Review: SilkAir from Lombok to Singapore

I have so many posts in the works I forgot to put this one up before the Singapore post. Here is how we got to Singapore!

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Unfortunately, in the middle of our stay at Cocotino’s Beach Resort I fell quite ill. I think it was some noodles that I ate from the market near Gipsy Beach Bungalows that caused me to get very sick very quickly and so, when I woke up in the middle of night with chills and a fever, my wife brought me to a clinic and they determined that I might have dengue fever (turned out to be untrue later). We quickly made the decision to leave Lombok in search of better medical care in the nation-city of Singapore.

We booked SilkAir tickets quite quickly without regard for price much (although I believe on 4-hours notice the cost was around $275 each one-way inclusive of one free checked bag each) and headed to the airport. the ride was uneventful except that I was feeling sick for most of it. My wife was concerned for me – understandably – and so we made sure to be rested and have plenty of time to get out of the country and closer to better hospitals.

We arrived at the newly-constructed airport about 1.5 hours before our flight was to leave. We were glad to have that buffer time because it took about that much time to get through slow check-in counters and immigration (who were not even set up by the time we got to the gate area).

What really fascinated me was the fact that there was a lounge at the airport. And it took Priority Pass! This is by no means a large airport so when my wife told me that we had access to a lounge I was unbelieving. She convinced me to check it out (this is how you know I was sick – I didn’t want to go at first) and it was quite substantially stocked. It had a number of breakfast food items, pastries, fruits, drinks, and plenty of seats with electrical outlets. The bathrooms were even quite nice and were with Western sit-down toilets (the rest of the airport had squatting toilets to deal with).

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Getting onto the plane was an annoying process in itself, however, as the immigration officials were not at their posts when we arrived. After visiting the lounge we returned to find the desks staffed and we passed through just fine. Then, we had to go through another security check to get into the gate area itself. I have only seen this in a few airports before, but our gate was sealed from the rest of the airport and didn’t even have bathrooms in it. We waited for quite some time for the plane to be readied and then boarded.

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This is where I need to give international regional carriers their due. Despite the fact that the flight was only about two hours in length we still received amazing service – with food, too! The flight attendants were attentive (I was only sort of paying attention but my wife told me later they were) and it was a fairly comfortable ride.

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While it was not the best reason to have to take a flight it was still quite a nice airplane with great service. If the price was right I would take SilkAir again in a heartbeat.

Review: Cocotino’s Beach Resort

After our wonderful time at the Gipsy Beach Bungalows we transitioned to a more upscale place with less charm but more comfort: Cocotino’s Sekotong. It is a resort, of course, and has more people than we had been used to while staying in AirBnBs beforehand, especially when we essentially had our own private beach.

Despite that, it had some nice amenities: a wide white-sandy beach that went on for quite some time, relatively comfortable beds (more comfortable than at the Bungalows), air conditioning, better showers, two pools, a spa, and lots of food right at the restaurant on site. We had a brief snag in one room wherein many ants were found in the covers of our bed so they moved us to a different location that was better suited to our relaxation.

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The food was quite tasty and they even had an “afternoon tea” with selections of snacks, teas, and some cold drinks. I had a really nice time reading on the beach and going for a dip in the water as well as their pool. They have an on-site tour operator to bring people to the local volcano for hikes, snorkeling and SCUBA diving, boat tours, and more. We didn’t really partake as we just wanted to relax and eat some nice food, drink some good wine, and read books.

With one exception: we wanted to take advantage of their spa. They offered some pretty good deals for massages and other spa services so we took advantage at first by simply getting a very comfortable massage. It was probably the most comfortable I had had thus far on the trip (even from Samabe a few weeks prior). You could easily do a couples massage in the room featured below or they also had an intimate outdoor ocean-view area (I didn’t get pictures because I didn’t go over there).

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The place was really quite something. Very different from what we had experienced in the bungalows but also a nice experience. The only snag for us was that the night after our massage I got severely sick. I had stomach pain, chills, and a fever. My wife insisted (rightly so) that I visit a local clinic (one hour away) so we did, and after some IV fluids and debates, we decided to leave for Singapore that day. We cut out trip short at Cocotino’s and made for the Lombok airport!

Lombok: the island for “no stress”

After our sometimes harrowing but always interesting journey to Lombok we finally arrived at our destination: the second and last AirBnB for our journey: Gipsy Beach Bungalows. It is a set of three cute bungalows right on the beach of Lombok across from Gili Gede. The AirBnB description is mostly accurate but misses some important points that I want to emphasize here:

  1. Our bungalow has a mini-fridge and a water dispenser in it. This was incredibly useful to us. We bought food and stored it so it didn’t go bad. We didn’t have to worry about bringing in tons of water. It was great.
  2. There actually is wireless internet, however inconsistent it might be. Since the wi-fi is based on cellular tower signals, if there are any power outages at all, the wi-fi doesn’t work. Out of the five days we were there, it worked four (80% is pretty good when you are expecting 0%).
  3. The frenchman next door, Nichola, is awesome. He has spent time traveling all over the world and likes to chat. He can help guide you on your stay and has good advice. His restaurant provides breakfast for free for people staying at Gipsy Beach Bungalows. He has a set of bungalows there also called Palmyra Indah. They are cute as well.
  4. The caretaker Maesson does not really speak much English at all. His wife, Mahara, does speak some. We used a lot of Google Translate and simple words to communicate with them.
  5. The path to get there from the main road is ridiculous. Don’t even try it with a large car. You need a jeep with 4×4 or a motorbike to handle it. As mentioned previously, we arrived by boat after stopping at a dock 5 minutes away.
  6. ANTS: There are ants everywhere. If you have food, store it in sealed containers or the refrigerator as we did.

Overall our time there was great. We had some wonderful conversations with Nichola, went swimming in the beach outside our front door, and even stayed in touch with the boat owner named Man who helped us go snorkeling and traveling around the nearby islands. He spoke English fluently and knew so much about the biology, geology, and stories of the surrounding region. It was great to have him along.

We spent two half-days exploring local islands. One day was snorkeling around Gili Layar and Gili Rengitt while the other was spent visiting the Gili Asahan Eco Lodge and Gili Gede to see Man’s village. The sea animals we saw were incredible. Starfish that are bright blue, sea cucumbers that were two feet long, schools of fish with hundreds in them, and so many colors of coral. It was amazing.

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One of the best things we did was to rent a motorboke scooter for the five days we were there. We were luckily able to do so from Maesson (although we don’t know where it came from). We made sure to get helmets (even though few of the locals use them we thought they were necessary). We used the motorbike to explore the local region.

We went to the local market on the first day and returned every day after. We found some good pastries and snacks and a wonderful gold jeweler whom my wife bought a set of earrings and a ring from for much less than would be in the US. He was quite skilled. We also befriended a local couple named Samnah and Sudirman who had a small shop (warung) that sold some spicy fish/chicken stir-fry with rice. We had lunch there every day and filled ourselves up with that food + dessert for less than $2 each time. It was so cheap and so tasty. 

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We also used the motorbike to go to a placed called Desert Point, one of the worlds best surfing locations around the world. It was seriously harrowing to get there by scooter – large hills filled with steep rockfaces and sand making it slippery. It took about an hour to get there from our AirBnB, with about 35 minutes of that time on the rocks. It was tough. But, when we arrived we found a number of bungalows, small cafes, and a lot of surfers. The tide was so high the waves were probably 10-15 ft high so only a few dared to attempt the surf. Those who did were magnificent and sometimes were inside the curve of the waves – the “barrel” – for 20-30 seconds. It was really impressive.

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Probably one of the most interesting things about staying at a place like this is the lack of people and lights around to make the stars impossible to see at night. I used my camera and set it up for long exposure to personally see the milky way in the sky at night. It was amazing!

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We were sad to leave our accommodation after four nights there befriending Nichola and Man but it was time to move on. Next time: Cocotino’s Island Resort!

How we got to Lombok

We left Ubud in the early morning in order to travel to our next destination: the island of Lombok. Many travelers to Bali know of it due to the three small islands northwest of the larger mainland that are host to Westerners seeking great diving, surfing, and snorkeling – all called Gili [something]. After reading much about those three islands we decided to take the path less traveled-by and go to the “secret gilis” in the southwest, closer to a port called Lembar.

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We quickly discovered that this was the “off-the-beaten-track” decision by how few options of transportation there are between Bali and that region of Lombok. For anyone traveling to the northwest islands there are a host of “fast boats” (speedboats) traversing the roughly 40-60km (depending on where you depart and arrive) between Bali and Lombok. They take about 1.5-2 hours and cost between $50-$60 per person. Yes, they get you there quickly, but you miss out on the culture around you.

There was one fast boat to take us to the southwest islands but it was unfortunately already booked so we decided to take the “slow boat” or public ferry that crosses the waters every hour and takes between 4-5 hours depending on current, tide, and loading/unloading of the people/cars/trucks.

It turns out we made the right choice for a more interesting experience.

We took a tourist shuttle from Ubud to Pedangbai, the port for most of the fast boats and all public ferries. It was over-packed with people and luggage and lacked seat belts. We even discovered in the last few minutes that the speedometer wasn’t working. Go figure.

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Upon arrival in Pedangbai we walked/rolled the suitcases over to the ferry terminal. It was a larger building with very few Western folks around. In fact, after we bought our $3 tickets (yes it was that cheap in comparison) we met a French couple going on their honeymoon to Lombok and sat with them on the ferry. The boat itself was large and carried a good number of cars/trucks/people.

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As we walked up the path to the boat a few enterprising crew members shouted “porter – ten thousand” at us and we realized they wanted to bring our stuff up the stairs for a price. Since I had been doing most of the carrying, we happily responded yes.

When we got to the main deck it seemed like a large airplane/restaurant with many chairs facing the direction of travel (and a TV which later played Hollywood movies – one still in theaters!). There were also some beds you could rent to sleep on for the Indonesian equivalent of $2.50 for the duration of the trip.

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We sat down in some of the airplane-looking seats and immediately were surprised to find so many Indonesians around us asking to take our photos with them. It was strange at first (who am I kidding, it’s still strange now) but we ended up making friends with a tourist group from Jakarta visiting Mataram (the capital city of Lombok). We chatted with them in a mixture of English and Indonesian by using the Google Translate App (my wife was particularly excited about this) and even shared some wonderful food with them. Little children kept walking by to ask for photos as well. We must have taken about 100 by the time we arrived in Lembar, the port on Lombok. Oh, and the view en route was amazing!

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Before we started this journey I had asked the AirBnB folks we were staying with to send a car to pick us up at Lembar. A day before we left they told me their usual driver would be unable to and that we should be able to get a car from the port itself. To top it all off, we might not even be able to drive directly to the AirBnB because of poor road construction on the way there!

So, we got a car (bargained down from around $50 to around $20 thanks to a tip from the AirBnB host) and drove almost all the way to the site. When we arrived in a nearby village on the waterfront we were told that we would have to bring our bags onto a boat and have that boat take us the remaining five minutes journey to the bungalows we would call home for four nights. It was an odd experience, especially since the person who was supposed to meet us wasn’t even there! Luckily for us, a gentleman passing by named Man (yes, that was his name) happened to have a boat and brought us the rest of the way. We ended up befriending him and using his boat services again later (for another post).

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We arrived at the bungalows to be pleasantly surprised by their quality and beautiful location. After a long day of about 9 hours of constant travel it was finally worth it.

More on our AirBnB bungalows later….