Following an amazing few days exploring all that Bali has to offer, our Asia specialist Fiona headed off to the Gili Islands and Lombok to get a taste of Indonesian island life, explore some of our favourite hotels and make new discoveries…
Gili Trawangan was first appointed fame by backpackers in the 1980s, and ever since, each of the islands has taken on its own distinct personality. Gili T becoming the busy party island, Gili Meno the quiet romantic island, and Gili Air mixing the two with restaurants, relaxed bars and a village feel.
The boat ride from Bali’s Serangan Bay across to Gili Trawangan (known as the famous ‘Gili T’) takes around 2 hours. I stopped for lunch at Gili T and watched the world go by, taking in the laid-back vibe of the island. From here, I took a quick speedboat to little Gili Meno where I would be spending the night. I was welcomed eagerly by all the staff at Karma Reef and immediately felt at home. Conveniently located on the east side of the island, this boutique hotel is sheltered from the music that sometimes travels across the water from Gili T. I stayed in a beachfront glamping tent which fits in perfectly with the island’s natural beauty, whilst still having all the creature comforts you could wish for. The island itself is traffic-free (apart from the horse drawn carts that ferry people as well as produce around the dusty tracks) so I opted to cycle around the whole island which took about 40mins. I was also lucky enough to snorkel along the coast from Karma Reef; from here I saw loads of different types of fish and even spotted a turtle swimming beneath me!
The following morning, I walked out barefoot to my speedboat for the short crossing over to Lombok. In contrast to Bali, Lombok is a lesser known, lesser developed, and a much quieter island. It boasts beautiful unspoilt beaches ideal for surfing, as well as lush green mountainous landscapes and infinite paddy fields like steps up the valleys. It is a great value option if you’re looking to relax by the sea and have a break from the hustle and bustle of Bali; it offers cheaper luxury accommodation in comparison with its more popular sister! My local guide explained to me how Lombok is an island of ‘pearls and cashew nuts’, and he described how different the evenings were here compared to the more hectic atmosphere of Gili T and southern Bali. The government in Lombok impose strict night-time noise laws, so if you’re looking for quiet sundowners then this is the island to go for.
I was lucky enough to experience the artistic Hotel Tugu on Lombok’s northern coast and I have never been anywhere quite like it! The hotel is owned by an antique collector who has amassed a huge collection of artefacts from around the world. Everywhere you wander you will be met with fascinating objects, quirky shrines and statues. To get to the main restaurant you cross a small wooden bridge over a flowing water feature, and enter an open dining pavilion that looks out over the beautiful manicured lawns to the sea. There are only 37 rooms at this hotel which is set on 400 meters of stunning beachfront so there is ample space for families and couples alike.
One of our other favourite resorts in Lombok, The Oberoi, is located right on the seafront in Medana Bay, surrounded by tranquil gardens and lush paddy fields it really does feel like a slice of paradise. From here you can see right across the waters to the impressive Mt. Agung in the distance. The style is traditional with thatched roofs and polished wooden interiors. The resort is set around a beautiful infinity pool which is designed into a three-stepped water feature. A great feature of this property is the private pier- I took the plunge and couldn’t believe my eyes; schools of tiny fish swam past and I spotted numerous purple and blue starfish lying on the orange sea corals. Definitely a must during any stay here!
A great perk of a stay in Lombok is the affordability of private pool villas, ideal for couples and honeymooners as they offer ultimate privacy. Both Quinci Villas and Jeeva Klui are alternative beachfront resorts that offer great private pool villa options.
My favourite thing about this part of Indonesia? – I loved how the beaches in Lombok are near to empty and the landscapes are still rural and untouched. This is Indonesia as you would have found it 30 years ago.