Monday, March 29, 2010

Mantri Square, the Biggest Mall in India

(Apologies in advance for the ugly-looking-pixelated-camera-phone-quality pictures.)

Earlier this month, the largest mall in India opened but since I haven’t been too in-tuned with Bangalore news lately, I got the big news about the launch of Mantri Square from my bff, Nan, who lives in NYC. So, out of curiosity to see what other imported goods are offered in India (and what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon), we went to the mall.

Professional-looking receptionist at the Information Desk

Taco Bell launched in India a week or so ago. Would you believe the line!

The architecture and layout of the building is modern and nice. There were some interesting ideas carried out in this mall, like the vertical parking, which is a big space saver.

Parking Area

I think it makes a lot of sense but on the downside, traffic becomes a pain when everyone decides to leave. Oh and the lack of parking-area labels may result to a lot of frustrated customer who couldn't find their cars.

The execution of the mall is quite blah and the lack of attention to details is quite obvious.

Is it really that big, like would I consider it a giant mall? Having come from Kuala Lumpur and seen a few massive malls there that are still trying to outdo each other, I would say the Bangalore Mantri Square is pretty modest, but next to the few malls in Bangalore (or India), it definitely deserves the title.

Entrance to the Mantri Square

I am not a fan of malls but I think this is a good start to bringing the city a step forward to um, modernization? Personally, I think it is safer and less stressful shopping here than say Commercial Street or 100 ft Road where you risk stepping into a pothole or getting run over by a motorcycle on the sidewalk.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bali with "A"

Bali again? Yes, because “A” wanted a relaxing destination, and exploring the hundreds of Angkor Wat temples, or biking around paddy fields in Laos just wouldn’t do it. But unlike the first trip I took to Bali with IQballs and Mads, where it was about ex-schoolmate bonding and partying, this trip was more of a tranquil and romantic getaway. First stop, Manggis.

Manggis is a small region in East Bali about an hour drive from Denpasar Airport. Unlike the touristy South, this region is so rural that most locals are still wearing the Balinese traditional costumes. Women young and old wear kebaya, which to me, is one of the more elegant yet sexy costumes still being worn today. It doesn’t matter how skinny or chubby one is (ok, to be fair, I hardly saw any fat women in Bali) because the kebaya accentuates a woman’s curves without it being too restrictive and difficult to work in the paddy fields or ride sideways on the passenger seat of a motorcycle.

A walking tour in a small Balinese village
A walking tour in a small Balinese village in East Bali.

Beautiful paddy fields in Tulamben, East Bali.

Chief of town preparing coconut water for us
Village chief preparing coconut water for us.

Alila Manggis
We stayed at lovely Alila Manggis beach resort. It wasn’t much of a beach and the water here is murky and sand black but the resort itself is very peaceful. We (or I) tried to maximize our stay here by signing-up for free activities like an evening yoga session facing the sea, afternoon herbal tea by the pool, cycling to a traditional village and badminton.

Alila Manggis
Sunset at the resort.

Beach on Alila Manggis
It was a bit overcast but that didn't stopped us from relaxing by the beach.

Breakfast at Alila Manggis, Bali
Having breakfast at the resort.

Diving in Tulamben
There are a tonne of dive sites in Bali but we only had time for two. The first one was a shore dive by Manggis and is nothing to brag about. The second dive was at the Tulamben U.S.A.T Liberty wreck, which according to our dive instructor (and I totally believe) was one of the more popular dive sites and during peak seasons, you won’t be able to dive into the wreck because of how crowded it gets. I think in my limited diving experience, next to Tokong Laut at Perhentian Island, this is the most exciting and most beautiful dive. The instructor took us into the wreck and I instantly thought of the last scene in the movie Titanic. It was unnerving knowing this wreck is 40 years old and at any given time, the eroded poles might collapse. If you decide not to go into the wreck, you could swim up and down the wreck (about 20 meters in height) and admire the stunning reef formations. I don’t own an underwater camera, so I’m borrowing this picture I found on the internet just to give you an idea what it was like down in the wreck.

Ubud Hanging Garden

“A” decided that since we’ve been through much “stress” lately, we should splurge a little and stay a couple of nights at Ubud Hanging Gardens. This is one of those places I normally won’t even dream about staying at because of the ridiculous price, but according to “A” it’s “really not that bad”. Ubud Hanging Gardens is a two hours drive from Manggis and 30 minutes drive from main street Ubud. This resort is built on top of the hill in the midst of the forest and tucked away from the increasingly noisy and busy Ubud town. I would suggest having some of your meals at the resort itself because we both thought the food at both the restaurant and cafe were delicious.

Super yummy pork sandwich at Ubud Hanging Gardens
Pork bun served at the cafe.

Villa at Ubud Hanging Gardens
Our villa

Our private infinity pool at Ubud Hanging Gardens
Private infinity pool, attached to the villa.

Villa at Ubud Hanging Gardens
Private deck

Pool at Ubud Hanging Gardens
Pool at Ubud Hanging Gardens

Stopover at Seminyak

Instead of spending another US$500 at the Hanging Gardens and waste half of the day away (because we were leaving super early the next morning to go to the airport), we decided to stop over at Seminyak on our last night. I didn't do much research for the hotel and was a little nervous before we arrive here (because "A" can be quite picky...) but Uma Sapna turned out to be super cool. The interiors were modern, simplistic and grey, in fact, the whole place practically spells "A"!

Villa at Uma Sapna
Our villa at Uma Sapna

Villa at Uma Sapna
Pool at Uma Sapna

Click here for more photos taken on this trip.

Dear Bali,

I just can’t get enough of you. Please stay serene and beautiful and try not too change too fast and I promise to convince “A” to come back to visit as much as we can.

Love always,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Goa Hush-Hush

I was contemplating for a moment if I should write this post since the places mentioned here are only known to locals and the only reason why we even found out about them was because on their first day, A’s dad bumped into a restaurant owner from Bangalore who frequently visited Goa.

Near Morjim Beach
First off, let me tell you about the place we chose to stay. Siolim House is a charming restored 300-year-old Portuguese villa that is tucked away in the leafy lanes near Morjim beach. The original owner was a governor to Macau and according to Lonely Planet, this place contains more antiques than the British Museum.

Siolim House
Entrance to Siolim House

Siolim House
Siolim House courtyard

Siolim House
Inside Siolim House

Siolim House
Our room

A Goan Greek
This place is a gem! This restaurant is located on a cliff and overlooks the sandy beach and coconut treetops. We didn’t get here in time but A’s parents sat at this table and watched sunset while sipping on freshly squeezed orange juice. We met the bubbly owner who is a Greek lady who has been in living in Goa for 25 years and started off by selling lamb wraps at the Anjuna flea market. After much persuasion from her customers, she opened this restaurant.

Greek restaurant in Goa

Dancing in a Greek restaurant in Goa
Customers dancing to Greek songs

Grilled fish
Grilled fish. The food here is a bit more pungent and complex compared to what you would get in Athens or Santorini mainly because the owner came from a Greek island that is located on the west, near Sicily.

Under the Nerul bridge
… you will see a little brick building painted in sea-blue. The people who reside in this building also run a little restaurant called Amigos.

Amigos services on a mural, under the Nerul bridge.

Mud crab in garlic-butter sauce
Giant mud crab is one of Amigos' signature dish. We ordered two, this one cooked in garlic butter sauce.

Goan curry + poi (Goan bread)
Goan prawn curry with poi (Goan bread)

Taking a fishing boat into the sea
After lunch, with Auntie Bina’s superb negotiating skills, we went on a boat ride on the river towards the sea.

Picking shells
Fisherman picking sea shells.

Mansion on the Aguada hill
On our boat, we saw this private mansion on Aguada hill.

More photos on Goa
Previous stories on Goa