Tag Archives: Southeast Asia

The Islands of Indonesia

Our visit to the islands of Indonesia wouldn’t be the typically Bali trip most people do. Lombok is located on West Tenggara, an island which is just east of Bali and the Gili Islands are three tiny islands just of the coast of Lombok. We opted to head here as opposed to Bali to have a more authentic Indonesian island experience.

Lombok, Indonesia.

Lombok, Indonesia.

Lombok is a very local island. It’s busy and poor and almost 100% Muslim. But I wanted local and that’s what I got, so here goes.

The island is large and famous for its volcano in the North of the Island, which unfortunately we didn’t have time to trek, but perhaps in a future trip. We decided to first stay two nights in Senggigi, a small town near the Bangsal Harbour so we could easily catch our boat to Gili Meno.

The huts at Mama Bella's.

The huts at Mama Bella’s.

We stayed at the cutest boutique resort, Mama Bella’s. For about $30 a night, we had our own little hut and in front of the most charming pool.

The lovely pool at Mama Bella's.

The lovely pool at Mama Bella’s.

I later realized I much preferred to lounge in a hammock by this pool instead of heading to the nearby beach, which was filled with locals swimming in hijabs and burkas.

The foreigner end of the beach.

The foreigner end of the beach.

I know I said I wanted a local experience, but I must say being in a bikini in a beach with everyone completely covered is a strange experience, and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable as people were looking at us weird.  We ended up heading over to the foreigner end of the beach, because it was clear we weren’t appropriately covered to be in the section with the locals.

Feeling the night to cover up slightly well enjoying a beach smoothie.

Feeling as if I need to cover up slightly while enjoying a beach smoothie.

In most cases, I would try to fit in more, eg, wear long pants or cover my shoulders, but it’s a beach! I wasn’t going to swim in clothes and I certainly don’t own a head-to-toe swimsuit of sorts. So after a brief jaunt to the beach, we opted to hang poolside the second day before heading off to Gili.

Senggigi is a small area where we were able to eat the local food in the evening and just relax. There’s not much nightlife, which was fine, as we were still exhausted from our crazy travel experience just a few days earlier. Walking through the town streets, you’ll see plenty of goats and chickens wandering around, children playing happily in the dirt and women covered from head to toe. The call to prayers came often and were quite loud, even waking us up in the morning.

A beach sunset in Senggigi.

A beach sunset in Senggigi.

Whereas Senggigi was fine, I was really excited to head to the Gili’s. There are three Gili Islands: Talawan, Air and Meno. We chose Meno because it’s supposed to be the slowest, most laid back with the most local vibe, especially compared to Trawagan which is the party island. Meno is also the smallest of the three islands. It’s also supposed to have some of the best snorkeling and diving, and Jorge was excited to finally put his PADI certification to use.

Jorge and our private speedboat.

Jorge and our private speedboat.

We were able to book a private speedboat over and the trip was only about 10 minutes or so.

Our luggage guy on the boat.

Our luggage guy on the boat.

After wading to the shore with our backpacks in tow, we walked to our huts, the Cha Cha Bungalows.

Our hut at the Cha Cha Bungalows.

Our hut at the Cha Cha Bungalows.

There are no cars or motorized transport of any kind of Gili Meno, which made the whole experience just so lovely.

The inside of our hut.

The inside of our hut.

You can use a horse cart to carry your luggage to your hotel, but in typical backpacker fashion, we walked, and it was only about 10 minutes.

Our huts were slightly inland and pretty bare bones, but I loved the vibe. Our bathroom was sort of half indoor half outdoor and there’s nothing more awesome than an outdoor shower!

Gili Meno.

Gili Meno.

Everything on this island was just relaxed and calm, and the moment I jumped off that boat into the clear blue waters I felt at home. The locals seemed much more relaxed here and many women went without head coverings.

Some kiddies building a raft on a more local beach area.

Some kiddies building a raft on a more local beach area.

First order of business: getting to the beach! You can lap the entire island by bike in about an hour, and the south is known for the sandy beaches and the north for rockier, snorkeling beaches.

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We rented bikes and headed around, finally settling in the south of the island on some lovely beanbag chairs.

Beanbag chairs on the beach? Don't mind if I do!

Beanbag chairs on the beach? Don’t mind if I do!

The island’s nightlife consisted of beach restaurants closing at about 9 pm each night, and WiFi was existent but very slow.

Relaxing in one of these beach huts with a cold drink is simply heaven!

Relaxing in one of these beach huts with a cold drink is simply heaven!

Most of the beach restaurants had this cool wooden huts where you could sit facing the sea and relax, which was super chill.

A watermelon smoothie.

A watermelon smoothie.

I really enjoyed just hanging out with a fruit smoothie in these huts (fresh lime juice is heaven!). Inland is where we found the best food and restaurants.

A local spot we stumbled upon and fell in love with!

A local spot we stumbled upon and fell in love with!

Many people open homestays on their little farm-style properties, meaning there are a few rooms and a few tables and they cook for you. We ate some really amazing food there for so incredibly cheap, I’m talking full meals for two for $2!

Indonesia delicacies.

Indonesia delicacies.

We mainly chowed down on Nasi Goreng, which is like Indonesia fried rice with chicken, Mie Goreng, which is like ramen-style noodles with vegetables and chicken, often with a fried egg on top, and stir fry vegetables covered with coconut flakes (my favorite).

In the mornings, we’d head to the northern beaches by bike so Jorge could snorkel. Of course, within 10 minutes of snorkeling I contracted an ear infection, which prompted a visit to an Indonesia medical center where they gave me antibiotics. Unfortunately, I missed out on seeing some giant sea turtles which Jorge spotted since I couldn’t snorkel for the remainder of the trip. But in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad, especially once I had the medicine.

After a morning at the northern  beaches we’d break for lunch and head to the southern beaches in the afternoon to relax.

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Jorge did a dive one day where he saw some amazing sea creatures, including turtles and a giant octopus, not to mention some interesting fish species like a scorpion fish.

Sunset over the lake on Gili Meno.

Sunset over the lake on Gili Meno.

It’s also worth noting that Gili Meno is extra cool thanks to its inland lake, which is a small body of water surrounded by trees. During sunset, the trees reflect in the water and it’s just breathtaking—better than the beach sunsets!

My three days in Gili Meno peaked when I randomly spotted my friend Laura on the beach! Laura is a friend from Madrid who’s taken the year off to travel in Southeast Asia and beyond. We’d been in brief contact to see if we’d be in the same place at the same time and I had hoped to see her, but I was under the impression she was in Bali and not able to get to the Gili’s during my time there. So what an incredible surprise to see her on the beach! We ate lunch together while she told me all about the last six months she’s spent traveling, and I couldn’t be happier for her. Having the opportunity to travel the world for long periods of time is a beautiful thing, and Laura is a someone who shines inside and out so what joy to be able to see her!

Our return trip on the group shuttle boat.

Our return trip on the group shuttle boat.

The only problem with getting to the Gili’s is that they try and cheat you so much with the boat experience. There are several ways you can arrived: by private speedboat, shuttle boat and the public boat. The private speedboat is clearly the best option because you select the time you want to leave and it’s private, but also the most expensive. The shuttle boat has about 20 seats and is a fine option, leaving once an hour or so. However, it was a bit harrowing boarding this boat, we had to wade out to sea and they almost left without us on our return trip back to Lombok. The public boat, though extremely cheap, is rumored to be unsafe due to overcrowding and poor safety regulations (eg no life jackets on board) so we decided to skip that experience. The main problem is they try to cheat you. We paid 500,000 IRP (about 35 euros) for the speedboat trip over plus a taxi from our resort. However, for the return trip, they wanted to charge us 800,000 for the shuttle boat and shuttle bus to the main town (meaning it would make several drops with a bunch of people and leave us in the town center vs. the hotel). So it took a lot of bargaining and organizing to figure out the way back, and we ended up meeting a French couple who let us tag along in their taxi for 250,000 IDR, and the boat cost about 200,000 IDR, about 32 euros in total. The public boat, which I previously mentioned wasn’t going to be an option as I didn’t fancy drowning during my vacation, was just 9,000 IDR, less than 1 euro, which the locals crowd on to. Perhaps they can swim better?

After heading back to Lombok, we took a crazy drive through the mountains, spotting several monkeys along the roadside en route to our hotel for one night before heading back to KL in the morning, and onwards to Borneo.

Buying a fresh mango on the beach.

Buying a fresh mango on the beach.

All in all, our time in Indonesia was special, more specifically in Gili Meno. However, the vibe of the islands is really different than Thailand, and I really think it was to do with the Muslim culture. People are more disapproving, not as open, and where we did meet some very nice locals, I felt many of them were starting at me shamefully for wearing a tank top or shorts. It’s mindblowing to me that more people are Muslim than any other religion, meaning, more people like that than like me! Well, to each their own, I suppose.

Cheers from the Gili Islands.

Cheers from the Gili Islands.

After working on my tan in Gili, I was ready for an adventure, so it was perfect timing we’d be heading to Borneo. Next stop, the jungle!

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The Beginning: Kuala Lumpur

After two overnight flights, we arrived in KL pretty delirious, but happy to be there. We grabbed the KLIA Express train after clearing customs and picking up our bags which took us to KL Sentral, the main train station. Our hotel, the Aloft KL Sentral, was actually accessible through walkways within this giant station/shopping mall, which was really convenient, especially after two nights sans sleep.

Rooftop pool at the Aloft KL Sentral.

Rooftop pool at the Aloft KL Sentral.

I typically pick a “nicer” hotel to stay in at the beginning of these trips after the big trip over, thinking that after long flights I would be happy to rest and recover in a comfortable spot. Each time I do this, I am reminded of how awesome I am and what a great idea that was, and this time was no exception. The staff at the Aloft was totally awesome and allowed us to head up to a 6th floor room to nap (we arrived around 12:30 pm). Later, upon waking up, they’d move us to a nicer, upgraded, upper floor room (which was being cleaned so we couldn’t go in at first). I was overjoyed to hear that one, we had a place to nap and two, we’d be upgraded! So we crashed hard for about four hours and then headed up to our new and sassier room on the 28th floor, which did indeed have better views. This is one of the many times during our three day stay in KL that I would be so happy to have picked the Aloft, I honestly can’t say enough nice things about it!

We spent several different afternoons lounging at the rooftop pool, just two floors above our room. This was the second time I would be thrilled to be staying here, because WOW. The rooftop infinity pool was simply amazing, with panoramic city views, sexy lounge music and just an all-around Lori-approved vibe. Upon entering on the first day, we realized it was about to storm, and so we enjoyed taking some photos and then headed back down to the room where I promptly fell asleep again. Finally, an hour later the rain had stopped and I had come back to life and we headed to the night market in Chinatown.

The Chinatown night market.

The Chinatown night market.

This is a good point to stop and explain a little bit about KL in general. As far as cities in Asia go, this may be my least favorite, as it seems extremely disjointed. There’s several “sections” of the city that are cool, like KL Sentral/Little India (where we stayed), Chinatown, Bukit Bintang (near where the Petrona Towers are) and more, but in between it’s very odd, with just highways or industrial streets. It actually feels like several small cities sort of close to each other instead of one big city. This made it annoying to get places, even though they do have a monorail transport system and we did walk and use Uber as well. It’s also worth noting the city is not super pedestrian friendly, which is something that is important to me in a large city. It was annoying to get around, there was just so much traffic, and I really didn’t like it.

So back to Chinatown. As far as night markets go, I’ve been to many in Asia, especially in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and this just didn’t seem to have much of an ambiance. It was fine, though, we walked around, got some Chinese food (KL is also a big mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay) which wasn’t great and went home to crash. After sleeping 11 hours, we decided we needed to enjoy the insane pool for a bit, so we headed up to spend most of the day there, which was so wonderful.

View from the KL Tower.

View from the KL Tower.

That evening, we headed over via Uber to the KL Tower to visit the observation deck and see the city, Petrona Towers included, from up above.

Petrona Towers at night.

Petrona Towers at night.

Then we walked over to the KL Towers and strolled through the active Bukit Bintang area where we searched for this restaurant I wanted to try, and never found it. We ended up getting Lebanese food which was awesome, but I was seriously jonesin for some Malay food at this point, but we couldn’t seem to find the right spot.

The Batu caves.

The Batu caves.

The next morning, we got up early to head out of the city and see the Batu Caves. The journey was super easy on the KL Komuter Trains, and we were able to get there with no problems, as it’s just about 25 minutes outside the city. Although it was super hot, these Hindu caves and temples dedicated to Indian God Lord Murugan dating back to 1890 were worth it. They were colorful and huge and quite unique, thanks to their many stairs and excess of annoying monkeys running around stealing peoples food.

A monkey eating a stolen ice cream cone.

A monkey eating a stolen ice cream cone.

One of the temples had  about 300 stairs to climb to get to the top, which of course we had to climb. In the heat and humidity of the day this felt like an extreme sport of course, especially as I was wearing pants and sleeves (temple gear, gotta stay covered) and we were sufficiently sweating and tuckered out by the end.

Inside the caves.

Inside the caves.

However, for me this was one of the highlights of KL, and to be honest, one of the most unique temples I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of temples, but really). As I mentioned, KL has a bit of an awkward vibe, and so this cool cultural attraction really was a highlight for me in the midst of a bustling city that can’t seem to find it’s own personality.

The menu, entirely in...some language I don't understand.

The menu, entirely in…some language I don’t understand.

Once we arrived back in town, of course we hit the pool and then finally found a more local spot for dinner, but not before taking Jorge to Little India to get his head shaved at the barbershop for $2. After a nice haircut, we found a cheap street vendor to make us some Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and roti (a type of buttery nan bread) which was fantastic. The guy spoke no English, so I ended up ordering the above somehow, plus some kind of green vegetable (perhaps morning glory, a common vegetable eaten in Southeast Asia) with chicken which was covered in ginger and delicious. The whole meal cost about $3, so I was thrilled. After spending a lot more on other shittier meals and feeling like I was getting cheated for half the trip, a good $3 meal helped to put me in the grandest of moods.

The next morning, we were headed out to Lombok and then onto the fabulous Gili Islands, which will be detailed out in my next post.

Basically, compared to other large cities in Southeast Asia, KL is my least favorite. I think I’ll stick to Bangkok from now on for my jumping off point. That being said, if you want to explore Malaysia or Indonesia, it is easily accessible and close to everything, so it can be a good place to start. However, for future trips, I doubt I will be back unless I get some kind of insane flight deal.