My cheeks are hurting; head is throbbing; chest is wheezing. The shoulders of the guy in front of me shake uncontrollably and the little girl to my right has her mouth wide open, but she stays silent. All around us, people are clapping backs, slapping knees and, to my surprise, spitting. There is so much spitting. It’s our final day in Indonesia, and we’re at a laughing yoga class.
The lesson is being held at an ashram in Nyuh Kuning, a tiny rainforest village on the outskirts of central Ubud; just a hop, skip and a jump through the Monkey Forest. Kadek, our spiritual instructor, takes us through the laughter styles – everything from belly chortles and full blown cackles to naughty giggles and sly titters. He’s a professional hype man, with the biggest grin and most infectious laugh this side of Seminyak. And while we don’t understand a word of his Bahasa, the reactions from the crowd are enough to get us going.
A few days before, we’d set ourselves a challenge. We wanted to go beyond the beaches of Bali; beyond the other tourists operating on holiday-mode. So, armed with just a camera and the insider secrets of the iDiscover app, we hit the Indonesian warung’s running.
PART ONE: TWO WHEELS IN JAKARTA
I think I’m going to die. I’m going to die getting a dink on the back of a rickety bicycle, hurtling through infamous Jakarta traffic. At one point, I close my eyes and the world is reduced to an orchestra of horns. When I open them again, I do as the locals do and hold my palm out in an attempt to stop the onslaught of cars and motorbikes. I feel a bit like a Dragonball Z character, but it works. The oncoming mini van slows down to let us pass and the locals onboard erupt in laughter. Oh silly bules (foreigners)!
Speaking of bules, earlier that day we were wandering Glodok (Jakarta’s Chinatown), weaving through the crowded, maze-like alleyways en route to street food when I realised I hadn’t seen another tourist all morning. Or yesterday, for that matter. Not in the Jin De Yuan Buddhist temple or the Pantjoran Tea House or the Kemenangan Market. It was as if we were the only travellers exploring Jakarta.
The epiphany doesn’t come as a huge surprise, Jakarta isn’t exactly known for its travel attractions. Unless you’re an expat, it’s always been more of a get-in and get-out affair. But that’s the thing, the city is actually surprisingly beautiful. And once we come to terms with the perilous cycling situation, we’re able to appreciate the incredible Dutch colonial architecture for what it is. Pretty bloody good looking.
We start off in Kota Tua, where heritage groups are battling to safeguard local history and turn the once dilapidated area into an arts hub. Home to savvy entrepreneurs and innovative chefs, we eat the best sate of our lives at Bar Historia and then get back on our two wheels.
Cycling the cobblestoned Fathillah Square and past the chic, but derelict, merchant houses the app takes us to the Sunda Kelapa Harbour. Once the old port of Jakarta, we ride among pinisis as the sun sets, feeling pretty chuffed that we got Jakarta to ourselves for a day.
PART TWO: SUNNYSIDE UP IN SANUR
The line for Warung Mak Beng is out the door, down the street and backing onto the beach front. It’s the hottest eatery in town, and an insider secret (thanks iDiscover!). And boy, oh boy, do they have their fish head soup recipe down pat. We tuck into a lunchtime feast of crunchy snapper steak with smoked sambal and kaffir lime, alongside a host of holidaying Balinese who are being far more liberal with the sambal than we dare.
With fire in our bellies, we cycle through the seaside town. Often passed over by travellers for Canggu or Seminyak, Sanur is actually a little slice of paradise if you do it right. Home to sleepy palm-fringed back streets, a community of creatives, more water temples than you could poke a rudder at, and local food galore – it’s got a little bit of everything for everyone, plus wine.
As a loud and proud vinophile, I was super excited to test my palate at Hatten Wines. The only winery in Bali, and one of very few in all of Asia, the winemakers here produce a range of vinos using both local and imported grapes. We snag a bottle of the sweet Alexandria, and as the sun goes down, pedal over to the Pasar Intaran night market. We pair the white wine with a plate of Indonesian fried chicken, add a bowl of mee goreng to the meal, and sit back to people watch.
PART THREE: NIRVANA IN NYUH KUNING
As soon as we make it to Nyuh Kuning the downpour hits. It’s one of those magnificent monsoonal thunderstorms, the kind that could wash you away if you stood still long enough. We make camp in a bamboo hut at Swasti Eco Cottages, a mini-village complete with vegetable garden and yoga centre. Anywhere else in the world, eco-friendly accommodation would be given a round of applause. But here, in plastic-free Nyuh Kuning, it’s just the norm.
Nyuh Kuning is a jungle oasis, a village that’s making a concerted effort to uphold its artisanal roots as wood and stone carvers. Generations of families still come together to work on large sculpture projects, teaching the younger kids how to wield their traditional tools. And as we wander around the Karja workshop, handling incredibly intricate pieces of teak art, it’s not hard to see that there is a lot of love, and pride, living here.
That love and pride extends across much of Nyuh Kuning life. Ibu Dayu is the culinary mastermind, and lady powerhouse, behind Warung Rama: Ubud’s ‘Second Best Nasi Campur’. Her shopfront is small, her chilis are hot and her passion infectious.
Starting out with just a humble street stall and a killer sambal recipe, Ibu Dayu went on to crowdfund enough rupiah to open her own shop. Naming it after her son, she hopes her fish sate, fried tempeh and bean salad can send him to university one day. “I go to the local market at 7am, I cook food when my customers come and I stop cooking when there is no more,” she says.
With full bellies, we go on to wander the rice fields. Bali’s Subak system is actually UNESCO Heritage-listed, and it’s crazy. In a nutshell, it’s a community-based water management system where all farms are interconnected and together they make decisions on rice planting and pest control. It’s existed this way for years, and locals are striving to keep it that way. But unfortunately, with development around Denpasar, Sanur and Ubud rising, the production value of rice is diminishing and so it’s time for Bali to look at adapting.
This is the story across much of Indonesia, and what makes the work of iDiscover so important. They’re all about addressing the balance between development and local heritage; finding a way for communities like Sanur and Nyuh Kuning, and bigger cities the size of Jakarta, to progress without risking centuries of culture.
It’s a big idea and a complex situation, but it’s definitely possible. Who knows, maybe even laughing yoga is the answer?
Guys, we’ve got more Indonesia goodies! Look here:
Go on, we dare ya.