Guided | Bali + The Gili Islands
This post was originally written for Millican's "Traveller Series". You can read the original post here
I left Bali in 2014 feeling fulfilled but eager to return. I wanted to see more, learn more and experience more of what this wonderful island has to offer. Almost three years later, stepping off the plane at Denpasar Airport, I was hit with the peculiar sensation of being enveloped in the familiar but knowing there’s still so much left to learn, much like walking into the open arms of a former friend.
I approached this trip with the philosophy that less is more and applied this to both the things I packed and the flexible itinerary and route my partner and I mapped out before departing. I find peace in the serendipity of un-planned adventures; of the infinite possibilities you open yourself up to through this method of travel. You can journey with new acquaintances; take recommendations from locals, make the most of a travel day unfettered by excessive luggage and settle somewhere for longer than initially planned, so as to immerse yourself in your surroundings. With this in mind, I arrived with a 32L camera backpack, complete with my DSLR camera, one hotel booking and a list of places I wanted to visit but no set itinerary.
After 24 hours of travel, we landed in Bali at 11 p.m. and headed 30 minutes from the airport to the seaside town of Sanur. Feeling rested and fuelled by copious cups of Balinese coffee, we booked a room and ventured up to the middle of the island, to a town famous for it’s traditional crafts and dance. If ever there’s a place that pulls off being simultaneously tranquil and vibrant, it’s Ubud. Whilst it’s a lively tourist hotspot, it has maintained its peaceful and creative cultural roots. Just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of central Ubud, having meandered past quieter art galleries and local warungs, you’ll find yourself surrounded by seemingly never ending rice paddies, uninterrupted by other tourists.
Having visited Ubud before, we knew how easy it is for the days to turn into weeks whilst soaking up the delights that it has to offer, so after 4 nights in Ubud we booked ourselves onto one of the many daily boats to the Gili Islands (a collection of three islands east of Bali and off the North West coast of Lombok) and at 7 a.m. the following morning we put on our backpacks, mused over whether to have nasi goreng or banana pancakes for breakfast and set off to the harbour.
One of my favorite things about traveling is the actual traveling part. Cars, buses, boats or by foot - I enjoy it all. The methodic rhythm of being on the road allows you take in everything that surrounds you and the 2 hour boat to the Gili Islands might be one of my favorite “in transit” experiences, whilst everyone else on the boat slept I incessantly watched the endless, vast expanse of open ocean ebb and flow past the window.
Pulling up to any of the three Gili Islands is breath taking. The moment you hit the reef you’re immediately dazzled by the clear, azure stretch of ocean that leads up to beautiful white sand beaches. We started on Gili Trawangan, hopping off of the boat directly onto the beach (or into the sea… if you time your disembarkment wrong).
One of the appealing factors about the Gili Islands is that they are all void of motorized vehicles, meaning you’ll pass working horses and dodge cyclists winding down the main strip. One corn on the cob later, it’s then time to wander down the back alleys in search of a reasonably priced bungalow. We settled ourselves into a bungalow towards the centre of the island, nestled in a beautiful, private garden where we’d rise every morning to the sound of the local rooster or the mosques call to prayer and sip coffee on the veranda, often accompanied by a cat or two. The owner would tend to her garden in the morning and we’d chat away the hours, discussing the reefs terrible mass coral bleaching or about her favourite waterfall on Bali… all whilst she tried to stop the ravenous chickens jumping up and tearing leaves from her plants, a battle she fought valiantly but never won.
As Gili Trawangan is the largest of the Gili Islands at 2x3 km, renting a bike is a wonderful way to explore all three of the islands. After days filled with lazily reading in hammocks, snorkeling and swimming with turtles or exploring other parts of the island, we’d often cycle to the sunset bars and watch the sun disappear over Lombok, witness horses bathing in the sea or find somewhere with live music and enjoy a cold Bintang Radler before heading to the night market for dinner.
As it often does when traveling, time slipped by in one gloriously hazy blur. We stayed on Gili Air and visited the lake on Gili Meno and all too soon it was time to pack up our things and get the public boat to Lombok and onto Kulala Lumpur, Malaysia where we stayed for a few nights before our flight back to the U.K.
No matter how long I stay, I’m never ready to leave Indonesia and I’m already looking forward to returning to the warm embrace that is Bali.