To get to the Gili Islands, you can fly into Lombok or Bali. The Gili Islands are just off Lombok, but Bali offers more international flights. You have to take an hour and a half taxi (or a bus!) from the airport to a harbour on the west coast. The route takes you up into the mountains, driving through local villages and speeding past lots of monkeys. We opted to book a private taxi transfer and private speedboat through our hotel to easily navigate the (small) airport and avoid the bustling public harbour - which we heard has some fairly aggressive touts, though I can't really vouch for that. To put it into perspective, we paid about £50, whereas a local taxi would probably cost about £15 and the public boat, which goes from Bangsal Harbour until about 3pm, costs in the region of 50p! It was worth it though to hop on our own little speedboat which took us to Gili Air, the island closest to the mainland, in less than 10 minutes.
Each island has its own character - Gili Trawangan is supposedly the party island, with a big main strip of bars, while Gili Meno is the quiet retreat which is the least developed of the islands. We decided to stay on Gili Air first as it was supposed to be a middle ground between the other two, with a relaxed vibe and the largest local population of the three islands. I must have been so relieved to arrive, and totally switched-off, because I didn't take any photos of the island at all, apart from our hotel and one of our dinners! We booked into the MantaDive Resort, which was perfect. Our little bungalow was completely spotless (a recurrent theme in all three of our Indonesian hotels) and we loved the ubiquitous outdoor shower.
You can walk the main strip of bars and restaurants in Gili Air in the length of a leisurely 10 minute stroll, all with beachfront locations and chilled out bamboo huts filled with plenty of cushions to lounge on. To be honest, I can't even remember what we did that first night! I expect it included an 8pm bedtime.
The next day was a write-off. We hardly even explored, we just lay out on the beach, reading books and drinking ice cold Bintang beers, pinching ourselves at the view of the crystal clear waters directly in front of us. On our second full day, we took a snorkelling trip on a glass bottom boat, which cost us about £12 each. The little boat stopped off at about six snorkelling spots - I was skeptical that we would see much so close to shore, but it was amazing! As well as colourful tropical fish like angel fish and parrot fish, we also saw a trumpet fish, which I'd never heard of before, and a couple of sea turtles too. I took a disposable underwater camera with me, so I'm looking forward to seeing what the prints look like! Unfortunately I managed to get seasick in the water - how does that happen!? - and spent the hour long lunch on Gili Meno miserably hunched over the table trying not to be violently ill. A big highlight of the day, though, was visiting the turtle hatchery on Gili Meno. It's run by a local woman who collects the turtle eggs from the beach and raises them for 8 months, before releasing them into the waters just off the shore.
On our last night on Gili Air, we treated ourselves to a big barbecue dinner at Scallywags Beach Club. I really wanted to eat local food for the entire trip, but we just couldn't resist the gigantic prawns (some as long as my forearm!) and it was one of the best meals I've ever had. Of course, we over-ordered, but we wanted to try everything. As well as the huge prawns, we also got a rack of ribs (boyfriend's choice - seemed odd, given the seafood was so fresh - but they were the most succulent ribs I've ever had), huge vegetable kebabs and a seared tuna steak that tasted like melt in your mouth wagyu beef. The candlelit atmosphere was really romantic too - such a treat!
After three days on Gili Air, we hopped on a boat and headed for Gili Trawangan. We got totally ripped off - we are really bad travellers, we always know it's happening but can't quite manage to turn it around - but after my seasickness episode I was happy to have a quick, private ride over to the next island.
Gili T is an island of two halves; the south end is the 'party side', heaving with bars, happy hour deals and magic mushrooms everywhere. I picked a hotel on the north end of the island, which was supposed to be much quieter, with untouched beaches and really good snorkelling right off the shore. We were dropped about halfway up the island and had to walk about twenty minutes to reach our next hotel. I was starting to regret my decision to stay up in the quiet end - the walk was hot and sticky and, I predicted, would be a bit perilous at night, but when we arrived at the gorgeous Wilson's Retreat I felt a lot better!
That evening, we found a little local restaurant about five minutes' walk from the hotel, and had another early night - quite apart from the fact that we were pooped, it was really very quiet, with the only bars belonging to the hotels along the beachfront. The next morning we woke up to an amazing local breakfast of mee goreng, which I had every night, with lots of fresh fruit and amazing coffee too.
Darren had heard a couple in another bungalow saying they'd walked the perimeter of the island that morning in about an hour, so we decided to spend the morning doing that. Of course, we set off at about 11:30, so within ten minutes we were soaked with sweat and feeling delirious. Luckily we found a nice spot to stop off for a fresh coconut!
What's amazing is that as you walk around the island, the view completely changes. From the east side of the island, where we were dropped off, you are so close to Gili Meno (the middle island), you feel like you could wade out and stroll ashore. Then as you get up to the north end, you are looking out to the open ocean, though the water is calm and bath-like thanks to a shallow coral reef. As you round the top of the island and start walking down the west coast, there are completely breathtaking views of Bali. The sky looks hazy in so many of my photos - it was actually rainy season while we were there, but the Gilis supposedly enjoy a microclimate that sees less rain than the mainland, and those lingering clouds only passed over us once or twice during the whole week.
The next day we took advantage of the gorgeous beach and the pool, too! There was a big rainstorm, but the skies cleared in the afternoon and the golden hour light on our way to dinner was just beautiful.
Power on the island can be a little temperamental and that night there was a power cut that lasted ages! We'd seen a little local place (called a warung) that we wanted to stop off at, so we popped by to see if they were open. We walked for a couple minutes in the complete pitch black until we found the place and the owner ushered us in, or rather out, to the beachfront bamboo seating. It was some of the best (and cheapest) food we had the whole time we were there, and we made sure to go back twice more.
We got up early on our last day on the islands, hence my slightly bemused expression in the picture below, to head back to Lombok and our final hotel. We splurged on the last spot, so we were eager to get over there and make the most of it! Are you still reading!? Well done if you are! I think I'm going to share our lovely stay in Lombok on Wednesday and some snippets of our family life in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
A note on Indonesian hospitality: OH MY GOSH. Really, the people are just lovely. Everyone remembers your name (good morning, Miss Catherine!) and the service at both of our hotels was so friendly, without being overbearing. The people were just so kind and we loved everyone we met, particularly the owner of the little local warung where we ate by candlelight, a woman with three adorable children who didn't understand a word of English and just smiled and nodded while we asked about her kids and complemented her on her food. I can't speak for the rest of Indonesia, but if you find yourself in South East Asia, I would really recommend the Gili Islands and Lombok.