“Bali Bound Baby!” Are the first words most people say when they book their ticket to Indonesia.
After all, the famous island is ripe with artsy local villages, clean white sand (just like the beaches of Thailand), and perfect beach side bars to watch the sunset from.
Or so most people imagine.
There have been an increasing number of travelers, (like myself,) who have found that the current state of Bali is now far from the serene tropical paradise described in the story books.
Famous Bali destinations like Kuta have been completely overrun with dirty party crowds and the beaches are cramped with hawkers and cheap restaurants. Villages that were once quiet and full of low key artisan establishments are being over run with mega clubs and large hotels.
In general, the whole Island has begun to succumb to the bloated development that over tourism creates.
So, when I heard of a place that promised an experience like the old Bali, I had to check it out.
After an amazing journey hiking up Indonesia’s largest active volcano, we embarked for the small island of Nusa Lembongan from the town of Senggigi on Lombok. The public boat trip was very inexpensive, but turned out to be one of those learning experiences that make you a smarter traveler.
Long after the boat was filled to capacity, the locals kept piling on more people and more junk. Among the collection were giant plants, restaurant grade refrigerators, statues and all sorts of hotel supplies. It was no wonder that the anchor line snapped and the captain lost control of the ship on our way in.
Did I mention we also crushed several small fishing boats during the debacle? The next time we will pay a bit more for the fast boat.
Finally, after a tumultuous 15 minutes, we got close enough to shore to hop out and wade our way in with our bags over our heads. This is when we began to notice the color of the water and the smell of paradise. Nusa Lembongan turned out to be everything we imagined Bali would be, in a small and deliciously quaint package. Here are just a few of the things that made this island a worthwhile trip.
Nusa Lembongan, The Bali Most Imagine but Never Find
1. The Prices
The prices on the island eased our minds almost as much as the fresh ocean breeze. Our hotel, Pondok Jenggala, came equipped with a pool bar, AC, and spectacularly clean and modern rooms for less than 20 dollars a night!
2. The Empty Scooter Pathways
There were fantastically quiet roads to scooter on and discover off-the-beaten-path treasures. It was amazing being able to go wherever we wanted and not have to worry about a traffic jam or a tight space with another driver.
3. The Beach Side Restaurants
On our way up the path, we passed a series of perfectly spaced out restaurants and cafes. This little lunch hut at the end of the path was set quietly amidst a mangrove forest lagoon. It’s chill vibes and peaceful atmosphere were exactly what we hoped to find. As you can see, we also had the place to ourselves.
4. Unique Island Adventures
Paddleboarding through the mangroves was an added bonus to discovering the restaurant! It took me a few minutes to learn how to balance, (especially with my girlfriend riding in the front seat!) But once I got it, we glided silently through rivulets and hidden waterways as the thick mass of roots and leaves tunneled around us. It almost felt like we had escaped into another world.
It’s odd experiences like this that make a place memorable, especially when you can say you didn’t fall on any of the venomous stingrays lurking in the shallow lagoon!
5. Cultural Discoveries
Our desire for discovery was satisfied at every turn on this island, with ancient temples and gravestones appearing out of nowhere. On Nusa Lembongan, it is custom to place umbrellas over graves to protect the dead from the sun.
Later in the afternoon, the scooter route led us along shallow sand bars between the two islands. When the tied goes out, the fisherman collects the seaweed that has grown on their farms. It was a very interesting culture to observe.
6. The Snorkeling
Of course, a mini Bali wouldn’t be complete without some world class snorkeling! It is a shame I didn’t have my underwater camera because the marine life was gorgeous.
7. The Beaches and Bays
Even the beautiful beaches and bays felt like a trek off the beaten path. Seriously, though, we often had to drive on a dirt single track to get to them.
With only a few other tourists around to enjoy the scene, we watched the sunset over the crashing waves and gave thanks for discovering such an amazing island.
Nusa Lembongan was everything we hoped to find in a Bali Paradise. The spaced out placement of ocean side restaurants, the clear warm waters, the hidden cultural discoveries and the feeling of being off the beaten path allowed me to relax and enjoy myself on a level that I could never accomplish on the main Island.
What off the beaten path places have you found while traveling?