The boat journey from Nusa Lembongan to the Gili Islands was far nicer than the last. Not only did the tiny speed boat we were on have wifi, but we were all given cake and water too! A film was also being shown which, like the majority of bus/boat films I’ve seen in Asia was extremely violent and so unsuitable for anyone under the age of 18, something that never fails to amaze me. The Gili Islands have recently grown in popularity with both backpackers and holiday makers with three of the islands, Trawangan, Air and Meno, now firmly on the tourist track. However, this doesn’t mean they’ve completely lost their charm, as horse and carts are still the main form of transport and dogs nowhere to be seen.
We decided to base ourselves on Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short), the biggest of the three main Gili Islands, as it is the most popular with our age group being the “party island”. Little did we know it was Ramadan so we were worried that everything would be shut, but luckily that wasn’t the case. We moved into Funny Homestay which is located just off the beach close to the main strip of bars and restaurants. It had a pool so was a winner for the girls but after exploring the island a little more, we could have got far better value. I suppose we were paying for the location and the family who owned it were rather nice. Little did we know, about three days into our stay, Funny Homestay became not so funny as it was slowly demolished around us. First the swimming pool went, then the breakfast seating and finally to our horror, the wifi! It was sad to see the beautiful palm trees being cut down exposing the pool area to the busy street outside. I’m sure they had their reasons but I couldn’t quite grasp the logic of their plans.
Our days in Gili T were spent lazing around at the beach, with the girls sleeping off hangovers from the night before while I as usual, found it impossible to relax, so spent my day blogging or searching for giant sea turtles which on my last day, I was lucky enough to see while snorkelling just in front of the island’s turtle sanctuary.
The majority of the sun-loungers on the beach charge a fee for using them which can usually be redeemed against food and drink. The further away you go from the main strip the cheaper everything is and you can pick up a decent meal for around 30,000 rupiah (£2) without having to spend anymore. The trouble is, it takes effort to walk to the other side of the island and after a night out on Gili T no one’s in any fit state to trench through the sand. It’s worth making the effort though, as you’ll get to snap a picture on the sea swing (which we forgot!), visit the vintage clothes shop Casa Vintage (I made an effort not to, for fear of spending my backpacker budget) and check out some of the more laid-back bars.
For us, Gili T was all about the parties and although it was Ramadan, which meant that noise had to be cut around midnight, there was still plenty going on. Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s are usually party nights on Gili T, with a different bar taking it in turn to host each night.
As it was Ramadan, party nights had been put on hold, although in my eyes, every night was still very much party night! Our evening would typically start with us moaning about how we couldn’t possibly drink another Bintang, followed by a stunning sunset at Paradise Sunset bar with, you guessed it – Bintang, before heading out to dinner.
Once fed, the majority of young people on the island would go to the reggae bar Sama Sama to listen to their nightly live act before heading to the silent disco at the Irish Bar Tir na nóg. The silent disco only happens during Ramadan and it is an experience to say the least. You need to be drunk, VERY drunk to appreciate the madness of Gili T’s silent disco and even when I wasn’t, it was still good ‘crack’ – after all we were in an Irish bar!
It was a blessing and a curse that this was the only place to go as it meant that it was always busy and faces became familiar but it also meant it was impossible to get a set of headphones, unless you got there super early (before 11pm) and took part in the nightly scramble.
For those hardcore party-goers like KK and Swills, Surf Bar, a short walk south of the island, kept the beer flowing well into the early hours. This is also the top spot for Magic Mushrooms which are sold throughout the Gili Islands as there are no police – no mum, I didn’t in case you are wondering!
Good news if you struggle to stay up like me as Gili T has the answer, with none other than VODKA JOSS or in many cases, just Joss. Joss is a sachet of what can only be described as intense red bull in a powder form. Although it is great fun to shot and watch it foam up in your mouth like you’ve been possessed, it also results in a terrible hangover the next day – but hey who cares!
Not only was I lucky enough to be joined by the girls from London, but my English-turned-Aussie friend Mel and her boyfriend Shaun also came over for a short break to celebrate Mel’s 25th birthday. It was so great to be surrounded by old friends and we all enjoyed plenty of happy hour cocktails at Mel and Shaun’s swanky hotel, Villa Ombak. The night of Mel’s birthday we cracked open a bottle of Moët at their villa and scoffed on the most amazing chocolate cake Shaun had made by the hotel. Ahh blast, I was done caring about the backpacker budget, I was on hola-day!
There’s too much to tell you about Gili T’s food with T being the most developed island, so I’ll leave that for another day. I had an absolute blast during our seven days on Gili T and was so sad to see my friends leave. On my final day I went to check in to Gili Hostel as this was my favourite backpacker hangout, but unfortunately they were fully booked. On my walk out, I came across two girls also looking for a room so I suggested we all share an excellent value bungalow at Pandana Guesthouse which is north of the harbour. It was nice to meet new friends having recently left old ones and we enjoyed a chilled evening together at Gili Hostel and Surf Bar, before the midnight mayhem!
I love travelling but spending a week surrounded by old friends did make me miss home and made me realise that if I’m going to be travelling for a while, I need to stay long enough in a place for it to feel like home. So that is my next mission, to find somewhere to call home.
Top tip: party hard but don’t forget to make the effort to explore the whole island, you’ll be suprised at what you find.
Living life, loving travel,