One Month Spent Exploring Indonesian Islands
With thousands of islands to explore, it can be challenging to narrow down the best places to travel in Indonesia. Luckily, our pals The Textbook Travels have put together an exclusive review for SunDrift of their one month travels across the region.
Kelingking Beach from above, Nusa Penida
In summer 2018, we grabbed our backpacks and flew across the world to Indonesia. We wanted to experience something we never had before and we ended up immersed in a new culture, a new land and even a new hemisphere for four weeks and we found what we were looking for in troves; adventure.
Indonesia is a vast country spreading across 17,000 islands (about 6,000 are inhabited) and so for us to say that this is a blog on Indonesia would be irresponsible. During our trip, we covered seven different islands so only another 16,993 to go! Instead we would love to give a taste of our experience on some of the Indonesian islands we ventured to rather than giving a full synopsis on, what amounts to, a sizeable chunk of the globe.
Kelingking Beach from below
We started where most backpackers do in these parts; Bali. Flying into Denpasar is the most likely route you will use to get to this part of the country. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who has been here will tell you that the arrivals hall is a serious assault on the senses as hundreds of drivers vie for your custom. It can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve just come off a long haul flight like we did. We had organised with our accommodation for pick-up which is what we would recommend for your first trip. Anyone who has been to Bali will have “their driver” which sounds posh but is actually just really an uber driver that they used while they were here. These can be useful to have though as you will probably use a driver at some stage on your travels here and if it comes recommended, then you can feel assured that this driver has been reliable before.
Bali is a destination many Australians use during the year as a cheap touristy getaway and so parts of the island can seem cheap and unappealing – think Southern Hemisphere Santa Ponsa! So be weary of that if you are here for adventure or a quiet yoga retreat; some places like Kuta and Seminyak will cater more towards those who love beach loungers, strips of sleazy bars and only seeing a sunrise if it means they haven’t been to bed yet!
We didn’t stay long on the Balinese coast at the beginning, just enough time to find our feet and indulge in some seriously tasty smoothie bowls. Be conscious that there are countless beautiful places to eat Instagram-worthy foods on Bali but they come with a distinctly Irish price tag. Make sure you research your foodie spots if that’s your thing because there are some amazing local warungs (restaurants) to try too and plates here can be as cheap as €1.00!
Rice Paddies outside Ubud on a rainy morning
We stayed in Ubud for a few nights too which moves you deep into the heart of Bali where waterfalls, forests and rice paddies are rampant. It’s a really nice contrast to the beaches on the coast so we would recommend taking a trip here. A driver can bring you here within about two hours. Always remember that things here run on island time so don’t expect anything or anyone to be on time and if Google maps says your trip will take an hour, you better leave at least five!
Ubud is yogi central and there is a much more relaxed vibe present which was welcomed. We opted to do the Mount Batur sunrise trek from here. It was actually a warm-up hike for us because we would be ascending Mount Rinjani on Lombok the following week. We cannot recommend the Mount Batur hike enough. It is an early start; we were collected at 2am but it is so worth it to see the sunrise over the horizon. It can be cold at the top so bring a jacket for when you stop at the summit. We were treated to an awesome volcanic eruption from the nearby Mount Agung while we were there sipping coffee at sunrise! Frankly, a little unnerving at the start but an absolutely incredible experience.
Enjoying a morning coffee watching Mt Agung erupt in the distance
We also stayed in the south of the island at the end of our trip and we enjoyed the atmosphere down in Uluwatu. Some great cliff-side bars to discover and watch the surfers tackle the waves down below.
We changed islands after Ubud and made our way to the nearby Lombok. Remember we mentioned island time? Well this is the perfect example: what should have taken approximately five or six hours to get from Ubud to Lombok, actually cost us an entire day and It got so late, we had to stop halfway and find an inn for the night. During that trip, our bus decided not to go all the way to the port and we made the rest of the trip to our boat in the back of a pick-up truck with about ten other travellers. It was a ‘local’ experience for sure!
Lombok is beautiful but don’t expect the luxuries of Bali. In terms of tourism, it was a breath of fresh air that it lags about twenty years behind its sister across the water and so it is a much quieter island to explore. The south of the island was paradise and we loved our time here heading off in search of local adventures on our rented moped. To describe how much we stuck out here, we were approached by a tonne of locals for pictures and one guy had to facetime his family while he was with us! We loved it down here to be honest and would have stayed longer but we had a three day trek of up an active volcano to do.
Mount Rinjani Summit at sunrise showing the volcano shadow and curvature of Earth
Without a doubt, the Mount Rinjani trek was the toughest adventure we’ve embarked on to date. It was three days of hiking and camping on the side of a volcano, all the while being at least a day away from proper civilisation or medical help. It was tough. It was complex, arduous and exhausting. And we LOVED it. We would love to write a full blog post on this because there was so much in it but watching the sun rise over the horizon while sitting on the top of an active volcano at 4,000m was exhilarating. The curvature of the Earth and the shadow across the island made by the volcano were sights that we will never forget. If you ever plan on doing something like this, please research your trek company. Our company, JouTrekking, prized themselves on being one of the very few sustainable and ecologically-friendly companies trekking Mount Rinjani and when we got there we knew immediately why that was important to us. Most of the other companies simply throw their trash down the side of the mountain whereas our team brought every single item back down with them and even took other’s rubbish too. They were slightly more expensive but we would urge anyone to pay the extra to help conserve places like these.
To reward ourselves after Rinjani, we hit up the Gili Islands to relax, staying on Gili Air and Gili T for a few nights. Again, take note that Gili T is party central and that didn’t really appeal to us but Gili Air was superb – so chill and so beautiful! Gili Meno is the third one and it has more of a honeymooner’s appeal we were told. These islands are perfect for a few days away from Bali if that’s all you’re up for. Snorkelling, boat trips, sun, sea, sand and Bintangs (local beer) are the order of the day, every day!
Our beautiful hut on Gili Air
From here, we moved onto what we consider to be our favourite islands that we ventured to: the Nusa islands. We stayed on Nusa Lembongan which has the most civilisation but there’s a beautiful yellow bridge that connects it to the smallest of the three; Nusa Ceningan. Head across here to hang out on a quiet beach bar or see The Blue Lagoon. You can also get to the largest and most notable, Nusa Penida, by boat. For these islands, you are submersed into Indonesian lifestyle and get to enjoy it at a much slower pace than Bali itself. Nusa Penida has some breath-taking sights to be explored like Kelingking Beach (T-Rex Beach) or Broken Beach. We would recommend hiring a driver for this island rather than a moped as the roads are simply terrible! If you think you are immune from carsickness, this trip will test you. But it is worth it to see these places. With that in mind, be weary also that the boat trips can be unnerving too. As always, they are worth it but just be prepared for saying your Hail Marys while you’re crushing waves on them. While coming into Nusa Lembongan, our boat was overloaded to the point where it couldn’t make it up the channel between the islands so our pilot told us all to get off into the shallow water and walk the rest of the way! That’s island life for you, guys! We promise it is all worth it though and when you’re sipping a cold beer sitting on a rock at Devil’s Tear watching the sun set over the water, you won’t even remember that time you thought you’d never see dry land again!
Crossing the yellow bridge, Nusa Lembongan
Without a doubt, for us, our trip to Indonesia was one of our best so far. It had such a wide range of opportunities to unearth and yet still, more await us for our next trip like walking on the pink beaches of Flores, exploring Sumatra or learning about the orangutans in Borneo. These were all items we had to leave off our list this time simply due to time constraints but we are happy in the knowledge that even with a hundred lifetimes, we still wouldn’t make a dent into this amazing country. We hope you someday consider making the trip to Indonesia after travel begins to make a comeback. If you do, you can thank us later!
See you soon,
Note: We deliberately left out any mention of animal tourism in our blog post. We know that places such as elephant “sanctuaries” are rife in SE Asia and that people will continue to use them but we cannot advocate any animal cruelty in this way. Companies are clever these days and will refer to their zoos as “ecological”, “ethical” or “sanctuaries” but please be aware that if a place allows you to have any physical contact, including feeding, bathing or taking selfies, with naturally wild animals, that is NOT a sanctuary. If you are unsure, as we are too at times, there are sites that you can check up whether a specific place is actually a sanctuary or not. Failing that, trust your gut; if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Please choose wisely where your money goes when you travel – we all have a responsibility in this.
You can find travel couple Déanna & Kilian, The Textbook Travels, over on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thetextbooktravels/