Indonesia: Bali and Lombok

Back in February this year I went to Indonesia. At first, just to Bali and Lombok but later in April to Java. I had not been back in South East Asia since I was a teenager on my gap year. I expected to relive some of the excitement of backpacking across the islands.

Bali

I arrived in Denpasar and took the taxi to Seminyak. I had heard that Kuta is basically Ibiza for Australians and feels a bit trashy. Seminyak is slightly more chilled out with some fantastic beachside bars and restaurants. Within two days I met a wonderful local guy with whom I ended up spending almost my entire holiday, which helped to give me a different perspective on the islands and their culture.

Whilst staying in Seminyak, I spent a lot of time eating out, drinking and lounging at beachside pool bars watching the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Potato Head is famously one of the best bars to lounge on the west side of Bali. I would always arrive in the afternoon (slightly hungover) but would lounge around with Andreas until the evening. The sunset there is phenomenally beautiful. One evening we went to La Favela nightclub, which feels as though you have slipped into an old house that has been taken over by the Brazilian rainforest but has a dance floor.

I’ve heard that Canggu is a lovely place to go if you want a similar vibe to Seminyak. I decided ultimately that I would rather move inland and see something different. But the parties up there during the week are meant to be great – and it’s a bit less touristy than Kuta and Seminyak.

Towards the end of my stay in Seminyak, I hopped on Andreas’ motorbike to head down to Uluwatu in the south of the island. There are some fantastic beaches along the peninsula here. We explored the temple Pura Luhur UIuwatu – full of mischievous monkeys – before heading to Single Fin to watch another phenomenal sunset. The bar that sits on the west side of then island over a cliff edge. We danced until late across the wooden decking and under the fairy lights. It was beautiful and surreal.

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After four days in the south of Bali, Andreas and I took a taxi up to Ubud. Ubud was much closer to the type of Bali that I wanted to see. Serene Hindu temples and rice paddy fields. The city is still busy but much calmer than the south with everything closing quite early. We hired a motorbike for the day to travel around the city and the surrounding areas, including the Tengalalang rice fields that were beautiful (if quite touristy). Within the city itself, the Pura Taman Saraswati is definitely a must-see and there are dancing shows there in the evening (although I did not go in the end). Ubud Palace and the art museums are also worthy of a visit.
The city offers a wonderful range of restaurants – both Indonesian and European. Bridges, which overlooks the river, was a wonderful place to go (although a little expensive). There is also a massive range of coffee shops. It is worth trying the Kopi luwak – part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet.
Lombok

 

After a few days in Ubud, we took the bus and boat ride across the water to the Gili Islands. To get to Gili Trawangan (Gili T) you can arrange a ticket with a number of the street vendors in Ubud with a bit of haggling. The bus journey across Bali was wonderful as we raced past the rice paddy fields. The boat journey takes about two hours and, weirdly, the boat owners played old 90s pop classics, such as Aqua and Vengaboys, the entire way.

Gili T has a strong Thailand-party-backpacker vibe going on. Not quite where I would want to spend too much time but good fun nonetheless. The island is beautiful though, even if slightly ruined by all the drunks tourists. We booked a cute villa on the island slightly off the main route. We partied for quite a few nights on the island. The first night we met a group of wonderful Canadian women that were now living in different parts of the world but went to university together. They flew in from Canada, Australia and India to meet in Bali. We joined them for a few nights – watching the sunsets together with cocktails (Sunset Kiss bar) and eating wonderful seafood (Scallywags). The island is perfectly sized to cycle around or run – as we did twice. Most of the hotels/villas on the island will offer bikes for free but otherwise they are easy enough to hire there.

After a few days of partying, we opted for a romantic night together on Gili Meno. I would not recommend going here unless you are looking for a couple’s retreat. The island is paradise but there really is very little to except dive and enjoy the silent beauty of the place. I have heard that Gili Air is a wonderful combination of the other two islands – quieter but still lots of activities. However, we did not have time to fit this island into our trip.

We spent a total of four days on the Gili islands before heading to Lombok mainland for the remainder of my trip. Andreas and I decided to join a three-day trek to climb up Mount Rinjani from the main harbour close to the Gili islands. Mount Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia and can be seen from Bali and all around Lombok. It very much dominates the island. Upon starting the trek we found out that the weather conditions at the summit were too poor for us to reach the peak. Instead we climbed 2,700m to the crater rim where we were to camp for one night. The summit was another 1,000m from the rim. The climb to the rim itself was really rough. We managed to complete the journey in under six hours but most groups seemed to take around eight. The sunset at the crater was phenomenal – one of the best I’ve seen in my life. From our camp site we were able to see across the channel onto Bali and over the Gili islands. The crater itself was turned into a lake with an active volcano in the middle and constantly lets off steam. Exhausted from the climb, we slept early to make sure we were up in time to watch the sunrise – again, another incredible sight.

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After the climb, our legs were killing us. We booked a villa in Senggigi for a few days to chill out lying at the beach. There was not a huge amount to do here but the beaches are glorious and the sunset views overlooking Bali are wonderful. We drank a lot of cocktails and ended up hanging out with a wonderful older Dutch couple for a night. On my final day in Indonesia we flew back from Lombok Airport to Bali Denpansar Airport ($45 single) on a teeny tiny propellor plane (not ideal for nervous flyers!).

Bali and Lombok were a wonderful experience. Never before have I felt so removed from my life in Iraq. I cam back feeling rested but with a heavy bout of post-holiday blues. Whilst Bali is very touristy there are a lot of opportunities to escape, including treks into the rainforest and up the volcanoes. The islands are beautiful and more diverse than I would have imagined. I had such a good experience that I decided to return to Indonesia seven weeks later to explore Java with Andreas.

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