Lombok & Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are a group of three islands located just off the north west coast of Lombok. Made up of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, the three tropical islands comprise of nice sandy beaches, bright blue water and a true island vibe. All the islands are ‘similar but different’ - Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most developed and is renowned for its parties, Gili Air is still lively but a more relaxed feel and Gili Meno is quieter again.
We opted for the flight to Lombok as all boats from Bali depart before 12 noon (this is also the case for the Gili Islands so please keep it in mind when organising your trip), so instead of spending an extra night in Bali we thought it would be better to spend that checking out Lombok, plus the flights from Bali to Lombok were the same price as a the boat which was 300,000 IDR per person, so it was an easy decision.
Lombok’s airport has been moved from close to its main tourist town of Sengeggi to an hour and a half south east towards the middle of the island (I found this fairly inconvenient). From the feel of a lot of the locals in the area that we spoke to in taxis, at shops and the hotel, this move has had a big impact on tourism in the area as everyone seemed to be a bit more desperate for business and complaining that it was not busy. We left the airport and found a taxi driver who was very nice agreed on a price of 180,000 IDR from the airport to Sengeggi (two hour drive in traffic) - I wish taxis were this cheap in Melbourne.
We stayed at a really nice big resort in an ocean view room for 1,000,000 IDR a night including buffet breakfast, resort fees and taxes. The resort had 3 bars, 3 restaurants, pools, turtle hatchery, shops and a dive centre, all of the staff bent over backwards for us and were extremely nice. The hotel was about 5 minutes form town in a taxi and it cost 20,000 IDR.
In Sengeggi, there are lots of bars, shops, hotels and restaurants most of which were reasonable priced between 30,000-150,000 IDR for a meal. We got a one hour massage for 60,000 IDR and the taxi to Bangsal (where you take the boat to Bali/Gili) was 100,000 IDR or private charter boat direct to GIliT was about 800,000 IDR. From most parts of north western Lombok you can organise tours to other beaches, waterfalls and mountains, and also overnight trekking tours to conquer Mt Rinjai, the second highest volcano in Indonesia. Tour start from 1,500,000 IDR for a two day trip and upto 4,000,000 IDR for four day trips, and can be purchased nearly everywhere throughout the region.
During our time in Lombok we met some extremely nice local taxi drivers;
Taxi Driver from the Airport - Rajab +62 865 930 830
Taxi Drive near Sengeggi - Chipta +62 819 18176234
When arriving in Bangsal the taxi can only take you to about 500 metres from the port then you must walk - all of the usual hustlers try and sell you tickets, saying there are no more boats etc., but if you walk directly to the peer you can make up your own mind who you would like to go with. I hadn't read to much on what to expect but we dodged all of the hustlers and headed straight for the dock, I asked another western looking bloke where he bought his ticket and for how much, then headed to the office at the port.
The fast boat from Bangsal Harbour takes 15 minutes, leaves at allocated times and cost was 80,000 IDR. There was also a public boat which leaves when it is full, this takes 45 minutes and costs around 20,000 IDR. You can also get a boat directly to Padang Bay (Bali) for around 300,000 IDR.
Gili Trawangan - most commonly known as Gili T is busy and fun. There are lots of bars, restaurants, shops, dive centres and tour offices selling snorkelling trips. As soon as you step food off the pier on onto the main road you are in the centre of town. This road, which runs up the east coast of Gili T is where it all happens. There are lots of places to stay, but depending on the time of the season, you may have to book in advance to secure a decent room on the main strip, other wise you may have to stay a few streets back.
There are no cars on the Gili Islands - Only bikes and horse & cart. Bikes start at 50,000 IDR per day but you can haggle down, we paid 250,000 IDR for 2 bikes for 5 days. Everyone hires a bike to get around the Island, there is a road that does a complete loop around the perimeter, however some parts you may have to get off and push your bike through the sand. I actually feel bad, but we lost the key for our lock which was given to us and returned the bikes without it. The shopkeeper didn't say anything but for the sake of being overcharged or ripped off, I felt it was easier to not mention it.
Most people travelling South East Asia come to the Gili’s to complete their Scuba Diving - Open Water Certificate because of its calm waters and high visibility. All of the Dive centres here have set a fixed price for the course of 550,000 IDR and it usually takes 3-4 days. The Dive centres are located along the main strip and have a cafe/restaurant on the beach with the Dive centre on the opposite side of the road which is pretty cool. My missus completed her Open Water course with Blue Marlin. They have a pretty good system; the evening before you commence your dive course you can go into the cafe and sit in a both and watch the 2 opening videos of the course (instead of watching them the next day). You can also order dinner and beers, which will help pass the time and is also a good money grab from the company.
The Night Markets are located opposite the pier and are open everyday. There are lots of little stalls, it was really busy and we ended up picking a stall where the food ended up being cold but it still tasted good and cost 50,000 IDR for two of us. There are also lots of beachfront restaurants around the whole island with different themes, menus and prices, so I recommend having a walk around and stopping where you like! We came across Regina Italian Pizzas, which is the place to go if you feel like some good old Italian wood fire Pizzas made from an Italian chef! Prices were between 50,000-90,000 IDR for a large pizza which were ready within minutes.
The amazing Ombak Sunet Swings are located on the west coast of Gili T. The sunset is spectacular, and everyone rides/walks over to watch the sun go down and get ‘the swing photo’ (including me, as seen above) but as peaceful as it looks in the photos, it is actually like a circus at sunset and you must line up (featured in the picture below). We had already returned our bikes so we opted for a horse and cart which cost 70,000-80,000 IDR each way.
The ‘3 Island Snorkelling Trip’, which is sold at every second store on the island, is average with mostly dead coral, minimal marine life and herds of other snorkelers (Cost 70,000-100,000 IDR). It is a good way to get around and see a bit of the islands as you will be dropped on Gili Air for an hour or two to have lunch. If you are already with a group of friends, it may be worthwhile hiring a private boat for the day for only a little bit extra and you can go wherever you want. Alternately you can hire snorkels for 30,000-50,000 IDR a day and just head out on your own. There is a Turtle Conservation Centre on the main street, where you can see hundreds of little baby turtles in tanks which are being raised in the hope of releasing them back into the Ocean when they are bigger and stronger. I chucked in a couple of dollars but am unsure of how much of that will actually be put towards turtle conservation. I have read reviews of a Turtle Conservation Centre on Gili Meno so if that interests you it might be worth a day trip!
The Gili Islands are renowned for their Mushrooms - so while I was there I thought it would be rude not to try one (which ended up turning into a few) and yep, as mentioned on all of the signs on the bars - its sent me to the moon! Spent a whole afternoon riding my bed through space like a magic carpet! Other days would be spent laying at the beach watching the clouds. Obviously I do not recommend doing it and its not for everyone, but at the same time I realise that people are going to do it anyway. I am no drug expert, but I would not recommend someone having a mushroom shake when you are already drunk and out partying as its likely that with so much going on it may overwhelm the senses - for the people who are curious and want to try it, remember that it is very strong hallucinogenic and once you have it, you will be stuck in that frame of mind until it wears off 5 or 6 hours later. So if you chose to do it, may be better to do it during the day when you are relaxed and somewhere safe. They cost for a shake is between 150,000-200,000 IDR. I was also offered everything else, from Cocaine, Marijuana, Ecstasy etc. and was assured that its was OK because there are no police on the Gili Islands, however, I politely declined on the offers.
When drinking at bars, please be aware of methanol spiked drinks. Only drink alcoholic drinks from bottles or cans as there have been a large amount of incidents and even a death of Australian in recent year from drinking as little as one cocktail - and under no circumstances drink the local brew ARAK.
There is a large Mosque near the centre of town, this wont kill you, but you may lose some sleep over it because at 5am every morning the megaphones blasts out prayer for about half an hour and I am pretty sure anywhere in the main part of town would be affected by this, as we stayed in two different Hotels and it was pretty loud in both. Let this be a reminder that Indonesia is the worlds largest muslim country, so please be respectful of their culture while you are there.
The first few nights we stayed on the main strip at Gili Divers. The staff were friendly and helpful and the rooms were nice & clean. I would have liked to have dived with them as they seemed to be one of the better companies to dive with. We also stayed at Blue Cottages 2 and had a bungalow with a private courtyard and gazebo, both rooms cost around 650,000 IDR per night including breakfast.
We had not planned on staying on Gili Air, I had only stopped there on a snorkelling trip from Gili T and saw some really cool bungalows located directly on the beach so I walked around the island and asked the owner how much it is to stay. The cost was 400,000 IDR a night and one was available for the following night so I told him to book me in.
These amazing beachfront rooms, which we fell in love with, are called Paradise Bungalows. This is one of the hidden gems I love coming across when travelling. There is no website or online reservations, they are the only Bungalows that are located directly on the beach in all of the Gilis. They are very basic thatched huts, with a balcony, 2 chairs, a hamock and a double bed inside, with a shared toilet/shower facility which is very basic. There is a small little sandbank out the front of the bungalows which is awesome to chill, we spent both of the afternoons just lounging in knee deep water and watched the sunset from here. If you swim out a few hundred meters the water is knee deep the entire way but at the end of it is a beautiful coral reef with lots of fish. So one day we hired some snorkels for 20,000 IDR and went for a swim! The only way to reserve a room is too arrive and try your luck or to call Gede on +62 819 17414943.
All in all, Gili Air is similar to Gili T with similar prices for food, drinks, diving, snorkelling and bike hire. The only main difference is that it is a lot more relaxing and with less people. There is a path around the entire island but lots of long sections of sand where you will have to push your bike instead of riding.
Some cool places to eat and drink are Legends Bar - Very chilled place on the beach and nice to watch the sunset, located on the back side of the islands with no wifi. Youpy Resaurant - awesome set up, rustic with bamboo and set out over the beach with reasonable prices but took about an hour to get served as it was pretty busy. Unzipped - Decent place and food overlooking the ocean. Free wifi and happy hour every day with 2 for 1 drinks but took a while for food and drinks to come out.
Overall, we loved the Gili Islands! I believe if your single and want to party, Gili T is your spot - If you are a couple looking for a relaxing beach holiday then head to Gili Air. The islands are only about a ten minute boat ride apart so if you have enough time try and check out both :)