The island of Nusa Ceningan, just off Bali’s east coast, was surprisingly peaceful and incredibly picturesque. A great start to our week in Bali.
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something through them, you don’t pay anything extra, but I’ll get a small referral bonus to help keep this blog running. This doesn’t influence my opinions.)
Instead of trying to cram too much into our week in Bali, we decided to spend a few days on the beach, and then spend the rest soaking up the Balinese culture. A relative had recommended Nusa Lembongan, but the more we researched, the more its tiny neighbour, Nusa Ceningan (pronounced ‘chen-ingan’), appealed to us. With some nice beaches and a general off-beat feel to it, it sounded perfect for us. It was very different from what we expected when we got there, but in an amazingly good way!
But first… a nightmare on check-in!
(This section is a rant about our awful experience with AirAsia, so if you’d rather not read it, you’re welcome to skip to the next section.)
Sadly enough, we got off to a rocky start even before we boarded our flight to Bali. This was thanks to both AirAsia, as well as our ignorance of the ways of international budget airlines. We had booked cabin baggage-only tickets because they were the most convenient, and hadn’t bought add-on check-in baggage online because it didn’t make sense for all four of us since we were only carrying two suitcases. We thought we’d pay for our suitcases at check-in, even if we had to pay a little extra. That ‘little’ extra turned out to be a lot!
Paying almost as much as for a full-service flight
At the check-in counter, our two suitcases weighed in at a little over 20 kgs each, but we didn’t think that would be a big deal. We were stunned when the guy behind the counter told us we needed to pay over Rs. 18,000 (about USD 260)! Why? It seems they only have an add-on rate for 15 kg check-in bags at the counter, not 20 kgs. And every extra kg would be charged at an exorbitant rate. Even better, we would have to pay again on the way back. We were dumbfounded! When we asked whether we could buy the add-on online, he told us that option closes four hours before check-in.
We ended up paying almost Rs. 15,000 for our check-in baggage
That’s when we got mad. And only then did the chap suggest that we could check in three pieces if they weighed under 15 kgs each, and we would save some money. Of course, we should have thought of this ourselves, but we were a little messed up in the head. Anyway, we repacked, and finally checked in the two suitcases and one of our backpacks, all under 15 kgs each. We ended up paying around Rs. 15,000 (about USD 215), including taxes and ‘other charges’, of course. In comparison, we bought the add-ons online on the way back, and paid just over Rs. 7,000 (USD 100) extra. In total, that was almost as much as if we had flown a full-service airline like Singapore Airlines.
Were we manipulated into paying so much?
What really got to us was that the entire thing had a pre-planned feel to it. It seemed like the idea was to manipulate the passenger into forking over as much money as possible. The website was designed to seem like one had to buy the add-on either for all tickets or for none. It didn’t make it clear that the 20 kg add-on wasn’t available at the counter, or that the counter rate was so much higher than the online rate, or that the on-line purchase option closed four hours before check-in. Finally, the responses of the people behind the check-in counter sounded scripted, as if they’d been specifically instructed to not offer cheaper options unless the passengers made a fuss.
The entire process seemed designed to manipulate us into paying as much as possible
Even after we boarded, it’s not like our flight to Kuala Lumpur (our layover stop) was comfortable. It was incredibly cramped! At just under six feet, I’m not extraordinarily tall, but I could hardly move my legs for four hours! The onward flight to Bali was much larger, though (but no such luck on the way back). So our Bali holiday didn’t start off so well. But luckily, Ceningan made up for it all!
Our journey to Ceningan begins
By the time we landed in Denpasar, we were tired and grumpy. But the airport was pleasant, the weather was nice, and everything was a nice blend of modern and traditional. The plan was that we would drive to Sanur, from where we would take a ‘fast boat’ ferry to Lembongan, where someone else would meet us and take us to Ceningan. Complex!
Our hotel on Ceningan had arranged for a driver to pick us up, and once we piled ourselves and our luggage into his car, we were off. We spent the 45 minutes to Sanur admiring the clean roads, the greenery and the elements of Hindu culture that were both familiar and strange at the same time. Along the way, our friendly driver Gede (pronounced like in ‘G’day, mate’) pointed our items of popular interest like malls, and we didn’t have the heart to tell him we didn’t really care about those things.
On the fast boat to Lembongan
When we finally got to Sanur to catch the boat, it wasn’t what we were expecting. I had read that Sanur didn’t have a pier and that one had to wade over to the boat, but I didn’t expect to be driving into the parking lot of a huge resort. A bit dazed, we got off and followed Gede out of the parking lot, through a narrow corridor, and out onto a lovely beach. It seemed like the resort had an arrangement with private boat operators to use its private beach as a pick-up and drop-off point. At least, our boat operator (called Marlin) had a little waiting area and a counter on the beach that looked quite permanent. So we paid for our transfer, bought ourselves something to eat and drink at the little shacks on the beach, and waited.
Our boat arrived pretty much on time. As it slowly made its way to the beach, we wondered why it was called a ‘fast’ boat. But as it turned around and backed towards the beach, we saw the four massive outboard motors at the back and revised our opinion. Once everyone’s luggage had been loaded (we all had to leave it in one spot while we waited), we waded through the water and climbed in, and took our seats in the main cabin. And then we were off.
I managed to capture a bit of footage on my GoPro before one of the staff told us to close the windows. I wondered why but quickly figured it out once the boat picked up speed and started smashing through the waves! That was our first glimpse of how rough the waters around Bali can be, and I was glad I’d remembered to take some anti-nausea pills. Still, I needed to sit outside, behind the motors. And that brought home just how fast we were going, and how high the waves were that we ploughed through!
From Lembongan to Ceningan
Though the boat ride only took half an hour, it was a relief to get off on Lembongan. The beach we got off on was called Mushroom Beach, and it was lovely, but we couldn’t wait to get to our hotel and get some rest. Eventually, we were loaded into a roofed auto-trolley (like a long tuk-tuk with a covered flat-bed) with seats and the journey continued. We drove for about 15 mins until we got to the bridge between Lembongan and Ceningan, somewhat unimaginatively called Yellow Bridge.
Overlooking a little beach, the dining area of Secret Point Huts had an amazing view!
Someone from our hotel met us there, and walked us across with our luggage, because the bridge was too narrow for anything other than pedestrians and scooters. Once across, we were loaded into another auto-trolley. 10 minutes later, after a nice drive along the beach, we were at Secret Point Huts, our hotel. It was around 5:30 PM, and we had left home around 7:00 PM the previous day.
We were tired, but the place washed some of that away. Overlooking a little semi-private beach, Secret Point Huts was a collection of cottages, with two swimming pools, and an open dining area with an amazing view. We couldn’t have asked for anything better, and we spent the rest of the day recovering, and soaking up the sight and sound of the crashing waves.
We start experiencing Ceningan
The next day, after leisurely breakfast with a view, we decided to check out the blue lagoon that we’d heard so much about. Surprise, surprise, it was just across the road from our hotel! And it was blue, alright. But standing on the cliffs overlooking the lagoon, we finally realized how incredibly powerful the waves were! Over and over again, they crashed against the cliffs and shot upwards, spraying everything. It was a scary and impressive at the same time.
We spent the entire morning exploring the cliffs that went from the Blue Lagoon further along the island, luxuriating in the view, and ooh-ing and aah-ing at every wave that smashed against the rocks. And though there were a few other tourists initially, we ended up being almost entirely alone at the end. When we finally made our way back to the road hours later, through some long grass and over what looked like a disused open-air party space, we knew we had chosen well in coming to Ceningan.
I discover sambal matah at lunch
Lunch was next on the agenda. Our hotel was right at the end of Ceningan’s main road, so there were lots of places a few minutes’ walk away. We finally decided to try the appropriately-named Blue Lagoon Secret Villas, and that’s where I discovered sambal matah! When our lunch arrived, along with it came a small bowl of finely chopped onions, red chillies and lemon grass. This was sambal matah, the Balinese version of the spicy Indonesian sambal sauce. It was fiery, but amazing! The rest of our group wasn’t that into it, but I ended up asking for it with almost every meal we ate in Bali after that. Of course, it needed to be washed down with lots of the local Bintang radler (a sort of shandy in a bottle), but who’s complaining?
That evening, after a quick snooze and a plunge in the surprisingly cold saltwater pool, we took it easy at the Mahana Point Café just down the road. While we sipped coconut water and watched the sun set behind the clouds, a few surfers hired boards and rode the waves below us. The time passed both slowly and quickly, if you know what I mean.
Dinner at a local Ceningan institution
For dinner, we headed a little further back down the road. We had heard tell of a little warung (a basic local eatery) called Kandel that was popular with the locals, so we went in search of it. A surprisingly long (and dark and hilly) walk later, we got there. It wasn’t much more that a little shed with a few chairs and tables, and an attached kitchen, but we didn’t really mind. The sweet middle-aged lady who seated us didn’t speak much English, but we made ourselves understood with hand gestures where language failed.
It quickly became clear that really the only local vegetarian food to be had in Bali was nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles) and gado gado (a fresh salad with veggies, sprouts and peanut sauce). We’d already tried the first two during earlier meals, so it was gado gado time for me, while the meat-eaters in the group ordered other stuff.
My first real gado gado
I’d eaten gado gado before, but this one looked very different from what I was used to. It was pale, the dressing was thick, and it had some starchy chunks in it that I still can’t identify. It didn’t really look very appetizing. But it was all made completely fresh in front of our eyes, and it tasted great. That was the first of many gado gados I ate in Bali, and each was very different from the last, so it never really got boring, unlike the nasi and mie goreng. Overall, the food at warung Kandel was simple, wholesome and tasty, didn’t have any aftereffects, and was incredibly cheap. Our meal for four cost IDR 85,000, which works out to a little over Rs. 100 (about USD 1.40) per person. We were amazed!
A dark night, a quiet walk, and lots of stars
Despite being totally stuffed, we couldn’t resist stopping for a dessert of banana fritters at the Sunset Lounge on the way back. But the walk along the quiet, dark road, through trees and past local houses, didn’t just help our digestion. It also helped us appreciate why people say that Ceningan is was Bali used to be 30 years ago. It was like being in a quiet little out-of-way village, with just a few locals around doing their own thing, and the sound of the waves far away.
The night was clear, and the stars were out in force, so I couldn’t help but head back to that disused party platform to try some astrophotography. I learned some things that night, so hopefully my next effort will be better!
A hop over from Ceningan to Lembongan
The next day, we hired us some scooters from the reception to do some exploring further afield. Putu (pronounced ‘poo-too’), the jolly manager with whom I’d been in touch since before we even left for Bali, showed us to two rusty but serviceable scooters, and away we went. WE took some time to get used to the The scooters took some getting used to (especially for someone who’s used to bigger motorcycles), but once we got the hang of them, they took everything in their stride remarkably well.
Astride our little scooters, we headed back over Yellow Bridge to Lembongan. We had heard good things about it too, and decided to see for ourselves. But the difference from Ceningan was evident as soon as we crossed the bridge: it was far more crowded, with lots of people everywhere, both tourists and locals.
Some more cliffs on touristy Lembongan
We followed the road, past the shallow strait between the two islands, and then up past some lovely ornate temples and joint family compounds. At the T-junction at the end, we followed traffic and headed left to Lembongan village (Nusa Lembongan is divided into Lembongan in the west, and Jungutbatu in the east).
The further into Lembongan we went, the more touristy it became.
The further we went, the more crowded and touristy things became, with rows and rows of resorts and hotels, and a constant flow of auto trolleys ferrying tourists back and forth. Pretty soon, we’d had enough, and had almost decided to head back, when we chanced on a series of signboards that pointed us to Sunset Point. We followed them, and we were glad we did. Here were some more spectacular cliffs like on Ceningan, and there was absolutely no one around! Predictably, we spent quite some time there.
Eventually, though, we wanted to see a proper beach. So we hopped back on our scooters and followed some more signs, through surprisingly rough and narrow lanes, to Tamarind Beach. We managed to find some space between the rows of scooters to park our own, and headed to the beach. The beach itself was nice, but the sun was blazing and it was hot, so we revised our plans and looked around for a place where we could cool off with a drink and a snack. We ended up going into the Wayan Beachfront Restaurant, which had a lovely view from the first floor. The food and cocktails were decent, but predictably, it was quite expensive.
We admire temples and a tree, and the strait at low tide
We figured that the prices and view were better on Ceningan, and so we headed back. On the way, we stopped to admire the temples and the massive ficus tree on the road down, and asked about prices for snorkelling trips at the agencies at Yellow Bridge. The people we talked to about the snorkelling thing seemed a trifle shady, so we decided we’d ask Putu if he could arrange something for us, once we got back.
Lunch was at the MyBeach Restaurant and Bar, where we pretty much had the entire place to ourselves. More Bintangs and gado gado were consumed, and we spent quite a while admiring the view. It was low tide, and amazingly, the strait between Ceningan and Lembongan was almost completely dry! If we had wanted to, we could’ve walked back to Lembongan over the seabed. Not something you see every day.
In search of Ceningan’s Secret Beach, we find the Old Tree
After lunch (and our customary snooze), we set out in search of Secret Beach. We had almost booked rooms in Villa Trevally on Secret Beach (instead of Secret Point Huts on Secret Point; confusing, I know) and we were curious about what the place looked like. It turned out it was quite a way away, on the other side of the island. To get there, we rode over the central hill of the island, and through some nice forest. It was quite out of the way, and though it was tastefully built, it seemed like it wasn’t all that well maintained. The beach wasn’t incredible either, being small and quite rocky. All in all, we were quite glad to have rooms in Secret Point Huts.
We explored some more, and ended up at the Old Tree, a dead tree with a rope swing, and a view of the cliffs.
We weren’t done exploring, though, and followed one of the forest roads towards the edge of the island. We’d seen a signboard advertising property for sale, and we were curious. We never got there, though, because saw another road leading to the edge of the cliffs, and took that instead. We ended up at the Old Tree, a dead tree with a rope swing in it, and a meadow that ended at the cliffs. This time we weren’t alone; some young local boys were there flying a kite, and two other tourists were hanging around the cliffs. But all these disappeared quite soon, so we had the place to ourselves again. And spent another relaxed afternoon in the company of the crashing waves.
Snorkelling, cliff-jumping and a night-time visit to Jungutbatu
Our last day on Ceningan started off with a snorkelling trip. As we expected, Putu had managed to arrange a trip for us at a much better rate than what was quoted at Yellow Bridge, and we even got a private boat to ourselves. So after a quick bite of breakfast, we hopped onto another auto trolley that took us down to Yellow Bridge, where the boat would meet us. It was high tide, but we were amazed at how shallow the water still was. And surprisingly cold, too! I was glad I was wearing my dive shirt, but the others weren’t as lucky.
Putu had told the previous day us that the spot where we would be snorkelling depended on how rough the waves were, and many other people were there. When the boat arrived, it turned out we would be snorkelling at Mangrove Point, off the eastern tip of Lembongan. We didn’t mind, as long as there were some nice corals to be seen.
Corals and sparkling fish at Mangrove Point
It took us about 20 minutes to get to Mangrove Point, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the water was much warmer here. It was almost balmy! Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was morning, and the water was deeper. Anyway, we strapped on our masks and snorkels (and I strapped my GoPro to my chest) and hopped in.
We spent almost two hours paddling around, admiring the corals and the little fish (and even a sunken statue). There was only one other small group there, so we were almost alone. Our only complaint was that it was quite cloudy, so we didn’t get to see as much colour as we had hoped. On the other hand, the few times the sun did break through the clouds, the corals and fish suddenly lit up in glorious, shimmering colours! Sadly, it was only when we got back that I realized that strapping the GoPro to my chest gave it an angle that didn’t really do justice to that underwater wonderland. I guess one lives and learns.
Also read: Review: GoPro HERO 5 Black action camera
Finally, we do a cliff jump
We weren’t quite finished with the sea yet, though. We’d asked about doing the small cliff jump from Mahana Point the previous day (they have a bigger one too, but that was closed). At the time, they’d told us that it wouldn’t be possible because the seas would be too rough. When we got back from our snorkel, we could see people jumping off the edge into the water! We had been disappointed the previous day, so now we were excited that we could do it after all. So we quickly trotted off to Mahana Point, and told the chaps there we wanted to jump. They made a few arrangements (like getting a lifesaver with a rope tied to it, in case we needed saving), and we were all set.
The staff at Mahana Point made some arrangements for our cliff jump. Like getting a lifesaver with a rope attached!
It turned out that we had to time it right so an incoming wave wouldn’t overwhelm us, so two of us lined up (the others didn’t want to go) and waited for the staff’s signal. One after the other, right on cue, we jumped off the edge into the blue water about five metres (15 feet) below, and hauled ourselves out of the water using the ladder attached to the rock underneath. The GoPro on my chest came in handy this time (check out the video for footage of my jump)! And the icing on the cake was, even though each jump usually costs IDR 25,000 (Rs. 125, or about USD 2), they told us we didn’t have to pay because we were staying at Secret Point Huts! It seems the same extended family manages both. I wish we’d known this earlier!
We still weren’t done with the water. When we got back, we realized that we hadn’t made the most of our semi-private beach. So we spent the next hour or so in the water, sipping Bintangs and watching other cliff jumpers. We even saw one poor lady have trouble getting out of the water after her jump. She obviously wasn’t a strong swimmer, and the waves were too much for her. Someone had to finally jump in and get her out. So do this cliff jump only if you’re a good swimmer. The water can be quite rough, and the waves can pull you under and out if you’re not careful.
A great (and somewhat expensive) lunch at Le Pirate
Lunch was at Le Pirate Beach Club, arguably the best known hotel and restaurant on Ceningan, and for good reason. A very nicely done up place, with great food and nice cocktails. Understandably, that was also the most expensive meal we’d eaten so far. But it still worked out to about IDR 200,000 (Rs. 1,000 or about USD 15) per head, which is still great considering we ordered cocktails, appetizers, mains and dessert.
That evening, we thought we’d explore some more of Ceningan on our scooters. The forest roads we hadn’t been on yet weren’t very good, so we decided to try the road past Yellow Bridge. It turned out, this was the non-tourist part of the island, so there were only a few local houses and not much else to see. But it did give us a glimpse of how the locals lived.
A nice night ride to Jungutbatu
It was getting dark by then, so we thought we’d head over to Lembongan and see what Jungutbatu had to offer. The ride was nice, going up over Lembongan’s central hill and down the other side. Jungutbatu turned out to be just as you would expect: rows of resorts, hotels and restaurants clustered along the road running along the beach. Nothing really caught our eye, so we headed back up the hill to a restaurant called Mois that we’d seen on the way, and that had a nice view of the lights of Jungutbatu.
The ride to Jungutbatu was nice, going up over Lembongan’s central hill and down the other side.
The place was tastefully done up, but the salad we ordered was disappointing, so we headed back. We finally stopped at a lovely little place called Tawe Beach Bar and Grill, just before Yellow Bridge. There, we sat on bean bags on the sand, and ate dinner while admiring the view of Ceningan across the strait, and with a sweet doggie called Tom-tom keeping us company. That was something I noticed on Ceningan and Lembongan: the dogs were all well cared-for and friendly, even the strays. More fun for us!
The next leg of our Bali adventure
The next morning, it was time to head back to the mainland to continue our Bali adventure in Ubud. But our three days experiencing Ceningan’s cliffs, blue water, corals and peaceful atmosphere were would stay with us all through.
IQ’s top tips for visiting Bali’s Nusa Ceningan island
- If you’re travelling to Bali by AirAsia, make sure you book a fare that includes check-in baggage, or buy an extra check-in baggage package online. If you try and pay at the counter when you check in, you could end up paying more than double. We paid around Rs. 14,000 (USD 200) at the counter on our way there, when we could’ve just paid around Rs. 7,000 online (USD 100).
- Most waiting areas at the boarding gates in Kuala Lumpur airport don’t have any refreshments, and you can’t leave once you enter. Make sure you get yourself something to eat and drink before you enter your waiting area.
- Likewise, there aren’t any refreshments available at Bali (Denpasar) airport’s arrival lounge, or at least none that we could see. But there’s a little café tucked into a corner outside the arrival exit. Turn right immediately outside the exit door, and you should see it to your right.
- Sanur doesn’t have a pier, so if you’re taking a boat from there, make sure you wear shorts so you can wade through the water.
- The fast boat to Lembongan smashes through some pretty rough water. If you’re prone to seasickness, take an anti-nausea pill half an hour before you board.
- You can only cross Yellow Bridge between Lembongan and Ceningan on foot or on a scooter/motorbike. So if you have heavy luggage, make sure it has wheels.
- Ceningan has lots of places to eat along the Yellow Bridge road. Check out warung Kandel for simple, local food, and Le Pirate Beach Club for atmosphere and a great international menu.
- Secret Point Huts has arguably the best location of any place to stay on Ceningan. But if you prefer fans over air-conditioning, you might be out of luck; our room only had an AC and thin sheets on the beds, so we didn’t get too much sleep. Check with Putu (WhatsApp +62 859 5412 4593) before you book.
- Not all the staff at Secret Point Huts may be as jolly as Putu (pronounced poo-too), but get to know them a bit, and they can be quite friendly.
- You might be able to score free cliff jumps from Mahana Point if you’re staying at Secret Point Huts.
- Scooters are the best way to explore Lembongan and Ceningan. We didn’t see any taxis, and four-wheelers can’t cross Yellow Bridge anyway. Check with your hotel about rates for scooters. We paid IDR 50,000 (Rs. 250 or USD 3.5 per day)
- The Two Raksa Café is a good orientation point on the west side of Ceningan: if you’re coming from Yellow Bridge, turn right at Two Raksa to head towards Secret Point; go straight for Secret Beach and the Old Tree; and turn left to head onto the hill (but this road’s pretty bad).
- Most of the tourist action is on the west side of Ceningan (turn right when you cross Yellow Bridge), but the east side of the island probably offers a more local experience. We didn’t manage to see it, but wished we could have.
- If you want to snorkel, shop around a little for rates. Chances are, your hotel will be able to arrange a better rate than the counters at Yellow Bridge, where they might try to scam you.
- Jungutbatu on Lembongan is nice to visit at night, if only for the atmospheric drive over the hill from Yellow Bridge.
- The water around Lembongan and Ceningan is rough, so don’t expect gentle beaches.
- Lots of tourists make day trips to Lembongan, so expect the beaches to be full of day-trippers doing water sports during the day.
Pretty much the only local vegetarian food you’ll get is nasi goreng, mie goreng and gado gado. Each place makes gado gado differently, though, so you won’t get bored too quickly. Just check if they use prawn paste or fish sauce, first. But most places will also have international vegetarian options.
Responsible travel tips
- Most large airports have safe drinking water dispensers now. Carry your own water bottle so you can fill it up at the airports instead of having to buy plastic bottles.
- The only drinking water available on Ceningan is in bottles. Your hotel will probably give you little plastic water bottles every day, but buying large bottles instead will reduce your overall plastic consumption a little.