In short, I highly recommend taking the slow ferry over to the Gili islands, provided that you like a little adventure and are not super short on time. Here’s our experience:
After hearing about the nearby, chilled out specks of land called the Gili islands, my family and I decided to take a trip out to see one. We like to be social and meet other travelers, so we went where most backpackers go: Gili Trawangan, despite its notorious reputation as a party island. (You can read my opinion of Gili T here.)
After getting a ride over to the pier where boats regularly depart to both the Gilis and Lombok, we found the little ticket counter. The ticket man immediately gave us the price for the speedboats.Depending where you leave Bali from, speedboat prices range from $20-102.
We had heard about these speedboats sometimes sinking on the journey because of overloading. The speedboat companies don’t care to follow any safety measures. It’s all about maximizing profit. Not only that, but the speedboats aren’t healthy. We had read plenty about passengers getting sick from the fumes billowing out the back of the little boat. The fast bumps over the waves can also be dangerous for anyone with back problems.
When booking a speedboat online, the companies put out this advice:
Note: This trip is not recommended if you are:
* under 2 years old * Pregnant * have heart or back problems or other physical impediments
Since we are just traveling as a lifestyle, and not on a limited vacation, we decided to take the government-run ferry. While we aren’t usually fans of government regulation, knowing that the ferry would be accountable to government safety measures, unlike the speedboats, was reassuring.
We have tons of time, but limited funds, so usually we don’t mind taking a longer route if it’s cheaper. In this case, the ferry was not only much cheaper, but safer and healthier as well. I think the ferry cost us each a few bucks.
The stunned look on the ticketing man’s face when we asked to buy tickets for the ferry was priceless. He told us we were the first Westerner’s he had ever sold ferry tickets too. I don’t know how true that is though, since there was at least one other backpacker on the ferry with us.
The ferry ended up proving to be much more our style. Besides that backpacker, the boat was full of locals. Families ran around and had lunch, men found napping spots on the ground. The ferry ride took about four hours. It passed pleasantly and smoothly, and to my delight and surprise, bunches of butterflies flew just above the water, on their way past our boat. Thousands of them streamed past; we wondered if they were migrating somewhere.
Maybe you’d still notice on a speedboat, maybe not, but we saw a ton of trash floating through the ocean during the whole trip. You could see where huge barrels of trash had been brought out and unloaded. It was such a shame to see. Indonesia is ranked as the world’s second greatest ocean polluter, just behind China. I could see why Singapore, Indonesia’s neighbor, gets so upset about the mess that floats over.
The ferry dropped us all off at the island between the Gilis and Bali called Lombok. Our full ticket to Gili T included a car ride across Lombok to the boat dock where we would take about a 30 minute boat ride over to Gili.
After getting off the ferry, we headed to a car parking lot where we found our driver. He was a kind young man with so-so English. He first drove us to his office where we paid him for the car ride. I don’t remember the amount, but the full journey, ferry+car+boat, totaled to less than the speedboat would have been.
Then off we went up through a monkey forest reserve. There are apparently two ways to get to the boats. Through the monkey forest is the most scenic.
Scores of monkeys hung out on the sides of the road and perched themselves atop the guardrails. Their beady eyes held a nerve-wrackingly steady stare. Our windows had been rolled down and we were driving slowly. Having learned fear of the naughty, often thieving macaque monkeys, my mom asked our driver, “If you stop, would the monkeys jump through the windows?”
“You want stop?” He put on the brakes.
“No! No, it’s okay! Keep going!”
He speed up again, though my mom’s heart may have been left behind.
The road through the monkey forest wound up the mountains. Our descent showed us glimpses of a stunning, dark blue ocean through the trees.
Our driver brought us over to the ticket booth and made sure we got tickets to the right boat to finish our trip. We boarded a little dinghy boat with all locals, their supplies and one French man. Funnily enough, we ended up renting a room from a guesthouse that the Frenchman owned on Gili T island.
The entire journey from Bali to Gili T took about seven hours. That’s quite a long time compared with the speedboat, but the trade off is that you get a seven hour adventure. We got to see how the locals travel, meet some of them, and drive through an island we hadn’t planned to visit, Lombok.
We again used the slow ferry to get back to Bali. This time, instead of having a driver, we took a bus through Lombok. To do this, make sure you find out the bus schedule while on Gili T and/or from your driver before taking the little boat to Gili. After the 30 minute boat ride from Gili, you’ll have to walk about a half kilometer from the dinghy boat pier on Lombok, up the road (there’s only one road) to where you’ll see a little guesthouse. That’s where the bus will pick you up.
Our trip back was a lot of fun thanks to our outgoing, adventurous bus mates. We boarded either the same bus or a different one (can’t remember) once in Bali. It brought us all the way back to whatever area of Bali we wanted to go (but the driver knew the place when we boarded the bus and told him that morning- you’ve got to let him know in advance.)
I hope this helps anyone trying to decide which route to take to get to the Gili islands or Nusa Lembongan. Happy travels!