Lombok & Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

31 July 2021

Getting to Lombok from Bali; the next leg of our trip started with an hour-long drive to Padang Bai on the East Coast, where we caught the ferry over to Lombok. The crossing takes around ninety minutes over the Lombok Strait, and isn’t for the faint-hearted. It is possible to fly between the islands if you can’t stomach the sea crossing, but we had a hotel booked close to Bangsal, the pier the ferry arrives at, and it would have taken far longer overall to go by plane.

As soon as you arrive in Lombok the contrast feels stark – I felt we had really arrived in real Indonesia; the road was much less travelled, the houses were more basic, and the sight of colourful Hindu temples had been replaced by the soundscape of the Islamic call to prayer.

We stayed at the Tugu Lombok – met us at the harbour and drove us ten minutes up the coast to the eccentric and quirky resort. It sits in gardens on a long stretch of white sand beach and is made up of a mixture of Ampenan bungalows, colonial villas and Mahabharata-themed suites featuring a myriad of artefacts and antiques. The unique over-the-top style is what sets the hotel apart from all others – it feels authentic and the staff are warm and genuine. We explored the grounds for a while, stumbling upon pavilions and lotus ponds, and then relaxed in the pool for the afternoon.

We had arranged with the driver who dropped us at the hotel to take us the next day to Senaru, a village at the base of Mount Rinjani around an hour and a half away, so that we could trek to two waterfalls – Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep. Senaru is the base from which most people start the trek to the top of Mount Rinjani, but it’s a challenging two-day climb, and although the views at the top over the crater lake are supposed to be out of this world, you really have to plan the trek in advance. The falls, however, are only a short hike away from the village along a well-trafficked trail. We paid to have a guide walk with us, but it’s not a necessity. There are many locals insisting that you must have a guide or you will get lost, but this is definitely not the case.

Sendang Gile is an easy fifteen-minute walk from the entrance to the trail, and Tiu Kelep is another forty-five minutes or so from there, over slightly more challenging ground involving crossing a fast-flowing river. Even here though, there are lots of local children very willing to help you across for a small tip! Tiu Kelep in particular is a magnificent and powerful waterfall, and well-worth a visit. If you are going to visit any of the waterfalls in Bali or Lombok then I’d recommend packing some water shoes for crossing rivers or getting into the falls where it’s especially rocky and slippery, swimwear and a waterproof camera. It’s challenging getting good pictures close to the falls as the camera lens mists up really quick from all of the spray in the air.

On the second day in Lombok we headed back down towards Bangsal Harbour, which is conveniently the point where you can cross to the Gili Islands. There is no set schedule for the public boat, you just turn up and buy a ticket and then wait until there are enough people to fill a boat (around forty), but it costs next to nothing. There is also a shuttle service which leaves twice a day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. If you are happy to pay a little more then you can catch a fast boat from Teluk Nare, around ten minutes away, and takes less than ten minutes to make the crossing.

The public boat from Bangsal that we caught was filled to the brim with passengers, so much so that we thought the waves might spill in over the edges of the boat as we made the choppy thirty-minute trip.

Had we been staying indefinitely then we’d have visited all of the islands and stayed on each for a while, but since we only had one day we chose to visit Gili Trawangan, the busiest of the three. The pier is on the east coast of the island, and most of the hustle and bustle is limited to around five hundred metres north and south of there. The only transport options on the islands are by foot, bicycle hire, or (controversially) horse and cart. The dirt-track road that loops around the edge of the island is around 7km long and can be walked in an hour to ninety minutes. You’re never more than a forty-minute walk from anywhere, so it’s perfectly navigable on foot or bike. The horses used to pull the carts are notoriously ill-treated so we knew we would avoid using them anyway.

We chose to walk clockwise and passed quirky little hotels made from natural materials like bamboo with straw thatched roofs, several chilled-out beach bars and tiny little stalls selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs. The beach is white and powdery, and the sea is clear and great for snorkelling. On the west coast the vibe is relaxed and peaceful, and hotels and bars feature the word ‘sunset’. I hear a lot of tourists journey over to this side to have a drink on the beach as they watch the sun go down on an evening, but by day it’s very quiet and sleepy. Looping back east in the main township you’ll find several dive shops, restaurants serving Indonesian dishes, a plentiful choice of hostels and budget accommodation options, and even some well-known clothing brands like Quiksilver. It’s certainly not unspoiled, but you do get that castaway feel and there are plenty of like-minded tourists looking to ‘get away’ from the bustle of Bali here.

Back in Lombok that evening we decided to catch a taxi into Senggigi, Lombok’s ‘original’ resort town, for dinner. A forty-five-minute drive brought us into the centre, and to be honest, I was expecting more! It was not the tourist hub I had envisaged; there was a small selection of restaurants, but there was not much at all in the way of shops, and nightlife was virtually non-existent. This is not the place you would choose to go for any sort of party atmosphere. If you want a peaceful and romantic honeymoon, away from it all in a luxury hotel, then Lombok might just be the place for you.

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