Backpacker Paradise: Gili Trawangan
In the sparkling blue waters west of Lombok, Indonesia, three palm-fringed islands are strung out from the coast like stepping stones. Two of these islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air, are small and relaxed, the classic deserted tropical getaways.
The third island, Gili Trawangan, is something quite different. Party hotspot, diving mecca, Western oasis for tired backpackers, my home for the past month – this place is anything but peaceful.
If the three islands were brothers, Gili Air would be the responsible one who helped old ladies cross the road. Gili Meno would be quiet and unassuming. But Gili Trawangan would have all the fun.
Like any rebellious older brother, Gili T has a split personality. One side of the island is clinging onto its youth, a bustling party strip that looks down on the other two islands across the water. Here are heaving dive shops, pounding clubs and hustling restaurants, all vying for space on the dusty seafront. Aussies with massive rucksacks struggle in the heat, travel pillows and boots dangling ridiculously, and tour guides with mockney accents advertise snorkeling trips. Yet the other side of Gili T has started to grow up. Half an hour’s walk along the coral fringed coast brings you to quiet resorts and untouched coastline, gazing westward across the water towards Bali, perhaps the image of Gili T in twenty years’ time.
Gili T is no longer an undiscovered gem but it is far from spoilt. I came here to scuba dive and found a good variety of convenient sites with colourful hard corals and impressive deep drifts. On the surface there is a friendly community of worldwide dive bums. And even though the island throbs at night to the sound of clubs and bars, there are no superstar DJs here and the dance floors are covered in sand.
Gili T, like Bali, is not devoid of culture – indeed, the heady mix of raving backpackers and devoted divers creates something quite unique. Now that the carefree backpackers who first settled the island are growing up with responsibilities of their own and the migrant workers are becoming settled, Gili T is finding its feet. Nonetheless, for a more time-honoured taste of Indonesia, head across the water to Lombok.