The famous Gili Islands – island getaways that have it all

Everyone talks about the Gili’s when you mention Bali and how beautiful they are. Gili Trawangan the party island and the biggest one of the three. Gili Meno, the smallest Robinson Crusoe get away and Gili Air – the middle man; a chilled atmosphere, and more of the family island.

My idea of the perfect day on an island in the sun – read, sleep on the beach, and snorkel. Repeat. I hadn’t planned to go to Gili T but go there I did and it was not at all what I dreaded it would be. Gili is big enough to have a great night life but also chill enough that you can avoid the night if you want. It only takes 2 1/2 hours to walk around the whole island. No cars or motorcycles only bicycles and horses which fly down the road. Thankfully they wear little bells so you can get out of the way in time.

 

We stayed in La Boheme Gili Backpackers. Owned by a French lady; it is adorable, super friendly and situated not too far away from everything but tucked away at the same time. The beds in the dorm rooms look like you have walked into old ships sleeping quarters. The place is built like a tree house with crooked stairs going up to second or third level small common areas which are half floors overlooking the town. There is even a ceiling of umbrellas. Breakfast is pancakes which we get to make from freshly prepared batter so it is a great way to meet people and start your day.

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For beach bumming – one day we tried the west side, the next the South East. With sarongs in tow, yes our matching ones from Ubud, we planted ourselves on the beach, reading, swimming, eating goodies from the bakery and taking naps. Golden!

There are two theatres on the island, one is an open air and one is a small shack with wicker seats and free fresh popcorn. As I am a firm believer in popcorn with a movie and felt like a chilled evening, I decided on the second option. It was also slightly cheaper. I got to watch “Eat, Pray, Love”. Rather fitting as I was in Bali and on my own year of discovery.

As I had said the farther East we went the better the food seemed to get. Three out of the four nights we tickled our tastebuds at the Night Market in the main square. First was Bakso and peanut satay. The other two nights we tried a smorgasbord of different Indonesian foods. You were faced with trays of different dishes and you took as many different samples as you wished. Bamboo curry was my favourite out of all the different things I tried. But if you go, there is a stall with lots of desserts – try the green pancakes stuffed with grated coconut and palm sugar, the green spongy/cake balls rolled in coconut and filled with palm sugar syrup and the Onde Onde. We would buy a tray of desserts to try every night between the two of us to share. I wish I had about three stomachs.

On our last night we treated to ourselves to Scallywags – a beachside BBQ with pretty lights. For one night I got to pretend I wasn’t a backpacker. Sitting in a beachside restaurant eating fresh fish skewers and octopus we had just chosen to have BBQ’d for us, and enjoying a bottle of cider! It felt pretty special. They also had a fantastic salad bar! For it to have French bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar with salad of various forms at your fingertips was so exciting! I probably could have just eaten the salad bar and been content with life.

Of course the night life was also sampled. Each of the bars has their nights to shine, on the Saturday night was Sama Sama. Your welcome in Indonesian. They had had a reggae night the previous evening and Saturday was a local cover band. The bar was packed to the brim, flowing onto the street and into their beachside area. The local band did great covers and were surprisingly good at mimicking the voices of whomever they were singing and the crowd lapped it up. A rendition of Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit” had people sitting on the floor and then springing to life on the dance floor at the chorus.

One of the main activities around the Gili’s is snorkelling, diving or free driving and whether you rent or do a day trip it is so worthwhile! We decided to try renting the gear first from our hostel and give it a shot. We were told to head to the East side and go North. The current would bring us down and there was more coral and chances to see turtles! We started a little late tide wise so I would suggest to check the tides the day you want to go and hit it at high tide. But we found turtles! I saw two! They are amazingly beautiful, and so “laid back” looking. “Finding Nemo” captures exactly what real turtles look like as they munch on jellyfish or coral or swim through the water. The only thing that ruined the moment was the growing realisation we were slowly being closed in on all sides by millions and millions of jellyfish! Looking out under the water there were swarms of them! Cones of tiny clear jellyfish descending down into the water. My inner Trekkie came out and all I could think of was of Swarms of Borg ships. We ended up taking off our flippers and using them to clear a path.

Because of that little adventure I decided to book a day snorkelling trip for the next day which went around the three islands,stopping off at three different areas and hopefully be farther out than the jellyfish. We left around 11 on a glass bottom boat. This cost a bit more and in retrospect it isn’t worth it because you can’t see out of the bottom when the boat is moving quickly and when it stops, well, you jump in. The day was great though. My first time seeing coral which was alive and filled with fish. So many different varieties of fish, my particular favourite was the parrot fish. All the colours of the rainbow glittering in the sunlight. At one stop by Air they gave us white bread to feed the fish as we snorkelled. The brave ones would come up and tug at your fingers. I remember seeing one fish with massive teeth and deciding not to give him any bread close up. As my first real foray into snorkelling it was definitely worth it and it made me even more excited to go to Flores as the snorkelling there was supposed to be even better!

Overall I think I would island hop a little bit if I did it again so I could experience life on the other islands but Gili Trawangan kind of has the best of both worlds and was a great little place to forget about the outside world for a few days. Not to mention the sunsets are incredible! I almost forgot that point!

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