Almost everyone we know goes to Bali for the sea, sand, surf … and, okay, satay. But did you know that neighbouring Lombok is just a 25-minute flight from Bali (or less than two hours away by ferry)?
And there’s lots to do here, with the scenic Mount Rinjani, the famous Gili Islands and unusual hotel stays. Plus, you get less traffic and smaller crowds.
Here are 10 amazing things you can do only in Lombok island, dubbed as the next “new Bali”.
1. GO CAR-FREE
Lombok has more than 20 gilis, or “small islands” in the traditional Sasak language. One of these is Gili Trawangan or Gili T. There are no motorised vehicles here, only bicycles and horse-drawn carts. In the day, cycle around the island – it takes just an hour to cover it – or chill out on the white sandy beaches and scuba dive with sea turtles.
Then make your way to the highest point on the southern end of the island to catch the sunset (above). At night, Gili T morphs into party island, with moonlit beach parties, bars staying open until 4am and a daily night market at the boat pier.
2. EAT A DIFFERENT KIND OF SATAY
And since we’re on the topic of food, what special dishes should you eat (or Instagram)? Try satay tanjung. Unlike most satay that is made of beef or chicken, this is made with tuna fish marinated in coconut milk and spices. It’s almost like otah on a stick.
Also tuck into the most popular vegetable dish in the region – plecing kangkung, which is blanched water spinach eaten cold with a special chilli sauce and bean sprouts, string beans and grated coconut. If you love your carbs, order nasi balap puyung, which is steamed rice with shredded chicken, chilli paste and fried eel.
3. POSE ON THE BEST OCEAN SWING IN THE WORLD
Yes, you read that right. To get that money shot of an epic sea-and-sunset backdrop, head to the famous Datu Sunset Swing at Hotel Ombak Sunset on the western side of Gili T. Constructed in 2014, it is a popular spot for wedding photos. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to come here, so snap away!
4. SEE 48 LIFE-SIZED HUMAN SCULPTURES … UNDERWATER
Catch a boat out to the relatively small Gili Meno (it has just 500 inhabitants) and dive underwater to view Nest, the hauntingly mesmerising work of artist Jason deCaires Taylor. He created 48 life-sized human figures – based on the casts of real people – from concrete. They will serve as a centrepiece (and also a future home for corals) for the upcoming BASK Gili Meno resort.
5. HIT NEW (VOLCANIC) HEIGHTS
The majestic Mount Rinjani (above) towers 3,726m above ground on the island of Lombok. It will take a certain level of fitness and an experienced guide to get you to the summit where the awe-inspiring Lake Segara Anak awaits. Most visitors opt for the three-day, two-night hike.
Already breathless at the thought of trekking through dense forest? No problem – the surrounding Mount Rinjani National Park has plenty more to offer. There are picturesque waterfalls like the Tiara Dewi Anjani where you may spot deer if you are lucky, and Air Terjun Sindang Gila, which means “slightly crazy waterfalls”. Why? The water cascades everywhere.
And if you are really lazy, book a car or jeep ride up to Pusuk Sembalun Park to enjoy panoramic views of the mountain at 1,250m above sea level – no aching core or feet afterwards!
6. MEET THE SASAK CULTURAL GUARDIANS OF MOUNT RINJANI
Located next to the Rinjani Trek Centre where the Rinjani trail starts, the Senaru Traditional Village is said to be one of the oldest ones on Lombok. It is home to the Sasak tribe, the cultural guardians of Mount Rinjani and its surrounding forests. Local guides can show you around the village and let you have a time-travel-worthy peek into how the Sasak people live in thatched houses, prepare meals with local produce and store rice crops in wooden granaries.
7. CHILL OUT ON A “PINK” BEACH
Just one of 10 beaches in the world with pink sand, Tangsi Beach (above) is on the eastern part of Lombok Island. The attractive hue comes from the millions of dead red coral fragments that are washed onto shore. How do you know that this is a must-visit? Vogue Korea recently named Tangsi one of the seven best beaches in the world.
8. CATCH SEA WORMS FOR GOOD LUCK
Time your visit for the interesting Bau Nyale Festival, an annual folk ceremony of the Sasak people. Depending on what the Sasak elders agree on, the date changes each year. The festival takes place on some beaches in Lombok, including Seger Beach. The “nyale” here refers to sea worms and there’s a mythical back story.
Legend has it that many princes once fought over the beautiful Princess Mandalika, causing war to erupt on the island. Desperate to end the chaos, she jumped into the sea. Her subjects tried to rescue her but could not locate her body. Instead, they found a lot of sea worms, which they took to be a reincarnation of their beloved royal.
Even now, the sea worms appear only once a year on the shores of Lombok’s beaches. The locals flock to the sea to catch them as it’s believed that these sacred creatures will bring prosperity.
9. LIVE IN A ‘HOBBIT’ RESORT ROOM
You’ve done the usual hotel stays, and infinity pools and beachside dining are nothing new to you. Check into one of Mentigi Bay’s unusual egg-shaped luxury villas that fans have excitedly likened to the hobbit houses in The Lord of the Rings.
10. VISIT UNDER-THE-RADAR MANDALIKA
If Lombok itself is already hailed as a less touristy and crowded version of Bali, then Mandalika (above) is even further under the radar. It lies along the south coast of Lombok Island and faces the Indian Ocean. This special tourism economic zone isn’t a sleepy town though. It has nightclubs, water parks, and luxurious hotels and resorts.
Gerupuk Beach offers surfing and fishing opportunities while Serenting Beach is good for an escape from the rest of humankind. To get around this 1,250-ha area, hop onto one of the public transportation mini vans known as a bemo.
Singapore Airlines flies direct to Lombok. There are daily flights by Garuda, Lion Air, SilkAir and Trans Nusa between Denpasar, Bali, and the capital of Lombok, Mataram. You can also take a four- to five-hour public ferry ride from Padangbai, Bali, to Lembar, Lombok.