Gili Trawangan is not for the faint hearted (or weak-livered!) Despite its reputation as a Mecca for the hard partying crowd, this island has a lot more to offer than just an epic nightlife (although that it certainly has).
We spent 3 days on Gili T (as it is affectionately known by most travellers – try saying “Trawangan” a couple of times after one too many Arak cocktails and you’ll jump on this particular bandwagon), which felt simultaneously like a lifetime, and barely long enough to look around. The island is small, around 15km in diameter, and is a mixture of unpaved dirt tracks and haphazard cobbles, but not a real road in sight. There aren’t any real hostels due to local regulations, but wealthier travellers will discover a spattering of high-end hotels, while those of us on a budget are spoilt for choice in the $20-a-night bungalow department.
What to expect
Don’t expect hot water. Or aircon. And don’t even get me started on the WiFi! But why go all the way to Gili T just to sit in your room on Facebook!? As long as you can get at least one picture a day on Instagram (because what’s the point in being on a tropical island if everyone back in the office doesn’t know and isn’t insanely jealous). I didn’t feel clean the entire time I was there, thanks to a combination of my penchant for going barefoot, the soaring temperatures, and a showerhead with water pressure about as good as being gently dribbled on. But I digress – the point is that basic necessities that seem indispensable on the main land are no longer a concern when you’re living Island Life.
If you’re a light sleeper, it would probably pay to choose accommodation as far as possible from the Mosque, which is the source of a fairly piercing call to prayer multiple times a day, usually commencing pre-dawn. The population in this part of Indonesia are predominantly Muslim, but – despite the “No bikinis in the streets” signs – very tolerant of tourist behaviour. The streets are pretty safe, and in my anecdotal experience there’s not a lot of crime, so the biggest danger after a large one is being unable to find your way back to your room (trust me, the struggle is real).
Start your night at the local night market – with its sprawl of plastic chairs and tables, and great billows of smoke, it’s hard to miss. Actually, you’ll more than likely smell it before you see it! Multiple vendors set up there daily, lying out an array of delicious local dishes which are served up in a wicker basket on a banana leaf. Try the Urap Urap (coconut vegetables), Serombotan (spicy soy vegetables), the Pangang chicken… actually, just grab some of everything. At 20,000 for five choices you can afford to get adventurous! Top your big vege plate with some fresh skewers, grilled over an open charcoal grate. I opted for the chicken and mahi-mahi, but the grilled calamari also got rave reviews! The only thing I wouldn’t sample is the island “Beef” – a Canadian travelling companion spotted the island cows grazing on a rubbish heap, chewing huge mouthfuls of dirty nappies, so the quality of the meat may not be quite on par back home.
Once you’ve sufficiently lined your stomach, head to one of the many happy hours which line the main (and only noteworthy) street by the pier – 60,000 should get you a couple of mojitos, while a large Bintang will usually set you back about 30,000. From here, the world is your oyster! Partake in a game of Beer Pong at Tir Na Nog, the Island’s resident Irish bar (albeit owned by an American, disappointing), and let the local bar staff entertain you with dubious magic tricks and fancy origami. Pop in to Sama Sama Reggae bar to hear a local rendition of one of Bob Marley’s finest, and enjoy a cold drink with some full blown Indo-rastafarians (is that a thing?) If dirty hip hop is more your thing, head in to Jiggy Jig (where again you can play beer pong) and get down with a good mix of backpackers, locals and the mandatory drunk Australians.
A post-party dip in the ocean may seem a good idea, but keep an eye on your gear! You wouldn’t be the first skinny dipper to lose an outfit to opportunistic pranksters (or thieves).
Time your visit to Gili T so that you’re there for a Wednesday or a Saturday – these are the days Jiggy runs their legendary boat parties! 350,000 for guys, 200,000 for girls will get you 5+ hours cruising the harbour on a dive boat, with swim stops at Lombok, round of shots, and a free drink on entering the boat. The boat is lush, the music loud, and the tour guides were heaps of fun. Make sure you kick off with a shot of Vodka Joss at the bar before departing! (Honestly, Vodka Joss is the actual best. If you don’t know what it is… Only one way to find out).
Make sure you partake in a legendary buffet breakfast the next morning to try and mend your broken body. Hangovers are hard, but I’m yet to find a problem that 4 plates of scrambled eggs, a mountain of fruit and bottomless cups of tea can’t fix! The Sails restaurant offers an excellent selection of western (sausages, bacon, grilled tomato and mushroom, eggs, baked beans, toast etc), Indonesian (nasi goring, mi goring, various meaty curries), and lighter options (fresh tropical fruit, house made granola, bran flakes, probiotic yoghurt), for 90,000 a head including endless tea and coffee. If you’re smart, like us, you’ll park up here for several hours in the sun, and do some serious investigation into the meaning of “all-you-can-eat”.
Gili T is hard to put into words. There are so many amazing boat journeys, snorkel trips, dive expeditions, and animal adventures to be had. Go to Turtle cove or Shark point and get up close with some aquatic oddities, or just laze in a hammock on the beach (fresh coconut optional). While I probably wouldn’t take my kids there, it’s worth a visit even for those who aren’t into the partying scene. Gili T left its mark, not just on my body and wallet, but deep down in my heart, and I know I’ll be returning one day!