The Gili Islands have been a popular backpacker destination for many years.
Just off the west coast of Lombok, three islands are situated, all in a perfect linear direction, creating a slice of heaven in Indonesia. Hearing about the place and receiving recommendations about here 4 years before I actually made it to this area, meant I had painted a different picture in my mind to what it in actual fact was like.
Gili Trawanagan is the most popular island by far because of its large scope of wildlife in snorkelling and its notorious night life. I was told the island was small, serene and picturesque, but as we arrived, it felt more similar to Koh Pi Pi in Thailand, rather than a deserted island out of Robinson Cruse. Floods of tourists visit, some even just for a night from Bali, and holiday makers from neighbouring countries, meaning developed resorts are now on every corner, either in the making or already present. The once empty streets are now filled with expensive beach side restaurants, French cafes, boutique shops and chain supermarkets. Although the white sand beach is alluring, the costly beach bars with their edgy unnatural furniture makes this place more commercial rather than rustic.
To escape the ever increasing consumerism, hire bikes for the day, (only 30 thousand rupiah each) and pedal around the island, which if consistently done, should take roughly about an hour. What we found whilst doing this, is that the North side of the island has much wider and emptier beaches. Rather than the sea filled with bobbing boats and talkative tourists, the sea is filled with tentative turtles and crazy coral life. The beach bars are made out of recycled items, all buzzing with character. If you are into a certain type of vegetable that makes you fly with no wings, then here there are many signs selling the local produce. Hearing many horror stories of fellow backpackers getting lost for hours or being unable to control their limbs, I would approach your volume and intake with caution.
Further around the island you reach the West Coast, known for its gigantic swings that line the horizon- perfect for a Kodak moment. As well as this, snorkelling with grey tipped reef sharks makes this area an ideal place to stop by and spend the day here, leaving only after watching the sun dip below circling clouds.
Other things to do in Gili T are snorkelling trips that circle the Gili’s, which allows you more of an advantage to see the sea life without facing the craggy rocks of coral. Diving is immensely popular and there are a large number of dive operators to choose from, all ranging in styles. Booze cruises are also on offer with the company Dragons or Jiggys, both are expensive with even more pricey drinks on board. Not as much debauchery as I can imagine Magaluf would be like, but each cruise still has lovely furniture and decking, great DJ’s and is a perfect way to meet fellow party animals.
An activity I highly recommend is a cooking class with Sweet and Spicy Cooking School. With 5 different courses and each with your own cooking station, you learn- and eat a lot For 295 thousand rupiah, the entertaining and informative staff teach and instruct the class well. The portions are not as large as those in Chiang Mai, but it still is an excellent experience.
Another activity I recommend is popping across the watery road and staying on either Gili Meno or Gili Air for the real island experience. With little accommodation and evening sing-alongs by the fire, you feel much more and relaxed and rustic than you would do at Gili T. Please note: Gili Air is popular with backpackers as Gili Meno is mainly filled with couples. If Gili T isn’t your piece of cake, just stay on one of the other islands, with both I have heard good things.
Food can be quite expensive on Gili T, so to be concious of your cash, head to the Night market where you can get Nasi Campur (a mixture of 4 dishes with rice) for 20 thousand rupiah, or a number of different BBQ Satays (try the Tuna Satay!) Exit Bar serves fantastic Indonesian food on the west side of the island with a uniquely styled beach front that exemplifies flair and funkiness. Otherwise Casa Bonita on the North Side of the island has an excellent salad selection served in bamboo huts swinging on stilts above the lapping waves of the endless sea. Bars are aplenty at Gili T, but going in Ramadan meant our options were much more limited. Head to Lava bar for a bar oozing with originality, North Blue Bar to tickle your feet in the soft sand and order drinks at a shack, Evolution Bar for its sociable beer pong or Surf Bar for the bar that never closes.
We stayed at Gili Bay Ray Bungalows, down a few alleys to the centre of the island. Here accommodation and homestays are much cheaper than those directly on the beach, ranging from 100-250 thousand rupiah, depending if you would prefer to have air conditioning or not. Our bungalows were cute and artsy, furnished like a hotel, although still pretty basic. With a fan, private bathroom, and balcony where we could have our free breakfast on all for 150 thousand rupiah a night, we were happy with our choice. Ray and his mum are very kind and hospitable, showing and sharing true Indonesia hospitality, helping out with all our needs.
We made our way to Gili T as cheap as possible from Padangbai in Bali. Rather buying a joint bus and boat ticket from Kuta for 400 thousand rupiah, or a fast boat from Padangbai for 500 thousand, we took the local ferry to Lombok for 50 thousand rupiah. Reaching Lembar we then caught a bus to Bangasal Harbour, getting a ferry to Gili T for 15 thousand rupiah. Although the journey took longer, we did save an extensive amount of money doing this.