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The First-timer’s Trip to Gili Air: Your Go-to Island Guide

Posted on 09/09/2019

The First-timer’s Trip to Gili Air: Your Go-to Island Guide

So, you’ve booked your trip to Indonesia and our little paradise island is on the itinerary. Buuut you have no clue on what exactly to expect once you arrive, let alone how to get to Gili Air.

There’s a heap of questions swimming around in your head right about now. That annoying voice may sound a little like this…’what do I actually need to pack? Like, what will be available on the island?’...but wait…’where should I stay? Do I need to book in advance?’ ‘Will there be vegetarian food available? Will all the food be spicy?!’ You get the picture! 

Well, lucky for you, we’ve put together a handy guide on what to expect in every single area you can think of. There’ll be no drowning in worries on our watch...that’s most certainly not the Gili Way.

Packing list essentials for your trip to Gili Air

What to bring:

1. Sunscreen

You’ll be out in the sun a lot so don’t forget to protect your skin. Make sure you opt for reef safe, to keep our magical Gili waters abundant with life. Sunscreen can be found out here but it’s not commonly sold and is very pricey. Since we’re going down the sun protection route, sunglasses and a cap wouldn’t hurt either!

2. Prescription and commonly used medicines

We have pharmacies on the island but supplies are limited and options aren’t a thing. If you know what you like to use for headaches and you’re not likely to get them out here, bring your medication from home.

3. For the ladies: tampons/mooncup

Tampons are pretty hard to find. Variety is non-existent and they are very pricey here. We’d recommend you stock up with what you’ll need for the time you’ll be here. Or you could try the more environmentally friendly mooncup. It’ll also save you precious luggage space!

4. Special luxury items

If you have a particular moisturiser, mascara or branded shirt you like, there is zero chance that you’ll be able to make those purchases here. We’d say ditch it completely in the spirit of island life but if you feel you need it, pack it.

5. Enough swimwear

Especially if you’re here a while and are not of the Southeast Asian body type. There are a couple of places you can find swimwear on the island but variety isn’t a thing. Plus, if you’re not on the smaller side, finding something will be difficult. Well-endowed ladies, come stocked up.

What to leave behind:

1. Shoes

Okay, so a pair of flip-flops wouldn’t do you harm but it’s also a norm to walk around barefoot here. No, we’re not pulling your leg.

2. An excess of well...anything

Island life takes you right back to the basics. Yes, bring enough bathers, especially if you’re a diver, and a few changes of clothes. Basics aside, everything else? It’s all extra luggage!

Where to stay on your trip to Gili Air:

Accommodation on Gili Air can be overpriced and lacking the most basic facilities. Don’t fear, our Manta resort’s here! From Garden Rooms to Traditional and Deluxe Bungalows, we’ve got you covered on all budgets. We take bookings and walk-ins but recommend booking in advance to avoid disappointment.

Where to stay on your first trip to Gili Air

Though, if you’re here for a long period of time and know you’ll want your own place, we’d recommend finding a home-stay. How, you ask? Well, you can cycle around, knock on doors and ask around once you get here. It’s easy to do your viewings and secure a place all within a day. 

But if you’d like to set up viewings before you come, join the Facebook group ‘Gili Air - Pinboard’. Write a post detailing the facilities you’re looking for and the dates of your stay. Prices are always negotiable! 

As a rough guide, home-stays with air-con, basic cooking facilities (ovens aren't a thing), and sometimes hot water are 2-3.5 million IDR a month in low season.

Dietary requirements and food on your trip to Gili Air:

Choice is big when it comes to food and drink on the island. You can find food for every dietary need in the book. Western and local food options are plenty. The former is pricier depending on where you go and the latter is very cheap. Though a bule (foreigner) price is often applied, it’ll still be cheaper than Western food picks. Great for those on tighter budgets!

Healthy food

For the health food fanatics, there’s many places that serve well-balanced meals. Think Gili Bliss, Aura Bowls, Captain Coconuts and Pachamama’s for your superfood smoothie bowls and salads. These places also specialise in vegetarian and vegan options. 

Where to eat healthy on your first trip to Gili Air
Image by Aneesa Patel/ saltyaneesa

Western food

If you fancy pizza the authentic Italian way, there’s Mama’s and Classico. In the mood for a good burger? Think Olala cafe, Mowies, Shark Bites or Burger Lady. For veggie burgers with tofu and tempeh patties, it's Warung Kampung and Firda Warung! For a break from fried food, there’s Sate Bar where everything's grilled on coals. 

And for a good Indonesian or Thai curry, Ruby’s got you covered. For Spanish cuisine, head to Pura Vida...we could go on. That’s only the start of Western cuisine in our little tropical paradise.

Local warungs

If you’re keen to try local food, there’s a ton of street warungs dotted all over the island. These look like small buffets in carts with glass and most have small seating areas nearby. You’ll be able to see the options, and there’s likely to be a couple of smiling Indonesian women standing behind. 

A lot of these pop-ups won’t have actual names but one we’d recommend trying is a few doors left of our dive shop. You’ll see plenty of people walking back with brown paper cones full of delicious smelling food. That’s where they get it from! 

Nasi Campur (pronounced Champur) is usually for breakfast/lunch from morning until sell-out. Usually anywhere from 2-5pm. But what is this mysterious food you ask? It’s rice with toppings. These toppings range from noodles, to eggs, to chicken, to tofu and tempeh mixes, vegetable mixes, curries...the list is endless. And some warungs have fried extras, like battered chicken, samosas and spring rolls. 

Nasi Campur caters to your dietary requirements, depending on what you pick. All food will have a small amount of spice but you can always ask which options are less spicy, or more if that’s how you roll. Sambal is an Indonesian sauce made of ground chillies. This is optional with everything you order, and it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Eat like the locals do on your first trip to Gili Air
Image by Aneesa Patel/ saltyaneesa

Another popular meal is Lalapan. You choose your protein: chicken, tofu or tempeh usually. This is served with plain steamed rice and a spicy sauce. You can always ask for a different sauce or go without if spice street is not on your map. 

Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng and Gado-Gado are other must-trys out here. All are suitable for non-meat eaters, though make sure to mention that you’re vegetarian or vegan. These are cooked with or without meat and/or eggs depending on your preferences.

Bear in mind that not all restaurants and cafes are open all day, every day. Places close for a few weeks, days or hours without warning a lot of the time, it’s the island way! Many places also are either open in the day until around 5pm or only come afternoon or evening.

Transport to and around Gili Air:

There are many ways to get here from mainland Bali, Bali islands, Lombok and the other Gili Islands, all at varied price points. When it comes to getting around Gili Air, motorised transport is banned on the island. 

Ways to get around include by foot, bicycle or using ‘cidomos’, meaning horse-carts. To save us repeating ourselves, you can check out the details on these things in our last blog: Gili Air Transportation: The Ultimate Islanders How-to Guide.

Daily life conveniences on your trip to Gili Air:

Now we’re on to the life admin part. 

Sim cards

First things first, you’ve arrived on the island and want to let people back home know. But WiFi isn’t particularly strong on the island. Having said that, some restaurants and cafes have good WiFi. 

The first air conditioned cafe with strong WiFi opened recently on the island. It goes by the name ‘B52’ and is one of the few places here owned by Indonesians. The coffee is pretty killer and it makes for a great working space! 

Your best bet would be to buy an Indonesian SIM and mobile data if you need a strong accessible connection. There is one unnamed ‘everything technology’ shop on the island, you can’t miss it. 

Go straight down the main street from the harbour, until you reach ‘Siti Shop'. If you can’t find this - ask someone, everyone will know of it. In front of Siti Shop you’ll see a shop with tons of phones, SIM cards and laptops on display. This is what you’ve been looking for!

The main network used here is Telkomsel. The most cost-efficient way to buy data is to download the Telkomsel app and browse packages on WiFi. B52 is only up the road so you can always grab a coffee and sort this here before heading to the tech shop. 

Ask the cashier to put the cost of the package you’d like on to your phone. Then use WiFi to go into the app and buy the package. For more convenience but also double the price or so, you can buy data packages outright from the cashier. 

Snacks and groceries

You have three main shops for snacks and groceries. These are Siti shop, Unik shop and an unnamed supermarket which is the only one open late. There’s also Coco Mart right next to B52 which is open late but think gas station snacks. 

Siti shop is the island’s IKEA. It has everything from toiletries to food to new shower heads...everything. Unik shop is right from the junction on the main road from the harbour. Look for the ‘aura bowl’ sign and ‘Eazy Gili’ restaurant on the corner, take this turn. It’s the shop with a green sign above it. If you reach Warung Kampung, you’ve gone too far and missed it! 

Note that these shops close at different times on different days but are usually shut by 5pm. The late night shop is left from the junction on the main road from the harbour. Go all the way down and before you hit the big map of the island, you’ll see a shop on the left. If you reach Siti Shop, you’ve gone too far and missed both turnings for Unik shop and the unnamed late night shop.

Medical care

For any injuries or in case you get sick, there are quite a few pharmacies on the island. Look for big first aid cross signs and doctors signs. There may not be the brands you’re used to but there are medicines for all minor illnesses and injuries. Tip: use bottled drinking water to clean open wounds. There has been no freshwater on the island since the earthquake. Yes, showers are salty too!

Be aware that the availability and variety of what you’re used to at home won’t exist here. The essentials do though!

Local culture and customs for a first-timer on Gili Air:

Religious practices

Gili Air is part of the Lombok regency. The first thing to note is that the main religion practised here is Islam. That dude singing loudly in a foreign language...that’s the Adhan, meaning call to prayer. This is called from the mosque five times a day, every day. 

You’ll notice that the dress, particularly of locals, is more conservative as you wander away from the beach. Swimwear is fine around the dive shop, on our boats or on the beach but aside from that, we'd recommend covering up. Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t go to the supermarket at home in your bikini or swimming trunks either. Covering up in general is more respectful to the local culture too but is not expected. 

Fridays are a holy day in Islam. You’ll see a lot of men in traditional clothing, including our own staff, heading in the same direction. They're off to the mosque for early afternoon prayers.

Our boat always leaves 30 minutes later than usual every Friday to accommodate this. A lot of shops and cafes will also be dead zones during this time. Often, local food warungs and the main island shops are unattended or closed at prayer times. This applies every day but is more pertinent on Fridays.

Language barriers

The language spoken here is Sasak, the Lombok dialect. Though, everyone speaks and understands the national language. Bahasa Indonesia. Most people, especially the younger generations, will speak English. But it’s always nice to learn and use the basic phrases. 

It makes local people happy to see that you’re trying to speak the language. Sometimes, you’ll speak a little broken Bahasa and they'll respond enthusiastically in fluent Bahasa!

Animal traffic and road talk

A few other things to note: chickens, cows and cats are everywhere. If traffic is holding up a road, sometimes it’s because there’s a cow in the middle of it. Nature surrounds you which is great, until you hear the cock-a-doodle-doo’s of the roosters through the night. 

Another thing, roads aren’t roads. The main harbour road is smooth sailing, but the rest are full of potholes, lumps and bumps, dirt tracks or sand. Be prepared for this, especially in rainy season. 

By this we mean use a bike if it’s rained heavily and go slow. Otherwise, you’ll be ankle deep in muddy puddles and slipping and sliding all over the shop. Oh, and if you’re on a bike, avoid routes on ‘roads’ that are deep sand.

Island topography, what is where?

Though our paradise island is pretty small, we’d recommend cycling around to get to know the place once you’re here. To get you started, here are a few basics on our island’s topography. 

The harbour is where you’re dropped off and is at the centre of the south side of the island. Turn right on the sandy road, past where all the horse-carts line up. It seems pretty bare for a bit, then you’ll find us. We are on the sunrise side of the island which tends to be more vibrant in the day. 

Spend daylight hours on the sunrise side

Image by Aneesa Patel/ saltyaneesa

Turn left past Coffee and Thyme and follow the road a while. You’ll reach a stretch full of restaurants, bars and cafes on the beach. This is the sunset side of the island and comes to life, well, past sunset! Looking for nightlife? You’ll most likely find it here.

Enjoy sunset and island nightlife on the sunset side

Image by Aneesa Patel/ saltyaneesa

If you go straight down the main road from the harbour, you’ll reach the village. You’ll know you’re here when you see a higher population of local people. They'll often be in more traditional dress. Other landmarks include a mosque, more greenery and more local food options. 

You can also cycle to the north of the island which is a little further away but definitely worth checking out. Food and accommodation tends to be cheaper here because it’s off the beaten track. Though in island terms, this only means a 10-15 minute cycle inland.

Now that you know exactly what to expect, you can come prepared. After all, failure to prepare is preparation to fail. Though, that won’t apply to you after this read. 

You should be singing hakuna matata (no worries) right about now, it’s pretty much our motto. Get yourself in tune with the Gili Air mood! We look forward to welcoming you soon.

By Aneesa Patel / saltyaneesa

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