Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jakarta - Bali on Garuda Airlines

Note: This is a continuation of our Bali trip.  you can find the full trip itinerary here.

Garuda Indonesia is Indonesia's main airline, and probably the nicest. I haven't flown them in a couple of years, so I was interested to see how they had changed.

One of the interesting things at Jakarta's airport is that you can get lounge access by purely having certain credit cards. There are lounges dedicated for frequent flyers or elite status passengers, but there are a ton of other lounges for these credit card customers. In front of these lounges, you'll see a list of 20-30 eligible credit cards that will give you access to that particular lounge.

My parents got us access to one such lounge, while they used their other credit cards to go to another lounge. 

Airline lounge in Jakarta

The lounge was quite busy, which was not surprising because basically anyone who had a local credit card could probably qualify to enter. :)

Garuda Indonesia

When it was time to board, we took the shuttle from the gate to the parked airplane and boarded. The plane seemed rather new, and I was surprised that they had individual touch screens with a decent TV/movie selection. They also gave free headsets which were more robust than the ones that US airlines charge for in economy.

Our flight

Since we were in economy, we didn't have very much legroom, but it was fine for such a short flight. I would say the legroom was similar to most US airlines.

The flight from Jakarta to Bali was only about 1.5 hours, but they still served a meal. I ordered the chicken with rice.

Chicken & Rice
Dan ordered the fish & potatoes, and I actually preferred his food more. But I was a bit too full after Rotiboy and food at the lounge. :p

Fish & Potatoes


Overall I was quite pleased with Garuda Airlines. Service was friendly and better than I expected, and the plane was almost brand new. It was also nice that they served a meal (even though the food was very mediocre). My parents mentioned that Garuda won the world's best regional airline by Skytrax in 2012. It's definitely a step above all US domestic airlines, and maybe almost comparable to Singapore/Cathay.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Food in Jakarta

Note: This is a continuation of our Bali trip.  you can find the full trip itinerary here.

Jakarta has some really good restaurants. Maybe I'm biased because I grew up there, but in all honesty, there are plenty of good restaurants and good food in general. Here are a couple highlights from our trip.

Fook Yew, Gandaria City Mall

During our trip this time, my youngest sister who is an aspiring foodie told me about this new Chinese restaurant called "Fook Yew". Yup, that's the name. Apparently it does mean something in Chinese. :)

The decor of the restaurant was somewhat modern with colorful mismatched chairs, big catchy posters, and red lanterns.

Dan & I were amused by this particular poster below. Read it for yourself. :)

We liked this place so much we actually went twice during our visit. I'm typically not a big fan of Chinese food, but this particular Chinese cuisine was slightly different. It almost tasted like a Chinese/Thai fusion, with strong and slightly sweetened flavors in some of the dishes.

We tried their Fook Yew fried rice the first time around, and actually preferred it to the salted fish & chicken fried rice that we got the second time. They were both really good, but the Fook Yew fried rice was a bit more unique with its salted egg/corn combination.

Saltes Fish & Chicken Fried Rice

We ordered the crispy salted egg golden corn because we saw other tables order this dish. We later found out why. This dish was probably one of my most favorite innovative dishes I've had in a while. It was basically deep fried corn and rice crispies with salted egg bits. It probably doesn't sound that appetizing but trust me it was wonderful. It was so tasty, crispy, and very flavorful. I enjoyed eating this with a side of jasmine or fried rice.

Crispy Salted Egg Golden Corn

Their other famous dish was the Sheng Jian Bao (Shanghai Pan Fried Bun). They had a couple options for the filling, and we tried the Chicken and Prawn. This dish was almost like a thicker fried version of Xiao Long Bao, with thicker crust. The bottom part was crispy which was really nice.

Chicken and Prawn Sheng Jian Bao (Shanghai Pan Fried Bun)
My sister also recommended ordering the deep fried bean curd. The bean curd was super soft inside this crispy shell, and worked so well with the sweet & tangy sauce. Overall an excellent dish.

Deep Fried Beancurd with Uncle Zheng Sauce

We were really pleased with all the dishes, and will definitely miss this place! The cuisine was not typical Chinese, and I don't think we have anything quite like it here in the Bay Area. I guess we'll have to wait for our next visit to Indonesia.

Maystar, Gandaria City

My mom introduced me to this dessert, and I got hooked. We were actually still quite full after our lunch at Fook Yew, but had some time to kill before we headed out to watch a movie so we stopped by Maystar to get their wonderful coconut pudding!

The coconut pudding was served inside a coconut shell and served cold. The pudding tasted basically like a creamier version of coconut water, but not quite as heavy as coconut milk. It's slightly sweetened, and very refreshing!

Teppanyaki at Shangri-La Hotel

Growing up, my family used to go pretty often to eat teppanyaki at various hotels in Indonesia. Teppanyaki is basically like Hibachi style Japanese restaurants in the US, although I feel that the Asian version is MUCH better.

I wanted to show Dan the teppanyaki that I grew up with, so I took him to lunch at one of our most favorite places, the Shangri-La Hotel. I actually hadn't been there for at least 5-6 years, so I was hoping they still maintained their quality.

We got the mixed combination lunch special which included beef and seafood. The lunch combo included salad and another small appetizer, as well as chawan mushi.


The chef cooked in front of us, and unlike in the US, there was no flashy "show" per se; he was purely cooking.

Dan's first "real" teppanyaki :)

Our first batch of food were some veggies (onions, zucchini, mushroom) and seafood (salmon, shrimp, scallop). Everything was cooked very simply with a little bit of oil, salt and pepper, and tasted great.

Great tasting teppanyaki

After our first serving, the chef went on to cook the fried rice. I don't know what is it about teppanyaki's fried rice, I've always loved it. I see how they cook it, but I never can remake it at home. 

The next serving was the beef and veggies. The beef was cooked perfectly and was really good! I didn't eat much of the veggies at this point since I was too full.

Yummy beef!

The lunch combo also came with dessert, and we chose the fruit plate. The fruit was served with this sweet jelly on top which was interesting but actually worked well with the fruit.

I think the lunch combo was around $20 per person, not bad at all for a great meal!  Dan said he thoroughly enjoyed the meal and that it was better than the typical hibachi restaurants in the US, like Benihana.


Martabak is probably my most favorite Indonesia dessert. I got a couple servings during my last trip to Indonesia, and this time I had to get it since Dan had never tried it. Martabak is a thick, buttery pancake with sweet fillings. My favorite flavor is the cheese one, sweetened with condensed milk. It's so good! :)

Martabak Keju

Teh Botol

One of my favorite Indonesian drinks is Teh Botol (translation: Tea in a Bottle). It's Jasmine tea that's sweetened and usually served cold. You can find it at most Indonesian restaurants. Dan thinks that the tea flavor is a bit too strong with a strong after taste, but I disagree. :)


Years ago when Rotiboy started, there was always a HUGE line for Rotiboy, and people would buy dozens and dozens of these breads to bring home or as gifts for relatives. Now the craze has died down a bit, but I still really like it and always try to get one when I'm home. I got my fix from the Rotiboy counter at the airport terminal. You can probably find Rotiboy at the malls as well.

Rotiboy only sells one type of bread, which is their signature bun. It's a bread with butter filling, topped with crispy, sweet crunchy cover. This covering has a slight coffee/mocha taste. It's best to eat them fresh out of oven. Each bread cost around 85 cents. Not bad, huh?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Best Cinema Experience in Jakarta

Note: This is a continuation of our Bali trip.  you can find the full trip itinerary here.

One of the things that Dan & I try to do whenever we go to Indonesia is to watch a "Premiere" movie at Cinema21 in Jakarta. Cinema21 is the main movie theater company in Indonesia, and a couple years ago they introduced this "Premiere" concept which I liken to a first class ticket for the movies.

Here are some of the main benefits:
  • Personalized concierge experience when buying ticket
  • Access to the premiere lounge while waiting for your movie to start
  • Ability to order food/drink at the lounge, or from your movie theater seats (for a cost)
  • Lazy boy reclining seats with blanket
  • The whole theater is outfitted for a smaller number of seats (ours only had 30 seats)

We went on a Thursday afternoon, which was somewhat discounted at Rp.60,000 (around $6 USD per seat). The weekend ticket price was Rp. 100,000 (around $10 USD). As a comparison, the regular Cinema21 ticket was Rp. 35,000 for weekday ($3 USD) and Rp. 50,000 for weekend ($5 USD). So the Premiere ticket cost around twice the regular ticket price. We think it's really worth it especially since we don't get these kind of cinemas in the US.

There are a couple different Premiere locations in Jakarta. We chose to go to the one at the Gandaria City mall since it's one of the newer ones. Instead of waiting in line at the regular box office, we went into the premiere area where we bought our tickets from the "concierge" counter below.

Where we bought our premiere ticket

We chose our assigned seats as well as paid for the tickets. We were then instructed to wait at the lounge area until seating for the theater started. There's usually only one or two Premiere movies showing.  We watched The Dark Knight Rises. We would have loved to watch another movie at the Premiere, but almost all locations had the same showing, so we ended up only watching at the Premiere once.

We sat at the lounge, and one of the waiters approached us and asked whether we wanted to eat/drink anything. We just ate a big lunch so only ordered drinks and popcorn.

Premiere Lounge

We bought our tickets only 10 minutes before the movie started, so some of the better seats were already taken. We ended up seating on C5 and C6, which is the middle row, left hand side. I think I would have preferred row A or B in the middle side.

As you can tell, the seats were pretty big, lazy boy style that recline. The seats were in pairs, and there were 6 seats per row and 5 rows in total. So the whole theater only sat 30 people max! Underneath the middle armrest between the seats were draws with the blankets inside.

Our waiter delivered our drink and popcorn order, and we paid in cash just so I didn't have to deal with signing a receipt after the movie started.

This is definitely the best way to watch a movie in Indonesia. :) I would highly recommend trying it out if you can. Another option for a "first class" watching experience is at Blitz's Velvet Suite. See picture below. We tried this once before but actually prefer the lazy boy seating. Blitz Velvet Suite is definitely more designed for couples. It would be awkward to go with a friend or coworker, for example. Also, the seating is made as "beds" so it's hard to find a good position to watch. So that's why we prefer the Premiere instead.

Tips & Recommendations:

  • We definitely recommend you trying out these luxury movie theater experience. We both prefer Premiere at Cinema21 compared to Blitz's Velvet Suite, but both are definitely a fun experience and they are not that expensive (compared to US movie ticket prices).
  • If you watch during the week, the tickets are 40% cheaper than the weekend, so try to go then if you can.
  • We haven't really tried the food at the theater (except for popcorn and drinks), but there are so many other food options in Jakarta that are probably better and cheaper, so I would not recommend a full meal in the theater. Maybe snacks and drinks would be nice since it is cool to watch and eat/drink at the same time. :)  And again food prices aren't too bad (comparing to US movie theaters).
  • Try to come a bit earlier so you can choose the best center seats, otherwise you might end up with not so preferred seating.

Next Post: Food in Jakarta

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hong Kong - Jakarta on Cathay Pacific

Note: This is a continuation of our Bali trip.  you can find the full trip itinerary here.

The Pier Lounge

We were put on a 9:20 AM flight in the morning, so we only had time for a quick breakfast at the hotel before we went back to the airport. Since we had a not-so-good experience at the Cabin lounge the day before, we decided to try a different lounge this time, the Pier. The Pier was a LOT less crowded than the Cabin, probably due to the much bigger size and that probably some crowds had left on earlier flights that morning.

LOTS of empty seats

There were a lot of empty seats here, some people even took 2 seats for themselves to rest/sleep - which was a good sign. Even though we already ate breakfast, it's so hard to say no to free food, hehe.

Dan and I tried the Chinese breakfast which consisted of a glutinous rice bread, as well as a warm soy milk. They were quite delicious.

We were happy that they didn't cancel our morning flight, and so we went to the gate for boarding. I was excited also to try this particular seats. It was an older model plane compared to our Chicago - Hong Kong flight, but it's always good to try different ones and compare. Dan & I sat across from each other this time.

The seat did feel a bit more claustrophobic since there's the big wall between seats. It was pretty private though, but I think we preferred the newer seat design. The other interesting thing was when you sat down, all we saw were other people's feet...he he.

So relieved to finally board to Jakarta!
I got a fruity drink which I don't remember anymore what it's called now...:p I tried asking for the Cathay Delight but they didn't have it on this flight.

Since this was a morning flight, they served breakfast dishes. Dan got the omelet, and I got the dim sum.

A fruit plate was served as well as a choice of bread. I went with the croissant which was served warm. 

The dim sum was not that good - maybe because we just had Tim Ho Wan, or maybe because airline food is just not that good. I felt that the dim sum sat in the heater for a bit too long. The rice wrap was a bit too soft. The only one that tasted ok was the glutinous rice.

The flight was uneventful and we were so glad to finally land in Jakarta, in time for a couple days preparation for the wedding. Lesson learned, always leave a couple days buffer if you need to be somewhere at a specific time (like for a wedding). Thankfully all our bags also made it. So all in all, we were delayed by one night, but I'm thankful that we were safe and arrived ok.

Next Post: Best Cinema Experience in Jakarta

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Forced Layover Due to Typhoon Vicente

Note: This is a continuation of our Bali trip.  you can find the full trip itinerary here.

We knew that there was a typhoon warning that was in effect until 10 AM, and we actually checked with the hotel in the morning to make sure our flight later that day was still on schedule. And at that time, it was. After lunch at Tim Ho Wan, we didn't check again with the hotel and went straight to the airport (big mistake). We took a taxi which cost around HKD 350 from the Courtyard. 

Hong Kong Airport

When we got to the airport, everything looked relatively normal. It was a bit busy but nothing out of the ordinary. We already got our boarding passes from when we were in Chicago, so we didn't go to the check in gate and went straight to security and then immigration. After we passed immigration, we started to see a LOT of people EVERYWHERE in the terminal, and I could sense something was wrong.

I had never seen an airport this packed before. EVER. I felt like I was at a train station in Indonesia (which are usually super packed). All gates showed flights being delayed, people were sitting everywhere and on the floor. We checked our flight status and it was showing a delay of 2 hours. Not bad, we thought. We went to the Wing lounge, and they had the wall covering closed off, and there was only a small entrance with a man from Cathay manning the door. We showed him our boarding pass, and he said that the lounge was full and they are not taking any more passengers. He directed us to go to the Cabin lounge.

For some reason I thought that there was only one Cathay lounge in the Hong Kong airport, and I also didn't know the difference between all the lounges. We went to the Cabin, and they were thankfully accepting passengers. Although it was very chaotic. The lounge was extremely full. People were sitting on the floor. The line for the lounge agents was around 15 people deep, and we couldn't find seats anywhere. We walked around a couple times and found this video conference room which had 2 open seats and so we sat there for a little bit while still absorbing the situation.

Line at the lounge

I went in line to see the gate agent, and the person in front of me said he was about ready to punch someone and that it's been frustrating. His flight was supposed to leave in the morning (and it was already 5 PM), and they still had no answer for him. When it was finally my turn, I asked whether there's a possibility to switch to an earlier flight, and if so, whether our luggage will make it with us. She said she can put us on an earlier flight, but the luggage would not make it with us. Dan & I didn't want to risk it so we decided to keep our original flight.

We grabbed some food and finally found better seats in the computer area so we tried to rest as best as we could. I slept for a good hour, and when I woke up noticed that our flight was now showing cancelled. Dan went in line to figure out what's happening, and he came back with 2 new boarding passes for the following morning as well as a hotel & breakfast voucher. We were really, really tired and just bummed with the situation. When we came out of the lounge back to the main terminal area, we saw the gates were even more packed and the line for Cathay's customer service was outrageous-- I heard people had to wait 3 hours +. In a way we were thankful that we had lounge access since lines inside were not as bad.

Crazy lines at HKG Airport :(

Regal Kowloon

We tried taking the shuttle to the hotel but apparently all shuttles had left for the night, so we had to take taxi. I was really worried if Cathay provided us with a crappy hotel, so when we were waiting in line for immigration I quickly browsed Trip Advisor for the hotel that was provided, Regal Kowloon. Turns out the hotel looked pretty decent and the rooms quite modern. I breathed a sigh of relief. :) 

The lobby area was made mostly out of glass and gold, a bit too gaudy for my taste. The hotel itself looked quite old and I don't think the lobby had been renovated.

Double Beds

We got a room with 2 double beds, and they were very firm, which is actually our preference. The room design reminded us of the Sheraton in Munich where we stayed earlier in the year.

There was a long interesting "couch" next to the window, and most of the furniture was white.

The bathroom was also quite modern, with a bathtub/shower combo. The hotel also provided 2 free bottled waters, similar to the Courtyard. I wonder if it's customary in Hong Kong to do so? What's also interesting was that this hotel had a weight scale (also same as the Courtyard)--wonder why all the Asian hotels have a weight scale in the room. :)

Modern bathroom

Overall we were quite happy with the hotel that was provided. Probably not my first choice, but for a one night stay comped by the airline, it's not bad. The location in Kowloon was also quite strategic, close to a lot of bars/restaurants and shopping malls. I much prefer this location than the Courtyard. If we go back to Hong Kong, I would probably book a hotel in the Kowloon area.

Thoughts, Tips & Recommendations:
  • Wow, what a crazy day at Hong Kong Airport! We learned to just be flexible in these kinds of situation, and try to be as patient as possible and treat others (especially the airline employees) respectfully. It was frustrating to be in the situation, but at least we were safe and we knew that the airline was trying their best due to the chaotic mess. A lot of people at the airport were getting VERY emotional and yelling at the gate agents, etc. It's really not the gate agent's fault, and I went out of my way to try to be very polite and courteous.
  • We were really thankful that we had lounge access since we were traveling in business class. Had we not had lounge access, I'm not sure that we would have been seen by the agent that soon and got our new boarding passes and hotel comped. I heard that outside the lounge in the main terminal, people were waiting up to 3+ hours to talk to someone. We know we might not always be able to fly in business, but what we can at least try is to get status on one of the airlines which would then allow lounge access for international flights, which would help in these kinds of situations.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tim Ho Wan - Cheapest 1 Star Michelin Restaurant in the World

Note: This is a continuation of our Bali trip.  you can find the full trip itinerary here.

I originally had this grand plan to maximize our one night layover in Hong Kong and made this list of things to do and places to eat. :)

First Night:
Night Market
Drinks at a rooftop hotel/lounge

Next Day:
Breakfast at Australian Dairy Company in Jordan
Walk around Tsim Sha Tsui
Visit Avenue of the Stars / Intercontinental Hong Kong
Lunch at Bo Innovation (or Tim Ho Wan)
Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula Hotel

I know, I know, it's a bit aggressive but I wanted to be prepared. :) Unfortunately, we landed in Hong Kong the day of the Vicente typhoon. Even though I'm from Indonesia, I never really realized that July was not the best time to visit Hong Kong due to the typhoon season. When we got to our hotel, we were advised to not go out of the hotel until 10 am in the morning. That totally crushed basically the first few things on my list. :( Actually, it pretty much ruined all my plans. Since it would be raining most of the day, all outdoor sightseeing plans were not doable anymore.

I learned to just accept the situation, and try to make lemonade out of lemons (is that the right terminology)? I took a couple deep breaths, and went to plan B. That night I went online and searched for activities to do when it rains in Hong Kong, and one of the recommendations was shopping! Turns out there's a shopping mall close by called the IFC Mall which was also the location of Tim Ho Wan, another restaurant on my list.

Since we couldn't go to the Australian Dairy Company for breakfast, we just dined at Momo cafe at the hotel. The breakfast buffet option was 158 HKD per person, which was close to USD 20 per person.

Breakfast at MoMo Cafe

There was quite a few selections such as the typical egg station, bacon, potatoes, pastries, cold cuts, as well as a noodle station and a dim sum station. What really got me excited was this pancake machine where you can just press a button and then the pancake spits out in a minute. It was pretty cool. :) After breakfast we rested for a bit and then headed down to checkout.

I originally planned on having lunch at Bo Innovation, after reading about it from Calvin & Lydia's blog. We got reservations for lunch, and I was really looking forward to it. However, due to the typhoon, the restaurant was actually closed, so the reservation was cancelled and we ended up going to our plan B dim sum place.

I had previously mentioned about how crazy the ordeal was trying to get a spot on the Courtyard shuttle bus to IFC mall. Anyways, since we were not able to take the shuttle, we ended up taking a taxi after about a 20 minute queue. The IFC Mall was actually quite close from our hotel - probably less than 10 minutes and less than HKD 30 ($5 USD) cab fare. As soon as we got to the mall, we went straight to Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. I asked the information counter where the restaurant is located, and it's actually somewhat underground on a restaurant row. There was no English sign for the name but I recognized the pictures from Trip Advisor, and the long lines helped confirm that it must be the restaurant.

Menu with pictures

Tim Ho Wan is a dim sum restaurant, which is surprising that it actually got a Michelin star. We could tell from the long lines that food must be good but I was really wondering what made this place get its Michelin star. I put our names down, and the host lady didn't speak English at all. She gave me a Chinese menu with a number written on it. Turns out you can actually ask for an English menu. The hostess yells out numbers in Cantonese, which neither of us understood. What I ended up doing was standing close enough to her where I saw her cross out numbers, and as it got closer to our number, I just showed her our menu. It worked. We probably waited around 30-40 minutes or so. Not bad considering lines at the original Tim Ho Wan location could be around 2 hours.

Clean and crowded

We ordered a couple of dim sum dishes:  siu mai, har gow, cheong fun, as well as their famous BBQ pork bun. The food came out pretty quickly (with the exception of the pork bun).

Look at all those people waiting in line :)

All the food was very good and fresh. We both felt the food was excellent but not that much different than some of our favorite dim sum places in the Bay Area. What was really apparent was how fresh the plates were. The food was brought to our tableas soon as it was cooked and prepared, still steaming hot.

Har Gow
Siu Mai
Cheong Fun

I ordered this next dish because I've never seen it at most dim sum places. It's basically a rice dish with beef and egg. Not bad, but not that special. It tasted exactly how it looks. :)

Beef, Egg & Rice Dish

The BBQ pork bun took longer but it was quite worth the wait. The bun was served fresh from the oven, with a sweet and slightly crunchy bun, and a sweet BBQ pork filling. This dish was probably the star of our meal.

Their famous BBQ Pork Bun

Our total bill was HKD127 (around $15 US). Such an affordable dim sum meal! The total cost was cheaper than one of our breakfast buffets at our hotel! Overall I would recommend this place, and suggest try coming earlier if you can to avoid the rush. If you don't speak Cantonese, make sure you stand by the hostess so you can tell when your turn is. :) There are 2 other locations I believe. The original location supposedly being the best, but with longer wait. I don't know how much better the dim sum could be, but if you want the true experience, you can try going to the original location.

Next Post: Forced Layover Due to Typhoon Vicente