Spend any good amount of time traveling through Southeast Asia and you will eventually hear about Indonesia's Gili Islands. As travelers tell tales of these islands you almost feel as if they are describing something from the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio – only you won't have to swim to get there. Fast boats from different villages along the eastern coast of Bali will get you to the Gilis in just a few hours. Located off the northwest tip of Lombok, the three islands that make up the Gilis are unique in their own way yet equally stunning.
The smallest of the three islands is the peaceful and underdeveloped Gili Meno which is sandwiched in the middle of the other two – Gili Trawangan to the west and Gili Air to the east. Only two kilometres long and one wide, it’s possible to walk around Meno in under two hours. Gili Air is the second largest and slightly more developed yet still offering peace and seclusion. Gili Trawangan, or "Gili T" for short, is the most popular and developed of the three. But the word "developed" is an exaggeration. In fact, the entire west side of Gili T is completely empty with maybe one or two open hotels. Moreover, there is no running fresh water on the islands. Fresh water has to be brought in by boat daily from the mainland of Lombok.
On an island whose only mode of transportation is horse-drawn carriage, I was surprised to find that Gili T has a wild nightlife. When I first arrived on Gili Trawangan, it seemed as if I had found Neverland. Young adults from all over the world have congregated here and spend their days aimlessly wandering up and down the streets barefoot with cocktail in hand. The laid-back vibe of the Gilis is evident from the moment you set foot on the island. You come here to relax, to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and to appreciate the beauty by which you are surrounded.
Days are spent below the surface exploring the underwater world and the hundreds of dive sites scattered around the islands. I return from a morning dive and rent a paddle board. Gil Meno is so close that I paddle across to it. Returning to Gili T, I spend the next several hours walking around the perimeter of the island. Even though Gili T is the largest of the three islands, I can explore the entire island and different beaches all in one afternoon. After soaking up hours on the white sandy beaches, its time for cocktail hour and watching the sun sink behind the horizon. With the sun finally set, evening has arrived and it’s time for oceanfront dining under the stars. The classic dining experience in the Gilis is fresh fish BBQ. Along the main road, restaurants put their best catch on display. Whether you want an actual restaurant experience or prefer to head to the Gili T Night Market, rest assured that amazing found is not hard to find. After dinner it’s time to head to the party of the night where DJs spin the latest beats. Different bars host the party each night so only one party a night can stay open until 4am with the other bars closing at 2am.
Morning arrives and as the sun rises over the water you realize that you are in paradise and there isn’t a chance that anyone can get you on the boat to return to the mainland. You’ve found paradise and it is impossible to leave.