With 2017 right around the corner, I wanted to end my 2016 on a high note with an adventure of a lifetime I would never forget. My good friend Frank and I had been talking about taking a trip for a few months and I finally pulled the trigger and said, “Screw it, why not?” and was able to get myself 2 weeks paid vacation (score!). The next question we asked ourselves was, “Where to?” We only had about a month and half at this point to plan anything and lots of ideas were being thrown out there – the world is a big place and we want to see it all! After doing some research and talking about exactly what we wanted to accomplish on this trip, we decided on Indonesia. Now keep in mind that Indonesia is comprised of over 17,000 islands with around 6,000 of them inhabited by people, so we had to narrow it down from there. In the end we decided on Bali, The Gili Islands and Lombok.
Frank and I are both scuba divers, love the outdoors and wanted to learn more and immerse ourselves in a culture that was totally different from ours in the United States. This part of Indonesia has some of the best dive spots in the world and has tons of picturesque beaches, waterfalls and volcanoes that we were dying to visit and explore. Also, it has a strong link to their religion and it is very apparent within their culture from the locals approach to life to the beautifully built temples that were present in every city and town.
Frank and I went on this trip with no expectations and just a general route we wanted to stick to. I kid you not, all we had were our plane tickets and first hostel booked just so we would have a ride set up from the airport– from there, Indonesia was ours for the taking! Being from New York and working in Manhattan, Frank and I are always in a rush, trying to be in two places at once and constantly on a tight schedule. Not having a set itinerary to adhere to made this a much more relaxing and unique experience and I would suggest the same for anyone who wants to backpack, no matter what country.
Over our two weeks, we visited numerous islands, cities and towns and experienced as much as they could offer us. With that said, I am going to give you my personal must-see’s of Indonesia, so keep on reading and I promise you that you will be booking your flight before you even finish this post.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary - Ubud, Bali
After getting our bearings straight in Seminyak for the night after over 24 hours of traveling, we made our way up North to the city of Ubud. Ubud is a great home base if you want to take the route of staying in one area and just doing day trips around the island. The city has a ton to offer from great shopping to the cheapest massages we saw on the trip. 8 US Dollars for a 1 hour massage!? Can't beat it. But, probably one of the more famous attractions of Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It is a nature preserve as well as a Hindu Temple that is home to over 600 monkeys! I won't lie, I was a little freaked out the minute we walked in because they have warning signs posted to not make eye contact or touch the monkeys because they may see it as a threat and attack you. Great, just what I needed...second day in Bali and I get mauled by a monkey. Once I calmed down I was able to take in the beauty of the forest and it was such a cool experience seeing these monkeys in a natural habitat and not in cages like most of us see them in zoos. Probably the best part of it all was feeding them bananas and having them crawl onto your shoulders to eat them! Some of them are slick and will grab the banana and jump right off of you, but I was lucky enough to find a friend who wanted to hang for a while.
Mount Batur - Kintamani, Bali
Once we had enough of the city life, we headed about 2 hours North of Ubud to the surrounding area of Mount Batur to stay the night. When I pictured Bali, this is exactly what I had imagined it to be. Upon arrival at our cottage, we were greeted by two young girls who only had the basics of English mastered but were so excited to have Americans staying on their property and couldn't have been sweeter. The cottage itself was right on the shoreline of Lake Batur and I remember just taking a moment to myself to take in all the beauty of what was literally on my doorstep. There was not much to do within the town of Buahan, but that was fine by me since we had to be up at 3AM to be picked up for our sunset hike. There are tons of trekking companies that offer these types of hikes and they make it very convenient by providing transportation to and from the mountain from your hotel. Once we reached the base, we were paired up with a very friendly tour guide who could probably hike the mountain with his eyes closed. With just a flashlight in hand, we were off! The hike itself was moderately strenuous, which when we saw sunset hike, we thought it would be super easy. Welp, we were horribly wrong. In total it took about 2 hours to get to the top where we were able to rest our legs and eat some breakfast while we watched the sun rise. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day so our pictures don't do it justice but it was still beautiful nonetheless.
Exploring the Gili's - Gili Trawangan, Lombok
I would have to say, the Gili's might have been my favorite part of my trip and I highly recommend stopping by to see what it's all about. In order to get to the Gili Islands, you must take a boat from Bali which is either a "fast boat" (45 min ride) or the public ferry (6 hour ride). We of course opted for the fast boat which in itself was a party and showed us exactly what we were about to get ourselves into. We sat on the roof top drinking Bintang and blasting music with fellow travelers getting some much needed Vitamin D from the sun. Upon arrival, we checked into the Gili Beach Bum Hostel where we dropped off our bags and went to explore our new home. It takes about an hour and a half to bike the entire perimeter of the island, so you can imagine how small it is. There were tons of bars with great music playing and tasty looking restaurants lining the beaches getting ready for the hoards of young travelers that were about to get their long crazy nights started. Gili T is definitely a party island, which even though our trip wasn't all about boozing it up, it was nice to let our hair down and get a little crazy. If you have no desire for the nightlife, it is also an amazing place to scuba dive and has numerous dive sites right off the coast. Being divers, we made sure to get as much time underwater as we could. The marine life was vast and unique - we saw a sea turtle, an octopus and numerous vibrant colored fish. Another popular attraction of Gili T is the night market. All of the local fisherman bring whatever they caught that day to the market and will grill it up for you right there. Frank and I made sure to make a late night drunk stop and went in on some local delicacies which were amazing. After two nights on Gili Trawangan, we made our way to the smaller island of Gili Air. Gili Air is a lot more reserved and quiet, not as many tourists either. Nonetheless, it was a great experience but not a must-see.
Mount Rinjani and Chasing Waterfalls - Lombok
When Frank and I began planning our route, we had planned to go to Lombok to do a trek up Mount Rinjani and splurge a little and stay at the Rinjani Lodge. Not realizing that they only offer 3-7 day hikes until we got to Indonesia, our plans had to change unfortunately. Mount Rinjani is the second largest volcano in Indonesia and can be seen for miles, so made sense why the shortest hike was 3 days long. Besides Mount Rinjani, Lombok has gorgeous waterfalls near the mountain as well that we thought were worth checking out, so we made the trip. Since we had no set schedule, we booked all our hotels on the fly. While this was fine for every other place we stayed, we were too late to book for the Rinjani Lodge as it had no vacancy. Lucky for us though, the place right next door had rooms and was reasonably priced - score! To get to the waterfalls we had to pay a small fee of 2,000 Rupiah (~$2). It was about a 10 minute walk to the first waterfall, which was gorgeous but a warm up to the second one we were about to see. To get to that though we had to walk over a river twice and through some heavily wooded areas with basically no actual trail markers. Luckily, we made our way there and the minute we saw it, our jaws dropped. I have visited waterfalls before, but the magnitude of this was something I had never seen. The best part was you could swim in the base of it and get up close. The water was freezing, but well worth it and made us feel reborn.
Manta Point - Nusa Lembongan, Bali
To finish off the trip, we headed to the Southern Peninsula and Islands of Bali. First stop, Nusa Lembongan! I had read great things about this island prior to our trip and was dying to check it out. Just like the Gili's, the only way to get there is by boat and they don't have an actual dock or harbor which was interesting when we had to hop off into the water with our heavy backpacks and avoid getting soaked. Even though it is part of Bali, it is nothing like the Bukit Peninsula which is made up of heavily populated cities and towns and crawling with tourists. Lembongan was a beach bum's paradise with long stretching beaches and a laid back island vibe. This is also another world renown dive spot, with Manta Point probably being the most popular. While diving on Gili T was amazing, it didn't come close to what we experienced at Manta Point. The minute we got in the water and started to descend, we were greeted by 5 massive manta rays, just swimming around casually. When I say massive, I am not exaggerating. Their wing span must have been at least 10 feet wide! I had never seen a manta ray up close like this and to be diving with them in arms distance was a memory I will cherish forever. If you are a diver, this is an absolute must-see.
Broken Beach and Angel's Billabong - Nusa Penida, Bali
The last must see I will leave you off comes with quite the story that I will save you the details on but just know that it is a deathly trek to get to Broken Beach and Angel's Billabong by scooter. RIP Frank's phone. Anyway, I had come across Angel's Billabong while researching online and from the pictures I had seen, I knew we needed to check it out. Nusa Penida is a pretty bare island and doesn't get many tourists, but we figured we were right next door on Nusa Lembongan that we should make the trip. I can't even put into words how amazing this was to see in person and my pictures don't even do it justice. Broken Beach was created from erosion of the surrounding rock creating this magnificent cove and Angel's Billabong is a rock formation that created a natural infinity pool that tourists are able to swim in. The water unfortunately was pretty low when we were there, but it was still a once in a lifetime experience.
And those are my must-see places every 20-something should experience in Indonesia! I hope this article gave you the travel bug and you decide to hit up some of these spots on your next trip!