Friday, August 15, 2008

escape to Gili Trawangan, part 1

The promise of tropical sand, sea and sun lives in the Gilis of Lombok. Literally meaning “islets” in Bahasa Indonesia, the triumvirate of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan is touted as the paradise destinations of not just Lombok but of the Nusa Tenggara Barat province.

When I lived and worked in Lombok in the early 90s, albeit in short and intermittent two week periods from 1993 to 1995, the Gilis already were building up a reputation as the destination islands to be. We could not even try and develop seaweed at the northwestern region of Lombok as they are off limits for any other commercial development except tourism. I never had the opportunity nor the time to visit the Gilis despite their proximity to our home base in Selong.

Finally, this month, I made sure I rectified this blip and spent one night at Gili Trawangan after my regular farm visit in Lombok Timor.

My original choice was Gili Meno. The map shows that although it is the smallest, at approximately only 2km x 1km in size, and is smacked right in the middle of Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. However, August is summer season in Indonesia and hotel bookings are an ordeal. Besides that, my trip to Indonesia was an unplanned and a last minute affair so I considered myself lucky when our reservations at Gili Trawangan, the biggest island in the west of the chain, were confirmed.

The easiest way to the Gilis is to go directly to the public port of Bangsal in Lombok Barat where there are regular public boat trips and boat charters as well. There is also a catamaran from Bali to the Gili Trawangan via Teluk Kode although I am not sure how expensive they are (www.gilicat). In our case, we knew we would be hardpressed with time so we made pre-arrangements with a local travel agency to pick us up at Mataram, the capital of Lombok at 2PM. A car took us directly to the private dock at Teluk Kedok of the Villa Ombak, our hotel at Gili Trawangan, which is another 10 minutes from the Bangsal harbor.

Gili Trawangan
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1250s, f/8.0, 21mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
a public boat leaving Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

I thought that our private speedboat of Villa Ombak was sleek, fast and stylish. We literally glided over the waters and in 15 minutes we were already at Gili Trawangan, docking at the beachfront of the hotel. There was no jetty so if you arrived at low tide, be prepared to wade several meters of shallow reef waters. Part of the deal I guess.

Villa Ombak is impressive. My friends and I were able to get the domestic rate of $110 inclusive of the city transfer and this being high season, that was a steal. The hotel is as first rate as you can get in Gili Trawangan so I suppose I will have to blog that at a later date. (For backpackers, there are homestays too).

Immediately after depositing our bags in our respective rooms, we decided to have a tour of the island. It was a little past 4PM and I’d like to check out the sites rather quickly so that I can choose and get at a nice spot for the sunset. Our driver earlier said that in the previous day, the sky was “terang” or clear and that the sun was “besar” or big. The mere mention of brilliant sunsets already raised my adrenaline like no other.

We chose to get around the island in a cidomo or horse-drawn carriage. While we can always walk – Gili Trawangan is only about 3 km long and 2 km wide – the luxury of time is not on our side.

cidomo Trawangan
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.00s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100, +1.0EV
a public boat arriving at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

As coralline atolls go, Gili Trawangan is exhibit A. It is fringed with white sand, not the purest of white nor the finest in size, but competitively photogenic enough for postcards. The Gili chain offers clear waters that sport varying shades of aqua, from pale cerulean to deep blue. The island chains’ diving and snorkeling sites are world class, they say, as evidenced by the numerous dive shops in the locale.

Gili Trawangan beach
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1600s, f/8.0, 18mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
typical beach front of the east face of Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

There is no enterprise in the island except tourism. The island is too arid for agriculture. Here, foreigners, mostly white, are filling the beach in their bikinis and board shorts, sipping coolers, reading books or taking to the waters.

private space
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100
a tourist relaxing at the eastside beach of Gili Trawangan facing Gili Meno, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

I have read that Gili Trawangan is the most popular of the three Gilis. There is said to be one beach party every night, hosted by agreement and on rotation by any of the European-run joints. While Gili Trawangan’s reputation as a wild party island has diminished, it still is comparatively decadant, considering that Lombok is tightly Islamic in religiosity.

Gili Trawangan tourists
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/800s, f/5.0, 38mm, ISO 100
Gili Trawangan south side gives a view of the mother island of Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Our cidomo took us around the island, using the singular circumferential road of sand (for a map, see There are no motorized vehicles or motorcycles allowed in the Gilis. Most establishments are concentrated in the east, anchored by Villa Ombak, the first highend hotel of the Gilis, in the south and the five star Villa Almarik in the northeast. In between are numerous diveshops, restaurants, boutique villas, all with varying views of the beach.

The west face of Gili Trawangan is the undeveloped part, where the sandy beach gave way to a rocky coast and what seems to me, choppier waters. Aside from a steel lighthouse and some sprouting villas of various stages of development, the logical site for sunset viewing, is well, the Sunset Bar. Empty during the day, it comes alive only at late afternoon as it opens for business to the tourists who gravitate to the place come sunset time. Fortunately, its wide wooden deck is open whether you buy anything from the bar or not.

In 30 minutes, our tour was over. As we were too early for the 6:15 sunset (again, I always check the internet for this), we chilled out first with some icecream and pastries at the Ombak Bar.

strawberry cheesecake
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/320s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -2/3EV
strawberry cheesecake at the Ombak Bar, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

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j-ster said...

Ah, your post brings back memories! I stayed a week on Gili Trawangan at New Years a few years ago, i was one of those white foreigners lying in the sun! It was an interesting time: I had broken my arm in Jakarta a few days beforehand in a motorbike accident, and my friend was sick from a tummy bug, so we were a bit fragile. Rather than dealing with the coral beaches, we escaped each day to the tranquil Villa Ombak and enjoyed the pool and nasi goreng there. It was a very peaceful time, apart from the sizable earthquake at dawn on New Years Day! the quake made our wooden beds clatter on the floor of our homestay room, and we foolishly ran down to the beach to see if the volcano on Lombok had erupted... It was quite an eventful trip!

Seat Vacations said...

Really enjoy reading your blog and see the photos.