A Perfect Piece of Paradise on The Gili Islands

Chill out - our famous holiday motto Gili Islands

We had only one time-specific obligation on our little Indonesia Island Hopping adventure. We were to meet up with a friend of mine on Gili Air on a certain date. Getting there was, of course, part of the fun… and the terror.

Known abroad simply as the “Gilis,” this is an archipelago of three small islands on the northwest end of Lombok, Gili meaning “small island” in the Sasak language local to Lombok. Linda, a family friend from way back, shares her time on various places around the world, and spent over 20 years in Nepal, having set up what’s become a local institution and must trekkers’ stop in Pokhara, the Moondance restaurant. Linda was about to embark on a mini tour around the world and first stop was to be Gili Air. Since our dates in Indonesia overlapped, it seems silly not to connect. Nepal was actually on my list of destination options when Rose and I were deciding where to go, and since we’d have arrived just after the tragic and deadly earthquake, fate had sent us the right direction to Indonesia (more on our first stop in Bali here). Linda was safe in Pokhara, but was definitely relieved to leave the country for a little while.

Rose had been hoping to check out the Gilis too so it worked out well. This brings us back to our 4 am drive down to Ahmed pier (mentioned in this previous post on northern Bali). We’d been told by these friendly travelers in Ubud that is was very easy to get tickets right at the boat docks and since we were traveling off season, we assumed we’d have no problem. That was the case… at least with purchasing tickets…

Getting to the Gilis

We arrived at the docking area way too early at about 7 am for a 9 am departure, but this way we would certainly not miss the boat. I babysat our bags while Rose went off to find tickets, coming back shortly thereafter with some bargain tickets at around 250 rupiah (18USD), not bad at all. Since she’d bought them from right out front of this reputable dock, we’d assumed there were for that company, however, after about 45 minutes, someone came to escort us into a minivan.

“As it’s low season, we put people together onto one boat,” we were informed by our chauffeur. Hmmm alright, that made sense, but why were we getting on that nice large speedboat anchored 15 metres offshore? We were driven around 15 minutes away picking up a few other tourists en route. Dropped at a different pier, we waited around a little longer while they registered all our passports. We guessed this was for insurance/safety purposes. Rose and I were entertained by this sweet 15 year old girl (with the long purple t-shirt) trying to sell us an extortionately priced bracelet, instead I gave her 10K rupiah to teach us some Indonesian (we’d also have to learn some Sasak)… since all our useful Balinese expressions were about to be useless on the neighboring islands (she taught us valuable new expressions like terima kasih – thank you, nama saya – my name is, becik-becik – fine, enak sekali – delicious (for food) and very importantly: ganteng – handsome boy).

We were so occupied with our new friend that we were some of the last to pile onto the new less sophisticated (and safe looking) boat, and when I say pile, I mean it. Our luggage was thrown on the roof under a tarp and there were so many people on the boat that some were standing or like poor Rose, stuck seated in the back… Matur Suksama! Goodbye Bali! We bid it farewell, the Mount Agung volcano waving back with what appeared to be some puffs of smoke. And a volcanic ride we would have! This was exactly the kind of boat we’d been warned against taking! It was so overloaded it was crashing over each waves, Rose (and our bags) getting totally drenched with each smash against the water, looks or terror especially on some of the parents aboard. Somewhere in the middle of the supposed 45-minute crossing, the boat engine spit and sputtered to a halt. Crap. That water was cold… and were there sharks down there? Now I knew why they’d taken down our passport numbers… Though after some jiggling, they managed to stoked it to life and we eventually arrived about 30 minutes late.

Foraging for Food and Lodging

We’d read that Gili Trawangan (or just Gili T), the largest of the three islands, was the wilder sister so we were happy with Linda’s choice of Gili Air. It was the mid-sized island so we figured there’d be enough “entertainment” but without the rave parties. Its name doesn’t have come from English as you might expect, instead it’s from the Indonesian word for water,”ayher,” as it was the only of the three to have subterranean fresh water.

Surviving to land back on solid ground, Rose and I went about trying to find a place to sleep, eventually settling on the Omah Gili Resort which was a little on the pricier side (at 400K rupiah / 30 USD), but the bungalows were large, quaint, and had two separate beds and was near the water. We then grabbed some delicious grub at the nearby Ruby’s Cafe, run by the friendly British-Indonesian couple Jeremy and Ruby. We devoured our mixed plate Nasi Campur, especially loving the savory Jack fruit. “Why wouldn’t I want to live anywhere else?” declared relaxed Jeremy, living the dream island life with a beautiful, young local wife. Something for Rose and I to contemplate, well subbing the wife or a handsome (ganteng) surf  instructor.

We took Jeremy’s advice and went for a swim in front of Scallywags. We were not blow away yet, but we were happy to be a little piece of paradise. We took a stroll around the whole island, which took around 1hr20 and had a rest back at our hotel before heading out for sunset at the 2 for 1 bar we’d found (next to Mowie’s which Jeremy had also suggested, while it looked fun… it was full and didn’t have 2 for 1). Those pina coladas went down as well as the shimmering sun.

gili Meno beach and boat

Minnows at Meno, Snorkeling Fun

The next day we took a snorkeling excursion to Gili Meno, the smallest of the islands, it had the area’s best coral and was also home to a turtle sanctuary. It was a great little excursion, well-worth the 90K rupiah / 6.50 USD, our guide knowing where/how to find the turtles. We swam alongside several large sea turtles and he even swam down to find a squid on the seafloor, which clung to his side and curled around our curious fingers. How I was dreaming of having a gopro right then to get some great underwater photos. Our 5-hour excursion included a stop for lunch on Meno, where we found took a little amble, swim and then parked ourselves and our snorkel gear on a little dining hut to savor some nasi goreng with the view. This was the life. While extremely quiet, Gili Meno was gorgeous, even prettier than Air.


That evening we managed to meet up with Linda and had a night of giggles and local fun along the west end beach bars and restaurants. I don’t remember when I’d laughed so hard, in between fits of chuckles, Linda gave us a pep talk about attracting what we want into our lives… when we returned back to reality, which seemed a world away right then.

Gili Meno - Diana restaurant

Rose and I returned back to Gili Meno the next day, hitching a ride with the excursion company from the day before and just spent the day doing our own thing, discovering some amazing snorkeling spots of the west side of the island, getting lost along the interior pathways, getting stuck trying to get around its inland lake and having lunch at the perfect beach bum oasis, Diana’s Cafe with it’s raised huts bedeckled with seashells strings and lazy hammocks. Ambling to the north of the island we found a small strip of “ritzier” hotels, perfect for honeymooners and learnt that David Hasselhoff had partnered into a new even more glamorous resort for the island. Its days as an almost lost paradise where gradually diminishing. I was glad to have seen it before and hoped it could retain some of its true local character.

Another evening of giggles with Linda and the most amazing fiery sunset was our farewell to the Gilis, which we took in from Linda’s bungalow front deck. There was this twinge of desire pulling at me to stay here, like Linda was, for another week or so… or even like Jeremy, for an eternity, however, more travel adventures awaited us as we hopped to our next Island: Lombok.

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