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?

What to do on Gili Trawangan

What to do on Gili Trawangan

What to do on Gili Trawangan

What to do on Gili Trawangan

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.)

An Indonesian Cooking Class

What to do on Gili Trawangan

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.

What to do on Gili Trawangan

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

A Visit to the 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!

What to do on Gili Trawangan

 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. 

Sundowners at 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.

What to do on Gili Trawangan

What to do on Gili Trawangan

What to do on Gili Trawangan

What to do on Gili Trawangan

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 Wednesday. and Saturday. Irish Bar is particularly fun for dancing!

Where I Stayed: Gili Beach Bum Hotel. 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.

Check out more hotels on Gili Trawangan here.

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.

Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Gili T. I’ve used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.

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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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

43 thoughts on “Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan”

  1. Whether in a major city or on an island, you do indeed make the most of all your travels and capture them in such an upbeat, engaging, and fascinating way! Another wonderful post! Cheers!

  2. Sounds great- I’ve seen a few posts about Gili and they always make me want to go. This one comes at a time where I’m literally questioning my next month-long trip and I’m thinking Indonesia looks preeetty good!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

    • 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?)

  6. 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.

  7. I remember not being overly fussed when we left this place but looking at your pictures and reading about the place again I’m wondering what the hell was wrong with me!

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

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. Gili Island looks like another heaven than Bali. Natural beaches and white sand, add a great natural beauty. Also looks very traditional society. And the culture is very unique and interesting. Wow, if that carriage? Is the horse that their transportation? wow, fun. Nice share.

  12. Can i ask you how much the trip was to Gili T, there and back? And where did you have to depart from? I am also planning on going from Ubud.

  13. Wonderful write up and amazing pictures.
    Best sunset of my life was on Gili Trawangan. No doubt i returned to Gili T after Rinjani trek, though not initially planned.
    You have a new follower :)

  14. Hey ashley wonderful post! I had one tiny query. I read somewhere that hostels were being shut down in Gili T due to some new law. What would you suggest as a good lodging option then for a solo traveler, to meet people and on the cheap?

  15. Hey Ashley,

    Great post! I’m thinking of going to Gili T this February…I’m a little worried about the weather since it is wet season. How was the rain/weather while you were there?

  16. I am in Gili T now in February and yes there is a lot of rain. But you know it doesn’t matter….It’s such a beautiful, serene, laid back place, especially off the main drag. A great place to recharge and write about your travels. Everyone smiles here, everyone is helpful and the diving is amazing in the rain :)…And so is snorkelling….enjoy this time, it’s so different from the high season…

  17. Hello guys. If u have a vacation on Bali, I totally recommend you to go to the Gili, namely to the Trawangan
    island. To get there just ask guys from easygili. com how to buy ticket on speed boat. They helped me. So,
    now you’re standing on the coast of the island. Now you can do what you want, but don’t drink cheap alchohol
    or you may die. This is bad idea to do it here. Buy a beer, man. Everybody have to dive at least one time and
    try local fishing. The feeling was inexpressible!

  18. hi! I’m going there next week and I cant wait! Do you recommend me to stay at Gili T and venture to Gili Air/Meno as day trips? :)

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