Words by Gabbie Lynch
Feature Picture: Kuta Beach, Lombok.
Redgum’s 1984 song “I’ve been to Bali too” encapsulates our nation’s favourite overseas holiday destination. Australian’s love Bali. Some even ask, if you haven’t been to Bali, are you really Australian? The Bali holiday, one that is packed with lavish resorts, cheap cocktails on the beach and tacky souvenirs is a right of passage for many Aussies. Family holidays, Schoolies, Toolies, trip with the girls, trip with the boys, surfing trip, mid-life crisis- I’m-trying-to-find-myself trip; most of us can gloat “Yep, I’ve been to Bali too”.
We love Bali because of the relaxed way of life, the beaches, the cheap prices which embarrassingly invites some Australians to parade around like kings and queens. There’s a rich culture in Bali bound together through the kind natured people, rich history and the prominent influence of Hindu. Temples and religious iconography are dotted all over the island with the ever-present smell of incense dissipating through the air. The coastline is perfect for surfers with warm water temperatures and the rice fields of Ubud are a sight for sore eyes.
And of course, there’s the ugly side of Bali which has only appeared since the flocking of Australian tourists. It’s a major deterrent for many travellers, my family included. My parents have always adored Bali for the reasons I mentioned (oh and the delicious cuisine!) but this year, they couldn’t bring themselves to face the ugly Australian culture that is fiercely alive in Bali.
So this year we flew into Denpasar and quickly jumped on a boat and headed West for 30kms or so until we found ourselves on Bali’s forgotten sister island, Lombok. The first major difference is the religion. Most people on Lombok are Muslim and instead of Hindu temples, you’ll find yourself navigating through towns drowned in mosques. And if you can’t see them, you’ll definitely hear them – five times a day to be precise, beginning at 4am and finishing at about 9pm. The call to prayer, blasted through cheap speakers on the top of the mosques was not a sound we could ever grow accustomed to.
BUT, if you can make it through the constant sounds of the mosques, Lombok has a lot to offer and without the crowds of Bali. The beautiful Gili Islands, where the island dream comes to life with white sands and idyllic waters make for a dreamy escape without the hustle and bustle and ugliness of resort life. Then, on the mainland, find Kuta Beach, an incredible surfing area that tucks into the humming of village life, rice fields and rainforest still undisturbed by developers. You’ll need to get there pretty fast – the place is just screaming for resorts and tourists. Finally, take a trip up to the volcano, Mount Rinjani and walk through rice fields similar to those in Ubud, but without the crowds.
Perhaps the most memorable difference in Lombok was the people. The locals are warm towards tourists and curious to find out why you are walking around their villagers. Shy at first, most people, especially young kids, are keen to work out what you’re all about. In smaller villages, they don’t see many blonde haired, big-nosed westerners walking around and they are keen to learn about you and for me, the feeling was mutual. It’s a special experience and an increasingly rare one in Bali with the ever present Australian tourist scene. Badly behaved Australian tourists have made some Balinese understandably resentful towards Aussie tourists but the people of Lombok maintain a kind hospitality and inquisitive curiosity.
If you want somewhere nearby, with the same offerings as Bali, but without the crowds then head to Lombok; the muffled hums of everyday life, blissful scenery and kind hospitality will be a welcome and memorable change.