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
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).
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
We tried the food at Thank You Restaurant. Food was very cheap here and its not too bad.
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.
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.
Hike up the hill in the middle of the island for a good view of the whole island
Experience the famous Indonesia massages!
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.
The hotel has its own pool, a luxury to have when on Gili for a relief from the hot temperature.
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.
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.
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.
The ground floor is also generously spacious which is equipped with table and chairs, refrigerator, towels, insecticide, torchlight and a complimentary gallon of water!
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.
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.
Breakfast was also delightful, much effort was putting into making the breakfast very presentable and of course, delicious!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!