If you have read the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, then you will recall when she ends her travels in the Gili Islands. Gili Meno to be specific. Before I begin, let me give you a quick summary of the differences between the three islands. The Gili Islands are located off the Northwest corner of Lombok, Indonesia. If you want to party, have a lot of stores at your disposal, restaurants, activities, mingle with people and just be around high energy in general, go to Gili Trawangan (or Gili T). If you are coupled up and want peace and completely relax, go to Gili Meno. For a happy medium, go to Gili Air for more budget friendly accommodations, bars and cafes, and markets. Location-wise, Gili T is the first island you reach if you are traveling east from Bali. Gili Meno is in the middle and smallest while Gili Air is still further east. Here’s an even better run down of the size of these islands. It takes about 2 ½ hours to walk around Gili Air, less than 2 hours to walk around Gili Meno, and 2 hours to walk around Gili T. If you choose to travel from Lombok (perhaps do a hike at Mt. Rinjani), you can take a ferry from Lombok (like I did) to Gili Air that continues to the other two islands. Depending where you are going, fast boats are also for hire for a little bit more (about $20-30 USD one way) than the ferry (about $5-20 USD roundtrip), but worth it if you have time constraints. The only modes of transportation on the islands are by foot, bicycle, or pony carts (called Cidomos). Motorized vehicles are not allowed.
I flew from Thailand to Lombok and back to Bangkok via Air Asia using Kiwi.com. Flights within the country are ridiculously inexpensive, so I highly recommend booking your roundtrip flights first. Then book your “internal” travel through one of the local airlines, like Air Asia.
For transparency purposes, my flights were as follows:
Roundtrip from Home to Bangkok back Home (Qatar airlines) $1100 USD
Bangkok to Phuket was 1547 Baht ($46 USD)
Phuket to Lombok was 6300 Baht ($188 USD)
Lombok back to Bangkok was 4900 Baht ($145 USD)
I stayed overnight in Lombok at a stunningly gorgeous resort! Living Asia Resort & Spa had the most exquisite views, including a gorgeous perspective of Mt. Agung in Bali. The villas were modern and very comfortable with all the usual amenities you would expect. The bathroom was located outside-ish. What I mean by that is, it is attached to the room, but when you open the door to the bathroom, there is no ceiling. It is open air. No one can see inside, so no worries there. See the picture below. I wish I would’ve stayed here, and in Lombok, longer. I would love to stay here again if and when I return!
So check this out!! Being that I visited during my birthday, I made a request when I booked my reservation online through hotels.com. I told them it was my birthday and I would like a photo of Brad Pitt from the movie Legends of the Fall, which said “Happy Birthday Jenny, love Brad.” I had completely forgotten about it until I heard a knock on my door and found a girl holding a piece of birthday cake with a card. I had a permanent smile stuck to my face the rest of the night! So awesome!
The next day, they shuttled me down to the Teluk Nare port area in Lombok. Now to say this place is confusing is an understatement. In hindsight, I guess it was more controlled chaos than anything, but for the most part, I was a bit confused as to what was going on. Here’s why. Vehicles are only allowed to a certain point where security will stop them. I hopped out and was quickly “gathered” into a Cidomos (pony cart) before I could understand what was happening. I could’ve walked the ½ mile down to the boat area, but clearly, locals are trying to earn an extra buck by hustling people down to the ferry themselves. The fare was nominal so no big deal regardless. They dropped me off at a booking agent where I purchased my ferry ticket to and from Gili Meno, then had me hop on a moped for a kid to take me the rest of the way down to the ferry. You don’t have to book your ticket online, but it’s definitely an option. I chose to wait until I got down to the port. Side note: there is a ferry schedule and set hours for the fast boats. HOWEVER, with some coaxing and extra cash, you can pay a little extra after hours to the captain of a fast boat, and they will happily take you from one island to another.
Off to Gili, I go!
Gili Meno: As the most under developed of the three islands, don’t expect fancy resorts or stores here. The peaceful atmosphere makes this island a hot spot for honeymooners. 99% of everyone here will be with their significant other. I was the 1% that was not this time. haha! I actually got bored here because of the lack of things to do and see. With that being said, I had already booked a small villa at Tropical Hideaways Resort before my trip. The villas were a short walk inland from the beach. Side note: you may opt to wait until you get there if you want, as there are several places to stay close to and on the beach. Something worth noting is the prices may be more inexpensive if you wait until you get there than if booking online. I paid $50 USD per night but I was told you may be able to negotiate an even cheaper rate when you wait to book on arrival. I found out a lot of the other people visiting waited to book their rooms until they decided which island they wanted to stay on and then would go from place to place for the best price. I wasn’t disappointed with this place though. It had good a/c and wifi, the bed was comfy, the water was warm and there was a fridge to store food. The pool outside was small but was clearly meant for lounging rather than swimming laps. Breakfast was included in my reservation and it was made to order every morning. Overall, this place had everything I needed and met my expectations. It was clean, quiet and everyone was super friendly. If I had to do it over though (and if I chose to stay on this island), I would pay a little more and stay at one of the villas on the beach so I could have that view to wake up to every morning.
Things to do:
Scuba diving: Blue Marlin Dive was the only scuba spot here but they do have a location on each island. It is found front and center as you get to the island so super easy to find. I opted for a refresher course since it had been a few years since my last dive. They have a pool at the location to go over the basics and take the course. They have several dives you can choose to go on, but only individual ones at specific times. An outrigger boat took us to the Meno Wall for my dive, and we got to see several Sea turtles in their element. It was so cool! The instructors were all super friendly and eager to make sure you saw all the cool things under the sea.
Bird Museum: A nominal donation was requested for a guided tour around the museum where you get to see several birds native to Gili among other places. You also get a photo op holding some of the birds!
Randomly follow paths and walk around: I downloaded an app called maps.me that allowed me to use GPS alone (no cellular data required) to navigate around the island and also the ability to zoom in to see more detail. I started out on the path by my villa one day and just kept choosing one of two paths whenever I came to a fork in the road. The little roads took me through random pastures and villages where the locals lived. That’s how I found the bird museum! It was so neat to be immersed in the local culture, even if just for a part of the day. I was also there during Ramadan. It was absolutely enchanting hearing the chants in the evenings.
Sunset on the coast: don’t miss the opportunity to take a nice walk around the edge of the island to see the sunset at the North Beach. You will definitely need a flashlight for the walk back as it gets dark pretty quick and there are no lights on the path.
Food: You really can’t go wrong with food on this island. Everything always came out fresh, not oily, and utterly delicious. The servers were always friendly and wanting to talk about the elections that were happening in the United States later this year.
Gili Trawangan: I took the ferry over for ~$2. As soon as I arrived, I immediately noticed it was more energetic and lively than Gili Meno. I walked around for a bit and decided I deserved a birthday massage…one that overlooked the ocean. Fabulous! Afterward, I walked over to one of the many restaurants for some food. While I was eating, I made friends with a few of the scuba instructors from the Dive Shop next door. They were getting ready to head out on a dive with a group, but one of them offered me his bike so that I could take a tour of the island. So sweet and so cool! I took off riding around the island (which took about an hour total, including me having to pick it up and walk it around a rock ledge at one point LoL) I rode past several hotels, villas, bars, and restaurants. I also rode through a cute market area that had stores and more bars and food joints. Don’t forget the obligatory swing photo!
Gili Air: I didn’t spend much time here, but I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the beautician that got the tangles out of my hair extensions after my scuba dive. I wish I could remember the name of the place. It wasn’t attached to any resort and I found it just by walking past it on my way around the island. Nevertheless, my hair got ridiculously tangled during the dive thanks to my goggles getting caught in my braid. The water pressure in the shower at my villa was so low that it wasn’t even putting a dent on penetrating my hair enough to work on the tangles. This beautician patiently worked on me for a solid 4 hours, and I tipped her generously. Later, I grabbed some delicious Thai food, strolled through some of the souvenir stores then took a speedboat back to Gili Meno.
Expect to pay similar prices as you would in Thailand and Bali. Meals are roughly $10 USD or less, massages are $5-10 USD for an hour, my villa was $200 USD total for the week, and boat transport was always less than $5 USD while I stayed in the Gili Islands. Overall, I can honestly say that I don’t see myself returning to the Gili Islands. I’m glad I went, but unless I visit with someone that hasn’t been there before, I doubt I will go back. I would prefer to spend more time in Lombok and mainland Bali. With that being said, departure day was pretty uneventful. I walked down from my villa to where I was told to meet my ferry boat and was quickly collected and taken back to the port in Lombok. After another moped ride to the main gate where vehicles wait, my airport shuttle was already there, and I begrudgingly left for the airport to head home. Thanks for the hospitality Gili!