After our wedding in Vietnam, my husband and I hit the road for a two-month honeymoon trip in South East Asia. I know it sounds too much of a treat but at least you can trust it when I report on honeymoon destinations.
Can you name some SE Asian romantic islands where honeymooners go? Bali. Koh Tao. Cat Ba. The list is long, but don’t forget about Gili Trawangan.
The state of being idyllic
Gili Trawangan, or lovingly called Gili T, is the biggest of the three Gili islands which lie off the north of Lombok, Indonesia. It is 3km long and 2km wide, taking an average cyclist roughly 45 minutes to circle around.
There are no motor vehicles on the island, which seems to explain the laid-back way of life. You can come and join the many sunbathers, sipping tropical drinks on the white sand all day long. I would, however, not wait too long after the sun goes down to enjoy an icy cold Bintang, the only beer made in this Muslim country.
The more crowded side of the island receives boats to and from Lombok or Bali. Welcoming arrivers are many horse-drawn carts, the fast way of travelling on this slow-moving island. Immediately, you will find many restaurants and bars taking up every inch around the harbour.
When you travel further north or even to the western side of the island, things get much quieter.
We like to cycle to those places, pick a spot on the beach and wait for the firing sun to go down.
Some activities you won’t forget
If you are similar to us, you would be bored after a couple of days lying on the beach. Luckily, there are many things around for you to try, for the first time even.
Many came to Gili T for snorkelling because of its richness in coral and sea creatures.
There are three snorkelling options: hiring a private boat, boarding a public one and doing it yourself off the beach.
We chose the last one so we could stay close to the beach. I was barely a beginner swimmer at the time and didn’t want to find myself in the open sea, head down and heartbeat up.
We rent the masks and fins from our hotel, and Ian taught me the first lessons in the pool.
Once you know the basics, you can move to the beach. Within the first hundred metres, you can even see some beautiful corals, a shoal of colourful fish, and if you are really lucky, turtles. There are a few turtle spots on the east side.
Oceanic life around Gili T is abandon, though it is way less now than it used to be. Be responsible when you are exploring what's left of nature.
If you choose to go with a tour operator, you can pay 100IDR for a seat on a boat with 20 people. They will take you out at 10 in the morning, stopping at 3 to 5 spots so you can get into the ocean and snorkel away. Though they will give you a life jacket, you will have to look after yourself and you will be exposed to the sunlight for a long time.
The most expensive option is to hire a private boat, which could be four or five times the price of a seat in a public one, depending on how long you want to go out for and how good your negotiation skill is.
Pro tip: You have to negotiate for everything in Indonesia
In theory, when you pay a higher price, you have the freedom to choose the starting time, the length of the trip and the amount of hours under the sun. Besides, you get more attention from the crew in case of an emergency.
We didn’t take any boat trips so I couldn’t tell how good the equipment was and how much attention you might get the crew, though.
If you are more hardcore, you can learn to dive and go deeper into the belly of the ocean. There must be more diving schools than any other types of shops on every 200 meter along the eastern front. Most of the restaurants and bars are adjacent to a diving school/hotel. There are some famous ones but make sure you do your own research carefully as diving could be dangerous and you want to be able to trust your tutor (with your life).
After dragging me along to a few diving schools, Ian decided on one for his advanced diving course. He did 5 dives spreading over 4 days and always came back with stories of amazing things he saw down there. For me, I just wanted to see him coming back.
Ian, on the other hand, had learned to face his fear, overcame setbacks, and ended up with a lot of fun as well as a fancy certificate.
Cycling is fun as the island is a mix of native jungles and new builds. The road along the coast is sandy, so be careful on the bike. At a further northern point, you will have to walk a bit unless you got those bikes whose big tyres can take the sand.
We love to do a circle when the sun started to go down as it’s cooler and the light was amazing. You need to prepare to face the dark sandy road and watch out for horses (or massive turkeys).
If there is a minus point for Gili T, it would be the difficulty in finding good, local food. As everything has to be brought in from Lombok, perhaps people prioritise the goods that they feel most valued: western food.
Despite being so far from the west and so remote, the western options here are pretty decent.
There’s this Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Regina which served the best pizzas we have every tried in Asia. Ian and I ended up with going there all the time. We would order one big pizza to take away, brought it back and savoured each slice while watching Lost in our hotel room.
Try the pizza yourself and you would agree that it is as best as honeymoons can go.
If you like seafood, Gili T also has a lot to offer. Cycling along the beach in the evening, the smell of fresh prawns, squids, and fish on the grill would surely make many stomachs rumble.
We had a great experience at a sea-front restaurant called Scallywags. On top of the delicious BBQ seafood, they have a fresh and tasty salad bar that you can just help yourself with, unlimitedly. There you will find various dips for your seafood. Try the Balinese sambal, please!
Being in a Muslim country, alcohol is hard to come by, and it’s expensive. They only make one Pilsner called Bintang. Luckily, it is very decent. Cocktails are available at all the restaurants and bars but they are not cheap and not always well mixed.
Gili T is famously known for its party scene. We often saw party goers on the beach, but you can get away whenever you want. Find a home-stay accommodation inside the island, away from the noise and you can enjoy a bird song every morning.
How to get there
There are fast boats running between Bali and Gili T, taking about an hour. It is the most convenient means of getting to Gili T as Bali has an international airport and most hotels would arrange the whole thing for you.
There are two things to consider: The price is high while the safety record is fairly low. You read on the news about accidents like this one and you would want to take precautions.
There are slow boats and fast boats from Lombok to Gili T, after stopping at the other two Gili islands. This journey takes about 30 mins for a fast boat and a bit more for the slow ones. You will also travel through the open sea, which could be pretty rough.
In fact, we had to get off a fast boat travelling back to Lombok from Gili T and stayed one night in Gili Meno as the sea was too choppy (and it reminded us of one bad experience). The next day, we took the slow boat, which was widely open for water to get into your stuff but it ran slowly enough for me to feel safe. Besides, it is shockingly cheaper than the other two options. That would be my recommendation, definitely.
Pro-tip: Take the slowest option which involves the least sea miles.
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