The more I looked into going to the Gili Islands, the more I thought it would never happen. I kept hearing and reading all of these horror stories about how long and expensive it was to get to the 3 pea-sized islands off the coast of Bali's neighboring island of Lombok. Most of what I saw were estimates over $100 that would basically take you to Lombok, where you would have to find and pay for your own passage onto whatever island you wanted. But after doing some digging I ended up finding an express ferry service leaving out of Amed, on Bali's northeast coast, offering a direct 2 hour ride for $60 round trip. Thank god for the Internet!
The Gili's, meaning "small island," is made up of 3 very small islands indeed. Gili T is the largest of the 3 and the only one with a cell tower and a night life scene. Not what I was looking for on my 4 day retreat so I passed. The next island on the chain is Gili Meno, and if I'm not mistaken it is the smallest and most remote of the chain. Tempting, but I also heard it was full of honeymooners, so pass again. Gili Air is only slightly larger than Meno, you can literally walk on the beach around the parimeter in about 1.5 hours. I did it in 2 but I was really meandering. On the east side, or sunrise side if the island there is a strip of resorts and bars, while the west and north sides are much more remote, so a nice mix. It is also said to have the best snorkeling off the beach of the 3 islands, so I was sold. All 3 islands are surrounded by pristine white-sand beaches that disappear into turquoise water, and are without motorized vehicles, so the only way to get around is either by walking or taking little pony led carriages.
I decided to treat myself for 4 days of utter relaxation and splurged on $57 per night 2-story bungalow on the beach at a resort called Sunrise Gili Air. It was absolute heaven! It had a large air conditioned room on the bottom floor with a comfy 4-poster bed draped in white linen, and an open aired bathroom with a deep stone tub and a piping hot saltwater shower. Upstairs was opened-aired as well, with loungers covered by a grass roof and a hammock in the open for sleeping under the stars. So this is what paradise looks like!
I do not have much to tell about my time on Gili Air, as I spent most of my time relaxing, reading, sun bathing, walking the beach or practicing yoga. I would wake up each morning at around 5:30 to watch the sun rise, either from my hammock or the beach. At dusk I would cross the island to the secluded west coast and watch the sunset from a little beach bar at a resort aptly named The Wanderer (I was actually trying to get a room here until they tried to charge a $26 surcharge- uh, no thanks!). In the evenings I went to a bar for dinner and drinks, or enjoyed a movie on the beach. One night I ended up meeting some Aussie guys who had just sailed from Southern Australia, around the west coast and up to the Gili's surfing and diving along the way. They were a lot of fun, and even invited me to join them on the boat to their next destination. Apparently they had just had a German girl hitch a ride to another Indonesian island. Sounded amazing, but I ended up declining as I had my own Aussie adventure looming just on the horizon.
For anyone planning a trip to Bali, the Gili's are definitely worth a visit. And do it soon before they are discovered by the masses.