Saturday, 9 November 2013

Welcome to Paradise: Gili Trawangan

When we had told other travellers we were ending our 8 weeks in SE Asia with Bali, they all said one thing - you NEED to go to the Gili Islands. Now, we'd heard that one before with Koh Rong in Cambodia but due to a bad experience, left very suddenly, with no intention of ever returning. But, everybody said 'go to Gili, you have to go to Gili' we did.

When people say 'paradise', I think beaches - white sand, turquoise waters, hammocks, bare foot, drinking from coconuts, peace and quiet...basically, absolute heaven. That, my friend, is the Gili Islands. The three main Gili's are Trawangan (the party island), Air (the slightly quieter but still busy one) and Meno (the ultimate relaxation one). Being given the choice, I would have liked to try all three, but with a limited amount of time, we decided on Gili T. I was almost on the verge of being all partied out but with it being low season, even though Gili T would still be busy, the party scene would be much more tame than in peak season. 

My friend Dave has been living in Australia since we graduated and had told me about Gili and said 'you have to stay at Gili Hostel'; unfortunately, everybody else had obviously been given the same advise. Fully booked until our last night. So, I booked us in to Le Grand Gili Backpacker for two nights and our final night at Gili Hostel. GG Backpacker was a relatively new hostel with no reviews online, other than a blog I came across saying they'd stayed during its first week of opening and that it was great, that was a year ago so I wasn't sure what to expect. After what felt like a long walk (blazing heat, heavy rucksacks and a 10 minute walk from the main area).

I was impressed - quirky, cool and relaxed. The rooms were pretty tiny but more than adequate for what we wanted. The only downsides? Poor water supply, terrible Wifi (but why would you need it on Gili?) and fan only dorms. But we didn't care, Gili T was paradise and we didn't need anything but our bikinis, suncream and beach towels for three days. We dropped our bags off and headed down to the beach for some much needed R+R. We came across a quiet spot with an amazing breeze, popped our towels down and spent the afternoon switching from napping in the sun to a dip in the sea. Perfect tanning conditions - full sun but the perfect breeze. I LOVE GILI.

That afternoon I laid on that beach and I can honestly say I felt completely and 100 happy - the happiest I have been in over two years. This is quite a big deal for me as this year didn't start well at all and I definitely hadn't had the easiest time prior to that. The decision to come travelling, for me, was a big one but a very spontaneous one. I was desperately unhappy prior to April this year and finally came around to thinking - I need to make a change and I need to make it now. So I did, I booked my flight, applied for my Australian working visa and started saving. And I did it. And I sat on that beach in the sun, looking out at the postcard perfect view and felt completely at ease with myself and with life. Big. Deal. Yes, I did make a little announcement at this but rather than laugh, I knew the girls had been waiting to hear me say that for years now. At that moment, things were perfect. You're probably all reading this thinking, 'wow, what a loser' but genuinely, I can't believe the difference in myself and the change in my life - I'm not afraid to tell you all of this because I am living proof that you can be completely at rock bottom, wake up one day and make a spontaneous decision after a long time of feeling deflated and 6 months later be in the position I'm in right now.

That night we got ready in our sweaty room and went to Scallywag's - an organic seafood restaurant on the beach front. We were lured in by the the fresh seafood barbecue with unlimited salad bar. The prices were very reasonable and the food was nothing short of incredible. Four of us split spare ribs, snapper, swordfish (which I'm so glad I tried) and Tandoori chicken - teamed this with a jacket potato and a big plate of salad and I was in food heaven.

After our delicious food, we walked down the beachfront to a reggae bar (so popular over here, good job I love them!) for some live music before heading a bit further down to Horizontal for a beach party. The unfortunate thing about Asia is that they start playing a good song and then completely destroy it by making it a TERRIBLE remix. This is no exaggeration, their music is terrible. So, I love love love reggae bars, more than ever after being here and going out!

The next morning we got up and hired the free bikes from our hostel - they were pretty terrible and really old but a freebie is better than nothing! We grabbed some breakfast then cycled down to the beach. We headed to the same spot as the previous day and the lovely people at the Surf Bar let us use their sunbeds - I'd had enough of being covered in sand. The weather had been pretty overcast all day but we made the most of the heat. I'd read about free yoga further down the beach so we cycled down there around 5pm - typically, it wasn't on that day but we came across a small bar on the beach and decided to stay there and watch the sunset. Yet, another epiphany moment - ultimate happiness and an emotional chat between myself and the girls. I felt incredibly lucky right there and then and wish my parents could have been there. I felt like I'd been so much individually and emotionally with them this past few years and it made me very, very appreciative of everything. I may not have made any life decisions but I was way more than content and that's a huge step in itself. After watching this beautiful sunset...

We went back to the hostel and ate at a similar style of restaurant, a few down from Scallywag's. The food was almost as good but not quite. We went for a few drinks at a cheap bar by the beach and went down to the reggae bar again - it was much busier tonight and lots of fun.

Up early the next morning to move to Gili Hostel, we had free breakfast at Le Grand Gili and traipsed down the Main Street to our next hostel. We couldn't check in yet so dropped our bags off and went to find a spot on the beach. Luckily, we found a place with free sunbeds and spent a while there before the rain hit. We went back to Gili Hostel to check into our rooms and were greeted with air conditioning, huge dorms and really cool bunk beds (who'd have known bunk beds would now excite me!) Really impressed with this hostel - only downside - the shower and toilet area absolutely stank but only because of the water - it smelt like brine. It was bearable but for that reason, I'm glad we weren't there too long. It was definitely better there than Le Grand Gili though!

That evening we went to The Gili Viking beach restaurant round the corner which was really good - 2 for 1 cocktails (ending up with 20 between us) and I had an amazing barbecue chicken baguette with a huge salad (heaven!) Feeling a little wobbly, we went back to the hostel to hit up the hostel bar. The drinks were cheap and we met some really nice backpackers before heading out, you guessed it, to the reggae bar. That night, you couldn't even get in the place! We danced the night away before getting back very late (or early in the morning, should I say)

With sore heads the next day, we went to get our free breakfast before catching the boat. Unfortunately, the breakfast took that long, it left us rushing and we ended up missing our boat back to Padangbai. Bummer! This was a huge pain as we ended up having to fork out another 300,000 Rupiah which left a couple of the girls really struggling for money for their final few days. We waited a while before getting the boat but eventually got back to Kuta around 4pm.

Gili was absolutely incredible - I can't stress that enough. Next time I visit (because there will be a next time) I intend to spend at least a week there, visiting all three islands. If you want partying and paradise or just the paradise; Gili truly has it all.


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