From Permuteran, we traveled across the northern villages of Bali, staying close to the sea, to get to Amed—where hundreds of jukung (outrigger fishing boats) would line up along the shore. The way they then filled the horizon at day break, like kites on the sea, was truly incredible.
The drive to Amed was shorter than that from Ubud to Permuteran, and we only made one brief stop along the way to see the pearl divers at Atlas Pearl Farm out on their boats, and to curiously investigate the price of pearls in the showroom. The road seemed fairly empty—save for some crowds around Lovina, the most popular of the resort towns along the Northern coast—though we did enjoy looking out the window at passing processions, commuting families, and herds of ducks.
We would only stay in Amed for one night. Our real goal was to get to the island of Gili Trawagnan on Lombok, but wanted to save ourselves from having to drive across Bali at the crack of dawn to board the boat.
Amed, however, is a popular destination in its own right with tourists seeking quiet beaches and good snorkeling and diving.
I have to admit, when we arrived with our huge pile of bags and saw the many flights of stairs leading up to the steeply terraced rooms, I wondered if it had really been worth the extra hours of sleep.
Amed is actually the name of only one village along the Amed Coast, and we technically stayed in the vllage of Banyuning at Baliku. Hotel Baliku sits directly across the road from a beach with a sunken Japanese wreck that you can snorkel from shore. And it worked out nicely that, if we were only to have one night, we were close to one of the area’s most popular sights.
After a swim, we walked along the hot road for a while, to a nearby restaurant with wifi—I believe the pool below belonged to Blue Moon Villas.
The area was very arid, and very quiet, and while we enjoyed our afternoon and the dramatic views of the coastline, I have a hard time imagining spending a great deal of time here unless diving or snorkeling were a priority.
The following morning, we repacked our things and waited in the restaurant for our pick-up to the boat launch. Bali time tends to be a bit more relaxed (“island time” I believe is the phrase), but the drivers ferrying passengers for the boat departures were an exception, and we rushed off to join the crowd of beach-goers.
We grouped our things as best we could, keeping with us anything that really had to stay dry, and leaving the rest on the beach. From there, the heavy bags were carried by some seriously impressive Balinese women, barefoot across the rocky shore, and hoisted up atop the boat. The rest of us packed inside—it felt really crowded.
Despite being a fast boast (it’s only about an hour’s ride from Amed), the crossing felt long and arduous. Thank goodness we timed Hudson’s nap to it; he slept through the entire thing in Aron’s lap. Many people around us seemed to be growing ill as we bobbed along through wave after wave; I kept my eyes on the horizon as best I could and looked forward to the end.
Thank goodness you arrive to this—or else it would not be worth it. Actually, I know many travel to the Gilis for only a few days’ stay, but it’s hard for me to imagine stomaching (literally?) the crossing to the islands from Bali only to turn around and do it again in the next day or so. We actually met some families who had flown to Lombok and then into the small airport on Gili T. That’s also an option, but it’s a more expensive one.
Our bags were slightly damp, we discovered as we dragged them across the sand. There were no strong women carrying our bags this time, so we tried not to seem overwhelmed by the embarrassing quantity of stuff we were going to be loading into a horse-cart!
The Gilis, as they’re called by most, are a trio of tiny islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok. Gili Trawangan (Gili T) is the most developed of the three, and seemed perhaps the best choice for accommodating our one-year-old. No cars or motorcycles are allowed on any of the islands and your option for getting around, if not by foot, is by horsecart or bicycle.
You can hear the horse carts moving quickly down the roads and, once you do, it’s best to quickly step aside. Hudson absolutely loved them and, to this day, makes the sound of hooves falling with a click to mean “horse” rather than the more typical neigh.
We stayed at the far south of the island, at Kokomo (and yes, we heard the song more than a few times over breakfast). The hotel is set back from the water, across the road, but was fronted by gorgeous views of the crystal bay between Gili T and even-smaller Gili Meno. In our six days there, I never got over the sight of the clear turquoise water and bright, white sand.
Our villa (Villa Alamanda) at Kokomo was beautiful (and by far the most expensive lodging of our trip, as prices on Gili T during the high season are, well, high and come with a 21% tax). We booked a two-room villa; which in hindsight was perhaps more than necessary as we spent all of our time, save for sleeping, enjoying the open-air courtyard and kitchen. We could have just had Hudson sleep in our room, but it was awfully nice!
Funny, but when I look at this photo, the first thing that comes to mind is that curiosity prompted me to start reading 50 Shades of Grey on those covered loungers. I couldn’t finish it though! How did anyone?! Such bad writing!
Aside from the bad book, I recall that it was a pretty lovely place to be. Our own little pool to come back and enjoy while Hudson played and napped. For his part, he was mostly thrilled about the umbrellas beside the door.
Every nightfall seemed to bring with it a dramatic sunset. Crowds gather at the south end of the island to watch the changing colors in the sky, and then there’s sort of a max exodus back to the central part of the island (the harbor) where bars and restaurants dot the shore.
From Kokomo, the walk to the Paradise Sunset Beach Bar is a fairly short one (maybe 20 minutes?), so we made a couple of trips.
Fire dancers and rave music welcomes you to a beachside bar with a few dinner options. There were some other families but we were a minority in the young, beautiful crowd along the beach. In general, the crowd on Gili T tended slightly more toward the backpacker-set, and maybe more toward late-night party-goers than those in either of our previous stops. (Geez, I sound like an old fogey saying that.)
On one night we were lucky that the skies were clear enough to see the sun set nearly into the water, outlining Bali’s crowning Mount Agung.
Each morning, we’d cross the road to the beach and order breakfast from the hotel. Again, with everything on island time, we learned to be patient when waiting for service or food—but that’s a whole lot easier when your table is situated on a giant sandbox. We’d take dips in the water, look for hermit crabs, and watch local fisherman move through the water as we sat down for coffee. Hudson was still taking two naps a day, so I’d occasionally stay on the beach reading while Aron took the first turn putting him down.
The fisherman who passed by brought their families with them, and these two made an awfully cute pair with their unspoken exchanges.
There’s a road that rings the entire island, and I imagine it would be fun to rent a bicycle and ride around with snorkel (and water bottle) in hand. With Hudson, however, we stuck to horse carts and spent two afternoons traveling up to the Northern coast.
The horse cart prices are negotiable to some extent, but the cooperative generally works off of a shared map. Rides can really add up if you plan on traveling between sides of the island, so you want to choose your lodging with this in mind. (Currently, 50.000 IDR is roughly $5, to give you an idea; that means around $10 to travel from the south shore to the north shore). It’s also more difficult to catch a ride outside of the harbor, so if you do plan on getting a ride back, be sure to stop near a hotel that can phone one to come for you (in which case you’ll need to pay both the coming and going fare).
Gili Trawagnan translates to Turtle Island, and there’s a hatchery near the beach as part of an effort to keep the population strong. We stopped just north of the hatchery for lunch one day and took turns snorkeling while the other stayed with Hudson on the beach. I immediately spotted three turtles off the reef, whereas Aron saw none. Most agreed that the best snorkeling is off the North coast of the island or (better yet) off of one of the smaller islands, Gili Air or Gili Meno. The crowds on Gili T have made the shore options somewhat hit-or-miss. I wish I could say we had the chance to go diving, as I’m sure the visibility would have been amazing.
Whereas Bali practices a very distinct form of Hinduism, the majority of the rest of Indonesia is Muslim. Locals are no doubt completely accustomed to seeing westerners wander about in skimpy bathing suits in the Gilis (I even got the impression that some teenagers were making the trip from Lombok specifically to curiously check out the tourists), but it would be most respectful to somewhat cover-up when away from the beach.
Once we learned that the water was calmest and the snorkeling best at the northern tip of the island, we spent a few afternoons up around the hotel Karma Kayak. I think, actually, if we were to return, we might seek out lodging more toward this end of the island—even though I loved our stay at Kokomo and its proximity to the night market.
Whereas the afternoon trade winds often made the current strong at our beach, the water up here was bath-like, and completely protected by a barrier reef.
Throughout Bali (and perhaps Indonesia?), we saw food carts serving bakso (meatball soup). I regret never trying it! I hear it’s delicious!
As I mentioned, the reef protects the northern shoreline from strong currents; but it also means that, at low-tide, you’ll need to do a lot of walking to get to a place you can start swimming. It’s like a giant tide-pool until then, filled with briny sea stars.
I was glad to have brought my salt-water sandals for the walk out there. I was able to take them swimming and they were no worse for it!
I have a feeling the snorkeling is still best off a boat or on less-frequented Gili Meno or Gili Air (and it’s simple to take a ferry between the islands—we just had nap times to consider and decided to stay put), but there were still some healthy corals and beautiful schools of fish just a short way offshore.
There’s no freshwater on the Gili Islands; some hotels desalinate their water, and drinking water is brought in by boat. (Which meant that Hudson looked very sweet getting his final bottled-water rinse at the end of bathtime in the sink each night.)
Hudson fell in love with this inflatable duck.
But even though we had our own pool, we still snuck into the large one next door at Villa Ombak one day. Once again, Hudson was given the royal treatment. The bartender kept him filled with tiny bananas!
In general, we found the food on Gili T to be a bit disappointing—most restaurants cater to Western travelers who want food from home (only less well-done versions). The exceptions are the catch-of-the-day seafood restaurants (if quite pricey), and the night market.
Every evening, vendors set up stalls with beautiful local specialties in the square by the harbor.
The market was usually just opening around Hudson’s bedtime, so when we did visit it was usually just a quick stop. More often we ordered from room service.
Though, even then, Aron would sometimes go back and get us all a “kind of pancake” with bananas, chocolate, and coconut, fresh off the griddle. By our last night, he knew better than to suggest sharing.
When it came time to go, we waited on the beach for our boat to arrive (12 noon really meant something more like 1pm). A family beside us kept offering Hudson food–homemade breads, chocolate jello, all kinds of things! It never ceased to amaze me how warm everyone was to him!
This time we booked a fast boat—”Gili Getaway”—through the hotel, Kokomo, and we were much happier with the second ferrying, even though the trip from Gili T to Sanur is longer at around 2-1/4 hours. You can usually arrange a ticket that includes transportation from Serangan harbor in Sanur to your next destination—which, for us, was Seminyak.
It still would be hard on anyone with a sensitive stomach, but I was glad we were less crowded-in; and Hudson, once again, slept the entire time! Phew!
Next & last post from Bali: Seminyak (and onto Bangkok, Seoul, and a new home).