On my recent trip, my family and I had a chance to experience Indonesia and visited two of the country’s most popular tourist destinations; Borobudur and Bali. Even though the two places are known for being touristy, my experience there was unique and simple. Knowing the destination, the experiences you like and dislikes, keeping it simple and engaging with the locals are the key to making your holiday special. This way, you can get new experience every time you visit the same place.

Borobudur Temple is one of a few Buddhist sites left standing from the 17th Century. We had a funny and knowledgeable local guide who worked at the historical temple for over 15 years. He knew every nook and cranny of the temple and was perceptive enough not to recount it all – he showed us the highlights. It was both relaxing and engaging to hear the tales of the temple. It saved the time of going through a guidebook to find a description of different places. We also met with the head abbot of the Indonesian Theravada Sangha at Mendut Monastery “Phra Pannyavarabhon”, who told us about the history of Borobudur, Buddhism and Indonesia. A truly gentle monk, he exudes happiness, tranquility and compassion. It was infectious.

We ended our day tour with sate and lamb & chicken curry at a local restaurant, renowned for serving the best lamb curry in town. It was the last night of Ramadan. We saw local people waited for sundown to enjoy their dinner after a full day of fasting. It was a good experience for everyone.  We hung out and kept ordering lots of food (they had to close the shop after we ate all the lamb). We could not have found this restaurant if we did not insist to our guide that he showed us the local scene.

In Bali, we arrived with warnings of the notorious traffic jams. With two-lane roads leading to the beaches and towns, it’s rather challenging to avoid the traffic. Bali changed from my previous visits. It has matured into a major tourist destination with lots of shops, restaurants, entertainment complexes and a new international airport, which is due to open soon.

We were a bit nervous as we drove past all the new developments. Our intention was to spend our holidays in a natural and cultural setting. To our surprise, our place at Cemagi Beach was in a perfect setting with stunning black volcanic sand beach dotted with huge volcanic boulders, mesmerizing sunsets and a tranquil temple, Pura Gede Lahur Batungaus on the Bukit Peninsula.

The staff at the house took us to the village to buy local food, fishing gears and kites. We ate local Balinese cuisines, went Balinese kiting, brought batik from the real local shop, went fishing off the volcanic boulders and taught our Balinese cook to make some Thai spicy sauces.

It was a perfect balance of leisure and culture. We had our rest, were pampered, ate well and made a few local friends.