The Gili islands are often top of people’s lists when they visit Indonesia. Gili Air, Meno and Trawangan are all famous for having beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters and plenty of amazing snorkelling spots where sea turtles are a common sighting.
After 3 weeks in beautiful but hectic Bali, I was ready for some peace and quiet and so made my way by speed ferry to Gili Air, the island most popular among young couples looking for some time out.
Now, although I was prepared for the lack of nightlife (that was, after all, why I’d chosen Gili Air as my first port of call after Ubud), what I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer unwillingness of the people at my hostel to make friends.
I checked into Fantastic Gili Hostel after a friend had recommended it, and at first, I was impressed by the cute bamboo huts. I mean, what was not to like?
However, as every traveller knows, a hostel is nothing without good company, and it seemed as though everybody staying there was part of a couple doing their own thing. Fortunately, I met a cool Swedish guy named Marcus, and so after a romantic dinner and sunset alone, Marcus and I bought a few beers from the local shop and drank them in the hostel’s common area, trying to ignore the random Indonesian guys that all trooped upstairs at 9pm and went to sleep.
The next day I woke up excited because a guy that I’d met in Ubud, Thilo was getting the boat over from the mainland to see me. Not only was I enthusiastic about the prospect of being about to socialise with an actual live human being (seriously, apart from me and Marcus the island was ghostly), but I’d also decided that seeing as we were on Honeymoon Island, it would be pretty fun to just go with it and act like we were in some cheesy rom-com.
Turns out I wasn’t alone in my thinking as Thilo had actually gone out and bought a cheap ring to cement our engagement – Gili Air has a strange effect on people! Anyway, after grabbing some breakfast, we decided to explore the island – Gili Air is tiny and it only takes 90 minutes to walk around the whole thing.
Of course, we lingered, stopping to play on rope swings, paddle in the sea and take selfies (!) so it took a lot longer, but we finished the walk with a cute horse and carriage ride to the nearest restaurant where we stuffed ourselves with some tasty Asian treats before heading to the beach to catch the last rays with Marcus.
That night Thilo and I hung out at one of the only bars that seemed to be open on the island – a reggae bar that promised “really bloody fucking fresh magic mushrooms.” Unfortunately (or fortunately?) we didn’t sample the mushrooms, but we did enjoy the 2-for-1 cocktails that were on offer all night, not to mention the gorgeous sea view.
The next day we were up bright and early to find some different accommodation. Eventually we found some quaint little bungalows on the other side of the island, and so after enjoying the complimentary fruit shakes on check-in, we headed out for some food and another day on the beach.
That evening we tried to be romantic and get cocktails while the sun set. However, because we were in Asia, it wasn’t that simple, and our cocktails took 45 minutes to arrive due to the fact that THE WAITER WENT TO THE MARKET TO BUY LIMES TO GARNISH THEM WITH. Well, the sun had already set by the time they arrived, and from what I recall, they tasted like ass but hey, we tried.
This was followed by another night at the reggae bar, joined by Marcus this time. And I guess that pretty much sums up my time on Gili Air! I could tell you about another day on the beach with Thilo or about another sunset or how it was insanely quiet once Thilo left and so myself, Marcus and Arnold from Amsterdam spent another night trying (and failing) to make the hostel a fun place but it all seems redundant.
So, my overall opinion of Gili Air?
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled but I’ve seen more beautiful beaches (although don’t get me wrong – the beaches on Air are damn nice), and I just didn’t feel as though the island really knows where it’s at or what it’s trying to be. Granted, it has a reputation as a honeymooner’s island, and I was fine with that. I expected it. However, I don’t feel as though it particularly achieved a honeymoon atmosphere.
Despite visiting in high season, Gili Air was like a ghost town. The restaurants and bars were always dead (and don’t tell me that young couples don’t like to drink!) and the hostels promised a backpacker vibe that they simply couldn’t deliver.
Personally, I just felt a bit uneasy on Gili Air. Maybe that will change over time as the island becomes more used to and suited to tourism, but I’m definitely not in a hurry to return.