Beyond Bali: Indonesia's other island delights

Like a dream ... Gili Trawangan.
Like a dream ... Gili Trawangan. Photo: Peter Ptschelinzew/Lonely Planet

Lema Samandar goes beyond Indonesia's popular tourist island to experience some of the country's other attractions.

Bali is the only Indonesian island most Australians know.

But my first visit to our northerly neighbour involved only a couple of hours at the airport in Denpasar before heading off to explore the culture and history of other parts of the world's biggest archipelago.

YOGYAKARTA

My first stop was Yogyakarta, on the island of Java. Despite getting only three hours of sleep our first task was to take a sunrise tour of the world famous Borobudur Buddhist monument.

A 3am wake up call and an hour's drive led us to one of the most ancient monuments in Indonesia, situated in the Regency of Magelang.

Tour groups, domestic school students and honeymooners had all gathered at the break of dawn.

With torches in hand, we walked up the steps to the temple, which is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.

Once we had all caught sight of the breathtaking monument, our sleepiness began to subside.

Built around 800AD and acclaimed by the world as a cultural heritage of mankind, the temple is a kind of stepped pyramid.

The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage.

Borobudur has been called a three-dimensional portrait of the Buddhist conception of the cosmos and the carvings can be read as an instruction manual for attaining enlightenment.

Much of the morning was spent hearing the narratives and the Buddhist ideology behind the thousands of decorative panels.

Yet what everyone seemed to enjoy was getting away from their tour guide and exploring the ancient, giant temple on their own as the sun came out.

Yogyakarta is the only province in Indonesia that is still governed by that area's pre-colonial monarchy, the sultan.

So it was fitting to visit the palace of Sultan Hamengkubuwana X, in the centre of town.

Visitors are guided by volunteer tour guides that explain the portraits of previous sultans, family trees, customs and gifts from foreign dignitaries.

Though we couldn't enter the sultan's actual house or office, we could have a look at his swimming pool and another pool where the water he had bathed in would flow.

Though some western tourists were amused that the sultan's bathing water was considered sacred, it was not surprising considering people's respect for the man.

GILI TRAWANGAN

Lombok has several islands known as gilis with the most largest and most developed being Gili Trawangan.

After a couple of long flights, a 45-minutes drive from the airport and a 15-minute speedboat ride from the mainland, arriving at Gili Trawangan was like a dream.

As soon as we stepped off the boat we were greeted by the friendly staff of Vila Ombak with a fruit drink at their restaurant and bar right on a beautiful clear-water beach.

The Vila is the most luxurious of the hotels on the island but still affordable with the rooms $US300 ($A337) per night.

I was only on the island for a day but there was so much to do and see that someone could easily spend weeks there and still not be satisfied.

There are no motorised vehicles on the island, and the main means of transportation is bicycles and cidomo, a traditional horse cart.

On a cidomo ride around the island we saw hordes of restaurants, several pubs, a movie theatre, a turtle and reef conservation, shops, internet cafes and a diving school.

Some claim that Gili Trawangan is the smallest island in the world with an Irish pub.

We were served with the freshest seafood at the hotel's restaurant and at night the island could almost be mistaken for somewhere in Europe, given the amount of tourists from the continent.

Gili Trawangan is most popular among young European honeymooners and adventurous types who can easily afford a cheap hostel and spend all their time diving, swimming and sunbaking.

The island also has about 1,000 friendly locals who run businesses or work in the various hotels.

Hotel staff assured us they have their own rules to maintain order in such a densely tourist-populated island.

For example, if a local stole from a tourist, they would be punished by having to wear a sign around their neck stating the law they broke. They would then have to circle the island wearing the sign before being banished to the mainland.

I might have only been there for one day, but I couldn't help but miss Gili Trawangan and how relaxed it had made me feel.

BALI

A three-hour ferry ride took us from Gili Trawangan back to Bali.

The scene in Bali is more festive than Yogya and Gili yet there is much more to this popular destination than the notorious partying tourists.

An amazing glimpse into Balinese culture was a trip to Uluwatu Temple at sunset for a traditional Kecak Dance.

The dance is famous for the fact that it doesn't contain musical accompaniment.

Instead a chorus of 150 men chant in synchronisation to create a rhythm and tell a story.

The writer was a guest of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Indonesia.

FAST FACTS:

Garuda Indonesia flies from several Australian ports to Bali's Denpasar Airport. The carrier also has flights from Denpasar to Yogyakarta.

A couple of short flights will take you from Yogyakarta via Surabaya to Lombok and a cheap speed boat ride takes you to any of Lombok's Gilis.

Ferries are available to get from Gili Trawangan to Bali in about three hours.

For more information visit: www.visit-indonesia.com.au.

AAP

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