Indonesia Part II

Nusa Lembongan

I wish I spent more time in Nusa Lembongan and in Nusa Penida. Due to the minor setback (food poisoning) that took me out for 2 days, I was unable to spend time on the island of Nusa Penida. Rather, I spent the majority of the time on Nusa Lembongan and did a dive in Nusa Penida at Manta Point. I stayed at Nalaroka Inn on the northwest side of the island. I got a single room with an en-suite bathroom and A/C. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but checking in and renting a motorbike from the homestay owner was really easy.

Motorbike rental on this island costs anywhere between Rp 60,000-70,000. I would recommend renting a motorbike through your accommodation (i.e. hostel, homestay) if possible. The stand-alone rental companies inflate the price by Rp 30,000 or more. The rental company across from Lembongan Dive Adventures charged me Rp 100,000 per day for a motorbike. You can always negotiate prices with them, but I didn’t want to go through the hassle so I went back to my homestay and rented it for Rp 70,000 instead.

 I wore a kid's size 3mm wetsuit underneath a women's XS 3mm wetsuit
I wore a kid’s size 3mm wetsuit underneath a women’s XS 3mm wetsuit

On another note, if you don’t scuba dive, you can snorkel with either a tour group or on your own from the shore, but I would suggest having a buddy at all times. The currents are strong and can overcome even the strongest swimmers. Apparently a day before I arrived on Nusa Lembongan, a Chinese tourist had drowned while snorkeling with a tour group. I wouldn’t count on the tour operators to keep an eye out on your personal safety either. Know your limits and use the buddy system!

I met Fernando on Couchsurfing who is a dive instructor at Lembongan Dive Adventures, only 100 feet away from the homestay. Rudi, the owner, is seasoned diver who takes his guests out on private diving trips, if requested. His team, including Fernando, are also very experienced divers. For two dives, it’s approximately Rp 1.25 million. I arrived at the dive center around 8:30 am to prepare for the day, and left the dive center at approximately 9 am. It was a short ride to the harbor where we took off. The scheduled dive sites for the day were Manta Point and Crystal Bay. I only did the first dive (at Manta Point), in which I saw a huge manta ray. They spotted one Mola Mola (aka sunfish) at Crystal Bay. For both dives, you need to wear two wetsuits. Yes, two. The first dive at Manta Point wasn’t too chilly; it was around 21 degrees Celsius (69 degrees Fahrenheit). The second dive at Crystal Bay was a bit cooler, at around 19-20 degrees Celsius (66-68 degrees Fahrenheit), which doesn’t seem to be a huge difference, but when you’ve been down in those depths for over half an hour, it gets pretty chilly! Take the dive center’s advice and wear two wetsuits, as ridiculous as the idea seems!

 The manta ray was huge!!
The manta ray was huge!!

During my downtime, I rode the motorbike around the island to some of the touristy spots like Devil’s Tears and Dream Beach. Tours from Bali and on Nusa Lembongan also take you to Devil’s Tears and Dream Beach. As expected, both places were overrun by tourists, but it was still enjoyable.

 Swing atop the cliff overlooking Dream Beach
Swing atop the cliff overlooking Dream Beach
 Snorkeling at Mangrove Point
Snorkeling at Mangrove Point

Devil’s Tears was a bit difficult to find (unless you go with a tour bus) because at one point, the road turns into a dirt path. Honestly, just follow the tour buses/trucks and you should be able to find all the touristy spots that are hard to get to on your own. Google Maps can only get you so far, unfortunately. Anyway, I digress. Devil’s Tears is a large limestone cliff bay where massive waves break against it, creating a merciless, thundering sound. Sometimes the waves are so large, that when they break, the spray glimmers in the sun forming a rainbow. After enjoying the tears from the devil, I headed around the corner to the right to explore more of the cove. There were more outcrops being smashed by water and a couple large tide pools.

 Rainbow in the mist
Rainbow in the mist
 Tide pools
Tide pools

Dream Beach is becoming an increasingly popular spot for tourists. It was much easier to find because there are signs directing you along the way. There’s a sweeping panoramic view from atop the cliff, where the parking lot is. A swing sits close—but far enough away from—the cliff where you can take a picture with the breathtaking view in the background. Dream Beach Huts is a resort that directly overlooks the beach and an infinity pool and beach bar. The bar and pool are open to the public as well. Dream Beach is as they call it, a dream. However, the waves here are big, and the undertow and rip currents are incredibly strong. It’s almost more relaxing to just sit and watch the tides come in and out…and watch unsuspecting tourists get wiped out by the waves. Heh.

 Dream Beach
Dream Beach

Sandy Bay Beach Club is close to Devil’s Tears and Dream Beach. It has a rustic beach-chic elegance that captures the upscale dining experience with a relaxed vibe. You can access the beach club from both the front entrance and back entrance (beach). The outdoor patio had plenty of comfortable seating with large cushions and coffee tables spread throughout, creating a very loungey vibe. The restaurant offered an extensive drink list including wines and delectable cocktails. They even had bean bag chairs and small sunbrellas scattered on their beach. Best of all, we ordered a bucket of Bintang beers and the server delivered it to us poolside as we waded on the edge of the infinity pool. As the sun set, small candles lit the surrounding tables and glowing lanterns illuminated the patio. It was a lovely setting, so expectedly, we stuck around for dinner.

 Bintangs by the pool
Bintangs by the pool
 Bean bag chairs and sunbrellas on Sandy Bay beach
Bean bag chairs and sunbrellas on Sandy Bay beach

Water Blow Huts is located on Nusa Lembongan’s southwest coast and faces directly west toward Bali’s Bukit area which means the sunset is SPECTACULAR! This hidden gem is its own paradise tucked away at the end of a dirt road. They have several cute bungalows facing the ocean and a restaurant onsite atop the cliff with breathtaking views. This beach club is significantly less crowded than the popular Dream Beach Huts beach club. We came here late afternoon to relax in the infinity pool as we watched the sun set. The underwater stools along the pool wall naturally made it a bar for little bites and drinks. No need to leave the pool at all! After the sunset, we crawled out of the pool and got a couple seats around a long table for a party of 8 (yay to making friends!) for dinner. The prices for food and drinks were decent for a beach club. I recommend trying the soups!

 Lounge area overlooking the beach
Lounge area overlooking the beach
 Water Blow infinity pool and bungalows
Water Blow infinity pool and bungalows

I also stayed at Lembongan Hostel, which was a bit difficult to find being that the road to the hostel was narrow and unpaved. Most locals know of Lembongan Hostel, so they’ll point you in the right direction if you ask. From the looks of it, the hostel itself is still pretty new, composed of several large high-ceiling bungalows with 4-6 beds. Like most hostels, a simple breakfast consisting of toast and fresh fruit is included with the stay.

Lombok

 Bangkang Cave
Bangkang Cave

Getting to Lombok

It’s easy to get to Lombok from Bali—flight time is only around 30 minutes and fares start from around Rp 350,000 (approximately $35) one way. Buy tickets direct from the airline counters at the domestic airports, or contact local travel agents in both Bali and Lombok. You’ll see them around the island.

Lombok International Airport (LOP) is the main airport on Lombok. The airport is close to Praya (Central Lombok); approximately 40km south of the city of Mataram, and around a 1.5 hour drive from Senggigi, and 25 minutes from Kuta.

Bali to Lombok by Air

In Lombok, all flights depart and arrive at Lombok International Airport. In Bali, flights arrive and depart at the domestic terminal at Ngurah Rai (Denpasar) Airport (DPS). Garuda Airlines has direct flights between Lombok and Bali every day. Wings Air/Lion Air flies between Bali and Lombok daily. The companies code-share, so you may purchase a Lion Air ticket and find yourself on a Wings Air flight. Personally, I would not recommend flying with Wings Air/Lion Air. I flew with them twice, and both times I encountered an overwhelming smell of smoke that lingered throughout the entire flight. None of the customers on the flight were smoking, and the smell was emitted from the cockpit—so it had to have been the pilot or whoever else was in the cockpit. Since then, I have made a complaint to the company, but have not heard back—I’m not surprised.

 Wings Air
Wings Air

Bali to Lombok by Sea

Padang Bai Harbour (in Bali) provides the sea link between mainland Bali and Lombok. Lembar Harbour (Lombok) is on the southwest coast approximately 1 hour south of Senggigi, Lombok (another port you can come in through). Arrange your own transport and buy tickets direct from the harbors, or use a reputable tour company to provide a transfer service. Public ferries depart every hour for the sea voyage between Bali and Lombok. The crossing between the islands costs Rp 44,000 per person and takes approximately 4 to 5 hours. If you’re on a time crunch, I would recommend taking the “fast boats”. Blue Water Express has services between Bali and mainland Lombok, with convenient departures from two different locations on Bali—Serangan (near Benoa Harbor) and Padang Bai Harbor – everyday. Fares include air conditioned hotel transfers in Bali. Gili Getaway operates several comfortable fast boats connecting Bali and mainland Lombok (including Senggigi, the Gili Islands and Gili Gede in the southwest) with daily transfers from Serangan Harbor on Bali. Fares include air conditioned hotel transfers to main points in Bali. Scoot Fast Cruises also has services between Bali, Lembongan Island, Lombok and the Gili Islands. They depart from Sanur Beach in Bali, and also provide hotel transfers when you arrive.

 Boats taking off from shore
Boats taking off from shore

Getting Around Lombok

Lombok International Airport is a relatively small airport that handles domestic flights between Bali, Jakarta, and other Indonesian cities and international flights to and from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Getting to the airport: Lombok Taxi (Blue Bird) is the most convenient taxi operator and are allowed to drop passengers directly in front of the departure terminal, however, they cannot pick up passengers from inside the airport grounds. Organizing an airport transfer with your hotel is often the easiest and most convenient option, with the hotel driver meeting you on arrival and transferring you to your hotel in comfort. Charges are usually only slightly more than a taxi. For backpackers like myself, I took a motorbike to the airport. It cost around Rp 20,000.

From the airport: Taxis are available to meet all arriving flights. After collecting your baggage, head out of the arrivals hall and through the terminal to the exit doors. No need to go looking for a taxi…they’ll come to you. Make sure that your taxi is licensed and insured and uses the meter to calculate your fare. If you are in a large group with lots of luggage or sports equipment, an independent driver with a van is recommended. Again, these guys will either find you or you can call an Uber. However, make sure you negotiate a fixed price before you get in the vehicle. I wouldn’t recommend the public DAMRI busses unless you have time to kill. The DAMRI buses operate a regular schedule of departures every day to coincide with airline schedules. The helpful drivers tend to stop at other popular points along the route.

 On motorbike in the busy streets of Mataram, Lombok
On motorbike in the busy streets of Mataram, Lombok
 Horse-pulled carriages
Horse-pulled carriages

Labuan Bajo, Flores

Where to Stay

I landed on Labuan Bajo (LBJ) where I stayed at the Dragon Dive Komodo Hostel for two nights. It was only 6 weeks old when I arrived, and they’ve been at full capacity since opening. I booked them through booking.com at an average of about $14 a night in a 6-bed female dormitory room. They have options for a private room and mixed dormitories as well. On entrance, the check-on/reception counter is on your left, and the large pool is the first thing you see as it is in the center of the property. The hostel is quite large as it spans 3 floors. In the morning, they have breakfast available on the second floor and yoga/workout sessions on the third floor. The dorm I stayed in had an en-suite bathroom which was nice. They usually have some sort of event going on during the day or evening. For convenience, the hostel also has a diving center on site so you can choose to book your dives through them.

 Dragon Dive Komodo Hostel
Dragon Dive Komodo Hostel

Snorkeling and Diving

Indonesia in general is hands-down the best destination to go scuba diving.

Although the hostel had a dive center on site, I chose to walk around town and visit the two most popular and recommended dive centers: Manta Rhei and Uber Scuba. In fact, you might see a Manta Rhei dive center advertisement in the airport baggage claim area. The main street spans along the coastline where you’ll find a plethora of dive centers. Many dive centers offer the usual 3-dives boat trip and the option of a 2-dives + Komodo Island/Rinca Island land tour. I had heard from a girl I met in Lombok that her experience with Manta Rhei was phenomenal, so I had originally planned to dive with them. I wanted to do 2 dives and see the Komodo Dragons, but they weren’t offering that trip until the day after. After doing some shopping around, I settled with Uber Scuba—who are amazing by the way! For 3 dives, it’s approximately Rp 1.3 million (about $127 total). Because I only had one day to dive, I really did some research and shopping around. I would recommend for you to do the same before just choosing any dive center with the cheapest price. Let me tell you three things that I noticed: 1) The price doesn’t vary much (at least from the 7 dive centers I visited)—maybe it varies by Rp 200,000 at most. Don’t settle for price. You might just regret it. 2) Trip Advisor is useful. Make sure the dive center is reputable. 3) Talk to the instructor and/or DMs that will be taking you on your dive. Some of the DMs I spoke to either lacked enthusiasm, were not fluent in English, or lacked interest in my questions. You will be spending basically the entire day with them so it’d be wise to feel comfortable with them. I chose Uber Scuba for this reason.

Uber Scuba took us to three dive sites: Tatawa Besar, Sabayor Kecil, and Manta Point. We hopped on the gorgeous Iona, which is an old live-fish bait vessel that was completely renovated with a large dive deck, toilet, and shower area. It also features a large shaded upper sun deck and a main deck dining area. It was definitely plenty space for 15 persons.

 Chillin' on the upper sun deck
Chillin’ on the upper sun deck
 Bean bag chairs to lounge on
Bean bag chairs to lounge on
 Dive buddies!
Dive buddies!
 Dive group
Dive group

Tatawa Besar was a great shallow dive, although it is categorized as a drift dive. The reef was excellent with many orange soft corals and Barrel Sponges. There are tons of giant trevally, parrot fish, and great barracudas. I also spotted a black tip reef shark and white tip reef shark!

 Taken with my GoPro with no color alterations!
Taken with my GoPro with no color alterations!
 Amazing underwater corals
Amazing underwater corals

Sabayor Kecil is less popular than Sabayor Besar and has a bit more of a current. There are some large boulders where I spotted groups of giant trevally, snappers, a frog fish, and large table corals.

Manta Point was a tad disappointing—only because it wasn’t the season to see manta rays. We dove down to around 12 meters, but didn’t spot any. The dive site is quite barren except for a couple small reefs here and there. Despite the lack of manta rays, I spotted a huge lobster under a large shelf, and a hawksbill turtle as well. As I ascended, there was commotion about 100 meters west of us. A boat of snorkelers were jumping into the water chasing after a manta ray that they had spotted skimming the surface of the water. Later that evening when I sat down at dinner with a group of divers, one of them mentioned that they went on a snorkeling trip in which they saw 5 manta rays! The manta rays actually prefer to stay close to the surface than at the bottom.

Lunch was provided in between the second and third dive. From the port, it took about an hour to get to the first dive site, Tatawa Besar. Then from there, it took about 45 minutes to get to Sabayor Kecil. During the commute, the crew was busy cooking up our lunch in the kitchen. It was beautifully served to us in between the second and third dive. Lunch was simple yet very delicious. After lunch, we relaxed for about an hour before getting briefed for Manta Point. After a full day of diving, we headed back towards the port. The ride back was approximately 1.5 hours. Everyone was pretty much exhausted, so we huddled on the upper deck and took a nap.

 Fried rice with egg, tomato and cucumber, and a side of shrimp chips
Fried rice with egg, tomato and cucumber, and a side of shrimp chips
 Lunch onboard
Lunch onboard

Where To Eat

During the two days that I stayed in Labuan Bajo, I had dinner at two places. The first night, I ate at Mediterraneo Restaurant and Lounge. The food is high standard for the area, and the prices match that accordingly. The restaurant has a great set up that caters to all ages. It has an elevated floor where there are couches and cushions to relax and dine. They have the main dining area on the ground floor as well as an outdoor patio space. I ordered a ham and spinach pizza, which was a decent size for one person. For the island, it was good pizza!

The second night, I ate at the fish market, which is a long line of seafood stalls along the harbor. You can’t miss it. It is often crowded in the evening, but that’s to be expected. I was amazed by the variety of fish, lobster, crab, squid, and octopus that was displayed. You simply go up to the stall, point at what you want and they’ll cook it any way you want—grilled, sautéed, fried…you name it! The meal is typically served with a scoop of rice, local vegetables, and sauces. I can’t tell you what stall I went to because they aren’t any “names” per se, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

 A variety of fish and other seafood at the fish market
A variety of fish and other seafood at the fish market
 Fish market
Fish market
 Crab claw was bigger than my hand!
Crab claw was bigger than my hand!

What to Visit (or Skip Over)

Since I only had two full days in Labuan Bajo, I didn’t have time to see the Komodo Dragons. I was told, however, that the Komodo Dragons were “meh” because if you go at high noon or early afternoon when it’s scorching hot out, the Komodo Dragons lay around lazily, hardly moving an inch. Not too exciting, it seems. If you decide to visit Komodo Island or Rinca Island, try visiting in the morning when the dragons are more active. If I had more time, I probably would’ve done a tour to see the dragons though.

I visited the Batu Cermin Cave in the morning. It was a short 20-min ride from the hostel to the cave. Google maps navigated us a bit off the beaten path, but I think there’s a paved road that takes you there. There was small shop at the entrance where a couple of locals were blasting hip hop music and sitting around a table smoking cigarettes. Past the shop, we paid our entrance fee of Rp 20,000 at the kiosk and continued on to the paved road that took us straight to the clearly marked entrance of the cave. The cave isn’t anything that spectacular. You have the option of a guide showing you around the cave, but also the option of exploring the cave on your own. We chose the latter. There were a couple nooks and crannies we crawled into and often realized it led to a dead end, but it was fun anyway. We saw a couple bats and a cave spider. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but rather a stop if you have an hour or two to kill.

 Entrance to cave
Entrance to cave


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