Gili Trawangan island located in the Lombok strait between the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok, is the biggest of the three Gili islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Last December when I decided to take the trip to Gili Trawangan and spend a week (including New Year's Eve and Day) there, I did not know what to expect. I had read a few blogs by travelers who had contrasting and extreme views of the place. After spending six days on the island, I found the many aspects of the place quite irresistible. The rustic charm of the island did not take much time to win me over.
What was it about this island that made me feel a part of this place? Why did I feel so peacefully disconnected with the “Real” outside world during those six days? Well, here are six reasons why I fell in love with the island:
The island is tiny and pleasantly unpolluted
Although Gili T (as it is more commonly called) is the largest among the three islands, this island is so small that it can be explored on foot in 2 hours and cycled around in an hour along the single main stretch that runs along the entire coastline. Compare that to Bali where you need at least seven to ten days to fully explore the island. Why I said pleasantly unpolluted? There are absolutely no motorized vehicles – no cars, motorbikes or radioactive waste (well, okay!!) – on the island; bicycles, Cidomos (horse-driven carts) and your happy feet are the only modes of transportation available here. So, no traffic jams, no honking, no irritating motor sounds behind your back when you are trying to relax on the beach. Honestly, this is one of the cleanest places I have been to in Indonesia.
Oh those beaches!!
Imagine this – vast empty stretches of white-sand beach, dotted with trees that provide shades to just tie up that hammock and cool off the entire afternoon. There are many such areas to be found all over the island where you could be just by yourself (or your partner) at peace with nobody to disturb you. The pristine beaches are devoid of pushy vendors (read Bali) and stray dogs (read Bali again). Feel drowsy and lazy after a delicious lunch? Just find one of these spots and sleep the afternoon away!! And there is always the option of taking a dip in the sea too.
There lies a beautiful world underwater
The entire island of Gili Trawangan is surrounded by a huge network of reefs that are rich in marine-life. Some of the sites around the island and also around Gili Air and Gili Meno are perfect spots for scuba diving. Not into scuba diving yet? Grab a snorkel, a pair of fins and head into the waters off the beach. Snorkel away along the reefs where you will be treated with colorful corals and various species of fish. More often than not you will also be greeted by the elusive sea-turtles (who are not so elusive indeed!!). Most of the beach shacks rent out snorkeling equipment so getting your hands on them wouldn't take much. Alternatively, take one of the boat trips for snorkeling tour around the three islands where you could also meet up with fellow travelers if that is your thing.
Cycle around the island and walk up the hill
“What's new in cycling?”, you ask. Nothing at all. But cycling along the coastline with the sea and sand on one side and palm/coconut trees on the other? Well, that is something worth doing. Especially when you have the entire pathway to yourself and fellow explorers on wheels (no vehicles, remember?). Soak in the innumerable views of the changing landscape across the sea and on land. As you go around the island, you find tons of picture perfect views of the open sea and the mostly sandy sometimes rocky coastline of Gili Trawangan. Hop off the bicycle and take a short walk up the hill where you will come across remains of machine-gun bunkers from World War II era when the island was occupied by Japanese armed forces. At the top of the hill, you get wide eyed view of the entire island and as well as the Rinjani mountain across to Lombok island.
Delectable food and perfect island nightlife
To be honest, the food on Gili Trawangan can be a hit or miss depending on where and what you eat. Since the island has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds in recent times, there are a lot of international food options available. Personally, I usually do not look beyond local food when I am anywhere in Indonesia because , well the foods of this country are some of the best in the world for me. Head to the night market that serves fantastic local food and a lot of fresh seafood at reasonable prices. The foods from different stalls are served in an open communal dining setting where you share tables with anybody and everybody. Perfect to make some friends, right? The nightlife might not appeal much to those who don't like much of partying or dancing around. But popular bars and clubs like Tir-Na-Tong and Sama Sama Reggae Pub are enjoyable enough even if you are just looking to have a drink and chill out. Casual and laid-back yet very much vibrant, the nightlife here is way different from popular beach destinations like Bali and Phuket.
Sunsets to die for..
Trust me when I say that the sunsets here on Gili Trawangan are some of the best you will ever witness in your life. Every evening, the cool sea breeze calms the atmosphere and the hundreds of visitors gathered around watch in awe as the setting sun paints the sky in amazing colors with the backdrop of Mount Agung all the way across the island of Bali. Head off to one of the many “Sunset Bars” along the west coast of the island and grab a beanbag couch along with a drink or two and enjoy one of nature's most inspiring shows.
The air and environment on Gili Trawangan oozes vibes of simplistic pleasures. There are a couple of drawbacks to this place too. There is an undertone of drug abuse especially during the late-night parties on this island. A simple and firm “No” to such advances is good enough. The horses and ponies driving those Cidomos all day are in weak shape. You will feel for them watching them carrying enormous load the entire day. However, there is an organization that ensures these lovely creatures are well taken care of. There is a lot to be loved about this small tropical island. There are unforgettable moments to be cherished and numerous friends to be made once you are here. Go visit Gili T when you are in Indonesia. This place deserves to be experienced.
- How to reach Gili Trawangan
From Bali – Take the fast boat from any of the three ports Serangan, Padang Bai and Amed. Tickets cost around 45 USD one way to the island(s) and the journey takes from 60 – 100 minutes. You can book the tickets from any travel agent in Bali. You could also take the public ferry which is much cheaper but takes 5 hours to reach the islands.
From Lombok – Take the fast boat from Teluk Nara or Teluk Kodek located along the West Coast of Lombok. The journey takes roughly 30 minutes due to the close proximity of the islands to Lombok. You could also take the public boats from Bangsal harbor which takes longer but it much cheaper than the fast boats.
- Accommodation – From luxury resorts to local homestays, there are a lot of options across the island. If you want a more local experience, opt for a homestay where you can instantly connect with the friendly local population.
- Safety – The island as a whole is quite safe with hardly any unfortunate incidents. Stay away from drugs and “drunk swimming”, you should be just fine. Try not to be a superhero and swim from one island to another. The currents in between the islands are quite dangerous and they are bound to consume you.
- Amenities – ATMs are available along the main stretch near to the harbor. Several convenience stores are also to be found across the island. Stock up on water as this place gets quite hot and humid.