LOMBOK -- A speedboat away from party beach Bali, Lombok in Indonesia has something to offer tourists of all backgrounds and beliefs.
While it continues to attract Western tourists because of its beaches, Lombok also seeks to promote its Islamic heritage and boost tourist arrivals of Muslim travelers.
The predominantly Muslim island is at the center of an Islamic tourism drive in Indonesia, offering a great holiday destination for Muslim travelers and anyone looking for a culturally enriching destination.
The Indonesian Islamic Tourism Association of West Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia, in partnership with the Embassy of Indonesia in the Philippines and supported by Air Asia Philippines, recently invited media and tour operators from 10 countries around the globe to Lombok.
Based on the tour, here’s what makes Lombok a Muslim-friendly destination.
1. Mosques and availability of prayer rooms
Indonesia’s indigenous Sasak tribe is predominantly Muslim though the Balinese Hindu culture also remains in Lombok. While you can find a number of Hindu temples here, Lombok is more known for its mosques. In fact, it’s called the "island of 1,000 mosques" and Muslim tourists are sure to find places of worship and shrines dedicated to ancient Muslim preachers in between sightseeing and beach-hopping.
The call to prayer or the Adhaan can be heard throughout Lombok and Muslim tourists can easily find prayer facilities for men as well as women. Airports are also equipped with prayer rooms for those in transit.
The Islamic Center in Mataram is the grandest and largest mosque in West Nusa Tenggara, welcoming visitors of all faiths. The mosque contains a massive central prayer hall. Visitors can even climb to the top of the minaret, 13 floors above street level to get amazing views of the whole southern part of the island.
The Islamic Center is a designated Shariah tourist area and mandatory Muslim clothing is required. Non-Muslim tourists wearing clothes such as shorts or off-the-shoulder shirts will need to wear traditional Muslim clothing to enter.
Other notable places of worship to visit include the Masjid Bayan Beleq, the oldest mosque in Lombok; and Selong Great Mosque, the main mosque on the island.
2. Halal hotels with Muslim-friendly facilities
Finding a place to stay in Lombok is not a problem for Muslim travelers as more hotels seek to gain Shariah certification, which is designated by a Crescent Rating, the globally recognized rating standards based on the Halal/Muslim friendly services it provides.
In order to be certified, hotels must have signs pointing towards Mecca, contain copies of the Koran in their rooms and have a kitchen where halal food is prepared.
Halal hotels often do not have adult TV channels and must ensure water-friendliness (bidet sprays) are part of their sanitary facilities.
Some Muslim-friendly hotel and resort options include Holiday Resort Lombok, Svarga Resort Lombok and Kebun Villas & Resort, to name a few. The Santosa Villas & Resort Lombok offers Halal breakfast, does not serve pork or alcoholic beverages in their restaurant, has a mushola (prayer room), as well as a spa center with male and female therapists for same-gender services.
3. Halal cuisine
Finding Halal cuisine is often a challenge for Muslim travelers in many destinations, but in Lombok, tourists don’t have to go out of their way to find one. Restaurants serving international and local cuisine can be found throughout the island, with top Halal-assured and Halal-certified places, as well as establishments that label their food, found within the main city areas. Seafood and vegetarian restaurants can also be found widely in Lombok.
For those heading to Gili Trawangan island, Black Penny Villas Restaurant offers Halal options and Indonesian favorites like nasi goreng (fried rice mixed with chicken, shrimps and shredded vegetables) and mie goreng (fried yellow noodles)
The in-house restaurant of Kila Senggigi Beach Hotel also offers various Halal and traditional Lombok dishes including Ayam Taliwang (grilled spring chicken with Lombok spices), Sate Rembiga (beef satay), Sate Ikan Tanjung (fish satay mixed with coconut milk, lemongrass, chilli pepper), Plecing Kangkung (spicy water spinach dish) and Bebalung (beef ribs soup).
Tourists can also find internationally known fast-food joints in Lombok such as KFC and McDonald’s all of which are Halal.
4. Less-crowded destinations
Lombok offers all tourists a variety of fun activities to do and and sights to see from cultural attractions to outdoor activities.
The Gili Islands -- three small remote islands lying just offshore of Lombok -- are popular tourist hubs for visiting tourists. Gili Trawangan, the party island, is the largest, most developed and most lively of the three. Gili Meno offers a small and quiet escape ideal for honeymooners, while Gili Air offers a good laidback and chill mix of the two.
The beach spots are deemed less-crowded compared to Bali, with vibrant beachfront restaraunts serving various (including Halal) food options, beaches and water-based activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing and fishing. In fact, local guides liken Lombok to how Bali was 20 years ago.
On the main island, popular beaches in Lombok include Selong Belanak Beach, Mawun Beach, and Tanjung Aan Beach, where there are lower chances for Muslim travelers to encounter Western tourists dressed in skimpy clothing and bikinis.
Kuta Mandalika is a privately owned area of land that has been set out for high-end, luxury development including 5-star hotels, a golf course, private villas and residences, marine and watersports activities.
A highlight for travelers is to hike up Bukit Merese Hill on Kuta Lombok, where you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of different coves below.
For those who have time, trekking to the peak of Mount Rinjani is another top draw in Lombok. Standing at 3,726 meters, this is one of Indonesia’s highest volcanoes.
5. Wide souvenir options
No trip is complete without buying souvenirs to take home to friends and family. The best place for souvenir shopping here is Sasaku Lombok, a large warehouse style boutique that sells a wide range of clothing options including traditional sarongs and textiles and designer t-shirts that represent modern-day Lombok.
These aren’t your typical mass-produced tourist t-shirts, but fashionable and stylish apparel showcasing ethnic art, the surf vibe and pop culture. Modest long-sleeved shirts, tunics, skirts and long pants for women can be found alongside the usual sleeveless and short-sleeved shirts and dresses, giving Muslim travelers more options.
Sasaku Lombok also sells accessories, bags, ceramics, pearl jewelry and packaged Halal food products.
For those who want to go pearl shopping, head to Gem Pearls and Restaurant, which offers a wide range of good quality pearl necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Air Asia flies daily from Manila to Jakarta and Bali, Indonesia. Lombok can be reached by a 2-hour flight from Jakarta or 30-minute flight from Bali. Lombok can also be reached by fast boats (2 hours) and public ferries (4-5 hours) from various points in Bali. For flights, check out www.airasia.com