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?
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!