Everyone dreams of going to Bali, the exotic island in Indonesia, but we were shocked to discover that dreamy Bali is not what it used to be. Now Bali is dirty and touristy with beaches full of garbage. Move over Bali – here comes Lombok.
Bali since 2017…
Gili Meno Island, Lombok
But Lombok Island next door to Bali has clean soft sand beaches that kiss your feet like cashmere, brilliant turquoise water where you can see to the bottom of the ocean, and not many tourists. Lombok is the New Bali.
Getting to Gili Meno Island, Lombok
Lombok is a little more difficult to get to than Bali because you need to fly into Bali international airport first, then take a local plane (Wings Air) to Lombok airport. Before those flights you need to hire a company like Lombok Network Holidays, who were amazing by the way, to get you from Lombok Airport to truly dreamy Gili Meno Island, just off the coast of Lombok. The price was very reasonable.
There are 3 islands off the coast of Lombok: Gili Meno, Gili Air, and Gili Trawangan. Gili Meno and Gili Air are the two quieter islands, while Trawangan is the party island and has some major drug problems.
As you are flying into Bali International, you have an amazing view of the hundreds of islands of Indonesia.
We had to pay $150 for overweight luggage on Air Asia, and again on Wings Air, the first time luggage was a problem for us anywhere in S.E. Asia. Embarrassed, we had to sort and re-pack luggage to pay less of a penalty.
Also, take cash, many of the resorts and restaurants do not take credit cards on Gili Meno and the two ATM’s on Gili Meno island regularly run out of money.
There was a bit of a panic in Bali when the flight arrived late and we needed to find the Exchange at the airport to get Indonesian money. An attendant helped us in a great rush but T was in a panic because his debit card would not work!
I finally got my debit card to work but the maximum withdrawal at a time was 2,500,000 rupees. It was a big stack of bills that was only $100 CAD. We needed $1500 for the week on Gili Meno. I withdrew 3-4 times, stuffing these big wads of money in my purse feeling like a bank robber stashing those fat clumps of money into my over-flowing purse! It was still not enough but we had to catch our plane.
Thank goodness for the attendant that helped us but then he said we had to get to the gate on our own because he worked for Air Asia, and our flight was with Wings. He must have saw the panic in our eyes when we said we had no idea how to get to that gate and the flight leaves in half an hour. He agreed to take us and it was a long long way.
He got us through Security faster, but T was holding up his pants with one hand while grabbing his belt and luggage with his other, as we rushed to the gate.
As it turned out, the flight was late leaving and as usual, the panic was for naught.
Bali International Airport has to be one of the most beautiful airports in the world. I wish we had had more time to admire the plants, the flowers, and the unique signs. Most important of all – Bali Airport is quiet. Unbelievably quiet.
On the short flight from Bali to Lombok, again great views of the thousands of islands of Indonesia.
Gili Meno Island is Remote
Gili Meno is truly a remote island, but worth every minute of the effort to get there. We still had to get through the mountains and then take a boat to the island.
Getting Through the Mountains of Lombok
Two professional and friendly staff, Nur and Tony, from Lombok Network Holidays met us at Lombok Airport, and helped us into a private newer air-conditioned 4 x 4 van.
We had already been travelling 12 hours and we were exhausted. We would have loved to just rest for a bit outside but there was no time.
Every step of the way was coordinated to the minute and we were already 30 minutes behind schedule. It was a long, up and down, winding 2 hour drive through the mountains and thick jungle with spectacular views along the seaside. Motion sickness is one of my biggest issues, but today I also had the start of a cold as well.
The monkeys were cute though.
At one point on the mountain drive the guides politely reminded us that we had only made a 50% deposit and owed the other half of their payment. We explained our cash problem so they pulled into a small village where there was an ATM. Neither of our cards would work. No problem – they knew of another ATM.
15 min later we turned into a town and suddenly we were surrounded by thousands of roaring motorcycles. Crawling slowly along, we finally got to the ATM and our debit cards still did not work. Our guide announced that we will be delayed as we slowly crawled through motorcycles on our left, our right, in front and behind. Apparently there was to be a motorcycle race. Our driver managed a switch-back turn, and we were able to get out of town.
By this time all we could think about was a sleep, a bed, and more sleep. We had been up since 3 am that morning to catch the international flight from Malaysia to Indonesia. But sleep was not in the cards.
Once out on the highway, we found it clogged with motorcycles as well. At least they were moving a little faster than in town.
Further down the road, we stopped at yet another ATM. Our debit cards did not work, but the Visa Card did. We paid the guide, and got more money, but still not enough for the week on the island. Oh, well, we just would have to deal with that problem later.
Off we went again, careening around corners, zig-zagging around motorbikes, shocked to see so many with no helmets, riding double (or triple or quadruple) with a small child in front, and even a woman in full muslim hijab blasting along.
The Boat Trip to Gili Meno
After what felt like days of driving up and down, and flailing side to side, we arrived just in time for the private speed boat that would not leave later than 7 pm. He was waiting for us at the jetty to zip us across to Gili Meno Island. We had been driving for almost 4 hours on what should have been a two hour trip through the mountains.
In a few minutes we would be there. But wait, that little boat is out in the ocean bouncing up and down in the waves. We were to what? We were to walk out to the boat? Through the ocean water? Going through the water wasn’t so bad, but trying to jump onto the back of a boat that is rocking dramatically in the waves in waist-deep water was almost impossible.
The boat boys had to help me get into the boat, and T struggled to keep his balance against the waves to make it into the boat. These boat boys, who were barely 5 feet tall, then put us to shame as they carried the luggage on their heads walking through the chest-deep ocean water on deft sea feet like they were walking through a puddle.
We jetted off in a big flourish, and I thought they seemed to be in a big hurry when we would be there in less than 15 minutes. All of a sudden we were airborne! I grasped the back of the seat as we smashed down with a force I thought should break the boat in half! And no life jackets! Not even one in sight. Up in the AIR, then BANG! Again and again and again.
“Sorry Ma’am, big waves!”, the Captain said.
I was worried on the mountain roads when I felt nauseous, but this was even worse. Up and Bang, Up and Bang, Up and Bang.
The lights of the Mahi Mahi resort came into view not a moment too soon according to my churning stomach and aching back, and we tried to relax, but then it took numerous tries in the high waves to back the boat in close enough to shore that the water wasn’t over our heads. Of course we had to jump into the ocean, and push through the waves to get to shore.
The Horse and Cart
But that was not all. No, no, no. T’s eyes almost fell out of his head when I told him that next we had to take a horse and cart to our hotel. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead, and the way I felt I wouldn’t have cared if someone would just take me out of my misery.
Loved the fluffy wild mane on this horse…
In the cart was a man with a baby and a 3 year old waiting to take us and our luggage to our hotel.
Now there is a trick to getting in and out of a horse-drawn cart as I’m sure you all know. When you step up into the back of the cart, it pivots down at the back, and up at the front causing the loaded luggage to slide towards you which prevents you from getting in. So the trick is to get in very quickly so that the cart rights itself into a balanced position. We mastered this art after only 3-4 attempts.
We were in a luxury vehicle though – it had padded side benches, however narrow they might be. The little boy was allowed to take the reins to start the horse and the horse pranced briskly down the sandy trail along the ocean.
We bounced along the trail mesmerized by the gorgeous beach views around every corner. Occasionally there were a few huts, or a small resort and once a little market/store/cafe.
Later, we turned to cross the island along a muddy water-filled road with the occasional wet branch slapping the cart. I didn’t mind the ride. It was almost fun with the unbelievably beautiful beach views and the fresh fresh air clearing my head a bit. T said it was rougher than an ancient Roman chariot and that every part of his body hurt from the ride.
Arrival at Seri Resort, Gili Meno
Hoping to finally fall into bed, we were instead warmly greeted by Seri Hotel staff and offered fresh juice and a sit down in the open-air lounge between reception and the pool. They described all the amenities of the hotel, asked for our passports, and our credit card.
“What?! You accept credit cards?!”
“Yes Ma’am, of course Ma’m.”, she said with a beautiful smile.
All this time we were fussing and panicking about getting cash for no reason? My careful research had said we must have cash for this island. Well, we had extra money now!
We managed all of this travel by air, car, boat and horse cart in one day. From Penang through Kuala Lumpar to Bali, then another flight to Lombok, then the trek through villages and mountains to the speed boat that took us to Gili Meno Island, and finally the horse and cart to the hotel. It was a 4 am to 8 pm adventure and a long tiring trip – probably a good idea to do it in two days if you have the time.
Villa at Seri Resort
We could not have been more delighted with our accommodation at Seri Resort in Gili Meno. It had all the makings of the perfect honeymoon destination. Not just romantic, exotic, and gorgeous, but simple, peaceful and sophisticated. The photos on their website do not do it justice. It is so much more elegant.
Our little white villa was bright and clean and airy, so in tune with the relaxing surroundings. We slept from 9 pm to 8 am the next morning.
A little bucket with a homemade ladle was placed just outside the villa porch to be used to wash your feet before entering. At every villa and restaurant, shoes were left outside.
Still fighting a cold, supper for me was chicken soup and a chicken quesadilla. T had the seafood platter with huge prawns, octopus and Mahi Mahi – all superb. Most meals were outstanding but we would not recommend the gristly steak sandwich or the fried ice cream.
Breakfast was excellent, but their sausages are actually weiners. The coffee was extremely strong, but there ice coffee was amazing, and even their honey and oatmeal with yogurt was delicious. In this beautiful setting, skinny cats came begging at the tables, and we just had to feed them. The views over the ocean were absolutely stunning.
We had to laugh at their courageous try at a hamburger. “Where’s the beef?”
The Indonesian dishes were delicious – better to stick with local food.
A few hours after breakfast, I was coughing and felt a bit sick, so stayed in the room. When the boys came to clean the room they were very concerned, and rushed back with tea, fresh ginger slices, 2 slices of homemade bread, 4 slices of cheese, butter and jam. Too sweet.
Every day we sat by the pool or the ocean, with an occasional dip to cool off, and everyday T went for a long walk.
This couple in the villa next door were getting married and taking photos. They chose a perfect setting.
The views from the restaurant were picture-book perfect (even at night), the food was delicious, the service impeccable.
Our waiter, and all of the staff, were cheerful, polite and always helpful.
Sometimes they set up romantic dinner tables on the beach with white tablecloths, tall kiki lanterns, and candles. They invited us to have dinner on the beach but the one day we planned to, a huge rain cloud came over and staff rushed down to unset the tables and put them all away before the rain.
Tropical storms are the norm here, as are sudden cloud bursts popping up on a hot clear sunny day. One day there were a few sprinkles, and we all welcomed the cooling droplets as we stayed at the pool. Then the heavens exploded and it came pounding down harder than I have ever witnessed, except maybe in a typhoon years ago in the south pacific.
Now I know what you’re thinking… you would never go through all that trouble to get somewhere. But have you seen the pictures? This place is a perfect paradise.
We would go back tomorrow if we were rich. Perhaps by helicopter though.
Getting to the island was difficult yes, though well worth it. Getting stuck on the island and not being able to get off the island to make our next flight to Singapore became a real concern when a violent tropical storm descended on the island a week later. Stay tuned for our next adventure: No Boats Off The Island.
But what’s an adventure without a little adventure? On a long trip around S. E. Asia to 5 different countries, there were bound to be a few unexpected surprises. That’s what makes a good adventure! N’est ce pas?
Here’s some maps of Gili Meno Island, in case you have the intrepid souls we think you have. Seri Resort was just south of Ana Bungalows on the NW end of the island.