Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan

After my three-week yoga retreat in land-locked Ubud, I was craving ocean air. So I booked a ferry ticket to Gili Trawangan, a tiny, teardrop-shaped island off the coast of Lombok.

Though Gili Trawangan (or as it is locally known, Gili T) is geographically close to Bali, culturally it’s worlds away: most of the islanders are from nearby Lombok, a predominantly Muslim island that speaks Sasak, not Balinese.

Gili Trawangan in a word is utterly, stupidly beautiful. The first time I stood on the beach and looked out at the tourmaline waters and backdrop of sharp, navy blue mountains, I couldn’t believe my luck; my last week in Asia would be spent here?

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During my week on Gili T I carved out a blissful routine; waking up to a banana pancake breakfast, riding my bike around the island’s sandy main road, snorkeling with sea turtles, sipping a Bintang with my toes in the sand.

There were so many moments that had me longing for my camera: a girl riding a lime green bike on a path strewn with magenta flower petals, a man washing his horse in the ocean with a cone-tipped island behind him.

But it was good to take a break from photography, from documenting every moment; it was healthy to just be. Sometimes it starts to feel like everything I do is for this blog. When I travel I spend my days writing posts in my head, snapping photos and imagining how they’ll be formatted on a web page.

On Gili I just soaked it in; dodging horse-carts and kinky-tailed cats on my bike (there are no cars or dogs on the island!), waking up to the call of prayer at the mosque, savoring my daily slice of homemade banana coconut bread, the juice of a freshly sliced mango.

I also found a few new ways to stay active- stand-up paddle boarding. It’s a low-key workout that let me slip into a near meditative trance; I found such joy paddling around and staring at the clear water and reefs below me.

Aside from reveling in the island’s backpacker nightlife (a much-needed escape from my ascetic existence in Ubud), here is what I got up to on Gili T.

Scuba-diving with Sharks and Sea Turtles

No visit to Gili Trawangan would be complete with a bit of diving- I splurged on two dives during my week-long visit. The diving on Gili is truly exceptional, and as my dive instructor put it, “Gili T makes Koh Tao look like a swimming pool.”  

On the first dive I tried deep-water diving for the first time and descended to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet), and after a slight mask-clearing panic I saw my first lion fish at Haliks. The instructor showed us a few deep-water diving tricks: how red becomes purple at 30m underwater (i.e. a red coke can looks like a cherry coke), and how when you break an egg the yolk stays together and you can toss it around like a volleyball.

On my second dive at 18 meters (60 feet) at Shark Point I spotted lots of sea life: a baby reef shark swimming inside a cave, four sea turtles and one enormous sea turtle that was about the size of Blastoise. (Props if you understand that reference.)

Indonesian Cooking Class

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On account of my growing love of Indonesian food (which may strongly involve peanut sauce), I signed up for a cooking class at Sweet & Spicy Gili Cooking School.

On the menu?

Gado gado with peanut sauce, nasi goreng, steamed fish in a banana leaf, curried chicken and pandan balls rolled in coconut. Gili LR1

After the class we got to feast on all the food we made! The cooking class was the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon, and I definitely plan on recreating that addictive, spicy peanut sauce at home.

Price: about 350,000 IDR, $28 USD

Night Market

The best place to have dinner on Gili T is the local night market. Frequented by both locals and backpackers, the night market serves up tons of Indonesian delicacies on the cheap. I was so annoyed I discovered it on my second to last night!

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 Satay skewers: I loved the squid, beef and chicken. They give you a paper cone of peanut sauce to accompany your satay too!

I ventured there with a big group from the hostel and munched on satay with peanut sauce and grilled red snapper with spicy sambal. It was so much fun to have dinner with a big group, sitting around a picnic table and drinking beer for hours. Gili LR2

Left to right clockwise: three types of satay (chicken, beef, fish) soto ayam (chicken soup), grilled red snapper with sambal. 

 Sunset Bar

On my last night in Gili I rode my bike with some hostel roommates to Paradise Sunset Bar to watch the sunset. While the cloudy sky made for a lackluster sunset, we still got to enjoy a couple of Bintangs in a picture-perfect setting.

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All in all my week in Gili T was so special and I think back to my stay on this tiny island all the time.

Practical Info:

Party nights on Gili T are Weds. and Sat. Irish Bar is particularly fun for dancing!

Where I Stayed: Gili Hostel. I don’t know if I can recommend this place- when I was there the bathrooms were so filthy it was hard to breath and the beds were fumigated due to a bed bug infestation. But the rooms are large and the upstairs lounge has a lively common area.

And the hostel’s right next to the mosque so be prepared to be woken up by the loud, early morning call to prayer.

Also the shower water is brackish so girls, use buckets of leave-in conditioner.

Where to Eat: Night Market!

Where to Dive: I had an amazing experience with Blue Marlin- my Kiwi instructor Mike was amazing so ask for him.

Have you ever ventured to Gili T?

Note: None of the diving or classes I received were comped- I just want to share some great experiences I had with you guys in case you ever make it to Gili T! And you definitely should!

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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21 Comments

    • Have an excellent time! It really is fantastic :)

    • Definitely go for Indonesia! It’s absolutely magical.

  1. This sounds so dreamy – the perfect balance of activities and food and relaxation! Seen so much about Gili Trawangan that eventually when I have enough money (hopefully next year) I can make it there!
    Naomi recently posted..Barcelona is worth all the hypeMy Profile

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  2. I love Gili T, been there three times I think it is now. The first two times I was there the other two Gili Island (Gili Meno and Gili Air) had nothing so it wasn’t possible to go there. Last time it was more and more people going there and all the hotels were fully book so we didn’t get to go. The snorkeling there is great, we also saw the turtles and the very venomous famous sea snake (I hate snakes). But Gili is paradise, the best thing I ever did there was cycle around the little island.
    Mstraveltipsy recently posted..What Destinations and tips to find on this blogMy Profile

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    • It really is paradise! And I also loved riding my bike around the island :)

  3. Ashley, thank you for this post! I am planning on a Bali/Lombok/Gili trip in the summer and I have been looking for some recent info on Gili T. Your other posts on this region have also been really helpful. It’s always good to hear from someone who has been there really recently. Just one question- did you find Gili T safe as a solo female? I will be leaving my other half in Beijing for this trip and I had heard that it was not that safe at night for solo women. I don’t normally pay much attention to ‘not safe’ warnings to be honest (I’m someone who got lost in the most dangerous parts of a city in Venezuela and didn’t even notice…) but I read women need to be careful at night there. What did you think?
    Joella J (J in Beijing) recently posted..Cultural Weekends in Beijing: Art, Literature and Trucks full of cupsMy Profile

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    • I definitely found Gili T to be safe for women. Admittedly the men catcall you much more there than in other places I visited in Asia, which may have to do with the fact that almost everyone working on the island is from Lombok. But you’ll be totally safe, I never felt endangered at all (just mildly entertained when one guy called me a “sexy lobster.” wtf?)

  4. The cooking class sounds like a lot of fun! I did one years ago when I was a teenage exchange student in Mexico but haven’t done one since. Dying to do so though as I look to cook ethnic fare :)

    The views of the water are just dreamy though…sigh.
    Julie recently posted..Picture Perfect Portugal-a photo essayMy Profile

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    • I would love to do a Mexican cooking class someday! What’s better than Mexican food? :)

  5. I always look forward to your posts! Is there a hostel you would recommend? Perhaps good hostels you heard about through other backpackers?

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    • Actually no! I stayed at Gili Hostel but didn’t like it too much. I would definitely check Trip Advisor though.

  6. You’re right – sometimes you just need to enjoy traveling and not worry about taking hundreds of photographs and writing on your blog! :) It’s always good to take a little break, especially since it’s going to be so much fun again once you pick up the blogging pace again! :) I’m looking into getting a Dive certification when I’m in Indonesia this summer, so I’m keeping Gili T in mind!

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  7. Thanks for this post Ashley. I’ve never been to the Gili Trawangan islands but I’d like to when we have more time, in the future. Not this year though as pre-teenage son has to go back to school, as do I (teacher! teacher!!). Wow! You were very busy and I do like the sound of stand-up paddle boarding as I’m not a fan of the open sea. I’ll see if I can find something near Ubud!
    Victoria recently posted..My first introduction to the ITB Berlin: the “Internationale Tourismus-Börse” or the “international tourism trade fair.”My Profile

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  8. i managed to stay in Gili Trawanan for less than 8 dollars a day. Sharing for the tightly budgeted backpackers,
    here’s
    how

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