Indonesia’s Gili Islands: The good, the bad and the ugly

The Gili Islands, of which there are three
The Gili Islands, of which there are three

My last post concerned Bali. You can think of the Gili islands as Bali’s three teeny little siblings.

They (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) are scattered between the north-east of Bali and the north-west of Lombok.

All of this is in Indonesia. Which, religiously speaking, is an interesting corner of the planet.

Indonesia officially acknowledges six religions. The overwhelming majority (87%) is Islam. A bit of Christianity and Hinduism knocking around, and a slither of Buddhism. Atheism is seriously frowned upon. 

From what I could tell, the island's central mosque
Wriggled past a wall to take this – I believe it to be the island’s central mosque

Ubud, in Bali, was Hindu. Trawangan is more into Islam. And several times a day, we heard the mosque’s call to prayer ring out. 

One half of Trawangan, (the ‘sunrise’ end) is populated with diving centres and GYKs (gap year kids). 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many GYKs in one place. Probably not since I was one myself, ten years ago.

But sure enough, the first drinking hole we wandered into after 9pm on this side of the island featured a wobbly blonde GYK puking into a neat pile in front of the bar. Her chivalrous companion was clutching her hair back with one fist and ordering another round of sambucas with the other. Commitment – strong. 

Villa Kokita, our abode
Welcome inside

The other half of the island (the ‘sunset’ end) is quieter, dotted with fairylight-arched restaurants and populated almost entirely with over 25s, which is much more my kind of thing.

Several areas dotted between the sunrise and the sunset end are a bit of a building site, suggesting that the loud bit will eventually engulf the quiet bit. After which, in all the likelihood, the whole thing will be conquered by GYKs.

I am starting to sound like my father.

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset
The sunrise end
The sunset end, nicer
Rustic randomness
Half-built bits of stuff

Our villa here was plonked right on the tip between both – a sprawling beachside abode leading straight out into a turquoise ocean teaming with sea turtles.

The rest can best be summarised as the good, bad and the ugly.



The company

I absolutely adore this gaggle of planet roamers. They are everything you want in travel companions – interesting, amusing, not prone to bickering; and equally as willing to do ooh things, like consume frog poison (see last post) and learn new watersports, as they are to do ahh things, like flop around indulgently and do fuck all.

Kris and I spent most mornings slagging off the smug, sweat-dripping joggers as they pounded along the beach in front our villa, while Ruda went off to smugly learn free-diving. Taylor was being quite solitary and mysterious. Jo, when not bobbing around in the pool with Natasha and I, would sometimes meander off alone with her camera for too long without supervision and worry the living shit out of me. I did reading and napping and a bit of writing.

At some point every day, the boys huddled round beers and chortled, the girls bar-hopped and giggled – and we all did a lot of riding around in convoy on bicycles.

Jo and Kris
Ruda and Natasha
Peddling goods

The pool

Salty and soupy warm – in which we spent hours and hours gliding around laughing and chattering until our fingers turned into alarmingly shrivelled white prunes.

Rain or shine
But mostly rain

Scuba diving

I find this to be among the best of all pastimes. When you load on your gear in the boat, before back flipping into the sea, you’re a rather silly looking goggle-sporting oaf with a giant heavy tank on your back, pipes sprouting all over the place and clumsy webbed frog flippers.

But as soon as you’re in the water, you’re an ocean astronaut. Sea creatures swan around you as if you’re one of them. It’s delightfully silent, but for choosh, choosh, choosh of your own Darth Vader breathing – which is strangely, hypnotically relaxing.

It’s marvellous. I went with Manta, with an instructor called Magik, who made lots of quite funny jokes in the boat on the way there and back.

Ocean astronaut
Ocean astronaut in Gili (not me)


I used to think this was a really shit activity when I was younger. Especially compared to scuba diving. But that was because a) the only places I’d ever done it were places like Cornwall, where the sea is cold and murky with barely a fish to be seen and b) I hadn’t quite got the riding of it, so was prone to inhaling mouthfuls of salt water.

I’ve since been to places like Mozambique where the coral reef is astounding. In Gili, we hired our own glass-bottomed boat (bit pointless, it was more like a normal boat with a small glass window in the base).

But the ocean was as warm as bath water and there was a multitude of lovely technicolour fish fluttering around like sequins.

The glass bottom bit of the boat is next to Ruda’s pointy foot


A charming, quiet beachside restaurant (sunset side) with lovely staff, good food and a very beguiling resident cat.

This was the only place on the whole island in which I witnessed employees treat an animal with respect. The beguiling cat followed them around and they fed her proper cat food.

The beguiling cat
The beguiling cat

Casa Vintage 

We went here for Natalie’s birthday dinner. It’s a Caribbean restaurant, in Indonesia, run by a Swede – which makes it quaint and worldly.

It’s also situated right on the rose petal-strewn sandy shore, scattered with shabby chic white furniture, with trees decked out in candlelit lanterns and swaying rope swings, all to the tune of whimsical-looking men in linen shirts strumming guitars at the bar. Romantic to the highest degree.  


The Wi-Fi

Surprisingly efficient. Island internet is usually shit. It was really pretty good here.



The spiky sea urchin of doom

I stepped on a sea urchin on the very first day which nonchalantly injected a series of excruciating black barbs into the sole of my foot. Only one got stuck. It remained lodged in there, unremovable, for MORE THAN A MONTH, rendering me a hobbling cripple.

Not evil, just doing his job

The showers

At Kokita, little more than a lukewarm dripping tap. Good luck trying to wash shampoo out of your hair, or get substantially clean. In summary, first world problems.

Water pressure – low

The rain

Unlike the shower water, the rain water at this time of year is in plentiful supply. It pours every day, for a lot of the day – usually most in the afternoon. Is it at least refreshing? No. It does do a good job of flooding the roads though.

Sunrise end, more infernal rain

The pollution 

Look, everywhere in the world is polluted. So this is sort of irrelevant. It’s just that – much like the animal cruelty at every turn – Indonesia is yet to draw a veil over it all. You get to see the strewn rubbish and the sad creatures before they’re swept under the carpet.  

As of yet, unhidden

The pony-drawn carriages

A cruel and archaic method of transport. These ponies have utterly shit lives and I found it very difficult to see them every day. There are no cars on Gili, which I suppose is a nice thing. For everyone but the ponies, who have to lug food and humans and luggage around all day. 



Me. Most people are built to thrive in a certain climate, and struggle somewhat in others. Taking Annabel to a humid island is something akin to taking a grumpy polar bear. Or, conversely, like taking one of those hairless cats to Siberia.

I go pink, I sweat profusely, my hair takes on a life of its own, and every time I get bitten by a mosquito (all the sodding time), my wimpy Anglo Saxon genes panic and fire off gallons of histamine which result in giant swollen blobs all over my body.

So basically, Annabel in Indonesia is a damp, shiny-nosed, lobster-hued, tangle-haired, mosquito-blob infested mess. With a limp (sea urchin).

This does not happen to me in Africa. It does happen in Thailand. This does not happen to me in Australia. It does happen in Singapore. This does not happen to me in Dubai, or France, or North America.

What I have deduced from Indonesia-round-two is that I’m not going to visit humid (wet tropical) regions anymore. Not because of the ugliness (I never look like a Barbie, no matter what the climate) but because it’s uncomfortable and tiring and I just don’t like it, OK?

The world yields far too many mild, dry hot or freezing cold frontiers to discover.

Off the map

In conclusion: You can go literally anywhere on holiday with people you love and have fun, which I did. And this place was no shit hole.

It just didn’t particularly suit Annabel Fenwick Elliott, born in England, first of her name.

3 thoughts on “Indonesia’s Gili Islands: The good, the bad and the ugly

  1. This was hilarious. You are indeed sounding like your father.

    I loled at

    I go pink, I sweat profusely, my hair takes on a life of its own, and every time I get bitten by a mosquito (all the sodding time), my wimpy Anglo Saxon genes panic and fire off gallons of histamine which result in giant swollen blobs all over my body.

    And I liked the categorisation into good, bad and ugly, the description of the technicolour sequins of fish and your conclusion. I also liked the GYKs for some reason. Doesn’t seem so long ago since you were one


    On 10 January 2017 at 15:12, Annabel Fenwick Elliott wrote:

    > Annabel Fenwick Elliott posted: ” My last post concerned Bali. You can > think of the Gili islands as Bali’s three teeny little siblings. They (Gili > Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) are scattered between the north-east of > Bali and the north-west of Lombok. All of this is in Ind” >


  2. We are ging to Gili Trawangan for the first time , but I had already agreed with you what happened in those beautiful islands in Muslim countries. In Malaysia there is the most beautiful island named Tiongmann . 16 years ago it was natural heaven for freedom lovers . The resorts were crowded with Europeans , Australiens and Asians . But at the end they built the Mosque on the island and lots of Muslim populations moved in . Muslims tourists from Middle East flowed into the resorts. When they jump into the swimming pool with fully dressed ,it makes us uncomfortable or annoyed. Muslims men are staring at you with the rapists’s eyes . The island became crowded and polluted . So the tourists from free countries were not coming anymore. Who discovered the beautiful island and invested the resorts were met with great losses. That’s what going to happen in Gili Trawangan as well . The religious groups always destroy the economy of their country. They will not build the mosques in new islands . They just wanted to disturb the freedom of other religions . After people discovered the beautiful places and having fun , they will follow and build their mosque . Then they will practice their stupid Sharia laws and make the tourists feel uncomfortable. Slowly no more tourists from freedom lovers are not coming . The hotel investors are meeting with great loss and at the end Muslims invade the beautiful islands and became shit places like Middle East. Anyway we will go there for first time and we will decide that we should go again or not.


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