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Postcards from Tanjung Aan, Lombok

Tanjung Aan

Five days ago I lay stretched out on a flat, grassy headland below the equator, staring up at the sky and savouring the gusts of wind blowing in from the open ocean. Bama and I were spending a week on the Indonesian island of Lombok, across the strait from Bali and a world away from the madness of Hong Kong or Jakarta.

In Javanese, the mother tongue of over 100 million Indonesians, Lombok coincidentally means “chilli”, but the island’s name is derived from lumbuk, the indigenous Sasak term for “straight ahead”. Today Lombok is undergoing something of a tourism boom, reaping the benefits of visitor numbers spilling over from its more famous neighbour.

Arriving more than 15 years since I last set foot on the island, it became immediately clear that change was under way. The tiny airport at Ampenan with a single-storey structure was replaced in 2011 by a much larger facility, connected to the capital of Mataram by a wide, tree-lined avenue with kerbs painted in alternating black and white. Throughout our stay we saw new villas being built, and countless “land for sale” signs sprouting along the main roads beneath swaying coconut palms. All were pointing to the fact that Lombok was on the cusp of great development, and it was for this reason that we chose to visit as soon as we could.

For the second half of our trip, we concentrated on the sweeping beaches of its southern coast, dotting the landscape between the rocky, surf-beaten headlands. A friend of Bama’s had recommended those at Tanjung Aan, a beautiful balloon-shaped bay with water as clear as a swimming pool. Here we stood in the shallows, observing the tide pull out and even spotting a sea snake. We walked barefoot on an empty stretch of white sand, the only company being the occasional enterprising local children – doe-eyed but surprisingly persistent – and a small handful of travellers who, like us, had arrived on a scooter down the pot-holed country roads.

Sadly, the entire coastline around Tanjung Aan has been earmarked for the Mandalika, an ambitious master plan to build a large-scale destination resort rivalling those in Bali and Phuket. Months ago I received news that the Balinese Tourism Development Corporation had stepped in, repaving the roads with great efficiency and encouraging Asian-Pacific developers to snap up plots of land. So far the sole resort is the isolated Novotel, whose Sasak-styled beach villas pre-date the master plan. I worry about the future accessibility of these shores – how local villagers may be priced out and the beaches made private, only to be enjoyed by the suitably wealthy. Another high-end, luxury enclave like Bali’s Nusa Dua may bring certain economic benefits, but at what cost?

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Inviting waters

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The near-empty beach

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Looking west to the headland

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The eastern beach at Tanjung Aan

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A slice of paradise

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View from the headland

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Seaside village

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Shades of turquoise

50 Comments Post a comment
  1. A Boundless Voyage #

    it really does look like paradise over there! wow!

    July 29, 2013
    • I couldn’t believe just how empty the beaches were… and how “undiscovered” they often felt!

      July 29, 2013
  2. There can’t be better beach photgraphy. Excellent views from all angles.

    July 29, 2013
    • Thanks for that – the weather was perfect the day I went!

      July 29, 2013
  3. Whoaaa, the white sands!!!
    I love it…

    July 29, 2013
    • It was surreal… never in my life had I seen it so white before.

      July 29, 2013
      • It is so…. breathtaking 🙂

        July 30, 2013
  4. I feel so at peace just by looking at the pictures.

    July 29, 2013
    • It was pure bliss – the crystal-clear water and soft white sand was exactly what I needed on this trip. 🙂

      July 29, 2013
      • I will definitely visit this place when I go to Indonesia 🙂

        July 29, 2013
  5. Beautiful pictures James,,, Come to Yogyakarta and see the nice beaches there too 🙂

    July 29, 2013
    • Makasih, Halim. Jogja is definitely on my wishlist… I’ll get there someday soon! 🙂

      July 29, 2013
  6. Awesome photos. I just returned from Lombok and loved every bit of it. Powdery white sand, warm blue water, coconut trees and friendly locals..my favorite

    July 30, 2013
    • Absolutely – I’m so glad I chose Lombok for my latest trip, it was definitely the highlight of my year. I could easily have spent another week there…

      July 30, 2013
  7. What a beach, man! Super! I am missing my favorite Maldives 😦

    July 30, 2013
    • And I’m itching to go back to Lombok…

      July 30, 2013
  8. It looks absolutely heavenly and I’m totally guilty of thinking that when the super resorts open, they’ll probably offer great deals.

    July 30, 2013
    • It could be a few more years down the line… I didn’t see any signs of construction when I was there!

      July 30, 2013
  9. i really like your description, its brief but interesting. As you had written that only two of you were there in the white sandy beach, it must have been a really awesome moment. And i hope too that it does not become a high end luxury enclave, but be as it is, undiscovered, serene beauty 😀

    July 30, 2013
    • It’s a good thing we visited on a weekday – I can imagine the beach being quite popular otherwise! This was just one of the many beautiful beaches we saw in the south of Lombok… the entire coastline along that area is a tropical dream. 😀

      July 30, 2013
      • Yes the pictures speak for themselves. Lovely place. Even i sometimes visit tourist destinations in the weekdays. Its amazing to see how dramatically it changes during the weekends. I personally love the peace and tranquilitty of a place rather than the hustle and bustle.

        July 31, 2013
  10. Breathtaking photos James. The water looks crystal clear and the sands so pristine! Would be such a pity to see this go the Bali way.

    July 30, 2013
    • I agree, Madhu… I would hate to see these beaches made off-limits to the general public. Hopefully they will have the foresight to learn from Bali’s mistakes and develop the area sensitively.

      July 30, 2013
  11. Amazing. I’m going to Lombok next week! Can you recommend a good place to stay around there? How accessible is it?

    July 30, 2013
    • Lucky you – I would go back in a heartbeat! Your best bet would be to stay in Kuta, where there are quite a number of homestays and hotels to choose from. My friend and I decided to splurge a little and go for the Kuta Cove Hotel – that was US$50 a night so $25 between us. Very friendly staff and excellent food, even if you don’t stay there try some of the local Sasak dishes at its Third Moon Cafe. I would highly recommend their ayam bakar taliwang (grilled chicken taliwang).

      Tanjung Aan is quite accessible, it’s only about 20 minutes to the east of Kuta. Your best bet would be to rent a scooter from where you’re staying. Roads aren’t really signposted so get a map and trust your instincts… however as there are so few of them it’s quite straightforward. There are so many beaches around Kuta, Tanjung Aan has just two of them! Ask for Selong Belanak, although maybe twice the distance from Kuta (in the opposite direction), it’s just as beautiful and the atmosphere there is fantastic.

      July 30, 2013
  12. Nice pics, James, as usual! 🙂

    Btw the last time I was in Kuta (in 2012) I still had some experience where there was electricity blackout for several hours, and it occurred in southern Lombok mostly every night. How about your experience?

    Yeah, I heard about this Mandalika big project, and I hope that this place won’t be any Nusa Dua sequel whatsoever :/

    July 30, 2013
    • Makasih, Badai! 🙂

      Actually we had no problems with blackouts in Kuta… it sounds like they’ve improved the electricity supply since you were there! We had the air con running in our room and it didn’t stop during the night.

      If they do get around to building the Mandalika, I hope they do it slowly… very slowly.

      July 30, 2013
      • Thank God the blackout is no more issue in Kuta 🙂

        Yes, in this Mandalika case, let’s hope for the best of the people, not for the riches! 😉

        July 30, 2013
  13. Kane Beatz #

    Reblogged this on Beatz kane Blog.

    July 30, 2013
  14. More beaches have become privately-owned, which means access for the public will be limited by setting an exorbitant price as happened to many scenic beaches in southern Bali. Sadly this has happened too to Tanjung Bloam. However I’m glad that we went to Lombok before things change completely. And I’m glad I spotted that sea snake! 🙂 Beautiful pictures James! The first one is exceptionally breathtaking!

    July 30, 2013
    • Thank you, Bama! It’s such a shame about Tanjung Bloam… we could have gone there as well had they not cordoned it off with a “luxury beach camp”. Yes, the sea snake was a real surprise – if you hadn’t seen it I would have been completely unaware! 🙂

      July 30, 2013
  15. Daisy Fairydust #

    What a dream! This place is a charm … Thank you for sharing your thousandth of travel. You do not know but every time I read your posts and I see your photos, I travel with you! 🙂 Thank you! Thank you for those who, like me, has no chance to travel and see the wonders of the earth!

    July 30, 2013
    • It’s my pleasure… thanks very much for your kind words! I hope that one day you too will be able to travel and see the world. 🙂

      July 30, 2013
  16. Woah, nice pictures James. You tell the world a beautiful story through these pics and the writing. Thank you James. Thank you 🙂

    July 31, 2013
    • My pleasure! Thank you for reading and leaving such kind words. 🙂

      August 1, 2013
  17. I miss lombok so much.. huhu! great post

    July 31, 2013
    • I do too… can’t believe it was just a week ago that I was there, on those gorgeous beaches!

      August 1, 2013
  18. Every time we hear development, we cringe at the thought this would lead to too much of it. And the island of Lombok is no exception. You’re lucky James to have been there 15 years ago and notice the changes today! It’s really sad how tourism can be such a double-edged sword.

    August 1, 2013
    • Absolutely, Dennis. We can only hope that the development comes slowly and sensibly… thankfully Lombok still feels like a place that’s off the beaten track.

      August 1, 2013
  19. This place is beautiful! It’s exciting that it’s possible to visit an incredible beach like this WITHOUT staying at a luxury resort. Unfortunately at this point, when I see pictures of clear water and white sand like that, the first thing I usually think is, “That must be EXPENSIVE.”

    August 3, 2013
    • I guess that’s one of the joys of Indonesia – with over 17,000 tropical islands there are only so many beaches that have been closed off thanks to a luxury resort. We wanted to visit a smaller one farther up the coast but sadly the high-end developers beat us to it… and can you guess the price of the adjoining “beach camp” with rustic bungalows? $295 US a night!

      August 3, 2013
  20. What a gorgeous island!! I love that it has not been hugely developed (or overdeveloped) by high-end resorts and tourist traps. Hopefully I will be able to make it over there before this little gem is “discovered”. 🙂

    August 7, 2013
    • I hope so too Amy… Lombok is such an unspoilt place at the moment, I almost wish it would stay under the radar. 🙂

      August 7, 2013
  21. Wow…amazing place and amazing pictures! http://www.discoveringisland.wordpress.com

    August 9, 2013
    • Thank you – the area was incredibly photogenic!

      August 9, 2013
  22. White sand! White sand and a blue sky!!!! wonderful! great job!

    August 21, 2013
    • Indeed, the beaches in that area were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen!

      August 21, 2013
      • I envy you! You are lucky! :o)

        August 21, 2013

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