When I started my research about Indonesia (an essential part of my travels) it was when I first started reading about these great three tiny places on earth; the Gili Islands.
These islands are a total of three very close to each other (aerial pics of them are pretty amazing, have a look) and they are located off the Northwest Coast of Lombok however most tourist reach them directly from Bali. Of course, Indonesians are very well aware of their popularity among tourists and they have it all organized for us Westerners to reach them easily with several options available.
After my last disaster experience trying to be a hero reaching Ubud on my own that cost me almost my sanity, I decided that this time I would be more tourist that brave backpacker and took a transfer, so organized that the pick-up was across the road from my Guest House J
The cost of a pick up from the Guest House in Ubud to Gili Trawangan or Air by fast boat (a total journey of approximately 3-4 hours was of 275.000 IDR)
It is indeed possible to do it alone and the way is to get to the Perama Shuttle Bus Office in Ubud and from there take a minibus to Padang Bai and again, from Padang Bai to take a boat onto Lombok and then again, from there another boat to Bangsal and lastly another boat to whichever Gili you wish to visit. Uff!
Seems a lot of hard work to me but I would like to point out in my defense or at the risk to seem lazy that by then I was still traumatized by my experience reaching Ubud. Said that, I wouldn’t mind to try and do it solo next time I’m around here.
Padang Bai seemed to me a little sleepy fisherman village very charming, possible the kind of place where anyone can hang around easily for one or two days but there was not time. As soon as the shuttle dropped us in Padang Bai and after a short time to exchange our tickets for the fast boat one, we were on our way to the small pier where we waited for almost an hour for the boat to arrive and board it.
The fast boat is quite comfortable; full of Westerners and minority of locals for the obvious reasons related to the high cost, sadly. It took an hour and a half with some very occasional heavy waves to reach Gili Air (with a previous stop in Gili Trawagan where the entire entire young crowd jumped in to return to firm land). After that, a quick ten more minutes and we reached Gili Air.
As soon as I stepped out of the boat and put my feet on firm land, I felt it. I felt the peace, the tranquility, the slow pace, the island life. It felt as if the time had stopped and I just arrived to a tropical paradise.
There were not touts hassling me at the tiny pier so I made the most of something so unexpected and started walking slowly inland. Of course I knew that any GH or hotel/resort at the beach would cost me much more that I could pay and besides, I quite fancy the tranquility of the island local community.
As I walked, I noticed two things; Guest Houses and homestays signs were absolutely everywhere and most of them were beautiful bungalows of similar shape. Cool!
I finally ended up in a super nice bungalow called “Family Homestay” where initially the guy was asking me 300.000 IDR (which I didn’t want to pay as it was way out of my budged) so I thanked him and continued walking. Five minutes later he reached me with his bike and offered me 150.000 IDR with breakfast included. Good enough, I took it (I must mention that rainy season was starting therefore not many tourist were reaching the Gilis and it makes it easy to haggle the accommodatione price)
This below was my bungalow. Not bad, uh?
I spent two days in Gili Air and then moved onto Gili Trawagan where I stayed three days. The tale of my time in the islands would be simply described as doing pretty much next to nothing other than cycling, walking, swimming, sunbathing, eating and contemplating the turquoise water and sunsets through long walks on the beach.
I read a while ago that each island has a different personality to match your own. While I did not go to Meno I can’t say that this affirmation is true…Yes, Air is very quiet and smaller and when you step in Trawagan you notice right away that the dinning, diving and bar options have multiplied but not in such an overwhelming way as I was expecting.
I had previously read through my research that Gili Trawagan was a party island and I was a little bit concerned where I was getting myself into but after spending there three days, I saw lots of similarities with Gili Air and no major differences, so much that I decided to stay longer because I happened to find a truly wonderful and quite isolated beach with friendly locals selling jewry. I found my spot there and I made it my favorite beach during my time in Gili T.
I also found accommodation inland; the Dian Homestay, here’s a pic; quite nice, quiet and comfortable for 150.000 IDR with breakfast included.
Doing a complete walk around both islands never took me more than an hour but of course, it will always take you more because you are likely to stop in a nice beach, have a swim, enjoy a great spot, have a drink in one of the many bars at the beach, take pics, etc…There are great bars everywhere, specially those that they are built right where sun sets…just imaging the view while sipping a drink….please someone take me back now!!!!!
I noticed that especially in Trawagan, there are very luxurious refined hotels and resorts, I mean, wonderful spectacular pure luxury places where I doubt there are any backpackers staying. Just wow.
Is not a wow meaning “I wish I could stay”…no! I loved my homestay and would have not change it for the world, ran by a genuine nice Muslim family but you’ve got to give credit to the constructions and decorations of such places, specially for me as I come from a Hotel background J
Also, I noticed that in both islands but specially in Trawagan, there were many resorts under construction taking place. I suppose that sadly if I visit in a year’s time, the resorts will have doubled in number even though soon they will ran out of space if they keep building at that quick pace! Don’t even get me started here with the effects of this mass construction on a natural environment like this, it is sad but unavoidable on these three tiny islands that are growing in popularity every year.
My guess is that many of those local people working so hard on the construction sites are possibly coming from Lombok, Sumatra or other places like mainland Bali to work and earn money. The working conditions didn’t look great to me but I guess these men and women can count themselves lucky to even have a job in Indonesia with a large number of unemployment.
Amazingly, vehicles of any sort are not allowed and the only official vehicles are two; donkeys/horses pulling wooden carriages AND bicycles.
These bikes with the unusual thick wheels have a real purpose for existing in these islands as most of the paths are full of soft sand and while with a normal bike you would have to get off and walk pushing your bike through the sand paths, with the “super” bike as I like to call it, well, you just don’t…Is like a bike from the future, don’t you agree??
These carriages being pulled by donkeys and horses not only are taxis for the locals and tourist but also to carry construction stuff and any other thing. I don’t want to imagine the disaster of having motorbikes in such peaceful clean islands like these. The idea is just a big no-no with a reason.
For me and besides Bali, these island locals are one of the nicest people I have ever seen. They are just incredibly smiley and accommodating. There is no way you walk or bike around the island without being greeted by almost all of them! Not only hello, but also how are you and any other questions that may arise. How beautiful is to be in a place like this?
I found a perfect package at the Gilis; a paradise on earth with heart-warming people.
Of course these islands they survive largely thank you to the tourism and pretty much every business on them is focused and also the result of the increasingly number of tourist that arrive each year. As you walk around, you notice several places dedicated to diving and snorkelling (the main activity on the Gilis), tours, boat transfers, overprice shops for the tourists, resorts under construction, etc… There are also the many restaurants and bars each of them fighting to capture the tourists attention which makes them improve their creativity sometimes with tasteful expensive decoration, some others with a more relaxed chill out vibe. The variety is large and picturesque, the menus vary from simple and affordable to elaborate and expensive, from food stalls to the most exquisite restaurants. There are great bars to fall in love with and to enjoy the splendid sunset evenings. Is there ever was something real called “island life” this got to be it!
Why would anyone want to leave a place like this?
I feel I could have spent in the Gilis a long time but my trip had to continue and I decided that instead of being unhappy because I had to move on onto my next destination, I was going to feel incredibly blessed because I went, saw and enjoyed it and memories are never the same when you’ve been to the Gilis.
Don’t let anyone make you believe that Gili Islands are expensive if you are on a tight budget. I’m the living prove that they can be indeed very cheap because accommodation aside, watching an amazing sunset and enjoy swimming in intense blue waters is free and makes you way happier than anything you can buy with money.
As they say, the best things in life are free!
Before I end this article, some useful information if you are about to get here or thinking to; here’s below the timings for the boat and also the prices (note the below prices are from 2015)
Bear in mind that this prices are for the local boats, not the fast ones and as an example, if you take the local a boat from Gili T to Padang Bai, it takes 10hrs and costs you 220.000 IDR however I paid 300.000 IDR for the fast boat to Padang Bai (1hr ½ ) and then a transfer to Kuta in Bali. Make your calculations and decide what is best for you. OK, the budget option is good because is way cheaper, but the 10hrs on a boat when you can do it for less than two….
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it. There are so many things a person can say about these tiny paradisiacal islands, but why not to say less and maybe inspire you to see them for yourself? 🙂