I was filling out the Indonesian Immigration Form and when I came to the field 'City of Arrival' I realized I didn't even know what city we were flying in to. We always just simply say Lombok! Well, it's Mataram - the capital of Lombok.
I've known Lombok from afar ... but never new much about it. Last year we went to Bali 7 or 8 times, so for 2009 we had promised ourselves that we need to see other parts of Indonesia as well. From Jasi, on the Eastern part of Bali, on a clear day you could see Lombok and Mt Rinjani towering at 3726 metres. But that's as close to Lombok as I ever got.
After spending 4 days in Lombok ... I can say ... it's paradise! I was stunned by its geographical beauty. white sandy beaches, palm-tree lined bays, crystal clear water, untouched land and pristine. And from the western side of the island, what I will never forget, is the sun setting into the sea, right next to Bali's majestic volcano Mt. Agung. That was pure magic.
Of course everyone wants to compare Lombok to Bali. Geographically, Lombok is smaller than Bali, and the coast much more jagged, especially in the north. All-in-all, it's a much more geographically stunning island compared to Bali and the beaches here are par excellence. One of the main differences between the two neighbours ... Lombok is predominantly Muslim while Bali is Hindu. And there is a visible difference due to religion. Lombok has less of the cultural sophistication that Bali has. No offerings, no local costumes, no temples on every corner. But what Lombok has ... is what Bali was perhaps 20 years ago. It's still primal. The roads are much less busy, it doesn't have that insane chaos that you sometimes feel on Bali, it's more relaxed. Landing at the little airport and walking out of the arrival building, you know you've walked back in time. And that's a wonderful feeling. Modernity hasn't hit much of Lombok yet. Thank god ... that it's still possible!
As a point of interest, what separates Bali and Lombok is more than just what meets the eyes. The two islands are separated by a 4km deep trench called the Wallace Line. This is the divide between Asia and Australasia ... two separate tectonic plates ... that have created flora and fauna that is very diverse between these close neighbours.
What can I say... you simply have to come and unwind on Lombok!
The people are warm, friendly and full of smiles. The streets are still full of cidomos - horse drawn carriages, and while strolling the beaches, you will be hassled by beach-vendors. Although a few no's and a big smile is often sufficient for them to leave. Even the touts are fairly relaxed on this beautiful island!
> The Lombok Guide: to find out what is going on, the latest gossip or news, check out this online and offline publication. Very insightful, and written by a powerhouse of a woman … Barbara … fantastic gal who I had the honor to sit next to at a party recently.
HOW TO GET THERE:
There are far fewer connections to Lombok as there are to Bali. From Singapore we flew Silk Air and the flight is slightly less than 2.5 hours. Try and sit on the right-hand side of the plane, for when you approach Lombok, on a clear day, you will have a stunning view of Bali's volcano Mt Agung on your descent.
Don't forget, visa on arrival for Indonesia and 100,000 Rupiah departure tax.
> flying from Bali to Lombok: It is amazingly cheap to island-hop between Bali and Lombok. Fly with Trigana Air for only US$60 return! The route is done with a turbo-prop plane, which has the most cramped space I've ever seen. I couldn't even sit without keeping my legs apart, for my knees were in the seat in front! Was also very hot inside the plane. Flight attendant at one point apologized to us, for they accidentally installed the fan on the outside of the plane … referring to the props! But given that it's a 30 min flight and costing only $60 … you can put up with a lot.
WHAT TO DO:
> Senggigi strip: it's actually not that big, with tons of little restaurants for dinner and lunch. Interspersed amongst the restaurants are art galleries and other shops ... but besides that, not much more.
> Gilli Islands: Gilli actually means small island, and the islands that we visited are located on the north-west side of Lombok, next to Bali. There are three islands here: Trawangan, Meno and Air. And this is paradise! We did a day trip by taking a boat from Bangsal Harbour at Pemenang. You can also pay a local fisherman to take you to the islands from right in front of your hotel. It shouldn't be more than 500,000 Rupiah for the whole day. Trawangan is the biggest of the three and is a back-packers haven. No raods, bars everywhere, small restaurants and inexpensive hotels. The thing to do here is go snorkeling or diving in the crystal clear azure water around the islands. This is some of the most beautiful water that I've seen anywhere in the world! We went snorkeling around Trawangan and Meno and saw water snakes, colourful fish, corals, cuttle fish and many turtles. The people that were diving also saw sharks, octopus and other sea creatures. And when you're not swimming ... you're lounging in one of the many restaurants on Trawangan and watching time pass you by under the splended afternoon sun.
> Gili Meno: this is one of the three little islands just off the tip of north-western Lombok. The three islands represent paradise! Meno is the least populated of the three. You can walk all around the island in less than an hour. And completely flat! The charm here is the crystal clear water which is perfect for snorkeling or diving, the white sandy beaches for tanning and the simple surroundings of the island. Like on the other two islands, there are no cars, just horse carriages. The accommodations are simple and you will find plenty bales along the beach where you can laze the day away and eat and drink till the sun sets. Beauty is in its simplicity. The place to stay is at Villa Nautilus which has less than 10 small bungalows right on the beach. They are elevated, large with a sunken living area, clean and air conditioned. And you will definitely notice the cactus piece of art at the entrance ... the cactus is decorated with dried egg shells which have been placed at the tip of each spoke. Never seen anything like it!
To catch the sunset, walk around to the north-west side of the island to The Sunset Gecko. This simple eco-resort is run by a charming and amicable Japanese, who splits his time between hectic Tokyo and idyllic Gili. Grab a beer, enjoy the zen like environment and watch nature perform its spectacular show.
Although the food on the island is not really great, the pizzas at Malias Child were good. But for a great meal or to party the night away, Gili Trawangan right next door is for you. For on Meno, the world stops at just about 10pm.
> Drive north of Senggigi: This is a spectacularly scenic drive. This is when you really notice the difference between Bali and Lombok. The northern part of Lombok is more mountaineous, and thus the coastline is very rugged. As you leave the small settlement of Senggigi and start winding through the narrow roads you soon start to pass one beautiful bay after another. Each bay is lined with a pristine white sandy beach, aqua blue water, and the land is densely carpeted with palm trees. Behind the bay, the land slowly ascends from sea-level up into the quasi-barren surrounding hills, which form the foot hills of Mt. Rinjani. The coves are sparsely populated, with little villages sprinkled amongst the terrain. It's pure nature with the local communities living hand-in-hand with their beautifully natural surroundings. This landscape you don't see anywhere in Bali!
> Shopping: There are several small galleries in Senggigi and in the small towns around. Sometimes it's just a shack on the road that is selling local artwork. Take a look at them, for there are some beautiful local art pieces such as masks inlayed with mother of pearl, or statues and the like. Just don't forget to bargain! We walked into a tiny shack on the street and found a beautiful wooden statue, about knee-high. When the old man came to greet us we said 'how much?' He answered '4 million'!!!! We were like, what? Are you crazy? US$ 400 for this? He was blatantly trying to make his annual income on one sell. He added as we stormed out '4 million Rupiah, not dollars!!! Come back'
> south of Lombok: On my previous trips to Lombok, we always stayed around the north-western part of the island, which is facing Bali. However, we kept hearing from locals and tourists alike about the beautiful south … the area surrounding Kuta. It seems that the southern part of the island has ben designated as the new tourist area, where new hotel developments will be sprouting up anytime. Moreover, they are building a new large airport very close to Kuta … so given the large investments in infrastructure, I guess all the claims we've heard are not unfounded. So one day … we got into a car and went exploring the south of Lombok. I have to say I was disappointed! The south is very dry, far from the lushness that you see in the area around Mt. Rinjani in the north. The land is brown, parched and primitive. And the sea … well, the surf breaks away so far from the beach, that it's pretty much impossible to swim in the water due to the shallow reef that extends far into the water. It's one of those situations where you can see the sea in front of you, but you can't do much with it! All-in-all, I'm glad we went to see the area surrounding Kuta, yet for me it doesn't come anywhere close to the natural and lush beauty of north Lombok.
> Qunci Villas Spa: we did a 3.5 hour session prior to departing back to Singapore: 90 minute Balinese massage, body scrub, bath in a stone tub filled with flower petals and a facial. Fantastic way to end a vacation!
> Qunci Pool Villas (Senggigi): Pronounced coon-chi villas, a stunning little boutique hotel located on a beautiful strip of beach. Location couldn't be more perfect! I think it has only 28 rooms, and a few villas with private pool. The design is Bali-esque, with an infinity pool right on the beach. Having breakfast on tables made out of beautiful black slabs of stone, next to the pool, right on the beach with Bali's mother volcano Mt. Agung right in front of you and the waves breaking right at your feet ... well, that's paradise. And to mention that you're having a cocktail by the pool, as the sun is setting right next to Agung in the distance? It's what South-East Asia is all about! If you're staying in the rooms, make sure you ask for a room that has an ocean-view. There are also beautiful villas with a private pool ... however, they do not have an ocean view. Also, beware that there's Qunci Hotel and Qunci Pool Villas ... I'm talking about the latter, which is the one I recommend. If you're looking for a larger villa with several bedrooms, they have two beautiful villas about a 5 minute walk up the hill that are gorgeous. Perfect for a family or large group of friends.
> Jeeva Klui Resort: this brand new boutique hotel is a fantastic new addition to the funky little hotels that are popping up around the Senggigi area. With somewhere in the vicinity of 25 rooms and located right on the beach, this place has a definite female energy and organic touch. No wonder, the Indonesian architect was female. We celebrated our first birthday dinner here, on a bale right on the water. Gorgeous! The food was exquisite and the service superb.
> Holiday Resort Lombok: a larger hotel right on the beach, much more family oriented. Has a big pool area, large lawns and is a bit shielded from the sea. You can also rent an apartment villa, if you're planning for a long stay in the area.
> Hotel Tugu Lombok: To get here you have to take the wonderfully scenic route north of Senggigi. It's more than an hour from the airport, isolated in a beautiful part of the island. The hotel with it's very large grounds is situated on a peninsula, with views of the Gilli Islands right in front. The style is very eclectic ... design, furniture and art from China, Java, Portugal, etc which at times looks fascinating and at times odd. Would be a wonderful place to stay if you're looking for 5 days of just staying in your hotel and enjoying the surroundings.
> Hotel Oberoi - Tanjung: we have stayed in several Oberoi Hotels in India … and they are renowned for ultimate luxury. Beautiful private villas, luxurious surroundings, attention to detail, fantastic service and always done in the local style. This hotel in Tanjung is no different. The only disappointment … there were barely any guests. And you know how it feels to walk into a beautiful place which is deserted. The soul is gone. Hopefully only for a short time though … for the Xmas holidays are just around the corner and tourism should be picking up!
> Novotel Kuta: Hmm … very interesting design for a Novotel hotel. Currently, it's the only major hotel on the Kuta beach. The design is quasi African safari … you don't quite feel that you're in Indonesia. And given the brown dry surrounding, you could nearly pretend to tele-transport yourself to an African steppe. On our way back to Singapore we were talking with some Dutch tourists that stayed in the hotel … and their first comment was that they felt isolated there. This of course is more a reference to the area, than the hotel. However, if you want to stay in Kuta and want a star-rating for your hotel … this is your only option for now.
> Puri Mas Hotel (Senggigi): another wonderful boutique hotel on the coast of Senggigi. This one has a more local feel, actually more traditional Balinese. Very ornate bungalows, great poolside area and a lovely restaurant. Be aware that there are 2 separate locations: one on the beach, and one slightly up the hill, with its own private zoo. The resort is owned by Marcel de Rijk, a Dutch world champion in ballroom dancing, who has lived on Lombok for a very long time. You will see photos of his carrier all over the resort. Even in the bathroom … where I found a beautiful B&W photo of him and his partner in the middle of a striking dance pose.
> The Lombok Lodge: Newly opened boutique hotel is a slice of Ibiza on Lombok island. The design is European modernism and the lovely Belgian owners have ensured a very consistent product branding. If it wasn't for the volcano in front of me I would have thought I'm on the Mediterranean! It's small (only 7 rooms) and the service comes with a beautiful personable touch which makes the experience exclusive. Located right behind the Oberoi Hotel on a gently sloped hill right above the beach, the views are stunning. One morning I woke up at 0530 to see the most beautiful sunrise over the Medana bay, with Mt. Rinjani to the right and a million stars overhead slowly starting to disappear. Highly recommend room #7 which has completely unobstructed views.
> Cafe Alberto (Senggigi): for our first evening we went to this wonderful Italian restaurant right on the beach. What's magical about this place is that some of the tables are right on the sand, and while you're biting into your pizza margherita, your bare feet are digging into the sand underneath the table ... and getting connected to the earth. If your hotel is not too far away, Cafe Alberto has a free shuttle service to take you back home. Of course, a tip is always appreciated.
> Square: slightly more upscale than all the other restaurants found on the Senggigi strip, here you can feast yourself on king prawn risotto and deliciously spicy Tom Yam soup. Make sure you sit upstairs on the terrace.
> Hotel Tugu Lombok: Take a drive down the coast north of Senggigi and stop for lunch at this grand and eclectic hotel. The food was good and the setting special. Great way to break the day as you're discovering the coastline of Lombok.
> Qunci Villas dinner: start off with happy hour cocktails at sunset while lounging at the pool and watching the sun set next to Mt Agung. If you're like us, just stay in your sarong (add a T-Shirt) and move to your al fresco dining table still on a G&T buzz (make sure you reserve the outdoor table the night before). Watch the moon set into the pitch black horizon and feast on wonderful seafood while relaxing with a glass of sauvignon blanc in your hand. Life doesn't get much harder than this!
> Ashtari Restaurant - Kuta: we were told that this is a must go restaurant in the Kuta area … serving all natural delicious food. Sitting high up on the hill immediately west of Kuta beach it commands a stunning vista of the whole area. Unfortunately, we were there on a Monday, the only day they're closed :-( But heard very good things about this place.
> Coco Beach (Senggigi): this is the quintessential beachside island restaurant. The premise right next to a gorgeous beach is scattered with bamboo huts which house the tables and chairs (you sit on the floor). At night the whole place is lit up with candles and torches. And the menu is fantastic. A definite must in Senggigi.
> Lotus Bayview Restaurant (Senggigi): jammed next to the many restaurants located behind the Senggigi Cultural Village, this joint has a great view, relaxed ambience and wonderful pizza! Don't forget the beer!
> Happy Cafe: located in 'downtown' Senggigi, there are no words to describe this place. The best that can be said is that the people present were very colorful. This is the kind of joint where you realize that in this world, there's a place for everyone :-) And the 'Not so bad' Band, as they're called, did a fantastic show if not for the many questionable guest performances from the visiting inebriated patrons. You cannot come to Senggigi without dropping by here.