Gili T: A Guide to the Party Pearl of Indonesia
So just to fill you newcomers in, I was living in Jakarta doing my UN internship that paid a shitty stipend and that barely covered living expenses (see my shitty living here). That being said, I definitely looked to travel Indonesia on a budget but had a burning flame of desire for good parties, food, fun times whatever. Just a boat ride away from Bali, Gili T is the second most popular party destination in Indonesia for backpackers and young expats alike. Totally worth it, to be explained later in 6 Reasons Why Gili T Kicks Bali's Ass. Anyways.
Fact: Budget and Awesome are not mutually exclusive. Here is some stuff my friends and I wished we knew before we went. Hope it helps!
(I feel like this is a billboard waiting to happen but from the 60's)
1. When to Go: Party Time
The thing you have to know is that the party is not every night, it’s not even concentrated to the weekends. There are three days you have to bend your life around: Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. That’s a pretty reasonable party schedule but it sort of sucks because if you show up as a Jakarta expat for a weekend as my friends did, you’ll only enjoy one night of debauchery. Otherwise, between parties it is quite calm (having partied like 5 days straight in Koh Phangan till 6 am, this place sort of pales in comparison on the party meter).
2. On Taking Stuff
It's obvious and everywhere and we all hear the same stories, but here you go anyway. You can get mushrooms and marijuana. They are advertised with ridiculous signs that are too vulgar to repeat here. Apparently the police stay off the island and mushrooms aren't illegal so there is a general feeling of security amongst tourists trying out some magical stuff (which is supposedly fresh but not that strong). Marijuana is supposed to be more difficult to find but obtainable. I've heard stories of undercover cops that will bust dumb tourists who go around openly asking for pot. Just be safe and smart if you choose to do that!
No, you are not on drugs. This is indeed a horse with a chicken on his back that is excited. (Thanks to Ms. Sophie G for some of the pics!)
3. Drinking for Cheap
One of the biggest attractions to Gili is the abundance of cheap alcohol. You can drink for 11.000 when getting local gin and tonic for example. In the Reggae Bar happy hour (can't remember the exact times but something like 6-9pm) 2 local cocktails go for the price of two = total 20.000! But be aware, some people get really sick from the local stuff (e.g. my two wonderful colleagues) and from what I heard, a couple of years ago someone actually died (thanks Anna, my dear former colleague for the contribution). Everyone I had the pleasure of drinking way too many local vodka Redbulls with didn't get sick though, so it's at your own risk.
Besides the main bars that throw the parties, you can check out Sunset Bar on the west side of the island where that "bloke dances with fire thingys" (thanks Jo!). Worth a visit if there!
4. Things to Do
Perhaps related to number two, or maybe not, rent bikes and explore the mini island! The back country is pretty cool and you get a glimpse of local life, while climbing the main attraction- a hill!
Also tried snorkeling but to be honest a lot of the coral was dead and the fish were not very spectacular. We saw a sea turtle though! For the best snorkeling I'd recommend the Perhentians in Malaysia. Also the other two beautiful Gili islands are meant to be amazing albeit quiet. Gili Meno and Gili Air, if someone wants ultimate seclusion between the partying is recommended. The accommodation there is more expensive but supposed to be another world (and better snorkeling). If one only wants to go for a day, there is a ferry in the morning going to both and a ferry coming back late afternoon (Thanks Anna).
Most importantly, get in contact with South Sea Nomads for pre-parties they do on their boat before the start of a big night! We had the coolest time there, away from drunk assholes, blasting music of our choice, partying on a motherf**in BOAT! It's a young business started by two siblings and their mate who built their own boat to live, do tours, and party. They shuttle you from the island for free and you buy your drinks once on the boat. Perfect. Paradise.
Inebriated and flipping off boats into the ocean would never fly in North America..Yet this was so much fun to do. You have to grab the net before the current sweeps you away!
View from the South Sea Nomads' boat
5. Practical Stuff like free wifi
Internet: There are cafes everywhere. Scallywags was the only place that seemed to have wifi included where you ate. One word of advice though if you have your laptop and that’s to buy wifi access from one of the places because it’s about IDR 15 k/hour. It ends up being cheaper than buying food from Scallywags. I had the internet wifi from the market area, Ruby’s and it was decent speed and reliable.
ATM (scam alert!!): At Bengsal they will tell you there is no cash on the Island and they will try to get you to take out money with them at the port. You will be scared of being stranded so you may be tempted to pay their ridiculous transaction fees. Friends, BEWARE! There is definitely cash there. I almost got scammed, glad my card didn't work. There are 2 ATM spots once on Gili T. But, as my gal Chelsea aptly pointed out, they often run out of money and you sometimes have to wait a couple days before they refill them.
6. Cheap Eats Guide
I spent way longer than I had expected and found my fav places to eat. Hope they help a bit in saving your money from crapola, instant chocolate rain, food.
Ocean 2. If you’re facing the ocean, it’s left of the pier. This place has GREAT Mexican food for a cheap price. We got the burritos and tacos for 30k Rp. Also the place is a bakery so you may smell fresh bread in the oven. The donuts are yummy too although I wouldn’t waste my Rupiah on the banana pancakes. It was too thick and “chocolate sauce” didn’t mean Nutella or even imitation Nutella, it was some icing sort of thing.Best of all, the service is impeccable. Even my cheap poor self felt the need to tip a bit while there!
The Market: The cheapest seafood you can get is from here. It’s not in a restaurant and is a warung set up (outdoor stall eating) so the whole thing feels pretty local. I recommend the seafood that is set up around Green Café. I ate from there several nights and had no stomach problems. My pick is the butter fish which you can get grilled with rice and vegetables for 30k IRD (3 euros). It is fresh and grilled in sweet and sour spices that leaves the juiciness of the fish itself to still be tasted. It is a mild fish and oh so good! Sitting in Canada dreaming about that right now. May have just gotten a food woody (a foody?).
After dancing all night, and skinny dipping in diving pools, we decide it would be a good idea to take one last naked bath in the ocean with the sun dangling her toes in and ready to get up and start the day. Getting nude is obviously essential to backpacking.
You can get other local flavours in the market area, but compared to Jakarta it’s not that tasty nor cheap. Around 20k for a nasi goring (fried rice)! If you’re on an island, seriously just eat seafood. If you’re looking for a good deal you can go inland a bit and get local things, apparently. Meals are around 10-15k.
Beachhouse: The Shrimp skewer for 60k = ahmagad. They give you this melted butter/garlic sauce thing that will melt straight through to your heart (and probably clog your arteries one day, but ohwell). The barbecue seafood here comes with potatoes, salad and buns. The ambiance is lively.
Otherwise, most of the other places have fish bbq starting from 60 depending on what fish/seafood you are having. They usually come with the complementary buffet with as much salad, potato and bread you want. (Thanks Anna!)
Sushi Place: I had heard something about good sushi on the island so obviously I had to check it out. I got a dynamite roll, consisting of avocado and shrimp tempura and it was okay. Definitely no Toronto J-Time but hit the spot, barely. It was 40k for 6 pieces.
Also recommended is an awesome tuna carpaccio for about 60.000.
Scallywags: This place is chic, trendy yet casual. It’s a cool spot but the prices are some of the more expensive you’ll get on the island. What brought my poor ass here was my weak spot: free wifi. Don’t think you can just order an ice cube and you’ll get it though. There is a minimum purchase price of 50k. If you are forced to eat there I would recommend the Tuna with a wrap. They make the tuna with cream cheese and sprinkle a delightful sweet vinaigrette around it. Wow. Another foody It was about 40k.
7. Where to Stay
For the life of me I can't remember the name of the place I stayed but I can tell you what price you can expect to pay when you're searching. For a crappy basic room with bathroom and fan I found it for 40k IDR/month. It was truly basic, but hell, all I needed was a bed to rest my party exhausted head anyway. When I was with a friend we stayed in cool elevated bungalows for 100 IDR/night. They were nice looking and comfortable. If you are looking at the pier you go like 500 meters left, I think they are called Cool Bungalows...sorry I couldn't help more.
If you are not on a local salary you can head to the other side of the island and get pimped out villas along the ocean for like 300 IDR /person (30 euros). Our friends stayed there and wow does it make you feel legends will be named after you!
8. Getting there (without being too ripped off)
To Gili T from Mataram Airport:
Took a trusted Blue Bird Taxi and it cost us about 70k IDR to Bangsal. Then there was a 10k IDR fee (each person, cursed rip off that was), to enter the ferry port area. You can definitely walk it, but I hadn’t slept much the night before and my bag was feeling extra heavy. Excuse me for being a princess and taking the taxi the extra 500 m.
It didn’t have a set time but waited for 25 people to buy tickets. The public ferry, which is the cheapest way to get there costs 10k IDR one way. It is cheap and takes about 45 mins. Apparently these things sink sometimes, according to my Indonesian colleague, but luckily for us (and my laptop that I never leave home without) we were fine.
The even more popular way to get there and away - speed boat to/from Bali. Depending on the type of speedboat (its speediness basically) costs anything from 150.000-600.000, including bus transport from Padang Bay to anywhere you wanna go to Bali. Be aware though, from Bali to Gili it's often more expensive given all the scamming they do there. Yet it tends to be worthwhile because flights from and to Bali (from Jakarta) are often much cheaper than those to and from Mataram (the airport closest to the Gilis). (Thanks again Anna for the contributions!)
If you have any tips or anything to add, please share with the world! This is only what I noticed on my 1 week stay there in February 2011!
Indonesia Traveling Relevant Stuff
(Coming soon) Gili T Versus Bali: 6 Reasons Gili Kicks Bali's Ass
New Year's in Bali or How I Learned to Stop Hating Aussies (Video log!)
Indie Guide to Kuta Bali: Locals' Advice and A Girl's Paradise
Just in Case..How to Survive Traveler's Diarrhea
Magical Music by The Bewitched Hands
Amazing animation video perfect for you adventurous souls looking to try all of Gili's vices. But regardless of vice, I am in love with this fun, quirky song sang in French by my favourite band at the moment, the Bewitched Hands. Sur le Quai is off their recently released second CD called Burn and Explode and even if you don't understand French, the dreamy sound and vid should be enough to tell you that this is something about dreaming and imagination. Deep. Please friends, love them with me if you don't already, because this won't be the last I blog about them.
Download: Sur le Quai-The Bewitched Hands