“A lot of travelers mistaken Bali for Lombok.”
“Bali was like Lombok about 20 years ago.”
“Lombok will be the next to-go island after Bali.”

Uh oh. Better book your flight and hotel now before Lombok gets inundated with people wanting to experience Bali during its pre-boom days. I was there in May last year and it’s safe to say the island is still relatively unspoiled – the streets aren’t clogged with tourists, the splendorous islands really feel relaxed and local handicrafts are not too pricey. Lombok overwhelms the senses with a unique shade of green considering it lies on the Australasian side of the Wallace Line while the giant Mount Rinjani looms over the background. Here’s the best of Lombok in four days.

1. Laze Around The Beach Town of Senggigi

Comparisons to Bali’s Kuta beach comes into mind when talking about Lombok’s main stretch. Located 30 minutes northwest of the capital Mataram, Senggigi  holds on to the laid-back vibe found wanting at other beach destinations in South East Asia. Backpacker lodges and international resorts blend in well to the scene while Western restaurants and bars can be found scattered with local eateries along the main road. Don’t be perturbed by the blackish sand of the beach due to its volcanic origins and enjoy being on the right side of uncongested relaxation.

Senggigi is a perfect blend of mid-range resorts & budget backpackers.
Senggigi is a perfect blend of mid-range resorts & budget backpackers.

2. Take On The Hot Local Delicacy – Ayam Taliwang

It’s funny how the best local dish in Lombok originated from its eastern neighbor, Sumbawa. Other than wild horse milk, Ayam Taliwang came from a town of its namesake and was made famous when Sumbawans brought it to the island. It is basically grilled free range chicken but the secret is in the marinade. The blend of garlic, chili and belacan is left to absorb into the meat before the chicken is grilled using coconut husks instead of charcoal. This spicy yet juicy dish is best accompanied with a plate of rice, plecing kangkung (water spinach) & beberuk (eggplant).

Clockwise from right: Ayam Taliwang, Plecing Kangkung, Ikan Taliwang & Tempe
Clockwise from right: Ayam Taliwang, Plecing Kangkung, Ikan Taliwang & Tempe

3.  Go Island Hopping At The Pancake-Shaped Trio of Gili

Decisions, decisions. A further 20 minutes north of Senggigi are the trio of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan, collectively known as the Gilis. Live it up at Gili Trawangan where most of the hotels and resorts are or hop on over to Gili Meno for some seclusion. Water sports enthusiasts would make Gili Air as their base camp as it offers activities from snorkeling to stand up paddleboarding. Mystical is the best word to describe these islands as you can while away the hours sipping on a fresh fruit juice by the beach looking towards the majestic Mount Rinjani.

With Mount Rinjani at the yonder, this is the blissful beach life.
With Mount Rinjani at the yonder, this is the blissful beach life.

4. Adorn Yourself With  Sukarara’s Songket

If you’re much into culture through the lens of local crafts, Lombok has its fair share of artisanal villages where the products are hand made. Sukarara is well-known for its hand-woven clothes called tenun. The method is not uncommon throughout the Malay Archipelago as other tenun variations can also be found in Malaysia and Brunei. The tenun songket infuses gold or silver embroidery into a predominantly floral motif which has roots in Islam. Once you set your eyes on these wonderful pieces of fabric, it’s hard not to pick up one for yourself.

The many colors of Sukarara's hand-woven songket.
The many colors of Sukarara’s hand-woven songket.

5. Devour The Coconut- Smoked Seafood At Warung Menega

Never have I ever tasted seafood grilled so good – so far it’s either grilled on a flat top skillet or over burning charcoal but the resourceful locals here do it au naturel. Fresh fish, squid and shrimp are rubbed with that all-special Taliwang marinade and like its land counterpart, grilled over a bunch of coconut husks to give that sweet and smoky flavor. I swear I could taste a hint of coconut in the seafood. Served with the staple plecing kangkung and dollops of sambal while watching the sun set, I wonder why can’t I leave the city to live the island life.

Ain't an island trip without seafood.
Ain’t an island trip without coconut-smoked seafood.

The sheer size of Lombok, like its sister Bali, makes it hard for us to cover within four days. There are more artisan villages to explore, pink beaches to lay on and that overarching Mount Rinjani to remind us that we haven’t even reached its foothills. The tourism industry in Indonesia is booming and I can foresee many more islands opening up for travelers to indulge in nature. It’s a matter of time before Lombok becomes “the next Bali” but hopefully lessons are learned so that sustainability will be the main driver in their nation’s tourism expansion eastwards.


Travel Tips:

  • The dry season lasts May – November while the rainy season goes from December – April. Don’t be afraid to go during the low season because the rain would last 1 – 2 hours a day unlike the monsoons in Malaysia.
  • If you feel like going around the island, it is recommended to hire a private car or van because the roads are not well-maintained at some parts and the directions can be a bit confusing. As always, prices can be negotiated with the operator.
  • Dubbed “The Island of 1,000 Mosques,” Lombok is predominantly Muslim so be mindful of the local customs. Locals are accepting of tourists so it’s okay to ask for help or directions if need be.
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