Gili Meno has traditionally been known as the honeymoon island for couples wanting a quiet place to chill. However, it is increasingly gaining popularity among all types of travellers – young, old, single, couples with families, anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
So if you are worried about going solo to Gili Meno then don’t be. It is the perfect place to unwind and pamper yourself with such friendly locals you won’t ever feel lonely. In fact, you may enjoy the ‘me’ time so much you will find it hard to leave and rejoin your pack.
Imagine a small island surrounded by white sand, coral reefs with no cars or traffic. Bamboo huts with alang-alang thatched roofs and small warungs offering Indonesian fare. Locals going about their daily business by horse and cart. Chilling in a bean bag sipping coconuts or cocktails as the sun sets. Daily swims with turtles in crystal clear water. This is Gili Meno.
How to get there
Perth now has direct budget flights to Lombok with Air Asia. It’s then a car and boat transfer to the Gili Islands off the North West Coast which takes about 2 to 3 hours in total depending on the traffic in Sengiggi and Mataram on the mainland. Of course from Bali you have the choice of a fast boat or a short flight. I recommend pre-booking your transfer online through Lombok Network or Gili Island Transfers to maximize your time so you don’t need to mess around and haggle for fares at the airport for a car and wait for the public ferry. Arriving in your own speed boat is the way to go and you’ll feel a bit like a rock star. It’s then a 100,000 rupiah trip by horse and cart, the local taxi, to your accommodation from the harbour. I actually arrived after a four day stay on Gili Air via a private speed boat offering door to door service. Anything is possible if you ask around.
When to go
I booked a last-minute winter getaway in need of some sun. June to August is peak season but it’s also dry and hot at that time of year, making it ideal vacation weather. The breeze is cool in the evenings and for those that hate humidity, this is the time go. However, the vegetation is a lot drier and is not as green and lush as the wet season. In fact, you can do your bit to get tourism back on track by booking a last-minute trip before the Gili Meno secret gets out and the Gilis are back on the hotlist.
Where to stay
You may need to book in advance to get the accommodation you want in the busy season however as the islands are not quite as busy now, with businesses still renovating post last year’s earthquake, there are still last-minute options available.
Recommended favourites Seri Resort and Karma Reef were full, so I opted for Villa Samalas on the northern tip of the island in front of the best snorkeling spot with a small strip of bars and eateries well away from the crowds at the harbour.
Just 100 meters back from the beach, Villa Samalas offers four new air-conditioned rooms with huge bathrooms and large king-size beds. It is still awaiting final touches to give it a homey feel as well as the pool and onsite Italian restaurant, but its location is ideal. There are also free bikes for guests to use to explore the island. Next door to Villa Samalas is the rustic Shangri-la – a traditional style Sasak house that would be perfect for families.
The new kid on the block, Meno House, is definitely your go-to if you want a slice of luxury with an amazing pool surrounded by six deluxe rooms. Built by an Australian couple there is also a private two-bedroom villa upstairs and the whole property can be rented out for weddings.
For the backpacker, there are loads of bamboo thatched-roofed bungalows for rent such as YaYa bungalows which will cost you only 300,000 rupiahs a night.
Over on Gili Air, I stayed at Salim Cottages behind Raja’s Bar in a renovated joglo which had an awesome pool. Definitely my pick on Gili Air if you are island hopping.
The best place to see turtles
If you are like me, snorkeling means goggling sealife without hordes of tourists kicking me with their fins. This means you need to know the best time to snorkel and where to snorkel. If there is one thing you need to pack its booties. As the island is surrounded by coral reefs even walking out for a swim can be treacherous – no one wants to spend their holiday pulling urchin antennae from their feet. If you don’t have a pair the local huts dotted around the island will hire them out with snorkel and fins. My hot tip is EBY Snorkelling on the north of the island next to YaYa bungalows. Hire a boat and ask to be taken to see the turtles away from the other tourists directly in front of their hut. I also got up early each morning before the boatloads of tourists arrived and ventured out again in the afternoons. There’s also an abundance of fish including Dory and Nemo.
Watch the sunset every night and never get bored
Meno House has prime position for sunsets, however my favourite place was the new Irish bar, Slainte, with their frozen strawberry daiquiris. A recent addition to the island this bar may also be lay claim to being the Irish Bar on the smallest Island in the world. Here you can slurp down your cocktails or Bintang as the sun sets with Mt Agung, in nearby Bali, casting a stunning silhouette. I never grow tired of the sunsets in Indo. I still think they are the best in the world.
Indonesian food is delicious and there are plenty of local cheap warungs (cafes) offering local favourites such as Nasi Goreng, Satay Ayam and Beef Rendang. I ate nearby to where I was staying each night. Here are my tips.
Ana’s Warung does a great Soto Ayam (traditional chicken soup) which will set you back just 40,000 Rupiah.
Adeng-Adeng Bungalows has a proper pizza oven onsite and their pizzas are delicious. I even got to try the Thai Chicken Curry special in the making while I was there. Dennis’s pizzas are also available at Slainte the Irish Bar which also does a great chicken schnitzel and a mean banana split.
For something a bit fancier check out Warung Stockholm at Meno House. With a menu designed by a Swedish chef, local dishes take on a modern twist. Lunch can be busy with the snorkel boats so go a little earlier or a bit later in the day.
Hopefully, the Italian Restaurant at Villa Samalas will be open the next time I venture back should my pasta cravings kick in.
Get on your bike
You simply must hire a bike and go for a ride around and through the middle of the island. This is where you will get a real taste for island life and how the locals live. Cut inland just after Bask, where the popular underwater statue is, and make your way towards the lake. Here you’ll find a hippie hangout called Brotherhood which offers a range of workshops.
There’s even a tattoo studio where traditional bamboo artist Sonteng can give you some new ink.
If you get hot along the way there are plenty of places to drop in and buy a fresh coconut to rehydrate. I have to say I did envy those who hired bikes with extra fat wheels, especially in the sandy parts.
Lying on the beach can be hard work so you’ll probably need a massage or spa treatment to relax you even further. Karma Reef has a dedicated spa tent with an amazing therapist Dee-lah offering body scrubs, facials, and massages. I chose the Bali River Hot Stone Massage and fell asleep I was so relaxed. They have a great little Tiki Bar for post-massage cocktails.
I had every intention of doing some Yoga at one of the drop-in classes at Seri Resort or Mau Meno but I simply ran out of time! However, I did do a few classes on Gili Air at Flowers and Fire Yoga Garden in a beautiful bamboo studio which I highly recommend.
This is isn’t the island for souvenirs except for sarongs or pearls sold by the guys on the beach. However, there are a few great shops on nearby Gili Air where you can also pick up Havaiianas, beach dresses and surfwear.
If partying is what you are after then head to Gili T. This is a place to chill. However Adeng-Adeng offers a bar with live music, and the cocktails at Slainte pack a punch with the owner Karl using imported spirits.
Respect the culture
It surprised me that many tourists thought the Gilis were an extension of Bali. Even back in Australia, I had to explain I was going to Lombok to make my way to the Gilis which are a totally separate string of islands in the Indonesian archipelago.
In fact, Bali and Lombok are separated by the Wallace Line which is a faunal boundary line to depict the different species between Asia and Australasia. The vegetation is also a lot drier.
The local culture is Sasak and the practicing religion on this Island is Islam, therefore you’ll hear the daily calls to prayer. Be respectful when visiting the villages and local mosque by dressing appropriately.
You’ll also notice there are a lot of cats ‘kuching’ with short tails which is a genetic trait.
Learn the lingo
If there is one thing I can recommend it’s learn the local lingo and you’ll have an even better time. Learning your numbers will mean you will no doubt get a better deal with the local fruit man. Even a simple thank you – ‘terima kasih’ will go a long way! If you get into trouble, remember beer means Bintang, and you’ll be fine!
The Gilis still ooze charm
While the Gilis are definitely more developed than they once were they still ooze charm. The fact there are no motorised vehicles is a treat you don’t find in most tourist destinations. It was my first time staying on Gili Meno and it certainly won’t be my last. I am already eying off the discounted flights from Perth for the upcoming rainy season when there are even less tourists. 10 days just wasn’t long enough.
Editor’s Note: Getting there from Bali: There are a host of fast boats that will take you directly to the Gili Islands. Eka Jaya from Padang Bai is recommended – bigger boat, less traveling time and pick up and drop off services, but the fast boats from Serangan harbour in Bali are a popular choice. Fly from Bali and grab a car to transport you to the port where boats will carry you over to the Gili islands.