Chilled out Kuta was the perfect way to start things off but I decided to go one step further by heading up to the definition of paradise – the Gilis. These three tiny islands just off Lombok have been captivating backpackers for around 20 years and many have found it impossible to leave. I was ready for the challenge. A combined shuttle bus/boat ticket cost me 180,000 rupiah from Kuta and you’ll see agencies selling them everywhere. The bus arrived at around 8am and took 2 hours to head up to the port town of Bangsal. The biggest challenge with the Gilis is deciding on which island to stay. Of course, you can try more than one but I was quite eager to settle somewhere for a bit (and was glad I did). Each island has its distinct personality – from “party” island Gili T to family friendly Gili Air to beach escape Gili Meno. Wanting to completely switch off and relax, I went for Gili Meno and was so glad I did. It’s the definition of chill.
The island is really small – walkable in around 90 minutes and its circumference is completely made up of a white sand beach. It’s much less touristy than the other two and less “set up” too. There are still resorts and restaurants etc. but not on the scale of the other islands and it was frequently hit by power cuts whilst I was there. There’s only one hostel on the island – to the north east – called the Gili Meno Eco Hostel. It’s pretty new and is geared up towards being environmentally friendly. It’s almost entirely made from bamboo structures and you can volunteer to help build the place if you’ve got time. It’s got compost loos, recycled water bottles and you can sleep in anything from dorm beds to hammocks. The atmosphere is so laid-back and there was always a good crowd at the bar at night, particularly when the campfire got lit.
In terms of attractions on the island, it’s the usual mixture of eating, relaxing and perhaps a bit of snorkelling. The pace here is so slow. Restaurants will take up to an hour to serve food but when you’re sat looking at the dazzling blue ocean, you really don’t care. The Gilis are also notorious for being expensive (by Asian, not Western, standards) which I noticed. There are a handful of warungs which do Indonesian food for 25,000 and up. Ya Ya Warung was a favourite of mine, not too far from the Eco hostel. If you go inland, you can find some really cheap places. Wandering down the path alongside the hostel, you’ll come to Pac Man’s, whose super friendly owner can rustle up a nasi campur (rice and… stuff) for 14,000 rupiah (75p).
Beer is more expensive too but a few places do happy hour. Diana’s Cafe on the west of the island has a happy hour (beers for 25,000) which coincides nicely with the sunset. The sunset is one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. The sky just explodes into colour as the sun goes down behind Gili T and you see the outline of one of Bali’s volcanoes illuminated in the light. If you get a chance, the otherwise lacklustre lake in the middle of the island is spectacular just after sunset, with the water glowing a fiery red as it goes dark. Sunrise is also great if you can drag yourself up out of bed at 6am after a hard day lying on the beach doing nothing. I always maintain I’m not a beach person but after 5 days on Gili Meno, it was a real struggle to leave. Along with Sipalay in the Philippines, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to paradise.