In July this year, I went on an awesome holiday to visit a part of South East Asia I had never seen before, Indonesia. I spent 2 weeks in Indonesia and visited three great destinations, and in this post I’ll cover the first part of my trip, which was to the tiny island of Gili Trawangan.
Where the heck?
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the 3 Gili islands, the other two being Gili Air and Gili Meno. All three islands lie off the north west coast of the island of Lombok, which itself sits off the east coast of the largest Indonesian island of Java.
Getting to Gili was a bit of a mission, an international airport is being built on Lombok (finishing in 2012), which will make things a lot easier, but here’s how we did it. We arrived into Jakarta on Friday night, and got to our hotel pretty late, then we had to get up at 4am, to get to the airport by 5:30am so we could get our 6am flight to Lombok.
The flight to Lombok is pretty quick, and if you get a window seat you can see massive volcanoes and mountains on the one side, and tiny little islands dotted across the sea on the other which is pretty sweet. Once in Lombok we had to jump in a car and make our way to the north-west side of the island to get our speedboat to Gili Trawangan, the drive takes about 45min and is pretty picturesque as you climb up hills along the coast and catch great views of pristine beaches and coves, as well as glimpses of village life as you pass by.
Once we got to our boat, it was a quick 15min speedboat ride to the island. It’s probably apt that at this point in the post I mention the fact that I hate boats…a lot. This is something you’ll hear about a few times during the posts about our trip, as we seemed to go on a lot of boats…this is also why there aren’t many shots of the scenery we passed by on our boat trip. I tried taking some shots, but looking into the camera’s viewfinder only made my nausea 1000 times worse.
Arriving at Gilli Trawangan was pretty special, even with the nausea, the broken coral beach and the horse drawn carts, all under a beautiful sunny sky with not a cloud in sight was beautiful. It was the first moment of actual holiday since we left Brisbane, and that felt damn good.
Although Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the Gilis, it is by no means a big island, you can walk all the way around it in a couple of hours, and there’s only a few places where there is more than one road. The greatest thing about all the Gilis is there are no vehicles or motorbikes at all, you either walk, ride a bicycle or get a horse drawn cart…we just walked everywhere.
The biggest problem these islands face, is that there is no fresh water source (it has to get brought over by boat every day) and the rubbish has to get boated back to the mainland as well, something I’m afraid a few tourists didn’t seem to give crap about.
The Beach House
The place we stayed in was called The Beach House and it was pretty special. Situated towards the south end of the island, it’s in what i would call the “quieter” side of the island, still close to all the restaurants, cafes and pubs, but not the ones that are open until 4am on the northern side.
We were staying in the ‘Big Villa’ which was spectacular, a fully enclosed villa with 4 bedrooms, 2 lounge-rooms and our own private pool. Needless to say, we felt spoiled rotten (thanks mum). The Villa did have some kitchen facilities, although why you’d want to cook there I can’t fathom as everything was dirt cheap and really nice, there was an air con and tv in every room as well as a big TV in the lounge room.
Sights & Sounds
There are definitely two sides to Gili Trawangan, the busy side and the quiet side. Half of the circular road is lined on both sides with cafés, restaurants, hotels, dive shops and tourist shops…then it just dies off for the other half of the island, and there is little more than scrub and brush on one side, and the sea on the other…which is very peaceful. The beaches are dotted with outrigger wooden boats and sun chairs under blue umbrellas. There are coral pools at low tide with tiny sea life in them, and coral wind chimes dangling from the trees…
There are some real highlights to visit on the island itself, here are my favorites:
Ko Ko Mo Restaurant (www.kokomogilit.com) is a fabulous fine dining restaurant with some very special food, open for lunch and dinner it’s one of those places hidden along the quieter part of the road around Gili Trawangan. They have these cool looking double bed size sun lounges with an adjustable shade thingy and a private balé for the romantic dinners. We had a really nice family dinner there…
Égoiste Café (égoiste on facebook) is a little café near the busy market square area, they do great coffee and french baguettes for lunch and snacks. They also have some very cute resident cats and kittens who will jump into your seat if you’re not careful.
The Beach House (beachhousegilit.com) was a great place to stay, really nice both inside and out, and a decent restaurant right on the waters edge. They cooked a nice breakfast every morning and put on a big buffet style dinner every night. We also organised our day trip with them and that was perfect.
Turtle Sanctuary is actually only really a display area with a few tanks of baby turtles…but they are cute little things and they deserve and need all the help they can get, so drop in and donate a few dollars.
Scallywags is on Gili Air & Gili Trawangan. Good food, nice decor and a very chilled place to hang out (they have bean bags!). Try their ice cream, it’s pretty awesome.
Sunset Bar is on the west coast of Gili Trawangan for obvious reasons, the bar itself is not much more than a shack, but they do a big bonfire every night with fire twirlers and music, plus the sunset is very impressive.
Treehouse Bar is part of The Trawangan hotel, they have a few little treehouses of varying heights that you can climb up in to and have the waiters bring you drinks and snacks, if you are a big wuss about heights like me, then you may want to choose one of the lower platforms.
Mushrooms are everywhere, and they have some of the best names ever on the signs for them. My personal fave was the guy who offered delivery of his special mushrooms to your hotel room, just call and ask for “Super Fucked-up Mushroom guy”.
Even though the shrooms are advertised everywhere, only once did I see someone completely out of it walking along the street at dawn…he seemed to be enjoying himself.
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
The main attraction to the Gilis is the diving, there are heaps of dive places on Gili Trawangan, and all of them offer multiple dive trips every day. You can snorkel straight off the beach, but your best bet is to get in on a dive trip or hire a boat for a day and make up your own tour, most hotels will help you plan this and I can vouch for the great day we had on our little tour. I went on 4 dives around Gili Trawangan, with some good drift diving, wall diving and some impressive creatures. I really need to get a proper housing for my camera.
We did all our diving through Big Bubble Dive who were awesome! I can’t recommended them highly enough, they were helpful, easy going and flexible, which was great as our group had 2 advanced divers 2 people finishing off their open, one open water diver and a complete newbie…and they still took care of all of us with a smile.
We also booked a day trip through The Beach House which took us to 2 snorkel spots where I got pretty damn close to a green sea turtle, and perhaps a little too close to a banded sea snake…equal parts exciting and petrifying!
We visited Gili Meno (the middle island) which has a lake on it, but you wouldn’t drink the water voluntarily. It was very peaceful and had the one nice looking little bar/café. We then had lunch on Gili Air, which is basically a quieter version of Gili Trawangan, with a tourist strip of cafés and dive shops and small villa style hotels.
The Obligatory Summary
The holiday on Gili Trawangan was really great, every day was packed with stuff to do and see, I had some great dives, and ate so much great food…the whole boat thing is a real pain in the arse, but it’s absolutely worth it.