So, is its reputation as a party island warranted if it’s a place everyone can visit?
To give you an idea of its size, it will take you around 2 – 2.5 hours to walk all the way around the perimeter of this sand island. Like it’s neighbours Gili Air and Gili Meno, no motorised vehicles are allowed so the only form of transport are cidomos (horse & cart), walking, or you can hire a bicycle. During the day around the harbour, you dodge cidomos, bicycles and a plethora of people; it’s the Indonesian version of Amsterdam!
Because the island is part of a Muslim culture, a modest etiquette should be practised, but despite this, westerners walk/cycle around the main strip wearing bikini’s and exposing bare chests to show off tanned and toned abs; you would think they were strutting along Sunset Boulevard.
We stayed at Gilibong bungalows, a 7 minute walk from the harbour and it was lovely and quiet, in fact, all you have to do is walk a couple of streets from the main road to find warungs (family run restaurants) and homestays (cheap, private accommodation), and its quiet enough for a decent night’s sleep (even the local mosque didn’t disturb us). The guys that worked here were super friendly at all times and we had so many laughs with them, especially when it was Suvryan’s birthday and he kindly shared some of his birthday cake with us.
Taking a trip around the island
We decided to take a stroll around the island one day to find out what it has to offer, and it was lovely. As it’s a sand island, this obviously means beaches are a-plenty and we found a few beautiful white sand options to choose from. One of the most popular (which also means it’s the busiest) happens to be at the harbour. As it’s on the main road, there is a lot of “traffic” but if you are feeling sociable and energetic, you can have a game of beach volleyball.
If you are looking for something a little quieter, start heading north. We mooched along the seafront for about 20 minutes and came across the popular beachfront restaurant La Moomba which is another popular beach but with less “traffic”. We lay on sunbeds and ordered cold drinks to cool us down when the sun became too hot to bear.
Watching the sunset
If, like me, you love your sunsets, then the west coast is the place to be and there are a couple of options if you are staying on the east coast as we were.
Thankfully, there is a road running straight through the island so you can either grab a cidomo (which most people do), cycle or walk it in 30 minutes. There is a warung half way along if you wanted to stop and grab a cold drink or couple of beers (who doesn’t love a walking beer?).
One of the most popular island activities is snorkelling and you can either take a trip to the best spots around the three islands, go on a glass bottom boat or hire a mask and snorkel and do it yourself off the beach – the latter is what we chose to do. There are a few popular snorkelling spots around the island but one of the best for finding turtles is on the north coast (by La Moomba restaurant).
When the tide was high, we swam out from shore into the warm, crystal clear calm waters and found a turtle swimming near a giant barracuda – we didn’t know which one to look at! During our 30 minute swim, we also saw pufferfish, a lone batfish, butterfly fish, Moorish idols, a small school of sergeant majors and a small school of surgeon fish. Not bad at all.
Gili Eco Trust have introduced artificial metal reef cages (called Biorock) which are fed a constant voltage of electricity to encourage coral regeneration and are a natural attraction for all forms of marine life. There are now 33 individual projects in the Gilis' and its possible to snorkel or dive round them.
There were quite a few people paddle boarding, if this is something you fancy trying, and if you are into yoga, you can combine the two! Oh yes, test your balance by doing yoga poses on a paddle board!
It would be wrong of me not to mention the partying on this island, after all, this is what it has become famous for! If you like live music, head to Sama Sama which has great reggae bands playing every night and it’s also a cool place to chill out with a beer.
If the clubbing scene is more your thing, to start off the party, Jiggy Bar run booze cruises from 1pm – 7pm on Wednesday and Saturdays. For nightlife, bars take it in turns hosting big party nights and will close at 3am when all the others will shut at 1am. Recent government initiatives (which I will mention below) may have affected the weekly party schedule so it’s best to ask around and check what is happening before you get yourself all dressed up and raring to go!
Methanol Poisoning - As I have already mentioned, the Gili Islands are predominately Muslim which means that in some places, alcohol isn’t widely consumed and the taxes imposed on it are very high. I have read that many bars have been known to cut their alcohol with methanol which is obviously very dangerous and can be life-threatening. If you are a cocktail drinker like me, your best option would be to buy a bottle of Bintang instead; it may not be as fancy, but it will be safer!
Trying to keep the island beautiful
One of the downsides of a small island that has rapidly increased its tourism in a short period of time, is the control of litter and waste management. Gili Eco Trust work hard to help preserve the island’s beauty the best it can and have educated some local establishments to follow suit. If you visit, please bear this in mind and use the recycling bins provided and say no to plastic as often as you can. For more information on other conservation and environmental initiatives Gili Eco Trust have introduced, please take a moment to click here.
Preservation of the sand island
As mentioned, Gili T was the first of the three islands to begin development and tourism in the Gili’s is now a IDR 130 billion business (nearly 8 billion GBP or 9.5 billion US Dollars). Some of the beachfront establishments had built structures 5-10 metres from the shore which violated the permitted 30 meter limit. Gili Air has slowly started to follow suit and so the local government have stepped in to create a cleaner beach with increased public access for the sake of sustainable tourism development. The 143 bars and restaurants were told to pull down their buildings and were allegedly given three months’ notice to do so, but one week away from the deadline, only 100 business had complied. On 23 February 2017, people from the Navy and water police were instructed to carry out the task; this was the only time a motorised vehicle was allowed on the island as a digger was required to complete the demolition. The result meant when we visited, there were sections along the east coast which had piles of rubble; the local government said it would take 20 days to clear up. This is a controversial subject and one that causes confusion. By pulling down restaurants, hotels, tour companies etc, this has allegedly resulted in around 2,000 locals losing their jobs with nothing else to fall back on. I spoke with a local asking why the local government is destroying the infrastructure that earns them so much money. I was told that, allegedly, the government had started re-negotiating the business contracts but with higher tax rates, whether this is true or not I cannot say. Only time will tell.
Source: The Jakarta Post - click here to read more
How to get to there
The Gili Islands are a 30 minute fast-boat ride away from Lombok and 2 hours by speedboat from Bali (Padang Bai or Sanur). If you wanted to island hop between Gili Air, Meno & Trawangan, it will take you around 20 minutes to travel between each one using the local “Island Hopper” boat.
If (like me) you are concerned that the “local Hopper Boat” will be rickety, small and over-crowded … don’t be. They are a good size, sturdy and tickets can be purchased easily and with confidence from a desk at the harbour.
Where to stay
There are places to suit all budgets, from the boutique hotels to mid-range and hostels/homestays for the budget traveller. As we fit into the latter category, we stayed at the simple but delightful Gilibong Bungalows via www.booking.com and loved it! We find places to stay by looking at Booking.com then comparing reviews against Trip Advisor before booking, I would suggest you do the same. Agoda is another cheap online booking site we use.
Travel Facts & tips
- The local currency is Indonesian Rupiah - £1 GBP = 16,000 IDR
- Their official language is Bahasa Indonesia which is similar to Malaysian and is used throughout Indonesia in general.
- If you can use just a couple of Indonesian words, this will give you big smile in return, even if you simply use “Pagi” (morning) and “Terima Kasih” (thank you), it will be hugely appreciated.
- A 30 day visa is given at the time of arrival in Indonesia (not for all countries, check with your embassy) but if you want to stay longer, you can obtain a 60 day visa in advance at consulates and embassies.
- There are plenty of ATM’s on the island so you don’t have to bring wads of cash.
- Just like it's neighbours Gili Air and Gili Meno, there is a very low crime rate on this island so you will feel completely safe.
- Free Wi-Fi is available in most places around the island including homestays, bars and restaurants.
- In addition to the beachfront restaurants, small, family run restaurants known as warungs are dotted all around and are a cheap and tasty way of eating locally.
- Bring a small torch for the evening as there are parts of the island that do not have lights, especially if you want to watch the sunset on the west coast and walk to the east coast for dinner.
- All toilets for the restaurants are “public” so carry a small packet of tissues and antibacterial handwash in your bag as they don’t always have toilet paper or hand washing facilities.
- Electricity on the island can sometimes be interrupted, so be aware of this as it can affect internet access and all important ATM machines.
Have you heard of Gili Trawangan and did you always believe it was a party island? Have I managed to change your mind now? Let us know in the comments below!
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