Stepping off the boat onto Gili Trawangan, one of the first things I noticed was the signs posted along the main strip. One sign, positioned above a restaurant (of the shack variety), resounded with me for obvious reasons. It read: ‘I’m on a seafood diet, I see food and have to eat it.’ I might have to get that tattooed.
The second one I saw, as we wandered down the island’s main dusty coastal road in search of accommodation, said: ‘Get your bloody fucking amazing magic mushrooms here.’ A little unnecessary perhaps, but it certainly gets your attention.
Welcome to Gili T. Near Lombok and just a short (but death-defying) boat ride from Bali, it is one of three islands, alongside Gili Air and Gili Meno. The latter, I am told, is the quietest of the three, the former is described as the most cultural, while Gili T is best known as The Party Island. All three have one thing in common; sun kissed white sandy shores and beautifully clear water – the kind that so often, and unfairly, appear on British TV adverts during a typically wet summer.
I have fallen in love with Balinese culture but as our trip so far has been an orgy of calmness, quietness and culture (having avoided all the ‘Blackpool for Australians’ hotspots), we were craving a little party or two. We had come to the right pace, the east coast of tiny Gili T is lined with quirky little bars and restaurants, where you can lounge around all day on beanbags. Come evening it is a hive of twinkling lanterns and funky beats, with ‘the party’ taking place at a different bar every other night.
In fact, if you were to believe the Lonely Planet you would think there is nothing on the west coast at all, the map just shows a big empty void. But after failing to make it up for a single sunrise on the east coast (I blame the local vodka and their red bull that comes in a medicine bottle), we decided to venture into the abyss to try and see a sunset on the west coast.
We packed water, torches, lip gloss (Matty insisted) and the useless Lonely Planet map and began our one-mile trek across the island. At first we tried to follow the little lines on the Planet’s map but pretty soon the dusty zig-zagging paths were indistinguishable and so I just followed my nose crying ‘here, this way’ randomly. Matty suggested it would make more sense to follow the sun, which after a while I begrudgingly agreed to.
So our little one mile journey, across the arid, dry landscape of the island became more like a two or three mile adventure. But it was a wonderful contrast to the Bintang-guzzling joys of the east coast; we passed palm tree forests scattered with cows and spied on locals going about their rural work.
Eventually our sweaty, dusty faces emerged out of the woodland and we could hear the crashing of waves. We had made it. The West Coast.
With Columbus-like pioneering spirit we eagerly made our way to the sea, expecting to find well, nothing, nada, no one. Instead we were greeted with a couple of very plush resorts with large sea-facing decking and infinity pools. They sold Bintang.
Somewhat defeated we wandered further south until we reached about a few hundred metres of isolated, rugged coastline, broken up only by large, dreamlike pieces of driftwood. It made for the perfect Robinson Crusoe sunset… Especially with me singing the Travis classic, ‘You’re driftwood floating underwater, breaking into pieces, pieces, pieces…’
Then suddenly, as the sun got lower in the sky, ready to take its hat off for the day, it illuminated Bali’s highest mountain Gunung Agung across the ocean. The volcano is not even visible from Gili T during the day, or at least it wasn’t when we were there, so it felt quite magical to see its brooding silhouette appear on the horizon in the last few minutes of the day. Especially after our enduring trek up it.
There are other hidden gems on the west coast, namely a couple of sunset bars that offer cold drinks and refreshments so you can toast the sinking sun. And after the sun has gone down, the bonfires and fire dancers come to life.
While it all feels like a well kept secret for now, the plush resorts, coupled with the construction work we saw, suggests the west coast of Gili T could soon be firmly on the Lonely Planet map. All the signs are there… Even if the magic mushroom ones aren’t, yet.
There are many boats travelling between Bali and the Gili islands, some take as little as an hour while others take about four hours. We paid 450,000 Indonesian Rupiahs for the one-hour fast boat from Padang Bai, the journey was treacherous so make sure it’s a reputable-ish company.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation on Gili Trawangan. The beach side stuff is pricier but we stayed down one of the back streets, which is known as ‘the village’ at a homestay called Black Sands. The room was nice, spacious and clean, and the staff were lovely. It only set us back 200,000 Rupiahs a night.
Stay off the local spirits. Ouch.