If you only have limited time and want to get the best all-round Southeast Asian adventure, I implore you, go to Indonesia. Go to Sumatra for the jungles, Java for the culture and trekking, Bali for the holiday of your dreams, and Gili Meno for picture perfect paradise. (or Vietnam, of course. Love you, Vietnam).
Indonesia has active volcanoes on every horizon, incredible wildlife, an eclectic mix of religions, the most charismatic and friendliest of locals, the best diving spots… and a few (well, about 18,000) of the most beautiful little islands in the world. Like, for example, Gili Meno.
We rounded off our seven months of heaven in Asia on the white sands of the Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno and Air, three fabled little dots of sand a short boat ride Northwest of Lombok, which is a hop East from Bali.
Trawangan is definitely the main draw for backpackers, twenty-something holidaymakers and scuba divers. It’s where the harbour connecting the archipelago with the rest of Indonesia is, as well as most of the accommodation, dive shops, and drinking establishments.
But it was Gili Meno that we didn’t leave for two weeks. Since we were running super low on cash and needed to save some for our imminent landing in Melbourne, we couldn’t afford the higher room rates and all night drinking that Tranwangan demanded of us (just kidding, we’re actually just anti-social and boring). So we got a £2 boat over from Gili T to Gili Meno, rented a wooden hut on her pristine little sister’s beach for £7 for a night and laid low.
Gili Meno’s main ‘village’ is on the East, but stayed on the quieter, more idyllic Western side, (facing Trawangan, and the sunset, of course), in Good Heart Bungalows, next to the popular Sunset Gecko.
A horse and cart can give you a lift across the island in five minutes, if you can’t manage the 1km walk with luggage.
The lovely lads who ran Good Heart, and the effervescent Balinese lady who owned Sunset Gecko were so friendly and attentive. Since there’s little in the way of medical attention on the island, they looked after me one night when I got sick – something I feel wouldn’t have happened in any of the less personal lodgings on neighbouring Trawangan.
The beach hut we rented was perfect, with it’s own ensuite bathroom (salt water showers though, got to love that authentic castaway experience), and proper doors and windows.
When I say, ‘we laid low’, what I mean is that we snorkelled with turtles for an hour every morning before our eggs on toast and watermelon juice. Then we spent the days swinging in hammocks, and the nights eating cheap, fresh seafood barbecue and drinking potent £1 arak cocktails in Diana Cafe’s charming little stilt houses.
The whole circumference island could be walked in an hour; and the two weeks we spent on it looked something like this.
Unfortunately, I watched the case of my ‘underwater’ camera I bought especially for the Gili’s famous fleet of turtles fill up with water the moment I spotted my first one, so I typically got no below-surface snaps.
But I can report that the visibility was the best I’ve encountered, the coral was incredible, and on average we saw five turtles a day, as well as Nemos, these fascinating long thin fish, and rainbow ones. Please, don’t get too intimidated by my sophisticated marine jargon.
My conclusion/random thoughts
I can’t offer my opinion of the third Gili Island, Gili Air, since we didn’t visit. However, I heard that it’s more geared towards family holidays and has more resorts.
But if you’re a couple, or just looking to peace out for a while, I’d recommend a quick two minute boat ride over to Gili Meno from Trawangan harbour any day.
Yes, it’s quieter than Trawangan, but but I found it to be about five times as clean, much less smelly, and the snorkelling on the West side facing Trawangan (the stretch between Good Heart, where we stayed, and Diana Cafe), as well as the quality of the accomodation beats Gili T tenfold.
Since Gili Meno has gorgeous beach bars, lots more welcoming locals and a village-feel (and turtles!), it even trumped our unforgettable four days on Koh Kradan in the Trang Islands.
Gili Meno also features a rather dubious but non-the-less charming little turtle ‘orphanage’, where, for a small donation, you can release tiny baby turtles into the sea.
One more word of advice?
Asides from beaches so white they hurt your eyes and water so blue and so full of turtles you think you might be dreaming, I can report that the Gili Islands are surprisingly home to one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted too.
Wilson’s Retreat (aptly and adorably named after Wilson from Castaway), on Northeast Gili Trawangan would be worth the boat trip back over from Meno alone. Especially it’s your first one in a while!
Did anyone else prefer Gili Meno over Gili Trawangan?