Sunday, 8 March 2009

Senggigi, Princess of the West Coast

Senggigi, named after a princess in local legend, is the main tourist centre on Lombok. The resort area is about 10 km north of Ampenan, and about 20 minutes drive from the island’s Selaparang airport. Nowhere near as large or as busy as its Bali counterparts, Senggigi is a great base for exploring the rest of the island. The pace is very laid-back, with activities centre around the beaches and day trips to places of interest, which are all within a few hours drive from the town. At night, dine in the many restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets, listen to live music at the bars, or dance the night away at the nightclubs.

Senggigi Beach is the large bay that forms the centre of Senggigi, with the main road running parallel to the beach, and large resorts occupying the space between. The beach provides picturesque views of Bali’s Gunung Agung to the west and stunning sunsets with the volcano silhouetted on the horizon. Senggigi Reef, off the pont near the Senggigi Beach Hotel, has good coral for snorkeling and, in the right conditions, some decent surf breaks. Canoes can be hired from the beach on the weekends and during peak tourism times. Local outrigger boats (perahu) can be chartered from the beachfront for trips along the coast or out to the Gillis.

The main road in Senggigi is lined with small shops, tour agencies, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, there are a couple of supermarkets, numerous ATM,s and moneychangers, a post office and all the normal tourist facilities. Senggigi is a relaxing and attractive place to stay, with a good range of luxury hotels and resorts, as well as min-range and budget accommodations.

The Pasar Seni (Art Market) is on the beach between the Santosa and Sheraton resorts. There are numerous small stalls selling handicrafts and souvenirs form around Lombok, as well as t-shirt, sarongs and clothing similar to Bali’s markets. On the beach, local sellers ply their wares – watches, pearls and jewellery, as well as massages and manicures. Small restaurants line the beachfront and are a nice place to catch the ocean breezes during the day, or to dine at night watching the lights of the fishing boats across the ocean.

Batu Layar, on the hill a couple of kilometers before Senggigi, has an important ancestral grave (makam) where Muslims come to picnic and to pray for health and success. Nearby Pura Batu Bolong (meaning “rock with a hole”), is an interesting Hindu temple facing Bali across the Lombok Strait. Built on a large rocky outcrop with a natural hole near the base, it is said that virgins were once sacrificed to the sea from the seat-like rock at the outermost point. Colorful Hindu ceremonies are held here every month at the dark and the full moons, and at Hindu festival times. Admission and loan of a compulsory temple sash are by donation. This is a great place to watch the sunset, with fantastic vistas across to Gunung Agung on Bali.

Tourism development runs north along the coastal road for about 10 km, with many hotels and restaurants positioned along the beautiful beaches that line the entire west coast. About 2 km north is Kerangdangan Valley, with a popular beach nearby and some nice hotels slightly out of towns in a pretty valley. Further north, Mangsit has developed as an accommodation alternative to Senggigi, with boutique style hotels positioned along the breathtaking bays of this section of coast. Furthest north is Lendang Luar, with two hotel perched on the long stretch of pristine beach here.
Mainly deserted white sand beaches, flanked by coconut groves and untouched by hotel development, continue all the way north along the main coastal road. Malimbu and Nipah are two picturesque bays less than half an hour from Senggigi, which are good for snorkeling and getting away from it all. Teluk Nara and Teluk Kodek are on a large bay about 25 km north of Senggigi. All the main dive operators have boats here, which transfer guests to the Gili islands, as an alternative to nearby Bangsal Harbour. The harbour itself is reached at the crossroads in Pemenang, and from here it is easy to catch the public ferries (actually large outrigger boats) out of the Gilis, or to charter boats for island hopping.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Enchanted Gili

Three perfect coral islands, fringed with white sands and swaying palm trees, lay in the sparkling ocean just off the northwest coast of Lombok. For many years, the Gilis have attracted visitors from around the world for their pristine waters, great diving and snorkeling opportunities, and laid-back charm.

The word “Gili” actually means ‘small island’, (making island in the title redundant), and so these islands have come to be known as “The Gilis” by travelers, who have long considered them to be at least equal to the appeal of Thailand’s and India’s south coasts.

Over the past decade, each of the three islands has developed a unique personality of style, catering to different types of holiday makers and travelers. Although the Gilis were previously popular mainly with backpackers, word has gotten around and the Gilis now attract a diverse range of visitors: serious diving enthusiasts, sun-seekers looking for the perfect beach getaway, singles, families and couples of all ages find something to attract them to the Gilis.

The Gilis are small cral island eith sparse vegetation and rainfall, and it can seem much hotter there than on the mainland. This means ther is sunshine most days of the year, even when it’s raining in Lombok and Bali. Water is mainly drawn from wells of otherwise shipped from the mainland, so there is a need for conservation to preserve the limited resources. Be prepared for salty showers in most of the small hotels and home-stays, although the larger hotels and villas provide fresh water.

There are no cars or motorbikes on the islands, and the main form of transport, apart from walking, is by horse and cart (locally called cidomo). There is a good selection of restaurants, bars and accommodation on all three islands, with the biggest range on Gili Trawangan. Telephone and internet facilities are available, and most of the normanl tourist amenities, although there are no banks or ATM’s, and only the larger hotels and dive operators accept credit cards. Moneychangers exchange at a slightly lower rate than the mainland, so it’s wise to change your money before going.

The islands provide ample opportunities for visitors so swim, sunbathe, snorkel or scuba dive with the many internationally accredited dive operators based in Lombok. Popular dive companies are owned and operated by westerners with PADI qualification, and professional standards of safety and environmental awareness. Blue Marlin Dive and Dream Divers are probably the biggest dive companies, with offices on the Gilis and in Senggigi on the mainland. Manta Dive, Big Bubble and Trawangan Dive on Gili Trawangan also have good reputations.

Snorkeling us east in the calm waters directly off the beaches and, although much of the coral in the shallow waters has been destroyed, it’s still enjoyable, with plenty of fish to see. At greater depths and at specific dive locations around the three islands, the pristine waters are home to an abundant a variety of corals, aquatic life and thousands of species of tropical fish, at least comparable to the top dive locations in Thailand.

All three islands have developed independently and at different paces, giving each a different personality of style, and catering to different types of holiday makers and travelers, this means that travelers have a good choice, depending on their individual tastes and what type of island escape they prefer. Gili Trawangan is the most developed and popular, while Gili Air has a relaxed, simple style, and Gili Meno is the quietest of the three, perfect for really getting away from it all. Choose the style that suits you most, or combine an island-hoping holiday to sample the best of all three.

Gili Air is closest to the mainland and the most quickly accessed of the three Gilis. This island has the largest local population of the three and combines the charm of a tropical island, with access to the people and culture that make Lombok so special.
Diving facilities abound and there is nice snorkeling directly from the shore, particularly from the east and northeast beaches. The south of the island has some good surf, in the right conditions.

Gili Meno is the middle and smallest island of the three, with the lowest population. It is not as developed as Trawangan or Air, but has its own special tranquil style. The pace is a much slower, with the laid-back charm of a true castaway tropical island experience. Small hotels and basic beachside huts provide accommodation for those seeking a peaceful place in the sun, with unpopulated beaches, clean waters and quiet walks under the star-filled skies at night.

Gili Trawangan is the largest island and furthest from the mainland, but easily reached in less than an hour by local boat. This is the most famous of the three Gilis, with a reputation as “the party island”. While this reputation refers to the many fun parties held at different bars and restaurants on the island, it is a misleading description of this lovely place.
There is a wide variety of accommodation on Gili Trawangan, ranging from simple home-stays af up-market hotels and villas with swimming pools. There’s a great selection of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes, particularly toward the southern end, known locally as “Sentral”.
Snorkeling is extremely easy just off the shore and there is still an abundant variety of tropical fish species to enjoy. The island is famed for its vast gardens of coral and is one of the best dive spots in Lombok.