I often ask people “where is the best place you’ve ever travelled to?”, and there’s one answer that always makes me cringe, Bali. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people choose Bali as its the only exotic place they’ve ever travelled to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice enough place, amazing people, beautiful scenery and plenty of things to see. It seems to tick all the boxes, but has one fatal flaw, tourists. Paradise seeking foreigners are swarms of locusts that consume and ravage the unique qualities and tranquillity of an area until there’s nothing left.
For many hardened travellers, such a place becomes repulsive. Most backpackers aren’t looking for a party island, they’re looking for a cultural and immersive experience. Though certain regions of Bali can offer just that, a large portion of the island has been lost. Luckily, there’s another island close by that can provide everything Bali has without any of the negatives. Let me introduce you to Lombok.
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My Problem With Bali
For many people, Bali is the definition of everything wrong with the travelling culture. What was once a beautiful, spiritual and deeply cultural area has now been spoilt by self-centred tourists. Though my issues are mainly with the the south of the island, mainly Kuta, its hard not to tarnish the reputation of the entire island. The magic and authenticity of the island has vanished and become nothing more than a holiday camp for the millions of tourists that arrive every year.
Trash filled beaches, high-rise hotels, tattoo parlours, McDonalds on demand, skimpily dressed women aggressively offering a “massaaaaage” and over-eager vendors begging you to look at their merchandise. The streets are filled with groups of muscle-vests wankers scouting through the endless row of clubs while being endlessly approached by eagle-eyed locals offering “Weed? Coke? Mushrooms?.” Fat arses waddling out of their 5-star hotels wearing Bermuda shorts and straw hats believing that their English is better understood the louder they shout. It’s the definition of being too touristy. Its become faceless and lost all individual personality and charm, just another generic cheap holiday destination.
Why is Lombok Special?
So, what’s good about Bali? The nature, the landscapes, the vibe, the spirituality, the temples, the cheapness, the volcanoes, the waterfalls and more importantly the people. Lombok has all of these but is missing that one underlying component which has served to ruin Bali, tourists.
It’s truly extraordinary, Lombok is one of the worlds best kept secrets hidden in plain sight. It seems as if travellers have not yet discovered the full potential of the island, despite it only being a short ferry ride away from Bali. Most travellers have their eyes fixed on the well-established Bali and don’t wish to step outside the box. Thus, Lombok has managed to avoid the toxic tourist horde and has remained beautifully pure, for now anyway.
It really is the defining difference. Swarms of foreigners are always an underlying cause of the negative cringeworthy qualities that a place ends up having. As more tourists arrive, they bring their needs of ease and comfort, and areas find it necessary to cater for them to A) capitalise on valuable tourist cash B) ensure the flow of tourists continue to grow. With that comes a gentrification of the area to fit the mild palette of typical Westerners, becoming a place with no true identity. Lombok has managed to completely avoid this.
How Popular is Lombok?
Put it this way, a foreigner in Bali won’t gather any stares from the locals. With the millions of travellers that arrive every year, they’re hardly a peculiar sight. A foreigner on Lombok on the other hand will be looked at in total fascination and politely asked for a photo or asked to help with practicing English by having a little conversation.
Even though there is a definite lack of tourists, the island isn’t completely free of travellers. There are still a handful of tour groups and humble little hotels and hostels gathered in the main areas of the island, but the numbers are miniscule in comparison. It seems that foreigners have had little effect on the island.
What Does Lombok Have?
What would you want on your paradise island? Beautiful untouched beaches? Lombok’s entire coast is untouched. Do you want a paradise filled with tropical rainforests and dream like waterfalls? Lombok has plenty of both. Does your tropical paradise perhaps come with a volcano? Lombok has one of the most beautiful ones in the entire world. Everything people claim is good about Bali, Lombok has them all, except better. Let’s look at some highlights in more detail.
Though there are countless numbers of volcanoes throughout Indonesia, none too few are more incredible than this one. Mount Rinjani is without doubt the absolute highlights of Lombok. It commands the centre of the island and can be seen from across all its neighbouring islands. Not only is it an active volcano, but it has the incredible feature of having a miniature volcano bellowing smoke from the middle of a turquoise lake that fills the larger outer crater. Effectively it’s a volcano inside a volcano!
A number of tour companies on the island arrange guided tours of the volcano. A group of sherpas join you on your hike to the craters edge before setting up camp for the night and preparing meals for you as you watch the spectacular natural lightshow occur above the mountain peak as the sun sets. There are few places in the world where you could have such an incredible experience.
A paradise would be incomplete without a shampoo advert-style waterfall in the middle of a thick jungle. That is what you find at Tui Kelep. Amongst the thick rainforests that cover the valleys of central Lombok you arrive at the pinnacle example of a heavenly waterfall. An enormous stream of water crashes into the pool below. Just to make it that much more perfect, visitors are even able to swim in the pool and bathe beneath the thunderous stream of the fall.
What’s the problem with most paradise beaches? They’re over-run with people who are all searching for the same thing. Luckily, travellers are yet to discover the incredible coastline of Lombok, and thus they are completely untouched. No deck chairs, no beach balls, just total solitude.
Though they may not be the best you’ve ever seen, the lack of people makes up for it. The entire coast provides a variety of beaches from pristine white sands before a wall of rainforests to sweeping bays of stone. Something to satisfy the greatest desire of vitamin sea.
What Lombok Doesn’t Have?
As only a relatively small amount of travellers visit Lombok, the island is yet to have any real established tourist industry, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Lombok doesn’t have any public transport systems, so travelling can be tricky. Also, though there are a few hotels and restaurants congregated around the more tourist filled areas, there aren’t that many to choose from.
It’s fair to say that travelling Lombok is a bit more challenging. I wouldn’t say difficult, but certainly a lot harder than in tourist infected Bali where everything can be arranged in a second. It a big reason why people would rather choose Bali, as they simply don’t believe Lombok would be worth the extra effort.
The Dangers of a Secret
A secret like this doesn’t stay a secret for long. I fear that Bali was exactly the same as Lombok many years ago. It’s a catch 22 situation. Everyone is looking for a secluded paradise. Once it’s found, the word gets out, and everyone wants their own slice of heaven. The more people come, the more the area realises the money-making potential, and so come the comforts of home. It’s a vicious consuming cycle until nothing remains, and people must hunt for greener pastures to start all over again. I fear that Lombok is that green pasture.
Already you can see the beginnings of a new age, foundations of hotels being set, tour companies popping up all over the place, it’s only a matter of time. Even writing this article might be a bad idea. Maybe the less talked about it the better.
Take Your Chance
So why am I writing this article? Because before long, Lombok is going to become just another Bali. Whether its 5 years, 10 or even 50, I guarantee it will end up the same. Once Bali has been milked dry of all its cultural worth, its neighbour will soon be the newest victim. For now, it remains the paradise I wish it forever would, but only for so long. Now is your last chance to enjoy it for everything it is, before the horde of locusts find out for themselves.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.