LOMBOK, Indonesia ― It can be hard for some vacationers to find that perfect mix of the rural and the urban with a side of raw, untouched culture. Lombok Island, however, offers all that and more to those looking for an affordable tropical getaway.
Moments after stepping out of the newly constructed sole airport on the island just off the coast of the tourist powerhouse Bali, one can see just how untouched the island is. On the lawns and outside the gates of the airport, it is a common pastime among locals to gather and watch the planes take off and land, and also those who disembark them. It is not hard to see families spread over a picnic blanket enjoying the evening while Boeing 737s ferry locals and tourists alike from all over the world. The pastime has become such a hit that food stalls have been set up next to the lawn.
Often described as the “unspoiled Bali,” still free of commercialization, Lombok offers a glimpse into what the Indonesian archipelago once was.
Just to give an idea of how raw Lombok can be, horse drawn carts ferry people on the island and its most popular tourist destination, the Gili Islands. And although those taxis more closely resemble a donkey hauling a box, it really does take a vacation back to a simpler time.
A view of the western coast of Lombok Island. (Robert Lee/The Korea Herald)
If you find yourself in need of native fare, a trip to the open market, Pasar Kebon Roek, will offer an experience that will be as “local” as you can get. Not only will stares from mid-day shoppers tip you off that you are no longer on the tourist-beaten path, but the smells, colors and energy of the market will satisfy your need for a local rush.
Within the open floor and tented canopy, there are colorful displays of fruits and vegetables underneath the sunlight that pokes through the shabby coverings.
One of the best finds was a tuna that was fresh as they get and big enough to feed ten people. The fishmonger was asking 16,000 won ($14) for the whole fish, which according to the guide was a rip-off. So for those sashimi and seared tuna lovers, this might be a good start.
The market offered other gems as well, such as freshly ground coffee so fine that the grounds are edible straight out of the bag. A kilogram in a little plastic bag will cost about 7,500 won.
Freshly picked vegetables are on display at Pasar Kebon Roek, a traditional open market that sells fruits and veggies to freshly caught fish and butchered meat. (Robert Lee/The Korea Herald)
Other finds included coconut sugar, which can run up to 20,000 won in the organic foods section of department stores in Seoul. Sold in blocks, a single heavy block of processed coconut sugar can cost as little as 1,500 won.
But all this is by no means an indication the accommodation for tourists will be as rustic. In fact, on the western coast of the island, just north of the small town of Senggigi, sits some of the finest accommodation that Lombok has to offer. And although it is hard to imagine that Lombok vacationers will spend most of their time cooped-up in their rooms, Lombok resorts, particularly Puri Mas Boutique Resort & Spa, make it very hard to walk out the door.
Despite being the most developed part of the island, Puri Mas and other resorts in Senggigi offer bargain rates for presidential villas to their budget options. This makes Lombok a popular place for backpackers and honeymooners alike.
For the price of a basic love motel in Korea, Lombok offers an infinity pool that stretches out to the turquoise ocean, full service breakfasts, immaculately kept tropical gardens and friendly staff.
Lombok’s biggest selling point is that everything is a couple of dollars away. With terrorist scares and bombings plaguing Indonesia, hotels and resorts have been bringing their prices down. And the native people have also noticed the dry spell, and the lack of cash that follows, and are quick to condemn acts that drive away tourism.
Lodging is breathtakingly beautiful but cheap, as is the food which is always fresh, and the leisure activities can be had a short taxi ride away or by a quick dip in the ocean.
Lombok is a budget vacation island that doesn’t feel like it needs a budget, but it might be better to jump on the opportunity now, before vacationers turn it into another Bali.
By Robert Lee, Korea Herald correspondent