The Gili Islands and Sideman
Before heading to Bali we’d heard of a small group of islands off the coast of Bali called the Gili Islands. Known for some of the most beautiful beaches and best scuba diving in the world, we decided that we wanted to add in a few days and visit Gili Air. We were told that Gili Air would have a good combination of beach bars/restaurants, but also relaxing enough that we wouldn’t be surrounded by youngins partying for the first time away from home. Like Bali, it was a great decision.
We arranged to take a ferry over through our driver Gede and arrived in the early afternoon with enough time left in the day to lounge on the beach with a few Bintang Radlers. We quickly discovered the magic of a place called Chill Out Bar where we could use their comfy beach chairs for free in exchange for ordering drinks or lunch. Their food ended up being pretty good and drinks reasonably priced, that we ended up back at Chill Out several times for our three days on Gili Air.
Gili Air is so small that you can walk around the whole island in about 45 minute and part of its quaintness is that there are no vehicles on the whole island. Unless you plan on walking, the only other way to get around is by horse and buggy, a true time warp! We walked over to the other side of the island to watch the sunset and have a few cocktails. Most places had a two for one happy hour, and if you’re into that sort of thing, a lot of beach bars were selling “magic shakes”. After the sunset we ate a very slow restaurant and Jeremy had an absolutely awful pizza. He had seen a sign earlier for an authentic brick pizza oven Italian pizza place but we couldn’t find it so he had to satisfy his craving at an Indonesian place. We vowed to search for it in daylight the following day.
The next morning, I woke up early and headed to a local dive shop I came across yesterday to scuba dive at a local spot off of Gili Trawagan (another Gili spot) called Shark Point. The dive shop was a PADI certified place and run by expats and I had an amazing one-hour dive for only $36! I’ve been diving in several spots around the Caribbean and Australia and I have to say that the Gilis had the clearest water and best sea life I have personally eve seen! Perhaps because it’s a bit off the beaten path, but the coral was incredibly alive, I saw a giant hawksbill sea turtle, a white tip shark, clown fish (hello Nemo!), angelfish, a puffer fish and more! The boat ride itself out to the sight was a great little island tour as well.
The rest of the day was spent lounging on the beach and we treated ourselves to a special beach BBQ that evening in honor of our 1-year engagement-versary. The islands are known for their really fresh red snapper so that’s what we decided to order, and it came with rice and a variety of delicious sides.
Our last day we spent lazing around the beach and at sunset headed down to see where the horse and buggy drivers take their horses to bathe in the sea after a long day of carrying carriages back and forth. Just as the sun was setting we got to see two of the drivers lead their horses into the sea and you could see, even from afar, that they were really enjoying it! For dinner we finally found the Italian pizza place and were rewarded when we discovered that a real Italian couple ran the place and that they did indeed have a legit brick pizza oven. We split two amazing pizzas that were definitely a little bit out of our budget but were certainly worth it!
The next morning, we headed to the pier early to catch our prearranged ferry back to Bali when we discovered that our name was not on “the list.” This was our first encounter with the transportation mafia in Southeast Asia and we were slightly freaking out about it. Even if you already paid and had a ticket they wanted people to check in the day before to confirm. This confused nearly everyone and it was apparent the people in charge were looking for a little pay off. Thankfully we weren’t catching a flight out that evening and we did end up eventually talking our way onto the ferry without paying extra, but it wasn’t a great experience. Luckily all went well with Gede picking us up from the pier and after a quick lunch we headed to a beautiful black sand beach, the first I had ever seen. Then we checked out the Bat Cave Temple. It’s a really beautiful temple complex, and the main alter is inside a cave filled with hundreds of very active and noisy bats. We were actually there on some sort of Hindu holiday and happened to arrive at the same time around a hundred people came to pray and make offerings.
After the temple we headed to Sideman, a wonderful (and cooler) mountainside village amongst the rice paddies with Mount Batur in the distance. Since it was low season we just kind of drove around to a variety of different villas until we found one in our price range. Sideman was definitely one of the most breathtaking places we visited in Bali and I could have spent another full day relaxing by the pool and looking out at the views as well as enjoying the cooler mountain air. Although our time in Sideman was short it was nice to enjoy the cool mountain air because Bangkok was next and it was about to get a lot hotter.