Indonesia: the Gili Islands

After a grand few days in Canggu, we had a 5:40 wake-up call to get across to our next destination: the Gili Islands. We booked the transport though Tipsy Gypsy, who organised a minibus pick-up from the hostel to the port, in addition to the Wahana Gili Ocean boat ticket. It was 400,000Rp for a one-way ticket and 650,000Rp return, which felt quite expensive but was cheaper than some other quotes we gathered.

We drove across Bali to Padangbai, the east-bound port. Charlie and John, two guys we met at our hostel in Canggu, decided to join us in going to Gili Trawangan island which was good fun – nice to have some travel companions! We drove about an hour to Padangbai, picked up our ferry tickets, had some tasty fruit and pancakes for breakfast, then boarded the boat. The crossing took just under two hours and was actually a lot smoother and less nauseating than I’d expected from some other travelers’ stories! During rainy season these boats can be quite rough so it’s worth being ready with the motion sickness pills just in case – and always travel in the morning when you can as this tends to be smoother than the afternoon. We beached, picked up our bags and walked round the corner to our great little hostel – Broken Compass. It’s a relatively new place but I’d recommend it for the spacious rooms, clean bathrooms, friendly staff and incredible food.

John with our favourite cat at Broken Compass

We ate some lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon reading, writing, swimming and lying by the pool. In the evening, we had a delicious bbq put on by the hostel; skewers, potato salad, veggies, corn on the cob, coleslaw and homemade chapati-style bread. I think it was one of the best meals I’d had in a long time, and the food turned out to be a real highlight of the hostel so we were in for a treat! We scoffed our dinner, took advantage of the hostel bar happy hour, and headed out for a night of dancing at a reggae bar called Sama Sama which had some good live music.

The following day we got out and about. After breakfast, we hired some basket bikes from the hostel (the best way to get around an island with no roads! A bike shouldn’t cost more than 40,000Rp for 24 hours) and cycled down to the beach to get some snorkels. The waters around the island are beautiful, aquamarine and crystal clear, and we’d heard great things about the snorkelling! There are numerous shops offering snorkelling day tours round the Gilis, but if you’re on a budget it’s an easy activity to do independently as there’s so much to see in the shallows just off the beach. There’s a corner of the island called ‘turtle point’ so we acquired some masks (there are loads of stands renting them out, don’t pay more than 50,000Rp for a day) and made a beeline for the section of the beach. We were trying not to get our hopes up too much about seeing some turtles, but we certainly weren’t disappointed – within about 17 seconds, there was a huge green sea turtle around our feet, nibbling on the grass and dead coral, totally unfazed by our presence. We ended up seeing 6 or 7 of them over the course of perhaps 45 minutes; they’re actually quite easy to see as they hang around in the shallows grazing! They were a lot bigger than I was expecting (much bigger than the animals I saw in the Philippines) and it was lovely seeing them glide through the water.

Snorkel Squad
Chasing turtles!

When we’d had our fill of marine life for the day we returned our snorkels and took our bikes for a spin to explore more of Gili T. We followed the sandy track all the way around the island, pulling it across a couple of beaches when the track disappeared, soaking up more of the island’s life. There’s a real range of tourist accommodation all round the coast, from some super high end villas and resorts to backpacker places like ours. There are various bars and restaurants also dotted round the shoreline – mostly concentrated down the eastern flank but plenty to choose from elsewhere for a sunset view or a quieter spot. The local communities mostly live a little more inland, but there’s a lot of tourism development ongoing so I wonder how that will affect them.

Basket biking round Gili T

It took us about an hour to get around the island, then we plodded back to the hostel to shower and have a sundowner. For dinner, an English couple we’d met at the hostel took a group of us to a pizzeria down the road where we had a long wait, but luckily, it was followed by a very tasty dinner. If you’re in the mood for a giant and delicious Italian go to the Regina Pizzeria. When we’d eaten we got some Bintangs for the road and took the bikes down to explore the night market and some of the stalls down by the harbour (a good spot for cheap local dinners), stopping off for an ice cream and some star gazing at a quiet corner of the island.

The next day was fairly relaxed; we spent the morning by the pool then the afternoon poking through some of the vintage shops and sampling some goods from a little bakery we found. I wrote some postcards whilst Will had a bash at scuba diving in the hostel pool. The evening held something of a treat for me; my first roast dinner since last winter! When we checked into the hostel we spied that they offer a roast dinner on Sundays (it’s run by a Welsh guy), so we extended our stay by a night just to be there for that! Having been away for Christmas too, I was particularly looking forward to a good old roast – and I wasn’t disappointed. They served up some great chicken, beef, stuffing, Yorkshires and veg, all doused in delicious gravy – and followed up with apple crumble and custard. I was absolutely stuffed afterwards but it was absolutely worth it, a really delicious taste of home!

My first roast dinner in a while – and an absolute winner

Given the fact we were all in something of a food coma, it’s just as well we hadn’t planned to do anything particularly active that evening. We waddled along to the open air cinema on the beach, which is run by Hotel Vila Ombak. It’s 100,000Rp for a ticket which includes popcorn or french fries, and they show a different film at 7pm and 9pm every day. They were showing The Beach which is a great movie to watch as a traveller, and I’d been wanting to watch it again since going to see the location in Thailand. We nestled into the sun loungers in front of the projector and enjoyed the film whilst we digested our Sunday feast.

Watching The Beach at the Vila Ombak open air cinema

The next morning, I moved onto Gili Air with Charlie. Will stayed in Trawangan for a university Skype interview he had as we weren’t sure what the WiFi would be like on Air (for the record, we needn’t have worried!) You can get either the public ‘slowboat’ ferry or a speedboat between the Gilis. Given the fact they’re so close together, it didn’t seem at all worth paying three times the amount for a private or faster boat – we bought the cheapest ferry ticket we could find, for 50,000Rp each. The journey took about half an hour, including a stop at Gili Meno, the third island of the group that we missed out.

Gili Air is smaller, less developed and less busy than Trawangan, but just as beautiful. We spent our first afternoon sampling some coffee and baked items from an amazing little place by the harbour (Coffee and Thyme; quite pricey but the best coffee I’ve had in Indonesia which hasn’t passed through a weasel…) and getting lost cycling round the island – it’s a bit of a maze in the middle. Much like on Gili T the main form of transport is by bike – the 24-hour rental prices are similar, and it takes about 40 minutes to cycle around the shoreline (you’ll need to push through deep sand at points). There are bars, cafés and bungalows all round the island, so plenty of places to eat and drink, and accommodation to suit a variety of budgets. We cycled around for a little while and stopped for a beer on the north-west tip of the island looking towards Gili Meno.

Bintangs on Gili Air

After a cooling Bintang, we cycled back to the hostel and spent a few hours basting by the pool. We were staying at 7Seas hostel, which wasn’t the best I’ve ever stayed in. The rooms were okay and bathrooms clean, but it didn’t have much of a sociable vibe or rooms bigger than 4 beds. The hostel is attached to the 7Seas dive resort and cottages – I think the cottages there would have been better as it wasn’t really a place designed for Backpackers. There was, however a very nice pool which was a plus. In the evening we cycled back round to the western side to watch a very lovely sunset before going for dinner and a beer at Chillout.

Sunset on Gili Air

The next day on Gili Air was similarly relaxed. We got up to watch a beautiful sunrise over Mount Rinjani on Lombok, then we had a delicious breakfast at Coffee and Thyme. We went for another cycle around the island, and then set up camp in one of the sea-view cabanas at The Garden Café, the restaurant attached to 7Seas. We had an exciting afternoon of admin tasks; research, flight-booking and job hunting for the next legs of our respective travels. In the evening we walked up to Clasico Pizza for a delicious Italian dinner before having a Bintang nightcap.

Sunrise over Lombok’s Mount Rinjani

The Gili Islands really are like a picture postcard. I could easily have got stuck there for much longer, though with the amazing food and Bintangs this would have been bad for both the wallet and the waistline… Gili T has much more of a party vibe and more Backpackers, Gili Air is more chilled out and rustic – and whilst we didn’t go, we were told Gili Meno is something of a honeymoon hotspot. A Gili for everyone! Island life is tough, but someone’s got to do it – go on, take one for the team.

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 8, including a local guy who at first thought Charlie was my husband, then my boyfriend, and then when he realised we weren’t together, asked me to have dinner with him.
Interaction was: slightly awkward as I laughed, assuming he was joking, then he looked quite offended. Cue very British backtracking and mumbling in effort not to cause lasting offence.

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @elliestravelstories


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