Gili Islands Adventure
Gili Trawagan (9/9-14)
Diving Points: Halik , Shark Point, Manta Point, Turtle Point, Meno Bounty, Meno Slope, Meno Underwater Sculpture Park, Meno Underwater Scooter
Gili Air (9/15-18)
Diving School: Freedive Flow
Yoga and Meditation Center: H2O
Attraction: Kuta Beach
Destination Recommendation Rate: ★★★☆☆
This trip was initiated by my Freediving buddy, who were interested in Freediving in Bali Island with Mola mola (Ocean sunfish). Yet I had visited Bali few months earlier, so we chose Gili Islands to be our destination after a meticulous research. Many images and articles about the underwater resources in Gili Islands could be easily found online, however, we realized many information is incorrect shortly thereafter.
In September, the water temperate is between 26-28 Celsius degree, the water visibility is around 10-15 meters (some sites are around 3 meters only), with occasionally strong sea current and high waves at 1-1.5 meters, and the coral reef are mostly dead.
To be honest, we don’t understand why this place is dubbed as “heaven for diving." There does exist certain highlight spots, but for any experienced divers, this place shall not be worthy of diving at all. Still, if you are looking for fun and relaxing, Gili Islands could be an outstanding choice among Southeast Asia destinations. The total expenses on this 11D10N trip is around USD1677.
Gili Trawagan Freediving Trip Arrangement
We had our accommodation on Gili Trawagan, where is the most developed one among the three islands. A plenty of diving shops are accessible on both Gili Trawagan and Gili Air, and most of them are negotiable for pick-up point—which means it doesn’t matter which island to stay overnight.
Before our departure, we inquired about twenty or more shops in diving business operation including Freediving, scuba diving, and liveaboard organizations. Most of them do not offer trips or charter boat for Freediving, which brought us difficulties to find one would operate the daily trips we need. Finally, we successfully reached a guy from Gili Air, who agreed to offer us charter boat rental rate at USD130 per day (8 hours), lunch excluded, and we could go wherever we’d like to go around Gili Islands.
This is a gratifying bargain because some diving shops charge far more than this rate. One essential thing to keep in mind is that there are many con-artists around this area, and they would try whatever they could to make visitor pay more, or pay for those unnecessary They look friendly but in fact are extremely mercenary. We always carefully averted the injustice payment but a greater scam is behind this; I will explain later.
We searched local diving points in advance as well, and then we asked local guide which sites were the better choice of the day on a daily basis since the sea condition were quite unstable and more capricious here.
Freediving Sites in Gili Trawagan & Meno
Diving site: Halik
It was our first and the last stop to see underwater lives that is not entirely deadly. Compared to other coral reef destinations we have visited, Halik is an averaged one; yet in Gili Islands, here could serve as the best highlight for divers. At least you could see something.
Diving Site: Shark Point
Yes, you can Freedive around this place, but while reef sharks here usually stay around 30 meters deep and with the water visibility less than 10 meters and strong current, it is implausible to Freedive down meeting shark friends. We two stay in the water were dragged by the boat (it is very perilous…) aimlessly and our guide obviously didn’t know where to find the point since they had to frequently ask other scuba diving boats.
Diving Sites: Manta Point
NO MANTA HERE. This is the biggest scam. It’s about 20 meters deep and there are little lives here, not to mention manta. Few days later, my buddy questioned one scuba diving shop for this, and the owner told her this point doesn’t exist, although people always find its name on most local and online maps. The owner addressed that this is no more than a tourism-operation to attract visitors. We felt terribly shocked because we had seen many images and articles introducing this point, and it turned out a scam. We wondered where those images and articles derived from…
Diving Sites: Gili Meno Underwater Sculpture Park
We had been exhilarated about this 5-meter-deep site for there are loads of stunning photos on Instagram. However, in reality, the water is unbelievably murky and the visibility is less than 0.5 meter. We were confused again how people took those breathtaking pictures. The guide said it is because of the strong current, so we came back again early morning next day. Fortunately, the water condition is way better than the previous day. Still, it was super crowded with 40-50 tourists floating above the underwater park. We are even highly impressed by those IG photos now because we couldn’t find any way to take pictures without “underwater pedestrians."
Diving Point: Meno Underwater Scooter
The visibility here is highly unstable; the water could turn from crystal clear to murky within one minute, repeatedly. The steel wrecks is like a underwater wonderland, and we had fun here for a while. Other than that, there is no coral reef or other stuff worthy of our attention.
Diving Point: Meno Bounty
A 30 meters long sunken platform at the depth around 15 meters is here. It should be magnificent because many larger fishes are around the giant platform; unfortunately, the visibility was poor. If diving toward the shore, you will find hundreds of thousands dead coral reefs, which upset us. Here we encountered few turtles looking for weeds under the dead coral reefs.
Diving Point: Meno Slope
Poor visibility and nothing special found here. We sometimes suspected if our guide took us to wrong places. How could our experiences be utterly disparate from what we learned online?
Diving Point: Turtle Point
To be an experienced Freediver, we have seen too many turtles already. But this point unexpectedly wowed us for it is home to numerous super giant turtles. They stayed at the bottom of sea floor, where is about 15 meters deep. It is a good place to Freedive since the current is relatively small and divers can get away from the crowd on the surface, enjoying quiet and romantic dates with turtles.
Spearfishing and Boat Fishing
We spent one day on hunting our own dinner. My buddy did spearfishing with a local instructor; I stayed on the boat doing fishing since I miserably contracted a cold. The 2-hour trip charged USD64 for spearfishing only, including speargun, instructor, and guarantee to earn big fish. For fishing, USD23 more was added to the price, including necessary equipment but no guarantee to caught fish.
The waves were 0.8-1 meter high that afternoon, and our boat was like a pirate ship in Disney land. The caption, Ali, pulled a huge box full of small dead fish and cut them into pieces so we could use them as baits. I got five small fish within an hour, and those fish are not really edible. Honestly, this activity is detrimental to our endangered ocean resources, and my feelings vacillated between the joy that I caught fish and the anxiety that I believed what I had done was inappropriate. These fish ended up going to that huge box so they would serve as baits for future fishing; not until that moment did I understand why plenty of small dead fish were inside it.
My buddy, on the other hand, took back three big fish by spearfishing. It was actually the trophy of the instructor, my buddy told me it was challenging and she could not target her prey while she couldn’t even find where did they locate. Anyway, we had them cooked by a local restaurant with service payment for USD11. They were tasty, and we shared our fish with a lovely cat.
Life in Gili Trawagan & Gili Air
Well, I didn’t have chance to Freedive around Gili Air as I was sick and therefore forced to stay on land. For diving, Gili sucks; but I must admit, Gili Trawagan combines the best things all together: island style life, classic pop music from 2000-2010, exotic bars and restaurants, excellent Indonesian gourmet, and lovely fairy-tale-like transportation: horse carriage. Especially there are bikes all around, it makes me feel like being in an university town.
During daytime, riding a bike to circle around the Trawagan Island is a great experience. Most of the roads are riding friendly except some sandy ones are a bit difficult in northern part of the island. You can rent bike everywhere, usually at a rate of USD3 for 24 hours. To circle around the whole island takes about an hour, depending on how long you would like to stay in those scenery spots.
You also can hire a horse carriage, which is very expensive regarding local living standard, at a rate of USD15 for 10 minutes ride. I think people here manage well for horse excrement because you can’t find those stuff on road, unlike Santorini Island in Greece, donkey excrement everywhere and visitors have to bear the invasive odors. Simply walking around is also enjoyable.
Most of sea islands in tropical suffer electricity shortage and instability, and this is why Gili Trawagan amazed me for its splendid night life. People here are artists of light and lamp, and they use electricity in a profligate way. Walking on the main street at night is a visual and auditory feast, with dazzling and creative light decoration as well as classic pop music played individually by each shop. Sama sama, a live raggae bar is my favorite.
Here is also a paradise for Sheesha, a waterpipe tobacco originated from Middle East, and Magic Mushroom milkshake or cocktail, if you are interested in them.
Food is the most blessing things in Indonesia, in my viewpoint. My Bali experience convinced me their all-time delicious cuisine are trustworthy. Even some restaurants totally mess up with the food, it will somehow turn out a mediocre level. I think my comment is rather detached, after all, I am from a gourmet kingdom, Taiwan.
My favorite Indonesian dish is Mie goreng ayam, fried noodles with chicken. Apology for my incapability to describe this dish, you just have to try it yourself. Another highlight is freshly squeezed juice, available from lemon, mango, banana, orange, dragon fruit, papaya, watermelon, and so on. Price at merely USD1.5 for one glass, so my buddy and I enjoyed ordering at least 2 glasses of juice for each meal because it usually charged USD5-8 for one glass in our living city Taipei.
What’s more, Indonesian dining impressed us with its awareness of protecting environment. Rare parasitic product could be found on the islands and they use environmental-friendly material for lunchbox or straw alternation. Also, you could find many healthy food choices.
On Gili Air, things are similar with that in Trawagan, but the overall ambiance and life pattern is more tranquil. Less restaurants and bars allows more room for beach. It is also less developed in central island; therefore, visitors could enjoy forest-like landscape even on a sea island. Bougainvillea flowered everywhere, in white, pink, and orange.
Wooden swing in the sea is the hallmark in this area. I spent most of my time on riding bikes (it is challenging in Gili Air for the sandy roads here; I think my bike rode me, not I rode it), swinging in the sea and taking sun bathing.
However, sad thing does exist. One day I saw a little offshore island, and I approached it out of curiosity. The closer I was, my heart sank the more: this island is actually a large pile of dead coral reefs… RIP. The dwindling population of coral reef needs our attention and action.
Gili Air Freedive School
Before arriving Gili Islands, I contacted Freedive Flow, a Freedive school on Air, for inquiring depth training program. My original plan was to take four training (USD32/one training) and to reach depth at 32-35 meters. Like mentioned, I got cold so instead I spent time here hanging around with Freediving people. It is a nice place to chill, and one of my Freediving friends here informed me that the owner, Oli Christen, is the original author for AIDA Education materials. Hopefully I could come back one day to train my skills with them.
Gili Air Yoga & Meditation Center
Well, I can’t Freedive doesn’t mean I can’t do anything to practice. I attended a local yoga class in the hope to learn new skills for further stretching my diaphragm. This place is named H2O, and I realized why they gave such name as I saw the classes they arranged. They designed the class by combining the elements and different forms of water to yoga lessons. However, my experience was embarrassing because I coughed a lot during the class, which is a meditation program, while everybody stayed absolute quite.
One class is USD9 for 1.5 hour, a very friendly price compared to those in Taiwan charged more than USD20 for 1 hour. They also offer aqua yoga every noon in the pool.
Lombok Kuta Beach
I spent my last moment in Lombok Kuta for two reasons: one, it only takes 40 mins from here to airport; two, loads of folk people insisted here is the best place to stay. I think this well-known Kuta Beach is quite meretricious because the sand is not as soft as expected, with many dead weed on the beach, and the water looks not stunning at all.
I met a gay couple and we helped each other take photos, the only fun I had here. I did find a man enjoyed himself by sitting on the great rock reading a novel, and I coveted his seat pretty much. In short, I don’t think Kuta Beach worth of visiting. My buddy was back in Taiwan at that time, and she said I might want a visit to Pink Beach, where is about an hour drive from Kuta area. But I was exhausted because of the long traveling from Gili Islands, and my intuition told me it could be another scan so I just gave it up.
So, it’s pretty much the end of my Gili Islands journey. My review to this destination remains the same: awkward for Freediving but a fine choice for land life relaxation. I am gonna miss the Indonesian food a lot as well as the lovely tropical symbol, the plumeria.