Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Pros and Cons of Gili Trawangan

If you ask anyone who has been to the Gili Islands to describe them in a word, 9 times out of 10 you will get the response "paradise". It's true, the Gili Islands are probably the closest you will find to paradise anywhere in Southeast Asia and possibly even the world (although I haven't been everywhere in the world so if anyone knows of somewhere better, please tell me so I can move there). So if these islands are so amazing why the hell have I bothered to write this article? I'll tell you. I only visited Gili Trawangan as this is the more upbeat island which attracts a younger crowd and although the other two may be more peaceful, they are also probably more boring for a 20 year old. Despite the idyllic setting, the perfect turquoise sea and the white, powder beaches, there are a few things to do with this island that have the potential to mar your experience. The annoyances I'm about to describe are minor and often avoidable with a bit of foresight (hence me writing this) so for heaven's sake don't miss out Gili Trawangan but when you plan your trip, bear these in mind.

Getting There

Whether you are leaving from Kuta, Padang Bai, Senggigi or anywhere else, you will probably be ripped off. We left from Senggigi and managed to haggle the price of the boat ticket from 70,000rp down to 50,000rp ($4.50) which we didn't realise would be possible but happened by accident nonetheless. We were told there was a place that did boat tickets for 55,000rp down the road from our hostel and en route we were touted by another travel agency. When we told him we were on our way somewhere else he instantly started lowering his price so we went with it until we got him down to 50,000rp. Feeling very smug sitting among the other passengers in the bus who had paid the full price we arrived at a little café and had to wait there for a bit. Fine. Next we were loaded into a carriage pulled by the most unhappy looking horse I've ever seen and taken roughly 100m down to road to the harbour. After dismounting from the carriage the driver told us that the fare was 50,000rp. Now I'm not one to lose my temper, in fact I don't think I've ever even raised my voice in an argument, but when we were charged the same price for a 3 minute carriage ride we didn't even want to take as a 45 minute boat ride I saw red. A heated discussion ensued between myself and the driver during which I asked why the bus couldn't have just taken us to the harbour to which he replied "the road is too bad for cars to come down here" whilst cars were zooming about all over the place. He seemed to think I was blind/mentally impaired and kept telling me "don't make problem". In the end I agreed to give him 20,000 as long as it went towards the welfare of the horse but when I handed him over a 50,000 note (unfortunately all I had on me) he conveniently only had 20,000 change. I know that for the sake of a few dollars such an argument was probably bit OTT but after having already bought a ticket, to then be charged again for more, unnecessary, transport just seemed so sneaky! On the way back we outright refused the horse and carriage and walked to the café and it took us less than 5 minutes. I'm aware that it is a poor country but ripping someone off is stealing where ever you are in the world. Oh and when we got our boat ticket it had the actual price of the journey on it. It cost 13,000rp. Damn.


It's not actually the horses that are the problem on this island it's the drivers. In a fight between a human and a horse and carriage racing down the road it's pretty obvious who would win, thus, the horse and carriage is king of the road and everyone else better move out the way or prepared to be unceremoniously trampled. This rule is in accordance with the policy that has been established throughout the rest of Southeast Asia which says "even if you are on the wrong side of the road, if you have the biggest vehicle, you have the right of way". So yeah every time you hear a bell - which is pretty much all the time - you need to shift yourself. That's annoying. Also animal welfare is appalling and these horses all look like they might collapse and die at any given moment. They are constantly being whipped and shouted at by their owners and when they aren't being used they are tied up where ever is convenient. We saw one horse who had his face tied to a tree in such a manner that he could barely move and was desperately neighing and trying to chew through the rope. A heart-breaking sight to say the least. Try and buy some water or food for the horses if you have any spare dollar.

That explains the long face

The Mosque

Indonesia is a highly muslim country with well over 80% of the population practicing Islam. This means that mosques are pretty commonplace throughout the country. For those that have not as of yet come into close contact with a mosque, I shall explain why, for a non-muslim, they can be a tad annoying. Firstly they have huge loudspeakers attached to them, which can reach a phenomenal radius, and when it is time for muslims to come to the mosque for prayers (which is five times a day) they use said loudspeakers to let everyone know. Unfortunately, first prayers are at 5am. This means that you will be woken up every morning at 5am by a call which is not just a quick "chop chop guys, time for prayer". As a tourist, we have no right to complain about this really. It is their country and their religion and therefore their prerogative to be as noisy as they like whenever they like and as their guests we should just put up with it and think of it as a enriching, cultural experience. But it is quite annoying. Stay as far away from mosques as possible.


All the locals take lots of drugs all the time. This would be absolutely fine if they confined their narcotics abuse to their leisure time. Unfortunately, they don't, which means that after about 3pm all the bartenders, waiters, chefs etc are absolutely mashed beyond the point of actually doing their job. Yes, it is pretty funny to see some young waiter gurning uncontrollably whilst trying to take down a simple drinks order only to return ten minutes later either empty handed with no recollection of your order or with a completely different tray of drinks. However, after the first few times the novelty wears off and you end up on the verge of going up to the bar and making the drinks yourself. Furthermore, it is genuinely impossible to walk down the street without being offered all sorts of drugs by everyone and their mother. Police presence on the island is virtually non-existent but Indonesia carries very harsh penalties even for possession of drugs. Don't be that one unlucky one that gets busted and avoid drugs altogether.

I realise this article seems very whiney considering, as I said before, Gili Trawangan is pretty much paradise. However, hopefully, rather than putting you off visiting the island, the above points will help you make it an even better experience. Now, to counter all the annoyances I've just described, here is a list of the pros that make this island one of the most delightful places on the planet.

No Vehicles

That's right, no mopeds nearly mowing you down, no vans full of tourists nearly mowing you down and definitely no tuk-tuks/ taxis forcefully insisting that you NEED transport and then nearly mowing you down. Most people get around on bicycles and as the island is only 3km by 2km, motorised vehicles are completely unnecessary. This means that the air quality is noticeably better and, apart from the horses bells, the roads are a hell of a lot quieter. It also gives it a bit of a rustic feel if you leave the main strip and delve deeper into some of the back roads.

No cars on the island

The Vibe

The atmosphere on this island is very different to many of the other self proclaimed "party islands" you probably will have visited. There is a distinct absence of loud holiday-makers, whose sole purpose in coming abroad is to get smashed every night, yelling nonsensical chants and puking on their own feet. This is no Bali or Koh Phangan. The island doesn't have any night clubs or fast food joints but what it does have is a few small bars along the beach front where locals do their best impressions of well known, classic reggae, hip hop, pop and rock numbers in order to engage the crowds. They may not know all the words to the songs they're singing and occasionally make weird noises that they think at least sound like the actual lyrics but let's be honest, how well could you cover an Indonesian smash hit? The whole island has such a chilled-out mellowness to it that I guarantee you will find it very hard to leave. Especially if your next stop is somewhere like Kuta.

The Beauty

Despite the fact that this island has been hit pretty hard by tourism and the inevitable accompanying developments, it has still retained much of its natural beauty. The sand is soft and white and the sea is the most idyllic shade of turquoise imaginable to the human mind. The beach is lined with palm trees and behind them lies the main road of the island along which is situated the vast majority of cafés, restaurants and bars. Garish lights and tacky signs are kept to a minimum making this strip of modernisation much more appealing than one might expect. All the locals working there are friendly and happy (probably partly because they're all high but hey ho) and the view of the ocean and the neighbouring islands from your beachside table where you're chowing down on some nasi goreng is utterly sublime.

Pure beauty

To conclude, my advice to you all is visit this island but bear in mind the few things that could potentially put a dampener on your trip. Be super savvy and you're guaranteed the time of your life.

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