Lembongan Island is one of three islands just off the southeast coast of Bali (Ceningan and Penida being the others). Lembongan is a popular spot for surfers and scuba divers seeking an alternative to the sometimes crowded beaches of Kuta or Jimbaran. It has its own resorts and sandy beaches for those who are really looking for an island escape. For me, however, it was an opportunity to walk amongst some of the truly native Balinese villages, further away from the glamour and glitter of the tourist traps on the main island. For while Lemongan's resorts sit on the southern part of the island, I instead combed the northern half where the locals resided.
Unquestionably, there are great differences between the two halves of the island, as a quick survey of the beaches would point out. The beaches in the south were manicured and cleaned, likely bolstered with imported sand. The beaches in the northwest, where I walked, were left "as is", with the more natural pebbly-sand, loads of washed-ashore seaweed, and (unfortunately) washed-ashore garbage. The buildings were obviously weather-beaten.
The first photo shows the main road of the first village I visited. It was clear that this village was not accustomed to seeing visitors, as there were no stores or facilities catering to tourism. The markets shown in the right side of the photo were very basic, no frills. I saw no cars, just motorbikes, and the village had a motorbike garage made out of a few sheets of plywood and a tin roof.
There was a somewhat surprising disparity of the living quarters within the village, and I have to presume that it reflects the differences between those who run tourism-related businesses versus those who work in them. The former owned several very handsome brick compounds with freshly painted houses and colorful Hindu temples adjacent to grimy, ramshackle huts that probably housed the latter. The second photo showed a temple underneath a very beautiful tree that I encountered at the corner of the main road.
Beyond this village, there wasn't much of anything. The road stretched ahead parallel to the coast, with an occasional house here or there. It wasn't until the northwest corner that we came across any other tourist facilities -- a money changer and a bike rental shop (whose bikes looked as weatherbeaten as the shorefront).
Coming back along the beach, I encountered the scene in the third photo -- two girls (and their father, off the photo to the right) picking worms out of the sand in front of a host of fishing boats. Apart from the income from the tourist industry, the Lembongans impressed me as being subsistance fishers, and this family was likely gathering bait for that night's expedition. My travel companion told me that the Balinese typical do their fishing at night, staying out until the following morning.
I was fascinated by the method they were using to pull out the worms, though I couldn't figure out how it works. The pails contained a small amount of sea water, that they used to sprinkle over the pebbly sand with their hands. In an instant, they were able to tell where a worm was hiding and they would immediately dig into the sand with their free hand and yank the worm out from the end. The sand was absolutely full of worms, the trio was pulling them out one every ten centimeters or so!
I followed the coastline back to the original beach as the clouds began to clear over Bali. The fourth photo gives a hint of the scenery normally available to Lembongan. The huge mountain emerging from the fog is Mount Agung, the tallest volcano on Bali at some 3,700 meters above sea level. On a clear day during the dry season, Agung is clearly visible, as is Mount Batur. The two boats in front are more "traditional" style Balinese boats, with the log runners that help keep the boat upright during heavy storms. As such boats only seemed to be available near the resorts, I must presume they are no longer used by the locals.
The fifth photo is probably curious to you -- why the heck did I provide a shot of two cats? That's because stray cats and dogs (especially dogs) are very common on Bali and Lembongan, but unlike strays elsewhere, these animals are very tame and friendly toward humans. Because of their Hindu beliefs, the Balinese live a lifestyle that balances nature and man, and all animals are to be cared for. They have no sense of owning animals -- there is no such thing as a pet in their way of thinking. Consequently, you will see a lot of animals running around their cafés, etc., but they will not bother you, they are very tame. On the other hand, the Balinese around the tourist traps are aware of how visitors perceive stray animals and will keep them out.
Numerous day-trip cruises run from Benoa Harbor, and it was such a cruise I took to Lembongan on a rainy, blustery day. That, frankly, was an awful experience. Despite the strait being only ten miles wide between Bali and Lembongan, it is deep enough that when the rains hit hard the strait is like crossing the North Atlantic (ok, I exaggerate). Bottom line -- if the weather is looking crappy and you are one of those who require travel sickness pills, I'd advise against the trip.
On the other hand, please beware: A scenario that passed through my head was of uninformed travelers booking a cheap trip to Bali, then finding themselves secluded in a package that plops them on Lembongan Island instead. If you are going to Bali for the first time -- make sure of where your resort is!
Trip taken 7 January 2003 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006