For the first time this year I am actually writing a travel blog because I want to. I’m not writing it because I have a deadline for a partner blog or my university newspaper, nor because I feel my page is in a lull and I need to flesh it out. I took three months off from writing altogether and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I deleted my app three weeks into this past summer’s travels after spending more time writing about the places I was visiting than actually enjoying them. I want to enjoy writing about places again and so I waited until I really wanted to relive any one of the locations we visited.
With all that being said, I’ve actually thought about Gili Trawangan most days since we returned to Scotland last month. Last year, at the end of our travels in East Asia, we visited Bali for a week with what very little was left of our savings. We both left feeling like there was so much we hadn’t been able to see, so we booked up again for this year to end off our summer in Europe. We wanted to see the rice fields, snorkel, climb mountains and experience the culture. We wanted to venture out further than Kuta and Seminyak – and so we did.
When we left Ubud in central Bali for Gili T, I wasn’t too sure what it had to offer, and I think this lack of expectation made me love it all the more. After being surrounded by rain forest and rice fields for the previous week, I was so delighted to be on a tiny island surrounded by crystal waters and pure white beaches.
Gili T is the furthest island from mainland Lombok and the largest of the three islands (Trawangan, Meno and Air). It’s the most densely packed with hotels, restaurants and bars and the most popular island of the three for backpackers, so if you’re looking to relax the resorts on Meno and Air are perhaps closer to what you’re looking for. This being said, the one night we did go out the bars shut around 2am and the island was almost silent thereafter. It takes around an hour on the fast boat from the Northeast of Bali and can cost anywhere from 250,000 up to 600,000 rupiahs so be sure to shop around before book anything and ensure it’s a ticket including car travel to or from your location in Bali (for example we were collected in a car in Ubud, Bali and then dropped off in Kuta, Bali upon our return). As well as this, I cannot recommend enough booking your hotel or hostel in advance as when we arrived in Gili T almost every one we passed had a ‘Fully Occupied’ or ‘No Vacancies’ sign in front of it.
When the boat pulled up to the harbour I was instantly reminded of Koh Phi Phi Don on the West Coast of Thailand – from the welcome sign, the faultless weather and the unimaginably impeccable beaches to the lack of motorbikes and cars. The escape from hectic roads of Bali was a breath of fresh air. From the seafront, after stocking up on a happy hour cocktail each and a cheese toastie (really nutritious, I know) we headed into the centre of the island to our hotel. What should have taken five minutes took closer to thirty; as for the first time our decision to bring small suitcases opposed to backpacks backfired entirely. Although it’s been a tourist destination for decades, Gili T is still – relatively – authentic in comparison to neighbouring Bali. The dirt paths were trodden on by only horse and carts, bicycles and foot proved to be a challenge when dragging luggage along. Unexpected twists, turns and ends of paths meant we essentially walked in a huge circle before finally arriving at our hotel Trawangan Oasis.
We paid around £35 per night and initially booked for only two nights which we later extended to three. Although this may seem a little expensive, we had our own private bungalow with a garden view and breakfast was included. The hotel itself was located closest to the Western side of the island, whilst the night market and most of the bars and restaurants are on the opposite side. For this reason, we hired bikes from our hotel for 20,000 rupiahs per day. However, regardless of what hotel or hostel you stay in, the paths are really uncomfortable to walk on, it’s incredibly warm to be walking any great length in and it makes accessing all parts of the island so much less complex than having to walk or pay the 100,000 rupiahs per horse and cart ride. The hotel itself really was idyllic; enclosed within a soaring wooden wall that was masked by a combination of villas, palm trees and tropical flowers. Central to the complex was the kidney shaped pool and hot tub, beside which was the hotel restaurant and bar. The complex was peaceful, relaxing and so incredibly stunning. It was everything I wanted our trip to Indonesia to be. The staff were incredibly hospitable and informative, giving us a detailed map of the island and pointing us in the right direction for everything and anything we wanted to try while there.
After spending the afternoon in the sun we walked to the nearby Sunset Beach to see first the four chairs and then to watch the sunset. On the walk, we encountered turkeys, abnormally large spiders, horses and cows. Animals graze freely; enclosed by nothing and entirely comfortable with the endless stream of tourists passing by them every day. The four chairs are dotted along the beach, swings made from wood and rope looking out from the island onto neighbouring Gili Air and further away Lombok. The sunset itself was otherworldly, with the tide at a perfect medium wherein the water barely glazed the sand below, creating a mirror which reflected the blues, then oranges, then pinks of the sunset.
Before it started to get too dark we headed across the island to the night market. We discovered a tiny little Italian restaurant named La Dolce Vita, on the right-hand side of the traditional food market, and decided to treat ourselves for the first time since arriving in Indonesia. The owners were incredibly helpful in suggesting which dishes and wines to try. After just spending two and a half weeks in Italy, the food was on par with Neopolitan restaurants and the wine – the wine! Two main courses, two drinks and two desserts cost us just over £20 so if you’re happy to spend that then I cannot recommend this place enough.
Walking back to our hotel we booked tickets for a snorkelling trip for the following day to all three of the Gili Islands. A five hour snorkelling trip cost 100,000 rupiahs (or just over £5) from one of the concession stands on the main strip. Our hotel offered the same trip for an additional £1, so like in every other post I write, all I can suggest is you just be sure to look around before booking anything.
The next morning we had breakfast courtesy of the hotel and headed down to the harbour for 10 o’clock. We were both given a pair of flippers and a snorkel, a few bottles of water and told to make our way on to the glass bottom boats. Once again I was blown away by the beach on the harbour side of the island; the water is such a luxurious shade of blue, the sand pure white and traditional long boats line the water’s edge, painted in mirroring white and blue. When we pulled away from the island, fish and coral and as we began to speed up rippling water could be seen underneath through the glass. Our first stop was between Trawangan and Meno, at a shipwreck. We stopped for thirty minutes and were able to get a feel for using the snorkels and flippers. This was the first time I had ever snorkelled for a substantial period of time, and although I panicked at first, as I began to habituate to the breathing apparatus and open water, I began to realise I was now submerged in this entire other world I had never visited before. The water was so clear, and fish in every colour imaginable swam around us; coming close enough to touch then darting away.It was such a surreal feeling, and the innate desire to go back up to the surface for breath was never ending, but the longer I spent under the water the more comfortable became and so the further I ventured, turning to Paul and pointing. The coral stood just feet below our legs, and for the first time I was able to see what a haven for tropical sea life it really is. It is so delicate, and we were warned repeatedly to keep our feet as far from it as possible. The shipwreck was some way from our boat, blending in with the coral as though it was part of the sea bed. We were called back on to the boat to circle Meno to Turtle Point. Again, under the boat we could see fish but as we approached the point turtles began to be spotted, more and more frequently as the boat slowed. We all disembarked into the water and followed the guide, fighting the current, searching the coral which here was around twenty feet from the water’s surface. We were lucky enough to spot one together before the rest of our group scuttled around us, arms outstretched with GoPros and iPhones taking photos and videos. Afterwards, we stopped in Gili Air for lunch. When we pulled in we could see men fly fishing, and they all stopped to wave at us to welcome us in. The people have to be the greatest thing about Bali and Lombok. The islands are incredibly beautiful, with so much natural beauty to offer, but their people really are wonderful.
When we arrived back onto Gili T, parades were being held for Indonesia’s National Day – August 17th. We were lucky enough to spend the previous year in Bali, and this year we watched the dancers make their way through the streets to traditional music and in traditional dress. The island had an incredible energy when we returned, so we decided that night to nap then return out to celebrate another incredible day.
The next morning we hired bikes from our hotel and decided to cycle around the entire island. Parts of Gili T are really difficult to manouvre, especially on a bike. There are times of the day when the tide is completely against raised concrete, so we had to take detours and walk precariously around manmade walls with a bike each with waves crashing in three feet below us, but I would definitely recommend it as a means of getting to see the whole island in a day. The stretch of land between the market and Sunset Beach is heavenly, with barely anybody on the beaches because the waters here are shark infested. We barely cycled passed anybody, with only fields on our right side and the bright blue sea on our left. Here is where Gili M is extremely close; an abrupt mass of green against the blue sea and sky.
Two days previous whilst watching the sunset, I had seen people riding along the beach. After the stretch of emptiness alongn the North beach, we cycled past some stables. I had my heart set on this ever since I seen others doing it, and actually asked Paul if we could ride in Bali before we left home, so after discovering I could do it on Gili, I was hell bent. For an hour I was able to ride a wonderfully placid mare named Susie, and was accompanied by a worker from Sunset Stables at the cost of 400,000 rupiahs (£20) which, relatively, is quite expensive, but things like this are why we save so incredibly hard all year long. In the later afternoon we rode along the beach, then into the water to cool the horses down, then further into the island through some fields and then back onto the beach. Without doubt, in the eleven weeks I travelled this summer, or in fact in all the things I’ve ever done since I began to travel, it was one of the highlights.
Gili T gave me everything I needed, without even knowing that I needed it. I was so delighted to be around animals, to relax every day and to be surrounded by natural beauty beyond belief. Incredible food, excursions, locals and environment. I would return in a heartbeat, and next time Paul and I visit Bali it will without question be part of our itinerary.