After a rough end to my trip to Thailand (more on that later) in December, all I wanted to do for my next vacation was to go somewhere relaxing, isolated and devoid of people. When most people think of Indonesia, Bali is the first and only thing that comes to mind. Now that I’ve been to Indonesia, this truly blows my mind as the country has over seventeen thousand islands and is the fourth most populous country in the entire world. There’s a lot of ground to cover other than Bali.
A bit of research turned up Lombok, referred to by many as “what Bali used to be”. We booked our tickets for $200* round trip to get there from Shanghai through AirAsia, with the standard layover in Kuala Lumpur.
For our first few days, we booked a nice villa for $40 per night near the township of Senggigi. It was near a private beach, accessible by a walkway lined with palm trees. Here’s the view at sunset. Not bad, eh?
For our first full day on the island, we rented a motorbike ($5 for the day) and explored.
We were on the hunt for peresean, a traditional stick fighting festival that was supposedly taking place on the island that week. I say ‘supposedly’ because we kept stopping to ask people and got a different answer every time. But hey, it’s all about the journey not the destination (spoiler alert: we never found it). We did however find Kuta Beach, and not unlike Kuta Beach in Phuket it was pretty touristy and grimy. This was the first sign of tourism I had really seen on the island so far. We didn’t stay long because it was a 3 hour journey back home, but I found out later there are a couple of nice surf spots there.
This was my first time visiting a Muslim country, incidentally the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world. Many women wear a hijab and many don’t; there’s an interesting article about that here. There are call to prayers throughout the day (starting at 5am) and you can hear the chants and prayers reverberating through the entire island via loudspeaker.
The following day, we booked a private car to see some of the sights around the island. For $30 a day and 4-5 hours of driving, it’s not a bad deal. Our first stop was the Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls. It was a fun little hike (approx. 1 hour long) and a little more challenging than I expected.
The next stop was the monkey forest. At this point is was beginning to rain, so we didn’t stay long.
On the way back, it was pouring rain. We noticed around fifty or so young people running outside in the street without shoes. There were even small toddlers toddling along in the downpour, guided by an adult. At this point our driver Wee – the strong silent type – piped up and told us that in Lombok there is a tradition that when it rains all the children go outside and just start running. It is believed to make them stronger, and increase their chances of having a son. Wee used to do it, and he now has two sons, so they might be onto something.
On our third day, we took it easy with a massage, gift shopping, a quick stop at the Batu Bolong temple and a 3-hour eating and drinking extravaganza on the beach. The massage was great, and like Thai massage it combines massage with some simple stretching.
For lunch, our Airbnb host – a feisty lady from Borneo – recommended a seafood grill called Nuf’ Said. It was a sandy spot down on the beach, situated between a hotel and a “club” that never had more than 5 people at it. It seemed like our quiet part of the island was prepared for tourists; they just hadn’t shown up yet.
The food took around 30 minutes to arrive, but who could possibly complain about the wait when you’re in a bamboo hut on a secluded beach?
They have other offerings, but the best thing on the menu was the seafood, delivered fresh every day. They fish is very simply grilled and served with a slice of lime, a small portion of rice and three types of sambal, delicious Indonesian chili sauce. And that right there is all you need to have a good time!
We liked Nuf’ Said so much that we decided to come back for dinner. Dinner consisted of ordering almost everything on the menu, including barracuda, mahi-mahi, tuna and calamari. I had to take a breather and go on a walk on the beach mid-meal.
That evening we relaxed at our villa and shared some wine with our Airbnb host’s husband, a jovial Scottish fellow that told us that now is the time to invest in Lombok, because the tourism industry is starting to get going and the land is already “really fucking expensive”. But from the looks of it, this place will remain natural and simple for a good while longer.
The next morning, we set out for Gili Trawangan…
*All prices in $USD are approximate, give or take $5 because I’m too lazy to do exact conversions.