East Lombok is probably the least popular part of the island as far as tourists are concerned. Stories circulate about unfriendly locals are in this part of Lombok, although in reality they can be very friendly once contact has been made. The Sasak Muslim culture of Lombok means people are generally more reserved than in Bali, which could be misinterpreted as unfriendly.
The main reasons for visiting East Lombok include:
Taking the ferry to Sumbawa
Visiting the small islands off of the NE coast
Taking the mountain road from Swela to Kali Putih, in order to hike Gunung Rinjani.
The climate on the east coast, as in Bali, is drier and than on the western side. The town of Labuhan Lombok is 74kms from Mataram, meaning if you arrived by plane and had transport, you could make the port (to Sumbawa)2-3 hours later, depending on stops. The port has a nice bay, but is otherwise just a transit point. The name of the ferry terminal is Labuhan Kayangan. It is possible to take a local bus across the island from Labuhan Lombok, to the bus terminal in Sweta, outside of Mataram. It is possible to access the main points on the island including Praya, Kali Putih and Lember by using the public buses, changing at the appropriate junctions.
Labuhan Lombok has a wartel, post office, a selection of warungs serving Indonesian food and some accommodation. Hotel Melati Lima Tiga (0376)23316 is a budget place in the center of town offering small simple rooms and shared bathrooms.
The road from Masbagic to Labuhan Haji features the town of Selong, which is the capital of East Lombok. The town itself is not so interesting, but there is a tourist office and some accommodation. Erina (0376)21297 offers budget accommodation with cold water bathrooms.
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Labuhan Haji is a coastal town that is the traditional point of departure for Muslims attending the Hajj in Mecca. This used to be a thriving port, but nowadays there is not so much going on. The beach is black sand and the town itself consists of many narrow alleyways. There is 1 place to stay, the budget Meliwis Beach Hotel offering thatched roofed bungalows, cold water / fan rooms. Labuhan Haji would be on the route for people returning from Sumbawa heading for Kuta Lombok on the south coast.
Travelers heading up the east coast of Lombok and not intending to go over to Sumbawa will pass through Labuhan Lombok. This part of the NE coast is parched and things get scarce. The Labuhan Lombok area has some of the tallest mahogany trees on the island.
Heading north from Labuhan Lombok you’ll come to Labuhan Pandan, another 13kms up the road. There you will find a nice beach, Pantai Pulo Lampu. You’ll find some accommodation by heading north another 3kms at Pondok Matahari (0812 / 374 9915) which has budget bungalows close to the beach and rooms a ways back from the beach. The place is clean and offers cold water bathrooms. Another budget place is Siola Cottages (08133/9516733) just to the south. This place is very basic, with cold water, simple rooms.
NE Lombok has 2 sets of small islands, Gili Petagen, Gili Pasaran, Gili Kapal, Gili Kondo, Gili Bidara and Gili Lampu in the south and Gili Lawang and Gili Sulat across the Sungian Strait to the north. The southern islands have sandy beaches, the 2 northern islands mangroves, all are uninhabited with no accommodation or services. The coral reef attracts fish and scuba divers. Two companies, Lombok Marine Adventures and Bagus Divers operate here. It is possible to arrange day trip to the islands and even camp overnight. You are looking at 200,000-250,000rp for a return trip to one of the islands.
Further north along the coast are the towns of Sambelia and Belanting. Both places offer fine views of Gili Lawang and Gili Sulat. Sambelia was actually a old Bugis village and some of the traditional
style houses, which are built on stilts, remain.
The last section of the NE coast before the junction with Kokok Putih and the road to Gunung Rinjani, is Obel Obel. A black sand beach stretched around the coast as the road winds through dry hilly country. Obel Obel offers a place on the drive to stop for a drink and some food. Tourism has not touched this part of Lombok very much at all and might be just what some people are looking for.