Uluwatu and the Sacred Monkey

 

Monkey in Uluwatu, Bali

One of the forest monkeys who decided to hang out in front of my window in Uluwatu, Bali

As of this writing, I’m still editing massive amounts of photographs that I’ve taken during my recent trip to Uluwatu, Bali. MASSIVE.

While I’m still not done, I wanted to share this photo that I took of a monkey who decided to perch on our windowsill at breakfast. He was just there, hanging around early in the morning. At one point, he even stuck his face on the window, to seemingly say hello.

This is the lovely sight in one of the mornings I spent in Uluwatu: monkeys running around or just chilling, with the lullaby of the gentle waves and the bright blue sky. These are good enough reasons for me to want to go back.

Uluwatu, hold on tight. We have more adventures to come.

Uluwatu: my new favorite Bali destination

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Drone shot of Uluwatu, Bali

I can’t wait to go back.  Uluwatu is now my top destination in Bali, toppling over my once-favorite Seminyak.

I know, I know. I’m such a late-bloomer but I’m glad I re-discovered this paradise when I celebrated my birthday in Bali. This cliff-fringed coastline is so beautiful that I had to go back to it just a few weeks after I was there! I can’t seem to get enough of it.

A more detailed post on Uluwatu coming up this week, but just in case you are wondering where to go in Bali, you must definitely come to Uluwatu!

Because Bali beckons

At the risk of sounding a lot like a tourist cliché, this blog post is a rave about Bali, Indonesia.

I’ve been living in Indonesia for more than four years now, but Bali never ceases to fascinate me. Although I’ve been to this paradise island several times already, I still can’t have enough of it.

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Tanah Lot, Bali

Also known as “The Island of the Gods,” worship and religion reflect on every facet of life among the Hindu Balinese. This is also why Bali’s art and culture remain vibrant, attracting more tourists – local and foreign alike. Bali is the most popular island in Indonesia, although the country has a lot of idyllic and pristine beaches. So popular, in fact, that Bali always overshadows Jakarta, the country’s capital. Just ask my friends about it. When I invite them to Jakarta and even offer to host them end-to-end (with accommodations, car, driver and all), they will always tell me to just meet up with them in Bali!

This doesn’t surprise me, though. Can I blame them if I, myself, is still enthralled by Bali’s beauty?

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Bella looking at the crashing waves in Tanah Lot

Bali offers a plethora of activities for everyone. In Bali, visitors can experience a combination of clean, sandy beaches for lazing around and rolling waves for surfing. Set in a backdrop of an ancient culture famous for its warmth, hospitality and friendliness, Bali boasts of exotic temples and stunning palaces in the midst of picturesque mountains, volcanoes, rice terraces and green lush.

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Tourist map of Bali from bali-travel.de

Geographically, Bali occupies roughly around 6,000 kilometers in terms of area. Located at the eastern tip of Java, it sits on the west of the island of Lombok, across the Lombok straits. It is flanked by the Indian Ocean on the south side and the Java Sea on the north. The island is eight degrees south of the equator, which explains its warm temperature (get your sunblock and shades ready!).

In October, I celebrated my birthday in Bali with Manila friends. Although Arshad and I acted like tour guides to our friends, my love for Bali was also rekindled during the trip. It reminded me of why I always come back to this place…especially for my birthday celebrations!

 

So here are my top 10 reasons why I continue to love Bali and why I keep on coming back: 

1. Daily and hourly flights from Jakarta to Bali. For Jakartans like me, Bali is very accessible. There are 8 local airlines flying to Bali on an hourly basis, which means if I want a quick weekend getaway, I can fly out at 8 or 9pm on a Friday night and come back to Jakarta on a 9pm Sunday flight and I still got 2 full days of beach glory!

For Bali flights, you can check out Google’s Flights or Traveloka.

2. Ease to find accommodation. Bali offers a wide range of accommodation: basic homestays, no frills surf camps, traditional Bali houses, villas with their own pools and international five star hotels generously dot the island. You can choose from these variety of accommodation in the areas of Jimbaran, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Candidasa and Lovina.

There are also mountain resorts in Bedugul and Kintamani, while the art village of Ubud can offer accommodation in traditional Balinese houses or resorts located at the heart of rice fields.

Normally, I prefer to stay in the villas within the Seminyak area, as it is very close to restaurants, clubs and shopping jaunts that I frequent. For my birthday celebration, my friends and I stayed in a 5-bedroom combined villa in Seminyak, which I found in AirBnB.

Lately, though, my interest in surfing has been resurrected and I’ve been enamored by the Uluwatu area because its beaches are more conducive to surfing (feeling surfer dudette, but I’m honestly a greenie!). Arshad found several villas and surf camps that were both quite comfortable and reasonably-priced.

Just last weekend, we stayed at the Blue Point Bay Villas and Spa, primarily because it was near Single Fin, my favorite surf bar in Uluwatu and the Uluwatu beachfront itself. Just check out their infinity pool with an amazing view of the Uluwatu beach!

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Bella’s top view drone shot at Blue Point Bay Villas and Spa in Uluwatu, Bali

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Blue Point Villas and Spa’s pool facing the Uluwatu Beach

3. Ease in getting around Bali. Going around Bali is easy. As soon as you land, there are airport taxis with standard rates waiting outside the airport. You can also ask your resort to pick you up.

There are also drivers who own their cars – usually a Toyota Avanza that can sit 6-8 people – who can be rented on a daily basis. They usually speak English so it’s common to get a driver-tour guide in one, for the price of Rp 600 thousand for 8 hours (USD$45, Php2,300). For a driver and tour guide combination, I’d say that’s a steal!

For driver recommendations, leave me a message and I can send you the contact details. I personally like Pak Robot (yes, his name is Robot), because he has spunk, he can communicate and drive well.

4. Ease in communicating. English is widely-used in Bali.  You can talk to pretty much anyone in English: front desk, waiters and waitresses, drivers, surfing coaches, etc. Although Bali has its own native language (Balinese, which is Malayo-Polenesian), most of them can also speak and understand Bahasa Indonesia. Given the pervasiveness of both languages in the island, getting around, asking questions and getting help won’t be difficult. This is perhaps one of the distinct advantages of Bali compared to the other Indonesian islands.

5. Vegetarian food and seafood are everywhere!  Since there are a lot of resorts and yoga retreat houses in Bali, it also became host to a lot of vegetarian, vegan and organic restaurants. You can also “vegetarianize” a lot of the dishes in mainstream restaurants. You just need to request for it.

This is a definite plus for me, as I don’t need to go out of my way to get my vegetarian fix.

Indonesian food and dishes use a lot of vegetables, which makes the cuisine very vegetarian-friendly. My personal favorites include gado-gado, ketoprak, tahu gejrot and sambal matah salad.

For pescatarians and seafood fanatics, Jimbaran beach has an entire stretch of restaurants offering fresh seafood that are very reasonably priced. We went to Teba Cafe in Jimbaran for an early dinner to watch the sunset and we were not disappointed with the food and drinks. If you want the best spots, which are the ones on the beachfront, either reserve or come early.

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A sumptuous seafood feast at the beachfront of Teba Cafe in Jimbaran

6. Sprawl of beaches. Bali has a wide array of beaches, which are destinations on their own. If you prefer white sand coasts with palm and coconut trees, head out to the south coast: Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur. If you love surfing and hidden shores, check out Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland and Bingin.

I used to favor the white sand coastline until my interested in surfing got piqued once again, thus the exploration of the Uluwatu and Padang Padang beaches.

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Drone shot: aerial view of Uluwatu and Padang-Padang beaches

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Bella and her Manila friends at Jimbaran beach

7. Variety of things to do. If you want to just laze around with a margarita in tow on the beach front or you want to explore marine sports such as surfing or diving, Bali is the place to be. Travel packages can also include adventure tours, such as trekking, cycling and white water rafting.

There are day tours that will offer exotic temple tours, including Tanah Lot, Uluwatu Temple and Besakih Temple being the most popular. Inland, you can also find volcanoes, jungles and monkey forests.

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My vlogger extraordinaire friend Nomadic Mike in Uluwatu Temple

Seminyak also offers a good venue for shoppers who would like to hunt for batik and other traditional fabrics, leather goods, wood carvings and antiques. If you are an art collector, Ubud is the perfect place to score reasonably priced but amazing paintings of local scenery, cultural dances, etc.

The sun sets on the Uluwatu and Padang-Padang side of the island. Around late in the afternoon, restaurant and bars sprawled in these areas get packed with people who want to watch the sunset with beer, wine or cocktails.

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Bella and her Manila friends at Teba Cafe’ for a seafood feast

Late in the night, Bali also boasts of good clubs with packed dance floors, most of which are in the Seminyak and Kuta areas.

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Single Fin bar at night

My preferred activities in Bali include just getting my tan while reading a book and sipping margaritas around lunch time, taking surfing lessons, shopping, trying new restaurants and visiting good bars and clubs.

8. Culture and art trip. What I love about Bali is the culture vibe that I always get whenever I set foot on the island.

On the road side and even on the beach, it’s always lovely to see canang sari – the daily offerings made by Balinese Hindus to praise and thank Sang Hyang Widhi.

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Canang sari: the daily Hindu offerings you will see around Bali (photograph courtesy of Gemma)

Canang sari can be seen in the Balinese temples (pura), on small shrines in houses, and on the ground or as a part of a larger offering.

For those who want to explore Balinese culture, you can check out traditional dances, watch a fire dance in Uluwatu, see how batik is painted or go to museums and art exhibits in and around Bali.

9. Commercialized but clean and well-maintained. Despite the swarm of tourists year in and year out, Bali maintains its cleanliness. I can’t help but compare it to the Philippines’ Boracay island, which seems to be degenerating yearly because it’s too small an island yet the influx of tourists are not regulated in any way.

All over Bali, you can see the signs about keeping order and cleanliness. There is a Bali Parliament Special Committee in charge of maintaining Bali’s cleanliness and hygiene in the island’s popular tourist destinations.

Balinese people are aware that one of the reasons why tourists keep on coming back is because of the island’s lush greens and ambience. For this reason, the local government is quite strong in terms of enforcing Clean and Green programs for Bali.

10. Reasonably priced. Majority of the tourists in Bali come from Southeast Asia and Australia. That being said, a lot of my Indonesian and Filipino friends are actually complaining that the influx of Australian tourists are hiking the prices up in Bali. It may be partially true, but comparing to other beach destinations, I can say that the budget for a Bali vacation is more flexible, considering the plenitude of options.

Accommodations vary from low-end to high-end (see point number 2). Both food and transportation are relatively cheap, too. The only caveat is that Indonesia has a more expensive price tier for alcohol. Bali is no exception. However, a good workaround is to sample Indonesia’s local beer: Bintang, Bali Hai and Anker. Bali also has several vineyards, which came as a surprise to me when I found out several years back. Given this, there are cheaper alternatives if you are a wine drinker. Bali’s rose’, chardonnay and moscato wines are quite notable.

Overall, Bali to me is a holistic experience. It appeals to my being a culture vulture, my love for the beach and blue skies and the serenity of a lush, green environment. It also taps into my adventurous side when I want to go surfing and my desire for tranquility when I feel like I’m about to burn out.

Will I go back to Bali again? I’ve been to the Island of the Gods twice in a month recently. I guess that says it all.

For more information on Bali, I like visiting these sites:

http://www.bali-indonesia.com/#

http://www.baliguide.com/

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/bali

https://balibible.guide/

Bali is always a good idea

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Bella overlooking Tanah Lot

Jakarta, dinner time: I’m sitting by my lonesome here in a Tex-Mex restaurant sipping margaritas and munching on nachos dipped in spicy guacamole.  I need to plot my vacation days in the coming year (hoorah!). This is a serious matter worthy of silent contemplation, hence, the opened Macbook with calendar, Google and TripAdvisor on my browser.

Since I’m in a Tex-Mex restaurant, naturally, Mexican songs were playing in the background. I started thinking about Motel Mexicola in Seminyak, Bali. Ergo, I ended up daydreaming about Bali and its sandy beach, great seafood in Jimbaran, the luscious coconuts and the fun parties.

I’ve been in Indonesia for 2 years now, yet Bali remains to be my favorite getaway place in the country. Perhaps it’s stereotypical about foreigners living in Indonesia, but Bali seems to never run out of things to do, places to visit and parties to go to!

I will need more time to write about my Bali escapades because I need to do justice to the place!

I love Bali. Can you blame me?

Bali, in perspective

Again, my favorite quote from Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop: Travel is like a university without walls

Travel teaches you things that you can never learn within the confines of the four walls of a classroom.  You learn from experience, from meeting other people and from the different cultures that you encounter along the way.

You get a new perspective. Or it renews a good perspective that you already had but you had lost along the way.

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Bali sunset, Seminyak beachfront

In my case, it was the latter.

My recent trip to Bali was a gentle reminder of an outlook that I have lost somewhere along my journey, just because so many things have been happening at once.

Looking at the sunset and listening to the crashing of the waves reminded me that there is life beyond working 50-60 hours a week. Travel reminded me that my current emotional issues are a minuscule part of the world and that there are challenges greater than the burdens that I carry.

More importantly, travel gave me that renewed sense of self and refreshed my energy batteries, so to speak. I needed it. I needed the beach. I needed the breather.

It’s not a hundred percent back to normal yet, but this weekend’s Bali trip did me a hell lot of good.

It’s true, as they say: no matter the shit that you go through, hang on to that glimmer of hope that things will get better in the end.

Makassar in photographs

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of spending it in Makassar, the fifth largest city in Indonesia. Makassar is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is already near the sea and the equator, thus explaining the city’s hot weather.

My driver for the weekend quipped that if Surabaya had 2 suns, Makassar had 4! That explained why the 6:30am sun seemed to be in its peak like it was already 10 in the morning.

I didn’t get to stay long enough to explore the city and I was there for work, but if there is one word to describe Makassar: seafood. Okay, make it two: sumptuous seafood. 

I wouldn’t mind flying back in of only to taste the fresh seafood once again.

 

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A drone shot of Makassar: aerial view courtesy of Arshad’s brand spanking new drone

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Fresh crab with salted egg yolk from Rumah Makan Seafood Apong

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Fish parape 2 ways: with spicy sambal sauce and sweet caramelized onions

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My favorite appetizer: seafood otak-otak with the spicy sauce on the side

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My Sex and the City cocktail being prepared at Aston’s On 20 Bar and Dining Sky Lounge

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Cocktails at Aston’s On 20 Bar and Dining Sky Lounge of Aston Hotel

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Cocktails at Melia Hotel’s The Society

Majestic Mount Bromo

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Mount Bromo: taken this morning a few minutes after the sunrise

Mount Bromo at sunrise: literally no filter. It is beautiful and majestic as it is.

I’m in Malang this weekend and will be posting about places I visited in this gem of a city in East Java.

Coming soon!

 

Jalan Surabaya: A Charming Weekend of Antiques

Jalan S_lamps_wmTraversing Jalan Surabaya is literally strolling down memory lane, what with all the lovely antiques that you can discover in the whole stretch of this quaint street nestled in the upscale neighborhood of Menteng. Quite a paradox, actually, after seeing posh houses with sprawling yards and lush green lawns, you will be transported to a different scenery, teeming with beautiful antiques.

Solely dedicated to the trade of charming memorabilia, the wide array of items lined up in Jalan Surabaya will definitely pique the interest of antique enthusiasts or amateur appreciators like me.

The Antique Market in Jalan Surabaya was founded in 1974 by the then Governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin. The street became home to antique traders who used to sell their goods walking around Kota Tua (The Old City of Jakarta). The current traders manning the stalls are usually the second generation family members of the former Kota Tua traders.

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Ceramics: one of my favorite finds in Jalan Surabaya

There are several shops selling antiques including woodwork and wooden sculptures, wooden masks, wayang or puppets, paintings, woven cloths, silver and brass cutlery, metal and earthenware souvenirs, antique lamps and old fashioned accessories. You will also stumble upon telephones, cameras, typewriters, phonographs, telescopes, watches and jewelry. It will be a delightful surprise to discover that there are a handful of shops selling ship rudders, dials, compass and even old diving helmets and brass suits! There are several shops specializing in old books, plates and brassware. At the far end of the street, you can find stalls selling old bags and luggages.

My favorite purchases: ceramics displays, lamps and old Balinese paintings.

I’ve been back as an expat in Jakarta for 18 months now and I realized that I haven’t gone back. Immediately, I called my friend Mark who has never been there for a spur of the moment visit.

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with my fellow Pinoy expat Mark at one of the shops in Jalan Surabaya

As expected, Jalan Surabaya did not disappoint. Until now, this street never fails to enthrall me. The plenitude of items lined up on the street always catches my attention…and my wallet.

I had two specific items that I had in mind: an old typewriter and an old-fashioned stand fan, which will both be a nice addition to my antique collection back in Manila. While going through the shops one by one, though, I kept my eyes open for other interesting finds.

A few practical tips that will come in handy when you visit:

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  1. Getting there: For tourists who are not very familiar with Jakarta, this will be tricky. I strongly recommend getting an Uber, Grab or Blue Bird taxi. If you are buying in bulk, it is highly recommended to bring your own car if you have one. Stall owners allow customers to park alongside the shops.
  2. Location: Jalan Surabaya is located at the heart of Menteng, which is an upscale neighborhood. It’s near Jalan Cikini, Cikini Market, Proclamation Monument and Suropati park
  3. Best time to go: In the morning or afternoon over the weekend so there is a lot of parking space on the side street. For me, a Saturday afternoon is always ideal.
  4. Amount of time spent: Make sure you have plenty of time, but based on experience, I spend 2-4 hours, give or take. It is, after all, an entire street of antique shops! It is always more pleasant when Jalan Surabaya is experienced at a leisurely pace.
  5. Outfit: Wear casual clothes that are not too warm on the skin as the weather can get hot and humid in the afternoon.
  6. If you are not very fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, it is always best to bring a calculator with you so you can type in the price of the items. This is a necessary tool of the trade, so to speak, when bargaining for the price.
  7. If you are not an expert in antiques, bring a friend who has some knowledge about it. Not all the items are antiques and there are a lot of replicas. Most of the time, though, the real ones are stored in glass cabinets inside the store. Although this is not always necessarily true.
  8. Walk the entire stretch and compare prices before buying anything. This is an important reminder. When I was a newbie shopper in Jalan Surabaya, I had buyer’s remorse when I was too excited to purchase my antique ceramics, only to find out that the stores further down were cheaper!
  9. Bring cash! The shops don’t accept debit or credit card transactions. Everything is paid on cash basis.
  10. Most important of all: haggle. Haggle fiercely. The prices of the items in the stores depends on your willingness to pay for them. As a rule of thumb, ask for BIG discounts, as high as 70-80%. Yes, you read that correctly: 70-80% because some of them are willing to budge. Even if they don’t, if you get the item at 50% discount, it is still a huge win.

Armed with sheer curiosity for the old and some cash, an afternoon spent walking through the shops in Jalan Surabaya is something that I strongly recommend to expat friends and foreign visitors. Whenever someone asks me for an itinerary in Jakarta for a quick weekend trip, my list will always include a trip to this nostalgic street.

And for me, Jalan Surabaya, ironically, will never grow old and will stay as one of my favorite things to do on one fine Saturday afternoon.

Colette & Lola: Of Sweet Endings and Easy Weekends

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Colette & Lola’s small cakes

Manila has spoiled me with a plethora of good cake shops and dessert places. Like I said in my previous blog post, I wasn’t really a dessert person, but I know how to appreciate a macaron or a sliver of cake…or two.

Back home, I never clamored for cakes since cake shops were just everywhere! There were even pastry chefs who didn’t have their own shops but they have their own Facebook and Instagram accounts. You can just order from them and they can deliver right at your doorstep.

It was a struggle to find a decent cake shop – dessert place in Jakarta. The cakes that I’ve tried in the past were either too sweet, too dry or too hard that you can throw it like a block and it won’t even disintegrate. Even the desserts in the usual hotel lounges and restaurants were blah.

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Rainbow Cake

So I never really bothered for cakes in Jakartown anymore, until Tita Liza, our UP Alumni President here, brought us a Colette & Lola rainbow cake and a red velvet cake for two of our UP meetings. The rainbow cake looked so pretty I didn’t want to slice it. It was light and not too sweet, but it wasn’t a favorite of mine.

In our Induction of Officers at the Philippine Embassy, Tita Liza brought a red velvet cake (see my last blog post). I was hooked from there!

The red velvet cake was light and the frosting was creamy and flavorful, but not too sweet. Yep, I did the unthinkable: I had a second serving!

Both cakes have piqued my interest so one fine Sunday afternoon, after a soccer event, I asked ze Hubs to take me to Colette & Lola in Senopati since it was nearby. The shop looked very dainty and colorful, which reminded me of my daughter Abby. She will love this shop!

It wasn’t big but it was cozy – the chairs and tables were designed to make you stay, enjoy every bite of your cake while sipping a mug of their creamy latte’ and reading your latest novel. They also had merchandise for sale: book bags, notebooks, pillow cases and aprons.

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Arshad & I at Colette & Lola, Senopati

Arshad and I tried two of their small cakes and they didn’t disappoint. I tried their Operaccino while Arshad had the tiny version of the Lola Bar.

Both cakes were moist with just the right amount of sweetness. The Lola Bar had peanut butter in it too, which can be perfectly paired with an espressso or a tall Americano.

The Operaccino had the right amount of chocolate and caffeine. It was good, but red velvet remains to be my favorite. I wanted to order the red velvet cake again but only the big version was available.

The staff told us that we should try the Ovo Milo next time, since this is one of their bestsellers. I intend to try their macarons, too.

Their big cakes are beautiful, to say the least. Now I know where to get pretty and tasty cakes for my friends’ birthday celebrations.

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Colette & Lola’s big cakes, but no hearts for me, please!

Colette & Lola delivers in the Jakarta area and it even has an online shop! For their hotline, you can call +621-2900-7997. They deliver for free if the purchase is above Rp350k.

Colette & Lola is definitely a 5 stars experience that is a must-try!

5-out-of-5