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Now that you’ve read about the very end of my Indonesia trip, let’s go back to the beginning.

I had planned to land in Bali and make a straight dash for the small island of Gili Trawangan — after all, I was cutting it pretty close already in terms of time to do my Divemaster course. But then I got a message from my dear friend Neil, who I first met when he taught my Open Water diving course back in Thailand in 2009! His last few days in Indonesia would overlap with my first few, and so he told me to get my butt over to Nusa Lembongan — yet another small island surrounding Bali — where he had been hanging out for weeks. Turn down the chance to go diving with the guy who first taught me to breathe underwater? No way!

So I made a slight detour and caught a boat to Lembongan.

Nusa Lembongan Travel

Seaweed Farming on Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Lembongan turned out to be a beautiful introduction to Indonesia. This quiet island relies mostly on the economy of seaweed farming, though their tourism industry is growing thanks to the abundant manta rays and occasional mola molas sighted offshore. Here I found what I regard to be the most true luxuries in Southeast Asia — simple thatch roof bungalows directly on the beach, hospitable locals eager eager to help a lost traveler and expecting nothing in return, and a way of life relatively uninterrupted by the influx of foreigners.

My first afternoon on the island I got a bit lost in the maze of sandy paths and came upon a bare breasted woman lifting a woven basket filled with dried seaweed onto her head. She paused to adjust her batik sarong and I paused to reflect on the moment — the scene in front of me could have taken place a hundred years ago.

Nusa Lembongan Travel

Kids Playing on Nusa Lembongan

Our no-name bungalow cost 250,000 rupiah a night — around $25. The balcony angled out towards the ocean, and I slept with the upstairs doors flung open so that I could watch the sun rise over the horizon while I drifted in and out of sleep. While most travelers planning a Southeast Asia vacation fantasize about moments like this, they are actually quite rare. Most of the islands that I have been to in Thailand, for example, have busy beachfronts with music pounding late into the night and heavy foot traffic in the morning. In all the time I lived on Koh Tao, we never even considered staying near the water — the hills and villages were much more peaceful.

Nusa Lembongan Travel

Bananas on Nusa Lembongan

I had just three nights on Nusa Lembongan, and much of that was dedicated to diving. However, we did take a day to explore what was above land as well. Renting a beat up old motorcycle from the restaurant next to our bungalows, we set off the mangrove forest that makes up a large portion of Lembongan’s land mass.

Several hand painted signs advertised boat rides through the mangrove canals, and we both shrugged and thought, “why not?,” and soon we were soon on our way.

Nusa Lembongan Mangrove Tour

Nusa Lembongan Mangrove Tour

Nusa Lembongan Mangrove Tour

Nusa Lembongan Mangrove Tour

It was insanely, stiflingly hot and our guide was pretty clearly the silent type, but Neil’s running commentary had me in stitches the whole way. I wouldn’t say it’s a must do, but it was a fairly relaxing way to spend an hour — just keep your eyes peeled for lizards and other river reptiles.

Nusa Lembongan Mangrove Tour

Back on the road, we passed a dizzying number of intricate temples, shrines, and gates. This was my first peek at the unique Balinese blend of Hinduism and Animism, and I was hypnotized. I shrieked constantly at Neil to stop the bike so I could take yet another photo of an elaborate stone entrance-way or a small but colorful offering left on the street corner.

Nusa Lembongan Temples

Nusa Lembongan Temples

Nusa Lembongan Temples

At one point Neil veered sharply off road and across a rocky plateau towards the ocean, and I wondered briefly if he had had a stroke. No, he assured me, he was just taking me to a secret spot he had found on his previous wanderings. And as I watched a rough wave crash into the cliffs and spray up to the height of a tall palm tree, I conceded that the detour was well worth it.

Nusa Lembongan Sea Cliffs

Nusa Lembongan Sea CliffsCan you see our tiny blue bike?

Nusa Lembongan Sea Cliffs

Nusa Lembongan Sea Cliffs

Nusa Lembongan Sea Cliffs

Our final stops for the day were to some of the island’s beautiful beaches, where we alternated between shrieking at the cold water (okay that was mainly me) and throwing back Bintangs while we watched others fight with the surf (okay that was mainly Neil).

Nusa Lembongan Beaches

Nusa Lembongan Beaches

Nusa Lembongan Beaches

Nusa Lembongan BeachesNeil goofing around with a cocktail garnish

Nusa Lembongan is a special place. When I left for Gili Trawangan, I was thrilled that I had taken the time to see an old friend, do some impressive diving and see an island that was so very different from the one I was heading to. Funny enough, my upcoming six week trip back to Indonesia will mirror this one almost exactly — I will start in Nusa Lembongan, spend the majority of my time in Gili, and wrap things up with a short spell on Bali. I can’t wait to be back in these waters.

Nusa Lembongan Beaches

Nusa Lembongan Beaches

3-devide-lines
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59 Comments...
  • The Guy
    June 29 2013

    As always stunning photography Alex. It feels like I’m there and I would love to visit Indonesia if it is all as beautiful as that.

    Neil seems like quite a fun character too.
    The Guy recently posted..A Review Of The Renaissance Hotel Hamburg

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      He is pretty hysterical πŸ™‚ Glad that came through.

  • Jemma
    June 29 2013

    Looks like you really had fun swimming in the white sand beach. I like the place because it’s not crowded and its natural beauty is not yet altered by humans.

    I’d also like to try riding a boat in the mangrove canal. πŸ™‚
    Jemma recently posted..Tourist Spots in Baguio City, Philippines

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      I hope you can visit soon, Jemma! I’m sure it won’t stay this way for long, but then we will just have to discover the next island…

  • The Wacky Writer
    June 29 2013

    Your ‘off the track’ travels are always inspiring, especially the Bali ones as i’m hoping to go there next month for a couple days during a trip to Singapore. So the posts came at a very convenient time! πŸ˜›
    The Wacky Writer recently posted..Gandalf Inspired Drinking

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      Ah, lovely! It’s definitely an easy trip to get here from the Bali airport. Just about a thirty minute taxi and then hop on a thirty minute boat!

  • Hannah
    June 30 2013

    Alex, this looks amazing! I had never heard of it before, but am so excited to go now. Maybe we can meet you there?!
    Hannah recently posted..An adventure by any other name

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      You should absolutely go to Lembongan Hannah, if only because I’d selfishly love to see if through your lens and words! Let me know your dates for Bali and Gili!

  • Angela
    June 30 2013

    I’m writing this from Lembongan and I love it here! Been here ten days and never want to leave πŸ™‚
    Angela recently posted..Travelogue // 02: Budget

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      Nice! Neil was there for nearly two weeks as well. I don’t know if I would have stayed that long as my budget for diving ran out and I there’s not SO much else to do. But maybe that is the point πŸ™‚

  • I’ve been to Bali/Lombok/Gili twice now but I never got the time to squeeze in Lembongan! Might have to next time I’m in that neck of the woods.
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..My First Piece of Paradise

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      Well this is my second trip and I know there’s tons I won’t fit in. It’s hard, sometimes we keep going back to the things we love but miss out on new stuff in the process. Ah well, always next time πŸ™‚

  • tyrhone
    June 30 2013

    Great post and beautiful pics as always. I love your writing style. Just the right amount of fluffy descriptive words and lots of substance. Thanks for the read.
    tyrhone recently posted..Around the world in 80 jobs, or “The Bandwagon”

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      Thank you Tyrhone, I really appreciate that. Writing is such a delicate craft. I’m always striving to be better.

  • Jade
    June 30 2013

    This was such a beautiful post to come back to after not having read in a while!
    Love the photos, love the words, LOVE your blog.
    Now I’m going to catch up with all your other posts!
    Jade recently posted..Memory Lane Monday: A Tuk Tuk adventure in Ethiopia

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      Aw, thanks Jade! You are too sweet πŸ™‚

  • Dad
    July 1 2013

    Fabulous pictures. I always like the pix that give you a sense of the atmosphere of the place our visiting, the slice of life not just the postcard shots. Thank you

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      Thanks Dad! I like that way of describing it πŸ™‚

  • Lily
    July 1 2013

    Gorgeous photos! They really made me miss Indonesia πŸ™‚
    Lily recently posted..Sweet as Strawberries

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      I miss it too! Thankfully I go back today πŸ™‚

  • Wes
    July 1 2013

    Picture f. Also, it was a stroke. Also, diving pictures?

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      I don’t know which is picture f….? But the diving pictures come out tomorrow πŸ™‚

  • Maddy
    July 1 2013

    I just looked at the mola molas link – OH MY GOD! Those fish look incredible. I would love to visit Nusa Lembongan someday and be able to witness the way of life so far from what I know in the U.S. πŸ™‚
    Maddy recently posted..One Two Three: Summer Party Edition

    • Alex
      July 1 2013

      I’m on my way back there as I write this, and I am DYING for those mola molas to show up this time! That would be a bucket list moment for me πŸ™‚

      • Maddy
        July 1 2013

        Take pics! Lots of pics! One of those pictures on the mola molas Wiki page was insane – the fish was the size of a car!
        Maddy recently posted..One Two Three: Summer Party Edition

        • Alex
          July 6 2013

          I am sad to report that a second trip to Nusa Lembongan has gone by with no mola sightings πŸ™ Next time!

          • Maddy
            July 7 2013

            Still lots of gorg photos though! Almost gorg enough to make me want to learn to dive. Even though it freaks me out, haha.
            Maddy recently posted..High Five for Friday

  • Alex, this post has gotten me SO excited. As you know, Tony & I will be heading to Bali at the end of July, but I have been planning a few days stop on Nusa Lembongan to do our AOW certification as the diving sounds fabulous (can’t wait to read more about this specifically from you!) and the prices I’ve read are crazy cheap. It looks like NL is a great island to enjoy, no matter one’s underwater proclivities, which is obviously ideal… I’m SO EXCITED to see it for myself, and obviously, can’t wait to read more about your time there.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Discovering the Quirky Side of Taipei

    • Alex
      July 6 2013

      You will love it! I just returned from my second trip to the island and I am even more wildly charmed than when I left after the first trip!

  • Sarah Somewhere
    July 2 2013

    Just beautiful. Never been there but it looks delightful!!!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..How you do know if it’s right to make a change?

    • Alex
      July 6 2013

      You would love it Sarah! Time to add something to your bucket list πŸ™‚

  • Michael Hodson
    July 3 2013

    just found your blog on the recommendation of a friend. Looks great. Will be back to check out more soon. Well done.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..A Cook Not What? An introduction to @acooknotmad

    • Alex
      July 6 2013

      Thanks Micheal! I really appreciate your kudos. And many thanks to your friend πŸ™‚

  • Morgan
    July 3 2013

    What a beautiful post! That boat ride looks like so much fun. I may have to take a detour to Nusa while in Thailand next summer!
    Morgan recently posted..6 Steps to Selecting Your R-T-W Travel Destinations

    • Alex
      July 6 2013

      Bali is actually surprisingly far/relatively expensive to get to from Thailand. Don’t let that dissuade you — it’s totally worth it! — but just be prepared. I wasn’t! πŸ˜›

  • Dita
    July 3 2013

    Hey , I will be in Bali from end of july till aug 5th.
    mind if we meet up? πŸ™‚

    • Alex
      July 7 2013

      Hey Dita! I’m actually in Gili Trawangan — let me know if you’re over here!

      • Dita
        July 7 2013

        Okay, Will let u know πŸ™‚

  • TammyOnTheMove
    July 5 2013

    You always manage to find the most amazing spots on earth. That secret place Neil took you too looks stunning.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Zeche Zollverein – From coal mine to hip world heritage site

    • Alex
      July 7 2013

      Aw, what a compliment Tammy! I mainly just follow my very clever friends πŸ™‚

  • Hmmm, that brings me back. My favorite place in Indonesia for so far. How simple and peaceful life can be. Wonderfully captured!
    Arjen – On My Way To Freedomland recently posted..Photo Essay: The Bright Side Of Dublin

    • Alex
      July 11 2013

      I haven’t seem much of Indonesia despite my time here so I am encouraged to her that I’ve already hit one of the highlights πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  • riri
    July 24 2013

    Hi Alex,

    Glad that you had a great introduction to Indonesia. Nusa Lembongan is one of my favorites, though I feel it is actually quite “touristy” compared to many other destinations in Indonesia.

    Anyway, enjoy your time in the Gili’s. And hope you also plan to do some diving in other parts of Indonesia where the underwater is even more superb πŸ™‚

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      I’m well aware there are much more remote and untouched destinations in Indonesia — and I’m bummed I haven’t gotten to them yet! πŸ™‚ Three months here and I haven’t stepped outside the Bali — Lembongan — Gili triangle. Maybe next time!

  • Fira
    September 15 2014

    where exactly is this lovely rocky plateau? Planning to visit lembongan in nov, would definitely love to find this secret spot.. perhaps you can ask neil for me? πŸ™‚

    • Alex
      September 16 2014

      Believe me, the island is super small and has just one road — just ask some locals, you will definitely find it πŸ™‚ Enjoy the island, November will be lovely!

  • Jan Andersen
    February 28 2015

    Hi Alex – nice website πŸ™‚
    I’m going to Bali or Lombok to do my Divemaster. Would you recommend doing it in Lembongan or Gili T?? I like a good mix of things but Too much party all the time and very young people all over the place like full moon party’ish.

    Thank πŸ˜€
    jan

    • Alex
      March 2 2015

      Hey Jan, I’d check out both if possible and decide for yourself upon arrival (you’ll want to visit both when you are so close anyway!) But as you can glean from my posts, Nusa Lembongan is much, much quieter and more laid back, and has much more advanced diving. Gili Trawangan has warmer, calmer waters and in contrast a more busy nightlife scene. Best of luck deciding!

  • Daniela Marchesi
    February 13 2016

    Hi Alex,
    Great post! I am actually planning on heading to Nusa Lembongan in April…
    I am advanced diver, though haven’t been in the water for nearly two years.
    Can you recommend any good dive shops/operators? I understand the currents can be quite volatile so want to make sure I head with the right operations.
    Let me know, would love to have your advice!
    Thank you,
    Daniela

    • Alex
      February 16 2016

      Hey Daniela! I don’t have a dive shop there that I’m loyal to. I’ve been out with two different operators and in both cases they just happened to be the closest ones to my accommodation and while they were lovely I don’t even recall the names. I recommend checking Scuba Board, that’s where I always head when looking for a good local operator recommendation. Enjoy!

  • Jen
    March 3 2016

    Hey Alex…Thanks for the info, having a hard time deciding between the 2 islands. Do you remember the name of the bungalow you mentioned/stayed in in Nusa Lembongan?

    • Alex
      March 7 2016

      Hey Jen! Unfortunately my friend Niel arranged the stay and I never got the name of where we were staying. There wasn’t even a sign out front! I’d recommend checking Agoda though if you want to book ahead πŸ™‚

  • Tessa
    November 7 2016

    I love how you have described your bungalow here! Would you by chance have the details or know where it is located? would love to look into it!

    • Alex
      November 12 2016

      So sorry — I don’t have any details beyond what is written here. I’ve become a much better blogger in the meantime πŸ™‚

  • Liz
    February 11 2017

    Hi Alex,
    I just saw your post now and it reminds me of good memories !
    I also went to Lembongan and really liked it ! I wished I stayed longer. My all time favorite was the snorkeling to the mantarays organized by Kadek and her husband. I see that you did it too !
    Best,

    • Alex
      February 12 2017

      The mantas are definitely the most amazing part of Lembongan — and there’s a lot of competition! Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!

  • Alex
    June 24 2017

    Hey Alex – just came across this post and love the pictures! I’m thinking of doing my Divemaster in either Gili T or Lembongan, but am having trouble deciding. Have never been to either. Any suggestions?

    • Alex
      June 24 2017

      Hey Alex! Good question! The diving conditions in Nusa Lembongan are much, much tougher than those in Gili T, which I think makes it a less ideal training center. So you will probably have less overall students and more experienced fun divers. Plus, your own dives will be more demanding. I really wanted focus on the training itself rather than the diving, which made Gili a better fit for me. But if you want to go somewhere where you’ll be wowed underwater every day, Lembongan might be the spot for you — just chose a busy dive center! Good luck!

  • Vanessa
    September 3 2017

    Hi Alex, lovely post on your experiences.. so well articulate:)… Me and my husband are travelling to Bali for 11 days 1st week of October and we are definitely doing Bali mainland. However we are absolutely torn apart between the Nusa islands and the Gilli islands… Been reading a lot. Would you be able to tell us which one would be better (in terms of beaches, relaxation, snorkeling and food). Since you have been to both islands would love your thougts! πŸ€—

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