Low late afternoon sun tree-shades Trawangan beach-goers while highlighting passing boat and not-too-distant Gili Meno.
Last visited August/Sept 2011
The Gili islands are 3 small coral cays a short distance off the north west corner of Lombok - G Air, G Meno and G Trawangan as you go away from the coast.
The Gilis looking back towards the mainland - Trawangan, Meno and then Air. Rinjani volcano is at top left (image Lombok Travel)
Modified Google Earth image of the Gilis. Bangsal is the main access point from mainland Lombok.
I’ve visited the Gilis 4 times. If you have read this page previously you will have noticed many updates - after the latest visit it is time for a re-write.
Over the years these islands have been pretty attractive for beach lovers, divers and snorkellers. They have been known for pretty good beaches/snorkelling/diving, plus no motorcycles, cars - or dogs. This is still the case, although I personally think Gili Trawangan has jumped the shark - unlike previous trips my latest visit left me feeling its negatives outweighed positives.
Each island is different in character. Meno is completely laid back. Trawangan is party island and pretty commercial. Air is a good compromise between the two and having the biggest local population, gives some idea of local culture. Although I would not go to the Gilis to experience Lombok culture.
This is my personal favourite (despite the public boat hassles which I detail later), just shading Meno. The main beach area towards the south end of the east coast is more attractive than Trawangan's and offers a bigger range of accommodation, restaurants and other tourist related activities than Meno. If you are interested in non-touristy island life the village here is bigger and less impacted by tourism (Air has the biggest local population of all 3) and the interior and western regions have more farming with quite big areas given to coconut plantations and grazing (Air has the best local supply of water of all 3 - Air means water). More water ussually means less dust - but it looks like dry season 2011 has been really dry -I've never noticed so much dust underfoot. This applies to all 3 islands. If I was thinking of a snappy title for a report on the Gilis I'd label it PARADISE IN DUSTLAND.
I modified this Google Earth image to show the major points mentioned below. Click to expand image if printing is too small.
Like the other two islands, the beach at Air goes right around the coast. I walked it in about two hours (it's 4.7km) and have done the slightly shorter perimeter track in a bit over 90 minutes, bicycled it in under 40 with brief stops. There are soft sandy parts where you must walk the bike.
The beach is attractive in most sections although fairly big sections are joined by coral rock which is exposed at low tide. However in a few areas, the sand extends considerable distances into the water - this is at its best towards the southern end of the east coast, the area I label BEST BEACH.
Like its counterpart at Trawangan, the nicest beach area on Air now has beach furniture provided free if you buy some refreshments from the warungs whose sitting bales you can see immediately behind. This is a real nice area to spend time. Those boats are 3-island snorkelling craft put in for some eats and beach time. This is a 2009 shot - there was considerably more sand in 2011, even at full tide.
There is fairly good coral and fish life about 25 m off the beach at and near where the reef drops off into deep water. The area immediately north of the warung swimming area has some of the best - look for snorkelling trip boats tied up to buoys at the reef drop off.
A feature of all the "best" beach places I mention for each island is that there is usually a current moving alongshore parallel to the beach - you can fall into the water, snorkel out to the reef drop off, float along with the current for as long as you want, swim back to shore, walk back along the beach and repeat the exercise if you fancy. The perfect lazy person's way to snorkel.
Same area as previous shot from the beachside warungs. The reef drop-off can be seen where the water changes colour near the most distant swimmers. The sandy area this side has quite a few fish swimming around for people who don't want to venture out to the drop-off. About 50m left of photo, the reef comes close to shore. The section right off the sand has mainly dead stuff, but there is some okay coral and fishies a bit further out - a fair way before you reach the drop-off.
This area has many other restaurants, some bars, shops, internet, a lot of accom over a wide price range and is less than 15 minutes walk to the right when you get off the boat. Or 4 minutes by dokar aka cidomo - pony cart, which is the island form of taxi. No cars, motorcycles - just cidomos, bicycles or walking. No dogs.
Our Sept 2011 accommodation was Sunrise Hotel which is on the north boundary of the best beach area - a bit far to lug bags from the harbour (some of the track is difficult soft sand for roller baggers). As usual the cidomo driver's quote was way optimistic at 80k which I managed to get down to 50k - still too much for less than 700m.
SUNRISE HOTEL - I've stayed at Sunrise twice. The first visit was back in 2003 when the place was relatively new and I managed to get a Lumbung style bungalow for a song.
This is a more recent shot of the Lumbung bungalows at Sunrise. The place has moved upmarket a fair bit and these definitely fit into the midrange.
I usually prefer a different place when I revisit an island, but Sunrise was on our favourite web-booking site so for early Sept 2011 I took the lazy option.
More in our flashpacker price range is this "deluxe" fan, cold water (saltish - bore levels get below sea-level towards the end of dry season) room, one of a duplex of more budget priced accommodation in the back corner of the garden. This place was spacious, comfortable, quiet, had a big open-top bathroom and seemed pretty new. There was a nice bale with hammocks in the garden across from the veranda. At $us45 including a basic but adequate brekka for two in high season (but not peak) it was not fabulous value, but the Gilis are getting expensive these days.
Biggest complaint was the thin film of dust on the floor which was not cleaned during our 2 day stay. When we pointed this out at the conclusion, the guy on reception explained had we dropped off our room key when going out the room would have been cleaned. We would rather have this pointed out when we checked IN, not OUT.
UPDATE - longtime Gilis and Lombok visitor FreoGirl told me she was booked at Sunrise Hotel during Ramadan 2011 which was a short time before my visit. However the hotel had let her room to somebody else. She had a difficult time finding accommodation elsewhere - apparently the island was very crowded at this time. Freo said that restaurant service was very very slow the last few days of Ramadan and the following few days of Idul Fittri (the celebration when Muslims break their fast) - apparently a lot of staff go back to the mainland to visit relatives. Might be something to keep in mind when booking a trip. In 2012 Ramadan is in July. Note the general consensus is that in Lombok tourist areas operators don't let Ramadan impact too much. It is only the above times when there may be an impact.
I've also read that from the beginning of July thru most of August 2011 it was very busy on Gili Air.
Sunrise has a very nice beachside restaurant out front with views of mainland Lombok and Rinjani extinct (dormant?) volcano when it isn't shrouded with clouds. Food and drink prices are very competitive - they have to be; there is a bunch of similar places within a short distance.
Immediately north of the restaurant, Sunrise has a strip of bales (sitting platforms) with cushions and small tables which are ideal for grabbing a snack or drink and watching the passing parade or enjoying a book etc. What's the bet trim, taut, toned and terrific book-bloke is long-sighted?
Boats in background are daytrip snorkelling boats checking one of the better snorkelling spots. Most of these are from the good-value GLASS BOTTOM DAYTRIP BOATS which do half a dozen of the best snorkelling spots on all 3 islands and also put in for some beach time/eats-time somewhere (differing on which island the daytrip originates from). I did one of these daytrips a few years ago (origin Trawangan) - saw quite a few turtles on the Meno Banks on the north side of that island and put in here at Air for some lunch.
The southern half of the east coast now has a more or less continuous strip of resorts and related places, but the atmosphere is way more relaxed than the similar area on Trawangan. Along the northern half the development becomes a mixture of resorts/restaurants and rural lots given to cattle, signs for accommodation, eats, even yoga up lanes leading inland. Above is a nicely landscaped section of warungs towards the north of the east coast.
The north coast of Air is attracting new accommodation, but like the other two islands is only partly developed and pretty laid back. Most of the places are above budget level.
Post-sunset view from the north-west of Air attracts people from all around the island. Gili Meno is closest background. The low hill left background is Trawangan Hill. And the mountain is Bali's Agung volcano.
Pre-sunrise is okay too - here is Lombok's Rinjani Mountain from Sunrise Hotel's beachside bales.
The west coast is largely unsettled with only a few places to stay. What we have here is a fair bit of cattle grazing on green fields which contrast markedly with the drier neighbouring islands, interspersed with coconut plantations. The beach is pretty good but the reef joins the sand here and goes to pools of water and exposed rock at low tide. The drop-off into deeper water is only about 20m out and is worked over pretty intensively by dive boats and snorkelling trip craft from all 3 islands. Air has several dive outfits.
The south of the island is dominated by the harbour. Air has the biggest area of reef-protected anchorage and attracts the lion's share of cruising boats. The public boat pier area which is also the arrival point of the fast boats from Bali is out of shot right of frame. Laneways lead away from the harbour into the village behind those trees. Most of these continue into the island all the way to the north coast. Intersecting lanes take you to both the east and west coasts. Some of Air's better value accommodation can be found along these lanes, usually within a hundred metres of the coast. Some coastal accommodation can be found close to the harbour area, particularly out of frame to the left (west).
On a visit in 2009 I wanted somewhere nearer the harbour and got me a $11 room including breakfast and aircon in this near west area the at tiny Hotel Gili Indah. This was a pretty reasonable place which also had two fan bungalows with nice sea and mainland views in front for around the same price. Next door was the rather flash Hotel Villa Karang with a nice pool and some good looking bungalows which were being discounted fairly fiercely in what was shoulder season. This area is less than 15 minutes walk from the best beach area at the south end of the east coast.
My second row room was one of a duplex at Hotel Gili Indah.
MONEY - in Sept 2011 there was no ATM on Air. However the money changer a very short distance east of the public boat pier seemed to be offering very good rates - much better than elsewhere on the island (several places on the east coast change money) and the other islands.
UPDATE - early Dec 2011. I was reading Camill'es Samui (Thailand) weather blog (Camille was doing a bit of off season dive industry stuff in the Gilis) and he showed a pic of an ATM under construction/nearly finished on Air. Camille said it's in the harbour area.
PUBLIC BOAT HASSLES - we had difficulty in trying to access Bangsal by public boat at the end of our latest trip. The guy in the ticket office said we would have to wait for some time until 20 passengers were available but that we could charter a boat for 300k rp (public boat tickets 8k).
5 minutes after he told us this, a full boat left from 40m down the beach - he reckons it was a charter. Sure, a charter full of locals.
We hung around for 30 minutes - a local lady said we could go on "her" boat if we paid 20k each. As soon as we got on a hoard of locals appeared from nowhere and jumped on too - of course this was the next public boat, but they were determined that the westerners pay more.
Okay, 28k aint much and way better than 300k, but the principle rankles. This is the sort of crap which turns some people off visiting - certainly Lady Tezza will not return. And no doubt such nonsense has contributed to the high patronage of the fast boats from Bali.
My suggestion if you are island wanting to stay on multi-islands and then going to the mainland is to visit Air first and then use the Island Hopping Boat to jump to the other islands. This boat has a fixed time of departure and as far as we could see had no price surprises. Trawangan to Lembar public boats get more tourists and for some reason more local passengers, so leave more often and from what we could see when there, tourists seemed to be having few hassles getting a boat.
BTW few westerners we saw were going back to Bangsal from Air. About a half dozen down at the harbour when we left were waiting around for the fast boats back to Bali.
Check the warnings about Bangsal in the GETTING TO THE GILIS section towards the end of this page if you are going thru there. The place seemed better to me, but not a whole lot according to people I spoke to on the islands this latest trip.
Interestingly frequent visitor FreoGirl told me she had no problem getting a public boat during Ramadan - lots of locals leaving the island at that time.
Other Snorkelling Spots on Air.
As I've said, the fringing reef at main beach is not too bad. I've been told another good east side snorkelling spot is in front of Restaurant Santaii and that off the west coast is also pretty good.
If you want a relaxing beach holiday with a bit of good snorkelling or diving, this is the place. Meno is the smallest island, has the lowest local population and the fewest accommodation places/restaurants. Nevertheless there are places to suit most budgets and finding a vacancy online was no problem in late August/early Sept 2011, whereas Trawangan online was pretty much booked out a few weeks beforehand.
You can walk right around the island by the beach or the coastal path - the latter is 3.9km long. Once again sandy patches makes walking a bicycle a must in some parts.
Another modified Google Earth image. The lake below the distance line is not a tourist attraction - apparently it's pretty saline and swampy. However to me, mozzies have never seemed worse on Meno than the other islands - and are not a big problem in mid-late dry season.
Approaching the island. Water is pretty clear at Meno. Pictured is "downtown" Meno, which mainly consists of my favourite Rust beachside restaurant/bales, a few shops and internet across the coastal lane behind and some other restaurants which set up similar BBQ dinners to Rust. The incoming boats land at the public ticket office beach about 50m to the right. There is a pier which seems unused about 200m north of the office.
The beach is not too bad here but improves as you move south (left of shot). There is plenty of beachside accommodation each side of pic and a bunch of cheapies a short distance up a laneway immediately to the south of Rust.
Best beach area is right on the south-east corner of the island, about 500m from the boat landing place. I rate this the best beach area in all he Gilis - white sand, a bit of broken coral, some good tree-shade back of beach. Like Air, you can wade into the water and swim out to the reef drop-off where the coral and fish are pretty good. I found these improved a fair bit heading north (towards the camera) As you can see it is not exactly crowded, but that's Meno. Unlike the other two islands there is very little beach development at the best beach area - one small bar behind the trees and a budget/flashpacker bungalow place behind the section of beach at the far end of shot - Birumeno. Both were new to me from my previous visit.
Birumeno looked pretty sweet to me. We are talking about 750m from the boat landing area here.
If you want a pretty nice place closer to the boats (450m), Kontiki may be the one. It overlooks the section of beach immediately north of Best Beach and has a wide selection of accommodation from budget into what looks like flash/flashpacker or maybe lower midrange. Gazebo (midrange) and Malia's Child (budget/flashpacker) are two other nice looking places immediately north of Kontiki.
Our budget fan hut and neighbours at Kontiki - late August/early Sept 2011. Spacious, comfortable, nice bed, good bathroom with fresh water. Good sized balcony with a tap at the steps for sandy/dusty feet. The joint has about 20 bungalows scattered thru a reasonably nice garden area (considering the dryness of the island this trip) of various types including some pretty cute 2 storey aircon jobs. The restaurant was up front with nice views over the beach and towards Gili Air and the mainland. Food was okay and reasonably priced by my budget joint standards - but service was slow apart from brekka where the hired help rather than family staff were pretty slick. The inclusive breakfast was basic but adequate unless you are a fang-merchant.
This is the Kontiki beach area across the coastal track from the restaurant. Sunlounges free to guests. The sand here is pretty nice and continues a fair way into the water at low tide - coral and fish on the reef drop-off were a bit better than off Best Beach IMHO. Once again, drift snorkelling with the tidal current is the go all along this south-east section of the coast.
Another view of the beach adjacent Kontiki - this time panning left from the previous shot. Boats are not a permanent feature - having just dropped some people off from a daytrip.
Pushing past Kontiki, Best Beach and Birumeno gets you to the west coast area. Like the other two islands there is least development here, particularly since Bounty resort closed down (a storm destroyed their pier which used to take the big fast Bounty cruiser which came up from south Bali via Nusa Lembongan - the resort lost heaps of patronage).
Bounty, a fine looking place when I first visited Meno, looks pretty sad these days.
There is little wrong with the sand on the west coast but the reef rock comes close to shore. However this means snorkelling opportunities just off the sand at high tide, some nice pools to sit as the water drops and good fossicking at low tide. Coral close to shore means more coral debris on the sand than at Best Beach.
Those are snorkelling and dive boats in the background.
The north-west coast of Meno has a small cluster of nice resorts and beach warungs - real great for viewing sunset which is approaching in this shot - hence about the biggest cluster of people you will find in any one spot away from the boat landing area.
You may have gathered I'm a sucker for sunsets - and so I paused for a feet-up beer or four. This is where my estimate to Lady T - "I'm going for a quick lap of the island, be back in an hour" - tends to blow out. So shoot me.
The north coast has a few places to stay - like the other islands this is where you can find some of the newer more upmarket places.
Moving on sees us back on the east coast, where there are a few bungalow places along the northern half including Blue Coral here (actually Blue Coral is really on the north east bend of the island). I stayed at this place on my 2003 visit, $6 no brekka - nice people, good traditional bungalows across from an average beach (a lot or rock coral right off the sand), but the restaurant was mediocre and it was a bit of a slog down to the nice beach/multi restaurant area in the south-east. The last holds true in 2011 but the place itself looks to have been pretty heavily upgraded.
Development is intermittent until you approach the pier/boat landing area. There is a coastal trackside warung near the pier where all sorts of long-term type travellers tended to congregate late afternoons.
South of the pier we are back in the territory of Rust restaurant/bales - one of those places where you can dine over water at high tide. On my first visit only the bales existed. Prices were amazingly low, and they ran two menus, one for people staying on Meno and a more expensive one for daytrippers from the other islands and Senggigi. These days there seems to be one menu, but the prices are still very reasonable and the grub pretty good. There are a couple of nearby competing restaurants - all of them turn on a seafood BBQ in the evenings. Rust has quite a big general store on the opposite side of the track.
If you are looking for a bottom-budget place to stay, take the lane to the right leading inland just south of Rust. As the signs show, there is a bunch of places up there. On an early trip I stayed at a place called Pondok Wisata a short distance inland - associated with Rust. This place is not on the signs above and when I walked up latest trip things seemed very different. There has been a fair bit of development.
Once again it's cidomo or bicycle if you are not prepared to walk. Like the other islands, the cidomo mafia quoted outrageous prices latest trip - like 70k to take us from the boat arrival area to Kontiki, a trip of less than 500m. And the bloke was not prepared to come down. So we walked - over half the trip is paved where we could roll our bags.
To try to get some perspective on cidomo prices on arrival at the islands, I earlier went into a bungalow place on the north end of Trawangan posing as a prospective customer next year and asked the price of a cidomo down to Sentral, one of the longest trips you can do in the Gilis at over 2.5km. The quote was 70k. I figured the bungalow owners would not pad the price price for prospective customers.
No ATMS or banks. Several places will change money, but the rates were not very good.
OTHER SNORKELLING SPOTS ON MENO - apart from the afore mentioned fringing reef off Best Beach and t0 the north in front of Kontiki and neighbours I've visited the Meno Banks off the north coast on the budget 3 island snorkelling trip - saw some turtles etc. I'm not sure how easy these areas just off the coast are to access from the shore. I do recommend the glass bottom snorkelling trips, available from all 3 islands.
I've always liked Trawangan. Sure it's been busy and crowded but the preponderance of backpackers and divers gave the place a pretty nice atmosphere.
But I came away in 2011 thinking it has gone too far. It is way more developed than in 2009 and seems to have become the in-spot for midrange tourists visiting Bali to get their taste of Lombok - this is the only spot in a 9 place whistle-stop tour of Bali and Lombok where online bookings were difficult to find for late August/early Sept*. Note I have nothing against midrange tourists - but add them to the other visitors and things are getting hectic. There are now too many people, cidomos, bicycles and Indo blow-ins after a fast buck. The transport mafia and (British) dive cartel run unchecked. Accommodation prices run 20-50% higher than similar places on Bali. The joint to me is gaining the same atmosphere as Kuta Bali did in the 80s.
Although Kuta Bali in the 80s wasn't particularly DUSTY - Trawangan in 2011 was. This is despite the paving of the main coastal path from boat-arrival to Sentral in 2009 - it seems to me that until the lanes leading off this up into the village are all paved, wet season is going to wash mud and dirt down onto the pavement where it turns to dust in dry season and is stirred up by the passing hordes.
Noise can be a problem - Trawangan is known as the party island and if your accommodation is close to a venue, particularly the rotating DJ party, you could have loud thump thump thump until 4am. Not to mention sporadic outbreaks of fire-crackers.
I heard earlier in 2011 that the parties had been organised to feature a different location every second night - Mondays at the Blue Marlin Dive Club, Wednesdays at Tir na Nog Murphy's Irish Pub and Fridays at Rudy's.
The Irish Pub seemed to run two consecutive nights while we were there although the second night was not as noisy.
* Online bookings were hard to find but there were still vacancy signs on arrival. So it seems high season 2011 was not as busy as in the previous few years when there were reports of people sleeping on the beach at Trawangan. Looks like the farcical circus by bozo Euoropean and US financial/economic officials/politicians was biting in 2011.
But hey, the above rant is just my take. I reckon ragers who want a tropical island with somewhere to party with good dive opportunities and a reasonable beach will consider Trawangan fits the bill real well. Others will find Meno and Air do their tropical escape better.
BEST BEACH AREA
Once again we are looking at the east coast - but further north than the other two islands, about half way up, some 400m north of the boat arrival area and 800m from "downtown" known as Sentral. In this area sand runs into the water for a good 25m and there is deep water at all tide levels.
The fringing reef is only about 25m off the beach and is good for drift snorkelling - but in 2011 I found that the coral on the drop off which had previously been as good as at Meno and Air had been inundated with falling sand which seems to have drifted from nearer the beach,. Meaning the coral and fishies were nowhere near as good as previous years or that at Meno and Air.
There's quite a lot of trees in back of the beach for good shade, particularly as the day moves on.
This May 09 shot shows the main beach area. The beach chairs were new from my previous visit, but not as bad as appears - they were provided free by the restaurants and bars along the beach road provided you buy some food or drink (and they didn't seem to be sticklers for insisting on this). It seems sand quality in this area in the past has been adversely affected by dust from the unpaved beach road and crowds began to drop off in favour of nice areas further north - the beach furniture has certainly attracted people back. The beach road was concreted in 2008 according to locals. There is a heap of restaurants along the beach strip (and plenty of other accommodation).
Much the same area in August 2011. Maybe the tide is a bit lower, or the beach has reformed from storm erosion prior the 2009 pic (which was soon after wet season). Note much of the beach furniture is gone - there is still a bit out of shot back of beach closest the beach warungs.
Looks like the beach furniture experiment did not achieve dividends warranting the replacement of stuff when it wore out. Or maybe as tourism increased on Trawangan there's been enough people to keep both this area and places further north sufficiently busy for traders.
Another Best Beach shot - this one from a bit further south and as the shadows show, later in the day.
New to me since 2009 - this impressive beachside structure just north of Best Beach area. Turned out to be a turtle conservation place with hatchlings in tanks. Gili Meno had a more modest version just north of Kontiki. I didn't notice one on Air.
Northern section of the east coast. In the early noughties this area was mainly bare beach with discontinuous resort development the other side of the beach track. In 2011 development goes virtually all the way up the east coast and the above is typical of the beach area - lots of resort/warung sun lounges and plenty of warungs and bars on the beach side of the track. In other words a continuation of the sort of development from Sentral to Main beach area. Plenty of attractive new accommodation along here - a lot of it pushing into the midrange.
Looks like the Swedish non-kini team doesn't stay at the east coast's Dream Village again next visit.
Can't think why they aren't welcome.
The last 200m of the east coast is more lightly developed. If you are thinking of booking one of the handful of resorts here, be aware that there is a power plant generator in this area. This would not be a problem for north-coast properties.
THE NORTH COAST
Like the other two islands the beach and coastal track goes right around the island. Distance is slightly more than Air at 4.9km so once again you are looking at a leisurely walk of 120 or so minutes via the sand, less on the track. And if you cycle, once again soft sand makes walking your pushie a must in parts - on Trawangan for maybe 25% of the journey.
The north coast is probably the most attractive area on Trawangan. There are sections where the reef rock does not come right into the beach (or sand has been pumped to cover the rock), and quite a few resorts, mainly midrange or better, have set up here. However they are not cheek by jowl and the atmosphere is relaxed. The biggest problem is distance from the boat area and Sentral - the latter was 70k (2011) on a Cidomo if called by the northern resorts - but who knows what the drivers would want at the other end.
There are a few nice beachside warungs up here.
Right on the north-east corner of Trawangan is this rather attractive beachside warung. Meno in background.
THE WEST COAST.
May 09 shot of section of the west coast from Trawangan Hill. Note the triangle of Bali's Agung volcano on left horizon.
Despite the Bali views and great sunsets this is the least developed part of the island. The beach is nice enough, but the coral rock comes right to the beach and much is exposed at lower tide levels. On the inland side of the coastal path conditions seem pretty dry. Nevertheless development is taking place here, with some nice new resorts and signs up for villa developments/ a few under construction. I reckon half the villas will be owned by the cidomo mafia. The other half by the dive shop cartel/Bangsal porter cabal.
New since 2009 - the Ombak Sunset Resort. I'm thinking this is probably a new branch of the very nice Villa Ombak at the south end of Sentral which is Trawangan's oldest upmarket resort.
Seemingly closed since 2009 - the well regarded Sunset Bungalows on the south-west coast. This is a May 2009 shot - in 2011 the bungalows looked pretty sad, the grounds overgrown and the sign virtually unreadable. Some bungalows appeared occupied - by locals? Seems a pity that budget travellers are not prepared to walk the 10-15 minutes from Sentral, particularly in these days of people sleeping on the beach on arrival.
But it has happened before - a little further south is a great cheapy I stayed at in 2003, Bintang Bungalows. It was closed down by my 2009 visit as still this appeared the case in 2011 when I passed by. But appearances can be deceptive: I found a review of Bintang on Trip Advisor from someone who stayed there in August 2011. Maybe they shut down before I hit the place at the very end of August - maybe they went home on Lombok for the end of Ramadan into Idul Fittri.
Unexpectedly about 500m of the sandy coast track between Bintang and Sunset has been paved - including a separate footpath and set of steps which start the climb up Trawangan Hill in the area immediately on the Sentral side of Sunset. The word is an Italian planned to start a flash bar along here and maybe a resort later - the bar structure is there. But maybe he ran out of money - or local influence.
TRAWANGAN HILL is the highest point on the island. It can be accessed from the set of stairs near Sunset mentioned above and apparently from some points in the village interior. It's mainly dry scrubby grazing land up top. You can get views over the whole island but I found it frustrating in that there was no point where I could get a clear, expansive shot of the village, south, north or east coasts. The best vantage is the west coast outlook as per pic up page.
THE SOUTH COAST - Trawangan comes to a shallow v in the south, so that we really have the south-west coast and the south-east coast. I've already mentioned the demise of Sunset and Bintang bungalows on the former, but there are a few new places and a sunset bar or two along here. The south-east coast is experiencing an extension of Sentral with some new properties in the flashpacker/midrange, but in 2011 was still a pretty relaxed place. The beach south of Sentral is pretty nice and seemed to attract those long time island stayers.
Towards the bottom of the east coast proper, Sentral is a concentration of restaurants, bars, shops, resorts etc and can be considered downtown Trawangan. It is one of those places which seem hot and dusty during the daytime but are pretty nice when all the lights come on and people congregate at night. You can catch a movie at a bar or listen to live music at a restaurant. Once again a few places here host DJ parties during the week, so if you stay in this area you could have to contend with some early morning* WHOMPA WHOMPA.
*a pedant may argue 4am is getting closer to mid-morning.
Part of Sentral. Some of the restaurants on the left have pretty nice views of the sea and mainland Lombok. Pretty lights at night.
If you take one of the lanes leading inland from central or anywhere up the east coast to Best Beach you will find yourself in the village. Of interest to most travellers is that there is a good selection of accommodation here, ranging from bottom budget into flashpacker. As the beach and Sentral are never more than a few minutes walk, village accommodation has no disadvantage.
Once again it's bicycles, cidomos or shanks pony.
Cidomo enters Sentral from the west. I'm so used to these dudes overcharging I rolled my bag from the boat harbour to Beach House latest trip. I asked Beach House how much for return - 50k! For 500m - my local cabbie could do this distance for less and he has a $us40 grand vehicle plus horrendous road tax and vehicle + public liability insurances.
I have never seen near so many people bicycling on earlier trips. Once again, look to be squeezed. 70k a day. A week later in Kuta Lombok I got a motrocycle for 50k. The same will cost you 35k in Kuta Bali, a bicycle 20-25k tops.
DIVING - Trawangan seems to have half a dozen dive outfits. People I talked to suggested they are owned or dominated by a British dive cartel and that prices were fixed and equal - above non-Gili locations. They agreed the dive sites are pretty good.
Just about any time you look there is a dive boat coming into or setting off from Trawangan - here Dream Divers at the beach in front of Sentral.
Other snorkelling on Trawangan - I'm told the area in front of the electicity generator in the north east is pretty good as it is furthr north in front of Gracia/karma kayak. Close to town the area in front of the dive shops and villa Ombak is also pretty good but beware of boat traffic.
There is such a huge range of accommodation on Trawangan that I'll leave picking a place to your research. I can only comment on the places I've stayed:
On my earliest trip I hopped off the boat from Bangsal and walked a short distance north where I found Ozzy's. It had great big tiled rooms and a nice balcony for $8 including brekka. Very nice and good value at that time. The room was so big there was another double mattress leaning against the wall and even with this on the floor there would still be plenty of room to move around. So those wanting 3 or 4 to share a room could give this place a look. It is only about 5 minutes walk to the north off the boat and is actually about 100m north of the "in" beach and snorkel spot, although I thought the beach and reef drop off adjacent Ozzy's were nicer.
This is a May09 shot of the Ozzy's block of rooms I stayed at on my early visit. But the place has moved considerably upmarket - these rooms were now 200k (still fan but no doubt flashed up inside as much as these balconies) and there were some new and very attractive A-frame aircon bungalows out front for 350.
I asked again in 2011 and the aircon jobs had gone to 450 plus. There were similar new bungalows in the back. I dunno, that's getting a bit expensive. But the Gilis are expensive, particularly Trawangan. ph (0370) 648528-------------------------------------------------
What sort of a place can you get arriving cold and taking the first accommodation offered by a tout on the beach?
Well, in the case of Melati Homestay, not brilliant but adequate.
On my 2009 visit, Perama’s slow boat from Padangbai in Bali had engine trouble meaning it was just on dark when I hit the beach. I knew a couple of nice distant lodgings from previous trips but was in no mood to hike there. So when a local guy waiting on the beach told me he had a nice room 2 minutes away, I decided to take a look.
POSITION. Melati Homestay is 15m up one of the small alleys off the main around island coastal track opposite the boat landing area - take the alley almost opposite the public boat ticket- office - there is a MELATI SIGN on the corner with several others. This is a very handy location - 3 minutes south of the best beach area, 5 minutes north of SENTRAL and surrounded by a host of restaurants, dive shops and other tourist orientated businesses along the main coastal track. Pretty quiet at night - some very distant thumping of a base speaker, the call to prayers at the mosque behind BEST BEACH before sunrise and a busy community centre across the alley which kicked in after 6am.
THE ROOM. In a block of about 6. Spacious with plenty of room for 2 plus gear. Concrete interior walls, tiled floors, looking a bit used. Big king sized bed, soft slightly saggy but comfy mattress, nice pillows. 2 fans, lights a bit poor. Okay clothes storage, a dressing table, no hooks, no shelves. Big bathroom, western toilet, good water pressure (water pretty salty), no basin/soap/toilet paper. Mirror in main room, not bathroom which is a bummer for shaving.
Spacious veranda with seats/table, clothes hanging line.
STAFF. Very friendly guys with a can-do attitude. One fan stopped working - sealed non-repairable type. Stops working, you throw it away. Not in Lombok - guy said it needed oil, unsealed it with a screwdriver, added some oil, reassembled it. Worked a charm.
Gets better - I noticed water leaking from shower connection pipe, so I figured the little tap there needed tightening. The whole fitting broke off in my hand! The salty water had corroded the metal. Water shooting across bathroom from broken fitting and hitting opposite wall. Guy takes 5 minutes to turn water off and them comes in with an a pair of pliers! No pipe wrench which is the minimum I would need with a job like this. Replaces fitting with a brand new one in 2 minutes flat. Where did he get a new fitting at 9pm? Even had some of that special thread-sealing tape plumbers use. I got the impression corroded fittings are not a surprise on Trawangan.
These blokes remind me of my dad’s generation who could fix anything. Had to, they had as little money as the average Indonesian now.
VALUE. I’m not real sure. In 2009 125k including breakfast was a fair bit more than I’d been paying for better rooms back in Bali, but I’d seen a few posts saying how dear Gili prices had become. Anyway, 125 is still a bargain by western standards.
Brekka was basic - coffee/tea plus choice of sandwich/pancake/jaffle. But the jaffles were tasty, and I do enjoy that sludgy Bali/Lombok coffee. Phone 0370/642352
On the latest late August 2011 trip I had Lady Tezza with me so went a bit upmarket. As mentioned the booking sites were pretty maxxed out, but we managed to find a room in our not-too-high price range at Beach House, which is in Sentral, about two-thirds along the strip from the boat harbour end. This joint has some very flash options including pool villas, but their "Tree Houses" in the back garden were more flashpacker standard.
Not built up trees or on high stilts - the most that can be said of these were that they were under some trees in a small garden compound up the back of Beach House's property.
Fan, hot (fresh) water, TV+DVD, room safe, just enough room for two and gear, huge comfy bed, good net. Must have been real cute when brand new - now starting to get a bit worn around the edges. That important tap at the steps. Service was good. Quiet although when the DJ party started up at Murphy's Irish Pub out on the main strip next door the thumpa thumpa got a bit intrusive late in proceedings. Did I mention the fire-crackers?
Murphy's is part of Tir Na Nog resort, so that may be a place to give the big miss if you don't want noise.
Notwithstanding - at 420k including a good semi-buffet brekka and a real nice pool, our room at Beach House was pretty good value for Trawangan.
A pool in the heart of Sentral! A visitor from early days would not believe it - now there are several. Towel service, bar to left. In back of shot you can see the roof of the Beach House restaurant which is beachfront on the opposite side of the main pathway thru Sentral, with neat ocean and mainland Lombok views. Food here was pretty good, maybe 20% more expensive than budget restaurants. Tended to get absolutely packed at dinner time and the place can seat well over a hundred people - I think the seafood BBQ is pretty popular.
In late August 2011 there were 5 ATMs on Trawangan - 2 roadside at Villa Ombak west end of Sentral and 3 in the Best Beach area. No banks yet as far as I could see. Money can be changed in many places - rates are pretty poor.
MOVING BETWEEN ISLANDS
The best way is to use the ISLAND HOPPING SHUTTLE BOATS which go island to island for around 20k (2011). They tend to run Air-Meno-Trawangan once in the mornings and reverse afternoons which allows you to daytrip as well as shifting accommodation. Buy your ticket at the boat ticket offices on each island - other venues will sell them but often for far more rupiah.
You can also hire shuttles if the island hopping boat times don't suit - I saw a price Meno to Trawangan at the Meno ticket office: 170k.
WHEN TO GO
Best time is in dry season which runs roughly from the end of March into October. Peak season tends to coincide with the northern hemisphere summer holidays - so if you want to avoid crowds, July and August may not be best. There is a second peak around Christmas-New Year which suggests wet season isn't too bad here - the Gilis tend to be drier than mainland Lombok which in turn tends to be drier than Bali.
The earlier comments about lack of hotel and restaurant staff during the last few days of Ramadan and the following Idul Fittri may be worth taking into account - Ramadan is in July in 2012.
GETTING TO THE GILIS
Major places listed below. Labuhan Lombok is the arrival point for the big passenger/vehicle ferries from Sumbawa and further east. Most people arrive on big coaches which go right thru to Mataram.
FLYING - until October 2011 you can fly into Selaparang Airport in north Mataram from Bali (many flights), Java, Sumbawa, Flores and several other domestic locations. Check websites for Garuda, Lion Air, Merpati, Trans Nusa, Batavia Air. International flights come from Singapore and KL - Silk Air, Garuda, Merpati.
Travel time to Bangsal for the Gilis from Selaparang should be less than an hour - maybe 150k by airport taxi.
Some time in October the new Bandaraya International Airport in south Lombok will open and all flights, domestic and international, will transfer to there. This will add the best part of an hour to Bangsal (maybe more if the traffic in Mataram is bad) - I'm thinking 250k would be a reasonable taxi price but maybe one of you guys could give feedback on this.
FROM MAINLAND LOMBOK - Bangsal is the main departure point. From here you can catch a public ferry which is an oversized outrigger or similar for a minimal sum. Most of these run pretty regularly until around 1600-1630 although you may have to wait a while until there are sufficient passengers. Otherwise you can charter a boat at a greatly increased cost (to get some idea - Sept 2011 sign on Gili Meno public boat office offered public boat prices of 10k, charter to Bangsal 175k - 320k return).
Bangsal has a bad reputation for hassle. It is a bit hectic but no real problem if you are forewarned. It is only a 400m trip from the carpark where taxis and buses drop you, to the boat - easily walked if your luggage is not huge. Otherwise cidomos will take you but I have no idea what the going price is - I would not pay more than 5000 per person. Always agree on the price first or you will be asked a fortune.
Don't buy boat tickets off anyone in the carpark or on the way down the road, and stay away from the restaurant across the road from the carpark where they will try to sell you half of Gili Trawangan and a RTW ticket for $25 all up. For another $2 they will throw in a night with Miss Indonesia.
Don't believe their stories of no return tickets from the islands,/all the public boats have left/can't get sunscreen etc on the islands.
Go to the boat ticket office right on the beach to the left - a whitish building abt 20m from the water. Public boat and charter prices are listed on the wall.
Don't allow a porter to grab your heavy bag from the cidomo or from the boat on return until you fix a price - once again I would not pay more than 5000. Porters have been known to grab bags in/outside the ticket office when owners are not looking and load them onto a boat - the boat will not allow you on board until you pay some exhorbitant fee to the porter (everyone is into fleece the tourist). Porters will jump aboard boats from the islands and grab bags. I tell them NO. If you want YES - negotiate first.
Kids will also offer to wash your feet with bottles of water coming off the beach on return - I don't know what a fair price is here. One kid tried to wash my feet when I still had 30m of the beach to walk - must have thought I'm even dumber than I look.
For or a start you can charter a boat from Senggigi, but a 2011 ballpark figure is 490k as posted for the reverse trip at Gili Meno. Fine for big groups. Unfortunately Perama no longer runs a boat on this route - I did it in 2004 for a very small sum - the trip has to be one of the more scenic I've experienced. The coast between Senggigi and Bangsal is awesome - lots of small beaches backed by towering hills.
Another alternative is to contact one of the dive outfits on the island - they send speedboats across to Teluk Nara just south of Bangsal for their customers, and most welcome extra paying passengers.
The good news is that a lot of the more upmarket hotels on the Gilis are also running fast transfers out of Teluk Nara - many even pick up at the airport.
Also a lot of the fast boats that link the Gilis with Bali start at Teluk Nara or nearby and are willing to take passengers on the first short hop across to the island.
Finally Google Blue Water Cruises who run daytrips from this region around the Gilis are willing to take transfers too.
Because fares are pretty cheap, the afore-mentioned flights are a very popular way of doing this route, but it seems to me the most popular way of accessing the Gilis in recent years from Bali is by way of the FAST BOATS out of Padangbai on the central east coast (a fair slog from Kuta) or the Benoa and Sanur areas near Kuta. Every week another operator joins this trade - but Google Gili Cat, Island Getaway, Blue Water Express and Perama. Most tend to run aircon van shuttles from your south Bali accomm to join the boats - Perama uses its more rugged small buses, cheaper, less comfortable, little slower because the traffic is so bad, and linking many more departure points because of Perama's extensive network (although you will probably have to overnight in Ubud if starting from Lovina).
I notice one of Blue Water Express's options is a south Bali-Nusa Lembongan-Gilis trip. A neat way of doing two nice locations.
UPDATE - on my old Gilis page I had a good link to a multi fast-boat site but it dropped out: just found this new one - http://www.gili-fastboat.com/
In 2011 I used Perama's fast boat out of Padangbai. This boat is not as big as some, not all that comfortable (you can't see out the windows when seated in the cabin/people in the back row outside and up on top of the cabin got very wet on a moderately rough day), but the captain was sensible and throttled back in the conditions so no-one was sick or felt threatened. Consequently the trip took a bit over 2 hours instead of the hour+ advertised, but having had some horrendous rough-water fast boat trips in Thailand I did not mind the delay in the least. And at 350k ex Padangbai (or 400k out of Ubud where we started) Perama tends to be cheaper than most of the competition.
UPDATE JANUARY 2012 - I read on a travel site that officials were going to force the Bali-Gilis fast boats to land at Bansal or nearby on the mainland from where passengers will have to use the normal small ferries to the islands. No notice of when this will begin and I can imagine the island resort people will be trying to reverse the decision. I'm sure the fast boat websites will have details if the change is introduced.
CHEAPEST OPTION FROM BALI is by big vehicle-carrying passenger ferries which leave Padangbai roughly hourly 24/7 and dock at Lembar, a kind of Sydney harbour without the buildings in Lombok’s south west. The trip takes 4 hours give or take. The cost in 2011 when we did the reverse was 36k. Note that I often stay a night or two in Padangbai after a slow ferry trip - otherwise the 2+ hours to most other places in Bali makes for a full day, particulary if you have done Gilis to Lembar beforehand (or Kuta Lombok to Lembar as we had). Padangabai is a real neat little town - check the INDEX for my page.
The 3 hours Lembar to Bangsal by local buses, changing in Mataram and maybe Senggigi, will cost about the same as the slow ferry. Note Lembar has also had bad press recently about incoming passengers duped into expensive local transport by waiting touts and porters.
You can avoid this by using one of the Indonesian transport shuttle companies which have signs up all over in Kuta, Sanur, Ubud etc . These can pick you up at your hotel in Bali and have you on the Gilis for very few dollars, using their shuttlebuses to Padangbai, the slow ferries and then their shuttlebuses from Lembar. Once again Perama is one to Google (actually there is a link a few lines down).
Unless you leave Kuta Bali really early, you will not make the last boat to the islands - but Senggigi is a nice place to spend the night with plenty of restaurants, lots of accom of all standards and some nightlife.
Finally Perama also normally has a slow-boat from Padangbai starting early afternoon and taking about 4 hours. This goes direct to the island and then on to Senggigi. The return trip goes direct Senggigi to Padangbai at 9am which is not so great because Gilis people have to catch the very early public boat to Bangsal and then Perama's shuttle to Senggigi.
I used this boat in 2009 both ways, but when I tried to book in 2011 the website said the boat was being refurbished. More likely it is being used as a substitute for their Komodo Tour boat which sank (no lives lost or bad injuries thankfully) late last wet season.
Gilis ahead - Trawangan Hill prominent. Actually just after I took this 2009 shot the boat's main motor blew up! All Perama boats have 2 motors so after a bit of mucking about we motored slowly into Trawangan some 30 minutes late. I travelled over 500km on Perama boats this May09 trip (Gilis and back plus Flores to Lombok) and that was the only trouble experienced. This is actually a pretty relaxed way to access the Gilis - and they feed you! The brekka on the return boat from Senggigi is welcomed by people who have left the Gilis at 7am. The boat has sand spread on a rear deck for sun-bathing and comfortable seats downstairs for shade lovers.
Gianna has sent in a Trip Report to Gili Trawangan in February 2013.
You can keep us up to date with a trip report - doesn't have to be as detailed as Gianna's - just a few pix with captions to firstname.lastname@example.org will get the job done.
If you are considering the Gilis perhaps you will be interested in:
PERAMA'S BUDGET CRUISE LOMBOK-KOMODO-LABUANGBAJO
BUDGET SERAYA AND KANAWA ISLANDS
If you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.
The Gilis are not a bad place to end the day - sunset behind low Meno (closest) and Trawangan (hill and headland at left) from Air
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