Before I departed South Africa for this adventure, I did a lot of researching and YouTubing. I watched ALL the vlogs about traveling this side of the world, and read all there is to read about the “where, what, why, when, and how” that you supposedly need to be prepared for. None of it has happened yet. The transfers to and from airports, hotels, and ports have all been seamless so far. Luggage was portered (not chucked on the roof of sketchy buses – yet), showers have been mostly hot (not that you ever need it) and relatively pressured, and there has been no manic shouting and shoving and rushing to get anywhere or do anything. I know that a good dose of chaos is most likely still coming my way over the course of the next few months, but I expected to be bombarded by unrelenting chaos the second I landed and I wasn’t. I don’t know if that’s just good luck or good planning, but I’m not complaining either way.
The transfer from Bali to Gili Trawangan was smooth sailing, literally and figuratively. We caught a fast boat with Patagonia Express which I’d pre-booked online (here) for $29, with an additional small fee for hotel pickup. The boat was bigger than I’d imagined it would be, with aircon on the lower deck and a sundeck upstairs, and the trip took roughly 2 hours with a stop along the way to collect a few more travellers.
I’d booked to do my SSI Advanced diving course with Manta Dive on Gili T, and unfortunately their accommodation was full (which is a pity because it’s awesome), but we stayed just down the drag at Dream Divers, which was a cool enough option for a mid-range private room.
“They call Gili T the party island but there are loads of quiet spots across the island where you can simply sit back and soak in the beauty of where you are and how you got there.”
Gili Trawangan, or “Gili T” as it’s lazily known, is considered the party island, and compared to its neighbouring islands which I also visited, it was packed to the brim with vibe around almost every corner. There are also loads of spots where you can pull up a bean bag and soak in the chilled splendour of exquisite island life, so don’t be put off if the party scene isn’t your vibe. Most of the blogs I’d read beforehand make it sound like it’s just one constant party, and there is always a party to be found, but it’s easy enough to escape the bustle if you need to. There are some exquisite, quiet resorts on the west side of the island where you can simply bask in the sun and sip on cocktails to your heart’s content.
“I have no idea what day it is, which is the best kind of day.”
It wasn’t long before I lost track of what day it was, and have since completely lost any sense of time that I may have had before. We spent the week doing some epic diving (watch the videos here), snorkeling at the Bio Rocks (a super cool spot for a snorkel – just watch out for passing boats), lazing on bean bags, beach swings and in ocean hammocks, cycling around the island, watching incredible sunsets, sipping on many a Bintang, and generally living the best life imaginable. We also hiked up the hill for sunrise one morning for a beautiful view of all three of the Gili islands lined up in front of the sun, which pops up behind Mount Rinjani on Lombok.
One of the most striking things about this part of the world, aside from how ridiculously gorgeous it is, is how friendly and welcoming the people are. When you arrive carrying your bags, everyone you walk past says “welcome”, and as you wander through the sandy streets exploring the beaches and alleyways, you are greeted with genuine smiles as people go about their daily business.
TOP TIP: If you ever go to Gili T and Abhy Summer is still playing at Evolution Bar, GO AND WATCH HIM! Seriously, that dude has an absolutely incredible voice and it made my whole soul happy watching him perform for two nights during my stay on the island.
There’s an endless range of local and western food at the countless restaurants and bars that line the coast, and we mixed it up during our stay. I highly recommend heading to the night food market at least once during your stay on the island for some cheap and tasty authenticity. This was my first experience of an Asian food market and it’s a little overwhelming, especially when you have no idea what most of it is, but the servers are super friendly (albeit also super sales-pitchy) so just ask. If you’re after something with a little less rice, the breakfast baguettes and wraps at Manta Dive are phenomenal, and Taco Tuesday at Tir Na Nog is yummy, but like I said, there’s more than enough options to satisfy any palate. The trick of the trade, particularly when going for local/street food, is to aim for places where other locals are eating because, like anywhere else in the world, they’re popular for good reason.
I met quite a few people who had arrived on Gili T for a week or two and ended up staying for years, and I can totally understand how one would get stuck here. While the Gili islands are a little more dominated by tourists than I would ordinarily prefer, there is something magical about each of these islands and I certainly wouldn’t mind getting stuck on any of them for any length of time.