After spending a few days on Bali and getting a glimpse at the heart of Indonesia’s tourism machine, we made our way over to arguably the second most popular tourist attraction the country has to offer: The Gili Islands. Although the Gili’s are made up of three small islands off the coast of Lombok, we primarily stuck to Gili Trawangan, the largest and most populated.
There were moments on these islands when I felt as if I was in paradise. The beach completely encircles each island that makes up the Gili’s. When the sun’s shining, the view of the mountains on Lombok is something out of a tourism magazine. It’s also safe to say that the Gili’s will live in my memory forever, as we FINALLY saw a turtle while snorkelling just off the coast of Gili Air. This was a huge checkmark on my bucket list. To add to it all, we were lucky enough to share the experience with a couple of guys who we ended up travelling with throughout the better part of our time in Indonesia, Robin and Stefan.
We also just so happened to spend Valentine’s Day on the Gili Islands, which resulted in my splurging on an above-average-by-North-American-standards kind of restaurant, possibly for the first time on the entire trip. I still can’t believe what we managed to get considering the timeline that I gave these guys. I came to them at about 4:00pm and said something along the lines of, “I need a romantic dinner for 2 people, tonight at 8pm. Can you do that for me?” I was then led by the waiter to speak with the head chef, who told me not to worry and whisked me off to a little office in the middle of a resort near by.
Sitting in the office was an especially efficient looking Indonesian man, smiling as if he’d been waiting for me all day. I felt a bit ridiculous taking a seat in this guy’s office, considering I was wearing nothing but my Gangnam Style flip flops and the unnecessarily short swimming trunks I’d snagged in Vietnam for $2. This guy proceeded to supply us with a dinner that scored me so many brownie points, I may have finally caught up with Ryan Gosling on Jamie’s “Top 10 guys I want to sleep with” list. There were flower petals all over the table (but not too many), and it also happened to be overlooking the ocean. The candles were twinkling, the serviettes were folded like origami, and we also got a few free tasters such as an amuse bouche.
Everything that I’ve mentioned so far was incredible. Nearly perfect. On the other hand, there were also moments where Robin and I were threatening to beat a local to a pulp for shouting sexually charged insults at Jamie as we passed by. That same guy’s friend would stand on the street corner and ask every girl that walked by, “Hey Darling, need some honey?” The streets were made of dirt, so when it would rain – or rather, when it would pour, as it was the rainy season – walking anywhere meant traversing the muck and ubiquitous, parasite infested mud-puddles. This was made all the more difficult when forced to hop out of the way of a horse drawn carriage barreling down the street – and on that subject, the horses that we saw were extremely anxious, a sign (according to Jamie who has ridden horses since she was little) that they are frequently hit in the head. So all of that stuff sucked. As always in Southeast Asia, you take the good with the bad.
At the best, the Gili Islands were the ideal vacation getaway. At the worst, they were sleazy, grimy, and just as frustrating as numerous other spots across the continent. If you have the time, should you pay a visit? I would say so. It was a relaxing spot with some great snorkelling, incredible beaches, and spectacular views. If you’re tight on time, should you go out of your way to hit up the Gili Islands? Absolutely not. Every additional day east of Bali is a day well spent, with snorkelling, beaches, and views that make Bali and the Gili Islands seem pathetic in comparison… but more on that later.