ;).



Not only the Harau Valley beautiful, this place also had so many things to offer for tourists. Dozens of waterfalls from 80 to 300 meters height could be found in the area, such as Bunta Waterfall, Akar Barayun, Sarasah Luluh and Sarasah Murai. A variety of wildlife such as gibbons and macaques also lived freely here, along with some bird species. So, nature lovers, I think we've found your heaven here! ;)


Istana Baso Pagaruyung : An Impressive Traditional Palace! 

I remember when I was in the elementary school, we had to remember all the traditional dances names, houses, weapons, costumes, etc from each area in Indonesia. Rumah Gadang was one of them. Rumah Gadang, or the Grand House, was an icon of West Sumatera, and still could be found in many parts of the province.



Istana Baso Paguruyung was not a usual rumah gadang. This was the royal palace (istana means royal, in Indonesian language) of the former Pagaruyung Kingdom. Located in Tanjung Emas subdistrict near Batusangkar town, the palace was built in the traditional way with vernacular architectural style and three stories structure plus larger dimension as compared to the "usual" rumah gadang.

Today, there was no king or royal family lived in this palace. The building itself actually had been destroyed by fire three times, in 1804, 1966 and 2007 and has been rebuilt again. Now, it served as a popular tourist destination. If you're lucky, you would see some newly weds in their traditional costume took their wedding pictures here, too!


Air Manis Beach : the Legend of Malin Kundang

Malin Kundang was one of the famous folktales in Indonesia that originally come from West Sumatera. The story was so popular among kids in Indonesia. As every folktale, Malin Kundang also has a moral story behind it. It taught kids to obey their mother and be polite to her. One shouldn't betrayed his/her family, nor mother, or something bad would happen to him/her.

Malin Kundang turned into a crying stone as he refused to acknowledge her after traveling to another region and became rich. His mom felt hurt and cursed him. The "crying stone" laid on Air Manis Beach, together with several pieces of his ship, which were also stones.



From up the hill, close to Air Manis Beach, one could enjoy the gorgeous scenery of blue sea and the beach. Who said West Sumatera didn't have beautiful beaches and sea? ;)

I was skeptical about the sea and beaches in West Sumatera as I always traveled to the Eastern part of Indonesia which were blessed by pristine beaches. But, when I got here and saw the blue ocean in front of me, I've changed my mind. Apparently, the sea in West Sumatera was also pretty!


Kelok Sembilan 

Kelok Sembilan was actually an overpass in Lima Puluh Kota Regency. It has became a favourite spot for travellers to take some photos because of its charming view. The overpass was flanked by green, thick hills and one could see breathtaking view of mountains and valleys from this spot.

Some small food stalls selling grilled corn, ice cream, soft drinks and snacks along the road made travellers wanted to stay longer in this spot to enjoy the beauty and fresh air.



Indonesia. If I had to choose three words to describe my country, here they're: Heaven On Earth.

:)

For more info about West Sumatera, please visit: www.indonesia.travel.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My "Trip & Travel" Column!

Starting January 2014, I became a columnist at Market+ magazine, one of the leading monthly free magazines in Indonesia. I would be writing for the "Trip & Travel" column every month! :)

I started the January edition with "5 Best Beaches in Lombok". Why? It's because, people usually go to Lombok to spend their holidays on the famous Gili Trawangan Island. Gili T, the shortest version for it, got really famous, especially among the backpackers, until the last time I went there (a few months ago), I was surprised by the number of tourists, hotels and restaurants on this tiny island! OMG. The long white sandy beach was full of people sunbathing or drinking at the beachfront cafes.
It was good for the local tourism industry, I guess. But, I actually preferred the "empty" version of Gili T, the one that I visited long time ago, where I still could have the beach for myself… and jumped off to the sea and found sea turtles right away, only by snorkelling.

So, the 5 beaches that I shared on the article were not as famous as Gili T beach, but they're very pretty and… less crowded! In fact, those beaches were pretty empty when I went there, especially if you went to these beaches around 10am. You would rarely seen other tourists around. Seriously. It was heaven :).

On February edition, I shared about "Togean Islands", a hidden gem in Sulawesi. The place was pretty remote, that's why not many people went there. But, that's the beauty of it ;). Somehow I fell in love with beautiful places that were still quite remote and hard to reach. And Togean Islands could be considered as one of them.



This month's edition, I decided to choose a topic called "Exploring Barcelona". Why? Simply because I loved this place! :D I shared about the top 5 things to do in Barcelona, which were:
  1. Visiting La Sagrada Familia
  2. Visiting Picasso Museum
  3. Walking around Las Ramblas street
  4. Exploring the Old Town (and the Gothic area)
  5. Enjoying Gaudi's work at Eixample and Park Guell. 
I also shared places to eat and hangout in Barcelona, which were:
  • Sagardi in El Born area --> delicious tapas!
  • 4 Gats --> Picasso used to hangout here :D
  • Plaza Reial 
  • La Boqueria market :)

See you in my next "Trip & Travel" column! ;) 



Monday, March 10, 2014

Talking about Traveling on Plasa MSN

Interview with Plasa MSN about traveling, what I do when I'm traveling, and some tips from me :). Read the full article here


Video Interview on Plasa MSN

Plasa MSN asked me to talk about Taman Bacaan Pelangi [Rainbow Reading Gardens] for their "Persona" column.

Check out the video interview titled "Persona: Nila Tanzil" :). What do you guys think? Did I miss anything?

*btw, the opening was a bit tacky… recording me walking on the stairs! OMG* :))




Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Why Every Woman Should Travel Solo?


Sedunia Travel  asked me a bunch of questions about traveling and why I loved solo traveling.

You can read my answers here or http://bit.ly/1fXZ47R

But… since I'm a nice person, I would make your life easier. I'll copy & paste the article, so you can just read it below ;). You're welcome! :D

* * *

Name: Nila Tanzil
Occupation: Founder of Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Gardens)
Nationality: Indonesian
Interesting facts about yourself (bad habits are welcome): I’ve been a vegetarian since I was born. No meat, no fish. So, I basically can survive anywhere as long as there are trees with edible leaf to be eaten. I’m an avid scuba diver, too. For me, scuba-diving is like meditation, because I cannot hear anything apart from my own breath. I find scuba-diving very relaxing. Being underwater, surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and colourful fish, it’s so peaceful.
3 things you won't leave home without: Mobile phone, notebook, name card.
'Travel' smells like: Joy, freedom, happiness. It smells fresh like a fresh breeze & fresh water in the sea.
Guilty travel pleasure: Eating desserts that are full of fat (butter, cheese and sugar) and trying all the local snacks from each place. It’s OK to eat a lot when you travel, because you’ll need energy to walk around (that’s my justification!).


* * * 

My first travel experience overseas was actually solo

It started in 1997 when I went to Europe for the first time. I spent two months in Europe and it was the first time I travelled alone to several countries and I found it enjoyable! Since then, I prefer to travel by myself. I was impressed by the beauty of Europe and enjoyed the fact that I found new things & learned new stuff every single day. I enjoyed being lost in a new place and the feeling that nobody knew me or recognised me. I still love it now!
Since then, I travel solo 90% of the time. I spent 2 months traveling in Europe. I went to The Netherlands, France (Paris), UK (London), Belgium (Antwerp and Bruges) and Germany (Dusseldorf).

"I really love traveling alone, because I can do whatever I want and go wherever I want without any restrictions."

I never go on an arranged tour. I’m a very impulsive person. I never book something in advance when I travel and I don’t have fixed plans. It all depends on my mood. If I enjoy being in a little village somewhere, then I’ll stay longer there. When I travel, I enjoy every single minute of it and I don’t travel in a rush. I love getting to know the local people, hangout and spend hours chatting with them. I also don’t make budget planning and I never breakdown how much money I already spend during my travel. I don’t want to be stressed, worrying about money and getting a shock that I've spent too much. Maybe it sounds weird, but that’s just the way I travel. I want to enjoy the experience.
The highlight of my Europe trip was that I travelled alone and I felt great about it! I really enjoyed the feeling of being free, I could do whatever I like and go to wherever I want. At that time I wasn’t so good in reading maps, but because of that trip, I got really good at reading maps!
There was nothing weird or scary from that trip, as far as I remember. But when I went to Dusseldorf in Germany, I took a bus from The Hague, The Netherlands, and the bus was delayed for several hours. It was a day trip. I was constantly worried that I would miss the bus, so I checked my watch every half hour.

Travel is part of my work

My greatest challenge is more related to the library project that I initiated, called “Taman Bacaan Pelangi" (Rainbow Reading Gardens). The greatest challenge was to find people who share the same passion in education, but also have the skills to run the libraries. The libraries are located in remote areas (where there’s no electricity and running water!) and most of the people living in these villages are not educated. So, human capital has been a challenge. It’s not easy to find quality people who are willing to help grow the libraries on a voluntary basis, without getting paid. But after 3 and a half years, I managed to establish 26 libraries on 11 islands in Eastern Indonesia.

Staying safe

Mostly, I’ll be extra careful with everything and that includes – choosing safe accommodation, putting money in the safe place, always lock my luggage if I leave it in the room, walking straight with confidence when I’m in a place that looks a bit shabby and not wearing fancy stuff  or jewellery (I dress very down to earth, trying not to catch people’s attention).

What a shame!

For those who are afraid to leave the house, there are so many interesting places, people and culture to be discovered, met, and explored! Don’t waste your time sitting at home and watching TV. Make your life more colourful by going to places you’ve never been.

"It’s not as bad as you see in the media, at all!"

Don’t be afraid to get lost!

I wouldn’t be who I am now if I didn’t travel to those places. Really. Travel makes me understand myself better, be more tolerant with others, have more patience and understanding, go with the flow and accept the unpredictable things that happen in life. I used to be a very well planned out girl, everything had to be planned. If something didn't go according to plan, I'd be very annoyed. But because of travelling, now I’m more easy going and instead “go with the flow”. I've turned into a very impulsive woman!