It’s true what they say about island living, you pay for the privilege. So, when our stomach clenching speedboat coasted into the turquoise blue harbour of Gili Trawangan, just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, I had a feeling the next few days would be more expensive than cheap backpacker living in Kuta. I wasn’t wrong, but that doesn’t mean you can’t minimise the blow to your wallets.
It starts, not surprisingly, with going a little out of your way.
When the masses get off the boats and into the waiting arms of accommodation touts waiting to show you all your wildest dreams in dive resorts and luxury villa complexes, you want to grab your bag and navigate away from the throng. Along the quiet streets (there’s no motorised transport on the Gili Islands, thank god) calls of You want accommodation? echo through, but are better off ignored if you’re looking to explore yourself. The deals are definitely there, but often involve being almost half an hour walk away at the base of the hill, in the middle of the village. We’re going out of the way, but not quite that far. Instead, wander away from the relaxing waterfront, where the long boats (now motorised) anchor idyllically on the white coral-filled sands, and up the lane ways perpendicular to the main road. The further backwards you travel, the more money you save on your accommodation, from the beachfront luxuries to the dengue ridden shacks and everything in between.
We walked about 10 minutes back from the beach, and found our own little luxury called Creative Homestay. Not really that creative at all, the home stay is like hundreds of others I’ve encountered in Indonesia, just five or six rooms looking out over a simple garden. Resident kittens chase each other around the greenery as Mum looks on lazily from a bamboo chair on one of the shared balconies. Inside the room, a double bed and simple table are the only furniture. The bathroom has a western toilet and half-decent shower (cold, salt water). The room is to set us back Rp150,000 for the night, with breakfast served the next day from an innocent menu oddly emblazoned with a giant marijuana leaf. They originally tell us they have only one night spare, but later change their story and allow us to stay the entire five nights we spend in the Gilis. It’s not luxurious, but it’s more than enough for what we’re looking for, and what we will pay. The only downside that we discover is that the inside of the room is akin to an oven in terms of ventilation, and we’re forced to leave the windows propped open with the chairs from our balcony just to make it bearable. Unfortunately, our need to keep cool is probably what seals our fate in terms of dengue fever, but that’s another story.
We’ve come to the Gili Islands at the height of Ramadan, so seeing as there’s almost no local places open for lunch (or during the day at all) we spend most of our time at the beach. It’s not hard to see why, with glorious warm waters surrounding the entire island just packed full of fish, coral and turtles. Admittedly, the coral has seen better days (we hear a variety of stories about why this is the case) but the marine life is still very much alive, and we revel in amazing snorkelling just twenty metres from the shore. There seems to be no shortage of fish to entertain us, from the tiny coral dwelling to the giant monochromatic bait balls that spin dizzyingly on the edge of the coral drop-off. And just when you think the day couldn’t get any better turtles cruise around the shallow water, feeding on the seagrass and finding themselves perfectly content to meet a few weird land-dwelling humans. All in all, paradise.
With lunch more or less off the cards the entire time that we’re there, it isn’t surprisingly that we totally overdo ourselves on dinner basically every night. Our only stop for food is the night market, which is very centrally placed on Gili Trawangan near the Pasar Seni, the art market. The food is fantastic, and although the prices are much more than I would usually expect to pay at a street market (think Rp. 30,000-50,000 for meals which on the mainland would cost Rp. 10,000-25,000) it is definitely worth it. Even then, you can source a basic fried rice (there may even have been chicken in it) for about Rp. 15,000 if you’re really on a shoestring. Seeing as we were barely eating during the day, apart from our included breakfast, we went for the Indonesian classic nasi campur, a series of dishes chosen by you and served with rice. We decided to forgo the meat just to make it a little bit cheaper. For most nights, our meals cost less than Rp. 30,000 each and we were definitely eating rich.
If you’re travelling alone, the night market is a perfect place to meet people and have a chat before heading out for the night. The entire space is filled with long tables surrounded by chairs, or even stools, mean that it’s close quarters that invite conversations with strangers. It’s also one of the best places to get the down-low on what’s good to do in terms of diving, snorkelling or generally wandering about. In terms of going out, there are a few options from the local reggae bar Sama Sama to the wild and messy Rudy’s just along from the night market. The best thing to do is definitely have a walk around, and keep an eye out for the multitude of cheap drink deals and flyers advertising the nights activities.
Ironically, leaving the Gili Islands a few days later I found that I actually spent less in the time that I was there than I had spent previously in Kuta. Although I’m sure cutting out one meal a day saved me some coin, I think that the biggest money saver for me on the Gilis was that entertainment was so prevalent and free. I travel with my own snorkel and mask, which meant my days were filled with snorkelling, swimming and trekking around the island totally free of charge. Even when we got bored of the snorkel spots in our reach a half-day boat trip was a meagre Rp. 100,000. We had been so worried about spending too much money that we’d actually spent much less than we thought possible. So, we did the only thing left to do at that juncture: Head over to one of the fancy Western cafes with lightning wi-fi and wait for the afternoon fast boat that would get us back to Bali while chowing down on delicious sandwiches and burgers. What can I say? I reward good money saving attitudes!
This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.