Lombok, The Quiet Bali

My first trip to Bali was in 1982 and I recall endless rice paddies, a couple of basic hotels that were considered flash if they had a pool and an endless stream of locals plying souvenirs and massages along the beach. Yet it was still a holiday resort town with the emphasis on town.

Anything out of Kuta was still a village. Even Ubud, which was a quiet artists community, up in the mountains has since become an outer suburb of the tourist mecca.

Now the only place you’ll find that is in Lombok, a speedboat ride away from Bali.

Rice paddies, Lombok, rice fields Lombok, Bali, Indonesia, Image by Jade Jackson
Rice is a daily staple in Indonesia and rice is grown everywhere in Lombok. Image by Jade jackson.

Kuta has become almost a metropolis, of motorbikes, noisy bars, and more Australians than you’ll find in downtown Sydney, many of whom live in Bali permanently and own restaurants, surf shops and bars.

Lombok, Gilli Islands, Gilli Trawangan, Snorkelling Lombok, diving gilli islands, things to do in Lombok for 3 days, image by Jade jackson
Lombok and the Gilli Islands. Image by Jade Jackson.

On a recent family trip, after 5 days around Kuta, we caught what was supposed to be a speed-boat to Lombok. The trip was scheduled to take two hours but ended up closer to seven.  What started as five engines, soon became four, which unsurprisingly ended up as two before we were putting along with just one engine, somewhere between Bali and Lombok.

Bali Speedboat, longboat, cruise, speedboat from Bali to Lombok, Indonesia, Cheap travel to Lombok, image by Jade Jackson
Five engines looked promising but soon they all broke down. Image by Jade Jackson.

With few announcements at one point, we found ourselves floating listlessly in open ocean; no land in sight. The captain insisted that all was fine, and then randomly a second boat pulled up alongside, and we were instructed to jump across to the other boat. When we asked about our bags, we were told ‘don’t worry, we’ll sort them out.” Hardly comforting.

At this point we thought we had gotten mixed up with people smugglers and were destined for the slave trade. Thankfully it was all legitimate, but instead of going direct to Lombok, we instead stopped in at Gilli Trawangan, Gilli Meno and Gilli Air, first. Each time unloading and loading people and luggage.

On arrival in Lombok, we were so late all the taxi driver’s had gone home for the day. The complete opposite of Bali with it’s endless supply of taxis. Eventually we flagged down a car who rang his brother, who was a driver and who agreed to take us to our hotel, at triple the price the hotel had quoted us.

Sengiggi was a short ten minute drive away, but after Kuta, the first thing I noticed was the silence. Despite being January and peak school holidays, there was nobody, in the resort, apart from the occasional staff member.

Pool Villa Club Sengiggi Lombok, Lombok resort, Bali, Bali hotel, holidays with kids, Lombok, Indonesia, Sengiggi resort, private beach hotel, image by jade jackson
The lagoon pool snaked it’s way around the resort at Villa Pool Club, Sengiggi, Lombok, Indonesia. Image by Jade Jackson.

Our two-story villa featured walk-in access to the snaking lagoon pool, which joined all the villas, as well as an outdoor plunge pool, big enough for three, that included shutters for privacy. Through the palms the private beach glistened and a quick inspection revealed nobody was there either. 
The resort was adjacent to Sengiggi town which had everything a tourist needed but without the chaos of Kuta.

The following morning, after a complimentary buffet breakfast, I headed to the beach to go snorkelling, to find I had the entire reef to myself and whilst it was no Moalboal (Philippines) there was lightening blue damsels and yellow sunshine butterfly fish which darted amongst silvery green baitfish, hiding within the coral.

Snorkelling Gilli Islands, Lombok, snorkelling Lombok, Indonesia, swimming, bikini, image by Jade jackson
Snorkelling in crystal clear water off Lombok. Image by Jade Jackson.

That afternoon I wandered through town and had a massage, shopped at the markets before retiring for an afternoon dip in the lagoon pool. Only once was I asked if I wanted to buy a tee-shirt, and unlike Kuta, no-one harassed me to go into their dubious looking massage shop.

Keen to explore the island, I rented a scooter and headed off for a day trip. I was the only tourist and every village I rode through, villagers would wave and smile. I was on a photography mission and some of my favourite photos from that trip, were all taken around Lombok, including the cover-art for my podcast.

Lombok, deserted beach on Lombok, scooter day trip on Lombok, things to do in Lombok for 3 days, cheap travel to Lombok, image by Jade Jackson
Hiring a scooter is a cheap and efficient way to explore Lombok, easily. One of many deserted beaches in Lombok. Image by Jade Jackson.

I rode up the volcano (though it was so steep, I was sure at one point I was going to have to get off and push) but it was refreshing being above the heat, amongst the cool rainforest air. The roads were sealed, though up the volcano there was a few potholes and cracked paths, but mostly it was an easy ride, with little traffic and alternating scenery between coconut palms, empty beaches and small thatched villages surrounding a central mosque. 

Like the rest of Indonesia, Lombok is Muslim so you will be woken up at 5am with the call to prayer, but like church bells, you soon become oblivious to it. 

The town of Kota Mataram is busier with a shopping centre, a McDonald’s and lots of traffic, but was still easy to manage on a scooter. You definitely notice as you near Sengiggi that all the shops and restaurants start looking more touristy. 

Being an island it’s difficult to get lost, just head to the ocean and then ride north/south to get back to Sengiggi.

Gilli Air, Gilli Islands, Lombok, things to do in Lombok for 3 days, snorkelling, Lombok beach, holiday things to do Lombok, image by Jade Jackson
Beaches on the Gilli Islands tended to be sandy coral, so make sure you have aqua shoes. Image by Jade Jackson.

A lot of the Bali crowd have now discovered the Gilli’s. Three small islands just off the North West coast of Lombok. The biggest Island, Gilli Trawangan features no cars, only donkey drawn carts for transport but caters largely to the backpacker crowd with beachfront bars, hostel accommodation and dive shops. 

Gilli Air is the least developed with simple bungalows, hand-made tables on the beach crafted from driftwood and the only music drifts from Gilli Trawangan.

Gilli Trawangan, Donkey cart, Gilli Islands Lombok, woman walking with water on head, Lombok Indonesia, things to do in Lombok for 3 days, image by Jade Jackson
Donkeys are the only cars in the Gilli Islands. Image by Jade Jackson.

There’s tourist offices in Sengiggi that can arrange a boat transfer to the Gilli’s though they often over promise and under deliver. To avoid disappointment, it’s always best to take your own snorkelling gear (plenty of Cheap but decent snorkelling gear at Decathlon)

You can easily fly between Bali and Lombok with Garuda or Lion Air. After our harrowing speedboat trip, we flew back to Denpasar to catch our return flight home. Even last minute was just over AUD100 each. However the airport in Lombok is about a one hour drive from Sengiggi. 

Gilli Air, Gilli Islands Lombok, rustic beach, deserted beach, things to do in Lombok for three days, Bali, backpacker hostel Gilli Islands, image by Jade Jackson
A simple rustic bar on Gilli Air. Image by Jade Jackson.

It may seem like a lot of effort to visit Lombok, considering Bali is always seen as a cheap destination, but what you’ll find there is what Bali was forty years ago—endless rice paddies, tiny villages and deserted beaches. Just like Bali, you’ll still find incredible satay, nasi-goreng and of course Bintang Beer, but just without the hoards of tourists. 

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Head to Agoda for the best prices on accommodation in Lombok. I stayed at the Pool Villa Club in Sengiggi which was a beautiful resort, excellent ammenities and decent room service. My only complaint was the swimming pool was too hot, but the beach was perfect, so first world problems. 

Sunset Lombok, Villa Pool Club Beach Resort Lombok, romantic sunset beach, private beach, Bali, Lombok Indonesia, image by Jade jackson
Romantic sunset from the private beach at the Villa Pool Club, Sengiggi, Lombok, Indonesia. Image by Jade Jackson.

Disclaimer: Last year Lombok received a number of earthquakes which caused significant damage, however the best way for local tourism businesses to recover is to receive tourists so show your support for local businesses by holidaying in Lombok. Listen to my podcast episode on earthquakes and tsunamis to know what to do and how to prepare for an earthquake. 

*The writer paid their own way for the entire trip. Check out my shop, for stunning photographs, ready to print and frame.

Click on a dot to reveal hotels in Lombok or the Gilli’s
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