Bali is a lovely place. But the years of being overrun by Australian tourists and surfers have taken their toll. It is no longer the unspoiled paradise it once was. A stroll around Kuta Beach will confirm that in just a few minutes.
Lombok, just a short ferry ride away, is yet to be overrun with tourists and you can still find amazing beaches, Waterfalls and unspoiled natural areas.
I went there after spending 2 weeks in Bali. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed Bali while I was there. After all, I had spent almost a year in Thailand on a very quiet beach. Kuta beach offers plenty of cheap places to eat and sleep. I watched the final 16 games of world cup soccer on a big screen TV drinking cheap beer and consuming plate after plate of nasi-goreng . But it did get old, fast. I craved the serenity of quiet beaches and scuba diving in clean clear water. So when a friend mentioned Lombok, I practically ran to the ferry terminal.
Lombok is not as free-wheeling and wild as Bali. Indeed, the population is predominantly Muslim as opposed to Bali’s more tolerant Hindus. I did some exploring and sitting on beaches and even climbed the volcano, but found that I had swung TOO far to the extreme in terms of relaxation. I pondered a return to Bali or even Australia but I thought why not try out the infamous backpacker mecca called the Gili Islands?
The Gili Islands are just a short boat trip off the coast of Lombok. They became famous in the ‘80s as one of the places to go for backpackers on the “banana trail”. One of the South-East Asian bottlenecks of travelers.
Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three, sort of gained a reputation in the ‘80s and ‘90s as a party destination with cheap accommodation, no police and plenty of illicit substances.
And while that is still true for the most part, the Bali style villas are popping up all around the island. The mix of travelers these days range from backpackers that sleep on the beach to the well- heeled tourist. Half Bali, half Lombok, at least for the time being.
It didn’t take me long to settle in there, I found a dive shop that needed a dive master, found a small place by the beach that would rent out to me by the month and made some local friends. There are many foreigners running businesses on the island, so living there didn’t seem to be as strange as it was living on a Thai beach. Diving almost every day with huge sea turtles, swimming in the crystal clear seas and the odd party with the traveler crowd made 6 months pass in the blink of an eye. It is a little like Bali used to be.