Gili Trawangan and Gili Air

The Gilis are three small islands to the east of Bali. Each island has its own reputation: Gili Trawangan (or “Gili T”) is known for partying, Gili Air is supposed to be the relaxed island, and Gili Meno is for honeymooners. Since I was traveling solo, I skipped Gili Meno and spent time on Gili T and Gili Air.

Many companies operate fast boats between Bali and the Gilis, although the ride is rough. A handful of people got sick on the two-hour boat ride. If you’re in Bali during the high season (July and August), you should book your fast boat ticket at least two days in advance. I met some travelers who tried to book a fast boat the day before they planned to head to the Gilis but couldn’t get a spot because the boats were full.

Since the Gilis are so small, there are very few motorbikes on the island. Instead, people get around by foot or bicycle. Biking requires deftly navigating through unpaved roads and hordes of tourists, but it’s the best way to see the islands. Touts also hawk horse-drawn carriage rides, but I stayed away from these.

It’s easy to travel between islands, as multiple boats per day shuttle back and forth. Public boats are a few dollars cheaper than boats operated by private companies, but private boats depart more frequently per day.

Gili T

I didn’t expect much from Gili T due to its party reputation, but I ended up loving it. In fact, I loved it so much that I stayed there twice. It was undoubtedly touristy and crowded in some areas, but I could still find peaceful spots. I was also surprised to see a lot of families and couples on the island.

Another traveler said that I didn’t need to dive around the Gilis since I would be able to see a lot of reefs and wildlife by snorkeling. I ignored this advice and went on a couple of fun dives with Diversia. I normally regret ignoring other travelers’ recommendations, but I was so glad I decided to dive around Gili T, as it became my favorite dive spot. I’m a novice diver, so it’s possible that I’m just easily impressed. Nonetheless, it was hard to complain when I got to see a couple of sharks and a bunch of turtles. The reefs were also massive and vibrant. I didn’t take photos, so you’ll have to take my word for it: the diving was worth it.

If you’re interested in diving around the Gilis, I’d highly recommend Diversia. The dive masters were fun, friendly, and professional. I had grand plans to book more dives with Diversia during my second visit to Gili T, but unfortunately, I got sick.

If you don’t dive, it’s easy for snorkelers to swim next to turtles around Gili T. Travelers who swam at the appropriately named Turtle Point showed me cool videos of their close encounters.

Restaurants and bars stake out the best beach areas on Gili T. I don’t enjoy frying in a lounger all day, so I found my own spot on the beach to avoid spending extra money on drinks and food. The beaches on Gili T aren’t the most dazzling you’ll find in southeast Asia, but it was soothing to listen to the waves.

gili t

A bar called The Exile is one of the most popular places for sunset. The Exile has a couple of swings in the water, which people swarm for Instagram photos. There were long lines for the swings on the evening I visited, so I was content with just taking a photo of the sunset.

gili t

I can live without the swing.

Since I was on the party island, I had to sample the nightlife. A Joss shot is the drink of choice for travelers who want to stay up all night. For the shot, an energy drink powder called Extra Joss is poured into vodka. The shot fizzes as soon as the powder is added. I had seen Joss shots in Bali but didn’t muster up the courage to try one until I went to Gili T. It was every bit as vile as it looked.

joss shot

Demon shot with an empty packet of Extra Joss on the right

For an island famed for its nightlife, the bars close relatively early at 1:00 AM. On every night except Thursday, there’s a designated after-party bar that stays open until 4:00 AM. Fear not if you don’t know the after-party schedule; just ask other travelers, and they’ll happily point you in the right direction.

On one night, I went to a restaurant called Pizzeria Regina for dinner (you can judge me for having pizza in Indonesia). The restaurant was full, so I was seated at a shared table. I was sick and could only croak in a scary, hoarse voice, but that didn’t seem to put off my table mates. (To be fair, they might have been too nice to say anything.) The rest of the table consisted of a middle-aged couple from Australia; two young Korean women; and a group of four travelers from Australia, Germany, and Brazil who had met each other a couple of nights earlier. Despite the differences in age and nationalities, we laughed throughout dinner.

The Australian from the group of four was celebrating his birthday, so I tagged along with his group for the rest of the night. The night ended at the after party at Evolution, where we swayed to Robbie Williams’s “Angels.” Props to the DJ because it was the perfect song to close the night. It reminded me of middle school dances, which always ended with Green Day’s “Good Riddance.”

Gili Air

Gili Air lived up to its “chill” reputation. The island had many eateries and bars, but it felt a lot less crowded than Gili T. I was in more of a social mood when I was on Gili Air, so it was a little too quiet for me. That said, most travelers I met preferred Gili Air over Gili T.

It wasn’t too difficult to find a shaded spot on the beach on Gili Air. I didn’t swim since the bottom was rocky, but I watched a couple of people on paddle boards in the distance. The beaches on Gili Air were arguably prettier than the ones on Gili T.

gili air

A resort called Ombak screens a movie every night, and visitors can buy tickets for 100,000 IDR (about $7.50), which includes a drink and popcorn. This was similar to the Ombak I visited on the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

On one of my nights on Gili Air, Ombak screened Eat, Pray, Love. I saw the movie when it was first released and didn’t care for it at the time. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t hate it on my second viewing. It was especially fun to compare the movie’s portrayal of Bali to my own experience. Blame it on my travels and/or the fact that I’m now close to Elizabeth Gilbert’s age at the time she embarked on her journey; it’s a mystery. I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Until I do, I’ll continue to hang my head in shame.

One of the biggest selling points of Gili Air was my bed at my hostel Captain Coconuts. The dorms contain hanging beds outfitted with mosquito nets. Hammocks will always be my favorite sleep option, but the beds at Captain Coconuts were still pretty awesome. I loved the gentle swaying as I dozed off. It would have been a romantic setting if it weren’t for the nine other people snoozing in the same room. If I can’t install a hammock in my room when I return to the US, a hanging bed will be the next best thing.

captain coconuts

Backpacking in southeast Asia definitely doesn’t suck.

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