A Not-So-Secret Island Getaway: Exploring Gili Trawangan
Located a mere two hours by boat from the coast of Bali, this small island getaway is a tourist favourite and growing hotspot for travellers from all over the world. Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as many prefer to call it, truly is a must-visit gem and great escape from the bustle of the mainland Bali. The island has no cars and no motorbikes, which means the only loud sounds you’ll hear during your visit will either be the horns of horse wagons or the call to prayer at the local Mosque.
Getting to Gili T from Bali might sound a bit confusing at first, but it really is quite simple once you book a ferry. When you purchase your ferry ticket, it will most likely include transportation to the ferry terminal in Bali and to your next destination on your return route once you leave. Depending where you are coming from, you can either take the ferry from Padang Bai or Serangan. The company I recommend is Eka Jaya. They have AC, they play music on the top deck and they sell small Bintang beer for $3 CAD a bottle.
Prior to boarding the ferry, you will check in at a ticket office and receive your boarding pass. They will give you tag for your bag. Make sure you put this somewhere visible, as it is very common for bags to get lost in transit (the ferry will likely stop at another island before Gili T). It’s also not a bad idea to label that tag with your name, phone number, and homestay or hotel that you are staying at on the island. When you get on the ferry, communicate clearly to the person putting your bag on the boat that you are going to “Gili T”.
Once you arrive on Gili T, everything is relatively walkable. Try to book your accommodation on the same side of the island where the ferry drops you off. If not, you might have to rent a bike to get to the other side with your bag; otherwise you might have to walk an hour. Yes, there are horse carriages that you can hire, but I would avoid using these at all costs. The horses are overworked and overheated, and buying into that kind of treatment isn’t ideal.
You’ll notice right away that Gili T is more relaxed and laid back, and although you will still be pestered into buying clothing or eating at a restaurant on the main drag, it will still be significantly less than in Bali. Once you get off the main drag, you’ll quickly realize how off the beaten track the island really is.
Make sure to download an app called “maps.me” for your phone prior to your arrival. This offline navigational map will be your saving grace while on Gili T. The roads are winding, nameless and frequently look the same.
Where to stay:
There are a couple of hostels on the island, but they cost more per night than a homestay. If you are on a tight budget and are travelling with another person, it’s a decent idea to stay in a homestay. Breakfast is usually included and you’ll pay roughly 24$ CAD per night for two people. Keep in mind that if you do stay at the Gili Backpackers Hostel, it’s located next to the Mosque, which plays the Call to Prayer at 4:45am. You can hear it from most places on the island, but especially so at this hostel.
As mentioned before, it’s a good idea to stay near (but not on) the main drag where the boat drops you off. This is where most of the bars are located.
Eating Street Food:
Street food on Gili T is fantastic. It’s cheap, tasty and easily accessible. If you happen to walk by something that looks good, stop for a bite to eat and your wallet will thank you. Most street food costs between $1.5-2.5 for rice and three sides. Just make sure you ask what things are before ordering, especially if you’re vegetarian. Most people on the island can speak English well enough to communicate basic things like “meat”, “tofu, “spicy” etc.
Travel tip: Make sure you visit the night market at least once for dinner! It happens every evening on the main drag and is super cheap and tasty.
Rent a bike:
There are numerous places to rent bikes on the island and almost every place will have bikes that look just as run down as the shop next door. Try to find a place that writes down your accommodation rather than your passport number for security reasons. Most rentals are for 24 hours and can bartered for 40k IDR.
Visit the famous Gili swings:
On the other side of the island (from where the boat drops you), there are a few different swing sets where you can snap a photo during sunset. Even though most of these swings are located on the beach below a bar, you don’t have to buy a drink to take a picture on them. The most famous swing is located below Ombak Sunset Bar.
Beach hop and bike around the island:
You can walk around the entire island, but it will take about 1.5-2 hours. If you want a faster option, rent a bike and beach hop as you ride your way around the entire island. Keep in mind that some beaches will be more rocky and less sandy.
Cure your hangover with fresh coconut water:
There are lots of places on the island that sell fresh coconut. If you’re a coconut water fan, this is a great hangover cure and electrolyte replenisher. If you’re not a fan, I would skip the coconut and get a tetra pack box of guava juice at a convenience store instead (the coconut water won’t be cold). The coconuts are quite big, so you can always split one with someone instead. Cost: Approx $2 CAD or 20k IDR.
Bar hop at night:
Look for happy hour deals and go from there. The bars on Gili T are all pretty fun, but you’ll notice that each night only one or two bars stay open past 1am. Head to the Irish Bar on any Sunday night for $3 CAD cocktails.
Rent a private boat and snorkel for the day:
Approach any of the small vendors advertising snorkelling on the main road and barter a price for a private boat for the day. They will take you out for 4-5 hours and you can choose where to go (they will go anywhere around Gili T, Gili Air or Gili Meno). This activity is best booked with 4+ people because the cost will be less per person if you have a larger group. Cost: approximately $20 CAD per person, or $100 per boat. Ask for a cooler for $5 CAD and you can bring your own Bintang on board. Not surprisingly, Gili T has large colourful reefs and impressive marine life (including turtles). If you can afford it, go scuba diving instead for an even more amazing experience.
Don’t be that ignorant tourist that stands on the reef in the water or takes a shell home as a souvenir. The locals are fairly relaxed and probably won’t say anything if you do, but that doesn’t mean you should. Reefs all around the world are slowly diminishing, and it’s not our right to contribute further to their destruction. Observe, admire and enjoy, but please, please do not touch. On our snorkelling trip I saw two groups standing on two different patches of reef with their fins and it killed me not to say something.
And lastly, make sure you enjoy your visit on the island! This was one of my favourite spots in Indonesia and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Until next time,