Gili Trawangan, or Gili T to its friends, is the largest of three islands scattered off Lombok’s northwest coast. While all three of these Gilis (Gili means island in the Sasak language of Lombok) are especially photogenic, each has a character of its own and attracts a certain crowd -- in the case of Gili T, it’s the party set.
It is a very pretty island. You’ll have near endless opportunity to take photos to make the office back home suitably jealous. The beaches here really are white sand and the water really is turquoise.
The island, which has no natural water supply, has more than 100 places to stay -- and probably another 100 places to eat -- plus travel agents, internet cafes, dive shops, warungs, and even, in the back blocks of the village, some houses that people just... live in.
There’s snorkelling offshore, and while the coral is in a very sorry state, you’ll probably see a turtle or two and there are still plenty of fish. You can surf, cycle around the island, do snorkelling and fishing trips or you can just lay on the beach and take it easy.
Or you can party. A very lively party scene here sees both booze and a variety of drugs freely on offer imbibed. It’s got that manic tilt to it that sees the all-night crowd mixing with the morning crowd all too often.
A word on the drugs: we were repeatedly, multiple times a day, offered drugs -- mostly mushrooms, but cocaine was also commonly suggested. Regardless of whatever the somewhat unique policing situation on Gili Trawangan may be, marijuana and cocaine most definitely remain absolutely illegal in Indonesia. Occasional arrests when undercover police are sent to the island occur, and you’d need to be an absolute twit to consider any goods purchased on Trawangan to be easily or safely transported elsewhere in the archipelago.
Prices are high -- accommodation, food and drink are all more expensive than what you might expect to pay elsewhere on Lombok -- and in high season (mid-June through to end of August), the prices are, quite honestly, ridiculous.
So who is Trawangan for? If you’re travelling solo, you’ll meet people here. If you want to party, don’t mind paying a premium for it, and want to sleep off big nights on undeniably white sand beaches, then the island should have significant appeal.
So who isn’t is for? Families with kids who value sleeping time and uncrowded beaches -- they should head to Gili Meno (though there are a few expensive spots on the island’s north that may still suit). More affluent travellers looking for a high standard of accommodation without needing earplugs should head to Gili Air.
There are no cars or motorbikes on Gili Trawangan (or Meno and Air), which contributes to the generally peaceful, getaway vibe in the air. Instead, you can hire a cidomo, or horse and cart, to move you and any heavy baggage around.
Gili Trawangan is an almost mango-shaped island with the vast majority of development based on the "inside" side of the mango. Everything is centred around the pier and boat landing office (not all boats use the pier) and within a short walk of here you’ll find the night market, at least three ATMs, a small medical clinic, a bunch of travel agents and dive shops, internet cafes and a massive selection of places to eat, sleep and play at.
Basically it is all within spitting distance.
When choosing where to stay there are three main noise considerations to keep in mind. The area south of the pier gets the brunt of the racket from the bars at night. The area about 100 metres north of the pier gets to hear the call to prayer very, very clearly. The northern tip of the island gets the neverending whir of the PLN electricity generator. We tried all three. One of us though the generator the least obtrusive -- but you are a long way from the party! -- while the other enjoyed the call to prayer and was able to sleep through the pre-dawn one.
As Gili Trawangan has no spring water all water is either shipped in (literally) or bored, but the bore water is really just slightly less salty sea water. Because of this, the cheaper places do not have fresh water showers and the reason restaurants don’t give you a glass with your soda or beer (instead supplying you with a straw -- itself something preferably avoided due to rubbish issues) isn’t because they forgot, but rather because they’re trying to keep washing up to a minimum.
Nearly all the accommodation and restaurants are along the east coast of the island. The west coast is mostly deserted, save a smattering of high-end resorts, villas and private accommodation.
There is a trail, sometimes paved but mostly sandy, that runs all the way around Gili Trawangan. You can walk it at a relaxed pace in two to three hours, not counting time for meal breaks and so on -- be sure to take water with you as there are long stretches with no places to refuel. It’s popular to rent a bicycle and ride it, but the trail is thick sand for long stretches on the west coast and you will end up pushing the bike a good distance.
There are at least three ATMs on the island, two of which (Commonwealth Bank and Mandiri) will be of use to foreign travellers. There are also a couple of money changers and, according to signage, cash advances can be arranged through some travel agents.
Phones will work across the island and a 3G signal can be gained generally when you can see Lombok, or when you’re up on the hill -- it is very variable though. A few places offer WiFi but it isn’t ubiquitous, and restaurants that do offer it often require a minimum charge. There are plenty of internet cafes around the port and village.
Very basic medical care is available on Gili Trawangan. For anything serious, straight to Mataram on Lombok, or Bali.