Gili Trawangan (Gili T)
Gili T is a small island off the coast of Bali. It’s actually closer to Lombok and constitutes one of three islands commonly referred to as “the Gilis” (Gili Air and Gili Meno being the other two). I wasn’t really familiar with Gili T and it wasn’t on my initial list of places to see. The whole catching-a-boat-thing put me off as I knew how much time it can take out of your trip. In our group though, the others really wanted to see Gili T and the (Instagram) famous swings. I thought “YOLO” and we started looking for accommodation.
Booking a boat to Gili T
Firstly, it is possible to fly to Lombok and catch a short boat ride to Gili T. We wanted to take the route that most tourists take which is a boat from a harbour in Bali to Gili. Travel forums I read recommended going for a “fast boat” but also going for the safest option as boats have sank en route in the area. There were a few horror stories on online forums but since the same kind of information was there for Phuket to Phi Phi Island, I figured it was an exaggeration.
Me, trying not to be my anxious self, decided not to book a boat to Gili T in advance (that is so un-like me). So when we touched down in Ubud, one of the first things we did was go to a tour counter and book a boat. We went to a few tour counters and we haggled and went with the best price we could find (R450 pp / 450K Indonesian Rupiahs return on a fast boat with the Meranti Express). I’m not sure if that was a decent price to be honest. Anyway, the trip consisted of a 7am pick up from our hotel just outside central Ubud, a bus ride to Padang Bay / Padang Bai Harbour, the boat ride (return) and a ride to our next hotel in Kuta. I was livid when I later found out that the bus drops you in a central point in Kuta – I assumed it would drop us at our hotel. Not cool.
The pick up in Ubud
The day finally arrived and we bid beautiful Ubud farewell. The clouds hung heavy and it looked like it might rain. I was not feeling well and was on a course of medication. I was excited to see Gili T but readied myself for a long morning of travel. Jati Cottages gave us a packed breakfast as our pick up was at 7am.
Our pick up was maybe 10 – 15 minutes late. We were picked up in a small sized bus. I gave the driver the remainder of the deposit for our group. As luck would have it, we were the first group to be picked up. We spent another hour riding around and around Ubud. It seemed we were going in circles. They picked up about another 10 people.
Ride to Padang Bay
Padang Bay is 38km from Ubud (which can be a 1hr + drive). And the drive certainly felt extremely long. The bus had the aircon cranked up to artic temperatures which just made my poor nose run. After leaving our hotel at past 7am, we probably only arrived at Padang Bay at 9am. There was a bit of confusion after that. The driver unceremoniously packed out our bags and directed us to a small office across the road. Off we lugged our not-so-light luggage. I gave in the card the driver had given me and the man in the office gave me a plastic card (for the boat trip) and a receipt for the return trip. He told me (in broken English) that when the people shout “Meranti, meranti!” we must get on the boat. But that would only be in an hours time. I asked him about the return trip – what do I do when I’m in Gili T and want to come back? He said to find the Meranti office in Gili T when I arrived. I asked him about the transport back to Kuta. He said to come back to the same office when we get back to Padang Bay.
What I found strange was that no one gave me this information – I had to ask for it!
The wait at Padang Bay Harbour
The harbour seemed chaotic, filled to the brim with tourists and locals trying to sell you things. Some locals tended to get a bit too close for comfort and I felt there could be a risk of pick-pocketing (or maybe this was just my South African paranoia kicking in). As boats arrived, the harbour waiting area emptied out. Two of us in the group really needed to use the bathroom and we found a market stall where we had to pay R3 for a not-so-clean toilet. Oh well, when you’re desperate…
Finally, after an hour wait, the Meranti arrived in all it’s glory. The boat looked small but I think it can take about 70 people. We all stood in a line as the boat was refueled. The stench of diesel / petrol? would bother me the entire trip. Our luggage was stored at the top of the boat.
Finally, we boarded and I was surprised by the inside of the boat. The inside reminded me of a school bus. There was a group of tourists who would not sit down and made it difficult for people to pass them. I understood why they did that once the doors to the outside opened and they ran up.
As the boat started, I was a bit freaked out when I looked out the window. All I could see was water! Most people closed the boat curtains. We were sitting near the back of the boat and the smell of petrol / diesel really got to me. The boat ride was extremely unpleasant. It wasn’t my first time on a boat but it was the first time I’ve felt seasick. I took a swig of water and struggled to hold it down. Everyone around me looked like they were dying slow and painful deaths.
The sea was so rough and I could feel each time the boat slammed into a wave. I wondered if I’d feel this way if I was not feeling ill. I cursed myself for not taking the anti-nausea pills.
My partner wasn’t doing too well and went upstairs for a bit. There was no place to sit but he said it helped him to feel less nauseous. He told me later (as it was difficult to talk on the boat due to the roar of the boat engine) that they were playing music upstairs and drinking. He also said he could hardly open his eyes due to the wind and water so he decided to come back down.
I won’t mention names but someone also threw up into a bag. It really was nothing like the ferry to Phi Phi Island.
Arrival in Gili T
The guy at the tour counter told me the trip is an hour but it was longer than that – about 1h30 mins. When we spotted land, people cheered. Finally!! We jumped into the water to get out and grabbed our bags. I asked one of the staff members where the Meranti office was and he pointed it out. He told me I only need to go there 24 hours before we want to leave.
By the time we got to Gili T, it was difficult to feel particularly excited. A really long bus ride followed by a long wait and then awful boat ride. We couldn’t wait to check in to our hotel – but we had to.
Departing Gili T
Two days before we left, we finally took the long walk back to the harbour (we were staying in the North). I looked for the Meranti office (just so I’d know where it is). I was in the area anyway. They said to come back around 9-10am the morning before we want to depart.
The next day we cycled to the office and handed in the receipt. The friendly staff took down our names and booked us for the 11am boat (there is also a later boat at around 3pm).
The day of departure, we took a cidomo (horse drawn cart) to the Meranti office. We were issued with another plastic card. We waited for about an hour listening to weird reggae mixes of well-known music. The boat arrived and dropped off the passengers. The boat was already later than they said it’d be.
They asked for our plastic cards. There I saw another tourist confused. She didn’t know she was supposed to book the trip back the day before and they told her she’d need to catch a different boat out. Ouch. I was glad I asked about the details.
The boat back
We had a plan to grab the seats on top as none of us wanted to sit at the bottom and suffer like we did in the previous trip. We did just that and I got the seat right in front, on the left side. I was feeling happy as the music blasted and we stopped at one of the other Gilis. I was so excited when they played the Pata Pata remix. I thought we outsmarted the bad boat ride.
Before we left what I assume might have been Lombok, some safety inspector made all of us leave our seats and go to the bottom of the boat to count us. On the way back up, I gave this TROLL a piece of my mind for trying to chuck someone’s bag out of their seat and “steal their place”. What, are we like seven years old? Really man.
Anyway, I soon regretted choosing to sit in that spot. My side of the boat was slamming into waves and at first, just a little bit of water came in. By the end of that TWO HOURS of getting slammed by huge waves in MY FACE, I was not a happy chappy. I was soaked right down to my underwear. I wanted to move but felt that I couldn’t move as the boat was so full and it was just hard to walk around. The other members of our group found sitting upstairs much better (but they weren’t facing the brunt of the waves). For me, the trip there and the trip back was AWFUL.
Finally, after two hours of being soaked. They rounded us up and found out who needs to go where. They explained it would take about 2 hours to get to Kuta as they have to stop and drop off people in different locations. I know this must be part of the way they sneakily make extra cash, but when they offered us a private taxi straight to our hotel, it was difficult to refuse. It’s a lot easier to make decisions when your hair, top, bra, shorts and panties aren’t soaked with seawater and you have an ocean of salt in your ears.
We took it and paid an extra R400 (400K Indonesian Rupiahs) for a taxi straight back to Kuta (So, R100 per person for four of us). They demanded I give the receipt for the bus so they can claim that we were dropped off.
After the hour trip to Kuta, hungry, wet and miserable (I speak for myself), we arrived at our hotel. The driver had the nerve to ask for more money and I had to hold myself back from saying “HELL NO BROTHER!”.
….This account of events is obviously from my point of view – sure I was scared on the longtail boat but I’ve never been seasick before. I’m not sure if the sea was rougher than normal – maybe you’ll have a better experience (I hope so!). But for me, I don’t want to see another boat for at least a year.