Indonesia & Borneo trip: Part 3 – Change of plans

After spending a very enjoyable 3 days in the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud, we took a taxi down to Sanur Beach to book out boat the island of Nusa Lembongan.

Only to find that no boats were allowed to sail there that day due to a ceremony taking place and there being a ‘silent beach‘ policy in place!

What to do? We’d already booked the hotel and it was too late to cancel. And where would we stay?

The travel agent mentioned that we would still be able to sail to the Gili islands.

My girlfriends face lit up.

She had really wanted to visit the Gili islands, but had been told that they were a considerable distance away and it would take almost a day to reach – we had decided that we couldn’t quite squeeze a visit in. Lembongan island being much closer, was reachable in a fast boat in 30 mins, or even a slow one in 90 minutes.

The agent informed us that a fast boat was available that took 2 hours to get there. It was due to leave in 2 hours, but from a different port.

A quick chat with our driver, and we were heading back up the coast to an hours drive north, Pandang Bay.

That afternoon we arrived on Gili Trewangan!

The island has no motorised vehicles. ‘Taxis’ are horse and cart affairs. It looked very remote and tropical and we were excited to be there, but as it was 4pm by this point and sundown at 6pm (sunrise and sunset are more or less always at 6am and 6pm in Bali due to it’s proximity to the equator) and we hadn’t yet cancelled our existing hotel, let alone found replacement accommodation for this island, I was getting a little bit stressed.

We found the first bar with wifi, ordered a Bintang (local beer), and

Gili Trewangan (Gili T) bar - and cats
Gili Trewangan (Gili T) bar – and cats

some food, settled in with the local cats (with their strange stumpy tails) and started the hunt!

Trying to cancel the existing hotel provided tricky. We had already tried calling the hotel to cancel directly, but they told us that as it had been booked via Agoda, we needed to contact them directly. They then also expressed surprise that no-one had been in touch to tell us about the ‘silent beach‘.

I checked the details from the Agoda booking. The cancellation policy suggested that no refund would be made for the first night due to the late notice period; it wasn’t clear if we’d get anything back for the second night. Cancellation was through an online form; I filled in the details and the reason for the cancellation (the ‘silent beach’), along with a bit of a complaint as to why no one had informed us of this, and hit the submit button – only to be told that the cancellation option was not available for this booking.


So I found the ‘contact us‘ form instead and sent off a similar message.

Although the process had been somewhat frustrating at the time, I’m happy to report that Agoda got back to us very quickly and gave us a full refund, which was a pleasant surprise!

The villa I had booked on Nusa Lembongan had taken me some time to find; we had wanted to treat ourselves and literally be on the beach. Could we find something in Gili T the same?

It seemed not. Most of the nicer places appeared to be booked up. There were plenty of basic villas set back from the beach but we’d been looking forward to a bit of luxury.

Then my girlfriend struck gold with the Airbnb app and discovered the Kokita Villa.

The Kokita Villa is the only villa on Gili T that is on the beach. The reason being is that the beach road that runs around the island is in front of every other villa. It used to be in front of Kokita… but coastal erosion has led to the road having washed away, and having to be diverted around the back – only a small footpath remains in front.

But did they have any rooms?

I made a phone call, which was quickly picked up by the very pleasant Dutch hostess, Esther, who happily replied that they
had a few rooms available at a cost of 900,000 Rupiah (£45) a night – sold!

We finished our drinks and hopped in a ‘taxi’. Our driver yelled ‘time to move!’ repeatedly at the pedestrians and cyclists on the dusty beach road that somehow hadn’t heard the horses trotting nor the

A Gili T island 'taxi'
A Gili T island ‘taxi’

jingling of its bells (a surprisingly high number of suicidal people) and only warned us to hold on tight after we’d gone down a huge rut and I’d bashed my head into the roof (I still have a scab a week later when I started writing this).

Five minutes later (and rubbing my head) we arrived at the stunning beach side villa.

Esther and her three cats (Double Trouble, Sari and Happy) gave us a warm welcome and showed us our spacious room. Cold beer
could be had from the fridge, you just needed to mark a tally on the fridge. Perfect.

Kokita Villa - on the beach in Gili T
Kokita Villa – on the beach in Gili T

We spent a very relaxed couple of days on the island.

It seemed that the tourists here were mainly Australian or Dutch (I
believe due to the Dutch colonial history of the area) with a handful of French and Americans. Although Gili T is a beautiful and remote island, the constant stream of backpackers passing by and the busy, dusty and sadly, litter strewn streets of the town made it feel less paradisical than we had hoped. We avoided the centre of the main town and ate at a restaurant Esther had recommended, only a few minutes walk from the villa – Coral Beach 2, a Jamaican place playing live Reggae music. We enjoyed our food watching the band, sat on a sofa on the beach – very pleasant.

Oh, and watched the local cows walk past on the beach!

Cows on Gili T beach, Bali
Cows on Gili T beach

We tried snorkeling, but it being my girlfriends first time using a mask and snorkel, didn’t try for long. I recall my first few times using a snorkel; I had struggled to time my breathing correctly and hated the squashed nose from the mask. She actually got used to it very quickly, but not being a strong swimmer and their being a very strong rip tide, thought it best to stay shallow. Still, we saw some interesting and very colourful fish and coral, and some bizarre crab like creatures.

We decided to hire a bike for a few hours, so we could cycle to the town to use the cash machine and then cycle back and a further ten minutes or so round the corner to the west side to watch the sunset. The villa is on the north east corner of the island, so you can see excellent sunrises over Gili Meno and Lombok in the distance – if you can be bothered to get up at 6am!

This was not such a great idea.

Sure, a bike can be hired very cheaply and it sounds initially like a great way to get around. The problem though, lies both in the condition of the bikes, and the condition of the roads.

The bike chains hadn’t seen a drop of oil since they were first fitted.

The gears jumped around randomly and less than a third were available for selection.

The steering was completely out of alignment.

The suspension was worn out, and the seats in similar condition.

As for the roads… we could just about cope with the rutted track, but when the sand levels built up, it just wasn’t possible to continue – the bike started slewing around and you had to dismount. As we continued further out of the town the road got worse and then disappeared completely.

We ended up pushing the bikes more than cycling them.

Perhaps the roads are better south of the town… but if you are heading north of the town and to the west, I wouldn’t recommend hiring one, although we did see some people on bikes with massive, under inflated tyres, which looked like they were designed particularly for riding on sand, so it may be worth trying one of those if you can find them.

So the going was tough and the clock was ticking, but I was determined to get round the corner and see the sunset – at the
age of 36 (when I was there/started writing this) I’d not successfully

Bike hire on Gili T, Bali
Bike hire on Gili T

seen a decent sunset (I’m not counting UK inland ones in Nottingham!). Every-damn-time I’m late, or the weather gets the better of me, or I’ve got the position wrong and I’m facing the wrong direction!

We made it in time but it was a little cloudy, however it was still very pretty with the sun going down between the peaks of mount Batur back on Bali. We sat

Gili T sunset, Bali
Gili T sunset

on the beach a while amongst the coral, watching little hermit crabs scurrying about.

After the disappointment of a decent massage in Ubud and the unsuccessful attempt by the healer to fix my girlfriends stiff shoulder, we asked our hostess Esther if she could recommend a good massage therapist. She replied that she did but unfortunately he was currently away, but she asked around and booked us a couple of girls that had been recommended to her.

The massage cost only £7.50 each for an hour, and was very thorough. My girlfriend was very happy with hers, and her
shoulder felt much better after. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed mine – in fact, it bloody well hurt! It wasn’t the relaxing, intoxicating pleasurable massage I had in Ubud – this was a thorough hammering of my muscles. However, it was what I needed – you could feel the lumps and knots of tension in my back and shoulders (too much sitting at an office desk and too much driving) being popped out.

I felt much better afterwards.

One thing to note is that with the Gili islands being closer to Lombok than Bali, the locals are more Muslim than Hindus. This didn’t bother us at all – in fact, I enjoyed hearing the melodic muslim prayers in the background occasionally – and the islands being popular with tourists, there were no issues with alcohol. We had been a little surprised to find the massage girls to be Muslims and surprised too that there was no issue with a married Muslim woman giving an unmarried man a massage, but again, tourism overruled I guess.

The next day we left the island. The plan had been to get the 12pm boat but when we’d cycled (read: pushed our bikes) to the ticket office

Gili T, Bali
Gili T beach

the day before, but it had been fully booked, as had the 8am boat – so the 3pm boat it was. The only problem with this was that the hotel we’d booked in Kuta had a beach side balcony we had wanted to enjoy; so we’d planned to be there much earlier. We couldn’t experience it the next day as we had to be up early for our flight home.

And the trip back took even longer than expected.

For a start, the boat was about 40 minutes late leaving.

Secondly, it didn’t go directly back to Bali. It went to Gili Air (a definitely island to visit in the future, even more remote that Gili T!) first, then on further eastwards to the large island of Lombok, before heading back.

It took 3 hours and the journey was horrific – the sea was incredibly choppy, and the boat crashed down from each peak making a horrible metal smashing sound. I didn’t hear anyone being seasick, but everyone onboard (and it was packed) were incredibly silent.

When we finally arrived back onshore, the sun had set and we still had over an hour in a taxi to get to Kuta. It took more like 90 minutes, as Kuta on a Saturday night is absolutely rammed and the traffic jams were awful. When we finally arrived at The Kuta Beach Heritage Hotel, we checked in and told that our room wasn’t available but we had a ‘free upgrade’ to a better room. We made our way up to the room.

Yes, it was nice; there was actually a fancy looking bath IN the room as well as a separate large shower – but I’d specifically booked a room with a beach view balcony. This room was on the other side of the hotel, and ‘featured’ views over a busy and run down looking market street and roof tops.

However, it was late, I was hungry, and what use was a beach view when it’s pitch black and you have to get up to leave for the airport whilst it’s still dark the next day?

We remained put and connected to the wifi to check local restaurants.

We decided not to walk far; having witnessed the chaos of Kuta through the taxi window and the masses of tourists and locals alike streaming through the streets, opted for a traditional Balinese restaurant close to us on Poppy’s Lane.

Yet we couldn’t find it… we navigated the full length of the narrow lane, a dangerous task due to the many mopeds bombing down it
in both directions, and the almost continuous cry of ‘massage?’ every few seconds. We turned around at the end and walked back again, replying ‘no thanks‘ again (and again) to the seemingly endless stream of masseurs calls, and opted for a restaurant we’d
seen a quarter of the way down, Poppies Restaurant.

This was a peaceful, blissful haven in hectic central Kuta! Behind high walls, which blocked out the street sounds, we found an enchanted garden restaurant. The staff were very formal in their behaviour and the way the table was laid; yet wore very casual t-shirts. I didn’t have a problem with that; it just seemed a little at odds. They performed other very formal serving yet made a mess of pouring the wine.

The food was nothing amazing; very average (there seems to be some very mixed reviews on Tripadvisor). We’d enjoyed the escape from the busy streets though, and I had a rather nicely presented cocktail!

Cocktail in Kuta, Bali
Cocktail in Kuta, Bali

Next day we were up early and headed towards the airport.

We were happy to leave Kuta but sad to leave Bali.

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