Exploring Indonesia; Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.
Our time in New Zealand and Australia was brilliant, but who are we kidding, the culture and language really wasn’t that different from our own. Traveling there was expensive and costly, but it was also very easy. There was no communication issues so getting around, asking questions and finding whatever we needed was practically effortless. We knew our trip wasn’t always going to be that easy. So when we headed to South East Asia we were definitely expecting some challenges.
Indonesia was our first stop in South East Asia. There are over 13,000 islands that are part of the country and we were only able to make it to a few of them; Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. Our plan was to do some diving in the Gili Islands and use Lombok as our jumping off point to do this.
We carefully planned our flights so that we would arrive in Lombok in daylight. We almost missed our second flight from Bali to Lombok, which luckily ended up being delayed by several hours, and we ended up arriving after dark anyway. Although this did give us the chance to eat amazing chocolate chip banana bread in the airport – this was totally the thing to buy, everyone was buying them!
It was a short 30-minute flight from Bali to Lombok; the flight was all locals and we were the only tourists on board. We grabbed a local simcard at $3.50 for 4G of data, picked-up a taxi at the airport and were on our way to Senggigi.
I had heard the driving was going to be a little crazy, and it was definitely crazy. There are motorbikes and scooters everywhere, there don’t seem to be specific driving lanes, sticking to one side of the road is optional and honking to pass is the thing to do. Helmets and seatbelts are a rarity and families will load onto one motorbike. The highest number we saw was a family of five on one motorbike; dad in front, mom in back with a baby in hand and two children sandwiched between them. Oddly enough, even with this craziness we didn’t see any car accidents.
There is a slight haze and smokiness to the air from local fires and field burnings, which is done more commonly at certain times of the year. The people are also some of the kindest, most genuine people we met on our travels.
It was the wet season while we were there, so tourism levels were low and it was cheap to stay in some really nice places. We booked at Kebun Villas and stayed in luxury for so little. It seemed crazy that only the day before we were paying $80+ a night for a hostel with shared facilities, and now we were in a 4 star resort with king size bed, breakfast and a pool right outside our door for $30 a night.
We wandered down onto the main street to arrange scuba diving for the following days. Walking down the main strip was surprisingly quiet, though it is a major thruway for traffic. We never seemed to see too many people walking anywhere, and we couldn’t walk a block without having half a dozen taxis or taxi drivers offering a lift. The local kids were always very eager and curious, quick to say “hello, good morning!” and giggle profusely when you said hello back.
Admittedly, most of our time in Lombok was dedicated to scuba diving. So our days were spent travelling to the Gili Islands, diving, and then coming home for the evening. We didn’t have much time to wander and explore the area, apart from our wanderings down the road to local shops for snacks, beer, water, the pharmacy and dinner. And the food was off the charts! We ate the most amazing meals; satay, coconut curry, vegetable curry, fishy curry with lemongrass, spiced vegetables and fresh fish.
The Gili Islands are three tiny islands off the northeast coast of Lombok; Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. To access the islands you must take a boat from either Bali or Lombok. The Gili Islands main attraction is their marine life, so snorkelling and diving is the thing to do here. You can stay on the island, though we opted to stay on Lombok and commute in.
The diving company we booked with is based out of Sengiggi, but all the dives happen from the Gili Islands. We travelled with the crew and equipment from Sengiggi to Gili Trawangan daily. It was a half hour ride from the shop to the beach and another half hour boat ride to the island.
Gili Trawangan was pumping with tourist activity with shops, stores, cafes, restaurants and activities all targeted to tourists, so it was a totally different experience.
We had two days and four dives diving the Gili Islands at various spots. This was also our second diving trip full of new experiences; entering the water by falling in backward off the boat and drift diving. We saw reef sharks, sea turtles, blue-spotted stingrays, octopus, cuttle fish, scorpion fish, puffer fish and loads of other fish.
The diving was very beautiful, but this was my first time really witnessing the impacts of human life on the reef. Some parts of the water (and likely related to current) were so full of garbage. There were some dive spots we dropped into water where trash littered the surface and the first few meters of the water were silty with no visibility. It was very saddening to see, but definitely a wake-up call. I always knew there were issues with plastics and garbage in the ocean, but actually seeing it made it really sink in.
After a couple days of diving we were heading back to Bali – we had touched briefly down on Bali but not yet explored it. Again, with our diving certificates still fresh in hand, we were eager to checkout more diving spots in the area. Tulamban, on the northeast coast of Bali, is a small diving hub with loads of dive resorts right on the waters edge.
The best way to get to Tulamban from our location in Lombok was to take a ferry. We opted to take one of the fast ferries as opposed to the public ferry. It definitely was a significant price difference, but we had heard there were some questionable safety standards on the public ferry. Either way, we were glad we had paid for the upgrade. The crossing is known for being particularly turbulent, and what would normally take 45 minutes took double that since the waters were so rough. I was grateful to find myself on a modern vessel as we bounced and rocked in the waves and the water came up to the windows.
We stayed at a small dive resort in Tulamben, Matahari Tulamben Resort, Dive and Spa. With this location the diving was literally right outside the door. A mere wander 50 meters down the beach brings you to the Liberty Wreck and right in front of the resort was a little underwater museum with sculptures taken over by marine life.
We spent a few days here just enjoying the resort. It was small, but had everything you needed, which was a good thing since there was really nothing around us. We would dive in the morning, and then get a spa service in the afternoon.
Once again as new divers Tulamben offered some new experiences including shore diving, which could be surprisingly tough at times with heavy gear and crashing waves. Overall though, I really liked shore diving! It made ascents and descents very easy and natural.
After a few days of diving and spa-ing we headed inland to Ubud. It was about a 2.5-hour drive from the northeast coast inland through small towns and passed rice fields and mountain landscapes, it was quite a lovely drive.
I found there was something very magical about Ubud. It is known as being the cultural hub of Bali and it really does satisfy all those desires of seeing a traditional old town with cobblestone streets, temples, monkeys and beautiful offerings at every corner and storefront. Keep in mind while it is a cultural hotspot, it is still a tourist hub with a bustling tourist industry, loads of hotel options, restaurants and shops. We spent a few days here and they were some of my favourite of the trip; it was a city unlike any place I had ever experienced before.
We explored the Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which was entertaining and terrifying all at the same time. Monkey Forest is a protected rainforest with grey haired macaques and a handful of temples. The grounds are beautiful with statues, walkways and of course monkeys! They roam at their will and you will see all types of interactions. They play, they fight, they groom, they have sex – some of it is charming, some of it is not.
We saw a Kecak Fire Show put at one of the local temples. It was an amazing show where all of the music was made by the voices of chanting men going into trance, the costumes were beautiful and a man walked through fire! It was a really enjoyable show.
We spent a day exploring the surrounding area with a local guide visiting some of local iconic spots. It was a full day visiting various temples like Gunung Kawi Temple, Istana Tampak Siring, local coffee plantations, lookouts for a few volcanoes, the Tegalalang rice fields and waterfalls. These were in no way secret places, but they were beautiful local attractions well worth visiting.
Unfortunately, I got quite ill in Ubud. To this day, we are not sure if it was a bad case of food poisoning (AKA Bali belly), or if it was a virus. But I was violently ill for a solid 12 hours followed by two to three days of fever, aches, headache and nausea. Although Bryan was sick a day or two after, so maybe it was a flu? We don’t know, but it was awful. At least we took turns so one person was bed ridden while the other could collect medications, water and electrolytes. (FYI, this was a learning experience. I will never travel again without an electrolyte or rehydration drink).
Sick and miserable we travelled on to Canggu, the southwest coast of Bali, our guide was kind enough to offer to travel late in the day so I had a little more time to recover.
Canggu is situated right on the ocean with beach and surfing opportunities. I say this, because I did not make it to the beach, in fact I barely left the room.
Our time in Canggu was supposed to be my little bit of ‘Eat Pray Love’ experience I was so keen on having in Bali. I had booked us into an eco-yoga guesthouse that offered onsite yoga classes all day, a lovely little swimming pool and vegan restaurant. I was sick, weak, feverish, and in no condition to eat, pray or love at all. I encouraged Bryan to explore, surf and eat delicious food in town, since there was no point in us both being miserable. Though that is when he got ill, perhaps catching what I had.
Our fourth floor no air-con room with a diddly little fan was not cutting it with our fevers. Nor was the vegan eats at the restaurant when all you wanted was plain old toast with butter.
We managed to get some lounging time by the pool and I made it to one yoga class. But the experience of this guesthouse was a bit lost on us those few days.
And with that, our time in Indonesia had come to an end; we were quite keen on getting to Thailand.
Lombok and Bali were my first taste of South East Asia, both islands very different in and of itself despite being part of the same country. One thing that was uniformly experienced was true kindness from everyone we met and really delicious food. I will dream about those coconut curries for years to come.
Up next, Thailand!
Have you ever been to Indonesia? Where did you go? What did you love?