Island Hopping The Gilis

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November 9th 2017
Published: December 6th 2017
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Sunset & Mount AgungSunset & Mount AgungSunset & Mount Agung

Instagram-perfect picture of one of many water swings on Gili T, against the sunset and Bali's Mount Agung.
A combination of jetlag, all-nighters in Tokyo, bedbugs and sleeping late, saw me end up with a nocturnal body clock in Ubud; more bedbugs and a power cut then combined with my grogginess for a less than ideal morning when it was time to finally leave Ubud. The power cut in the hostel meant that the card machine wasn't working, which meant that I needed to make a mad dash to the ATM in order to get the cash to pay for my stay, before getting picked up by my shuttle. This sort of thing can happen when you're on the road but after two years of it I was just sick of it. Thankfully, the hostel worker was helpful and gave me a ride to the nearest working ATM, which ensured that everything was done on time. Just.

A common symptom to have when you've had next to no sleep is to feel a little nauseous; a hot and uncomfortable two-hour bus ride to the ferry pickup point and then a choppy two-hour ferry ride over to Gili Trawangan - Gili T for short and the biggest of the three famous but tiny Gili Islands - only exacerbated matters. By the
Going Up For AirGoing Up For AirGoing Up For Air

The turtle I saw while snorkelling just off the shore on Gili Air.
time my ferry arrived on the main beach on Gili T and I had to wade myself onto shore along with both of my packs, I really was sick of it all, despite seeing the beautifully clear water and golden sand that attracts droves of foreign tourists here. In normal circumstances, this would be paradise. It was a shame though, that boats have taken over what is the best stretch of sand on the island.

About five years ago, I met Andy, an Australian, at my hostel in Phnom Penh. I have kept tabs on him ever since, as you tend to do on Facebook and from this I discovered that he and his newlywed wife Emily were having their honeymoon on Gili T while I was there! I have honestly loved having these random reunions all throughout my journey and while Facebook may have its critics, it is an amazing way to keep in touch with people and even form relationships with people, without actually having to keep in touch or form relationships with people. From Bruno and Vini in Sao Paulo to Emily in Hong Kong, I have certainly reaped the benefits of Facebook.
A couple of messages later and another reunion was had and
Looking Out To Gili AirLooking Out To Gili AirLooking Out To Gili Air

Looking towards Gili Air from Gili Meno. The golden sand is deceptive; it is quite shelly and the ground is rocky under the water.
it was great to meet Emily and recall the times where Andy and I got into a huge argument with the owners of a shady-looking karaoke joint, avoided getting picked up by prostitutes in a Cambodian nightclub and almost lost our lives in the back of a dusty tuk-tuk. With Bali's Mount Agung in the backdrop and corny but perfect-for-Instagram swings plonked in the water in the foreground, Gili T does some mean sunsets and it was over a couple of beers and one such sunset that we reminisced about Cambodia - which funnily enough was right when Emily and Andy started dating! Said sunsets are even better if you've had a couple of magic mushrooms, eh Andy? Magic mushrooms are ubiquitous on Gili T and I would liked to have tried some but I was worried about whether I'd have enough cash to see me through to the end of my trip so I had to unfortunately pass.

With all the magic mushrooms and sunburnt, scantily-clad foreigners floating all around, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that Gili T is in fact a conservative, Muslim island. The calls to prayer here are a loud reminder however, and it has to be said that they do some beautiful ones here. But I'm guessing that the locals have relaxed their religious code and let the parties, drugs and flashing of skin go a bit; you
Outside The HostelOutside The HostelOutside The Hostel

Outside Gil La Boheme Hostel on Gili T.
sadly wouldn't want to rock the boats that bring so much money onto the island and sustain so many local livings.
Nevertheless there still are many locals not cashing in on the tourist boom and are still living their traditional lives of farming and fishing. And as you might expect to find on an island, the pace of life is nice and slow. The sandy, car-less lanes reminded me of Ihla Grande; the conditions that some of the locals unfortunately live in however, reminded me of Koh Muk.
While on my two and a half hour walk circumnavigating the island, I thought that while it is sad to see the island encroached on so much by tourism, many of the resorts here seem to keep in character with the island's laid-back, natural vibe. There are only a couple of luxurious monstrosities and indeed this is a lovely place to have a honeymoon or to bring the family.

I had admittedly come to Gili T for a party and I sure got one. On my second night on the island, my fellow hostellers and I started the night with beer pong and Ring Of Fire at the hostel. My beer pong form
Beach PartyBeach PartyBeach Party

People were out in force on Halloween night on Gili T. Fun times!
was amazing for one game before more normal service resumed once I had had a few. Behind the main beach where the boats all land, is a long, beachfront promenade packed with dive shops, restaurants and bars. On what happened to be Halloween night, crazy crowds packed the area outside Jiggy Bar in a similar fashion to how backpackers crowd the beaches of Koh Phi Phi. It was a full-on, shoulder-to-shoulder beach party! I had a great time until my hostel crew - which seemed to make up half the crowd and included Roland, who I met in Ubud, as well as Andy - started leaving and tiredness got the better of me.
I was so tired, that I slept all day for two days afterwards!

I did get up to eat however and the free all-day pancakes for guests at my hostel was a godsend. And when one got sick of pancakes, you could still get a cheap eat down at the local, nightly pasar malam, full of local food stalls and outdoor seating. They also have pasar malams in Malaysia, where you can buy all manner of streetside snacks and meals - and I would have to
The Streets Of Gili TThe Streets Of Gili TThe Streets Of Gili T

The sandy streets of Gili T reminded me a little of Vila do Abraao on Ihla Grande in Brazil.
say that Gili T's one isn't as good or as varied as the Malaysian ones.

While the locals everywhere in Indonesia have generally been very nice and friendly, I do get the sense that some foreigners can be a bit patronising to them and even act a little bit entitled. In turn, the locals can get quite defensive and be patronising back. In any case, I did feel that there was more of an uneasy relationship between locals and tourists here on Gili T than there has been in other parts of Indonesia I have visited, with a general undertone of hustling that you often find at very touristy spots around the world.

In addition to partying and general island idyll, diving and snorkelling are big draws on Gili T too. On my last full day on the island, I went for a snorkel on the reef just off the beach - and within minutes saw my first ever wild turtle! The thing was massive and was a thing of beauty, so majestic. It was a shame I couldn't take a photo, though I did have the means - by the time I had put my phone in
Inside The HostelInside The HostelInside The Hostel

Inside Gili La Boheme, my cool beach shack style hostel on Gili T.
the clear waterproof pouch that I picked up in Vang Vieng, the turtle was gone. The photos that I did manage to take however, weren't great. Nevertheless, the water itself was wonderfully clear and warm. There were some small jellyfish floating around and I did get stung a little - it was the first time I've been stung by jelly fish but thankfully the stings didn't hurt too much and thankfully they weren't as big as the massive ones swimming around in Ha Long Bay!

I had some really fun conversations at the hostel on my last night in Gili T; it was really interesting to discuss the current Catalan independence situation with Ferran the Catalan, and I had a good laugh with a Saffa who was on holiday here with his girlfriend. I've always liked Saffas, they share a lot of traits with New Zealanders in my opinion; they're laid-back, they love rugby, they have that can-do attitude and they share a similar sense of humour. I loved hearing the crazy stories he was telling about life in other parts of Africa (he travelled around the continent a bit for work)!

There is perhaps nothing better to get over the
Eco HostelEco HostelEco Hostel

My amazingly chilled out hostel on Gili Meno.
excesses of Gili T than a stay on neighbouring Gili Meno; there is literally nothing happening here and is totally chilled. Like, there really is nothing going on here. It is your perfect deserted island getaway, though like you would on a deserted desert island, you might get bored. On my one hour circumnavigation of the island, there was only one decent sandy swimming beach - the rest are rocky! There aren't too many people on this beach however and this quietness along with the shade provided by the coconut trees, the soft white sand and the perfect clear-turquoise water made it the perfect place just to chill - and by God, did I chill on Gili Meno.
It is the smallest of the Gili Islands and a stone's throw from Gili T - so close that it looks like you can swim over (you can't, the current is too strong) and you can even hear the clubs thumping out music from over there!

The hostel I was staying at was an eco-hostel; so think compost toilets, saltwater showers, sand everywhere and driftwood and bamboo bungalows. It was very much like Misfits Hostel in Mancora. It was a bit
The Ball Pen DormThe Ball Pen DormThe Ball Pen Dorm

I've never seen a dorm like this anywhere! This is in The Rabbit Tree Hostel on Gili Meno.
unsettling seeing a snake in the toilet one night though - this was just after I had been talking to a Swiss guy who had been on the island a while, about how cobras, vipers and even boa constrictors have been witnessed on this tiny island!
While my hostel did have a charm of its own, the other hostel on the island was one of the coolest I have seen. The place is called The Rabbit Tree and is a labour of love of the French owner Sebastien. He really has put a lot of thought into it and the place has some amazing features; there is a literal pool table where there is a table in the middle of a swimming pool that you can sit at and hang out; there are built-in streams of running water all over the ground floor; there is a sand pit; on the second floor you can literally hang over the first floor on a huge net; and one of the dorms is an actual ball pit like you would find in a kid's playpen! I decided not to stay here because there is deliberately no wifi, which I kind-of, sadly, needed...but I

Amazing hangout spot out the front of my hostel on Gili Meno.
was mightily tempted to stay there anyway!
In both hostels however, there was a lovely vibe. In my hostel, people just hung out on the bean bags in the open-air common area and since there were quite a few people just chilling out there for an extended period of time, I soon had my own Gili Meno family there.
Your daily routine would be to wake up, have breakfast and coffee, chill out on your phone for a while, then go for a walk, a snorkel or a swim, often spending the late afternoon just lying on the beach. After dinner, you might have a couple of beers and depending on who is around, a very late night chat. It was was bliss.

As you might expect, there isn't too much choice in terms of eating out on Gili Meno, but that doesn't matter so much if you have something as good as the local warung that we ate at every night. "Pak-Man" had by far the best thing I have eaten in all of Indonesia so far; urap-urap, a large salad dish that consists of steamed vegetables (lots of bean sprouts), mixed with shredded coconut, which is
Bustling Main StreetBustling Main StreetBustling Main Street

The main coastline drag on Gili T is packed with dive shops, restaurants, shops and bars.
perfect when mixed with shredded chicken, tempe and hot chili sauce. Divine...

Things didn't go entirely swimmingly for me on the island however.
I was the only guy staying in one of the bungalow dormitories on the first night and on the second night, I was joined by an older Argentinian guy. There were lockers inside the room and because our bungalow was right at the back of the compound, we would be the only people going in and out of it. What I have done on my entire trip is to lock up my valuables, usually with my combination padlock. It takes about twenty minutes to work out the three number combination - I had to do it once when I accidentally changed the combination - so the lock acts more as a deterrent rather than a fail-safe method of protecting my stuff and backpackers usually don't steal from each other! I have almost got to the end of my two year journey and no-one has ever tried to crack my combination.
I know this because I always set the dials to "007" when I lock it; this way, if the dials are still not set to "007"
The Main Street By NightThe Main Street By NightThe Main Street By Night

Gili T's main beachfront road comes alive in the evening.
when I return to my locker, then I know that someone has been trying to tamper with it.
Twice after returning to my locker, I found that the dials had been messed with - someone was trying to crack my code. Stupidly, rather than change the combination, I gave whoever might be trying to crack it the benefit of the doubt; who would really try to waste so much time trying to get into a locker?
Well, someone did - and I suspect it was my Argentinian friend. This guy wasn't your typical backpacker, he was middle-aged and was carrying a ridiculously-sized suitcase around. He didn't really interact with anyone else at the hostel either, he kept to himself - I thought he was odd the minute I laid eyes on him.
Returning to my locker after breakfast, I saw that my lock had been tampered with a third time. My heart now in my mouth, I quickly open my locker - to relief. All my stuff was still there; my laptop, my camera, my wallet, my watch, my sunglasses...but someone had clearly been going through my stuff, as I have a very good memory of how I leave things
Gili T LuxuryGili T LuxuryGili T Luxury

One of the flasher resorts on Gili T. At least they tend to complement to island vibe fairly well.
and the exact positions they were in. That is when I discovered that while my wallet was still there, the cash was not - it had been taken! Thankfully it was only 70,000 rupiahs, the equivalent of about £4, so nothing much; but it wasn't the cash I was worried about. My cards were still there but could the thief have taken my details for use online? That would be far more costly and I was freaking out a bit; I couldn't really cancel my cards because then I would be stuck for cash and money for the rest of the trip. I only had two weeks to go FFS and it would take two weeks for new cards to get to New Zealand before having to be sent out yet again to me, this time in Indonesia. I've already had to have my poor father send new bank cards to Bogota, Cancun, Corfu and Kathmandu.
I realised that I would have no choice but to keep checking my accounts online, making sure that there aren't any fraudulent transactions, and hope that I'd be able to get through the last two weeks unscathed. Not the relaxing end to my trip
Horse & BeachHorse & BeachHorse & Beach

Tourists can get rides on horse drawn carts around Gili T; they can also enjoy a decent beach too.
that I wanted then, and now I really, really wanted to just end it and go home. Just two more weeks...
Funnily enough, I caught up my Argentinian friend at the pier - rather conveniently, he had checked out of the hostel and was now leaving the island. He was having lunch so I decided to join him at his table. I asked him if he had seen anyone lurking in our dorm and he said that he hadn't; I then mention that he is the only other person to have been in the dorm on a regular basis and who would have had time to pick the lock - he tells me that it is impossible to guess the combination and that he wouldn't waste his time cracking the code just to steal US$5.
"You are implying that I stole from you...that is not nice", he tells me.
"It's not nice having your shit stolen!" I tell him.
He wasn't going to admit anything and he even offered to give me money, if I needed money. I refused - he could keep the f*cking money. I had no evidence though, only circumstances that made him the prime suspect. Funnily

Small town on Bali where I caught my boat over to Gili T.
enough, my lock wasn't tampered with again after he left.
He had to wait a while for his boat, so I waited with him; I didn't really know what I wanted to achieve - I guess I just wanted him to squirm a bit in my company. He was quite talkative though and had done quite a bit of travel - we ended up having quite an interesting conversation. It turned out that he was Juan Martin Del Potro's manager! Bullshit - that's when I realised that this guy had to have stolen from me. Del Potro's manager wouldn't be staying at a bloody hostel while on holiday, surely? A liar and a thief.
I make it quite clear that I was going to cancel both of my cards, just in case the 'thief' has my card details, in an attempt to put him off in case he did actually have my card details. He agrees that it is a good idea.
I soon get bored, so I leave him. I hope that he was just a petty, opportunist thief looking for some cash; I realise that with my laptop and camera in the locker too, that it could've been
Village LifeVillage LifeVillage Life

The locals get on with their slow pace island lives outside a warung on Gili Meno.
a lot worse.

I spent the rest of the day working out the logistics for the rest of my time in Indonesia - budget Indonesian logistics are complicated and are not fun to work out. It's either long journeys by boat and bus or flying. With my credit card to potentially be cancelled soon, I decided to use it while I could; I also decided to scrap the budget I still had left and enjoy the last two weeks of my trip a bit more. I was now happy to spend money - as long as I could use my credit card. I'll pay the debt back when I start working again, I shouldn't rack up a huge bill in my last two weeks...

While the call to prayer on Gili T was beautiful, the one here on Gili Meno was...quite terrible. It sounded like a young kid making it up as he went along. Without meaning any disrespect, there are nice call to prayers and then there are ones that sound like awful Islamic karaoke.

On my last day on Gili Meno, I went for a snorkel just off the shore where the hostel was. Again,
Turtle Close UpTurtle Close UpTurtle Close Up

It was amazing getting so much alone time with this turtle. I of course didn't touch it unlike some other disrespectful tourists I saw in the water.
the water was clear although the ground was rocky so I was thankful the hostel let me use their water shoes for free. Like the reef in the Bahia de Cochinos, the reef drops away suddenly a little further out from the shore. It was pretty cool to see the water suddenly turn a darker shade of blue and when snorkelling over this drop into the abyss, it feels like you're flying.
Swimming back onto the reef, I go towards where the snorkelling boats are, thinking that they probably know where to see cool stuff. As I approach the boat, I get tapped on the leg by another snorkeller - there was another turtle right below me!
This too, was massive, about the same size as the one I saw on Gili T. I follow it around for about ten minutes before the snorkellers from the nearby boat catch on and soon they are all around me. They weren't Chinese tourists but they bloody behaved like them, as apparently, any sort of etiquette goes out the window once a turtle is spotted and I soon had people bumping into me and brushing past me to get a decent look at the turtle.
Russian RouletteRussian RouletteRussian Roulette

Put your chin on the pedestal and turn the dial to see if you get splattered...
One snorkeller even went and touched it, pulling the poor creature's leg! It was disgusting behaviour and the poor turtle must have been freaking out. I decided I no longer wanted to be part of this and headed back onto shore.

My last night on Gili Meno was crazy. It was apparently games night at The Rabbit Tree, so me a few others from the hostel went along.
Propped up on the bar, was a small plastic catapult which worked if you turned a dial. But the dial didn't always fire the catapult; it was designed so that it may or may not fire with a turn of the dial. On the catapult was some whipped cream; you would put your face in front of the catapult and turn the dial. If the catapult fired, you'd get the cream on your face. It was like a game of Russian Roulette. However, if you did get creamed on your face, then you got a drink at half price - which on my remaining cash budget, I could really do with.
When I had arrived, a slew of people had given it a go and not been creamed; on my first
The InterislanderThe InterislanderThe Interislander

Not the one that takes you between the North & South Islands in New Zealand bu the one that zips between the Gilis, which are really close together.
attempt, I ended up looking rather compromised. All good, as I got a half-price beer. For the rest of the night, no-one else seemed to be getting creamed so I had a second go - and would you believe it I got splattered again. And as if someone was looking down on me, I got it a third time! No-one could quite believe it. I saw it as recompense for having my money stolen.
That wasn't the only game going though. We played a cool game called Sardines where one person goes and hides, as per hide and seek. Everyone else goes off to try and find that person but if anyone finds them, then they have to hide with them. Soon, everyone will end up in the same place. This was the perfect hostel to play this game because there are so many hidden spaces, so many nooks and crannies. Naturally, people would go and hide in the ball pen dorm. Cue people stepping on people hiding amongst the balls and a massive ball fight. So much fun.
But perhaps the most fun game was one called Happy Salmon where people all have cards with one of four instructions
Begadang HostelBegadang HostelBegadang Hostel

My relatively luxurious hostel resort on Gili Air.
on each card; High Five, Happy Salmon (weird handshake thing), Switcheroo (switch places with a person) and Pound It (a fist bump). To get rid of a card you had to find someone else looking to get rid of the same card and perform the card's action with them. First person to get rid of all their cards wins. It is quite an excitable game - especially after a few drinks - and when extra rules such as "no talking" are introduced, it makes things even more hilarious.
Naturally, beer pong was played again (amazing comeback win by my team where I naturally bounced in the winning shot) and since it was Sebastien's birthday, we all started doing sherbert and vodka shots. The sherbert was actually Red Bull powder apparently but it is supposedly popular to add it to vodka shots here in Indonesia.
It was a hella fun night and I got so drunk that I actually had some brown outs! People were telling me about things that happened that I had no recollection of! But I still remembered broadly what happened so it wasn't a complete blackout - but I was still well drunk the next morning!
Gili Air's Main StreetGili Air's Main StreetGili Air's Main Street

The main coastal road running along Gili Air's east coast isn't as bustling as Gili T's.

By the afternoon and evening the next day, my hangover kicked in with full effect and it wasn't fun. Therefore I wasn't too social at my next hostel on the last of the Gili Islands, Gili Air. My hostel was quite nice; it had a pool, semi-outdoor hot showers and resembled a backpacker's resort similar to the one I stayed at on Koh Phangan. It was pretty cheap too, although this was probably because the dorm was also semi-outdoors, a wooden shelter with mozzie-net covered mattresses on the floor. The setup reminded me of the hostel I stayed at in Hampi.
The hostel was full of Germans and it seemed like cliques were formed before I had got there and I wasn't around at the right time when new ones were being formed so I was mainly hanging out on my own.

With my cash tight, I picked a really inopportune time to run out of sunblock - because sunblock is so bloody expensive! Dammit, I just needed to get through another two weeks! At 250,000 rupiahs, it was almost the same price as my entire stay at the hostel! Thankfully lunch was cheap as Ania, a British-Polish girl
Southwest Beach On Gili AirSouthwest Beach On Gili AirSouthwest Beach On Gili Air

Walking along the beach past some beachside bars on the southwest side of Gili Air, just before it started to rain.
I had met in Ubud and then hung out with on Gili Meno, met up with me for lunch. Also with us was Jonny, her friend that I had also met in Ubud but who wasn't on Gili Meno. Ania was on an even tighter budget than me!
I then went for a wander around the island, which takes about 90-minutes to circumnavigate. Still tired and hungover, I perked up after downing a 'wellness' fruit smoothie.

Gili Air is much more developed than Gili Meno, with beachside cafes, bars and resorts lining most of the coasts. It was a little harder to find your nice, free, secret, little soft-sand beach spot however, as there are more people here too. So I preferred Gili Meno in this respect; I didn't realise just how much I hated having other people at my holiday spots! There were to be fair however, way less crowds here than on Gili T and it still retained that laid-back, village island charm.
I was still shocked to see some the shacks the locals were living in though. It can't be nice to see all these young foreigners having fun and throwing around their money when you're
Snorkelling On Gili AirSnorkelling On Gili AirSnorkelling On Gili Air

Check out this clear water. The best snorkelling I did in the Gilis was off Gili Air.
living in such poor conditions.
Not that I was looking for it, but there didn't seem to be any party spots on Gili Air, even with techno/psytrance music being a weirdly popular soundtrack at many bars and cafes.

I can't say that I overly enjoyed my stay on Gili Air; with ants, mosquitoes and for the 22nd time, bedbugs biting me; with the dorm getting way too hot to able to sleep in late; hanging out by myself...I think I was finally over the Gilis. I really wanted to go home now. I was counting the days...just 12 to go...

I was cheered up a little on the last day.
Going snorkelling again, I saw a turtle in really shallow waters close to the eastern shore. There was literally no-one else around so I had amazing one-on-one time with it. I also had my waterproof pouch and phone with me this time too and because I was all alone with the turtle and was able to get really close, I got some decent pictures. Gili Air is supposed to have the best snorkelling so I tried snorkelling at a couple of other spots off the island but didn't

The turtle I spotted while snorkelling off Gili Air.
encounter the reef sharks and sea horses that a German girl at the hostel supposedly saw. No matter, I've already snorkelled with reef sharks.

I ended up spending eleven nights in the Gilis; I didn't have a great time on Gili Air but I adored Gili Meno and had a fun time on Gili T...but as mentioned, I was over it (and probably over travelling in general) so it was time to move on - the surf was up in Lombok!

Sampai jumpa lagi!

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 30


Emily, Andy & IEmily, Andy & I
Emily, Andy & I

It was great meeting up with Andy, who I first met five years ago in Cambodia, and his newlywed wife Emily while on their honeymoon in Gili T.
Pasar MalamPasar Malam
Pasar Malam

Gili T had a local food market where you could pick up a cheap eat.
The Salt LakeThe Salt Lake
The Salt Lake

Gili Meno has this salt lake, although it looked rather manky in all honesty.

I had this salad on Gili Meno and it is the best thing I've eaten in Indonesia so far.
Gili Air SunsetGili Air Sunset
Gili Air Sunset

Not quite as good as Gili T's with Mount Agung in the background but not bad either.
Gili Air By NightGili Air By Night
Gili Air By Night

There are a lot of bars along the coast on Gili Air but there wasn't many people in them while I was there.

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