Biking around Gili Trawangan makes you think about the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi, especially the lines, ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ That’s exactly the opposite of what has happened here in this paradise, completely unscarred by motorised transport of any type. On this island there are only three types of transport, walking, horse drawn cart and bicycles. For modern city dwellers it can be a little disconcerting at first, not hearing the familiar din of engines and horns.
You can hire a bike for anywhere between 30 to 50 thousand rupiah (IDR) a day, or the equivalent of approximately $3 to $5 AUD. Before you pay for the bikes make sure you have a security lock, the brakes work and tyres are pumped up. No helmets necessary here in paradise. (Tip: take a bike with a basket which will be handy for carrying the shopping you will be sure to find on your journey.) The Island is 6 kilometres in circumference. The main road is narrow and flat and hugs the island and is either dirt, cobble stones, cement or sand, depending on which area you are in. A very easy, slow, leisurely riding pace will take you no more than two hours to complete the entire circuit.
At the north of the island you will need to walk the bike through the sand. It is hot riding in the middle of the day, so make sure you have sunglasses, sunscreen, cool clothing (although most of the young guys ride with their shirts off, which is a real bonus), a beach towel or sarong and water.
When you need to cool off just stop anywhere to have a swim or snorkel to see the many bright, colourful array of tiny reef fish. The coral close to the shore is mostly broken but if you swim a short distance out there are still some good places to experience all the colours of the reef. To get to see the fish and coral at their best you need to join one of the snorkelling or dive excursions that are located just about everywhere on the island. Diving/swimming booties are invaluable as most of the island is surround by a coral reef and it’s hard on your feet when you enter the water. You can buy them from the markets for around $10 AUD (100 thousand IDR).
When stopping off for eating, drinking and shopping it is best to be on the eastern side of the island where there are a range of coffee shops, restaurants, bars and small shops.
Every afternoon we rode to Sunset Beach and stopped at the Paradise Sunset Bar which is the place to be on the western side of the island to watch magnificent sunsets and have a Bintang or cocktail. It is truly a magnificent feeling lying on a sun lounge with cool Cafe Del Mar music being pumped out and the evening sky burning a brilliant pink behind the clouds billowing around Mt Agung, the volcano on the northern end of Bali.
The island’s market is worth a visit for a hat , sarong, blow up floaty, or the must have tee shirt. Mini markets are great for water and drinks and any urgent or essential supplies to take back to your lodgings. Make sure you are fully equipped with an arsenal of chemical weapons for the onslaught of mossies (mosquitoes) after sunset.
There is the option to ride your bike at night but you may need a torch, especially on the western side of island where there are fewer people and lights after sunset. Take care in the dark after a few bevies that you stay out of the rode of oncoming horse and cart traffic which can appear almost out of nowhere without headlights or warning.
While snorkeling on the northern part of the island we saw a magnificent giant green turtle grazing on the reef plants below the water’s surface, along with a large variety of reef fish. During your stay on the island you should pay a visit to the turtle conservation aquarium (located in the centre of the restaurant and bar area) to find out how the locals are breeding and protecting turtles on the island. Around five o’clock is a great time to see fish and turtles outside villa Almarik (our hotel for this visit, located on the north eastern side) where the water is shallow and clear.
Pearl Beach Lounge has great sunbeds and has the best access to the water, wonderful food and service. This is a great place for daytime fun in the sun and is truly magnificent in the evening as dining is right next to the water with your feet in the sand and the moon glistening above. We can highly recommend the beef rendang.
Another place we visited daily was Kayu coffee shop which has a beautiful selection of cakes, fresh salads, perfectly brewed coffee and air conditioning, which makes it a relief when getting off your bike in the middle of the day for a short stop on your way around the island.
The Night market is a must for fresh seafood at remarkably cheap prices. On the waters edge BBQ restaurants like Scallywags or Beach House BBQ are highly recommended for a relaxed evening meal. Here you can choose your own selection of seafood to have expertly bbq’d by the chef and the prices are quite cheap compared to western standards.
The Irish Pub is a revellers delight for late night partying and is seen as the best place to let your hair down way into the early hours of the morning.
A massage is always on the agenda and practical if the bike riding is causing sore muscles. Drop in at one of a number of massage places along the main retail strip. Most have beds facing the sea and a view over the mountains scattered along the top of Lombok. We enjoyed our head, shoulder and foot massage (1 hour for 50 thousand rupiah) while watching the day trippers and boats returning from excursions to the other islands.
Along the way be careful of traffic hazards like pedestrians, potholes, other bikes, and especially the horses and carts which hurtle along expecting everyone to get out of their way. You will also encounter the odd bob tailed cat, or a cow or two, but all is pretty lay back here in this paradise and nothing moves very quickly.
When the time comes to leave you will probably be thinking you are ready to return to normal life but the memory of this special place is like a new taste for a special food and it will linger, calling you back for more.
TIPS & TALES
Getting to Gili Trawangan
High speed boats shuttle tourists to and from Bali daily (approx. 1.5 to 2 hours sea crossing) at a reasonable cost. However, if the weather isn’t good, the crossing can be a little bumpy and sometimes downright treacherous and can also be cancelled without much notice.
We chose another option which was slightly more expensive but provided a guarantee of arriving in a safe and timely way. We flew on a Lionair plane from Denpasar domestic airport to Lombok and then had a driver take us around the island (a fascinating and scenic journey in itself) to the point where you can make a 15 minute boat ride across to the island. Very civilised and we really felt we had seen a lot of the area by the time we flew back to Bali a few days later.