Reggae music, crazy-beautiful panoramas, white powdery sand and young travelers – Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as it’s been affectionately called, is the hippest of the three Gili islands, situated off mainland Lombok next to Bali. As for the other two islands, Gili Meno is the most mellow of the three and some say it even touts the best beaches. Gili Air is also beautiful, but of the three islands, Gili T is the most developed and I’d venture to say, the most fun. Travelers usually stop through after or on their way to Bali for a more personalized touch to their vacation. Backpackers, honeymooners and beach eager tourists alike fill the small, charming party island because of the mountainous backdrops and beautiful waters. No motorized transport is allowed on the island so horse buggies called Cidomos allow for a nice respite away from any puttering and pollution. Dive centers galore and cool cafes to lounge at, there’s not much else to do rather than dive spot hop, snorkel, sunbathe, relax and drink on the jaw-dropping beaches. The main street features international fare and a myriad of semi-cheap spas to choose from (you can also get de-stressed on the beach). By day, my days were spent laying by the beach while sipping on my beloved pineapple juice. The feeling of falling asleep on a lounge chair with the waves whooshing away and music in my ears was heaven. By night, you can choose from one of the many restaurants and bars to chow down and then dance the night away. Relax, party and repeat. I would gladly go back in a heartbeat.
Two hours north of Yogyakarta on the island of Java, you’ll find the massive Mount Merapi, which names boasts the appropriate translation of Mountain of Fire. It’s quite an imposing feature and is one of the most active volcanos in the world. With the lush, green and ultra fertile landscape surrounding its base, it seems hard to imagine villages in ruin, covered by ash years earlier. Immense heat clouds spreading 8 miles from the center caught many people off guard at the moment of the eruption on November 5, 2010. Some locals even refused to leave their homes despite the warnings, afraid to leave their lives behind. With the last eruption in 2010 along with sporadic episodes in September of this year, I was a bit hesitant to get too close and trevail the slopes too closely. Some visitors are daring enough to ascend Merapi during the wee hours of the night to witness glowing lava flows descend from the crater. As amazing as that sounds, we decided to take the less precarious route! Instead, we rented a motorbike from two locals and got an amazing tour around the base of the volcano witnessing firsthand the effects of the last devastating eruption. The nature is unmistakably stunning, yet the reminder of mother nature’s ruthlessness is showcased in the aftermath of homes ravaged by volcanic ash and melted, bent structures that were never recovered or rebuilt. Some trees are still burnt stumps and there’s a visible grey sediment covering the green land. After riding around on the motorbike all day, my hair was as stiff as straw and my body dusty with ash. To be so close to something dormant yet so destructive made me feel alive that day. Update: The latest eruption was November 18, 2013.
Despite its obvious beauty, most people don’t just stumble upon Bira as their main destination when looking for paradise. There’s a couple reasons for that. First, it’s four hours away form a big city like Makassar and actually, most foreigners in Makassar are just stopping through before getting to places like Bali, Toraja or Manado. If you are living in Makassar and struggling with the city like I was, Bira is heaven to be found some hours away and can alleviate the frustrations of settling into Makassar as an expat (if you can just survive the drive on extremely poor roads).
Bira was one of the first oases to welcome us in Indonesia and woke me up to the idea that there was so much more beyond the new hectic city we called home. I had hardly any idea how intense Indonesian beauty could be, but this trip introduced me quite well. Having been to Turks and Caicos before, I was surprised at how similar the waters were there and in Bira. Mostly unheard of by tourists looking to explore Indonesia, Bira offers everything a beach lover could ever salivate over…stunning water, great diving and snorkeling, friendly locals and untapped beauty. While we visited that short weekend, we were lucky to meet the enthusiastic and charming guys at Bira Divers (the only dive center in town) and snorkeled with them while others dove. It’s worth interrupting lazy beach time to see the interesting cultural highlight of that area – traditional boat Phinisi building in the village of Tanah Beru. If lazy beach time with a backdrop of pure beauty is what you’re looking for, look no further.
There are a variety of home stays available on the main street on the way to the beach that offer basic accommodation. The good thing is that they’re so close to the beach, the dive shop and the restaurants. In terms of accommodation, your best bet is to stay at Bara Beach Bungalows or Amatoa Resort as they’re really the only upscale options in town. It’s a bit pricey for Indonesia but well worth it if you’re looking for a more refined touch to your time time in Bira.
Lombok is the less bragged about of the islands in Indonesia, and I can’t figure out why. In my opinion, it has the potential to surpass Bali’s appeal in the coming years if people take notice accordingly. The persisting culture of the indigenous Sasak people, unspoiled beauty, pristine beaches, waterfalls, active Mount Rinjani volcano and less crowds make Lombok equally interesting and just as beautiful. Often times, Bali overshadows the arena of conversation concerning Indonesia’s stunning islands, but for us it was a perfect change of pace after being on the go in busy Java and Bali. We decided to finish off our 16-day trip within Indonesia on Kuta beach in the south of Lombok. This part of the island boasts a real island charm with local warungs, young backpackers and surfers soaking up the sun, relaxing by the impressive waters and having a beer or two. Less people come to Lombok as it’s nothing like Bali and lacks an abundance of western luxuries. Personally, I would recommend Lombok to anybody who wants a relaxed, less crowded holiday, where they can venture out on their own with a motorbike or car to cruise the beautiful coastlines. In our case, being in a place like Makassar made us miss the little comforts and big luxuries of the west, so we opted for a hotel that could offer luxury, a nice in-between. We chose The Novotel, a frilly resort located on Kuta Beach giving us the option to stay in the resort with its many facilities or venture out into the local villages and get a taste of the real Lombok as we wished. We went into town for most meals with our rented motorbike since the meals were not mind-blowing and a bit over priced at the hotel.
The highlight of my time was being wedged between the two hills on the private beach while enjoying the view on the lounge huts that lured me in for hours each day. When we got tired of being lazy (which was rare), we’d hop on a motorbike to each casual yet delicious meal and explore seaside villages to pass the time. This getaway served to remind me of the little things and how much they’ve been missed after living in a city like Makassar- a comfortable big bed, fresh air, less pollution, English speakers and of course, amazing food. All in all, all I know is that the minor stresses fall away with each getaway like Lombok and make it a bit harder to go back to routine life in Makassar. The contrast is stark and beautiful as I can feel myself appreciating the little things more and more.
Visiting Bali and wanting to stay in the hotel room the whole time seems totally wrong, doesn’t it? Well, it turns out some cities in Bali warrant just that. What if the water and sun came to you, just a jump away from the sofa and two steps from your bed? In Sanur, my dreams for lazy lounging came true.
Sanur was the last leg of our vacation in August 2013 and it was a perfect way to wind down before heading back to Makassar. After searching for the right accommodation, we couldn’t imagine passing up on Puri Hiromi’s hotel room complete with a private pool inside. In the end, we really didn’t leave much to explore. Let me be honest, though: Sanur is not my favorite Balinese spot by any means and we only spent a short time there. There’s so much to compete with on an island this stunning, so choosing a place to relax is more involved than you’d expect.
So what do you want out of your Balinese vacation? Sanur offers relaxation, calm, and great food, although not a huge range of choices. Not the most beautiful or most lively of destinations, Sanur leads with stunning hotels, nice strolls along the promenade lining the coast, and a family-friendly vibe. With a more sleepy, toned down personality, Sanur still offers luxury and beauty, but on a more modest scale.
It’s not a thriving nightlife place and the water isn’t stunningly great, but for beginning surfers, this is the place to try. Overall, Sanur is a chill, family-friendly spot.
The food is its strength and Charmings, and Indonesian French bistro is an upscale fusion experience you’d be sad to miss. A four-piece band complete with drums, violin, upright bass, and guitar serenaded tables and eventually us with my favorite song, “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. I couldn’t decide which was more delicious, my duck confit on a bed of buttered vegetables, or the personal, musical moment with these charming Balinese musicians. The caliber of cuisine is just as great here as it is in say, Seminyak or Ubud.