Lombok - which Gili is right for you?

 

In Lombok's local language, Sasak, the word “Gili” simply means “small island”. And, besides the famous three off the north coast – the ones that most of us mean when we talk about “the Gilis” – there are over thirty more Gilis scattered around Lombok. Most, however, have neither permanent inhabitants nor anywhere to stay.

Today, a Gili (or even two) seem to sit alongside Ubud as an Indonesia must-do. But which Gili is right for you? Trawangan, Meno or Air in the north? Or one of the quieter “Secret” or “Southern” Gilis, on Sekotong Bay, down south?

It's simple to get between Gili Trawangan, Meno and Air – a public boat does the circuit several times a day, and boat charters are easy. To get from one Southern Gili to another, you'll need to charter a boat.

For Good Times: Gili Trawangan

By far the busiest of the Gilis, Gili Trawangan absolutely heaves during the July-August high season. It's calmed down some from its decadent peak of a few years back – only a fraction of the bars now advertise shrooms – but, rather like Koh Tao on Thailand, Gili T pulls in goodtime backpackers who want to dive all day and party all night, with the occasional day snoozing in the sun. Gili T is not cheap – especially not in high season, when prices can triple from low season – and there's better diving off Bali and Flores, but it IS a great place to meet other solo travellers. There's more to do on Gili T than the other islands, while accommodation spans the gamut from uber-luxe hotels and megavillas to hostels and homestays.

 

 

With Kids: Gili Meno

Gili Meno is the quietest of the three northern Gilis, with white sand beaches that can be quite blissfully deserted. Want to play at Swiss Family Robinson but still have a choice of where to eat dinner? Gili Meno is for you. Right across the strait from Gili Trawangan, the snorkelling is good, the wandering is great, and kids will have a wonderful time exploring the island in safety. Note that accommodation prices are very much higher than Bali, especially in high season, and, as with everywhere on the Gilis, be aware of currents when snorkelling.

With a Partner: Gili Air

The vibe of Gili Air is halfway between Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. Waterfront fresh fish barbecues? Check. Cocktails and imported wine on a white sand beach? Check. Quiet strolls along the beach, or through the village? All possible. Accommodation isn't cheap, but it is negotiable, outside of high season.

For Village Life: Gili Gede Indah

Gili Gede Indah – literally “big, beautiful little island” – is the major island in the Southern, or Secret, Gilis: to get there, catch a boat from the tiny port at Tembowong. Four named villages and a cluster of hamlets scatter the island, making it a wonderful spot to enjoy the simple rhythms of village life. Beaches suffer from litter, but charter a boat for great island-hopping and snorkelling. There's budget to midrange accommodation on the island, but very little choice of where to eat.

For Desert Island Bliss: Gili Asahan or Gili Nanggu

Currently home to just one resort, Pearl Beach, and a few simple houses, Gili Asahan, south of Gili Gede Indah in the Southern Gilis, is the Gili to hit if you're looking to play castaway in style, although the $90 bungalows are pricey by Indonesian standards: the resort can arrange pickup (or charter a boat from Tembowong). On a budget? Head to Gili Nanggu, in the northern cluster of the Southern Gilis. It gets busy with daytrippers at weekends and on local holidays, but outside those times you might well have the island and its solitary resort to yourself: boats leave from the beach south of Sekotong.

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Published by Stuart Lodge

Lombok and the rice field of dreams


 

“He's fishing for eels”, our guide Bot tells me as we walk carefully on the narrow grass banks which run along the perimeter of the rice fields. We have been watching a man pulling a line and bringing up his furiously-wriggling prey, waving to us with one hand while reeling in his catch deftly with the other. “They are used for medicine" he tells me. "When the doctor tells someone they need more blood, they go out and eat an eel; it contains more than 90% blood.”

The logic leaves me unconvinced, but this is just one of many such cheerful encounters in the foothills of Mount Rinjani, the volcano which dominates the landscape of Lombok. The village of Tetebatu is directly to the south of the mountain and is a popular starting point for hikes to the summit and the crater lake. Bot is a former leader of the kampung (village) and as we walk through the rice fields he is stopped by a succession of people. Some ask him for help with matters of local administration, while others just want to catch up on local gossip. On top of his distractions, we are something of a novelty, and children in particular are keen to shout out to us. One gang insists on high-fiving us one by one, while others try out their limited repertoire of English words.

Bot leads us along the dirt tracks beside the mud houses of the village. We stop to watch a lady who is busy roasting coffee in her tiny hut; she smiles and waves to us before returning to her beans. At the neighbouring house two men are in serious discussion around their flock of racing pigeons. There’s a strong stench of cow dung, with single cows kept in the tiny yards in front of the huts. "Not for milk,” Bot tells us. “Only for meat.”

 

The kampung looks dirt poor, but what it lacks in basic amenities it more than makes for in dreams. Bot explains to me that plans are under way to make the kampung the centre of homestay tourism in Lombok. Visitors will stay in the village houses, some of which are already being adapted to accommodate guests. Residents will open their doors to tourists, providing coffee and snacks and inviting them to get a glimpse of village life. Central to the plans is the philosophy that the profits from the enterprise will be shared among the whole community. According to Bram, another young man I meet when we stop for a drink, tourists’ interests will be central to everything. Even the mosque will be a silent one, such is the concern that the 4am call to prayer may prove a deterrent to western visitors.

We take a walk up to the forest above the village with Hir, a likeable young lad who is also keen to talk about the grand scheme. He leads us through the thick grass, pointing out jack fruit and papaya trees along the way. Eventually we spy a group of black monkeys in the distance, and staying still and quiet we watch these typically nervous creatures as they swing and crash through the forest canopy.

On the way back we stop for a cooling swim at a pair of waterfalls just outside the village, before the young lads offer us a ride back to our guesthouse on their motorbikes.

That night I'm woken at 4am by a particularly loud call to prayer from the neighbouring mosque. I lie awake and wonder how Tetebatu will look if the grand dreams come to pass – and whether a quiet mosque is really the best way to offer visitors what they’re likely to come all this way to experience.

 

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