Has Bali lost its charm? The main author of Surf Stoked Mom, Arty B , tells us about her last trip to Lombok.
I am reluctant to admit this when I arrive and see the beautiful offerings, lovely people and exquisite architecture that makes Bali so unique and desirable. But in a lot of ways, Bali is changing for better or worse each time I travel there. The “Island of the Gods” will always have a place in my heart but when I’ve had enough of gridlocked traffic, Australian prices and Bintang covered bogans on every corner, I take comfort in the fact that Indonesia boasts 18,305 other islands to explore. My newest favorite is the island of Lombok, which lies just to the east of Bali. Here’s why you should explore Lombok.
1. It’s Not Bali
If you’re looking for boutiques, art galleries and designer villas, then Lombok is not the place for you. Absent also are the colorful offerings, incense and decorations that I still find so beautiful. For me, it takes a while to adjust to Lombok’s-not-Bali-nature but this process is accelerated as soon as I notice the absence of bumper-to-bike fender traffic. The hustle and stress just melts away as we head towards Kuta, Lombok. Some other things to note include that Lombok is much drier than Bali. As such the landscape is more desert than lush jungle and the air is a lot less humid and heavy than Bali. The biggest difference between Lombok and Bali is religious. While Bali is inhabited by Hindus, Lombok is a Muslim island.
2. Local People, Local Life
The local people are very proud of all things local… You will here them praise the local food, the local boys, the local dogs, etc often. They like to show off the bounties of their home as well. We’ve really enjoyed learning about the local culture and becoming friends with a local family.
CHILL WITH THE LOCAL CREW: We use the Surfer Bar as our hub for all daily activities. Not only are their Friday night parties legendary, the family is just lovely and the boys can help you out with anything you need – bikes, surf transfers, waterfalls, Bintang, stick fights, you name it! Tell them Valentina’s mom sent you!
3. Budget Friendly
When you feel like you’ve forked out one two many handfuls of 60,000 rupiah for a wanna-be-flat white, go to Lombok. You can rent a room with Air Con and a nice pool for less than $25 AUD and more basic and even cheaper accommodation is plentiful. We went out for sushi and consumed as much sashimi, rolls and Bintangs as we could for around 100,000 rupiah or $10 AUD. That was our splash out dinner. Meanwhile in Bali, we paid $40 AUD for food alone at Motel Mexicola. In Lombok, the sort of cheap-as-chips prices you expect from Bali are everywhere.
WHERE TO STAY: Family House, Bombora or Dream Hotel are not too expensive but not too basic. There’s always the Novotel if you require western comfort.
4. Easy to Get There
Gotta love Garuda Indonesia. They go above and beyond on every flight including the 30 minute skip from Denpasar, Lombok to Praya, Lombok. The flight is only $40 AUD, runs multiple times a day and best of all, SURFBOARDS are FREE! Onboard they give you food (be warned, a scary mystery sausage, bread roll) and water. By doing those two things, they just beat the offerings on Air Asia by landslide. Plus, they are friendly and they give kids a gift pack with a cute little tiger or elephant. When you arrive in Praya, a driver will take you to your hotel for around 150,000 Rupiah. The entire experience from airport in Bali to hotel in Kuta takes less than 2 hours. WARNING: I speak from experience, please do ever take the fast boat or ferry! What a giant hassle and waste of time.
5. Variety of Waves
Notwithstanding Desert Point, Lombok is not the Bukit Peninsula and may lack in world class quality waves. But real talk, how many of those world class waves in Bali can you actually catch and surf without being heckled, back paddled or dropped in on? I woke up at 6 am to 30 guys grappling at shoulder high Bingin one too many times and finally called the Bukit quits. Now, I go to Lombok and can chose from at least ten waves with very few or no people. We surfed shallow reef bottomed waves with barrels, big and powerful deep water lefts, super rippable rights in the middle of a large bay, and well-overhead rights steamrolling over sand and reef. We road bikes, cars and boats to waves. Surfed way inside crystalline bays and beyond the their outer cliffs. The point is you have a lot of options within a 40 minute drive, most of which are surfed by very few people or maybe just you.
MUST SURF: Mawi, Ekas, Are Guling, Outside Gerupuk, and Tanjung Aan (when it’s big)
6. Off the Beaten Down Bali Path
Kuta, Lombok is indeed full of backpackers, surfers and others seeking and celebrating an alternative lifestyle. But because there are fewer tourists and expats, your mainstream Bali lovers – the Eat, Pray, Love inspired yoga teachers, the super bogans who never leave the Jayakarta and the pig-dogging wannabe pig wave surfers – are thankfully absent from the Lombok seen. Not everyone leaves Bali because not everyone wants to leave Bali. Let’s keep it that way.
7. Beauty of and Access to its Beaches
You’d be hard pressed to convince me that the stretch of beach from Kuta to Canguu is “beautiful.” The dark black sand tumbles with the turbulence of the waves and creates anything but the crystal clear waters you expect in a tropical paradise. The beaches on the peninsula are gorgeous but they come with a cost: the hike back up 10,000 stairs to get home. Every beach I’ve seen in Lombok has that postcard blue and green water and white sand (I could go on about the sand, it’s incredible and looks like little Dip n Dots or balls). Many of the beaches near Kuta can be reached by car or motor bike in a few minutes.
DON’T MISS: Mawi beach for its rippable & barrelling waves, epic sunsets, and amazing mie goreng.
8. Understanding Indonesian Muslims
Admittedly I have not traveled in the Middle East, so day-to-day Muslim culture is foreign to me. Religion is Bali is such a ceremonial and beautiful thing and I was afraid the absence of the Hindu traditions would take away from my experience on other Indonesian islands. The first time I traveled to Lombok, the near constant chanting from the mosques unnerved me. I worried constantly about being offensive and under dressed in any way (do I need to cover up while surfing??) Several subsequent visits to Lombok taught me to appreciate the Muslim culture and to know just how lovely the people of Lombok are. Yet another example of how rewarding learning about other cultures can be.
SSM TIP: Keep your ear plugs handy while sleeping in case of the 3:30 am chow-call during Ramadan.
To top it all off, Kuta has the most amazing little restaurant ever called Nuggies. For 50,000 you can get an outstanding rendang curry, little fried veggie nuggets, rice and salad. We took friends here on our last visit and they liked it so much that they wouldn’t eat anywhere else!!!
10. It Won’t Stay This Way Forever
Even Kuta, Lombok has changed significantly over the last few years. New hotels, restaurants and bars pop-up constantly to cater to the tourist clientèle. On our last trip we ate sushi poolside and had Mexican at a converted Combi cocktail bar. If you build it, they will come. Do it now! Come and enjoy the uncrowded waves, friendly people, and great scene before the charm is destroyed.