Gili Trawangan–The Unspoiled Bali

After the five strenuous but magnificent days hiking and camping on Mount Rinjani (read about the Rinjani experience here), it was time for us to get some well deserved R&R.  Gleefully we went to the islands of Gili for some sun and sand!

The Gili islands are actually made up of 3 small islands off the north-west coast of Lombok, Indonesia; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.  Of the three, Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most ‘happenings’ among the three islands.

‘Gili’ in local Sasak language means small while  There is an age old cave tunnel (‘terowongan’ in local language) that was built during World War 2, and that is why this Gili island is called Gili Trawangan.

There’s plenty of things to see and do on Gili Trawangan.  My best advice if you’re planning to go there for the first time; plan a longer stay there.  We stayed for only 3 days and I can definitely say it was not enough!  I am very sure I will definitely be going back there for a second visit and this time I will make sure I stay for a least 5 days on Gili Trawangan.  There’s just so much that you can do there.

HOW TO GET TO GILI TRAWANGAN

How to get to Lombok

The cheapest way to get there would be to get to Bangsal (north of Lombok) and catch the public boats that would bring you over to the island.  It would cost you only 15,000rph (USD1/SGD1.50/MYR5).  The only trouble with the public boat is there are no fixed schedules, and the boat will only depart once it is full.  It would take 45 minutes going in a public boat.  That being said, it is often overloaded with goods and passengers and looks very unsafe in any standard.

Our private boat

We arranged for a small chartered boat (pictured) which was just enough to fit 6 of us and was 900,000rph per boat (USD70/SGD95/MYR280).  Not too bad especially when the cost is shared among us and it was a convenient 15 minutes ride.  The boat even dropped us right in front of the shore of our hotel, rather than the usual drop-off at the island’s main jetty.  However, I am sure there are other cheaper operators of chartered boats, we just couldn’t be bothered to price hunt especially when we were so exhausted from the climb, the only thing in our minds were to just get there and have a proper nice hot shower!

GETTING AROUND

The first thing you will notice arriving on the island is; WHY SO MANY PEOPLE?  The crowds are many, there are traffic jams even by walking!  The island is a MOTOR-LESS island; there are no vehicles allowed on the island.  Therefore, the 3 forms of transportation on the island are; WALK (keep fit!), bicycle (best way in my opinion) and Cidomo (horse-pulled carriages).

Cidomo

The Cidomos are horse-pulled carriages, you would need to ride on these if your luggage is too bulky.  You can find them parked at the jetty when you arrive.

Cidomo - the only form of transport suitable for kids and seniors

Cidomos are also the only option for you if you are travelling with kids or seniors.

The first thing you should do when you get to the island is RENT A BICYCLE.  It is 50,000rph (USD3/SGD/5MYR15) for 24 hours!  The island is small, but walking from the east side to the west side via the southern perimeter of the island will take you a good 30 minutes walk.

With a bicycle, that would be a no effort 10 minutes.  That is why you will see plenty of people on bicycles on the island.  Even if you are walking, always look to your back before overtaking others because there is a big chance there’s an incoming bicycle!

TIP: When going to Gili Trawangan, don’t bring those trolley bags.  Instead, choose to use backpacks because the roads on the island are rough and dirty, there are even some stretch that is just dirt road.  So pulling a trolley bag is a no-no.  With a backpack, once you get on the island, quickly rent a bicycle and cycle to your accommodation (if its not walking distance from the jetty).

Grocery shopping anyone?

Grocery shopping anyone?  Chose the bicycles with baskets in front for added convenience to bring your things around.  We’ve even fitted a whole luggage into the basket to our hotel!

TIP: When choosing a bicycle, get those that has a bell or horn.  These bells/horns are extremely useful to signal the pedestrians to take notice of you behind them and most will give way.  Trust me, you really need to do this on Gili, otherwise you will be going at the same pace as everyone walking!  Always make sure that the bicycle’s tires have enough pressure in them (not too flat).  If it is, you can request to the owner to inflate it.

THINGS TO DO

When it comes to things to do on Gili Trawangan, the list is long.  You won’t even be able to do everything even by staying a week there.  Needless to say, our stay on the island for 3 days was definitely not enough, we had under estimated Gili Trawangan.

Marvelous Sunrise

Witness the marvelous sunrise from the island’s south and east beach with Mount Rinjani in the distance.

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Once you have had your breakfast, start your engines and go shopping on the main streets.  There are many international brands and local brands around.  Short on rupiah?  Don’t worry, there are a few money changers around as well as a few bank ATMs.

Scuba Diving 101

Try an introductory course to scuba-diving.  There are plenty of dive centers located along the main streets, a lot of them have pools for an introduction course to scuba diving.  Or you can sign up for a dive if you are a certified diver.

But first, a selfie

Have a swim in the ocean.  Snorkeling and surfing equipment are available for rent along the beach.  You don’t have to worry about which shop to rent it from, they are all the same.  Just go for the one most convenient to where you plan to snorkel / surf.

Get wet!

Walk along the narrow walkway while the waves comes crashing into the barrier.  You will have to time your approach properly in order to avoid getting soaked by the waves.

Live Entertainment

Sit down and enjoy a nice cold bottle of Bintang beer while enjoying the live band.

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Have lunch at Le Petit (its located right in front of the jetty, where the town square is), a French operated burger stall known for their delicious burgers.  Good luck getting a seat during peak hours!

Preparing for a rainy day

Try to find this street of umbrellas!  There is a street in Gili Trawangan that is decorated with these umbrellas. Although these red-white umbrellas are long faded, I made a conclusion that these umbrellas represents the national colours of the Indonesia flag.

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Rent a bicycle and start cycling around the whole island.  The island is a bit too big to walk the whole way, but with a bicycle, it is easy to go around the whole perimeter of the island or simply cut thru the middle of the island.

Losing the battle

While we cycled around Gili Trawangan island, we met a dead end at the northern tip of the island. I got off my bicycle to proceed further on foot to check if the road continues again ahead while my friends waited for me. It was by luck that I stumbled upon this dramatic scene of waves after waves, pounding on the broken walls that seems to be losing their battle against the force of nature.

Good luck getting a seat

Watch the beautiful sunset on the western side of the island.  Head there at least an hour before sunset as it tends to get quite crowded and all the best seats around will be taken.

Swing in the ocean

Or sit on the swing in the ocean just watching the sunset.

A game of volleyball

Or join others in a game of beach volleyball, having fun hitting the ball around while the sun tucks itself into the horizon.

Group picture

As the sun sets, remember to take a group picture with your friends to capture the moment and be forever in your memories.

Big sunset

I don’t get to see the sun as big as this from where I come from.

Chillaxing with friends

Just chillaxing with friends, cold Bintang beer in one hand while enjoying the gentle sea breeze and watching the setting sun slowly disappear into the horizon at the end of a very tiring day on the island of Gili Trawangan with the silhouette of of Bali’s Mount Agung against the dusk sky.

Bonfire

Stay around the bonfire for some warmth when the night takes over and the cold starts creeping in, maybe share a ghost story or two?

Seafood BBQ

When you start to get hungry, there are many delicious restaurants all around.  The ones offering buffet seafood are located along the main street.  It’s easy to find them, you can smell them a distance away.

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We tried the food at Thank You Restaurant.  Food was very cheap here and its not too bad.

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We also had the chance to try the food at Wilson’s Retreat, a fine-dining restaurant located at the western side of the island.  The food was superbly presented and more importantly, was quite delicious.

Psst, want to see some magic?

Or have another drink at any night bars.  Psst, if you’re interested to experience some magic, try asking for ‘magic mushrooms’ at most bars and experience the magic unfold!  (Although illegal in Indonesia, it is commonly available here if you ask for it.)

Night cycling

Even at night, there are still many people going around, even on bicycles.  Always make sure you carry a torchlight or headlight around, it will be useful when coming to roads without much ambient light.

Party the night away

Or just dance until the early mornings or until you drop (whichever comes first).  Most places closes around 2 or 3 am so if you’re staying in the heart of the activities, good luck getting any sleep!

Other things to do on Gili Trawangan which we did not have change to try at all includes:

  • Island hopping to Gili Meno and Gili Air
  • Swimming with the turtles; this was in our original plan but we decided against it when we found out the schedule for this is from 10 am to 3 pm and this would have taken up almost our whole day on Gili if we went for it.
  • Diving
  • Surfing
  • Hike up the hill in the middle of the island for a good view of the whole island
  • Experience the famous Indonesia massages!

ACCOMODATION

There are plenty of places to stay on Gili Trawangan, ranging from the cheap good-for-just-a-nights-sleep type of room till the expensive villas with its own private beaches.  When I mean plenty, I literally mean it; there’s basically more accommodation available than the number of shops and eateries!

We stayed in different places on Gili because it was the eve of Hari Raya when we arrived on the island and naturally they are also many locals who are in Gili with the families for a quick getaway.  Also, it being the first time on the island, we wanted to see and experience what the different accommodations had to offer.

Here’s 3 of the accommodations which we stayed in:

1.  NATYA HOTEL (http://www.natyahotels.com/)

This hotel’s location is strategically located at the end of the main stretch of street, which in turn provides great convenience in coming in and out of the hotel whenever you feel like it.  Once you get too tired from walking around the main street, just pop back into the hotel to rest.

Drop off in front of the hotel

In fact, the location of the hotel was so convenient that our chartered boat could just drop us right in front, instead of the normal drop-off at Gili’s jetty.  In the picture is the hotel’s restaurant.  I’m not sure why it is spelled differently from the hotel itself though (Natys instead of Natya).

The hotel has its own pool, a luxury to have when on Gili for a relief from the hot temperature.

Welcome drink

The welcome drink provided to all of us, so nice so refreshing.  You cannot imagine just how tasty a simple mock tail like this would taste in the heat of the day on Gili.

The hotel’s staff are also extremely friendly, and you will feel this right from the very moment you step into the lobby.  They are extremely attentive of your needs and will provide you assistance in anyway they can.

Ocean View, kind of.

Natya Hotel is one of the rare few hotels that offers Ocean View rooms at an affordable price.  Trust me, I’ve done months of research on this.  Ocean view accommodations are many on the west and north sides of the island, however, most of them are the more expensive hotels and villas.  It’s extremely rare to find ocean view accommodations on the south and east sides as the whole stretch of the beach view is blocked by eateries and bars (like in the picture).

Natya’s rooms are quite small, just large enough to fit a queen size bed/twin bed with just enough space to walk.  Fitting in an extra bed would prove quite difficult.  Apologies, I don’t have a picture of the room.

SUMMARY OF NATYA HOTEL
PROS
: Very good location, Extremely friendly staff, Nice ocean view room, Has a pool.
CONS: A bit on the pricey range


2.  MAMA J’S COTTAGE (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/4894233)

Mama J’s cottage was my favourite accommodation among those that we had the chance to stay in.  Just like it’s name, it has a very homey feel as soon we entered the grounds.  Mama J is located on the east side of Gili very near to the beach where most of the snorkeling activities are carried out.

Off the beaten track

Mama J is just a few walks away from the main street.  The location is also ideal as it is located away from the busier parts of Gili therefore quieter, perfect for a guaranteed good rest and relaxation.

A place of zen

This is the first impression as soon as you enter the grounds.  Unlike the other accommodations, the whole place is walled up therefore you will have a lot of privacy, like a hidden sanctuary in a chaotic place.  You will feel the ‘zen’ as soon as you step foot into the place.

Welcomed by our host

We were greeted by Tamara our host who was extremely friendly and informative.  She prepared a very nice welcome drink which comes with nice juicy watermelons as well as cookies.  We were then brought on a tour of the whole place.  Tamara was very meticulous in explaining everything including how to go about the places and activities on Gili Trawangan.

Mama J offers two cottages that are identical (except for the bedroom window view), both of which are two-storeys.  The design of the cottages are inspired by the storage barns in villages (called ‘Lumbung’) of Bali and Lombok, built with bamboo and coconut wood.  The ground floor of the cottage is the living room which also opens up to a semi-outdoor bathroom.

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The ground floor is also generously spacious which is equipped with table and chairs, refrigerator, towels, insecticide, torchlight and a complimentary gallon of water!

Incredible bedroom

The bedroom which  is located upstairs is generously spacious and also has a sofa with complete with a coffee table.  The bedroom has a window which opens up to a view of the street outside.  The bed itself was so comfortable it was one of the best sleep I have had since coming from my Rinjani climb.  One point that I really have to mention about the bed is … it smells so good!  I don’t know what kind of detergent or softener the bed sheet was washed in, but it was like sleeping in a heaven away from the dusty streets of Gili!  And yes, the bedroom is air-conditioned.  In fact, it was too cold in the early morning that I had to switch it off.

A different bathing experience

The semi-outdoor bathroom was also a joy to use.  Seldom will you get a chance to bath (or do your big business) in a bathroom that has an open ceiling.  I’m not sure how you will feel about this, but I really enjoyed the experience.

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This is the view of the garden that the living room opens up to in the morning.  I got up just in time to see our host, Tamara (sounds Japanese right?  But she’s Scandinavian) setting up the table in the garden for breakfast.

This is life

Our set menu of breakfast choices was ready for us on the garden table as soon as we woke up.

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While waiting for breakfast to be served, I went around taking more photos of the place.  I must stress again that Tamara is extremely meticulous and her attention to details is impeccable (although she claims that it is rather a curse).  This can be seen from the facilities that the cottage provides which includes insecticide spray, torchlight and even an umbrella.  The wash basin and bathroom is decorated with pink flowers that will brighten up anyone’s day.  The towels that they provide are placed together with floral scented bag which gives out a burst of lovely fragrance each time I use the towel!  The hand wash and body wash that was provided also smelled very lovely.  Even the breakfast table was decorated with plucks of bouganvillea flowers from the garden.

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Breakfast was also delightful, much effort was putting into making the breakfast very presentable and of course, delicious!

Two thumbs up!

That’s me and Tamara the host.  I definitely give Mama J’s cottages two-thumbs up.  This will definitely be my choice of stay the next time I’m back on Gili Trawangan.  Thank you so much for your hospitality, Tamara!

SUMMARY OF MAMA J’S COTTAGES
PROS
: Situated away from the noisy streets yet not too far away, peace and quiet, extremely friendly host who can provide a lot of information and answer any questions that you might have, delicious breakfast, comfortable sleep, extremely affordable.
CONS: I can’t think of any, absolutely loved it here!


3.  VILLA JULIUS (http://www.villajulius.com/)

Villa Julius was the most expensive accommodation that we stayed in among all the others and of course that also means that it was the most luxurious place that we stayed in as well.

Villa Julius

Villa Julius is situated on the quiet western side of Gili Trawangan, which is where most of the more luxurious accommodations are located.  The western side of Gili Trawangan is also where you will get the best sunset views.  Villa Julius also has a very nice pool to dip in, perfect after a day of swimming and snorkeling in the salty ocean water.

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The room itself was extremely spacious, we could have at fitted at least three or four more extra beds in there if we wanted to.  We booked the room on the first floor which has its own balcony with a perfect undisrupted view of the ocean.  The room itself was extremely spacious, we could have at fitted at least three or four more extra beds in there if we wanted to.

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This is our room’s private balcony which has the best seat in the house to the ocean view.  The balcony also overlooks the pool of the villa.

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The bathroom was as large as the bedroom and also a joy to use, with a bigger-than-usual king-sized bathtub, I spent a lot of time simmering myself and dozing off in aroma-therapeutic soaked waters.

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The pictures above shows some of the very nice features of the room; novels, umbrellas, fancy bath gel bottles, decorative ornaments and flowers around the room.

SUMMARY OF VILLA JULIUS
PROS
: A great place to pamper yourself with luxury even if it is expensive as it is still cheaper than the expensive hotels out there, great pool, great bathtub, private balcony, fantastic ocean view, best place you can get a sunset from the comfort of your room.
CONS: Far away from the main streets of Gili Trawangan (at least 15 minutes bicycle ride / 30 minutes walk) where all the activities are.


TO SUM IT ALL UP

I hope this article gives you a brief idea of what Gili Trawangan has to offer and the kind of accommodations that would suit you or your group.  For my friends and I, we really miss Gili Trawangan.  For me personally, I would like to come back here again to try the other activities which I never had the chance to try, or even if it was to repeat the same activities I would still love it.

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There’s something about Gili Trawangan that will grow in you.  I know it did on us all.  So many weeks has passed since my visit to Gili and I am having post-Gili deprivation.

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I wish I could just turn back the clock and get back on that swing and swing to that beautiful sunset that is Gili Trawangan, the unspoiled Bali!

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Posted on July 23, 2016, in Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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