After a month of living in Kuta, Lombok I decided to clear the air and write my honest review after finding out that ‘the internet’ warns tourists of the dangers lurking in Lombok.
This morning whilst having breakfast in Warung Turtle in Tanjung Aan Beach after a sunrise surf, I shared with Mario from Bosnia and Herman a local business owner about how my friend Gusti from Bali was worried about me going to Lombok and kept trying to warn me, “people are not the same as in Bali, don’t drive around alone…” and the first week of my stay kept messaging “Are you ok? How is Lombok?”. I found it funny as I felt perfectly safe here but it made me wonder how come people thought that Lombok is dangerous. Mario said that before he traveled he read many articles warning about the dangers of Lombok. Herman that has now lived in Lombok for quite a while noded and explained to me that ten years ago it was dangerous for everyone, not only the tourists but the locals as well. Getting robbed as driving to your sunrise surf was very common, even if you managed to get to the beach safe – you might get approached by a group of men and get robbed there. My friend Herman shared how he still remembers when he first opened a business he had to hide money and never bring too much…That was Lombok ten years ago.
What is Lombok like now?
I have lived in Lombok for two months and never once felt unsafe. Just like everywhere, be smart how you handle your possessions. If asked about safety, I would advise people the same things I advised in Bali: keep your possessions in front of the bike (don’t hang them on your shoulder) and phones can be easily snapped out of your hand whilst driving.
I’m a solo female traveler and have been exploring the island by scooter. I like to drive in any direction until I hit the ocean. I have been lost many times and entered small fishermen or farmer villages and have always been greeted positively with a smile. On my breaks, I sit down and drink coffee (with susu kental which is condensed milk) or eat a yellow watermelon (when it’s a season) with the local people sometimes in silence, sometimes in broken conversations but always with a smile. I’m aware and respectful of the culture here and if traveling outside of Kuta I will put a sarong over my shorts to cover my knees and wear a t-shirt with some sleeves, it’s common sense traveling in a Muslim country.
The roads in Lombok are mainly good unless you take a detour. Usually, it’s a beautiful winding road with many turns and twists taking you through astonishing panoramas; sometimes dry desert landscapes, lush tropical tobacco farms, sugar cane fields with their sweet scent, dangerous cliffs that overlook ocean bays. A landscape that belongs not only to the island of Lombok but to my soul as well. My first week here, I explored beaches close by, I didn’t use the maps and allowed myself to drive by the coast and turn spontaneously. I’ll sometimes sit in an empty beach on my own conversing with a local that owns a little shack where you can get a coconut, coffee or local beer called Bintang or unexpectedly find a ‘hotspot’ that was already well known, except for those traveling without a map.
If you like Bali, don’t come to Lombok.
One thing I found in common with the people that love Lombok is that they all found Bali too crowded and too touristy. That made me realize that if you like Bali then maybe Lombok is not your cup of tea. I read an article called “The problem of Kuta Lombok” by Mostly Amelie where she describes Kuta as “a dusty affair with not much else than a few warungs, goats and children roaming the busted roads incessantly trying to sell you bracelets”… Which is true but it depends on the way you look at it. The kids selling bracelets is a Kuta thing, even after a month of living here it’s still very hard to get used to. I haven’t seen any goats but plenty of buffalo. She also mentioned in her article having high expectations of an untouched paradise, yet I think it’s important to manage your expectations no matter where you travel.”Untouched” not only means empty beaches (which by the way Lombok has plenty of) but it also means that people are not used to “performing”. She talks about women shouting at each other, but from what I’ve observed, that’s just how the locals talk, they yell. It’s quite funny to watch once you understand that they are not arguing. That is also one thing I love about Indonesia: noise.
Let’s take a detour. It’s never quiet here. In the mornings and evenings, you hear the prayers that bounce off silent mountains back to the mosques, creating a whole atmosphere. I love sitting in my veranda with a cup of tea listening even without understanding, I feel the love the prayer carries, no matter the religion. The morning prayer is followed by the waking sounds of the roosters, many, many roosters. Then the roaring sound of engines start, surfers setting off for the sunrise surf. Soon the locals start to rise and the racket starts, brushing the fallen leaves, greeting the neighbors, caring for children, showering, washing, cleaning, preparing for the day. Around 8:00 everyone is awake, the town and the roads get busier (not massively busy, this is Lombok, not Bali), it’s breakfast time. It makes no difference if you are sitting in your villa, homestay or a local cafe, the smell of coffee colors the air. During the day you will hear all sorts of mixed sounds. The only truly tranquil time is sunset. The beach bars do not blast music here, it’s not common practice. You are allowed to say farewell to the day in a peaceful manner and watch the sunset into the mountains and marvel at the beautiful gradient sky. The town (two crossing streets) comes to life in the evening, people fill the bars and restaurants with chatter. Each day there is a party, the law however only allows one bar to be open till late, each night it’s a different one. How do you find the party? Just drive around town and follow the sound of music or stop and ask the local beach boys (they always know where the party at). I love to dance the night away, barefoot, smiling and meeting other smiling faces on the dance floor. Once showered and exhausted after a day of surfing, beaching, exploring or dancing you finally rest in your bed…and so starts the howling of the Lombok stray dogs. Praise the full moon. I’m not a light sleeper, so I can easily close my eyes and drift off to sleep, for the sensitive ones I would advise bringing some earplugs. It’s the one thing I miss once I go back to Europe: the sounds of Indonesia.
and back to Kuta…
Lombok, Kuta is dusty and dry. It’s true. As you drive towards Tanjung Aan, a great beach for beginners or just starting surfers, you experience (how I imagine) Texas dry land vibes. To complement the views I recommend reading “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson and you might find yourself in love with the dirt and dust as much as she was in love with the Australian desert on her solo 1700 mile track with three and a half camels and a dog in the late 70’s. The drive to the beach while reading her book almost became part of my experience of reading and in many ways made me feel nostalgic about a place I never experienced in reality and will never have the chance to. After a while, you get used to the slight layer of dust on your feet and it becomes part of the Lombok, Kuta experience.
Learning to surf in Lombok.
Following my intuition one evening I stopped at the ‘Hidden Garden’ just in front of S hotel. I saw some guys playing guitar and chilling, there were fairy lights and it truly looked like a little tropical secret garden. I was warmly welcomed by Edy who was the co-owner of the place and as later I find out a brilliant surf instructor. Together with Alice, they run a family business called XXSurf which is not only a surf school but a social enterprise. Their daughter Maya is inseparable to the experience of their school and she concurs everyone’s hearts with her playfulness and an unexpected but brilliant British accent. Fairly quickly I felt welcomed and accepted as if I was part of their family. Edy and I arranged a surf lesson and the next day we drove out to Tanjung Aan. XXSurf keeps all their boards in warung Turtle so that became our surf hotspot. Turtle is also great for not charging their customers for the sunbeds, so if you get a drink and some food, you can chill and enjoy the view of the ocean all day long free of charge. I told Edy my pervious surf experience in Bali and tried to explain that I sometimes can get nervous or scared in the water. Edy looked at me and said, “no worries, you’ll be surfing on your own in no time”. I was a bit skeptical of his confidence, as even after a month of surfing in Bali – I didn’t manage to feel that comfortable to surf on my own. My second month in, I had my first solo surf just a day ago. I quickly learned that Edy really cares about teaching surf and wants you to feel safe and confident in the water. The very first time I freaked out he looked at me and said “you are scared of the sound of the water.”. I never realized it but it was true. He was very patient and gave me useful tips. However, encouraging me to take ownership “I can tell you what to do but you have to work with your mind.”.
Commonly asked questions?
Best sport for sunset in Kuta? I would definitely suggest Seger Beach. The beach is also good for surfing, there are few beach bars there and quite few hill tops to sit on and enjoy the sunset.
Your favourite dinner place? Easy, Lalapan.
Which beaches to visit? The best beach for bathing and swimming is Selong Belanak Beach. Best chill beach is Tanjung Aan Beach. Beginner surf – Gerupuk inside or Tanjung Aan. Advanced surf – Desert Point and Mawi.
The waves are so far out, do we peddle that far? You can but you can also take a fisherman boat and they will drop you off and pick you up.
How to get around Kuta? Best practice is to rent a scooter, you can also drive around by bike or on foot.
My personal favorite places:
Warung Turtle – good for chilling after surf, free umbrellas if you buy food and really great meals. Plus the family that run the warung are the bests hosts.
Kenza – lovely breakfast menu, a good spot for doing some work if you are a freelancer.
xxsurf – do good, feel good and learn to surf.
Sonya’s – best-grilled fish in town and the owner is a strong independent business owner that just divorced her husband. She has moved from the previous place and you will find her original restaurant close to Cheap Zone now.
Kebun HomeStay – a great place for travelers to rest their head.
Herry Warung – good cheap local food.
Lalapan Warung – the best place for dinner and definitely the best local food warung.
Milk Espresso – my favorite western cafe to just chill and read a book.
Sandbox – sustainable and artsy warung.
Ashtari Yoga – duh, for yoga lovers.
Useful links and private trustworthy contacts:
+62 812-4616-4578 (whatsaap) – Edy, surf instructor
+62 852-3701-3837 (whatsaap) – Briy, surf instructor
+62 859-5440-1964 (whatsaap) – Andy, surf instructor
+62 823-4065-2422 (whatsaap) – Jack, rent a bike
Lombok Plastic Free – a movement against plastic in Lombok