Our visit to the islands of Indonesia wouldn’t be the typically Bali trip most people do. Lombok is located on West Tenggara, an island which is just east of Bali and the Gili Islands are three tiny islands just of the coast of Lombok. We opted to head here as opposed to Bali to have a more authentic Indonesian island experience.
Lombok is a very local island. It’s busy and poor and almost 100% Muslim. But I wanted local and that’s what I got, so here goes.
The island is large and famous for its volcano in the North of the Island, which unfortunately we didn’t have time to trek, but perhaps in a future trip. We decided to first stay two nights in Senggigi, a small town near the Bangsal Harbour so we could easily catch our boat to Gili Meno.
We stayed at the cutest boutique resort, Mama Bella’s. For about $30 a night, we had our own little hut and in front of the most charming pool.
I later realized I much preferred to lounge in a hammock by this pool instead of heading to the nearby beach, which was filled with locals swimming in hijabs and burkas.
I know I said I wanted a local experience, but I must say being in a bikini in a beach with everyone completely covered is a strange experience, and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable as people were looking at us weird. We ended up heading over to the foreigner end of the beach, because it was clear we weren’t appropriately covered to be in the section with the locals.
In most cases, I would try to fit in more, eg, wear long pants or cover my shoulders, but it’s a beach! I wasn’t going to swim in clothes and I certainly don’t own a head-to-toe swimsuit of sorts. So after a brief jaunt to the beach, we opted to hang poolside the second day before heading off to Gili.
Senggigi is a small area where we were able to eat the local food in the evening and just relax. There’s not much nightlife, which was fine, as we were still exhausted from our crazy travel experience just a few days earlier. Walking through the town streets, you’ll see plenty of goats and chickens wandering around, children playing happily in the dirt and women covered from head to toe. The call to prayers came often and were quite loud, even waking us up in the morning.
Whereas Senggigi was fine, I was really excited to head to the Gili’s. There are three Gili Islands: Talawan, Air and Meno. We chose Meno because it’s supposed to be the slowest, most laid back with the most local vibe, especially compared to Trawagan which is the party island. Meno is also the smallest of the three islands. It’s also supposed to have some of the best snorkeling and diving, and Jorge was excited to finally put his PADI certification to use.
We were able to book a private speedboat over and the trip was only about 10 minutes or so.
After wading to the shore with our backpacks in tow, we walked to our huts, the Cha Cha Bungalows.
There are no cars or motorized transport of any kind of Gili Meno, which made the whole experience just so lovely.
You can use a horse cart to carry your luggage to your hotel, but in typical backpacker fashion, we walked, and it was only about 10 minutes.
Our huts were slightly inland and pretty bare bones, but I loved the vibe. Our bathroom was sort of half indoor half outdoor and there’s nothing more awesome than an outdoor shower!
Everything on this island was just relaxed and calm, and the moment I jumped off that boat into the clear blue waters I felt at home. The locals seemed much more relaxed here and many women went without head coverings.
First order of business: getting to the beach! You can lap the entire island by bike in about an hour, and the south is known for the sandy beaches and the north for rockier, snorkeling beaches.
We rented bikes and headed around, finally settling in the south of the island on some lovely beanbag chairs.
The island’s nightlife consisted of beach restaurants closing at about 9 pm each night, and WiFi was existent but very slow.
Most of the beach restaurants had this cool wooden huts where you could sit facing the sea and relax, which was super chill.
I really enjoyed just hanging out with a fruit smoothie in these huts (fresh lime juice is heaven!). Inland is where we found the best food and restaurants.
Many people open homestays on their little farm-style properties, meaning there are a few rooms and a few tables and they cook for you. We ate some really amazing food there for so incredibly cheap, I’m talking full meals for two for $2!
We mainly chowed down on Nasi Goreng, which is like Indonesia fried rice with chicken, Mie Goreng, which is like ramen-style noodles with vegetables and chicken, often with a fried egg on top, and stir fry vegetables covered with coconut flakes (my favorite).
In the mornings, we’d head to the northern beaches by bike so Jorge could snorkel. Of course, within 10 minutes of snorkeling I contracted an ear infection, which prompted a visit to an Indonesia medical center where they gave me antibiotics. Unfortunately, I missed out on seeing some giant sea turtles which Jorge spotted since I couldn’t snorkel for the remainder of the trip. But in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad, especially once I had the medicine.
After a morning at the northern beaches we’d break for lunch and head to the southern beaches in the afternoon to relax.
Jorge did a dive one day where he saw some amazing sea creatures, including turtles and a giant octopus, not to mention some interesting fish species like a scorpion fish.
It’s also worth noting that Gili Meno is extra cool thanks to its inland lake, which is a small body of water surrounded by trees. During sunset, the trees reflect in the water and it’s just breathtaking—better than the beach sunsets!
My three days in Gili Meno peaked when I randomly spotted my friend Laura on the beach! Laura is a friend from Madrid who’s taken the year off to travel in Southeast Asia and beyond. We’d been in brief contact to see if we’d be in the same place at the same time and I had hoped to see her, but I was under the impression she was in Bali and not able to get to the Gili’s during my time there. So what an incredible surprise to see her on the beach! We ate lunch together while she told me all about the last six months she’s spent traveling, and I couldn’t be happier for her. Having the opportunity to travel the world for long periods of time is a beautiful thing, and Laura is a someone who shines inside and out so what joy to be able to see her!
The only problem with getting to the Gili’s is that they try and cheat you so much with the boat experience. There are several ways you can arrived: by private speedboat, shuttle boat and the public boat. The private speedboat is clearly the best option because you select the time you want to leave and it’s private, but also the most expensive. The shuttle boat has about 20 seats and is a fine option, leaving once an hour or so. However, it was a bit harrowing boarding this boat, we had to wade out to sea and they almost left without us on our return trip back to Lombok. The public boat, though extremely cheap, is rumored to be unsafe due to overcrowding and poor safety regulations (eg no life jackets on board) so we decided to skip that experience. The main problem is they try to cheat you. We paid 500,000 IRP (about 35 euros) for the speedboat trip over plus a taxi from our resort. However, for the return trip, they wanted to charge us 800,000 for the shuttle boat and shuttle bus to the main town (meaning it would make several drops with a bunch of people and leave us in the town center vs. the hotel). So it took a lot of bargaining and organizing to figure out the way back, and we ended up meeting a French couple who let us tag along in their taxi for 250,000 IDR, and the boat cost about 200,000 IDR, about 32 euros in total. The public boat, which I previously mentioned wasn’t going to be an option as I didn’t fancy drowning during my vacation, was just 9,000 IDR, less than 1 euro, which the locals crowd on to. Perhaps they can swim better?
After heading back to Lombok, we took a crazy drive through the mountains, spotting several monkeys along the roadside en route to our hotel for one night before heading back to KL in the morning, and onwards to Borneo.
All in all, our time in Indonesia was special, more specifically in Gili Meno. However, the vibe of the islands is really different than Thailand, and I really think it was to do with the Muslim culture. People are more disapproving, not as open, and where we did meet some very nice locals, I felt many of them were starting at me shamefully for wearing a tank top or shorts. It’s mindblowing to me that more people are Muslim than any other religion, meaning, more people like that than like me! Well, to each their own, I suppose.
After working on my tan in Gili, I was ready for an adventure, so it was perfect timing we’d be heading to Borneo. Next stop, the jungle!