Moving to a new country can be weary on the soul. Many nights I would lay awake scouring the internet for blogs, websites, and twitter accounts of people who had anything to say on the experience of moving abroad. On one of these twitter accounts I began to follow I found a contest for a resort on the island of Lombok called Qunci Villas. Email to enter and winners would receive a free two night stay! quipped a cheerful twitter link. I sent out an email and quickly forgot about the whole thing.
Fast forward a month or so later to the morning of my first trip to the immigration department. I sat on the bed slumping while my husband tried to calmly put himself together. We were heading to the immigration department to report my overstayed visa. I looked down at the phone and checked my email to find the subject line “Congratulations – Winner”. I had won! My eyes glazed over with the subsequent promise and precarious loss of staying on a beautiful resort on the beachfront. Perhaps, I thought, this is an omen and it means I will be able to stay in Indonesia? My mind snapped back to reality when my husband looked at me seriously in the eye. “What is the worst case scenario here?” I answer immediately without skipping a beat: “I get deported.”
While I did get deported, I was back quickly. While abroad I confirmed our winning dates and set our trip to coincide with my birthday. When I asked my husband about going he was a little hesitant… until I showed him the pictures on their website. I’m happy to report that showing up at Qunci Villas was even better than I had imagined.
Lombok, one of Indonesia’s many islands, is predominantly Muslim. It is relatively small and nicknamed “the island of 1,000 mosques”. I have a theory that they are so devout and strict in order to keep the Hindu influence just one island over at bay. Our trip inward took us through vast rice fields dotted with looming mosques in the background. Our driver told us there was generally 5 mosques available for every small village. That is practically one for every day of the week! We passed by an amazing Chinese cemetery with some of the most elaborate head stones I’ve ever seen and I am kicking myself for not asking to pull over and investigate more. More rice fields, and suddenly the small road is choked with ambling men, young and old, gathered and slowly walking out of a small street inlet. I turn to my husband with a question in my eyes. Sensing my curiosity he gestures a slit across his throat, rolls his eyes in the back of his head and tilts his neck over. We silently communicate, he is telling me that they were gathered for a funeral.
An hour and a half later we reach Qunci Villas. If you’re up for bargaining you can negotiate a trip for 150.000-175.000 rupiah ($11-13 USD). The taxi drivers will have a list with pre-printed rates but don’t be afraid to hassle them down. Drivers and people selling goods will scoff, grumble, and groan when you negotiate but don’t be put off by their demeanor. It’s all a front as I’ve found grinning teeth and smiles once a trade has been finalized. Since my husband is native we have the advantage of language. However as soon as they see he is with a bule I can see the price jumping up right before us. As we rolled into Qunci Villas and stepped out of our taxi someone immediately took our bags. We were welcomed with drinks and a cold towel scented with peppermint. I was so stunned and excited and we hadn’t even made it past the check in counter. Their motto is “Your Key to an Idyllic Lombok” and indeed everything about the place is Idyllic indeed. Qunci literally means ‘Key’ in bahasa indonesia.
Among the light rain that had begun, we were escorted by a stone path to a beautiful room. We were given one of their Ocean View rooms, but you can select from Garden View, Partial Ocean View, and Ocean View (with the rates climbing in cost respectively). If you’re looking for some real privacy you can rent entire properties with their own pool, and walled in housing. The rooms here are an entire floor, either ground or second. The grounds are home to a variety of plants which are usually used to create a sense of privacy and a barrier between your room and the activity outside.
The small touches of beauty and relaxation didn’t stop at the reception. Our room was dotted with fresh plucked frangipani flowers on our bed, among the unique artwork in the hallways, and by our amenities. These flowers added a sense of beauty that very honestly, overwhelmed me when we first arrived. As my husband slept on our cool, comfortable bed after a long night of work for some interview prep, I walked among the grounds and found both artwork and nature, bound together in a sense of tranquility. I felt like I’d fallen into a fairy tale book.
Every room comes with your own private porch. Ours had a nice view through the canopy of leaves to the ocean and the pool area. We invited some family that lived nearby to join us and had a great time catching up, well supplied with drinks from the mini bar. We all got a good laugh with my limited Indonesian skills and enjoyed the fresh evening air.
The three pool areas were the most tranquil place to stay. Plenty of space to swim, lounge, or take in some sun. Poolside chaises came with a delightful frangipani flower tucked into our towels, their signature touch. Hello Happy Hour! 5-7 every day you can get 2 for 1. In a country where alcohol is expensive and taxes are high, I was sure to take them up on their deal. We spent a majority of our time by the pool enjoying the sun, reading, watching surfers fail or crash, and practicing swimming tricks while filming each other on Rio’s GoPro.
Speaking of surfing, Alek’s Surfing is a small outpost on the beach next to the Qunci resort. Alek will rent you a surf board and an hour long lesson so you can surf right by the hotel. It’s a good place for beginners. We were able to score lessons for two for 400.000 IDR ($30 USD) and were told we could keep the boards as long as we’d like. Unfortunately we only got a few good waves in until it died down and the afternoon storm began to settle in. I’d suggest you go early in the morning or the afternoon.
In the evening if I focused, I could make out the airplanes descending into Bali. In contrast to the infamous tourist destination, Lombok is quite under developed as a whole, so the resorts here are rather isolating. If you’re aching for some activity there are several boats next door who take daily trips to the Gili islands but apart from this it’s not easy to find entertainment. The Gili islands are known for great beaches, snorkeling, and partying but for us we were really looking forward to not doing much of anything so we didn’t go.
Even as the sun left, the pool area continued to provide a beautiful ambiance and relaxing visage. While the water was a bit too cool to enjoy in the evening, you could still take a seat and enjoy a drink, watch the stars, and have an intimate quiet environment. The hotel is sprinkled with all manners of couches, chairs, and thatched roof gazebos for lounging around. It also provides a bit of people watching. April is also not high season so the place is relatively quiet.
While meals are expensive, I found them to be of incredibly high quality and drawing from a range of cuisine styles. Qunci does offer a few activities throughout the week you can indulge in like a traditional dance, gamelan performance, night market, and a bbq. We were only there for two nights and were able to observe the traditional dance. To my heartbreak the performers were quite tired and sad looking, which we found to be the case in Bali as well. We could enter a whole debate about colonization and exploitation of local culture for monetary gain but I’m sure we’re all familiar with the idea. I’ve seen really impassioned dancers. Indonesia has a strong dancing culture with deep traditional roots. But these passionate dances I saw were performed for an Indonesian audience. Why were they so unhappy? I couldn’t tell.
Breakfast is included and it is a complete spread of delicious goodness. Their breakfast menu comprises of styles and ingredients familiar to many major tourist nationalities plus some. We always were given a plate of fresh local fruit which I often saved to eat later in the day in the mini fridge inside our room. You can choose to either eat outside, or have the breakfast delivered to your room. We did a bit of both!
Now that I’ve gushed enough, there are a few things that I’d be wary of. If you’re already familiar with Indonesian cuisine, I’d stay away from traditional dishes because they tend to be slightly westernized versions and expensive. It was like trying to order a fancy gourmet hot dog in NYC for $20. If you’re looking to explore Lombok authentically, this is not the place to go. This is a heaven for those with the money to spend, and there isn’t much in the surrounding area to do or see without an expensive boat or taxi ride. If you’re not native you may find a hard time finding directions, navigating, or otherwise outside the confines of the hotel. The front desk does its best to accommodate and help, but the resort does tend to be a rather closed system.
This can be either a pro or a con but you will be heckled by the pool from merchants passing by. They are incredibly persistent, and buying from them will not keep them from targeting you later on. In fact, it does the opposite. The hotel does manage this to a degree as long as the merchants don’t go too far. But it can be a bit unpleasant at first and takes some getting used to. I held out until the last day, and bought a few lovely scarves but as soon as I asked about the price from an elderly woman I was descended upon like a fish bleeding in the water. I almost walked away and didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t make a decision myself at first. Another women kept throwing her wares out in front of me insisting which one I buy, and I felt confused about who I was actually going to be paying. A man tried to sell be bracelets for the umpteenth time when I clearly had no interest. I couldn’t even chose or decide with so much attention and really aggressive behavior. So what is the pro? Well, you don’t have to go far to go shopping or get a few gifts for loved ones back home.
I sincerely enjoyed our stay and felt like I was floating on clouds while we were there. My hope is that I can cherish this experience, and perhaps come back again while also planning to explore more of Lombok itself. I am still a bit puzzled as to what the island itself has to offer, and there is a really wonderful mountain that my husband almost died climbing once upon a time. Perhaps we’ll revisit in the future so he can stare down death once more.