Choosing accommodation in Gili T from the comfort of home
Gili T is a really small island! After reading a few online forums, I figured that we should stay around the harbour (the Eastern side). The area around the harbour buzzes with activity, stalls, shops and has a legendary nightlife scene. It’s a backpacker heaven but we were looking for something more upmarket but still budget-friendly.
After looking at some accommodation options, we were just so spellbound with the Oceano Jambuluwak Resort.
It has a five-star rating but is dirt cheap! The only issue was that it was on the North side of the island. This can be a bit of a problem as there’s no motorised transport on the island. Google maps told us it’s a 30-minute walk from the Northern end to the Eastern side so we thought, what the hell, we young-ish and fit-ish…We made the booking using Agoda and got a great price. I noticed the ratings for the Oceano Jambuluwak weren’t that great. So, even though it looked super cool, I tried to keep my expectations intact. I mean, where do you find a 5-star hotel at that price? There was surely a catch.
Getting from the Gili T harbour to the North side
After a tumultuous boat ride (described in this post), we arrived at the Gili T harbour. There is no physical harbour, it’s just a stretch of beach (ah, paradise!). Stepping off the boat was chaotic! We had to jump into the shallow water and grab our luggage that had already been off-loaded in the sand. All the while, refusing aggressive offers from touts trying to sell us tours to the other Gili islands.
Hardly catching our breath, a man in official looking attire asked where we were going. We named our accommodation and they pointed to the 2 horse-drawn carriages waiting. He said our group of 4 would need 2 cidomos due to our heavy luggage. The cidomo cost R150 for a 5km trip. I already knew from other travel forums to expect the steep price. My group were tired from the boat ride and things were just so chaotic, we agreed to go immediately..
I wasn’t keen on taking a cidomo. There have been allegations of animal cruelty . At the same time, walking with our luggage for 5km through a jungle was not going to happen. We limited our cidomo trips to our check in and check out.
TIP: If you’re staying far from the main strip, I’d suggest you take a few minutes to escape the chaos, walk around and see what tours are available. We didn’t do that and I think we ended up missing out on some good deals.
The cidomo expertly dodged the people walking around and the many on bicycles. It took us through the forest interior of the island where we passed what may have been a local village. It was a really bumpy ride!
Arrival at Oceano Jambuluwak
The cidomo dropped us off in probably 10 minutes. It was only 12pm so I expected that we wouldn’t be able to check in.
We walked to the reception and I didn’t like what I saw – many tourists waiting around and one man lying on a couch looking like he was dying (of a hangover maybe?). This wasn’t the 5-star resort I’d imagined.
The man at the front desk was nice enough. I tried my luck for an early check-in knowing that my chances were slim to none. He said he’d see what he could do. Off we went to sit around the main pool. We ordered some snacks and were happy to hear that the food there is halal. After all, the island’s tiny population is mostly Muslim.
We were allowed to check-in a half an hour early, the man at the front desk informed us with a huge smile. He couldn’t find anyone to carry our luggage so he did it himself (and we dodged some of the waiters expertly riding bicycles single-handedly and plates for room service in the other. Impressive!).
My expectations at this point wasn’t high. The grass looked like it needed a good mow and the place looked like it lacked some maintenance. When I got to my room, I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a nice setup. I particularly enjoyed sitting on the seats provided outside our room, overlooking the pool. They also provided space for drying clothes which was much needed after being in Bali for about a week.
The bed was comfy and the aircon had an eco-mode which helped me to recover from post-nasal drip. The WIFI was fantastic.
Breakfast / Restaurant
I really enjoyed stuffing myself each day at the breakfast buffet, overlooking the ocean. They had an interesting variety of fruit that I’ve not had before (such as the Salak aka “snake fruit”). We ate at the same place for dinner. I LOVED their live band and will forever hold the memories of singing greatest hits while listening to the ocean waves close to my heart. The food was pretty good but watch out for the tax they add on (this is somewhat the norm in Bali but confusingly, doesn’t happen everywhere). The prices are on par with what we’d pay in a South African restaurant but more expensive than the norm elsewhere in Bali.
I particularly liked the cheeky cat with a weirdly bent tail that would cutely harass us for some breakfast. We noticed that many of the cats on Gili had these oddly, bent tails. Luckily, no one has harmed them, it’s just part of their genetic make-up. You can read about cat conservation efforts here.
Both pools in the resort had swim up bars. We never bought anything there though as the prices were steep. There were a few pool tables scattered around that always seemed to be occupied. You can also hire bikes for 24hrs for about 50k IR / R50.
North Gili T Surrounds
The Oceano is on the Northern tip of the island. Although there is a beachfront, it’s not the best place to swim. If you walk towards the East, you find many diving schools and more backpacker-looking accommodation. Divers are welcome!
If you walk in the opposite direction (towards Pandawa), you find many beachfront restaurants and cafes. There’s plenty of place to swim and of course, climb onto the famous swings. The sand is full of coral and you can end up hurting your feet. The water is warm and lovely (and no fire coral!!). Do note that the low tide tends to happen around sunset and it can be really difficult to find any water to swim in. This also tends to be the best time to get to the swings (easier to walk up to them and stand on them).
There are tons of different swings to try out!
You basically have 3 options:
There’s no motorised transport on the island so you end up doing a lot of walking. We walked around most of the time but at some point, my feet were starting to get sore! One day, we walked to the main harbour which didn’t take too long (20 mins). On the way back, we managed to get lost in the interior of the island. Oh my goodness, what a mission! I’d advise you not to stray too far off the beaten track as it felt like we were in the first season of True Detective….
We walked around in the evenings without much hassle. Gili T was different in a way as when we walked in Ubud, people tended to either try to sell us things or ignored us. In Gili T, the locals reminded me of the guys in Cape Town (but not as bad). They tended to catcall – but not to the extent that I ever felt really threatened. There also seemed to be quite a few dodgy looking guys selling drugs (more about that later).
It’s possible to get a cidomo but they tend to be pricey.
3. Bike hire
Most places hire bicycles for around 50k IDR / R50 for 24 hours. I haven’t been on a bike in years so it took some time to feel confident on it. It was a great way to see the whole island – much easier than walking in the heat of the sun. Afterwards, my butt was sore from the seat and my hands were sore from gripping the bars so tightly. Despite that, it’s a fun experience that I highly recommend!
Other things we got up to:
- Chasing the legendary Gili T Sunsets
Sunsets are a Gili T institution. Most nights, we walked to Pandawa and watched the sun go down. The sunsets are vast and epic. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it.
Also, if you’re single, it might be a good place to meet hot bodies. Woah, I was pretty amazed by all the toned, tanned bodies that hung around Pandawa. It gave me motivation to get back to gym!!
2. Partying on Gili T
We weren’t on the party side of the island so we didn’t get to experience much of the nightlife. We did happen to be there at the monthly full moon party. A few restaurants offered buffets because of the full moon. Pandawa had one and a DJ that anyone could dance by. It was rather quiet when we there but I assume people probably arrived later. Watch out for Black Moon parties too.
Gili T has a party reputation. One reason is that magic mushrooms are sold openly on the island. Just like the rest of Indonesia, magic mushrooms are illegal and there are hefty consequences to being caught. Until recently, it was tolerated  – I’ve heard the mushrooms grow naturally in the horse manure. I’ve read recent forums online that claimed that magic mushrooms are sort of ‘legal’ on the island because there’s no police presence. I personally saw policemen on Gili T and there was what appeared to be a small police station. I’m not sure if they ever enforce the law though… Nevertheless, magic mushrooms are easily available. Just know the risks before venturing down that yellow sand road.
And another word of caution to the party folk out there – there have been instances of alcohol poisoning. I’m not sure what the story is but it seems that because Indonesia is a muslim-country, alcohol is heavily taxed. Some smaller bars take shortcuts and supplement the alcohol with their own home brew. Poisoning incidents have been reported . I hope that doesn’t put you off going to Gili T – like any place, it has it’s issues.
……..There’s a lot more to see of Gili T. I wanted to jog around the island but never got around to it. You can catch a boat to the other Gilis and also explore Lombok. There’s plenty of diving and snorkeling tours. You can also swim with turtles!
The Oceano was a good base but it meant a lot of walking around. If you want to do a lot of activities then maybe it’s best to stay near the harbour. We opted for a chilled visit and that’s exactly what we got.