PHUKET: BALI is a bit overrated these days, having been bombarded by Eat, Pray, Love-inspired hippie wannabes and Australians on their version of spring break. From Ubud to Kuta, Bali’s understated charm is morphing into commercialized hell.
But there’s a way to escape this: Bail out of Bali and head to the Gili islands. The “Gilis” comprise three small islands about an hour’s boat-ride from Bali, located right next to the volcanic marvel of Lombok Island.
The Gilis embody the natural beauty of Indonesia while providing you with a variety of comforts to meet all your holiday needs, from snorkeling with turtles in the day to enjoying extravagant barbecue buffet dinners at night.
The Gilis are not particularly cheap, but you can save a rupiah or two if you travel sensibly – starting with getting there.
Hawkers in Bali will try and take you for a ride when buying a boat ticket. Many “starting prices” will be at the one-million rupiah (about 3,500 baht) mark one way. This is outrageous.
Ask to go with the “GiliGili” boat tour company and tell them you have used their service previously for 250,000 rupiah (about 900 baht). You will quickly find that such a ticket has magically become available.
It’s advisable to first visit Gili Trawangan, the largest of the islands, and then move on to the quieter and more romantic Gili Air and Gili Meno.
Once at Gili Trawangan you will find a variety of accommodation available – from upmarket family resorts with swimming pools to budget traveler dorms and guesthouses.
If you want to hold on to your cash as much as possible, then visit the Buddha Dive guesthouse. For 100,000 rupiah (350 baht) per person you can get a fan room that sleeps three to four people a night.
All three Gili islands are small enough to stroll or cycle around – activities made easier by the fact that there are no motorized vehicles.
However, you will find carriages drawn by pygmy horses intermittently bombing down the dusty ring road. These are another fun and cheap way to get around.
Rent a bike from one of the many rental shops and pedal your way around the island as a fun day activity. The road gets a bit sandy in places, and the trip will take about an hour or more depending on how many beer breaks you take at the island’s countless beachside cafes.
For a truly memorable experience, stop at the Sunset Bar at the northernmost tip of the island and watch the sun go down behind Lombok’s volcanoes across the water. If you’re really lucky the skies will be clear, and the Milky Way like you have never seen it before will reveal itself.
There is something for everyone: plenty of restaurants serving quality western and Indonesian fare, white sandy beaches, reggae bars, diving trips, surfing, yoga and more.
Let’s just “pray” Hollywood doesn’t make a movie about them anytime soon.
— Alexandra Andersson