The Gili Islands

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Just off the western shore of Lombok, the three Gili Islands are a well known travellers paradise. The trip from Seminyak was around 2 hours by mini van followed by a lot of standing around a hectic port, waiting to board a small ‘fast boat’ to The Island. Just as this boat trip was going so much smoother than I’d previously imagined, the engines failed and we bobbed around in the choppy water for a while. Definitely not ideal in a tiny little boat, slowly filling with fumes! In hindsight I’d probably be willing to pay extra for a better company and bigger/more reliable boat… but we arrived in the end; after the typical ‘staring at the engine until it works’ that the Thai, Cambodian and Balinese seem to do so well! As soon as the boat approached The Islands, the clarity of the water is immediately stunning. It really is a tropical beach paradise with crystal water and white sandy beaches.

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On docking the boat you’re immediately among hoards of tourists, all there to experience the famous Gili Trawangan (and frantically retrieving bags which are being lobbed overboard, onto the beach, by the boat crew).

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The only way around these islands is by foot or push bike, (alternatively there are carts drawn by extremely over worked and pained looking horses). This makes for an instantly slower, more relaxed feel, compared to the fast pace of the mainland. Everyone’s there to relax! However, in typical Asian style, it still manages to be pretty hectic with chickens and children running around between bikes and carts; along narrow dirt tracks surrounded by bells, music and thick aromas.

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We rented bikes from our hostel, for the equivalent of around £3.50 a day. After checking in we took a circuit of the island which can be circled in about 30 minutes on mostly sandy dirt tracks and the occasional obstacle.

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It’s instantly clear that this tiny island paradise is quickly becoming an over crowded tourist spot, with newly constructed beach front bungalows completely circling The Island, and locals desperately trying to cash in on the tourists. On the up side, this makes for a great atmosphere, with loads of beach front bars, restaurants and clubs, as well as various water sports.

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Beach bars on the North of the island host the infamous sunset swings, lying in the pools of low tide at sun down. In reality, a long queue of people waiting to take the perfect sun down shot on a seemingly empty beach. However, the sunsets on this beautiful Island never failed to impress! These are some of the most stunning sundowns ever!

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Snorkelling
One of the main purposes of visiting the Gili Islands was to go for a snorkelling trip.. with the possibility of seeing turtles and apparently sharks too. We booked a glass bottom boat trip with the hostel and headed down to the beach for 9.30am. In typical Balinese style, a huge shortage of equipment and lack of organisation had us leaving the pier at around 11am.

We headed to the first of three ‘turtle points’ on a large boat crammed with other tourists. Sat on the edge of the boat, with our feet hanging over the edge, into the waves, is a great way to capture the amazing views of The Islands! At each point, you can jump from the boat into the crystal clear water and snorkel, or swim around,  surrounded by tropical fish – eyes peeled, in hope of catching sight of a turtle.

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The current (and waves) in the sea around Bali is extremely strong. After jumping off the boat and treading water for a few minutes, you could turn around and be miles away from the boat. The whole group of snorkellers would get swept into the current, looking for turtles, while the boat tried to catch up.. picking up strays on the way. At one point I stayed on the boat and saw two turtles from the deck, so it may even be easier to spot them from the boats (which are glass-bottomed). Looking down through the crystal water, luminous blue shapes can be seen in clusters along the sea floor. We were later told this is a rare form of blue coral, which can only be found in two locations on the planet.

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We stopped off on Gili Air for lunch, which is a much quieter, more peaceful version of Gili T. However, we were told that although Gili Air and Gili Meno are beautiful, they’re mainly full of honeymooners and couples, so not great for backpackers.

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Paddle Boarding
One morning we left early and headed down to the beach (while the waves were relatively calm) and rented a kayak and paddle board for around £12 for an hour. This was SO much fun! Once you’re past the huge waves crashing onto the shore, it’s actually relatively calm. I’ve never paddle boarded before so imagined myself falling into the water most of the time, but it was surprisingly easier than I’d thought. That being said, I was sitting on the board most of the time.

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Paddling through crystal clear waters with the chance of spotting turtles; not a bad way to spend a morning. Again the currents are extremely strong so you end up on the other end of the beach but it’s just too much fun.. can’t wait to try this again some time soon!

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Banyan Tree

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We came across an amazing vegetarian / vegan restaurant one night on the way back to the hostel. We stayed for dinner and on inspecting the full menu, returned the following day for breakfast too. They served smoothie bowls (of course) as well as tempeh curries and pulled pork (jack-fruit) sandwiches. Definitely would recommend this place although they’re very clearly catering to the typical organic vegan instagrammers, who are everywhere in Bali!.. Either way, the food and drinks were worth it!

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Even though the Island is teeming with other tourists, you really do get the feeling that you’re secluded, and miles from home. There are no roads or cars, and wi-fi is limited. It’s refreshing to, once in a while, feel like you’re completely disconnected from reality and the modern world. The Island runs completely on electricity generators and can be plunged into darkness at any moment with no warning! This makes for an eventful cycle home, through pitch black alleyways, dodging other bikes that come blindly wobbling through the darkness. Gili T was, without doubt, an adventure and one I wont easily forget.

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