We figured we would be ready for some relaxation time after the quick pace with which we moved through Nepal, and decided that some beach time in Indonesia would be just the ticket. So, after one last night in Kathmandu we spent the morning wandering around town and hanging out at a cafe, and then we were on the plane again! We flew from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur where we slept for 5 hours in a hotel near the airport, and then on to Lombok, Indonesia. (I had really wanted to go to Indonesia, and it definitely would have made the most sense to go there from southern Thailand as it ended up being a pretty out-of-the-way stop, but to get to all of the places on our list this was the only schedule that made sense.)
Having heard amazing things from friends and seeing some incredible photos, Bali was on my list for this part of the world from the beginning. As we’ve been traveling this part of the world and have met more people doing similar things, we heard the name “Lombok” over and over again; everyone we met told us that this island just to the east of Bali is what Bali was like before it got overrun with tourists. Which sounded amazing, so we added that to the list!
We stayed near Mangsit, a bit north of the aging resort town of Senggigi. We lucked out with amazing accommodations with incredible hosts, but we were a bit far from places to eat and things to do. However, this forced us to relax and let our bodies recover from Nepal, which was not a bad thing!
The house we stayed at was just a few minutes’ walk from a beautiful beach from which we could see Bali and would watch the storm clouds get caught by the island’s volcanoes. The tide was a little strong for swimming, but the views were amazing. We also loved just swimming in the pool and chatting with our hosts Adam (Scottish ex-pat) and his wife Lyna (Lombok local) who live most of the year in Vietnam.
We did manage to tear ourselves away from our beautiful accommodations for a few outings! One day we borrowed a motor scooter and toured up the coastal road towards the northern tip of the island. We got some incredibly picturesque views of Bali and the closer Gili Islands, and then stopped at a random locals’ food stand along the beach for some snacks which turned out to be fried tofu stuffed with glass noodles and bean sprouts and which were delicious! I had a great time on the back of the scooter: I got to take in all of the amazing views of the perfectly lush rice terraces and agricultural fields; most of the ride didn’t have many people on the roads but as we got into busier areas Martin had to focus more on the stressful driving.
Another day our hosts helped us hire a driver for the day and he took us up towards the base of Mt. Rinjani (Lombok’s active volcano) where we went on a little bit of a jungle walk to see some amazing waterfalls. The waterfalls themselves were very pretty—we were especially mesmerized by the way that Tiu Kelep seemingly shoots straight out of the jungle above to fall with immense power on the the rocks below—but the walk to get to them was a little off-putting as we passed countless locals who each asked us if we wanted a “local guide” to show us the way, including kids as young as 7 or 8! We definitely know that we don’t usually like traveling with a guide and were pretty confident that we could find the (pretty obvious) trail on our own, so it got pretty old to be constantly bombarded—and sometimes followed—by “Local guide? Local guide?!”
Another place that hadn’t been on our radar until we started meeting people and swapping travel suggestions, was the Gili Islands. (Some people love them, some people find them too overwhelmed with tourists, but it turns out it depends heavily on which island you go to.) About ten minutes off the northwestern coast of Lombok (and also accessible, but a longer ride, from Bali), the Gilis are made up of three small islands: Gili Trawangan, the biggest island and the party one; Gili Air, the smallest and closest, and the most-hippy/least-developed one; and Gili Meno, the middle one in all aspects. We opted to spend the better part of a day (last boat leaves at 5pm!) hanging out on Gili Meno and it definitely fulfilled our tropical island craving. There are no motorized vehicles of any kind on the island which was definitely a welcome reprieve from the crazy roads and drivers we had gotten used to. The day on Gili Meno was spent walking the entirety of the coast, swimming on quiet beaches, and enjoying snacks with views of the brewing storm above Lombok.
Like with the islands in Thailand, we ran into the issue again of having made some hasty decisions and not really doing all of the research before booking. Our accommodations were great and everything worked out well but we ended up feeling like we were dependent on other people for pretty much everything, from figuring out dinners every night to calling taxis and arranging transportation. While we did have a good time and the location was beautiful, I think next time we would explore the southern part of the island and make sure to bring our international drivers’ licenses so that we could rent a car. Hopefully there will be a “next time” soon before the island’s reputation as an untouched Bali turns it into another overdeveloped Bali.
After hearing so many people complain about how busy and overrun Bali is these days, I had been steeling myself to really dislike it. We only really explored the city of Ubud and the surrounding area, but I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it! It is certainly very touristy and crowded but it didn’t bother me any more than in any other busy city; and of course it is popular for a reason!
I think part of our enjoyment of Ubud stemmed from the perfectly relaxing accommodations we had. One thing that we often remarked upon was that the streets were incredibly busy and loud, but as soon as you got 20 feet off the main roads you couldn’t hear the din of traffic at all; you could completely forget that five seconds ago you were dodging honking motor scooters on the street! Our guesthouse was a very short walk to one of the main eating and shopping areas, but stepping off the street into the walled garden was like walking into a secluded paradise. We luxuriated in a room with a porch that opened onto the pool and tropical gardens, and it was a perfect retreat from the hectic town outside to do some work and reflect on our experiences.
Ubud is, and has been for a long time, the arts and culture hub of Bali with multiple temples on every block and incredible craftsmanship everywhere. It’s also gained a reputation as a place for wellness retreats, with a gazillion raw and vegan restaurants and yoga workshops. More to our interests, Ubud has a vibrant food scene. 🙂 We ate quite well while in Ubud, although we didn’t strictly eat Indonesian or Balinese food. We went out to a couple higher-end Indonesian restaurants, but with so much great food happening all around, almost everywhere we went was really good. Over the week that we were there, we definitely developed our favorites: the super hipster coffee shop with amazing coffee and yummy brunches; the trendy to-go place that focuses on sourcing local ingredients with one of the best burgers I’ve ever had; and the coconut shop with the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever had! We also happened to be in town for the Ubud Food Festival which we checked out for lunch one day; it was kind of like the Mission Street Food Festival in San Francisco, only not quite as extensive. We had some tasty foods at their main event space but none of the ancillary events really appealed to us so we didn’t really take too much advantage of that event while we were in town.
Indonesia is a Muslim country, but each island has its own distinct culture and Bali is actually predominantly Hindu. So while we could hear the call to prayer and the muezzins every day on Java and Lombok, in Ubud we were surrounded by beautiful temples and Buddhist religious statues and carvings as well as the daily handmade offerings that are gently placed on most surfaces and sidewalks.
The temples all looked amazing but we didn’t do much exploring inside of them as they often seemed to be closed to the public and we weren’t totally clear on the rules and procedures for visiting; I think if we were to go back it would be worth it to have a guide to show us around and teach us more about the local culture and rituals. It didn’t help that the extreme heat and high humidity kept us from wanting to be too active!
One of the most striking aspects of Ubud was the surrounding rice terraces. With just a few minutes’ walk from the heart of town we found ourselves in the middle of agricultural fields and away from the buzz of motor scooters. The rice fields were so lush and vibrantly green when we were there and we enjoyed just sitting and sipping our fresh coconuts while watching the rice stalks quiver from the ducks wandering through.
We also went a little further afield one day and rented a scooter to do a bit of exploring outside of Ubud proper. We headed north and checked out the famous Tegallalang rice terraces which more stunning than we could have imagined from pictures, but we were less impressed by the tourist traps like the giant swings from palm trees and the “entrance fees” that were collected every few hundred feet.
Another Ubud highlight was the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary where hundreds of grey long-tailed macaques wander freely among the trees and temples. It’s a little intimidating to explore because there is nothing between you and the monkeys and they can get aggressive if you smile at them or make eye contact, but it was still pretty entertaining to get to watch to many of them super up close! And the architecture of the temples in the forest, with all kinds of sculpted structures hidden among the trees and vines.
I enjoyed our time in Ubud and would definitely love to go back some day, and to see more of Bali. Ubud is a bustling city with incredible carvings all over the place, vibrant culture, and friendly people. I can see how one might be disappointed if they were expecting an untouched tropical paradise, but I feel like Ubud has tourist appeal while maintaining a unique culture and atmosphere.
Check out more photos from our time on Lombok and Bali here.
Up next: More time in Indonesia, exploring on Java!