After spending a week in and around Ubud I followed the path most travelled and set a course for the Gili Islands, made famous by Eat, Pray, Love of course. The Gilis are idyllic tiny islands off the north west coast of Bali. You wade into the sea to get on the tourist loaded boat and then you wade back off it, retrieving your suitcase from the beach. There a few places where you can catch the boat, I was picked up super early in the morning and taken to Padang Bai for the journey to Gili Trewangan (widely known as Gili T) which takes an hour and a half. (I organised the trip through my homestay which made thinks easier). Whilst you wait for the boat there are scores of women selling overpriced drinks and snacks, even fags – fine if you’re in need but pretty relentless sales pitches. I also experienced this on the beaches with women selling jewellery and sarongs and always talked to them even if I wasn’t buying anything, but they do have a tendancy to stay for half and hour if you do that so it depends how kind you’re feeling.
There are three Gili Islands – Trewangan, Air and Meno. I decided just to visit Gili T as I had about four days set aside for this part of the trip. It’s the largest of the three but I think Air and Meno are very popular honeymoon destinations as they are so secluded. By this point I still hadn’t bought a SIM card for my phone (I’d been using wifi everywhere) which was a mistake, as the reception on Gili T is terrible. I had no clue where my homestay was and the streets on the island are like a maze, it’s so easy to get lost. One thing that upset me straight away was the sight of lots of horse and carts. I’d read that there are no cars or motorised vehicles on the island and knew that they got around like this (luckily there are millions of bikes to rent), but it was still difficult to see. Obviously they were carting around heavy luggage in blazing heat. As an animal lover Indonesia is not an easy place to visit, what with all of the strays, these horses and widespread sacrifice at all of the ceremonies that go on. Luckily there are charities and sanctuarys doing good work, but it’s frustating that people have been trying for years to ban the use of horses on the island to no avail. I think there are people there who provide vet care etc but it still annoyed me!
|The Nest Sculpture, horse riding on Gili T, Kira Cottages and a typical beach har|
Anyway I digress. My homestay was about five minutes walk from the main street which was amusing after half an hour of trying to find it without Google Maps and inaccurate directions from locals. I stayed at Uki Village, which has about five cute little huts to the side of good sized swimming pool. It was a little bit more expensive than Ubud here, with five nights at £49 (still embarrasingly cheap). Not long after I got there the heavens opened and torrential rain for about four hours. There were also issues with the wifi – how was I supposed to cope?! Luckily it came back on at some point, and the owners provided me with dinner – most homestays offer breakfast and typical Balinese food for peanuts. There was a little shop just next door where I stocked up on supplies. I ate some weird chocolate and got an early night ready for my planned snorkelling trip the day after.
I’d read that snorkelling on Gili T was amazing, and I wasn’t disappointed. For around 100,000 IDR/£5 you get to visit three or four dive sites. The boats leave from the main drag and are always busy. The first stop was Nest, the underwater statue by world renowned sculpter Jason deCaires Taylor. It’s an arresting sight – 48 human statues formed into a statue that looks amazing in photos (don’t forget to hire a GoPro). Don’t forget waterproof sunscreen (my back got massively burned) and your own snorkelling gear if you have it. It was the first time I’d been in the water in Bali and I couldn’t get over how warm it was! For me the fish are enough of a spectacle, neon striped angel fish in schools, big striking rainbow parrotfish and colourful butterfly fish. I’d bought a plastic cover to take photos with my iPhone underwater but it didn’t work very well, and I didn’t realise I could hire a GoPro beforehand so I just had to commit what I saw to memory!
One of the highlights of the snorkelling trip here is the chance to swim with turtles. I recommend that you do the trip early in the morning as the water is clearer, in the afternoon it was a bit murky and more difficult to see them, but it was still amazing to see a huge one gliding beneath me. The current was quite strong here and I was glad I’d put a lifejacket on! We stopped off at Gili Air for some food – I wolfed down some Gado Gado (vegetables in peanut sauce). There was also a site with gorgeous coral – such vivid blues! Honestly I cannot rave about the snorkelling here enough! Afterwards I found Kayu cafe, I’d love to tell you about lots of different places to eat here but I kept coming back here; it was so nice! The coffee is top quality and I can’t rave enough about the cakes! I tried avocado cheesecake, vegan pancakes and waffles which were all delicious.
The day after I decided to hire a bike and cycle around the island, you can cycle around the whole thing in about an hour. I discovered amazing beach bars and Instagrammable swings, luxury hotels and tiny hideaways. Stupidly I decided to go quite late as it was getting dark, so I got a bit lost when cycling back into the central part but it was all part of the fun. At one point I had to carry the bike around a narrow path next to the sea but that was the only major issue. It was quite liberating to cycle around in the dark and feel pretty safe!
I could have gone back to Bali after Gili T but as I was there I decided to check out Lombok, a large island to the east of Bali. With around 4 million inhabitants it’s pretty big, and known for its excellent beaches, waterfalls and Mount Rinjani, which has a breathtaking view of a crater lake from the top. I decided to head straight to Kuta Beach, a popular area for surfing and tourists.
My homestay in Bali has booked my trip from Gili T to Lombok for me, but I missed the boat and ended up getting flustered and ripped off for another boat ticket. Tip – don’t get upset and ask locals for help. Just go to a cafe, breathe and google the price of things! The boat took around an hour, then I took a taxi to Kuta. It was almost worth visiting Lombok just to see all of the monkeys as you drive uphill from the port, there were hundreds of them!
|Kuta beach, colourful lunch , monkey and baby, other beach|
I stayed at Beruga Mandalika for two nights (£30) which was actually quite pretty, apart from the fact that there was no hot water. The big crazy insects that were frequenting my room in Gili Y reappeared. My accommodation was close to the main street where there are lots of restaurants. I started to realise that unless you wanted to hike up a mountain or do expensive snorkelling trips that there’s not a massive amount to do. I took a taxi to Tanjung Aan Beach which was lovely, with crystal clear turquoise water, and read/watched the waves with a Mie Goreng from the beachside restaurant.
I walked to Mandalika beach which was quite frankly scary, so busy and a group of girls from a nearby island wanted to take selfies with me and wouldn’t leave me alone! There were also lots of stray dogs and I ended up trying to feed them, but was told they don’t sell dog food in the shops! So I ended up giving them cat food. It took me a long time to realise that many street dogs can fend for themselves and know where to go for food etc. It just upset me that the attitude towards animals was so blase, but then it’s a developing country and a lot of people can only feed themselves, nevermind pets. I kind of regretted leaving Bali to go to Lombok but at least I tried!
Places to eat in Kuta, Lombok
My homestay was just off the main drag where you can find lots of restaurants and shops.
Cantina Mexicana – loved the nacho pizza and cheap margaritas!
Gratitude Cafe – great for remote working, good vegetarian range and coffee!
Milk Espresso – amazing coffee and lovely brunches!