Undoubtedly, after escaping the Ecolodge, even a bullet trailer in the middle of the Death Valley would have been attractive, but this is not what makes the Gilis stand out in my Indonesian experience.
We spent four days on Gili Trawangan, the most visited of the Gili archipelago (which also includes the more “exclusive” Gili Air and Gili Meno) and the best way i can summarize how i feel about this place is a mixture of conflicting emotions.
Let’s start with the positive ones:
Gili is a diver paradise. Diving, snorkeling, even marine walking (please google it, it’s hilarious), you name it, anything that has to do with exploring the rich marine life of the area is easily accessible, and won’t disappoint. Most of our trip was dedicated just to these kind of activities, and close encounters with marine turtles, giant parrot fish and even a baby shark left me completely amazed and wondering why i don’t get my ass into a diving spot more often during the year.
Snorkeling is also pretty amazing, especially when you set out to take pictures of amazingly colorful fish with your underwater camera. Let me tell you some of these small fuckers do not enjoy being stalked in the water. Don’t even get me started on the Trigger fish. A species completely unknown to me (if it’s not on river monsters, i am not interested), they are very territorial, and for the love of God if you even see one once diving, swim AROUND IT, not over it. I did just the opposite, and although blissfully unaware for the entire duration of the accident, my diving instructor was pretty amused in describing the scene of the outraged trigger fish chasing me and trying to bite my fins off.
While there are plenty of opportunities to get close and personal with marine life and be in the water, Gili Trawangan is not the ideal spot for you beach bums out there. beaches are rare and not the nicest, as most of the water front areas is occupied by bars and restaurants. If you are looking for a beach escape, you are better off booking a hotel in the close by Gili Air, which has lovely stretches of white sand on which to lounge on and get a sunburn.
When all is said and done and you have dived, snorkeled or whatever else salty activity you got up to, Gili Trawangan becomes another kind of Paradise for some. The party kind. And this is where all my emotions got all mixed up.
Forget the respectful and well-mannered behaviour of the Balinese, locals are a little more, ehm, rowdy in this part of the world, and won’t hesitate to cat call you or offer you all sorts of drugs known to men (mushroom is probably the second word you are most likely to hear after massage, on a daily basis). It does not help that when you look around, the demographic seems to be a little skewed towards young men in their mid-twenties. i am not sure what they do with their women and elderly people…… My only advice there is to be respectful of local culture and avoid walking around in your bikini.
As you walk up and down the main road (not topless, remember) its just bar after bar after bar, some of which have the most creative names i have ever seen, ranging from the subtle “Horizontal Lounge” to the not-so-subtle “Lick me till ice cream” if you know what i mean. Despite the shock of being catapulted from the cultural nirvana of Ubud to THIS, i have to admit that nightlife is actually pretty decent, and surprisingly beer pong seems to be the national sport, with almost every join offering beer pong tables. A cool thing is that, given the size of the island and the amount of bars and clubs battling each other for customers day in and day out, there is a rule for which only one bar can stay open past 2 am every night, making it pretty stress free to choose where to hang out on any given day.
The thrill of being under water and seeing so many amazing things, as well as the relief of staying in a hotel where nothing is trying to bite you or crawl on you, and the amusing beer pong experiences probably make the Gilis one of my favoruite parts of our trip to Indonesia. on my next trip to Bali, i will probably try to stay in Gili Air though, unless The Horizontal Lounge doesn’t have any last minute offers of course…
To conclude, a list of things I learned during my time in Gili
1. That sharks don’t have swim bladders, so when they are not moving, they sink!
2. That you can ,in fact, CALL a horse in Gili, just like you would a taxi (nowhere near the same level of comfort when you are sitting in one though….)
3. That walking around in your bikini is not acceptable, even though the only thing there is just sea, and salt and sand and more sea
4. That not all diving schools are created equal, and there are many in Gili. I can recommend Blue Marlin, amazing experience and great staff (if you want to dive with a laugh try to join a fun dive with Bruno, but beware, he is Brazilian.. i guess that tells you enough :-))
5. That you should not piss off a trigger fish, ever
6. That if you look close enough, there are hilarious English mistakes on almost every sign, have a go and amuse yourself