The Gili Islands
“Rachel I’m drowning. I can’t breathe. I don’t like this, Help me!” gasped my panic-stricken mother on the brink of despair, standing on her tiptoes in shoulder deep ocean, goggles full of sea water and half biting and half spluttering through her snorkel.
We were on Gili Meno, a small island off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. It was the 6th week out of 7 that we had been together and I was pushing her far out of her comfort zone yet again! We had come for a holiday but it always seemed to end up being far more than just that. I had managed to entice mum into the ocean with the anticipation of seeing sea turtles. So far, all mum was seeing was a steamed up pair of goggles…
As our time in wonderful Ubud drew to a close, we started preparing ourselves for our trip to The Gili Island beaches. I had heard a lot about them and as Mum had left me with the entire job of researching and planning this trip, I made the decision it might be a good idea to go see them…
All three islands are quite extraordinarily different. As a guide:
Gili T – Party Island/busy/full of everything and everybody
Gili Air – less busy, more authentic, still lots of things to do
Gili Meno – oh so quiet, honeymoon destination, lack of restaurants
We arrived on Gili Air first, after an enormously nauseating boat experience from the coast of Bali, (tip: just pay extra and go with Bluewater express if you’re with your mum!) we were very happy to see dry land. First impressions of Gili Air were great as we high-tailed it from the hustle and bustle of the port to the quiet sanctuary of our humble bungalow, complete with welcome fresh fruit juices upon our arrival.
Tucked off the main road, the bungalow was just what we needed. Used to seeing honeymooners and couples, the staff were quite surprised to see Mother and Daughter rock up; It had never even occurred to me that people don’t really go on holiday with their mums but we got plenty of comments about how nice it was to see us travelling together (hmm yes nice for mum, but I had to carry all the bags!)
Gili Air reminded me a lot of Koh Tao with its street vendors and laid-back atmosphere. Cart ponies adorn the streets wherever you go and you constantly have to step out of the way of them coming through. Those ponies work very hard but from what I’d heard, I was expecting them to look more uncared for than they did; actually their owners seem to take good care of them, parking them in the shade wherever possible and giving them long breaks.
Our three days here were spent lazing around. There’s really not much to do here otherwise (not that I was complaining with lunches spent being waited on by bar staff and dinners spent chatting over a glass of wine and a beach view!) There are ample restaurants to choose from here including a beautiful Italian (run by Italians!), a vegetarian and health food restaurant named Pashamamas (you really need a bike to visit this one as it’s tucked back in the middle of the island) and our favourite, Ruby’s – a sweet Indonesian restaurant specialising in the most delicious pumpkin and coconut spiced curry you have ever tried!
Gili Air is by far my favourite of the three islands with its many options for dinner and activities, small beach shacks advertising magic mushrooms and the locals giving you a big smile as you pass by. This island just has a good vibe!
Gili Meno was much more untouched. I got the impression people actually called this their home rather than just being here to make money from tourists. Much of the island when we visited was in development; they are obviously wanting to expand and offer more options to tourists which actually might not be a bad idea as we struggled to find good places to eat. Of course the main charm is that the island is incredibly quiet and I got the impression the locals weren’t too happy about these changes. I’m glad we visited when we did, before Meno becomes just another tourist trap.
Whilst we were there we stayed with Made (pronounced Maahday) and his friends in his set of two bungalows. He was a thick-set man with various tattoos adorning his body and constantly wore a smile on his face. He completely made our stay at Gili Meno by cooking us jack fruit pancakes every morning, playing to us on his guitar one night with his cats curled up on our laps and lending us his bikes to get around the island. I totally felt like we had a genuine ‘local’ experience with Made and would not have swapped it for a five star resort in a million years! Made’s place was in perhaps one of the most undeveloped parts of the island, but this meant we got to see things from a local’s perspective (not that they did much each day! They sure know how to chill out!)
Whilst on Meno I organised a turtle tour (and got ripped off, paying almost two thirds more than what I should have! (still only £15 but to the locals, that’s a lot!) There are no prices in Indonesia, only bargaining, I must remember that! Anyway, I think I must have seen about 15 turtles in the end! They seem to love the seas around the islands although most of the coral seemed to be pretty dead and there was so much litter floating in the sea which was a real shame. Mum also plucked up the courage for a snorkelling lesson which turned out to be completely hilarious as she couldn’t understand how to breathe through her mouth and be underwater at the same time. Needless to say, she missed the beautiful turtle that swam several metres from where she was standing! Nevermind, there were other beautiful aspects of being on the island including eating fresh fish on the beach almost every night, biking around the island and enjoying the sunsets (and storms!) of Gili Meno.
Gili T was a STARK contrast from the relaxation of Gili Meno. We really only visited for a short amount of time, not even half a day. We were there predominantly so that we could catch our boat back to the mainland but I had also organised to visit a friend, Giovanni, who was working there as a diving instructor. I remember it being STIFLINGLY hot that day, to the point where I didn’t want to eat or talk. My mood was made even worse by the fact that the taxi driver had NO IDEA where we wanted to go even though I told him several times AND pointed on the map. Wasn’t he supposed to know the roads around here?? Cue 10 minutes of going in the wrong direction, followed by stops and starts in the backstreets before we finally decided to jump ship and walk ourselves! It came as a welcome relief when I realised the place Giovanni suggested to meet in was an air-conditioned coffee house! Hallelujah! We chatted until it was time for our boat to depart – such a nice way to end our trip to The Gilis!
So, would I recommend The Gili Islands? Depends what you’re looking for of course but I honestly feel there are a lot nicer places to go with less litter on beaches and far less tourists. Having said that, we still had a gorgeous time here and besides, there is good to be found everywhere 🙂