When we saw the week of never-ending rain and thunderstorms forecast for Bali and the Gili Islands, we almost canceled our entire trip, in favour of the week of straight sun projected for Phuket. But since doing so, would’ve cost us hundreds of dollars, we stuck with our original plan, weather be damned!
Fortunately (or unfortunately?), the weather app on my iPhone was completely wrong. Aside from a single, dramatic storm that overturned boats and cut power to Lombok and Gili Air for a few days, it didn’t rain at all.
Instead, we enjoyed days of blazing sunshine, chromatic seas and leisurely bike rides around the island.
We’ve long wanted to visit Indonesia’s Gili Islands – 3 tiny droplets of land, a 30 minute boat ride off the coast of Lombok. Each of the 3 islands is known for it’s unique character. Gili Trawangan or Gili T, the biggest of the 3, is the most developed and known as the “party island.” Gili Meno is the most undeveloped, supposed to have the best beaches, and is the sleepiest of the islands. Gili Air, is somewhere in between, and that’s where we ended up.
To say that Gili Air is quiet is an understatement. There are no cars or scooters allowed on the island, and a lot of places don’t even have 24 hour electricity. Bicycles, horse-drawn carts (cidomos) and your feet are the only means of transportation. It only takes about an hour to walk around the entire perimeter of the island (yes, it’s that small).
Our Favourite Experiences
Cerulean waters and blissed-out relaxation were what we were looking forward to most, but sandy beaches alone do not make for a great trip. At least for me.
Luckily, despite it’s size, we found plenty to occupy us on tiny Gili Air. Here, some of our favourite experiences.
Decent coffee and a view at Scooperific
Gili Air has lots going for it, but good coffee definitely isn’t one of them. There’s plenty of grainy Lombok coffee on offer, but I don’t know many visitors to Gili that wake up, craving a cup, and we were no exception. We do need our coffee though, so every day began with a rather desperate search for a decent caffeine fix.
After many decidedly average cups, we finally stumbled upon Scooperific. Gelato, crepes and decent, not amazing, made from capsule coffee, and a gorgeous view on their second floor was like finding an oasis in the desert.
$2 Meals at Warung Muslim
There’s a series of beachside restaurants, serving seafood barbecue, pizza and Indonesian delights like nasi goreng, but to us the best meals to be had, were found in the centre of Gili at humble Warung Muslim.
Don’t be put off by the shabby exterior. You’ll be missing out on a flavourful mix of veggies, choice of meat or fish, tofu or tempeh and peanuts. And all for just $2 a pop. I’m not exaggerating, when I say that we indulged every single day.
Cycling through the Green Heart of the Island
The total absence of motorized traffic is one of the best things about Gili Air, and renting a bike and exploring the lush interior of the island is kinda blissful. I could definitely get used to cycling as my main mode of transport, especially when the surroundings are so beautiful.
Sunset and beanbags at Mowie’s on the Beach
Indonesian sunsets are some of the most picturesque in the world, and watching one while sitting on beanbags and listening to chill out Cafe del Mar style tunes, was one amazing experience. And Mowie’s on the Beach is the only place on the island where you can have it in quite that way. Get there early or risk missing out on a beanbag and a truly exceptional evening.
Where We Stayed
We started out our stay on Gili Air at Si Pitung Village. It took us about 15 minutes to walk there from the pier, but you can hire one of the cidomos, if you prefer.
For 400,000 IDR per night, there was a pool, and a simple breakfast of eggs, fruit, toast and terrible Lombok coffee included. Wifi worked, only by the pool, and not very well. I think that these bungalows must’ve been very nice a few years ago, but now they’re starting to show their age. Though each room had an air conditioner, they were kind of pointless, because they didn’t really work. Did I mention how crazy hot and humid it is in Gili?
After a few nights of suffering, we moved over to Villa Karang, which for the same price (negotiated), was a HUGE step up. Air conditioning that worked, excellent breakfast, an infinity pool and modern rooms. When the entire island lost power for 36 hours, I thanked my lucky stars we’d made the move, because Villa Karang had a generator. I’m pretty sure Si Pitung didn’t.
If you’re visiting in low season, I highly recommend that you simply show up, find somewhere to stay and negotiate the price upon arrival. You’ll have your pick of places.
Getting to the Gili Islands from Bali
You can get to Gili using public boats, regular ferries, or fast boats. The majority of tourists travel using a pre-packaged land/fast boat ticket.
There are multiple ports and routes from Bali to the Gili Islands. There’s not a huge difference in time or cost between the different options. The difference lies in how much time you want to spend on the water vs. land, as the crossing has a reputation for encouraging seasickness in even the hardiest of souls.
We asked our Ubud area hotel to recommend a fast boat company, and they took care of all the arrangements, including dropping us off at the pickup point early in the morning, at no extra cost. Travel by mini-bus to the port at Padang Bai took approximately 90 minutes. We waited around the port for approximately 30 minutes and then made the 1 hour journey to the Gili Islands. Our ride was relatively smooth, but I took some Antimo (motion sickness pills), which I purchased the night before in a drugstore, just in case. The cost of our 1 way ticket was 350,000 IDR each.
We booked our tickets the night before, without too much trouble, but the first company our hotel called was sold out, so if you’re traveling in high season, definitely book in advance.
Getting to Lombok from the Gili Islands
For our return to Singapore (where we were connecting onwards back to Seoul), we flew directly out of Lombok’s International Airport.
There are multiple ways of getting from Gili Air to Lombok, including slow boat, fast boat or speed boat. We elected to take the speed boat, which we reserved directly at the pier (make sure you book at the government office, not the tourist office across the street). The trip took 15 minutes and was completely refreshing.
When you arrive on the other side, in Lombok, you’ll have to wade through a bit of water to get to land. A bunch of touts will assault you upon landing, and try to take your bag to shore for you (whether you want them to or not). Make sure you grab it yourself, unless you’re willing to give them a tip. The boys will continue to bother you to provide taxis or onward service. Be firm with them, and if you do decide to go with one of their drivers, negotiate firmly, and make sure you’re getting a private, air conditioned car.
The drive from Bangsal pier to Lombok Airport is about 2 hours. We paid 300,000 IDR and paid our driver directly at the airport, even though the boys wanted payment up front. Have the driver take you through Monkey Mountain, where a plethora of monkeys line the roads, waiting for food, that is offered to them by locals praying for good luck.
Have you visited any of the Gili Islands? Which is your favourite?