Writing about Gili is difficult. I mean, what can you say about Gili? Bad question…it’s more, what can’t you say about this place? And I won’t bore you with geographical facts (three islands off the coast of Lombok, just about 3h speed boat journey away from Bali). I’ll just get to the point. In June 2014, I spent abut 10 days on Gili Trawagan. I say ‘about’ simply because I truly forgot how long I was there for. Initially I thought I’d stay for three days only. But then …well…then I never left. By the time I eventually did leave, my phone had stopped working so I had no internet connection. It was two days later then I actually thought it was, so I missed my flight back from Bali to Singapore. Ah well, not the end of the world. Flights in South East Asia, even if you book them for the next day, are ridiculously cheap.
Back to Gili. More than just an island, Gili T is a magical place where the streets have no names (they really don’t even have the slightest hint of a name) and, where they claim, you stay young forever. Just like that Katie Melua song – the first one is a fact, the second one just a guess (in case you don’t know what I’m talking about…it goes a bit like this: There are nine million bicycles in Beijing…that’s a fact, it’s a thing you can’t deny […] We are 12 billion lightyears from the edge…that’s a guess, no one can ever say it’s true etc.)
It’s also a place of gorgeous beaches, amazing food, mad people – yes yes, the ones Kerouac writes about – endless Reggae music, and overall, the most laid back atmosphere I have yet experienced on this trip. Actually, everything I will say about Gili will have some element of ‘Most most most’…sorry for all the repeats. Then again, some of these pictures just speak for themselves, don’t they?
Below is the harbour. When you arrive on one of those speed boats, you get out here and then walk straight to the main beach road. The road goes around the whole island and it takes about one hour…maybe a little more…to complete the tour. That’s all. On bicycle around 25 minutes. An absolute MUST-DO if you are there. All the bars and restaurants are along this road and most are crammed around the harbour too. The further you go, the more elaborate and grand they seem to become. I was there during Ramadan which is off-season so they were mostly empty. Yet I felt like there were absolutely enough people on the island to have a good time. If there were more, I am not sure I would have enjoyed it as much. They say Gili T is the party island. Gili Meno and Gili Air are the laid back ones. The other two are on the must-see list for my next trip 🙂
Gili T is just 10 minutes on the boat from Lombok and Lombok provides a marvellous scenery. It’s volcanoes and mountainous landscape just add to this feeling of being stuck somewhere beyond the forests of civilisations. I found myself staring at that landscape for hours, especially when the sun used to go down and you’d have a few layers of clouds and mountains intermingling, not being able to tell what is what. Unfortunately, I never had my camera with me when that happened so I did not capture it. Not sure I would have done justice to that view anyhow but the second picture below is one poor attempt.
The water is as clear as it gets, no matter where you are, so it’s perfect for snorkelling. You see turtles, schools of snappers, and all kinds of other fish. I never liked biology so I don’t know their names. Snorkelling in Gili is a great experience. It does makes the beach a little unpleasant for swimming though. The corals are quite hard and I kicked one so badly that I thought I had broken a toe. There’s still something brownish under my skin from that kick days later. The sand, however, is clean and white and you can easily sit there all day long. Some of the bars on the beach offer free seats (the long comfortable ones, or bed-like seats, etc) as long as you buy drinks there. For others you pay. Obviously, I never paid and what I enjoyed most was lying on my red Ikea towel. Especially if you walk a little along the beach road, you get to areas where all there is is the sand. Those were my favourite spots. Another great spot is Surfer’s bar. They have hammocks inside trees just 1m in front of the water. The view is gorgeous and at night you feel these sweet breeze. As soon as I’d get there in the evenings, I’d fall asleep in those hammocks. Peace.
Some of the sunsets I have seen on Gili were breath-taking. Now I may be abusing this word a little but they truly were. The best spot is a little hill on Trawagan. From there you can see the sunset as well as the two smaller Gilies and have a great view of Lombok. There’s some form of antenna on that hill, so it’s difficult to miss. I rode a bike to get there but realised I had left my SD card inside my laptop when I got there. The pic below is taken elsewhere, in a spot called Sunset Beach (I think) – directly by the sea. The fresh water melon juice that came with it was a great addition.
Food on the island is absolutely fantastic and ranges from delicious yet cheap Nasi Goreng to amazing fresh sea food. The food market is quite something as well, I just found the waiting a little tiring. Yet, if you leave the main beach road and venture onto the nameless streets just behind, you will find some local food worth dying for. In the place below I had a pizza (yes, even that is decent on Gili). It was like eating inside the ocean. The waves were smashing against the poles and you are just on top of it, enjoying your beer and your food. If only I could press repeat. I want that right now.
In the pics below you see some of the fresh sea food buffets that you can pick from. As I said, not the cheapest for Indonesian standards, yet absolutely delicious. The barracuda in the last one – well – I did eat that one. Apologies to any members of barracuda-protection-agencies who read this. Grilled in some intense garlic sauce it tasted like…like you’d never want to stop eating it.
Yet the most awesome part about Gili is the Diving. Dive shops on Gili are one next to the other. I went into the first one I came by called Diversia. It’s just by Sama Sama – the famous reggae bar. Run by some very rock ‘n’ roll looking Italian dudes, I became super close friends with two of the dive masters Tim and JJ. These two guys are living the life. Definitely need to write more about them in the Stories section. Luckily, I had done my Open Water a few years back on Perhentian islands so it was all quick and easy. There were two organised Fun Dives every day. Hop on the boat with one of the masters and see some of the most incredible scenery you can even imagine. I did three dives – Manta Point, Meno Wall and Shark Point. Unfortunately, I was a little ill when doing my first dive and that became properly bad by the time I did my last one. I don’t recommend diving with a cold but then having the possibility to see those spots and not do it, that would be insane.
My favourite spot was Meno Wall. Meno Wall is a ~15m deep coral wall. After going down about 3-4m you come to this spot which looks like the edge of a very abrupt cliff. Staring into the abyss, you realise nothing can happen to you and you dive head-forward straight into it. What a feeling of super-human powers. Unfortunately, I don’t own a go-pro or any equipment like that. But I found a great Youtube clip of Meno Wall which I decided to embed here. Around 1:35 you see the wall that I mentioned. Hope you enjoy.
And finally, the Gili Reggae. So much classy live music on such a small island was unbelievable. But there are also Irish pubs with silent discos, beach front parties and what not. In fact, on my first night on Gili I met Gustav and Erik, two Swedish guys who were amongst the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. They were both in a band and reminded me a lot of Bill & Ted and their most excellent adventure. In any case, I ended up hitting one of the beach-front parties with them – I think it was at Surfer’s Bar. Somebody was lighting a fire and my flip-flops ended up in there. Again, not quite sure why that all happened, but had to walk back barefoot. I wasn’t used to it and it wasn’t pleasant. But what a great night it was.
– Getting there can be a bit of a bitch. If you buy a speed boat ticket from Kuta, they will try to rip you off like mad. The first price I was quoted was 1.2Million Ruppiah for a return journey. Eventually I got it for half. Even that was too much. Normally you can get a return ticket for 400k. For example, in Ubud, the first price they were quoting was 450k. Just haggle as low as possible. Start at 200k even. I wish I had read this somewhere before buying the ticket.
–Speed boat craze: the actual speed boat trip was nuts. The boat was over-crowded. The aircon was not working, and each wave felt like a crash. I don’t exaggerate. Looking at the people behind me, they all looked terribly sick. So if you have even the slightest form of seasickness, be prepared for a horrible 2-3h journey. If not, it still won’t be much fun. It’s hot and humid inside. Made me understand why my travel insurance does NOT cover boat accidents. I had wondered when I booked it…
– Slow boat: apparently, there is also a slow boat that takes you to Gili, or at least to Lombok. A German guy I met on the island told me about it but I already had a return ticket. I think it costs 50k and is the proper way to travel between Lombok and Bali. The boat is somewhat slower but, only takes 1-2h more. The ride is a lot more comfortable though. When I asked about it in Bali, they said it’d take 11hours. That’s just their stupid rip-off techniques. Do some Google search on this and see what other people say. Might totally be worth it.
–Accommodation is cheaper than in Bali. I found that you could get a super nice bungalow for 150k/night. Again, your negotiation skills will be very important. Usually, for 250k you get a decent bungalow with aircon and breakfast included. Some charge 500k for hardly anything more. So – unless it’s super high season (August onwards I believe) – just get there and have a look yourself. Just one thing – I found AirBnB to be totally useless for Gili. Crazy expensive and nothing nice.
– Island transport – there are no scooters or cars on the island. Just horse carts and bikes. You might be tempted to get a horse cart when you get there. Unless you are living inside the island, I suggest you walk. Everything is ridiculously close. And then, a must-do is renting a bike (20-50k/day) and explore. Ride up and down and diagonally and each and every way. You’ll always see something that surprises you.
– Enjoy. There’s not many places like this in the world.
– Be excellent to each other \,,/