Last October me and my girlfriend were travelling through Lombok, an Indonesian island near Bali.
We had a lot of fun, climbed mountains and chilled on beaches, some full of backpackers and day-trip-tourists from Bali, some deserted and lonley with chickens and cows walking on them. We discovered some (but not nearly all; there are plenty) islands around Lombok and even found some places off the beaten tracks, where people are still curious and interested in all we had to say (even though the communication sometimes went down to hand signs instead of language).
We decided to share some of our the things we discovered and the secrets we unveiled.
We started off in Sengiggi, coming from the International Airport of Lombok (where you can fly to from Kuala Lumpur via Air Asia quite easily and cheap). Senggigi (image right) has a nice little beach and a lot of Spa's around, but we only stayed a night, because we were heading to our first smaller island: Gili Travangan.
Gili Travangan B
I had heard a lot about that little island and could not wait to get there. Travangan is a nice little island that always hosts a lot of people. Most visitors seemed to come over from a Bali trip, since many fast boats go directly from Bali (Padanbay) to the Gillis. There are a lot of shops, bars and restaurants around and you can do diving and snorkeling trips or rent a bike and cycle around the island. Motorized vehicals are very rare (I actually saw only one or two) except for the boats that float everywhere around the islands beaches. The main bach front is quite long and the road behind the beach quite busy. In low season you will not have any problems to find a place to stay for around 10 to 15 €.
Gili Air C
While Travangan is a place for party and going out, Gili Air is the quiter version of Travangan. Most activities (cycling and snorkling) are similar, while I personally enjoyed the chilled and relaxed vibe on the island.
After the touristy Gilis, Bayan was a very peaceful place and felt a bit off the track. We stayed there for two nights, which is apparently more than most people, since many just rush through since this little village is one of the two entrance points for tours to Rinjani. But Bayan has still a lot to offer: there are rice fields and waterfalls you can walk to and the people are very nice and friendly. We even got invited to a circumvision party of the nephew of the owner of our guesthouse, where we got a nice local meal. What suprised me was that no one was trying to force us into a Rinjani tour. But after all I think most people that go to Bayan already booked their tours somehow. I can only recommend to go to Bayan directly and talk to a few tour operators, since you will get it cheaper and you can even rent some equipment on top of it (like proper shoes or a flashlight). On Gilis everyone already wanted to sell us those tours (for the a bit higher price but including transport to Rinjani) and it sounded like it would be a nice little evening walk on top and everyone can make it in his flip flops without any problem (which is not the case IMHO).
We took the 3 day treck to the top of Rinjani, which is quite challenging. But don't fear that you're not gonna make it, if you are not trained or something. The most part of the trip can be done by anyone that can walk a few hours uphill and downhill. The hardest part of the trip, the actual summit is a 3 hours up 2 hours down path, which is very very exhausting, since the path is half rocky half sandy and for each step upwards you take you will slip a half step down again. But you can always stop and turn, since the tour continues from the camp at the crater rim. We were thinking about turning around twice, but in the end we barely made it to the top. But I can say it was definately worth the view. You do the summit at the second day in the morning (around 3 am) in complete darkness, with a lot of people walkin up there. After the summit the tour continues for 6 hours more so you will be up on your feet for 11 hours in total. But in between you can go to the hot springs and take a bath, which gives back some energy. On the third day, the treck goes through a jungle down again back to Bayan. From there the tour operators offer you a free ride to anywhere on Lombok.
- hot springs (top/left)
- crater rim basecamp (top/right)
- on top of Rinjani (bottom/left)
- vukanic bottom, first day (bottom/middle)
- crater lake (bottom/right)
Since the ride was free we decided to drive to Kuta, since its a long way down (about 3 hours).
Kuta is the surfer centrum of Lombok and a good entry point if you want to discover south Lombok. It has a lot of guesthouses and hotels and restaurants that all smell like barbecue in the evening (mostly grilled fish). It nearly as busy and touristy as the Gilis, but as there are more than 11 (or so) small bays west and east of Kuta, that all have beaches to relax on, you can also find yourself alone at a beach sometimes. The best beaches however are a little more populated with tourists and coconut selling kids (like Mawun beach, west of Kuta). The best option to discover all of this is grab a motorbike/scooter from your homestay and just drive along the costline. You will see a lot of smaller (probably illegal) goldmines right and left of the street, there is a bat cave you can visit west of Kuta (with a very strange looking sign, but go in if you are ok with smelling bat excrements; it's interesting) and some little marvelous places build by expats with amazing food.
Western peninsula G
With a 2 hours ride (or so) we went with minibus shared with other folks to the Southwestern peninsula. We found a nice place to stay, that is worth a visit at a small guesthouse run by Andreas, a nice, bald, tatooed oldschool hippie, that has traveled a lot in his life and has a lot of stories to tell. He also knows the area, Lombok and can tell you a lot about Indonesia and his people and you can get the best grilled tuna on whole Lombok.
Desert Point H
We rented a motorbike from Andreas and drove to Desert Point, where there is annual surf championships, but in the rest of the year it seems to be rather empty, like the rest of the peninsula. But this part of Lombok has a lot to offer and hosts the friendliest people we met on Lombok.
Gili Gede I
Andreas brought us together with Anton, a guy who lives with his wife on Gili Gede, one of the lesser known Gilis that are located in the north of the peninsula. Anton drove us around for snorkeling by boat (which is by far more amazing as on Gili Travangan) and after that brought us to his place where we stayed a couple of nights. Gede has only a very limited amount of places to stay (we saw 3 or 4 maybe) and you can probably get to know all other tourists on the island within a day or so, since there are not many. But the island is lovely and it was definitly one of the very highlights of our trip. People are very friendly and you can have a 4 hour walk around the island (I recommend bringing water along and don't expect to find much to eat, since most of the places where you can get something to eat other than chips are near the harbour). It has amating mangrove forests and you will se crabs hiding from you and getting out of the way, especially in the night. A flashlight is a nice tool here, since the places only have light from a generator and shut down at around 10 pm.
After beeing on the loneliest of the islands, we opted for sighseeing, because we wanted to see if we can find the remainders of Hindu culture in the island of the 1000 mosques, as Lombok is called. Even if Lombok does not host a lot of Hindu tempels, you can find quite a few around Mataram. Some seem not longer in use, others are still quite active, but most of them require a small donation as entrance fee. We drove around quite a lot and saw most places we could find through travel guides and asking. The best and most touristy one is in Sengiggi, a temple directly at the sea. We also went to the Mataram shopping mall, which is a small highlight by itself: you can not by much, but it is still worth a visit (especially the gaming area in the top floor is fun).
The last place we visited was the South-East peninsula. I had heard that there is a pink beach, but appart from that we didn't know much about this area. We went there by motorbike and left our stuff in Kuta, which is a 3 hour ride (or so) but you will see quite a lot. In the end it is definately worth a visit and if I every return to Lombok, I will most likely stay here longer. The area is yet rather undiscovered (if you are lucky you can find a place to stay; we heard that one place just opened) and most people that come here seem to visit the pink beach by boat, which is rather understandable, since the roads are poor. Pink beach however was not so pink after all (it is only really pink at sunset, as we heard). but you see a little red color shining through. But threre is a nice fishing village right before you drive to pink beach, which has marvelous beaches by itself and there is a lot to see. Behind pink beach you will find an amazing cliff line that, like Desert Point feels like the end of the world. As our days on Lombok where over we headed back to Kuta, where you have a good connection to the airport and flew to Kuala Lumpur, which I will write about in another article.
All in all I can just recommend to stay in Lombok at least a week or so (better more, we stayed three) and to rather go to the unpopular places, since the seem to still hold the magic that this island has to offer.