How to Survive an International Flight With Baby and Toddler

One of the reasons the three month trip to Malaysia was, well, three months is because even before the kiddies came about, I wasn’t a fan of travel.

That includes regular and, unfortunately for work, frequent trips to Las Vegas, a less than two hour flight from SFO.

The thought of traveling for 20+ hours was and is still a huge barrier to wanting to leave the house: being cramped, uncomfortable, dried out for nearly a full solid day with fitful sleep and uncomfortable clothes is painful to think about.

Well, now add on an 11 month old and a 2 1/2 year old.

So, I tried to prepare by looking up a few other articles:

Some web sites I checked out:

The check list for traveling

Actually, the real check list belongs to my wife, but I’ve been planning for our trip.

1. Bring iPad for the 2 year old

I am adverse to her getting screen time. But I’ve seen it work and I’ve gotten her favorite videos, the ones that she watches over and over and over again (specifically Frozen and Monsters University).

It’s just 22+ hours. After that, she’ll have to quit cold turkey. But for the flight, I’m definitely bringing it.

2. Figure out snacks to bring

On the way over, we had litte jelly candies from Annie’s and granola bars and all kinds of other stuff like that. If I had been more on top of things, I might’ve bought some waxed meat from Chowrastra market. It’s flavorful, slices of dried meat that the toddler likes to eat. My preference is, if she has to snack, let it have more protein than sugars and grains.

3. Bring sanitation wipes

Overboard, but mostly for my own peace of mind. The toddler touches everything, especially those remotes that come with the seat. Then she picks at food with her hands. Rinse and repeat.

4. Bungee cords (the good kind)

With these long flights, we have to carry a ton of stuff. The bungee cords (I wrote about them in my post on what to bring to Penang) are helpful to strap as much as possible to the stroller when going through the airport. Yes, there are also those big baggage carts airports have on the sidewalks, and I love those as well. But once past security and baggage check-in, there’s still alot of carry-on bags that it would be nice to be able to strap on.

5. Sippy cups

The water on the plane comes in regular cups. But it’s still easier to just use a sippy cup with the toddler and even the baby. Especially when you want to encourage a long-lasting sucking motion when the airplane descends to clear their ears.

6. Flip flops

After walking around Penang in just my flip flop, I decided to take them on the plane. I’ll bring socks in case it gets cold but it’s much easier and more comfortable. Plus, I’ll be walking the toddler up and down the aisle once we’re in the air.

That’s all that I can come up with right now.

Cost of Mobile Wireless in Penang for Expats

Before we even settled on our place, I began looking for a way for our family to have internet access during the 2 1/2 months we’d be living in Penang.

My wife was skeptical we’d use it. But the reality is, if you want to do even light surfing, you need internet access. It’s not realistic to expect to use the so-called “Wi-Fi” rooms the condos have. The quality of the bandwidth there is horrible.

Problem for us as temporary ex-pats, we weren’t going to be here long enough for get a fixed-line, which typically require 12 or even 24 month contracts.

The only no-contracts were pre-paid mobile services, or MIFI.

Shopping around for them was difficult. I found most of the service offerings confusing.

I went with what the online press said would be the best 4G service for Penang. Many of these telcos primarily service Kuala Lumpur, so I narrowed it down by looking for those with 4G in Penang.

Thanks to soyacincau’s blog I found a basic matrix of providers, but basically went with Yes based on the map they had showing coverage of Georgetown with 4G.

What were the costs?

I had to purchase the Huddle XS device for RM$399. Here are how the costs broke down from what I would say was less-than-average usage compared to what we did in the states. No streaming movies. No streaming music. Occasionally downloading and streaming podcasts (by accident). Mostly regular surfing and blogging. I did have some Skype calls. Originally I tried to limit these during the cheaper non-peak hours, but it wasn’t convenient.

July 14 - August 13 2014 - RM$441.40

This included the RM48 to get me on the lowest monthly plan (2GB).

The total was RM441.40. This mostly consisted of me getting “booster bandwidth” purchases. I hadn’t projected the bandwidth cost, so I ended up buying in the more expensive dribs and drabs, rather than just minimizing by cost-per-GB by going with the maximum 5GB.

So this comes out to about US$147.00 for the month in bandwidth.

By comparison, I think I pay US$60 for unlimited bandwidth plus unlimited nation-wide calling. Granted, that is DSL, but still.

August 14 - September 13 2014 - RM$270

The total for this month was RM$270. We were gone for like two+ weeks so that sort of makes sense. This ended up being US$90.

September 14 - ? 2014

We haven’t quite finished out the week, but I am hoping that we aren’t going to need to spend more than the RM$35 by the time we leave Saturday.

Total costs to have basic internet at our condo

This was definitely not one of the areas we saved money by being in Penang. This doesn’t even include the mobile phone costs, which I’d like to try to tally next. Our total for the trip looks like it will be around RM$750 just for data. Roughly US$260!

What about our cell phone usage?

Tracking our cell-phone usage, unfortunately, is even harder because we have to buy “reloads” with cash. I probably should have kept the receipts or the used Digi reload cards.

If I had to estimate, the total was probably around RM$200 – I know there was a point where both of our phones reloaded for RM$60 each, I also loaded for around RM$50 and then we had miscellaneous reloads in RM$10 increments along the way.

With cell-phones, this amount can be used both for calls and for data. It’s not that easy to ration. My wife kept asking me, “How come you don’t know how much you used for data?” and I had to explain that the way data is calculated is by paying for a “subscription plan” which can come in daily, weekly, or monthly increments with a fixed quota.

You actually can see the total amount of remaining bandwidth you are allowed, and could of course calculate the cost-per-GB if you had to based on the plan you selected.

The calls appeared to average around RM$.30 per quick 20-second call. And I believe there is a charge for SMS.

Summary on wireless and mobile costs in Penang

It ain’t cheap during the 2 1/2 months.

  • Mobile Internet: around US$260
  • Cell phone (data and call): around US$70 for two people

The cell phone costs doesn’t look that high. But the only people we were calling we taxi-drivers and those calls tended to be less than 20-seconds each. Calling vendors or being put on hold (as I was by Yes multiple times) could be costly. Downloading anything, including apps (such as the MyTeksi app which needed to be re-downloaded multiple times) definitely consumed bandwidth.

If I were to do anything differently, I would start with the maximum bandwidth plans for each to save on my per-GB cost.

For the mobile internet, we were defintely using more than 10GB each month, and this cost RM$158 on their subscription plan. Turns out, the booster was slightly more economical: It was RM$75 for 5GB (or RM$150 for 10GB). Since we weren’t going to be here for a full three months, it made sense to subscribe at the absolute lowest and just get boosters at the maximum. My hunch is that we probably still would have spent a similar amount.

This is one of those unavoidable trade-offs as far as I can tell: we didn’t want a contract, which left us with mobile data plans.

If you did want to look at other options and compare, here is the matrix from the original blog:

MIFI providers in Penang

Where to Eat Indian in Penang

Penang is unique as a culinary melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and others. Because of its proximity to India and pretty large Indian population, there’s a good chance to find some great Indian food.

I’ve had some awesome Indian food in the Bay Area which, too, has a very large and cultured Indian population. I’ve also eaten Indian food in the Indian sections just outside of London (they don’t even speak English there).

I would like to discover more, but here is where we’ve eaten:


I don’t know how I find this place. It was a blog or two which pointed me to it, and it was, in retrospect, a lark that we actually went there. I think it was because it had air-conditioning for the kids that I finally pulled the trigger.

Am I glad we did. The food here was outstanding. I’ve come back several times and haven’t been disappointed.

The food had a distinct spiciness, as well as a freshness to it that made it flavorful. Of note are the following:

  • Fried bitter gourd chips
  • Chettanaidi mutton
  • Mango lassi
  • Chettanaid roti

I haven’t strayed from these as far as I can remember. Why ruin a good thing? If I can fit in one more meal, I will and go here.

Not only does it have air-conditioning, but they take Visa.

Sri Ananda Bhavan

This is a pretty awesome place. The entrance shows some ready-made food which is fine. Not totally awesome, in my mind, but at a good selection and probably can’t really go bad.

The teksi driver suggested that we have the porothi. I couldn’t really understand him, but once I saw the menu, I knew what he was talking about. It didn’t look that appetizing from the menu, but after we had it, it was fantastic.

It’s basically like a roti with meat and egg or something.

The second thing we had was Robyn’s suggestion, I believe. This wasn’t from her blog, but from her directly. Cashew rawa thosai (lacy crisp griddled rice flour crepe studded with cashews and black peppercorns to eat with coconut sambar, daal, curry). Seemingly simple but a nice, rich set of flavors and texture.

The third thing was had was some kind of banana leaf set. We ordered it by accident, but it was great. A few different curries with rice.

I noticed one thing that last time I was there, which was their specials menu. Some of the items looked good, and perhaps is something we should try.


Website Links

I found this place while walking along Campbell after another amazing dinner at Tek Sen.

The street was pretty much empty, but there was a little crowd in the restaurant at around 8PM.

The items recommended for us to try:

  • Special Bandung
  • Murtabak (apparently the best in Penang)
  • Nasi Briyani
  • Danging Randang (beef)
  • Kambing Bakar (grilled goat meat)

The food was, for the most part, fantastic! The Bandung which is rose milk syrup was delicious. I also got the mango lassi which, compared to Kapitan’s, was flavorful and natural.

The star of the meal was, in fact, the Martabak. We had the ayam (chicken), and we all liked it, including the 2.5 year old!

The Briyani was okay…nothing incredible, but the chicken, when added to the curry which I guess came with it (?) was flavorful without being over-the-top spicy. I paired it with the sweet onions that came with my briyani, and together, the tender chicken, curry, and onions was delicious.

We also got the ayam kapitan curry which was good, a thinner curry than I am used to, but also flavorful. Difficult to eat: you get a full wing or leg soaked in the curry so I guess you have to be prepared to tear it apart with your hands.

The second time we went and tried the danging randang and had the same of everything else (bandung, mango lassi, murtabak, briyani, naan) – the beef was surprisingly flavorful!

I think we will probably head back again to try some more. The problem was figuring out what would be good to order.

The upstairs where we ate was not only clean (probably the cleanest and newest of any eating establishment in Penang) it was also air-conditioned, great for the kids.

Over all, this was one of the best Indian restaurants we’ve eaten at.


Kapitan = “Crapitan”

The last teksi driver suggested we go there. Every time I have passed by it, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be good.

Restaurants with their name in big bold letters and perhaps a little too much space make me think that they must have jumped the shark.

The food was terrible. From the mango lassi to the butter chicken and tandoori…all pretty much a bust. I’ve had better food in San Francisco. I’d probably take the butter chicken from Trader Joe’s over this.

Sadness, and a big lesson for us.

I’d love to find some other places that are awesome. We have had some thosai grilled chapati just outside the main bustle of Little India, and those are awesome.

Where to Find the Best Cendol

layout: post title: “where to find the best cendol” date: 2014-09-04 09:50 comments: true categories: — [Penang, cendol, food]

While we have been in Penang, one of the first things we tried we cendol.

It looked so strange the first time we saw it: green noodles, white stuff, beans and ice. We hadn’t even heard of gula melaka then.

The first place we went was the spot our teksi driver took us, saying it was a famous place. We had a hard time finding a time when it was actually open something we learned about with cendol and other hawker stands: they have their own schedules.

Penang was so hot that we tried not to be out and about from 11AM till past 7PM if we could help it. Turns out that most cendol places are closed up by 7PM and some even earlier.

After having our first slurp, we realized we loved it. The first time we had it surprised us with the butter-scotchy, coconutty, cold sweetness. It soon became our go-to snack or, if possible, after dinner dessert.

With only a handful of key ingredients, we figured no one could really screw it up.

Then we tried cendol at Armenian Street. Yep, someone could mess it up, alright. So then we became more discriminating and wondering, Where can we get good, even the best, cendol around?

This included not only trying different places in Penang, but also Singapore and Melaka. Turns out, the best cendol is in Melaka. While there, I ate maybe seven different cendols in Melaka.

Here is where we’ve eaten in Penang:

What to Bring or Buy in Penang With Kids

It’s been over two month since our move with the two kids (10 month old and a 2.5 year old) to Penang. We’re thinking whether we would come back now that we have gotten comfortable with the home base.

I wanted to put together a short overview of things to prepare, buy, or bring that make the move easier (for us, from San Francisco).

Some of this might repeat what I wrote in my earlier two posts (here and here. But I think this post either summarizes it or adds some new stuff.

Buy a MIFI for your condo

If you have condo dedicated for your unit already as part of the rental agreement, then you’re good to go.

However, I wouldn’t count on the free Wi-Fi that’s available in the lobby or the Wi-Fi room. Not only does it make it inconvenient to look up something quickly on the internet, the performance can be shaky.

While the price would certainly be better for a fixed line, those typically need a 12-month contract. If you know you’ll be in Penang for at least a year, it’s a no-brainer to get the 12-month contract. I’m not going to write about the detail of that since we didn’t go through that.

At the time we started looking, of the telecom providers for mobile internet, Yes appeared to have the best 4G coverage. We ended up getting the Huddle XS MIFI, which allows four devices to connect to the hub.

Huddle Mifi

It took me a while to get my handle around the concept of pre-paid and post-paid. To get anything with less than a 12-month (and often a 24-month) contract requires getting something pre-paid. That’s what I did. I signed up for the lowest pre-paid MIFI by going to an in-person store. I recommend this since it makes things a little easier to pick up your device, get it set up, and tested. Most places, however, even in a nicer mall like Prangin, which is where I purchased mine, do not accept credit cards, so make sure your ATM is set up to work and bring enough cash!

It’s still not that cheap, so don’t expect download movies and stuff. This is for emails, browsing, and using connected apps. That being said, the occasional music download, app update, and podcasts over time does consume quite a bit of bandwidth. I haven’t fully calculated the costs, but it came out roughly to US$120 for the first month. Your mileage may vary.

I bought additional bandwidth piece-meal originally (500MB chunks). Once I realized how much I was using, I moved to 5GB tranches, which lowers the per-GB price by quite a bit.

It’s possible you could get by without access to the Internet outside of your phones, in which case, you’re good to go. But I had the occasional Skype call, Google hangout, as well as email, so it just made sense to have access this way.

Buy your SIM cards

Fortunately I was able to unlock both of our iPhones, and I would recommend getting a local SIM card as soon as you can. The most common usage is for contacting the taxis (teksi) here to go from place to place.

There are several options, and I didn’t do extensive research into the coverage and cost. The ones I am aware of are:

There might actually be one that is better than the other. For me, I would make the decision based on which store is closest to where I lived.

Why? When you want to reload, it can be sort of a pain to need to look for something. In Times Square where we rented our condo, there is a Maxis right downstairs. It’s not that big of a deal. There are Digi’s everwhere, it’s just that I would need to know to make the reload when seeing them.

Uniqlo Airism

I brought a bunch of t-shirts to wear here in Penang. Regular, high-quality cotton t-shirts.

And you know what? They were too hot and uncomfortable.

I haven’t worn any of them since getting two Airisms.

They breath much easier, and dry overnight. I basically redued my load two wearing two shirts, washing in the sink the one I had just worn before going to sleep.

I swear by these! And they are affordable. I picked mine up at Gurney Plaza.

Airism 1 Airism boxers

Bungee Cords (the good kind)

They don’t take up much space, but when you need to strap your carry-on luggage to your stroller, you’ll be glad you have these.

Get the good kind, which, to me, means two things: 1) they actually stretch; 2) the hooks are double-bent so those they don’t expose metal.

I had the bad ones before and the metal poked through the rubber, making them basically man-sized fish-hooks. And because they didn’t really stretch that well, I would pull on them and cut my hand.

Here is the link at Amazon

Note: get a few different sizes. I only brought four, they hardly took any room, and saved us whenever we needed to travel to the airport.

Bungee Cord

Cendol Taste-off Winner - RM3 Cendol

Now that we’ve pretty much finished our cendol taste-off while in Melaka, I think I have come up with a definitive winner.

This cendol is also the priciest – RM$73.50 or so. Well, it was RM$70 round trip to go from our hotel to the stand and RM$3.50 for the actual cendol. Was it worth it?

I couldn’t afford to do it every time I craved cendol, but it certainly helped give a solid benchmark.

The winner? Aunty Koh’s Cendol

The run down on the cendol vendors we tried can be found in my previous post, but the clear winner (to date) is Aunty Koh’s Cendol.

How did it rank against the main components?

  • Coconut Milk: creamy and plentiful. I could see her pour it on from a ladle.
  • Gula Melaka: you could taste the butterscotchy flavor; she even let me add a little extra myself!
  • Pandan Noodles: dark, rich green, firm, thick
  • Shaved Ice: felt very light; but it’s so hot, it melted pretty quickly
  • Red Beans: there were none! But, I didn’t count it against them; if they have it, fine, then it better be good; but if not, I’m okay.

So where is it located?

It is far, far, far away from the center of Melaka. Round trip our taxi ride was about RM$70!

I knew it would be far and potentially costly, but I really wanted to find out what great cendol could taste like.

It’s also a little bit difficult to find. The driver got us pretty close, and I used my GPS with coordinates to get me the rest of the way there.

GPS Coordinates: N2 14.804 E102 11.516

Street Address: Aunty Koh’s Cendol No. 5113, Jalan Batang Tiga Kampung Bukit Rambai. 75250, Melaka


The blog posts I read said it was open only on weekends from 12-1pm. We got there maybe 11:15 AM…and *there was already a line!**

When Aunty Koh went to get her ice, I looked inside the cooler and saw that she was almost out. At the rate she was going, she could have easily run out of ice by noon.

So, we were actually fortunate to get there when we did. One person said to get there by 11:30AM, I saw a huge line twice the length of mine form around 11:30AM. It’s hard to tell if this is the norm, however. This weekend was Malaysian Independence Day.

So, is it worth it?

Depends on your goals. I think Makko’s as I wrote about here is quite good and is close to the city center. Back in Penang, I’d have to try again but it could be a toss-up between Fort Cornwallis and Macalister. This will be TBD.

If you have your own car and some time to kill, I would go. If you have to cab it, I’d pass.

A Day in Melaka With the Kids

I’m trying a new approach with planning a given day with the kids by being a little more prescriptive. I was jotting things down on my notepad (which I still recommend since the iPhone can still be very unreliable out here at times), I wanted a clear reference online that included links, a way for me to access things with a single click if I can get onto the Internet, and it is a good way for me to have a record in the future.

So, here we go:

August 30, 2014 – Melaka

9-10:30AM : Long Fatt Teochew Porridge


Foods to Eat

  • Asam Fish
  • Sour Pickled Vegetables Stew
  • Soft Pumpkin Stew


Long Fatt, No. 15 Kampong Pantai, Malacca. 06/283-0129.

11AM - 12:30AM : Aunty Koh’s Cendol



GPS: N2 14.804 E102 11.516

Aunty Koh’s Cendol No. 5113, Jalan Batang Tiga, Kampung Bukit Rambai. 75250, Melaka

Cendol in Melaka

Summary of Places

Nyonya Makko

We came here expressly for the cendol based on Robyn’s review (see above), but also had the food for dinner. Disappointing. We were batting 1000 both in Penang and in Melaka in terms of Nyonya food, but this was a big miss. I will write about it later.

Back to the cendol. This has the elements we were looking for in a cendol that the other three during the day (yes, three cendols in one day) didn’t have.

  • Shaved Ice | Excellent | probably the best ice; very fine without being crunchy
  • Gula Melaka | Very Good | a decent amount with a noticeable flavor
  • Coconut Milk | Excellent | definitel the best of the bunch today; strong, creamy
  • Pandan Noodles | Excellent | good, solid green color and firm, not mushy
  • Red Beans | Very Good | firm, large, not mushy

This was definitely the best of the bunch. Food was not so good, so if I were really craving something, I’d go back here and skip the food.

Nyonya Makko Cendol Nyonya Makko Cendol

Nancy’s Kitchen

We actually had wanted to go to Nyonya Makko (see above) for lunch, but it was closed; coming to Nancy’s Kitchen ended up being a better alternative food-wise, but the cendol fell short.

It was good, relatively solid. I would put it close to *Fort Cornwallis cendol back in Penang.

When you look at the picture, you hardly see any gula melaka. When we dipped into the cendol, there was “chunks” of coconut which didn’t look appetizing. It reminded me of what happens when real milk curdles. The beans were a little mushy and, again, the noodles a pale green which looked pretty gross.

Tastewise it wasn’t that bad, mostly because there was an actual coconut flavor.

  • Shaved Ice - very good
  • Gula Melaka – good (ironically not great since they sold gula melaka there which was quite good)
  • Coconut Milk – good, not super creamy

East & West Rendezvous Cafe

This was a disappointment. I had to ask for more gula melaka just to taste something. I’m not sure what it was, but even the coconut flavor wasn’t that strong.

East West Rendezvous Cafe Cendol East West Rendezvous Cafe Cendol East West Rendezvous Cafe Cendol

This seem to have come with good reviews online, but it wasn’t memorable.

Jonker 88

Appearance wise, this had the most prominent gula melaka. But it felt weak – there wasn’t a good balance of ice, coconut, beans and noodles. In the close-up of the spoon, the beans were small and mushy, and noodles very short and very pale.

The taste was so-so. Not horrible, but I couldn’t really taste the coconut and the combination that makes cendol so good of coconut blending with the gula melaka didn’t quite come through.

Jonker 88 cendol 1 Jonker 88 cendol 2

Min Chong Hygenic Ice Cafe

When I ate at the absolutely incredible Long Fatt Teochew Porridge, I asked Karen, the proprietor, where she would eat for cendol.

She suggested Min Chong. When someone offers such great food, you want to trust their taste.

So we went and it was good. On the top end of what we’ve had while in Melaka, but not the best.

The one noticeable thing was that the beans all looked mushed and broken. Maybe because they do it all by hand, I don’t know. But when I looked into their bin of beans, you could see them already mushed and broken. However, they did taste pretty good.

The pandan noodles were a little less flavorful and more pale. The coconut milk was good. I asked them where they got it and they said they hand made it.

Min Chong cendol

Min Chong cendol

Min Chong cendol

Planning Our Trip to Melaka

In a few days, we leave Bali and return to Malaysia. We first stop off at Kuala Lumpur and then hop on over to Penang after a few days.

I debated whether we should spend the full three days in KL. But after reading about Melaka, decided we should spend our time there for two of the three days. Melaka is apparently similar to Georgetown in terms of architecture and walkability.

While there, I think we will focus on a handful of good eats, specifically the Nyonya food.

One place I know we want to try which came to my attention because of their cendol is Makko Nyonya.

I first heard about it from Robyn’s blog about gula melaka and how good it is in Melaka and how important it is to good cendol. We’ve been trying multiple cendol places so far in Penang and keen to find something to top what we’ve had so far.

I did a little more research on the restaurant, including a post from here which recommended the fried otak-otak which I can’t wait to try.

Another blog recommended a different Nyona restaurant, but the photographs were amazing: Amy Heritage Nyonya Cuisine. This particular blog had some fantastic photographs and alot of dishes that I typically don’t get when I live in Penang (where I primarily eat at Madame Khaw’s stall in Pulau Tikus).

The photograph of the kueh is especially mouth-watering right now since in Bali the desserts have been sorely lacking.

Cendol Research

Alright, with some downtime before the 10-month old goes bananas, I’m going to capture some places we need to check out for the cendol:

Aunty Koh

East West Renedezvoud Cafe

  • Review on vkong
  • Review on Sufen’s Cottage
  • East & West Rendezvous 60, Lorong Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka Tel: 016-634 6283 (Grace Tan)
  • Notes: durian is good, as is the gula melaka used for the cendol

The Hakkan House

  • Review found on Malaysian Insider
  • Address: No. 20, Jalan Tukang Besi, 75200 Melaka Melaka 75200 GPS: 2.196333 , 102.248135
  • Notes: the article also mentioned Jetta Groves but said the gula melaka lacked robustness; and Amy Heritage – but used ice cubes. I would check out Amy Heritage.

Other foods

Loi’s Ba Ku Teh

  • From vkeong
  • Loi’s Beef & Bak Kut Teh Jalan Permai 2, Taman Perkota, 75350 Melaka GPS Coordinates: N2 13.583 E102 15.822 Business hours: Daily 10.30am to 2pm, then 6pm to 10pm

Bab Charlie Nyonya Kueh

  • Review at BangsarBabe
  • Address: Baba Charlie Nyonya Cake 72, Jalan Tengkera Pantai 2, 75200 Melaka. 06-284 7209, 019 666 2907 (Baba Charlie Lee)
  • Notes: Get the Kuih Bongkong – it has Gula Melaka

Underwhelming Food in Bali - Dava at AYANA Review

I’m not sure how it happened. But it did.

I was traumatized by eating at Dava a restaurant at the AYANA Resort.

Normally I am circumspect of resort food. But, I did want to check out other resorts while in Bali so that we could be a little more informed if there were to be a next time, and several TripAdvisor folks recommended it.

The resort, itself, has some of the most impressive landscaped grounds I’ve seen. Waterfalls, views of the ocean, green, manicured landscapes with a modern “jungle” feel.

We checked out the rooms. Interestingly, all of the rooms are the same size, according to the person who showed us around. The differentiating factor is whether it is on the Club floor or not, and the view. Inside, the rooms were fine, but not awesome (meaning, modern and updated, versus older).

Since we were there, anyway, and were relatively far from where we were staying (the Grand Mirage in Nua Dusa – more on that later) – I figured we should try out the food.

I shared the six-course “Degustation” menu with my wife. In a nutshell, the food was absolutely inedible. I don’t think we finished anything. It started off with something that was on the menu – a cracker – that actually wasn’t bad. But then came the real menu items. The Balinese Chicken Cake had a horrible, crumbly texture and a strange “chemical” taste that was overpowering. So we didn’t finish that.

The Pan Seared Scallop came with a green pea puree which when we ate it, tasted repuslive and artificial, as did the ham. The scallops themselves, which we had high hopes for because we figured the seafood would be local, tasted worse than if I had bough scallops from Trader Joe’s and put them in my own frying pan. There was no finesse to the scallops at all (no translucency or delicate sweetnessone expects)…just blah.

The Butternut Pumpkin Capuccino had a vanilla foam and cumin – the combination did not go well, and the buttternut pumpkin without the extra stuff itself wasn’t bright or sweet. Again, if I got the butternut soup from Trader Joe’s and heated it up, it would have been much better than this.

At this point, I was getting nervous about how bad things could possibly get.

Marinated Grilled Sea Bass – didn’t finish the mixture of lemongrass butter sauce made the whole thing forgettable. The Slow Cooked Beef Cheeks were tolerable – a little mushy and, again, I put beef cheeks in a sous vide machine at home and it tasted better than this.

The dessert was also gross: Kolak Water Gel the sweet potato they used didn’t gel with the overly sweet banana sorbet. The US$0.75 bur bur cha cha – a nyonya dessert of yams and coconut milk – was ten times better than this.

I left that dinner in shock, as well as out $1,000,000 RP (about US$100!). The scenery was good till it got dark, but for the rest of the evening, I was in shell shock over how badly my taste buds had been assaulted by the chemically taste in most of the foods, the very weird pairings of flavors, and the gross textures of the food.

This is the most expensive meal I have had throughout my time in Southeast Asia – and is also my very worse.

I couldn’t understand. I found the place because of this Lady Iron Chef blog but, now, in retrospect, the review was a little strange: “To sum things up, the food at Dava is complex and sophiscated, with multi layers of flavour and texture.” What on earth does that mean?

But there were more than one positive reviews besides the one from Lady Iron Chef and Expat Gourmand and more generic publications like DestinAsian.

Nevertheless, I felt snookered, and have been wondering: how do I get really reliable information about places to stay and eat when traveling abroad?

I realized, whether here or San Francisco, there’s huge risk for these very expensive places compared to eating the tried and true. Penang street food at US$1.00 a person trumped this by a mile (although, if I did have to spend money, the restaurant at 7 Terraces in Penang was awsome and half the price!

Now a word about Nua Dusa

I was anxious to try some good food that night at Dava because the night before the food at the Grand Mirage dinner buffet was also incredibly bad. Agin, this same chemically smell, strange textures and flavor pairings. It made us anxious about any kind of food.

Turns out the best thing we ate was US$.25 fried rice at one of the warungs.

However, the food continues to be frustrating here. I suppose it is to be as expected. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the popularity with tourists and the quality of food. I’m not sure if I’m capturing that exactly right, though.

Back in Penang, Tek Sen is filled with tourists, but the food is outstanding.

Maybe the relationship is the probability of food > mediocore goes down when “all inclusive” is part of the package. That’s what we got in Nua Dusa. It was supposed to make it easier with the kids. Definitely easier than if we had to go out for every meal. But I’m not sure that if the food is horrible it actually makes it easier.

I’ll probably try to compile some of these learnings into something more actionable on “How to have a great vacation in Bali” or something like that.

Key Takeaways

  • Heavily promoted areas in Bali don’t seem to meet the quality (looking at you, Ibu Oka)
  • Western food, even with promises of local influence, will probably bomb in non-Western areas (Dava is the prime example)

Maybe it’s about someplace other than Bali

There are, after all, 17,000 Islands in Indonesia. I’ve been thinking: maybe th real treasure is someplace emerging, one of the other islands other than Bali that hasn’t experienced their version of the “Eat Pray Love” Phenomenon.

How could I find out about some islands other than Bali?