Greetings from Lombok – the lesser known neighbour to the east of Bali, Indonesia. It is best known for its variety of white sandy beaches and the tremendously imposing Mount Rinjani – Indonesia’s second highest volcano! After ten days in Bali, we spent five days exploring southern Lombok before heading north to the Gili islands.
Fly, fast boat or ferry?
After doing a bit of research, asking around, weighing up our time constraints (or lack thereof) and thinking about the perpetual “comfort versus cost” debate, we finally decided to fly from Bali to Lombok.
There were several reasons: it was the second cheapest option (the ferry is the cheapest), it was the most convenient for where we were going (to Kuta, South Lombok) and we didn’t really think a (minimum) 5-hour public ferry ride from Padang Bai (Bali) was warranted when we already had a lift back to the airport organised (in the opposite direction).
The flight with Lion Air cost 153,000 rupiah each and took 30 minutes. It was so short, the pilot only switched off the seat belt sign for about a minute before announcing that we were descending and had to put it back on again.
We took the fast boat when we returned to Bali airport from the Gili Islands – read more here.
The beaches in southern Lombok are awesome – long white stretches of soft sand along varying degrees of turquoise, cobalt and aquamarine oceans. The two main beaches we biked to were Tanjung A’an (10 minutes from Kuta) and Mawun (30 minutes from Kuta).
Tanjung A’an beach was a lovely two-day spot. The beach swings right around to the other side of the stunning blue bay that sparkles in the sunlight; a great reminder that Lombok is really beautiful and almost untouched compared to its touristy neighbour, Bali.
The favourite destination of our five day Lombok exploration was Mawun Beach – about a thirty minute drive west of Kuta. Taking the motorbiking up, up, up the steep hills towards amazing views of palm groves and endless white beaches below, we sailed through heat and rain alternately, got soaked to the bone and tried our best to miss the muddy potholes; and then flew down the other side of the hills down into valleys of stone-cutters, red quarry sand and rice paddies. Once we’d almost missed the Mawun turnoff, we hit the beach and knew it had definitely been worth the numb behinds and gravelly roads.
An exquisite bay of blue green water shone all around us, rimmed by a wide sandy beach and framed by palms and shady trees to keep the scorching sun from grilling us too badly. Small fishing boats dotted one side of the bay near the village, only enough to make it picturesque while still having the beach to ourselves.
Jacky, an enterprising fourteen-year-old Sasak Indonesian boy, kept us entertained for a while as he tried his best to sell us a fresh, juicy, sweet coconut for 15,000 IRP. His family owns the small restaurant where we parked our bike and ate lunch. He spoke to us for about an hour about life and Indonesia, wiling away the hours of his school holidays and hoping to make some pocket money from us as two of only six tourists on the whole of the beach. Eventually, Jacky tricked us and we relented by playing rock-paper-scissors (his brilliant proposal that we couldn’t refuse was that if we won, we paid 10,000 IRP and if he won, we paid 20,000 IRP, an exorbitant price for a beach coconut in his eyes). We lost. Jacky won. The coconut was delicious.
Talim and Fathima of T&T Homestay looked after us for the time spent in Lombok. Pancakes for breakfast, free tea and coffee, friendly conversation and free advice about travelling around Lombok itself. The rustic home stays in Lombok are clean and comfortable; and even as a tourist visiting this close-knit community one can observe and participate in the daily life of the hospitable Sasak people of Lombok.
The family showed us how they chop down the palm trees (by hand) to make way for the extensions on their home. They eat the top of the palm tree (a thin white bark in the centre that tastes sweet) and rescue any baby birds they find up there, too (whether this is to eat or to raise was not specified…)
Roy Homestay, a slightly bigger place with air-conditioned rooms available, was good for the night that T&T Homestay was full and we would have stayed longer if there was time. Both home stays served a delicious pancake for breakfast and assisted us with booking vans, motorbikes or taxis where needed. There were also laundry services available at a reasonable price per kilogram.
A forlorn Dutch couple staying nextdoor told us their tale of woe with much forboding about hiring motorbikes in Lombok (we had read all the stories about it, just like they had). They hired a bike (without paperwork, as everyone does), drove it around on a wonderful roadtrip, went to a couple nice beaches and restaurants and then decided to stop for a 20-minute smoke on the beach in the evening. They parked, smoked, came back and it was gone.
After a huge blow up with the owner, little support from the police (because legally, they can only really file a case and give statements), pressure from several men in the community (who would not let them leave Lombok!) and phone calls home to helpless lawyers and family, they eventually had to fork out 12 million rupiah to the demanding owner (who they maintain could have had it stolen for just this reason). Poor Dutchies.
We commiserated and then the next morning we hired a bike because that really is the only way to see Lombok if you want to do it on your own time and budget. We followed strict guidelines and parked in the official parking lots (getting a ticket and paying 5,000-10,000 rupiah for a day), restaurants and where there were people around to watch and help. No incidents for us Saffers.
Bangsal Harbour (to the Gilis)
The van from Kuta dropped us at Bunga Bunga Cafe (five minutes walk down the road from Bangsal Harbour). Talim suggested that we get tickets here for our fast boat from the “Gilis” to Bali (and getting from Bangsal Harbour over to Gili Meno). Since we trusted Talim, we decided to go with the offer and even though Bunga overcharged a little (not much!), the boat from Gili Air to Bali was the best of the lot in terms of comfort and facilities (Marina Srikanda).
Basic costs of this trip:
- 100,000 IRP for a shared private van (4 of us shared for 400,000 IRP total) from Kuta to Bangsal.
- 325,000 IRP for a trip from Bangsal to Gili Meno and then Gili Air to Bali (ticket from Bunga Cafe).
- This should have been about 275,000 for the fast boat and 25,000 for the ferry to Gili Meno if we’d done it through a cheaper agent.
- 35,000 IRP for the standard ‘island hopping’ trip from Gili Meno to Gili Air (ticket from harbour office on Gili Meno).
Tips from other travellers
The Mt. Rinjani hike, up Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, is a popular activity for energetic tourists. The three day hike promises extreme weather, tough ascents and fantastic views. The travellers we spoke to who had done this hike ensured us that it required fitness and endurance (and waterproof, warm hiking jackets) but that it was well worth the effort! This volcano is part of the Mount Rinjani National Park.
If you are visiting Tanjung A’an beach, it is a good idea to park your bike with either the official parking under the tree (paying the guys there and receiving a ticket), or we spent time mostly hanging out at Warung Turtle (because there was shade, beach chairs, food and beverages and friendly locals). Note: You drive to Warung Turtle through the small dirt road that runs behind the beach entrance. At high tide, the water often covers parts of this road near the river bed so watch out for big bumps and pools!