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Compared to Vietnam, the pace of travel through Indonesia has been slower and more relaxed. If we like a place, we stay! And that is how we spent two weeks between the tiny Gili Islands to the north of Lombok, and stunning Lombok itself.
Gili Trawangan – Tourist Hot Spot, Island Paradise
Although recently fairly unknown, the three small islands known as the Gili’s off the north coast of Lombok have exploded in popularity. It’s not hard to see why. When planning the leg of the trip to Indonesia, the Gili’s were a top destination for our group for so many reasons! White sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, great diving and snorkeling, and a popular party spot amongst backpackers. Sign us up!
Our first stop was on Gili Trawangan, the most developed island of the three and recognized as the ‘party island’. We visited during the off season, so the island was in a fairly relaxed state – but still a lot of fun. The perfect balance. During the off season, the local bars have a different night of the week to host the party so that everyone gets a share and there is always something fun going on at night.
Although Gili T is the largest of the three islands, it is still quite small. It is possible to walk around the perimeter of the island in about 2 hours. With bicycles rented from our homestay operator, it took about 35 minutes. One of the nicest things about the Gili’s is the lack of motorized transport so a bicylce is definitely the way to get around. If you need to go a distance and don’t feel like walking or biking, a horse drawn cart is the only other taxi option available.
We spent a week on Gili Trawangan touring around the coast, snorkeling and doing a little bit of scuba diving. If you aren’t a scuba diver, the snorkeling is just as good! We were lucky enough to see many turtles, as well as a wide variety of tropical fish. For me, the turtles were a highlight since it was my first time encountering sea turtles (mainly Green turtles, but also some Hawksley turtles as well). With excellent visibility, healthy coral, and excellent species diversity, the Gilis are an excellent place to jump in the water with a mask and fins. Other encounter-able wildlife includes reef sharks, octopuses, manta rays and even whale sharks (if you’re lucky). No matter which island you are on, all of the dive shops visit the same dive sights around the islands.
Gili Air – Gili T’s Little Brother (and more behaved)
After a full week on busy Gili T, we booked a seat on the island hopping boat (40,000 IDR) and moved on to Gili Air for two nights. Gili Air is a slightly smaller island, the closest to Lombok and less developed than Trawangan. People say that Gili Air is about 15 years less developed, but you can tell that is about to change as the Gili Islands are booming in popularity.
We stayed at the Fantastic Gili Hostel, a set of bamboo and grass huts set just back from the harbor and close to a wide variety of food options. Newly built, the hostel has a decent common room complete with hammocks and satellite TV. Sometimes sitting down to a movie on a rainy or lazy afternoon is a good thing. That being said, power outages were much more frequent on Gili Air – something we began to anticipate when staying on the islands. Power outages are a fact of life on the islands, and businesses often have portable generators to adapt.
Lombok – An Island on the Bubble of Development
To leave Gili Air, you can either jump on the island hopping boat (leaves at 8:30am for 10,000 IDR), pay for a fast boat (100,000 IDR leaving multiple times a day) or wait for the public boats to fill up (leave when they are full, 12,000 IDR). Since we slept in, we defaulted to the public boat to cross the straight between Gili Air and Lombok, to Bangsal Harbor. Bangsal has a reputation for being ‘seedy’ and full of persistent hawkers, and we wasted no time finding a car to take us to Senggigi, on the northwestern coast of the island.
Lombok is stunning! Before you even arrive on the island, the jagged peak of Mount Rinjani can be seen for miles around. The coast line is equally jagged, full of beaches, coves, and little inlets. The land itself is mountainous, and mostly jungle, with small towns and villages breaking up the route. We spent our first night in Senggigi before moving to Kuta to spend a final week in heaven.
Kuta is a little beach town on the southern coast of Lombok. There are no hostels in town, but it is still filled with plenty of cheap hotel options for backpackers. The streets are full of vendors, restaurants, hotels of varying quality, and surf shops. The best way to see the are is by renting scooters from one of the many services offered around town. Talking to your hotel is the easiest way to get this done. Then pick a direction and follow the road!
There are beaches everywhere and beautiful views along the way. Some are good for surfing, others for swimming and some are good for both. Heading east out of town towards some of the larger beaches on the coast, you can also visit a large bat cave. A local family lives on the land next to the cave, and can take you in if you don’t mind the heat and the smell. Plenty of things to take pictures of.
We explored the coastal roads and beaches around Kuta for our final week in Indonesia, and our final week on the road (for now). I really loved it there! And I can honestly say I can’t wait to go back. There was something wonderful about waking up in the morning by the ocean, picking a direction and driving around in the open air on a scooter for the day. Only stopping for gas, or to catch some sun or the waves at a good looking beach. I didn’t do any surfing this trip, but Kuta is a great place to do it if you’re interested!
And just like that, two months of traveling around South East Asia is over. I was excited to come home, but that was mixed with some sadness about the end of a journey as well. A year ago, we decided we were going to travel and see some of the world. Today, I am sitting at home again. But this time I am planning my next trip, although I have only been back in Canada for two days. Everyone tells you this is going to happen, but I guess it’s another
one of those things you have to experience for yourself.