5 Things No One Told You About The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are comprised of three small islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air – just west of Lombok in Indonesia. They have become a popular destination for tourists who are looking for a relaxing, remote island vacation.

From left to right: Gili T, Gili Meno, Gili Air
From left to right: Gili T, Gili Meno, Gili Air

Gili Trawangan is the largest of the islands and is by far the busiest and most developed – has more choice in shops, accommodations, restaurants, and has a bit of a night scene. This island is a good place to go if you want an island experience, but still have a selection of luxuries available to you.

Gili Meno is the middle of the three islands and is the smallest and least busy. This island is great for people who really want to get away from civilization and are looking for simplicity. Since there isn’t much to do on the island, you should come here if all you plan on doing is planting yourself on the beach with a book in hand.

Gili Air is closest to mainland Lombok and is a bit of a mix between Gili T and Gili Meno. This island is a popular destination for couples as it still is quiet and relaxing, but also has a few more options than Gili Meno. You should come here if you are looking for seclusion with satisfactory services.

 

map-gili_lowres

 

 

Many people talk about how heading to one of these islands is a great getaway; relaxing, quiet, romantic, peaceful, and the list goes on. All of my friends who had been absolutely raved about the Gili Islands, so I had extremely high expectations of my time there. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy my time there. However, I wish I was a bit more realistic and that people were a bit more upfront with the realities of the island.

 

 

Here are the five things I wish someone told me before I went to the Gili Islands:

 

1. It is highly likely you will get soaked on the boat ride over.

As we were waiting at the pier to catch the boat over to Gili T, we watched numerous boats dock with people coming out who were soaking wet and miserable. As they walked by all of us waiting to board, they made comments like, “Goodluck with that boat ride”, “I hope you don’t easily get seasick”, or a sarcastic “Have fun”. That had us all worried about our impending trip. Thankfully going there we were okay as we had a nice boat and taking a Gravol ahead of time definitely helped. However I can’t say the same for the way back from Gili T. We had a pathetic boat with wooden seats where you could feel every wave we hit. There was also no air conditioning, so the windows were open. Therein we found out why people were dripping wet coming off the boats; when we went over a large wave the water came crashing in through the windows and soaked everyone. Remember to put away anything that would break due to water damage.

This is the kind of boat you do not want
This is the kind of boat you do not want

 

2. The beach is beautiful. Swimming in the water, however, is not.

I don’t think I’m asking for too much when I say that I want a sandy beach without much coral and rock, as I’d like to be able to get in and out of the water comfortably. Unfortunately, the beach on Gili T was filled with coral right where the water started, which made it painful and awkward to enter and exit. As well, when you finally made it into the water you needed to be mindful of all of the rocks on the bottom. One wrong sway of a foot from the crash of a wave could mean your foot colliding with a sharp rock. You might look like an idiot, but wearing water shoes is a definite remedy to this problem.

Ouch
Ouch
This was what the beach was like on the west side of the island
This was what the beach was like on the west side of the island

 

3. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles rule the walk-path.

There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, which I initially really liked. Here I was thinking that will make walking around much more peaceful and less dangerous than it was when I was trying to navigate the streets in Ubud and Kutu. The small pathways are brimming with cidomo’s (horse-drawn carriages) either carrying tourists to their hotel or locals carrying produce, building supplies, etc., and bicycles that tourists rent out for the day or that locals are riding as their means of transport throughout the island. This made walking down the main strip rather annoying, as you need to dodge the horse-drawn carriages (as well as the horse shit on the floor) and bicycles, while they rang a bell to tell you to get out of the way.

Savoring the almost-empty streets in the early morning
Savoring the almost-empty streets in the early morning

 

4. Be prepared to be woken up at 4am each day for morning prayer (and hear it numerous times throughout the day).

This was probably my least favourite thing about Gili T. Now, I understand Lombok is a Muslim country, but numerous times a day the prayers would be blasted throughout the island on a loud speaker. There are three Mosques on the island, making the ear-splitting prayers impossible to escape. Every. Single. Day. at 4am we would be woken up with the morning prayer. Some days it only lasted for 10-15 minutes, which was bearable (barely). However, there were some days that the morning prayer lasted for 45 minutes at which point I almost lost it. A few days on the beach we could hear the prayers as well – some lasting for over an hour. I found this to really take away from the “secluded island experience” that Gili is apparently known for.

My reaction each morning at 4am
My reaction each morning at 4am

 

5. Gili Trawangan is not as quiet and relaxing as it seems.

Like I mentioned earlier, I heard from many people and read many blogs about how wonderful Gili T was, so I was really looking forward to getting away from civilization for a few days. There is a lot of construction going on throughout the island, many “hipster” cafes and shops that are popping up selling a coffee for $5 CDN, and “party boat tours” that are held once a week. If you do decide to rent a bike or wander into the middle of the island to see some local life, you’ll probably be saddened by the piles of garbage strewn everywhere. Lastly, getting on and off the boat to and from the island is a disaster; people are pushing to get on, they are never on time, locals on the Bali side pressure you to purchase food and drink by hovering around you, and you really just have no clue what is going on until someone grabs your luggage and throws it into the boat while ushering you inside.

Piles of garbage everywhere
Piles of garbage everywhere
A nightmare getting on and off the boat
A nightmare getting on and off the boat

 

If you’ve ever been to Boracay, I feel like Gili T is what Boracay was about 20 or so years ago. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Gili Islands become as commercialized and as packed with tourists. If that is the case, I suggest you go there now if you’re interested before it becomes another Boracay.

 

Note: My experience in the Gili Islands was only in Gili Trawangan, thus these five warnings may not apply to Gili Meno and Gili Air. 

 

My other adventures in Bali:
Two Nights In Kuta
What To Expect From Accommodations In Ubud
Wandering Ubud: The Streets, Markets, & Rice Fields
How To Survive The Monkey Forest In Ubud, Bali

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23 thoughts on “5 Things No One Told You About The Gili Islands”

  1. This is the kind of post I like, the good, the bad, the realistic. I’m sure many people feel the same. Thanks for writing this!

    I’ve been to a beach where there were small rocks & shells everywhere! Not only was it painful, can you imagine if someone got cut & you got cut on the same rock?

  2. Very helpful post! Thanks for sharing your experience honestly. Too much of travel writing tends to be overly positive and romantic… Therefore unrealistic.

    1. Thanks!
      I feel that way too – I’ve tried to find a middle ground (the good, the bad) in talking about my travels that all readers can benefit from. Glad to know you did :)

    1. Beth, thank you for sharing the link. I couldn’t agree more – I felt awful for the horses and would see them working from the early hours of the day until late in the evening.

      The article makes a great point about solar powered tuk tuks as a much better alternative.

      It’s really sad that an island can be seemingly so beautiful in many respects, but also have extreme pitfalls that cannot be ignored.

  3. And another great post for intel. I kind of lost my interest in spending time on Gili on reading about the mosque. There was one right behind my place on Koh Phi Phi that drove me crazy. Don’t think I could put up with 45 mins of wailing to any god. But I’ll get there for a few nights at some point just to check it off my list of things to do on Bali. Great post. And amazing snippets from your student interactions. I teach here in Japan so I can relate. Anyway, you guys seem to have an amazing time exploring outside of HK. Happy trails!

    1. Again, thanks so much! Glad I can help fellow travelers with a bit of a heads up! When talking with coworkers who had traveled to Gili T, they seemed to have sugar coated everything about the island (which I obviously only realized afterwards).

      International teaching is amazing, isn’t it?! Great way to travel, do what you love, meet incredible people, and get paid for it. No complaints :)

      1. Yup. Agreed. I mean, you give up stuff to be away from home and live in a somewhat unstable life (no guaranteed pension and all that schtuff), but the freedom to travel suits me just fine.

        As for sugar coating, I find a lot of people do that. I think it’s a kind of subconscious coping strategy to make belief that the vacation didn’t suck in any way. Personally, I tend to be more like how you and your blog see things — if the beach is full of touts and trash as you wrote in Jimbaran, I notice that stuff. But like you said, sunsets and beers and stuff like that makes up for most of it. But it’s good to be honest about what we see when we talk to other people so that they have realistic expectations. “Trash? Yeah, I was expecting that. But dayam!! Look at that sunset.”

          1. Ditto! Actually, I’ll be bouncing through HK in December — definitely one of my fave cities in SEAsia. I’ve already learned a ton of hiking-type fun to do there from your blog! Keep ’em coming!

  4. I have been to muslim countries before. When it is Ramadan and when it is not but never ever has it been approx 60 min high screaming from the mosque! This is the worse ever! Usually in other places it is only a few minutes for calling to the pray but here it is totally crazy!

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