The Gili Islands

Twice in my life I've found myself sitting in a tropical paradise, my feet buried in white sand, my eyes gazing out over the azure ocean, wondering how I got so lucky.  The first time was in Hawaii two years ago, and the second time was on Gili Meno last month.  Both are the kind of honeymoon destination I'd seen in adverts and only dreamt I might one day visit, yet there I was and I'm not even 24 yet.

It's easy to wax lyrical about the Gili Islands - the pace of life is much slower than on Bali or Lombok, they only got electricity about a decade ago and they are too small for cars, so a horse and cart or the obligatory Indonesian scooter are more common modes of transport.  Yet there is wifi everywhere, which is apparently normal throughout southeast Asia, and therefore steps ahead of New Zealand and Australia.  Aside from that though, you are just living in an island paradise of thatched bungalows, beach bars and warungs (homestyle cafes) serving the most delicious Indonesian cuisine for less than $2 AUD!

I spent the majority of my time on Gili Meno, the smallest of the three and the quietest, but the other two have a lot to offer.  Gili Trawangan is the party island, your best bet to find live music, all night parties or mushroom shakes.  There are a few backpackers' to stay in as well as the usual vast array of homestays, and there's also a bustling night market which is a good bet for cheap local food.  Gili Air I didn't make it too, but I've heard it might be the best of the three, with Meno's tranquility but the occasional party.  Gili M is a real couple destination so if you're looking to hook up maybe try Gili T - or just head to the Eco Hostel...

The Gilis were my first main destination on arrival in Indonesia, and one thing that became clear very fast was how friendly Indonesians are.  We frequented a warung known as Mama's, family-run and informal, and would take every meal there.  Aside from being warm and welcoming people, I have them to thank for introducing me to dadar gulung (pancakes filled with coconut and palm sugar), a dessert I frantically sought out in every place we visited afterwards.  My last night on Gili M was spent at Mama's watching Lombok music videos with the family while Mama sang along and danced.  There we also met a young woman from Lombok who was teaching English to some resort staff - she asked us to come along, and the evening ended up with the bartenders creating signature cocktails named after us and a midnight dip in their infinity pool!  Then the very next a group of small girls approached us on the beach with some hermit crabs to share with us...I've never been to a country where the people are so giving.

Homestays are a good bet for cheap accommodation if you're sharing, averaging about Rp.15,000/night (about AUD $15) and usually include breakfast - one of these we stayed in was Meno Smile Cottages, where we had a little bungalow.  Bare in mind though the showers on Gili M run seawater and flushing toilets are still a luxury.  Hostels are a steal as well, the Bird Park Hostel above cost us just Rp.50,000 a night, and since the weather is so warm late into the night you really only need somewhere to crash rather than an all-inclusive hotel.  Friends of mine actually slept on the beach instead, which would be a great thing to try once.  All in all the Gili Islands are the epitome of a relaxing beach holiday, definitely worth a visit, even if it's just a few days.

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