Friday, May 20, 2016

Looking for an undiscovered treasure? Try Lombok, Indonesia

Bali can be seen in the distance as the sun sets in Lombok, Indonesia  (Taylor)
LOMBOK, INDONESIA When it comes to travel destinations Lombok, Indonesia doesn’t exactly  roll off the tongue like many more familiar places. On the other hand, for travelers who enjoy being on the cutting edge of new travel destinations Lombok may just be the place.

In fact, for people who want to visit paradise on the cheap, Lombok IS the place.

Add in Lombok’s growing reputation as one of the best surfing destinations in the world and it’s a tough combination to beat.
Deserted beach on Lombok   (Taylor)

Situated across the Lombok Strait roughly 25 miles from Bali, Lombok benefits as a secondary destination for visitors to its bigger sister. Today, however, it is coming into its own as a popular place to get away from it all without spending an arm and a leg to do it.

Lombok is roughly circular shaped with a tail. Imagine an oversized sting ray.

Other than Mount Rinjani, the second largest volcano in Indonesia, there is not much to see in Lombok except magnficent beaches, superb local crafts and an abundance of sunshine.

For the moment, prices are inexpensive. A seaview room at the Sheraton in Sengigi goes for about $80 per night. Gradually new boutique resorts are popping up throughout the island as travelers are “discovering” Lombok as a destination in its own right.
One of three infinity pools at Quinci Villas in Lombok  (Taylor)
Food ranges from international to Indonesian to Mediterranean, but it is also easy to find European dishes as well. An excellent meal including drinks may cost $30 tops.
Lombok limos are a favorite way to get around  (Taylor)

Lombok markets itself, if you can call it marketing, as an “unspoiled alternative to Bali.” Though the term “unspoiled” is accurate, “roughing it” in Lombok is not exactly a Robinson Crusoe experience. Beaches are uncrowded and plentiful.

So far, other than snorkeling and surfing, the myriad of water sports that have invaded other resort areas in the world have not yet reached Lombok. Rather, this is a place to “chill” in the sun.

Most of the better resorts have excellent spa facilities where a 90-minute Balinesian massage costs about $40.

Lombok has two golf courses, but it is hardly St. Andrews, so links lovers would do better to leave the clubs at home unless schlepping your bag is something you just cannot escape.

A car with driver and guide will take you around the island for approximately $40 per person. Keep in mind that driving is on the left side of the road, and while there is not a lot of traffic on Lombok compared to Bali, the mopeds and other vehicles can be a challenge. Better to “leave the driving to them.”
Local artisan weaves intricate patterns into cloth -- Weaving, wood carvings are inexpensive souvenirs  (Taylor) 
Lombok, like Bali, is a shopper’s paradise. Cloth weaving, Batik, wood carvings and basket weaving are high quality, especially if you have a good guide who knows where to go. Be prepared to barter. That’s the name of the game.
Peasants still work the fields just as they did centuries ago  (Taylor)

Indonesia is primarily Muslim, which means that Lombok is subject to early morning and late evening calls to prayer that can be annoying for travelers who like to sleep in.

In many ways, Lombok is like stepping back in time where peasants still work the rice fields just as they have for centuries and local transportation in most villages is by horse drawn “carriages” known as “Lombok limousines.”

Typical thatched roof hut on a "busy" street in Lombok  (Taylor)
Given that Lombok is still new to tourism, wi-fi can be tricky at times, but it is available and, besides, what else are you going to do all day?

English is readily spoken and ATMs are easily accessible though the conversion rate may trip you up at first since 1,300,000 Indonesian rupiah is about $100.
Cock fighting is illegal but still popular  (Wikipedia) 

Do not travel with friends from PETA because cock-fighting, though illegal, is a popular sport in many villages.

Little is known about the history of Lombok before the 17th century. Until that time, the island was comprised of small warring states each of which was ruled by a Sasak prince. Today the 3.1 million inhabitants of Lombok are 85% Sasak whose ancestors are believed to have migrated from Java in the first millennium BC.

Rebellious millennials hoping to seek refuge in paradise should know that a top job in one of the resorts only pays about $8 a day. Talk about “minimum” wage.

Another day ends in Lombok where serenity is the national pastime  (Taylor)
For now, most visitors arrive from Australia and the UK partly because the distance for Americans is considerable. On the other hand, U.S. travelers seeking a truly comfortable, relaxing, inexpensive destination may want to consider Lombok.

After all, the biggest decision you will have to make after breakfast is whether to swim in the pool or the Indian Ocean.

Just take a short flight from Bali and look for a giant sting ray.