From Vietnam to Indonesia: A Travel Guide

By: Nat Paolone

Ahh… board the plane, buckle up, ready for take off. Awesome, leaving Vietnam for a relaxing vacation. Reconnecting with planet earth, a degree of “normalism” when arriving at our destination, even in a neighbouring country.

Why…? Well perhaps because the connection with planet earth is fundamental for us humans. Communicating with familiarity is a most welcoming experience.

Example: in most Asian metropolises, motorists actually stop to let you cross the street. Infrastructures are developed, metros and buses work well, street food is, more hygienic, exotic and… well you get the picture.

The island of serenity Accommodation is usually cheaper, with more options. Many SE Asian destinations have the funky bungalows beach-side. Laying on the hammock, listening to the waves as life passes by. A couple hours flight away, but worlds apart.

One such place of magnificence is Lombok Island, Indonesia. An island paradise of surfing, scuba, snorkelling and awesome local cuisine. In full bloom, Bali, bursting at the seams with tourism, “Westernism,” booming night-life, not a destination for those desiring a unique, local experience. Sure Bali is beautiful in its own right, just much more developed.

Lombok, it’s quieter exotic neighbour, an endearing contrast. Boasting world-class surf breaks, pristine beaches, snorkelling on the idyllic Gili islands, opaque-coloured crater lakes of a spectacular volcano - Mt Rinjani. Relaxation, escapism, adventure, serenity, chill out and sink in. The culture is quite intriguing, a history of unrest among its main ethno-religious groups, the Sasak Muslims and Balinese Hindus. Recent decades have achieved tolerance and harmony, perhaps the only example in Indonesia of this co-existence in peace.

Discovering Kuta and Gili Air

The two places I had the pleasure of rejuvenating in: Kuta and Gili Air. Kuta is a sleepy village, a base to explore the local beauty. Wandering out of town in either direction, you’ll find pristine beaches, turquoise blue waters, jagged mountain headlands abruptly joining the sea.

One afternoon I noticed the tide far out at the beach, the scene bloomed with mini craters of seaweed appearing, local families strewn across the horizon, collecting the potent ocean algae. Indonesia tops the world in algae cultivation with 10 million tons/year.

Snapping images while venturing out to meet this intriguing display of local life, children play among the natural algal pools, parents and siblings collecting macroalgae. A fine display of youth truly free, enjoying the fundamentals of creation, pinnacles of joy under the hot afternoon sun.

“Lombok boasts world-class surf breaks, pristine beaches, snorkelling, opaque-coloured crater lakes of a spectacular volcano, and more...”

Afterwards, while meandering along a beach road I’m struck by a swarm of people slowly dancing towards me, caught in the middle of a local wedding. Bride and groom surrounded by towering speakers, pushed along by young boys, as guitarists wail the wedding party.

After a week enjoying the surf, mountains, breathtaking scenery along the winding beach roads straddling greenery, next stop Gili Archipelago.

Departing for Gili Air from Bangsal, pile into a tiny blue boat, filled with islanders and their supplies of food and provisions. Arriving on this island paradise surrounded by the clear crystal blue coral waters. Jumping into the surf, walk up the main path met by horse-drawn carriages.

Rent a bicycle and off to seek a cool bungalow. Settling in on a quaint straw-roof shelter, nicely laid wooden balcony and outdoor shower, hang up the hammock, alpha waves flowing as calm settles in.

It is a truly unique mini island just off the mainland. Motorised vehicles nowhere to be found, only the sound of mythical horse-drawn carriages whisking travellers around and through the island, hooves beating down among the jingle of stirrups.

Venturing the volcano

As the sun sets, you can catch a glorious glimpse of Mt Rinjani, Indonesia’s second tallest volcano at 3,726m. Famous for its extraordinary beauty and eerie isolation, it is a sight to behold. For the Sasak and Balinese people the volcano is revered as a sacred place, with the gods living at the summit.

On the top of the volcano is a 6-by-8.5-kilometre caldera, filled partially by the crater lake known as Segara Anak or Anak Laut (Child of the Sea). Many venture to summit the mountain on a 3-5 day trek led by guides, braver ones going solo. Dips in the hot springs along the way soothe sore muscles from the gruelling trek.

The ease of doing nothing on this island guilt- free is sublime. The beauty extends below the sea, with good local dive sites, snorkelling, and even a free-diving center, Freedive Air. Surrounded by excellent local cuisine, local family-run eateries merrily mix flavours and spices to invigorate your palate. Grilled fish is recommended as most beachside restaurants offer freshly caught fare.

Gili Air is developing more every year, however the welcoming atmosphere, the bungalows, guest houses and eateries peacefully blend in the web of local life.

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