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Thursday, 1 August 2013

The London Foodie Goes to Lombok

Located just east of Bali, and a 20 minute journey by plane, Lombok has beautiful beaches, enchanting waterfalls and the large looming volcano of Mount Rinjani combined with relatively few tourists, making it substantially calmer than Bali.

There are pros and cons to this from the visitors point of view - unspoilt, deserted beaches, islands, waterfalls and mountain views abound, but on the other hand it can be a very long journey to find a good meal or even a bar.

The dominant Sasak culture in Lombok and the very reserved and quiet nature of its people may help explain why Lombok is less popular in terms of shopping, cuisine, and nightlife than predominantly Hindu Bali.

Lombok is however becoming increasingly popular with tourists and honeymooners who want to relax in an inexpensive, tropical, un-crowded atmosphere, with many natural treasures and majestic scenery. Nothing happens quickly in Lombok, and visitors who are stressed from their daily lives may find Lombok a delightful place to unwind.

A new international airport the Bandara Udara in central southern Lombok opened in 2012, as part of an effort by the Indonesian government to promote islands other than the ever popular Bali to the outside world. The main tourist hub for those arriving in Lombok is Sengiggi, a small town about 90 minutes' drive from the international airport. There are a few restaurants and bars along Sengiggi's main road. I tried two of these, but found them nothing to write home about. There many large resorts around the town too, and a few tourist offices where it is possible to book private excursions or hire a moped or bicycle.

Sengiggi's Main Road

We took the short flight to Lombok after nearly two weeks in Bali, and spent four days on the northern coast near the three tiny but beautiful Gili islands. 

Where to Stay 

Hotel Tugu Lombok is a stunning place located on the extensive, pristine white sand beaches of Sire, a 45 minute drive from Sengiggi on the northwest coast of the island. Neighbouring it is an 18-hole golf course, forests, traditional thatched roofed huts and green fields where local life continues today much the same as it has done for centuries.

The hotel's land comprises six hectares of mature palm plantations, facing the ocean and the majestic Mount Rinjani, with the hotel lying several miles from the nearest village.

Surprisingly, although it was built as recently as 2009, the hotel features hundreds of ancient original artworks and antiques which makes it look as though it had been there for centuries.

The reception house is a particularly striking one, purchased by the owner of the Tugu Group in Sumatra before relocating it to Lombok. Thought to be around 200 years old and made entirely of tropical hardwood, it once belonged to a Malay man, who rented it to a Chinese family in the 19th century, giving it a complex mixture of Malay, Chinese and Dutch influences reflecting the history of migration and colonisation in this part of Asia.

There are several other original wooden buildings including the beautiful Lara Djonggrang bar close to the dining area, and the 200 year old wooden Chinese temple in the gardens - the Sang Hyang Barong Temple. This was saved from the Dutch assault on Lombok in 1894, and is now used for weddings, yoga and meditation classes and occasionally for guest dinners (see below). There is also a fine Hindu temple which houses the Hening Swarga Spa.

There is also a magnificent gallery and shop at the hotel selling a variety of excellent examples of Indonesian antiques.

The grounds are extensive and immaculately maintained, and during our stay we saw dozens of employees pruning the plants, cleaning the pool and generally keeping the place in top condition for the guests.

The beach is beautiful to look at, but it and the sea bed are covered by large fragments of coral which make it uncomfortable to walk on or swim in, given that the sea comes up only to waist height even 100 metres from the shoreline. The hotel provides flippers and goggles which make it easier to get out to sea.

There are three categories of rooms for guests to stay in, and eighteen in total. The simplest are the Kampongs, bungalows with a private terrace, as well as indoor and outdoor bathrooms. The Aloon-Aloon villas have 125 sq metres of space, and their own garden.

We were fortunate enough to stay in one of the seven Bhagavat Gita villas, each being enormous at 350 sq metres, with a large private courtyard garden leading to the front door of the villa, and a veranda opening onto a lawned garden with a private plunge pool and a stunning view across the sand to the sea.

Our private villa at Tugu Hotel Lombok
The villa's private garden...
View from outside the bedroom window

The interior had an enormous, elaborate king-sized four poster bed, beautiful antiques, and a semi-outdoor bathroom with rainwater shower, and a bathtub carved out of a boulder.  It was a magnificent place to spend a few nights.

Private pool outside the villa, overlooking the sea
Outdoor Bathroom
The villa's wash basin area...

The fine buildings, art, sculpture and furniture that are a feature of the Tugu Hotel Lombok are a reflection of the passions of the owner, the Indonesian businessman and major art and antique collector Anhar Setjadibrata. He built his first hotel in Malang, East Java, in 1990, in a similarly eclectic style.

Over the years, he opened further hotels in Blitar, Java, and on Bali at Canggu beach, as well as restaurants in Jakarta. If you fancy a luxurious hotel that does not feel like a bland corporate, but is full of local character, this is a fascinating place to stay.

Infinity Pool

Main restaurant overlooking the infinity pool

Breakfast is not always included in the room rate. It was good, with a range of cut fruit, juices, cereals, as well as traditional, Indonesian, western, 'healthy' and à la carte options, and a variety of teas and coffees. I particularly enjoyed their own brand Tugu Java tea.

Where to Eat

I almost always make an effort to find good places to eat or drink outside the hotels I stay in, and I did at the Tugu Hotel but without success. The nearest town with restaurants is Sengiggi, a 45 minute drive away, where we had two meals but didn't find anything worth writing about. The only other spot near to the Tugu is the Oberoi Hotel, another luxury resort.

The food on offer at the Tugu Hotel was fortunately of a consistently high standard, and the staff were admirably flexible about where they served it. The dining room is lovely, overlooking the infinity pool, a statue of a Hindu god, and the sea, but other options include a romantic table for two on the beach, or guests' rooms or gardens, or the Chinese temple at no extra cost.

Afternoon tea is offered free of charge to all guests at the hotel. We had a selection of cakes and savoury snacks during our stay, accompanied by some very fine teas.

Of note was a fantastic Indonesian version of "Ice Kacang", made from coconut milk, jelly, beans, bananas and ice. It was one of the most deliciously indulgent treats I had during my stay at Tugu.

On our first night at the hotel's restaurant, we had a delicious Gado Gado salad (£5), similar to the Malaysian version, including steamed potatoes, boiled eggs, bean sprouts and cabbage among other ingredients and served with peanut sauce. The Thai Roast Duck Salad (£6) was also excellent - light, refreshing and well flavoured, it had roast duck, glass noodles, vegetables and nuts tossed with a Thai ginger coriander dressing.

Ayam Taliwang is one of Lombok's most famous dishes, and is made with spring chicken basted in a local shrimp paste and roasted. Tugu's Pleceng Ayam Taliwang (£10) served with stir-fried morning glory (water spinach) was very flavoursome and with a deliciously crispy skin. The dish was accompanied by an aubergine and tomato relish.

The Aromatic Oxtail (£10), wrapped in pandan leaves and cooked with a variety of local spices was however the best dish of the evening. The meat was tender, succulent and yielding - utterly, blissfully unctuous.

For the second night, we opted to take our dinner by candle light on the beach - a really beautiful setting I would heartily recommend. We started with "Daging Tum" (£5), a dish of minced beef marinated in grated young coconut and steamed in banana leaf which was a very good start to the meal.

We followed up with Bebek Betutu (£11), another very popular Indonesian dish made from 24-hour slow cooked Balinese-style duck in banana stem stuffed with cassava leaves, which was zinging with rich gamey flavours and spice.

The Rendang Daging (£11) - was a marvellous slow-cooked Sumatran-style tenderloin of beef, which had been simmered in a reduced coconut sauce. The flavours were concentrated and the beef tender -  a great example of this classic south-east Asian dish. It seemed churlish not to enjoy a bottle of bubbly for such an event, despite the exorbitant alcohol taxes in Indonesia, and we found a very passable sparking Italian Pinot Grigio for £30.

Things to Do 

The hotel offers free rental of bicycles to its guests, and can also arrange a number of excursions, including boat trips to the nearby Gili islands, and drivers to accompany guests on tours of the waterfalls and villages below Rinjani, guided hikes up the mountain itself when the climate is right (not the rainy season), and visits to the southern Sasak villages to see the traditional houses and handicrafts.

We took a couple of bikes for a ride along the coastal road, passing stunning views of Mount Rinjani, and numerous paddy fields where local farmers were engaged in the back-breaking work of planting rice, and working the land mostly by hand.
Dr G - white as a ghost was a big hit, writing English in schoolchildren's notebooks

We also took a taxi to the west coast resort town of Sengiggi. This has a cluster of five star luxury hotels, beach side bars with happy hours ideal for enjoying an ice cold beer with a view of the Java sea, but precious few restaurants that offered anything particularly appealing. It felt very low key in comparison to towns in Bali. However, it is also a good place to arrange tours similar to those available at the hotel, but at very competitive prices. There are numerous travel agents along the main road with whom it is worth haggling.

Village life in Lombok

Having got rather sunburnt backs snorkelling in Amed, we didn't take up the usual option of visiting the Gilis because snorkelling and diving are the main activities there, but it is highly recommended as an excursion and I am sure worth a visit if you would like to view the coral and fish. I would recommend you wear a T-shirt while snorkelling though, unless you are not susceptible to sunburn.

Local fish and vegetable market

We did consider hiring a car on Lombok like we did in Bali. However, the insurance cover on offer was minimal, and we were also concerned at the lack of road signs regarding points of touristic interest. It seems more sensible to hire a driver who can not only drive but also take visitors to the best sites. It is surprising that there are no car-hire companies at the international airport.

Travel Essentials

The only sensible way to get to Lombok from Bali is by air. It is a short flight of 20 minutes, compared with a ferry crossing which takes several hours once you have travelled a few hours to the port. Our flight cost only £30 return per person from Bali with Merpati Air, and there are several other companies that do this connection including Garuda. There are also direct flights to Lombok from Singapore with Silkair. The airline websites are here:


Hotel Tugu Lombok Sire Beach
Sigar Penjalin Village 
E mail: lombok@tuguhotels.com 

Rooms cost from £200 to £450 per night, and must be reserved for a minimum of three nights.  There are a number of packages offered on their website, some including golf and spa options.


  1. Suddenly, I want to go to Lombok :) Much appreciation for the post, I like how you've structured pictures interspersed with text, definitely something to take away with me.

  2. Hotel Tugu and the whole area and Tanjung Sira as well as the three islands of Gili beyond are absolute paradise. It is a pity that the new airport down the south make it a bit more painful to get to the area from the airport. Nevertheless, once you get there you would not want to leave.


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