“If you have 4 days and 3 nights that you want to spend frolicking on white sand beach without the commercial brouhaha of Bali whilst still being surrounded by a plenitude of activities, the Gili Islands might be the preferred getaway for you.”
Last week marked my birthday week. Yes, my name is April but I was born in October. As to why – that deserves another blog entry.
For my birthday this year, Shad and I decided to hie off to Gili Trawangan with our Malaysian friends. I wanted sand on my feet, with reggae music playing in the background while I am baking under the sun (with sunblock, to boot) to celebrate turning a new leaf.
I’ve been meaning to go to Gili for some time now, since the islands’ reputation preceded itself, but it kept getting shelved because of scheduling. This time around, I just thought, “Let’s book it and go!”
The Gili Islands is a more serene, less commercialized version of Bali. It is near Bali, too, so a lot of travelers normally go to Bali first and then take a boat going to either the main island of Lombok or to its three nearby islands of Gili: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands that attracts more visitors, primarily because of the availability of more resorts, luxury villas, boutique bungalows, dive resorts and even yoga places. It’s quite convenient, too, since it’s half an hour away from the northwest mainland of Lombok and a speedboat can take you directly to your resort. In short, it has more amenities compared to the two islands.
My husband and our friends decided to stay in Villa Almarik in the island of Gili Trawangan since we all wanted certain conveniences within our reach. We’ve all never been to Gili so our basis of selection were the Trip Advisor reviews, at least a 4-star rating and our personal preference that the resort must be located at the beachfront.
Villa Almarik pre-arranged our transports from the Lombok International Airport to Gili Trawangan. Our package included land transfers and a private speedboat that brought us to the island. During high tide, the speedboat can actually take you directly in front of your resort. In our case, however, we had to take a horse carriage from a drop-off point near the pasar malam (night market).
The Gili Islands do not allow any form of motorized transport. Once you’re there, the only way to go around is on foot, by bicycle (which you can rent almost everywhere) and pony carts knows as cidomos. I refused to ride the cidomos (I feel sorry for the horses) and rode it only upon arrival since we had to haul our luggage with us. Since I don’t know how to ride a bike (gasp!), I happily traveled on foot almost all the time.
Villa Almarik, thanks to my well-researched husband, was fortunately one of the better resorts in the islands. The facilities were awesome and everyone was accommodating. Guests get the usual welcome drink but the delight was in the free 15-minute massage upon arrival. The resort also had its own pool, albeit tiny, which we never used because Villa Almarik had its own beachfront. Our package also offered free buffet breakfast and afternoon tea for guests that started at 4pm. Not bad for the extra effort.
The rooms were spacious and the bathroom was massive! The gardens also boasted of beautiful gardens and lotus ponds. The dining hall and lobby were accentuated with antique blue ceramics and antique furniture, which I have a penchant for.
I would have given Villa Almarik a five-star rating, had it not been for the bed bug bites that pestered me on our second night. Luckily (and unfortunately for me), I was the only one infested and bitten by them.
The beaches of the Gili islands are powdery white, with clear blue waters. The islands also have a perfect position to see the sunrise over Lombok’s Mount Rinjani and the sunset near Bali’s Mount Agung.
There are also a lot of restaurants dotting the beachfront, most of which are offering seafood feasts, wine and cocktails. In our short trip of four days and three nights in the islands, we managed to try several restaurants and bars offering seafood.
Most recommended of which are the following:
- Egoiste Restaurant and Seafood Barbeque – offers the best seafood grill package, which includes fish, giant prawns, lobster and squid with a free bottle of chardonnay and salad buffet. Countless restaurants offer the same thing, but I found Egoiste’s seafood fresh and better seasoned compared to the others.
- Scallywags Seafood Bar and Grill – offers seafood, pasta and pizza but it made my list because Scallywags offers vegetarian options (I ordered the vegetarian Mexican fajitas ) and it was the only restaurant I’ve been to that served us proper wine glasses. Plus, it had a No Tax, No Service policy!
- Bamboo Restaurant – is Villa Almarik’s own which is also vegetarian-friendly. Their selection of pasta dishes was also flavorful and interesting.
- Pasar Malam – on our second night, we had dinner at the local night market, withRp20k per seafood stick (choice of mahi-mahi fish, squid and prawns) and another Rp20k for 5 side dishes (rice, veggies, tofu, etc.). What a steal!
Other notable food fare in the island is the carts offering grilled corn that can be flavored with sweet or spicy butter at Rp10k per stick. Several tokos (shops) also offered Gili Gelato (Rp25k per scoop), Gili’s resident ice cream that offers a wide range of gelato and sorbet for those who don’t eat dairy.
Aside from gallivanting on the beachfront, swimming and snorkeling, another recommended activity is the Gili Barbeque Pontoon experience. We rented the barbeque pontoon for their Sunset Experience Package.
At Rp295,000 per person, one can swim and snorkel in three locations where there are turtles (saw giant ones near Gili Meno!) and vast schools of fish in Gili Air.
The first site in front of Gili Meno boasts of gigantic turtles and some fish, although what’s interesting in this site are really the huge turtles, who, when in the mood to be playful, will swim alongside you. The second stop near Gili Air had more schools of fish. We were given bottles of crumbs to feed them so the schools of fish will literally swarm around you.
We capped the trip with a sunset view near the northern tip of Gili Trawangan while sipping ice cold Bintang and local cabernet sauvignon from the vineyards of Bali. The package also included a barbeque dinner with a choice of chicken, fish or vegetarian.
On the exact day of my birthday, I requested for my husband to book a private yoga session at The Yoga Place. For the uninitiated, it is highly recommended to book a private yoga class so that the yogi (teacher) can explain the fundamentals of yoga, proper breathing techniques and right posture. The Yoga Place is highly recommended for beginners since it is not intimidating and the yogi will go out of his way to explain the basics. Look for Mate’ because our group had a good session with him and he is just wonderful!
The Yoga Place also has a café that offers vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s comforting to know that there are places in the island where vegetarians and vegans have a plenitude of options.
After a day’s worth of beach activities and a whole lot of walking or biking, try a soothing foot reflexology or even a whole body massage in some of the spas dotting the beachfront. You can get an hour’s worth of massage for only Rp100k!
Other notable things that make Gili Trawangan unique would be the island’s trove of cats trotting through the streets in every corner! Some bars and restaurants have their designated cat. One of the diving resorts even has a feeding and drinking corner for the cats passing through and a donation box for their food, neutering or spaying. The cats are very friendly – they’re quite used to people – and there were several who approached me during dinner, asking to be fed.
Overall, Gili Islands boast off a plethora of activities for the adventurous and a quiet beachfront where one can just relax, chill or frolic on the white sand. It is a must-try experience, even once in your life.
As a caveat, though, if you are averse to the smell of horse manure on the streets, you are better off staying in Bali or beaches with motorized vehicles. I still rate it as a must-try, bed bug bites and horse manure notwithstanding.