I challenge you to find something more intriguing on Earth than this – the largest of those 3 tiny islands measures only 6 square kilometres. When I first heard about this place we were already in Indonesia. These are the Gili Islands, the hidden gems of South-East Asia. They are not quite on the radar of holidaymakers, but they are becoming more and more popular with travellers. Make no mistake, they will not stay hidden for very long (judging by the number of developments going on and their close proximity to Bali, I wouldn’t be surprised if they soon became the next big dream destination).
Getting to the Gili Islands – from Ubud to Pedang Bai
It is super easy to arrange your onward travel from the spiritual and cultural centre of Bali that is Ubud towards the Gili Islands. There are numerous travel agencies along the main roads in Ubud town and your accommodation is most likely to also sell trips and tickets. You can buy early morning coach / minibus tickets to Padang Bai and the coach arrives there in time for the scheduled boat departures towards the Gili Islands. You can buy combined bus and boat tickets, but we decided to buy only the coach tickets as we wanted to spend a day in Padang Bai. Once you’re in Padang Bai you can then research the different boat companies and their prices and packages. Here is a useful website that we used when looking up the options:
We got the 11am minibus from Ubud to Padang Bai. The journey took about an hour and a half and it was a great way to see some more of the beautiful Bali countryside. When we got to Pedang Bai most people went straight to the marina, but since we decided to spend a night here we headed to our accommodation. In the afternoon we had a nice walk around town, ate some Nasi Goreng and drank some Balinese coffee in a local restaurant and then walked around to find our boat tickets for the following day’s trip to the Gilis.
There are several companies in town, most have a ticket booth or office along the main drag by the sea. We found a good deal through our hotel. They were selling tickets on behalf of Semaya One company whose tickets usually cost 1.2 million rupiahs (£58) per return ticket. we got these through our hotel for 950000 each (£45), which we thought was a bargain!! These were open ended tickets and included our transfer to the airport once we were coming back from the Gilis. This was a pretty good deal we thought for a fast boat. You could find tickets for 2 million rupiahs, so we were happy to have found a bargain. I was a bit worried that the boat might not be up to scratch, but it was OK.
There is an option that is much cheaper though – getting the public ferry that departs from Padang Bai every hour, but the journey takes about 5 hours. The ferry tickets only cost 40000 rupiahs per person each way (£2 !!!!), which is a massive saving of almost all of the cost of the fast boat ticket 😀 However do not underestimate how hot it gets on the boat. We were sweltering in the fast boat out on the open sea, with not a cloud in the sky, temperatures hitting mid-thirties… I don’t know how we would have coped with that heat for 5 hours…
Padang Bai itself is a small town and most people ususally just pass through on their way to the Gili Islands. However actually there are many diving schools here and we did see loads of scuba divers, so it looks to be a popular place to learn to dive. As well as the main marina area the town has two small beaches: the Blue Lagoon Beach and the Bias Tugal Beach. If you are stopping over here like we did, I recommend you definitely visit one of these beaches as the main marina area is not very nice, there’s way too much rubbish there for my liking. But the other two beaches are nice. Of course they are nothing to rave about compared to the Gilis, which is probably why Padang Bai is just a stopover, or a won’t-even-stop-over-just-get-straight-on-the-boat sorta town.
Here are some photos of Pedang Bai:
Getting to the Gili Islands – from Pedang Bai to Gili Trawangan
The boat-trip was hot, and crowded and a bit disorganized to be honest. But it was fine, the main thing was that we got there! The boat first stopped at Lombok, then Gili Air, Gili Meno and finally Gili Trawangan, which is where we got off. This is where the adventure started! On Gili Trawangan (and I suspect on all three Gili Islands) there isn’t really a marina as such. The boats cannot come all the way to the shore or anchor by a pier. They come as close to the shore as possible and the rest you have to do yourself!!! We had to jump off the boat with all our bags, straight into the crystal clear sea! It was amazing. Adam was so happy, this is exactly the type of island he thought the Thai island of Koh Tao would still be. The Gilis are still very much undeveloped compared to other islands in the region. Trawangan is the largest, most developed out of the three and even there we had to jump off the boat 🙂 It was fab!
Gili Trawangan is only 3km by 2km and most accommodation is on the East side of the island, which is where the boats arrive. So really you will not have to walk that far in each direction to find your room. But bear this in mind: there is no motorized transportation on anywhere in the Gilis! No cars, no motorbikes. Only horse-drawn carriages, which is so cute, and it’s one of the things we loved most about the island, I hope they will never change this. So if you need to go a bit further away from the marinas, or have big bags, you will have to hail a cart. Don’t worry, the carts are always waiting at the marina for the boats to come in.
The cheaper accommodations are towards the centre of the island, this is where we booked a room and so we started walking. Our lodge was 1 km inland, so it took us about 10 minutes to walk there. We had an amazing, air-conditioned big room with a terrace overlooking a lovely garden for about £25 a night. The Gilis are more expensive to stay on than a lot of other places in Indonesia, but it is still do-able on a budget. It just meant we weren’t by the sea. But when the island is so small, it doesn’t really matter. I think one thing that is definitely an advantage of staying in a resort by the sea is that the hotels have their own strip of beach and almost the whole length of the the East side of Gili Trawangan is basically taken up by restaurants, bars and hotels.
We originally planned to stay 4 nights on Gili Trawangan, but in the end we stayed for 6, we loved it so much. It is one of those places that I would definitely visit again. Along with Bali. It is so easy to get here from Bali; if you are visiting Bali, you must visit the Gili Islands at least for a weekend. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life. When I think back to our travels, the first place that pops into my mind is the beach on Gili Trawangan. I will never forget the blue water, the white coral beaches and the deep blue sky. Just mesmerizing.
In my next post I will write a bit more about Gili Trawangan and some of the interesting facts about this tropical paradise. Can’t wait to show you more!