Creating Our Own Piece of Paradise On The Gili Islands
Piece of Paradise on the Gili Islands
After two weeks in Bali, and four months since we’d been to the beach we were itching to get to the Gili Islands. So after two of the best weeks of our lives in Bali (see our post HERE), we packed our bags, said our emotional goodbyes and set off to the airport where a tin can with wings awaited us.
We arrived at the Merpati counter at the Bali Airport and were immediately made to feel “comfortable” with our chosen airline when the customer service rep behind the counter said, “You don’t have any valuables in your checked luggage, right?”
Alyse and I have flown a lot, both during this trip and with our previous companies so we consider ourselves pretty good fliers. We don’t usually get nervous while in the air but I’ll tell you, that flight from Bali to Lombok was the scariest we have ever taken. The weather was perfect that day but that didn’t stop our plane from twisting like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. On top of that, it was making a weird clanging noise the entire trip like the mechanic had forgotten to take a tool box out of the engine. As our plane started its descent into Lombok, it began swinging its tail back and forth and just when you thought the pilot had it under control, it would start swinging again. I grabbed Alyse’s hand and squeezed tight…this landing was going to be interesting.
I really don’t know how the pilot did it, but at the last possible second, just before we hit the runway he straightened out the plane and THUD he hit the ground HARD. We bounced up like we had just jumped onto a trampoline from a rooftop. I turned to Alyse and said,”Should we book Merpati on the way back?”
Lombok to Gili Trawangan
Arriving at the airport in Lombok we realized we had made a travel mistake (not our first and certainly not our last) by choosing to fly from Bali to Lombok and then hire a car from Lombok Airport to the docks near the Gili Islands ($13 USD for the two of us). What we should have done was book the boat from Bali to the Gili Islands. We had it in our minds that the boat from Bali to the Gilis was rough and up to seven hours long. We found out later that the boat ride is actually only about one and half hours and quite an easy ride.
After grabbing our bags we met up with a couple who were headed the same way as us and we split the cost of a mini-van to north Lombok. The two-hour or so long van ride was actually really nice as we travelled over a small mountain range where long-tailed macaques scurried across the roadways.
After arriving at the port we quickly booked our boat to Gili Trawangan which cost only a few dollars each and were told we had to wait until the boat had thirty people on it. Well, after running to board our boat as Alyse was in the bathroom during the boarding call (she has an uncanny ability for this) we quickly realized that this boat didn’t have thirty people, but sixty along with dozens of boxes of supplies for businesses on the island. And of course, since we were in Asia, they had a grand total of ten life jackets.
God I love Asia!
After finding a guesthouse and getting settled we walked around the island a bit. We were a little surprised and just a tad disappointed that we couldn’t find any bungalows right on the water (like 4000 Islands in Laos) as all the ocean front property was taken by restaurants and bars. The upside is that there are tons of restaurant, cafe and bar options to choose from, all with outstanding views of the ocean and Gili Meno in the distance.
The cheapest and best option for backpackers like us was the night market located on the middle of the East side of island where you could get any kind of BBQ you wanted, salads, fried rice, and tons of local Indonesian dishes ranging from 15,000 – 40,000 Rupiah ($1-$4 USD). We’d usually spend about 70,000 Rupiah ($5 USD) for both of us to eat a huge meal of vegetables, salad, BBQ corn and chicken. Our other absolute favourite restaurant on the island was Scallywags which was definitely more expensive (50,000 – 150,000 Rupiah) but it included the most outstanding organic salad bar we have ever seen. Well worth it in our opinions!
Travel Tip: Read our popular post, “2 Weeks in Indonesia: Sample Itineraries” for more information on where we stayed on what to do in Indonesia.
We realized quite quickly that Gili T was an island of contrasts. While walking down the island’s main road you’d see Muslim women in long pants/sleeves and head scarves walking right next to foreigners in itty bitty bikinis. While one of the two mosques on the tiny island are booming out the call to prayer on their loud speakers, you have men offering to sell you mushrooms, weed and LSD.
Some other travellers we spoke to didn’t care for Gili T because of this which is totally cool as you can take a short cheap boat across to one of the other two more chill islands. We didn’t find it that bad while we were there with the exception of “Rudy’s Bar” which is the place that Lonely Planet says is the best place to get mushroom shakes on the island. Well, we tried them there, they sucked and for the next week they were quite rude to us after I told them they weren’t strong enough and that they should give us free ones next time. I would say avoid this place if you are there.
One of our favourite things to do at night while there was head to either Reggae Bar or Evolution and listen to live music while drinking some delicious Bintangs (Indonesian’s only beer). The bands were awesome, usually playing covers of old rock songs like Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton. One of our craziest nights on the island saw us drinking beer and listening to a band at Evolution with friends of ours (one of which did our awesome new website cover). Next to us on the beach a couple of drunk “bogans” (redundant?) thought it would be a good idea to shoot fireworks on the adjacent beach. They shot a couple out into the ocean but didn’t realize they still had one left in the chamber as they turned towards us. All we remember was a bright green light and a huge BANG! I looked at Alyse to make sure she was ok as one of our friends said laughing, “Did that just happen!?”.
Gili T is tiny. You can walk around the entire island in about two hours but if you’re feeling a bit tired, drunk, hungover, etc. you can hire a horse and buggy tuk tuk. You can rent a push bike, but expect to be walking it through sand for about a quarter of the loop. There are no cars or motorbikes on the island which is great as the noise level is seriously minimized and it’s nice not to have to worry about getting smoked by a motorbike while stumbling home from the bar. In saying that, you still have to watch out for the little ponies darting around the island at night as they go at a pretty good clip and only a few have lights. There were quite a few nights walking back to our guesthouse after sunset where all we could hear was jingling bells getting closer and closer towards us and all of a sudden a horse would appear! Reminded us a little of Sleepy Hollow.
The east of Gili T is filled with guesthouses, restaurants, bars, cafes and dive shops. There are excellent coffee shops here which is a welcome reprieve from the instant crap you get in most of Asia, some with obnoxious line-ups to rival Starbucks. From what we’ve learned Gili T has changed quite a bit in the last ten years as more upmarket resorts and shops having been popping up drawing more upscale clients, changing the vibe of the island from that of a backpacker party island.
The North side of the island is quiet, with a few dive shops and small resorts and is famous for having the best snorkelling on the island. The South sees some bigger waves, great for anyone wanting to try surfing. The West side (where we spent most of our days) has some of the bigger resorts on the island but it also has really cool beach side bars with great music, fire dancers and some pretty good food.
Once walking over to the West side, we would go and buy cheap coconuts from a cute family who had a little hut right on the beach and then find our “secret spot”. The views on the West side are absolutely breathtaking as you have an unimpeded view of the volcanoes of Bali. Add to the gorgeous views were pristine white sand beaches, spectacular sunsets and beautiful turquoise waters. We have been all over Asia, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean and we have never felt water as warm as it was on Gili T.
It felt like you were stepping into a warm bath…
On days where we wanted beach chairs and wifi, we would head to a resort close to our “secret beach” where I would order one cappuccino (one of the best I’ve ever had) and hang out on their chairs all day. At first I think they were annoyed with us for doing this but after the third or fourth time, we started to get to know the staff on a first name basis. I’d like to think that we were treated so well because we are awesome, but it I think it had more to do with the fact that they had no other customers in their restaurant/beach area. The picture below is of my guilty pleasure, a $3 USD cappuccino which was worth every penny.
Without a doubt, Gili Trawangan provided us with the most beautiful sunsets we have seen on our travels so far and if you’ve been following our blog then you know we’ve seen some stunners around Asia. Here is one of our faves…
One afternoon while relaxing on the our private beach, we saw a few young guys bringing their horses out into the ocean. Alyse and I had never seen this before and asked them if they were washing them and they told us that after a long day pulling the tuk tuk the ocean massages and calms them. The image of these men caring for their horses in such a loving way, with the sun setting behind the volcanoes of Bali in the background was one of the most moving images I had ever seen.
Another highlight of our trip was snorkelling around Gili Air and Gili Meno. By far, Gili Meno has the best snorkelling of the three islands with tons of fish, beautiful coral and even the occasional sea turtle! If you are heading there, expect to pay 100,000 Rupiah each for all day snorkelling (lunch excluded) or if you’d prefer to have lunch provided it’ll be 120,000 Rupiah each. We didn’t end up diving here (although it is supposed to be decent) because we had heard from a few different travellers that the snorkelling vs. diving doesn’t differ too much in what you see.
Travel Tip: SCUBA has a flat fee of $37 USD per dive on the island.
On our final day on Gili T we spent the day (of course) at our favourite beach spot. While we soaked in some rays we noticed we had the two young kids from the coconut shop taking an interest in us as they played with each other butt naked in the ocean. Before too long they had made their way over to a small tree behind us, bouncing from branch to branch making monkey noises. I grabbed a few bananas from my bag and tossed them up which had them smiling from ear to ear. The monkey noises lasted until they took notice of our iPad and climbed down from the tree to investigate. Once we started teaching them how to play some games we had best friends for life.
After our iPad ran out of power from frantic games of Bejeweled, Alyse gave them a box of art pencils and some paper as a gift. Something amazing then happened as they took the pencils and paper and ran off behind the tree. Alyse and I wondered if we’d see them again but about fifteen minutes later the little girl appeared with a folded up piece of paper and gave it to Alyse. Seconds later the little boy came out and gave me a piece of paper. We both unfolded our papers and were almost brought to tears as we realized that these two kids who lived in a tiny shack on the beach and had absolutely no material possessions, had used up all the paper we had given them to draw us both pictures.
Our last day transformed from a nice day at the beach to one of the highlights of our entire trip.
There is no getting around it, the Gili Islands are gorgeous. Yes, Gili T can be a little rough at times but we found it’s what you make of it. If you’re looking for a party, you’ll find it. If you are looking for a quiet tranquil spot to relax, you’ll find that too. We made the Gilis our own and were rewarded with two weeks of chilled out fun on one of the most idyllic islands in Southeast Asia. White sand beaches and warm crystal clear water and parties were expected, friendly locals, private beaches and perhaps the most stunning sunsets in all of Asia were not but all worked together beautifully to make Gili Trawangan one of our favourite islands in the world.
Ross & Alyse