If you're into beach parties, seafood, cocktails, clear water & huge waves, chilling at beach cafes all day - go to Gilis. 3 Gili islands - Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, Gili Air are part of Lombok - an island next to Bali and it's a popular destination for both luxury vacation lovers and backpackers even though 30 years ago it was mostly backpackers and hippies. Gilis are said to be the Goa of Indonesia (The real Goa is in India and is still a hippies hub)
We went to Gili Trawangan (the biggest one) To do that in a budget way you take 2 bus rides and 2 boat rides and you travel all day - bus from Kuta to Padang Bai harbor, from Padang by to Lombok island by ferry, from Lombok port to another port by bus, and from that port to Gilis by boat - all this trip costs around $15 pp. With speed boat you pay $80 pp. Prices for accommodation on Gilis have the same kind of range. We paid $10 for our room, someone pays $100 and more.
While clear blue-green water is very tempting, in most places around the island there are rocks, shells and corals in the water, plus quite strong streams and waves so it's not a flawless experience when you go to swim there, even though it does look like a paradise.
On the other side of the island when it's low tide you can walk on the sea bottom and discover all sorts of sea creatures crawling, jumping and paddling in small craters of water.
During storms local boats that sail to the shore often sink and when this happens everyone - locals, tourists, children - all gather on the beach to pull the boat closer to the shore and secure it with ropes around palm trees. It's a quite impressive scene - men of all ages, locals and visitors, all yelling in different languages and trying to be understood with hand gestures, all unite in this battle with the sea, a single effort to save the boat. Only when you see how these strong and experienced men struggle for more than an hour to get the boat out of the sea's claws you understand how powerful is the sea.
If you're into snorkeling, diving, a bit of wilderness and exploration - go to Lembongan island. It's a small island south of Bali, and it's famous for their corals, underwater world, water sports and hidden beaches. It's a quiet place and tourists are not many. Village people live in modest houses and huts, grow and pick sea weed, grow fruit, go fishing.
It was Lembongan where we tried snorkeling for the first time - we loved it and hated it at the same time. Loved it because what you see with the mask under the water is breathtaking - majestic coral riffs, fish of all sizes and colors, seaweed moving like a forest in the wind. We hated it because we cut ourselves to pieces on corals while walking to the snorkeling spot. If you're wondering corals are sharp and spiky. Waves + shallow water + corals + fins + idiotism is a recipe for distaster and we didn't know that. You should take a boat to snorkel, you should not walk through corals to the snorkeling spot. Our legs and butts learned this lesson the hard way.
Lembongan is also where my iPhone4 died. We went kayaking along the beaches and rocks. I took my iPhone with me in a waterproof bag that you hang around your neck. All was great until we got into a wave and flipped over...into corals...again. The waves kept coming upon us and we got separated unable to flip the kayak back to normal. Finally Oleg got back into it and struggled fiercefully against the waves to save me :) iPhone in a waterproof bag that hasn't been tested before + tiny plastic kayak + "Fuck yeah, let's surf that wave on kayak" apparently is also recipe for disaster. We treated ourselves with a fresh grilled fish on the beach afterwards.
A really cool thing to do in Lembongan is to take motorbikes and go around the island, cross over rope bridge to another island and explore there. You'll go up and down the hills, experience spectacular views over islands, ride off road and find secret beaches that only locals know about. Needless to say it was amazing!
Thats all for this amazing, spectacular and crazy place on Earth called Bali. Stay tuned for Jogja city, one of the most culture rich cities in Indonesia.