Everyone dreams of a beach/island getaway; it’s a given. We’re helplessly attracted to the seas and sand, and some fun under the sun. However, for us non-swimmers, this could pose as a problem — or even a risk, at most.
But, we can’t help it. We want to dip our toes in the hot sand and experience the clear, blue waters and come out of the sea looking like Halle Berry.
So, what’s a person to do? Do we say ‘no’ the next time our friends or family organise a beach trip to one of the most beautiful islands in the world? Of course not!
What do we do? Say ‘yes’ whenever an opportunity to fly to Lombok and then head to the Gilis arises, of course!
By the way, just a fun fact before we start our journey: Lombok is located on the right side of the Wallace Line (or Wallace’s Line), a boundary that separates the ecozone of Asia and the Australasian ecozone. Here’s an illustration:
What that means in simpler terms is that the left side (Java, Bali, Borneo, and other parts of Southeast Asia) is home to Asian animals such as elephants, tigers, monkeys, apes, rhinoceros, hornbills — our usual group of animals. However, Lombok is on the other side of the line where the land is drier and surrounded by deep waters, and animals are also of a different ilk: tree kangaroos, cockatoos and honeyeaters.
Now that’s out of the way, what exactly does an itinerary for a non-swimmer look like? Let me break it down for you: from a non-swimmer to another. Or, if you’re already an expert swimmer or a mermaid, you can just explore what other things Lombok city and the Gili Islands have in store for you.
Day 1: Arrive in Lombok, Indonesia and Catch Sight of Local Landscapes
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Lombok takes about three hours, and upon reaching the airport you’ll be greeted by the inviting smell of ‘Roti ‘O’ (otherwise known as RotiBoy, or Mexican Bun here). Have a snack if you want, you’re in for a long drive to the city centre (about 1 ½ hours).
Bask in the beautiful country landscape, and heads up if you’re easily carsick — the roads are winding, which can be fun and interesting. But then, you’ll catch sights such as this:
And if you’ve got time, you can visit the Sasak Sade — one of Lombok’s colourful traditional villages for that dose of culture.
Otherwise, if you’re into jewellery, you can go experience the pearl farm here, which is dubbed as one of the best farms in Southeast Asia.
Other options include visiting Mount Rinjani (the second largest still-active volcano in Indonesia), which would then come with the Air Kalak Hot Springs, or Lake Segara Anak.
Day 2: Head to Gilis for Snorkeling and a Local Cooking Class
‘Gili’ is, in fact, the Sasak word for ‘small island’ (Sasak are the indigenious people of Lombok). Here in Lombok, you have three Gilis: Gili Menon, Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. It’s not that far off from Lombok’s Nara Bay but considering we’re literally crossing oceans to get there, be sure to put on your life jacket (not that there’s any immediate threat, but just so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful view without panicking).
On a fine, sunny day without clouds blocking the view, you can even catch sight of Mount Agung. It’s a silhouette, but it’s amazing to see right in the middle of the ocean:
One thing you should know about the Gilis is that all motor vehicles are banned. You either walk, cycle or take horse carriages to get around the island.
So, on to our first stop: Gili Air. You’d most likely be renting a Glass Bottom Boat for the first real non-swimmer activity. Again, no reason to fear, your life jacket will aid you in this particular activity. That, and a snorkel kit. Oh, and do tell the person manning the boat that you’re going to need a guide there, and they’ll be more than happy to help you out.
That was how I managed to snorkel, for the first time, and enjoy it as well. I got off the boat, put on the mask and listened to the guide — a very experienced swimmer. “Slow breaths. And if water gets into your mouth, push it out through the tube with strong breaths,” he told me.
Once you’re familiarised with the cool water below you, just hold on to your guide (I had my hand on a death grip on his arm the entire time he led me around the waters), and look down whenever you feel like. You won’t regret it.
Here, you’ll see the underwater statues. 48 life-sized figures standing together and curled up on the ground.
The piece was created by Jason deCaires Taylor, a well-known underwater sculptor. His sculptures are found in the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and in the Thames.
Remember, don’t panic and whenever you freak out, just lift your head, and go back down again to see corals, fish and even sea turtles if you’re lucky!
Next, dry off and head to Gili Air land to cook up some local lunch.
Rent a bicycle and make your way to Waroeng Alam Damai (open from 10am to 12pm). Choose from these options: nasi/mie goreng (rice or noodles with chicken, vegetable or seafood), special fried rice/noodles, chicken skewers/satay with rice, gado-gado Indo (blanched veggie salad with peanut sauce and rice), urab-urab veggie salad with special sauce and rice and cap cai (stir-fried mixed vegetables) and chicken or seafood with rice and noodle soup.
The soft-spoken chef and teacher, Imadi Sudarma, has been cooking since he was a child but has set up shop to serve locals and tourists the best authentic Indonesian food on the island, and I learned a thing or two from him.
Once the belly is fully, feel free to explore Gili Air, and only after you’ve properly digested the food, you can proceed to burn it all off by cycling around the island. You’ll be surprised at what you can spot!
When you’re ready, head back to the harbour and hop on another boat to Gili Trawangan.
Check in, and sort out your bags (my colleague and I stayed at the Hotel Villa Ombak), a splendid choice facing the island entrance and the lively spots around. You might be exhausted by now, so feel free to relax and enjoy the beach’s lounge area, or even explore the area around the hotel. But here’s a must: having dinner next to the beach during sunset. Absolutely magical!
If you’ve done a bit of exploring before dinner, you might have spotted the nightlife area — streets lined with pubs that offer cocktails at cheap prices. Ah, the island life is the best life! Drink up and enjoy the night before you go back for a restful sleep.
Day 3: Seawalk, Cycle Around the Island & Stop for Gili Gelato
Rise and shine! Day 3 is another beautiful day to explore the island and what it has to offer. Finding an option isn’t that hard, but just be water-sport ready if you’ve mustered enough courage to give something a go. Yes, this is a non-swimmer version but just be prepared.
You can stop by and ask for a paddle session, wherein you don’t have to do the hard work of actually paddling out to sea, but you can instead sit on the guide’s surfboard and enjoy the ocean. Remember your life vest for that ease of mind, by the way. Again, if you’re lucky, you might just catch more sea turtles passing by.
Your other option is to kayak (either alone, or with a friend). The rules are simple: if you intend to go right, paddle left. If you want to right, paddle left. If you wish to move forward, paddle back. Easy as that! Get to feel the waves right below you as you kayak away.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, and if the weather permits, you can even join the seawalk session. It looks like this:
Now, I know what you’re thinking. And no, there are no swimming skills necessary. You can even breathe underwater, considering there is a helmet that you wear that would allow such a genius way to experience the sea life below! Time to get up close and personal with the fish!
You might be exhausted from the adrenaline alone, if not just the energy spent walking underwater, but should not miss this opportunity to again, rent a bicycle and explore the island after sewalking.
Depending on your energy level and time constraints, it’s best to really take the non-commercial areas (i.e villages) so you can check out the other side of the island. (P/S: I found a horseshoe while on this cycle tour — it’s a sign of good luck!).
Not only will you be able to feel the breeze and sun, but you’ll also get your cardio on while relishing the scenery. As a non-swimmer, I consider this the highlight of my trip. Plus, there’s also Gili Gelato on the way – made daily on the island, and boasting 35% less fat and sugar than regular ice-cream. They also say that this is the first gelateria in the Gilis that was opened in 2008.
You can then cycle straight to Ombak Sunset for another sunset dinner, and what would be considered the best spot in the island: the swing.
Fancy a swing at the seashore?
Wait for the magic hour and see how splendid the sunset is, especially with Mount Agung serving as the background. Take as many shots as you can here, this view is to die for!
Day 4: Back to the City for Souvenir Shopping & Sightseeing
If you’re planning on taking the speedboat back, it’s generally less worrying that you don’t feel the need to put on a life jacket. Plus, it’s only going to take about 10 minutes to get back to the city. But in the meantime, observe how the seamen are such experts that watching them navigate the seas is akin to Formula 1 drivers racing down the track. Watch out for the bumpy waves though!
Once on sweet, sweet land, dust off your feet and take a ride to Rumah Langko (also known as Roemah Langko). If you want to catch evidence of the Dutch colonisation back then, this building is the perfect example.
When you’re here, be sure to pick up some beautiful Indonesian batik souvenirs for your loved ones, or even Lombok pearls for memory keeping. Otherwise, prepare your belly for some authentic Lombok food. After all, you’ve got a three-hour flight ahead of you before you get home, so eat up!
Pictured here are mee jawa, chicken taliwang, sate, peceling (vegetables), grilled prawns and sup ikan kerapu. Selamat makan!
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