We’ve just left Indonesia after spending a month touring around Bali, Lombok, and the surrounding islands. Along the way we’ve learned a few things that we would have liked to know before we went, and because we are nothing if not public servants, here they are:
- For travel between the islands of Bali, Lombok, and the Gilis, take Marina Srikandi boats. They’re priced the same as all the other fast boat operators, but they have the largest boats and don’t oversell them. Trust me, getting seasick is a great way to ruin a day of your trip.
- Like a lot of Asian tourist destinations, the tout system runs deep. To avoid paying the tax, go directly to the source for things like rooms, boat tickets, airport transfers, laundry, etc. If you ask someone to arrange anything for you or even point you in the right direction, be prepared to pay for the service. Free information is rare.
- That said, we found the security and open market competition of Agoda.com or Booking.com helpful for locking down rooms a few days in advance. Proprietors lower prices on empty rooms as the date approaches and the price-shopping power of the web is fully in your favor. You can probably get even cheaper rates if you wait until you get to a place and hit the streets, but you’ll spend a lot of time carrying around your luggage and sweating. Usually it’s worth the few extra bucks to just book in advance – even though it violates rule number two above.
- If you like spun out waiters offering you crystal meth after dessert, go to Gili Trawangan. If, not stick to the far more family-friendly Gili Air.
- We found the water in Nusa Lembongan and Penida clearest and best for diving, but the wreck of the USS Liberty near Amed was awesome as a historical relic and massive, easy to access wreck. If you’re in the Gilis, snorkeling is a must do.
- Don’t bother climbing Gunung Rinjani unless you really dig wading through trash and feces on your way up a miserable, dusty hike.
- Catch the Bali sunset at Tanah Lot. There are multiple temples there so you don’t necessarily need to stay at the first one you see.
- It’s crazy cheap to hire a driver for a day in Bali and see loads of stuff. Five of us shared a car for US$55 for ten hours and saw way more than we ever would have hoped for if we were on our own.
That’s it for now. I’m sure there are more, (share them in the comments!) but this should get you started on any trip to Bali.
Christina and I are now PADI certified Open Water Scuba Divers! Please, please, no applause. The course was four days of theory and practical application in pool dives and ocean diving, but anyone with moderate athletic ability (the 200 meter swim was probably the hardest part) and a firm grasp of logic would pass. That said, it was a big challenge for me because I’m a not a great swimmer and, before this course, was terrified of water deeper than my head. If I can do it, you probably can too.
World Diving in Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia was a big part of my success. They were extremely professional, well organized, and thoughtful throughout the course. Our instructor, Sarah, is a superstar. She explained everything with ease and knew exactly when to push the details and take her foot off the gas and let us relax. The PADI curriculum was well designed to highlight important things a repeatedly times over the course of a few days, while still detailed enough to be comprehensive. Fun fact: World Diving exclusively hires Indonesian Dive Masters, which is cool for many reasons.
But the best part, of course, was the diving. We did four open water dives in the ocean, among beautiful neon angel fish, awkward frogfish, and psychedelic coral. We learned how to maintain neutral buoyancy to avoid damaging the reefs or ourselves, and dealt with strong ocean currents pushing us away from our boat. We even mastered entering the water from a boat backwards and in sync with our dive partner. The name’s Helm, Matt Helm.
And now we can drop in to any dive center in the world and go on an awesome dive for a day or a week, learning about and exploring a brand new environment. The wonder of breathing underwater is incredible, and the addition of completely foreign and beautiful surroundings make scuba diving a magical experience. I’m excited for a lifetime of new adventures above, and now also underneath the water.
Nusa Lembongan, a small island just south of Bali, will teach anyone the fine art of patience. Here you have no choice but to let your western aggression slip away and go with the flow, because anything else gets you nowhere fast. As soon as you recognize and embrace this, you begin to appreciate it. You start moving slower. Really. Maybe its the uncomfortable sandals, but I honestly walk slower now than I did a week ago. You bring a notepad to lunch so you can scribble out a blog post while you’re waiting for your nasi goreng. And you realize how silly it is to rush through life searching for something while it’s is right there in front of you.
We’ve met a lot of people here in Indonesia that moan about the way things used to be on Bali or the Gilis. They whinge poetic about the good old days before Eat, Pray, Love ruined Ubud and how there’s no paradise left in paradise. But they’re all here, and they all say that Nusa Lembongan is the last island in the South Pacific that hasn’t been invaded by droves of shirtless, fist-pumping Aussies. Please don’t tell.
Lembongan is both paradise and rough around the edges. The streets are tiny and littered with trash. The beaches aren’t easy to get to and the surf is rough. There are chickens and cows roaming freely through town. But for all its faults, it’s still gorgeous. The surfing is awesome and the diving is world-class. The people are welcoming and it’s easy to get to. Flights arrive in Bali daily from all over the world and there’s a cheap public boat (with chickens!) every morning from Sanur for a mere $6.
If you come to Nusa Lembongan:
-Stay at Pondok Baruna in a seaview room on the beach ($30 per night).
-Take a 4 day PADI Scuba Diving certification course at one of the many dive centers ($395 per person, including 4 open water dives). World Diving was awesome (more to come on them in the next few days here at Bring a Snack) but I have no way to compare.
-Eat at Maria’s (meals from $1.50-$4) at the north end of Jungut Batu village, where the road turns sharply right toward the mangrove forest.
-Take yoga classes at the Yoga Shack, an open air bamboo hut where the singing birds and the call to prayer are your soundtrack ($8 per class).
-Rent a motor bike ($6.50 per day) and drive to nearby Nusa Ceningan, where you can jump off a 20m ocean cliff into Blue Lagoon ($5).
-Enjoy a large Bintang Pilsner ($3) while watching the sunset over the water as the local seaweed farmers pull in their harvest.
-Most importantly, relax and settle into island time.