One place I’d go back to in a heartbeat in South East Asia, is the Gili Islands. I had a pretty good recommendation from a respected traveller, but it still surprised me how few backpackers were heading there. Most stopping in Bali, but not the Gili’s. Now don’t get me wrong, if you venture outside of Kuta, Bali is beautiful, with great surf and unspoiled beaches. Kuta is Australia’s playground, the equivalent to Magaluf for us Brits. But for me nowhere felt quite like Indonesia’s Gili Islands
Situated just off Lombok ‘Gili’ means ‘little island’ in Sasak the native language to Lombok. And when I talk about the Gili’s I mean three islands off the North West coast of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. With the three options there really is something for everyone, and unique to all three is that all forms of motorised transport are banned. Generally I found all my favourite places in South East Asia had the same rules, there’s a certain peacefulness about the place you won’t find with a noisy scooter at 6am. Each island has a different vibe, and most people (like myself) head to Gili Trawangan, but if you’re struggling to chose then let me give you a little help
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]ili T is the largest of the three and most popular for backpackers, mainly due to the number of guesthouses and budget accommodation, however there are a number of hotels and resorts aimed more at families and couples. For me I’d heard about it’s chilled out bars for an evening sunset followed by the more lively bars and their party atmosphere. Gili T has a really friendly atmosphere, most locals say hello but bear in mind this is usually followed by “weed?”, which can get tiresome when just heading out for a walk. Although its much friendlier than the hawkers you’ll find in Bali. Its also worth noting that whilst the Gili T authorities apparently ‘turn a blind eye’, drugs are very much illegal in Indonesia.
Aside from partying, there’s plenty to do here, famous for some of the best snorkelling spots you can also go on an arranged scuba diving trip to one of the 25 dive sites around the island. You can walk round the island in two hours or I’d recommend hiring a bicycle or going by horse-back, you can also hire kayaks if you prefer. Moving on to my most important recommendation… In the Lonely Planet Guide, the Mosque is clearly marked, no explanation why, and like most I ignored this fact. Big mistake. Stay as far away from it as possible! Its situated near the centre of the island, so anywhere near the beach is safe (or safer) from the 4am Call to Prayer that blasts out over the speaker system. So for a good night sleep, opt for the pricier guesthouses nearer the water
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith regular boat trips you can easily hop across to Gili Meno, or you might opt to stay here. For me, this was more suited to couples and honeymooners, but also some families may enjoy Gili Meno. Its the place to come for pure chillout and peace and quiet, and its far more underdeveloped than the other two. There is less accommodation and choice of bars, so if you don’t need that then this is the place for you. I’d strongly recommend this as a honeymoon destination, especially with Gili T only a short boat trip away. Gili Meno is also known for its excellent snorkelling we saw two Giant Sea Turtles in the first hour, just awesome. Finally be sure to check out and donate to the Turtle Sanctuary on island, it plays an important role in protecting and hatching baby turtles for release into the wild.
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]losest to the Lombok mainland Gili Air is often overlooked and I only spent one afternoon & evening here. It’s fast becoming the ‘up and coming’ place to be for budget travellers, as many prefer the community atmosphere on the island. It also hosts a more ‘classy’ crowd (so I hear) its the middle ground between Gili T and Gili Meno. You can get around the island on foot in about 2.5 hours and you’ll find a mix of accommodation here to suit your needs. I get the impression the development is fast catching up with Gili T so move quick if you want to enjoy the community atmosphere, as people catch on I expect it to become more like Gili T.
I hope that provides you with an insight into the Gili’s and which island is right for you, in all honestly I’d make sure you see them all. If you’re a backpacker like me, perhaps a day trip to Gili Meno is enough, but be sure to stay on Gili T and Gili Air for a few days each, and allow some flexibility in your itinerary as once you arrive, I guarantee you won’t want to leave this backpackers paradise.
Catching a Gili T sunset on ‘North Beach’