For us travel is very much about experiencing contrasts. The extreme variation provides a sharpness of definition and focus, heightening the experience and delighting the senses. One of the greatest contrasts that we have ever experienced is going from Bali to the nearby island of Lombok. Both Bali and Lombok are located to the south of Indonesia‘s vast archipeligo, closer to Australia than the rest of South East Asia. For example, Darwin in Northern Australia is one and a half hour flight and Perth is three hours flying time, just like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is a three hour flight.
Compared to Bali, Lombok is much more natural, uncrowded and undeveloped, attracting travelers who prefer the relaxed pace and opportunity to explore the stunning, spectacular, unspoiled natural beauty. Lombok tends to be marketed as “an unspoiled Bali,” or “Bali’s sister island.” With the support of the Indonesian Government, Lombok is being developed into an international tourist destination to rival Bali. For example, Lombok International Airport airport was opened in October, 2011. However, many visitors, ourselves included, prefer to arrive from Bali by sea. There are frequent ferries, as well as fast boats.
Anyway, after six lovely days in Bali, we took the fast boat to Lombok, where we spent three nights. The hour and a half, twenty-five mile trip, across the open sea, provided some good opportunities for people watching, with most of the passengers being backpackers. We got off at the first stop, Lombok but most of the passengers were going on to the various stops on the Gili Islands. We based ourselves at a beach-front, boutique hotel, in the Mangsit area, just north of Senggigi, the main tourist town of Lombok. We chose carefully as the range of accommodation on Lombok is more limited than Bali – however, we chose very well. The staff were friendly and helpful but perhaps not quite as customer-focused as in Bali. Of course, culturally Lombok is quite different to Bali, with a different history. Lombok, like most of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, whereas Bali’s majority is Hindu.
Our first full day on Lombok, we hired a boat and boatman for the day to explore the nearby Gili islands. The boat was a catamaran with an outboard. The boatman was clearly very expert as he took the boat out to sea and avoided the heavy surf. Many of the beaches around Lombok are ideal for surfing, so there are some really high waves. It took us about an hour to reach the first Gili island. The three Gili islands have become world-famous with adventure travelers. In essence, they are three tiny Robinson Crusoe, desert islands, surrounded by turquoise sea, white sandy beaches and coconut trees – however, some parts are no longer deserted but they are not quite yet built up either! The seas around the Gili islands attract keen divers and snorkelers from around the world to see the coral and amazingly colorful life on the reef. The three Gili islands are quite different; Trawangan is cosmopolitan, chic and trendy; Air retains its local charm; and Meni is probably most natural. We had a very leisurely day, snorkeling, sunbathing and sampling the three Gili islands. Interestingly, we saw heavy storms over Lombok in the distance and later found out that the Gili islands are famous for their good weather, often better than Lombok and Bali. We returned to Lombok late afternoon, and once again our boatman skillfully negotiated the heavy surf. For anybody with a tendency to sea sickness, this trip would not have been ideal! Our boat was made of solid, local wood, so was very heavy and it took about twenty men to pull it out of the sea on to the beach. The Gili islands reminded us of our visit to the Andaman Islands two months earlier On balance, we probably prefer the Andaman Islands because they are still more unspoiled and undamaged by tourists and related commercialism.
One evening, we went to a restaurant in Senggigi, based upon excellent reviews on Trip Adviser. We were rather disappointed. Marilyn’s fish was under cooked. Alf had an Australian tenderloin but the sauce had dried to the plate in the warmer. This is not the first time where we have disagreed strongly with Trip Advisor restaurant reviews. For us, TripAdvisor seems to come into its own with negative feedback, which is largely factual – the positive feedback seems very subjective to us. Any views?
Anyway, otherwise we chilled out at our relaxing , comfortable hotel in Lombok. The guests were international, including Dutch, German, Americans, Australians and to our surprise a large number of French. Many guests were regular visitors to Lombok, and seemed to have vacations combining both Bali and Lombok.
Our hour and a half journey to the airport was really interesting. It was Sunday and a day out for local families. We went through traditional villages, where horse and carts were more common that motorized vehicles for hauling produce and carrying passengers. Everywhere there were families, readying themselves for picnics or a day on the beach. The Lombok countryside was stunningly beautiful, with rich volcanic soil and ample water providing lush vegetation and mile after mile of beautifully terraced rice fields. In the distance, we had had crystal clear views of the mountains, including famous volcanic peaks. Looking at these wonderful views, we realized that we had seen a fraction of Lombok in our three days. However, we resolved to return, given the opportunity.
We arrived early at Lombok airport for our AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and our connecting flight to Bangkok. We had mixed feelings. We were excited to be returning to Thailand, one of our favorite destinations. Unfortunately, Thailand would be the end of this year’s extended trip. We have now had two lengthy adventures discovering the orient, our way, but still feel that we have barely scratched the surface. We shall hopefully be back, as in our opinion, South East Asia is very, very special indeed and apart from the stunning beauty, the people are so delightful, welcoming and happy!