For decades, backpackers have made the hop from Bali for a dip in the turquoise-tinted, bathtub-warm waters of the tiny, irresistible Gili islands, and stayed longer than they anticipated. Perhaps it’s the deep-water coral reefs teeming with sharks, rays and reasonably friendly turtles? Maybe it’s the serenity that comes from no motorized traffic, dogs or cops? Or it could be the beachfront bungalows, long stretches of white sand and the friendly locals? Each of these jungled pearls, located just off the northwestern tip of Lombok, have their own unique character, but they have one thing in common: they are all hard to leave.
Family friendly Gili Air is the closest to the mainland, with plenty of homestays dotted among the palm trees. Mellow Gili Meno, the middle island, is small, quiet, a bit pricier, but a wonderful chilled out retreat.Gili Trawangan (population 800), the furthest out, has been tagged as “the party island.” And it’s true that you will be invited to purchase dope and magic mushrooms somewhere between six and 6000 times. But that’s not the whole story. Trawangan is growing up, with stylish accommodation, a fun expat community and outstanding dining.
My trip to the Gili’s to and from Bali would be my last major expense in budget friendly Asia before arriving in pricey Australia. I promised myself the better of two travel options. The first (and least desirable but cheapest) involves taking a slow and clunky public bus to one of two ports, then transferring onto an overcrowded smelly ferry which takes several hours to reach Lombok where you then take a bus north to a port city at the tip of the island and take one last boat out to the Gili’s. The ordeal would take an entire day of “holiday time.” A few months earlier I would have without a doubt chosen this option as it was considerably cheaper and I found great adventure in painfully long “authentic experiences” such as these. I was going to treat myself to a more direct and comfortable mode of transit and I am ever so glad I did!
Perma is the one company that caters towards tourists. They pick you up at your hotel in a mini bus. Drive you to a norther port on the northern tip of Bali island and then transfer you to one of their double decker boats. We were fed lunch on the boat and the top deck featured a man made beach (sand, lawn chairs and speakers playing Lady Gaga). We sailed for three hours directly to the Gili islands, through the most beautiful islands. We hopped off the boat and found our selves strolling along the small island of Gili Trawangan. I had met a great friend on the boat trip over who hails from Vancouver British Colombia. We hit it off and decided to share accommodation together to save some money. I was adamant about finding the cheapest deal. We walked along the islands main beach front where many beautiful 5 star hotels lured us in with their promised “special rates.” I was not about to spend $30 usd a night on a hotel room it just seemed outrageous to me. We ended up finding a hotel room with two double beds just off the main road for 5 usd a night. We only spent a few hours in the room a night to sleep in so were not worried about the aged furniture and tarnished mirror. We were here to enjoy the outdoors.
Gili Trawangan is truly beautiful. I spent about a week on the island. My first few days involved planting myself under a palm tree, listening to music, reading, tanning, hopping into the water for a snorkel and then eating myself silly at night. Considering the size of the island (you can walk around the circumference of the island in about 2 hours) it is amazing what foods are on offer. I had a delicious sushi meal at a Japanese restaurant which looks directly over the beach. I also spent one evening gobbling up pub grub at an Irish spot famous for its “cold Guinness on tap.” You can’t help but laugh out loud when you are sitting with a bunch of foreigners in an “open concept Irish pub” (aka no walls or ceilings just palm trees, sipping on Guinness in the middle of no where Indonesia. The island has no running water (so our showers were all ocean salt water…not my favorite but doable). There are also no vehicles on the island so the only way to really get around is walking, bicycling or hiring a horse drawn carriage. The other islands, Air and Meno seem so close. From my daily beach spot I could actually see people swimming across the water. Apparently the current between islands is so strong it is strongly advised to NOT attempt and swim between islands. At night the sky fills with beautiful starry skies. You can see the other islands and their tiny specks of light representing each little bungalow on the beach.
It was at Gili Trawangan where I really tried to come to terms “emotionally” with my depart from Asian life. I would be leaving for Australia in a week or so and knew I was going to experience some culture shock. I tried to spend an hour a day mediating…trying to think over all my experiences, what I had learned…I tried to soak up all the beauty…I also reminded myself how blessed I was to be sitting on this little island…ranked as one of the top 10 most beautiful travel destinations in the world. And then I found myself waking up at 5am to make it to my boat back to Bali…I watched the sun rise over the Island of Lombok, the direction in which we were headed. If I had spent the last week in the Gili’s trying to relax …I was now looking forward to spending one week in Bali’s most famous, tourist friendly and extravagant destinations.