The Gili Islands

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August 20th 2015
Published: August 20th 2015
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We arrived in Lombok and stayed a few days in Senggigi before taking a bus and boat to the beautiful Gili Islands. Senggigi is a small seaside tourist village, its ok for a quick stop over, but it does not appeal for a longer stay.

When you drive over the hills Senggigi offers stunning scenery, green hills, lush tropical trees, beautiful blue sparkling ocean and many beaches with glittering silver sand. The views were breathtaking, but get close and you will see water bottles floating on the ocean, rubbish on the sides of the road and beaches with litter mixed through the sand. It is so bad I would not even sit on the beach. We watch as a group of local families eat their takeaway meals on the beach, and get up and leave all their rubbish behind on the sand. I know that used to be ok before the western world introduced plastic, but not now. When we mentioned this to our receptionist she frowned she really did not know what we were talking about, they just don't see it as spoiling their beaches. Education then? The plastic floats around out at sea for over a hundred years, fish and turtles think its food, it either kills them or gets into our food chain. Clean up your beautiful beaches Lombok!

We did notice though how really cheap things are here, we had stocked up on toiletries for NZ$15 that would have cost us NZ$50 in NZ. Apparently lots of people working internationally e.g. oil rigs, mines, etc., make Lombok their base as the cost of living and real estate is very cheap.

Gili Islands

We catch a bus and a boat and an hour later we are in paradise! We have blogged about Gilis before as we visited 3 years ago, this time we have 24 days on these 3 beautiful islands, Gili T, Gili Meno and Gili Air, all within a 5 minute boat ride from each other. I always say, fly over Bali to the Gili Islands, and this is why:

The sand is golden, the tranquil water is milky turquoise and when you get close the water is transparent and rubbish free. The sun shines every day and the islands are circled by beach.. There are no dogs and it’s not mosquito season. The only motors are on boats, but you can travel around the island on a bicycle or pony cart. You can snorkel off the beach with colorful tropical fish and turtles. There are dive resorts every 100 meters, paddle boarders out in the water, and people swimming and sunbathing on the beaches. Restaurants line the beaches with platforms and cushions, bean bags litter the beach for lazing around reading or sipping a cocktail while watching the sunset. You can meander the tracks inside around the village houses, guest houses and warungs. You can lie in a lounger and watch a movie on the big screen outside. You can eat great western food for only a few dollars; you can only eat so much Nasi Goreng! These islands are bliss.

As Craig put it, it’s very couplie. We were often stuck with a young couple sucking face and tickling tonsils in front of us! But don’t let that put you off, there were still solo travelers, a few families, and the older contingent, like us, you could find some on Gili Air.

It’s Indonesia, being a Muslim country expect to be woken at 5am by the call to prayer from the Mosques with chanting and singing over loud speakers. We like it, it reminds us of where we are - Indonesia! Some times more than one Mosque is on at once, and the chooks all love to join the chorus, as they turn the loud speakers on five times per day.

Leave your ball gowns and pretty shoes behind, your feet and shoes will be continually black, bring a scrubbing brush. They have paved paths but covered in dusty dirt, they are always hosing down the dust, so you are walking in dry or wet dirt. Everyone is casual, shorts, sun frock or bikini is the only attire you will see. The WIFI is crap on all islands, the connection is just so frustratingly slow. The showers are mainly cold water (depending on how much you pay) and the water is from the sea. Swimming pools can also be salt water. The locals are lovely with most live in Gili Air.

Anyway, what did we do? Surprised our nephew Craig in Gili T, gate crashing his holiday and spent the day on a snorkeling trip with his friends. Great day, crystal clear waters and lots of tropical fish, even saw a turtle come up to the surface. A typical day would be; sit around the pool and read, or grab a bean bag on the beach, have lunch and stay for the day reading, snorkeling and swimming. We would return for a beer or cocktail to watch the sunset, and finish with dinner relaxing on cushions overlooking the ocean, or other islands.

Quick snapshot of our holiday in the Gilis -

We thought the cocktails were very weak and had many sips to try and identify a slight taste of alcohol. So we were surprised one night when he heard a tourist go up to the bar and ask for them to mix another cocktail as this one had too much alcohol in it!

They locals don’t really understand our accent, they understand the Europeans though. A conversation at a sunset bar went like: Bar staff: “you were here last night?” Carl: “Yes we were, thanks mate” as he handed us a beer. Next minute he arrived with a diet coke, greeted by our blank stares he says “Oh haha I thought you said you wanted a diet coke!”

We have been so amazed with the development over the past 3 years. Gil Meno being the small peaceful middle island has some amazing bungalows with open deck lounge living including hammock, couch TV and bean bags with private platforms on the beach. Some accommodation are only closed off by mosquito nets. Have a look at this place, I loved the look of Seri - maybe next time. Gili T, the so called party island because of so many bar and restaurant options, we noticed the most changes with increased hotels, restaurants, bars and crowded with tourists, in fact we are not sure how much more their infrastructure can take during high season. Gil Air, although more development, it is very spread out so it never feels crowded and it is kept much cleaner as it has 1400 local residents. There are many well swept roads inside the island which you walk through past local housing, bungalows and warungs, with locals and tourists either cycling or travelling in pony carts. With motors not allowed, so no cars or motorbikes, a few locals have introduced the electric motor cycles which are very quiet. The women are amazing here, everything is bought in by boat and they carry the goods around the island on their heads, even bricks!

Last time we visited it was June just prior to European holidays, we never pre-booked and accommodation was for the picking and cheap. When we arrived in Gili T this time prices were double to triple, so suggest if you come, come outside the European holidays when the weather is just as good, prices cheap and there are no crowds.

You can still have some poor food experiences as many restaurants are still not on trip advisor. On Gili T we stopped at one that was continually packed as so very cheap, and had a nice lunch. Yum we thought we will go back there, until we checked the reviews on trip advisor, one person had found maggots in their lunch! We trust trip advisor but we were a bit desperate on our last day on Gili Meno, did not want to walk far, the few restaurants around were too expensive and the close warung had burnt our rice the night before! So we head to Rusts, worst rated restaurant on trip advisor on the island, but always heaps of people there, so really how bad can it be? I am eating this chopped pickled cabbage, and one bit was real chewy, what is that? As I pulled it out of my mouth, it was not food - its a piece of dirty rubber, like YUK!

Last time we were here I tried the only affordable local wine option, Hatten, and it was just disgusting, so I never ordered another glass. This time, dreading the thought of drinking beer for 3 weeks, I had another try. What I got was a glass of brownish coloured liquid that tasted like vinegar, it was just disgusting. Carl took a big swig and thought it was the nicest wine he had ever tasted (go figure! pick the beer drinker). I sipped it very very slowly, determined not to waste NZ$6, but the funny thing is I got very tipsy, on ¾ a glass of wine. Now those that know me will know it takes a lot more than that! Very weird. Anyway a week later I noticed everyone was drinking this wine, how could they? I will give it another go, and what I got was a delicious glass of chilled red wine and it was Hatten! So both previous times they had given me wine that had obviously been cooking in the sun, oxidized and maybe even kept distilling!

You have to accept the pace the locals work at, the life on the island is very simple and relaxed, you may have to get your own menus, or order from the bar, wait a while, but don’t stress about it, you’re on holiday! We will be back cos - Gili T we love the choice. Gili Meno we love the peace. Gili Air we love staying amongst the village.

Well our 30 days are up so we are back into Thailand, desperate for some non western food.

So if you are thinking of going to the Gilis, read on for some info:

Entry Visa

When we arrived into Lombok airport we queued up to get our 30 day entry visas costing US$70, only to find out from Craig that two weeks prior they had made changes so a few countries did not have to pay, including NZ, yet they took our money! A little annoyed about that, so check before you go.

Accommodation - We stayed at:

Senggigi - Puri Bunga – Agoda – NZ$60.00

Large room, desperately needs renovation, but had deck with sea view and nice swimming pool, but after staying at Mama Bellas Retreat on the way back for same money, I would always stay here.

Gili Trawangan – Matahari Inn – –NZ$70.00

This had a beautiful entrance and pool area, but the rooms, yet to be done up, were very disappointing. Dark outside stone floors inside, no lighting so you could not read in the room, see through curtains, mirror completely rusted you could not see yourself. It grew on us cos the pool and sunbathing area was so nice, and so were the staff. They are planning to renovate the rooms. If you go to Gili T in high season make sure you book really early so you get a good choice and a better room than this for that price.

Gili Meno – Webe Cottages – Agoda –NZ$70.00

Lovely clean large rooms set around a peaceful garden, we stayed in one of the new rooms. It had a fridge and they made you breakfast. Two minute walk to the beach and if you put on your snorkel you could see turtles and tropical fish. Beach house restaurant at bottom of track is great, more expensive than local warungs but nice dining experience. We spent the days at his brothers Webe café on the other side of the island, relaxing in bean bag.

Gili Air – Aza Zil – Agoda – NZ$ (500,000)

Lovely modern clean rooms set around a peaceful garden with covered seating area with free tea, coffee and water. Very clean and they will clean room whenever you want. Close to pier end of island and Mowies Cafe – best restaurant on the island with great coffee lattees. We loved our stay so extended to 7 days. The concrete rooms are better than flax bungalows.

Gili Air – Terrace Colour Cottages – Walk in – NZ$48.00 (400,000)

Open a month, which means clean, basic rooms but great value for money as had a swimming pool and breakfast. We took a fan room and there were two excellent standalone fans. Not sure how it would be in mosquito season as lots of gaps in building. Nice patio and nicely planted out. Close to beach sunset end of island. Boy’s great, a bit to learn, but try hard. If you want a pool, 2 minutes from the beach and sunset and on budget definitely recommend.

Senggigi – Mama Bella Retreat – Agoda – NZ$60

Amazing, perfect, be worth hundreds a night anywhere else. Open a month with OZ owners the rooms are superb. We had king room. If you going to Senggigi, you must stay here, it is an oasis.


During our month in the Gilis the NZ$ had gone down so the conversion ranged from NZ$1 = 8500 – 9000. You have to hunt for the ATMs that give out 2.5 -3 million, they exist but are very rare. If you see RP100,000 label on a ATM it could give out this much, but if you see RP50,000 they normally do not give out more than 1.5 million. The issue is the bank fees as for every transaction you lose NZ$7.50, and if the ATM with maximum withdrawal is 500,000 this is NZ$57! You can do multiple transaction per day but its NZ$7.50 each transaction. Also half the ATMs are broken at any one time. Gili T – Mandiri by Pearl gave out the most. Gili Meno – we saw an ATM but we did not use. Gili Air – Mandiri opposite Raja Restaurant gave out 3 million. Senggigi - BII gave out $3m.


Gili Air was the cheapest for food and drink. Beer on the islands was a Big Bintan from 30,000 to 65,000 and wine was 40,000-65,000, depending on the restaurant. You could get a cocktail for 50,000-65,000 and some have two for one deals.

We paid 45,000 to 65,000 for a main course, but you could pay up to 150,000 for a fillet steak or seafood if you wanted. We had saved some money, due to Carl having biscuits and chocolate bar one night for dinner when I was sick, so we went to the Meno Mojo in Gili Meno, shared starter, two western mains (chicken cordon blue and pasta) two wines and two beers and it was NZ$60.00. On average we spent 300,000 IDR NZ$35 at night. You could pick up a fresh fruit juice from 10,000 to 30,000. A wrap for lunch was 40,000 – 60,000. A good latte was 30,000. Gili made delicious ice cream, Scoopalicious, which was 20,000 for 1 scoop in a freshly made waffle cone.

These are average costs, of course you can pay more for everything. In Gili T you can use Pearls (very flash looking resort) facilities, e.g. bean bag or lounger on the beach or around the pool for a 100,000 voucher which you get to spend on food there. Their bakery has delicious croissants for 10,000.

You can pay 90,000 for a used book. Hire a paddle board for 200,000 for 2 hours and Snorkel hire is about 20-30,000. Washing is 30,000 per kg. DVDs were 10,000. There are a few shops, from boutique to scruffy, selling mainly sun frocks, shorts, sarongs, bikinis, costume jewelry, and prices vary but I picked up a sundress for 150,000 (NZ$17). Toiletries about same price as home. Sun screen NZ$15.00. There were hawkers on the beach but they respected “no thanks” and did not hassle. Senggigi they did not respect “no” and can be annoying, I felt sorry for them, they seemed so desperate.

We paid 150,000 each which got us a bus and boat from Senggigi to a Gil Island and back again. To go between islands the local boats are 35,000.

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