After coming across Timor, Flores and Sumbawa, Mataram is your first taste of a 'real town' and a hint of the heavy traffic to come as you move further west across Indonesia.
Upon arriving in Mataram via Tiara Mas bus you are dropped at the Mandalika terminal which is about 5km from the Mataram Mall. The transport touts are a bit of a pain and will try and charge you 20,000RP per person for a lift into town. Ignore them and walk out to the waiting bemo's (in the opposite direction from which the bus came into the terminal) and grab a bemo to the mall for 4,000RP each.
Mataram is reasonably spread out so if you are travelling with more than one person it might be a good idea (assuming you don't want to hump your gear about the place) for one person to wait in a cafe at the mall while the others scout out accommodation in the surrounding area.
We stayed at Hotel Shanti Puri (Jl. Maktal). Shanti Puri is conveniently located close to the Mataram Mall and as it is set back from the main roads (Jl. Pancha Usaha and Jl. Pejanggik) it is quiet at night. The rooms are adequate for 50,000RP a night (fan, private bathroom with flush toilet) but it is pretty hot at night and we didn't end up sleeping very well. Breakfast is included in the price.
There are two post offices, one located in Ampenan near the corner of Jl. Langko and Jl. Majapahit. The second post office is a bit more out of the way on Jl. Sriwijya between Jl. Airlangga and Jl. A Rahman Hakim.
BCA Bank and Bank Danamon both have branches located on Jl. Penjanggik east of the Mataram Mall. In addition there are three different ATMs to the left of the main enterance to the Mataram mall when entering from the carpark.
The best internet place we found was on Jl. Panca Usaha in the row of small shops between the road and the mall carpark. The internet cafe has access for a cheap 6,000RP per hour (about 1/3 the price of Senggigi) and the connection is reasonably quick.
The Mataram Mall which is bordered by Jl. Panca Usaha and Jl. Pejanggik is your one stop shop for stocking up in Mataram. It has a large Hero Supermarket, book shops, pharmacies, timezone, optometrists, etc and for those so inclined the most eastern McDonalds and KFC in Indonesia. If you can resist the lure of a double cheeseburger and fries after six weeks of fish and nasi putih then you're doing better than we did!
The Suharti Sate House on Jl. Maktal has a wide array of tasty sate, although it looks like half the building it is located in has fallen down.
The resplendent green 'fresh tea' Rumah Makan on the corner of Jl. Panca Usaha and the small street running along the western side of Mataram mall is run by a friendly Hong Kong ex-pat and does excellent fish and chicken at very reasonable prices.
Getting around Mataram is best done by bemo as the place is reasonably spread out. A bemo ride around the city should cost about 2 - 3,000RP depending on how far you go.
Museum Nusa Tenggara Barat
Is worth a look with lots of interesting artefacts and examples of local Ikat and pottery. Speaking of Ikat the friendly guide will casually inform you he has a couple of old rare Lombok Ikat pieces that are about 50 years old that he has to reluctantly sell. Your tour will likely finish in his office while he proudly removes the prescious Ikat weavings from their circa 1940's plastic wrappers (just like the ones in the hawker stalls) and gives you a starting price of 900,000RP.
Apart from trying to rip you off he's a nice guy with lots of information about the history of the area and a useful museum guide so plead poverty (rather than calling him a thief!) and head for the door.
The museum is located on Jl. Panji Tilar Negara. Entry is 1,000RP and it is generally only open in the mornings, 7 days a week.
Mayura Water Palace and Pura Meru
These two generally uninteresting attractions are located opposite each other on Jl. Selaparang which continues from Jl. Pejanggik, about 800m east of the Mataram Mall. The water palace has some interesting(ish) statues and is sort of tranquil. The temple is your stock standard Lombok affair. If you've got nothing to do for an afternoon they are a good, cheap time filler (entry to each attraction is 1,000RP per person), although they aren't exactly a 'must see' in Lombok .
For touring further afield you can easily arrange public transport from the Mandalika Terminal in Sweta. We decided to rent a small car to tour around Lombok for the following reasons:
Bus transport is reasonably expensive (at least 60-80,000RP per person for trips to places like Kuta or Tetebatu) considering the small distances involved. Additionally many of the attractions around places such as Kuta or Tetebatu aren't within easy walking distances of where the buses will drop you.
Traffic on Lombok is light (especially compared to Java and Bali ) and the roads are generally very good (especially compared to Timor and Flores). Most destinations can be reached within 90 minutes driving from Mataram. Car rental is reasonably cheap (you should be able to pick up a Jimny or a Feroza for not much more than 150,000RP per day with full insurance), as is petrol. In 5 days touring we spent about 100,000RP on petrol.
If craft shopping is on your itinerary the definitely take your own transport. Sukarara (Ikat) and Penujak (Pottery) are a couple of km off the main bus routes.
Whatever you do don't go on a shopping tour or take a driver as this will immediately add between 30 and 50% to the cost of your purchases in the form of kick-backs for your guide, who you absolutely do not need.
The roads are quite well signposted in Lombok and if you can make your way from Dili to Mataram you are perfectly capable of finding a small village off the highway 25 minutes away by car! Grab a road map, memorise the phrase 'permisi, ma'af, dimana ada jalan ke (your destination)' and you'll be fine.
Sukarara is the home of Ikat weaving on Lombok . The more traditional plain chequered styles are being superceded by more gaudy creations (which is great if you like colour!) and you can see the women working the weaving looms outside the Ikat shops.
Bargaining hard but 'nice' is the best way to get a good price here. Sit down and have a coffee (and maybe a boiled sweet potato) with the guys that run the store before you get down to business. If there is anyone shopping as part of a guided group then wait until they've left unless you want to pay their grossly inflated prices (like the two Germans I watched hand over 800,000RP for a single piece). A plainish looking chequered Ikat should cost a bit more than 100,000RP. Expect to pay more for more complicated designs.
To get to Sukarara drive south east out of Mataram along Jl. Tgh Faisal and follow the signposts to Praya. About 2km before Praya is the small town of Payung . Take the unmarked turn off on the right hand side in the 'middle of town' and drive about 1km down the lane until you hit Sukarara.
Penujak is to pottery what Sukarara is to Ikat weaving. Once you've crossed the bridge into the village park up and head for the warren of houses along the water front (although someone will more than likely offer to show you round within about 20 seconds of you stepping out of your car). Here you can see the village women making pottery in a variety of shapes and sizes. Head further along the river bank away from the bridge to where they fire the pottery in the straw fired kilns.
The pottery we found was very pretty and stupidly cheap, so we didn't bother bargaining. For example we got rattan edged ceramic coasters for 5,000RP each and large rattan edged salvers for 25,000RP each, which traslates to a bit less than $2.80US at the time of writing.
Before you get too carried away remember that Lombok pottery is pretty sturdy stuff (the shop girl dropped a ceramic napkin ring which bounced half a dozen times and didn't even chip). The downside is that while it is pretty much guaranteed to survive the rigors of Indonesia Post if you want to send it home, it's a reasonably expesive exercise. A bit less than 2kg sent by registered post to New Zealand set us back about 400,000RP!
To get to Penujak drive south east out of Mataram along Jl. Tgh Faisal and follow the road to Praya. At Praya take the turn off to Kuta and follow the road another 2km through Batujai, and across the large steel bridge into Penujak.
The similarities between Kuta Lombok and the more infamous Kuta Bali end at the name. Kuta Lombok is a sleepy surfing resort about 60km south east of Mataram on the coast. To get here, again drive south east out of Mataram along Jl. Tgh Faisal and head towards Praya. At Praya take the turn off to Kuta, drive through Penujak and follow the numerous Novotel Lombok Coralia signs to the beachfront. The road is in excellent condition and the trip shouldn't take much more than an hour.
There are a number of resorts along the beach front offering bungalow style accommodation and more extensive rooms starting from about 40,000RP for a bungalow with double bed, mosquito net and mandi bathroom with shower. We stayed at Anda Cottages and Restaurant which has a peaceful garden setting and clean rooms.
The restaurant has a good selection and does excellent pizza, although you may wish to avoid the gado-gado unless you're up for a brutal dose of food poisoning.
The main beach at Kuta is okay at high tide, but turns into a massive tidal mud flat at low tide. There are only a few kids selling trinkets and you will be generally left alone to go for a stroll. Get the kids to show you the numerous sea snakes hiding in the rock crevices at low tide.
The best beaches are further west around the coast at Mawan and Selong Blanak, although you will need your own car or to rent a motorbike to get out there.
Some of the more 'enterprising' locals appear to have a habit of throwing up imprompteau 'road blocks' across some of the roads to the beaches and try and bilk a ridiculous 10,000RP out of you for the pleasure of using a public road.
How much you pay is generally decided by how good you are at bargaining, although as these 'toll booths' are apparently illegal, if they are being deliberately obstructive you could go off road if you have a good enough 4wd vehicle and it's the dry season.
The loop road through Mawai, Keling, Mangkung, Sengkol and back to Kuta is a plesant drive with good scenery, although the road is a bit rough in places and quite steep.
Tetebatu is a very pretty mountain town on the lower slopes of Mt. Rinjani .
To get here from Mataram head down Jl. Penjanggik and turn down onto Jl. Tumpang Sari. From here head east along the main road through Kopang, Terata and Sikur until you hit Pomotong. In Pomotong head towards Kesik and drive through Rungkang and Kotaraja until you hit Tetebatu.
We stayed in two places in Tetebatu, the Soedjono Hotel at the far end of the of the village and Green Orry which is 200m down the last right hand turn off as you drive through Tetebatu towards the access road to the 'Monkey Forest' and the Soedjono Hotel.
The Soedjono Hotel has excellent large, clean well lit rooms that are tastefully furnished for 100,000RP per night, including breakfast.
These superior rooms come with a european style bathroom and hot water (assuming the boiler is behaving itself). The hotel has a great restaurant, a large pool and the superior rooms have balconies with great views. The hotel also has guides (ask for Andy) to the local area which you should be able to get for about 40,000RP for an afternoon and will most likely take you to their home for lunch and coffee (if they do you should probably give them another 15-20,000RP above what you agreed on).
Green Orry has adequate rooms with Aircon and bathrooms that could do with a bit of a scrub for about 80,000RP including tax and breakfast in their massive, but empty restaurant.
Eating in Tetebatu is pretty limited. The restaurant at the Soedjono Hotel has the best atmosphere and prices. It also has a small pack of very cute dogs who will watch every morsel of food move between your plate and your mouth.
There are also several smaller Rumah Makan along the main road between the Soedjono Hotel and the main part of the village. The food isn't exceptional (it's not terribly good value either) and due to the lack of tourists at the moment it's likely you'll be the only guests.
One of the big drawcards to Tetebatu is trekking to the summit of Mt. Rinjani, although Senaru on the Northern Aspect of Rinjani is probably the more popular base and better setup for trekking. Ask at the tourist office in the village for trekking information.
Waterfalls, Tobacco and the Monkey Forest
We got a guide for 45,000RP for five hours to tour around these local attractons. Air Tejun Jukat is a largeish waterfall about a 15-minute drive out of Tetebatu. Entry to the park is 2,000RP each and it costs 4,000RP to park your car. From the carpark follow the trail for an easy 20-minute walk up to the waterfall which is in a large basin with hanging vines.
Attraction number 2 around Tetebatu is the tobacco hanging and drying houses. The big kretek cigarette companies Sampoerna and Gudang Garam source a large percentage of their tobacco from the Tetebatu area, which has a climate ideally suited to high nicotine content tobacco leaf. Your guide will know where to go and if so inclined you may be able to sample some of the local product.
The 'monkey forest' is the third major attraction in the area, or at least it was. About 6 months the Kepala Desa got permission to clear the forest and convert the land into intensive gardens which were distributed to landless villagers.
Whilst this was very good news for the villagers it wasn't such good news for the monkeys who appear to have decamped for somewhere with fewer farmers determined to protect their crops.
Although you probably won't see any monkeys (unless they are doing one of their regular garden raids) the walk through the gardens is very pretty and it is interesting to watch the farmers at work in their immaculately kept undulating fields set against the backdrop of the mountain.
Senggigi is your first taste of mass tourism 'Indonesian style' as you move from east to west across the archipelago.
To get to Senggigi from Mataram head to the Kebon Roek Bemo terminal in Ampenan. You should be able to get a bemo to Senggigi (which is 10km up the coast) for 5,000RP per person (including your luggage). Ignore touts who want to charge you 20,000RP each for the trip. If there are 3 or 4 of you travelling to Senggigi, a taxi (which will cost about 20 - 25,000RP) is a good alternative if you are sick of bemo's.
Senggigi may once have been a booming tourist town, but there appears to be a definite downturn in tourism, meaning that there are plenty of empty rooms and as such reasonably flexible prices.
The more traditional 'budget backpacker' options are set back on the side of the hill away from the beach and generally start at about 80,000RP for a basic room. Bearing in mind there isn't much else to do in Senggigi than eat, drink and laze about on the beach we figured that we might as well pay a bit more and stay somewhere nice with a beach front location.
The Mascot Berugaq Elan Beach Cottages advertise rooms from 200,000RP (low season prices) but we managed to get a large bungalow room with huge double bed (and the mattress actually has springs rather than foam!) aircon, tv, hot and cold running water, flush toilet and private balcony for 150,000RP including tax.
Although it is a bit more expensive than the backpacker options the hotel has a large beach front garden. This means that you can recline on the loungers safe from the attention of the hawkers on the beach, leave your gear under the safe watch of the hotel security guys and dip out for a swim when the coast is clear and then head back to your book having ordered a fresh juice from the restaurant.
For an extra 50 - 60,000RP a night the great room (which is serviced with fresh linen and towels daily) and beach front location is more than worth the extra cash, especially when you consider places like The Mascot were going for about $50US a night about 5 years ago.
There aren't any banks (well there might be but we didn't see any) in Senggigi although there is an ATM just before the Post Office on Jl. Raya Senggigi. There are also a horde of money changers along Jl. Raya Senggigi that offer rates varying from excellent to criminal.
Be sure to do your own calculations (preferrably on your own calculator) and count your cash carefully before handing over your travellers cheques or cash at money changers. Also check that their advertised rates include all commissions and fees. The standard rule applies, if a rate looks too good be true than you can bet there's a scam involved somewhere along the line.
There are several internet places scattered along Jl. Raya Senggigi. Rates here are between 3 and 4x what you pay in Mataram and they charge all sorts of ridiculous fees for using usb ports (even when you bring your own cables) and up to 30,000RP to burn a CD. If you need to backup data or photos do it in Mataram.
There are more restaurants than diners in Senggigi, and as a result a number have closed up shop, especially those a bit further off the main drag out towards the Sheraton and beyond. The two most popular places are Papaya and Taman, both of which are centrally located on Jl. Raya Senggigi.
Senggigi is not the place to get into Indonesian food, as a plate of Nasi Ayam is going to cost you nearly as much as a seafood pizza or chicken burger with salad and fries, although there are two cheaper warung at the far end of Jl. Raya Senggigi past the post office that are open during the evenings.
Papaya is a good place to have a few drinks (with a buy two get one free deal for small Heineken and Bintang) and 'crazy papaya time' with buy one get one free drinks from 9 - 9.30pm.
Taman is the most popular dining spot in town and they have heaps of hawkers handing out 10% discount cards (which basically means you don't pay their 10% service charge, just the 10% government tax). Taman is a two level restaurant set around a garden with a fountain. It has a relaxed atmosphere, live jazz at night and hordes of super attentive staff. If you arrive after the jazz starts at 9pm you get a free cocktail.
Mains at both Papaya and Taman kick off at about 25,000RP and move rapidly upwards from there. There are a host of slightly cheaper places along Jl. Raya Senggigi, but the 30,000RP you might save by eating there doesn't make up for the inferior atmosphere.
Senggigi is primarily a beach and eat destination, but some people use it as a base to tour around the northern aspect of Mt. Rinjani and you can arrange day trips out to Senaru and beyond, although being a bit of a tourist trap the tours are a bit on the expensive side.
The Gili Islands
There are three islands in the Gili group, Gili Trawangan (the largest and known as the party island) and the smaller Gili Meno (complete with an apparently mosquito-infested lake) and Gili Air.
Each of the islands has excellent beaches although due to the currents and tides the snorkelling is inferior to Flores .
Bangsal is the gateway to the Gili Islands . It's also the home to some of the most crooked, lying and cheating Indonesians you are likely to meet.
Bemo's, buses and travel cars stop at the bemo terminal at the start of the road to Bangsal. Within seconds out of being out of the car you get rushed by a dozen guys flogging everything from overpriced ferry tickets, cigarettes for 15,000RP a packet (because they are 25,000RP on the islands, honest), mosquito coils (because you can't get them on the islands) and a chidomo ride to the ferry terminal for 5,000RP per person.
Ignore everything they say, grab your bags and walk 300m down the paved road to the ferry terminal. The only person you should buy a ticket from is the ticket booth attendant and it should cost you 5,500RP for a one way trip. Boats generally leave every 30 minutes or so from 8am until mid afternoon.
We made the mistake of buying a bus ticket from Senggigi to Gili Trawangan for 40,000RP each. The smarter option (in retrospect) would be to jump in a bemo (expect to pay about 7 - 10,000RP each for the trip) to Bangsal and then buy a ticket at the port. Wear shorts and jandals (thongs / sandals etc) as you will have to wade a short distance out to the waiting boat.
The boat trip to Gili Trawangan takes about 25 minutes in a small single hulled boat. Make sure your eletronic gear is well protected as the ride out (and back) can be a bit hairy if there is a swell running, especially in the afternoon.
The boat arrives at the small terminal on Gili Trawangan where you have to wade ashore with your gear. You will be met by a few pretty relaxed guys who will offer to take you to their hotel for only 10,000RP and give you a cheap price on a room. Gili Trawangan is a very small island and even the most far flung accommodation can be reached in less than 20 minutes walk.
If you are travelling in a pair or group get someone to guard your gear at the terminal while the others go off and look for a room.
There is a large selection of accommodation on Gili Trawangan from the expensive dive resorts to cheap losmen. We stayed at Flush Bungalows which is about 5 minutes walk north along the coast road, just before Trawangan Dive. Flush bungalows is run by a very friendly lady named Nora who does a slap up 5 course meal for her guests at a very reasonable 25,000RP per head. There are two loft bungalows and one ground floor room. The loft bungalows are large and airy, with a big double bed and western bathroom. The best feature is the large french doors that open out onto a big balcony that has the best beach views of any accommodation we saw on the island.
We negotiated a price of 80,000RP per night (down from 120,000RP per night) for a 5-night stay. The bungalows are wonderfully cool at night due to the breeze coming in from the ocean and there doesn't appear to be much in the way of mosquito activity. The only downside to Flush bungalows is its close proximity to the local mosque, but despite an early wakeup call it is a fantastic place to relax for a few days, and is directly across from the main beach.
There are no banks or post office on Gili Trawangan. There are a large number of money changers but their rates are usually not terribly good compared to Senggigi or Mataram, so bring plenty of cash.
There are a number of internet places scattered along the main drag close to the ferry terminal, prices are generally 400RP/minute and connection speeds vary widely so shop around.
For the so called 'party island' Gili Trawangan is pretty quiet in September, even though it remains largely unaffected by the rains that start to hit Lombok. There is a string of bars and restaurants on the beachfront south of the ferry terminal, the cheaper places are generally north of the ferry terminal close to where the sleazy rasta guys hang out. These guys are a minor annoyance, hassling people to buy ganja or mushrooms, get a tattoo and trying (sometimes a little aggressively) to pick up western girls.
Being a backpackers' island there are lots of bars scattered along the waterfront. Horizontal is a schmancy new addition to the bar scene a few minutes walk north of the terminal. The decor is well done and the bar staff, although strangely named (we met guys called Bagus and Pineapple....apparently because he's spiny on the outside but really sweet inside) are slick and very friendly. The same sadly, can't be said for the British owners / managers who are generally reluctant to give you as much as the time of day. Being the slickest bar on the island the spirits are reasonably expesive (most cocktails are about 40,000RP) but the draft bintang is pretty good value at 10,000RP for a 300mL mug.
The beachfront bar at dream divers did excellent baguettes and reasonably priced drinks with excellent service. The Tra La Lounge further down the beach has without a doubt the laziest and least attentive staff in Indonesia and the food and drinks is expensive, even by Gili standards. This is a real shame as the Tra La Lounge has one of the best locations on the island.
There are three secluded losmen with beachfront restaurants on the northern aspect of the island, about five minutes walk past the electricity station. If you are after a quiet lunch and a swim then this is the place to head. You can get excellet wood fired pizza for 25,000RP and all three places do fantastic fresh iced juices.
The big bar on the island is the Tir Na Nog Irish Bar. It has an extensive food and drink menu, and often runs nightly drink specials. The only downside is that during September its large size and small crowds tend to give it a empty feel. Tir Na Nog is at the southern end of the main bar and restaurant strip.
Relax, have some lunch, a swim and maybe a beer is the prevailing theme on Gili Trawangan.
If you are up for something a little more active there are about half a dozen dive centres on the island offering all levels of PADI training as well as fun dives.
There are also a few places along the main strip that will hire mountain bikes (in various states of disrepair) for 15,000RP each for about 4 hours. 4 hours is more than enough time to cycle around the island, check out a couple of the more isolated beaches and stop somewhere for lunch along the way. If you do intend to go around the island avoid going around the middle of the day as the road is quite hard going in places and the noon day sun doesn't make the sandy stretches any easier.
Beautiful Life Cafe on the main drag has movies on a large projector screen at 7pm and 9.30pm nightly. To qualify for the movie you are only required to buy a drink or a meal. They also have private movie booths on the beach front where you can select your favourite film from a list of about 100 DVDs. The only requirement is that each person orders 30,000RP worth of food or drinks.
There are a number of companies that run snorkelling tours around the three islands and you can take a 'glass bottomed boat' tour if getting wet isn't your thing.
If you like sunsets then there is a small hill that you can climb. Walk around the coast past the Sunset Cottages and take the path up the hill to your right.
This journey is another example of 'we'd do things differently' were we to do the trip a second time. We brought tickets to Denpasar from a ticket agency in Senggigi (the one operating out of the 'tourist information centre' on the left hand side of Jl. Raya Senggigi up towards Taman Restaurant) for 100,000RP each, basically in an attempt to try and save a little time and hassle.
The ticket included the ferry trip back to the mainland from Gili Trawangan, the bus to Denpasar then onto the port at Lembar, the ferry to Padangbai and then the final bus to Denpasar.
If I were to do the trip again and I had a bit more time I would at least make my own way to the Mandalika Terminal in Mataram and arrange onward transport from there. We took the 8.30am boat from the terminal on Gili Trawangan to Bangsal. The bus that met us in Bangsal was smaller than promised and of course the drivers attempted to cram far more people than comfortable into it, and got pretty pissed off when we refused to pack in another local guy into a space only fit for two people at most.
After the obligatory messing around stop in Mataram we continued on to the port and got onto the ferry with relatively few hassles. However this wasn't the case at the Bali end and serves as a prime example of why paying before you arrive isn't a very good idea.
We were messed around at Padangbai for a good 45 minutes while the drivers divied up the passengers into the smallest number of buses possible and as soon as we reached Senaru the driver informed that he wasn't going to Denpasar anymore and we would have to take a taxi. To cut a long story short we managed to cajole the guy into taking us into Denpasar proper and he was decidedly unhappy when we refused to pay him any more for his 'help'.
Subsequetly we found out that this is pretty common practice, and most 'tourist buses' terminate in Kuta or Senaru even if you have a ticket to Denpasar.
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