A lot of backpackers and travel bloggers quote the little Gili T island as a great place to go, but I would have to disagree. Here are 8 brutally honest reasons why.
But first, I hope not to put you off exploring too much. As a nomad without a time limit, it is my personal philosophy that just about everywhere is worth seeing and experiencing, even if the visit is purely educational. But not everyone has unlimited time for travel and if the visit if for vacation instead of backpacking, the costs tend to be higher.
My mom, my sister Grace and I spent a full 10 days on Gili T island.
Trawangan, in my 10 day experience, was mostly an uncomfortable, party island. Ouch.
1. I say uncomfortable because of the sharp divide between locals and foreigners. It’s an atmosphere I have not encountered anywhere else. Sure, you’ll have people call out to you as you pass their stores in Istanbul, children will beg from you in Morocco, and there are high chances of being hit on in Egypt. But here on Gili T, there is more of an outright resentment.
I overheard part of a conversation between a couple of French girls who sat in an otherwise empty coffee shop with me.
The conversation was all in French except for,
I hate the, ‘Be my girlfriend! Where are you from? Where are you staying? Where are you going?’ It is so rude.
One of the best parts about travel is meeting the locals who intimately know the lands you are exploring. When the locals call out to you at least seven times, “Look at that smile. I’ve seen you before” as you walk down the main street, that’s not nice. They do it gratingly, not to get to know you.
Restaurant workers will loudly invite you to eat. Say “no, thank you” and you’ll hear “no, thank you!” repeated in snotty tones behind your back.
I do feel for the locals here. I imagine it would be quite a trial not to resent all the vacationing Westerners that come here. The locals work and serve the visitors who seem showered with and accustomed to luxury and money. The Indonesians of course don’t see the hard work that likely goes in behind those saved up vacations, but they do see MTV and Hollywood.
The impressions that Westerners give don’t help either. Bali is an outlier as a Hindu island. Just about everywhere else in Indonesia, including Gili T, is strictly Muslim. But on Gili T, the girls particularly, walk around without much more than a scanty bathing suit on.
2. Partying ain’t my thing, so that’s a pretty big draw back to this island, for me. The same top ten hits blaring from restaurants and bars can be heard all around the island. The same three bars switch off having parties different nights of the week and locals openly ask you if you’d like some magic mushrooms. It had been a while since my mom had been offered drugs. Strange scenario, no?
Apparently these psychedelic mushrooms grow wild on Gili T so they are in some ways almost legal. At least, no one here is shy about advertising them. Be careful about getting mushrooms with eggs or on pizza. You’ll usually be asked, “special?”
3. Trash in Paradise
After spending a day of simple beach bliss, we walked back among a good sized group of tourists picking up trash. I overheard a comment by one of the girls,
My biggest concern is what happens to all these bags of trash when we are done. How do we know they will make it off the island?
“Haha, yeah, like ‘hey! I picked this up last week!’ one of the guys responded.
It was a qualified question. There are signs posted all over the island asking visitors to keep the place clean. They are beacons of hypocrisy. I notice that it is always the tourists who use the trash cans, as if they are for tourists exclusively.
The pictures you can take here are amazing. Like Bali, the inherent beauty of these islands could take your breath away… if there wasn’t so much trash. It’s a funny thing to look to the left and see this.
Then look to the right to a scene that tells a very different story.
Locals may greet and welcome you to paradise. Well, as usual, there’s trouble in earthly paradise.
I’m going to fess the other squabbles I have with Gili T.
4. Frequent, numerous, and long broadcasts from the 2 mosques on this 2 by 3 kilometer island. The calls to prayer are almost constant. This year I’ve visited Turkey, Morocco, Jordan and Muslim sections and towns in Israel. Never have I heard such continual broadcasting.
5. Constant burning and smells of smoke. My mom and I longed for the large rainstorms that eventually came in hopes of clear air. Even after the storms, the air never smelled quite fresh. Back at our bungalow, I was bombarded with the smell of my smoke-infused hair.
6. Being presented with jewelry or beer can speakers while eating or sitting on the beach wasn’t my cup of tea. The sellers have no problem getting right in your face and staying there a while. They will set their products up on your table while you eat. If you don’t say anything they only grow worse, though we noticed that they go away faster when there is a man in a group.
7. The food is relatively overpriced and not great. I did a review on the one restaurant that gives decently priced, large portions. Once my mom received a salad with raw, uncooked meat, ew. We kept going back to Kayu Cafe. It is a bit expensive (for Indonesia), but Kayu had one really fantastic salad and their whole menu was very health food conscience.
8. Horse carriages. Vehicles are not allowed on this island, which is great. Apparently motor bikes aren’t either, but there are some. Other than by bike and on foot, horse-drawn carriages are available to transport you and your luggage around the island. However, we’ve seen these carriages cause people to suddenly jump out of the way and off the roads. They aren’t exactly cordial.
What Gili T is Good For
Trawangan is also called turtle island. You can see a few tanks of baby turtles that a group works to preserve. The beautiful crystal waters are ideal for snorkeling, especially at marked turtle sighting points. Parts of the sandy beach are met with shady trees that are perfect for lounging under. The mountains of Lombok across the water are stunning, when you can see them through the smog. Hiking, walking, and even bike riding (though dodging walkers is difficult) are popular outdoor activities here. The glass bottom boats are supposed to be a great experience as well. Some people try to surf though waves are few.
There are plenty of dive centers from which you can obtain a certificate or just go for pleasure dives. We met a Canadian on our slow boat journey back who had gone diving on Gili T. She saw tons of turtles and really enjoyed her dive.
We experienced several thunderstorms during our stay, during which we sometimes lost power. When the rain pours hard enough, the trash from the neighboring mainland, Lombok, makes its way over. Walking around on the island itself becomes a maze of sewage puddles and ick that more or less makes its way into the sea. It doesn’t make swimming too appealing after the fact. But that’s for rainy season…
Where To Explore Instead
It is very easy to hop about the three Gili islands and other neighbors such as Nusa Lembongan. This island was recommended to us by a N. American we met who had been living there for five years. According to her, Lembongan is more peaceful, clean and a very different atmosphere than Gili T. If you like to dive, this island is also the recommendation of a diver master we met who showed us all kinds of awesome pictures from his dives. Some nomads highly recommend the islands off of Malaysia instead, though I’ve never been.
It is common to get a belly sickness on Gili T, and we got it too. Mostly we stayed because of our upset tummies, otherwise it would have been neat to see what the other two Gilis were like. Nice times were spent here staring at the gorgeous views (on the left), reading, smiling at the cutest little children, sitting on the beach, and going for long walks.
There also was not as much trash on these beach fronts as in Sanur, Bali. Come if you wish, come if you dare, but now you know what’s here. 🙂