For more detail, read my blogs on Gili Air.
For the sake of the tourists who are yet to follow you to Gili Air, please always try and negotiate. This helps to keep prices under control…
Regardless, you should always negotiate for better prices in Mid Season and Low Season. In many instances you can get HALF the High Season price.
The average stay on the island is 2-4 days. If you are staying longer, you have ‘negotiating power’. If you want a bicycle for 1 week, offer to pay for 4 days. If you want accommodation for 3 weeks, offer them HALF the rack rate…
KNOW THIS FIRST:
The minimum wage in Indonesia is meant to be 1.6m per month (NZ$160) but this is not always paid. Workers can get less than that and employers can bypass this minimum by bringing them on as trainees.
To put this into perspective, a waiter works from 7am to 10pm seven days each week to earn 2.0m (NZ $200) a month – which is 67k each day – 70k is what it costs you to buy 2 large bottles of Bintang Beer.
Even a local chef in a waterfront restaurant will only get about 2.5m a month (NZ$250).
The Gili Islands are doing well and the tourists are coming in. This means that some workers (like those in the dive shops) get a small cut of the profits as an incentive scheme… this might up their monthly wage to 2.5m a month – or 2.5 large Bintangs per day… Yet, there is almost no crime on the island. They don’t even have a resident policeman. You, probably, have more to worry about from fellow tourists than you do from the local islanders.
Yes, they want you to spend your money in their resort, restaurant, or bar. As you walk down the path they will try to tempt you in but it is far from the type of harassment that you get in places like Kuta.
Just remember how much these people earn and be polite and respectful. A simple smile and ‘no thank you’ is all that is needed. It works even better if you say it in their language ‘tidak terima kasih’ (spoken tidak terrymakassy).
You hop off of the boat into shallow (warm) water about 1 foot deep and paddle to shore. They transfer your bags to the shore for you.
This can be tiring and inefficient. It’s better to just explore on your own and to negotiate your own price.
Walk left from the harbour (west) for the quieter waterfront options. Walk under the ‘archway’ and up the path (north) to get to the Village options. Walk right from the harbour (east) for the ‘main drag’ which starts about 50m down the waterfront path.
Some of the higher end establishments accept cards but, generally, places are cash only. There are two ATM kiosks on the island which sometimes run out of money or stop working. So, always arrive with some money in your pocket. If you get desperate, you can always go over to Gili T and use the ATM there.
The first ATM kiosk is at the 7Seas which is about 50m right of the harbour on the start of the ‘main drag’. Inside, you will find 2 ATM machines: the machine on the left dispenses up to 3.0m and the machine on the right up to 1.5m.
The other ATM kiosk is at the far end of the ‘main drag’ near the Bel Air resort. There are 2 machines. The one at the front dispenses up to 1.5m; the one at the back dispenses up to 1.25m.
There are no motorised vehicles allowed on the island. You have 3 basic options: walk, bicycle, or catch a small horse-drawn taxicab (Cidomo).
Comparatively speaking they over-charge for what you get.
Typically they want 100k to take you any short distance and more for more.
This makes each ride 2 times the minimum daily wage! Please, please, please, negotiate hard with these guys… they are, obviously, asking these prices because tourists before you have paid these prices… it is time for them to know that they have reached the upper limit.
The going rate for bicycle rental on the island is 35k / day.
The waterfront path is easy riding around half of the island on the southern side and, of course, everywhere inland.
Personally, I think that you could stay anywhere on the island quite happily. The distances are small and you can hire bicycles for day-to-day transport.
Outside of Bali (which is predominantly Hindu), Indonesia is predominantly Muslim. That means that there are Mosques and that there are loud speakers from the top of those Mosques calling the faithful to prayer several times each day. One of those calls to prayer is at 04:30 in the morning. A voice on a microphone from the top of a Mosque can carry a long way! It can be heard everywhere on the island… but, you get used to it.
Gili A is small… you can walk around the island in 1.5 hours and across the middle of it coast-to-coast in about 20-30 minutes.
But my advice is that (unless you are Muslim), if you are going to stay in the village, find out where the mosque is first… and look on the other side of the village.
I was, effectively, on Gili Air in ‘Mid Season’. It was actually ‘Low Season’ but also ‘High Season’ because of Christmas and New Year (where many resorts get booked out).
I chose Gita Gili. They have a beachfront restaurant and Bungalows conveniently set back from the path. They normally charge 400k for a Fan Bungalow and 600k for an Aircon Bungalow and 900k for an Aircon Family Bungalow.
I was staying 3 weeks, so I used my ‘negotiating power’. They offered me 200k for Fan and 300k for Aircon. I took the latter. It included a simple free breakfast
– Banana Pancake; or
– Scrambled Eggs; or
– Toast & Jam; and
– Either Tea or Coffee.
They have free WiFi but only in the restaurant. It is not that fast… which is what I was expecting anyway (and why I bought my own TelKomSel simPATI card back in Kuta).
It is only 5 minutes walk to the village and similar rooms there were going for 150k to 200k. But, I wanted to be on the Waterfront with more of the ambience and more of the action.
Lesson Learnt: Don’t worry too much about booking hotels and bars with WiFi. Just get an XL sim card for your phone. You can buy a sim card with its own phone number with 100 free minutes and 5.1Gb of data that last 1 month for 120k (NZ$12 / US$9). You will find that your own sim card is MUCH faster than the free WiFi available in most places around the island.
Lesson Learnt: In these budget Bungalows you usually just get clean white sheets on your bed; no blankets. With the aircon on, you can get very cold in the small hours of the morning. In the end, I had to set my aircon at 27 degrees to remain comfortable all night. It was only 29 degrees outside anyway. I could have saved 100k per night just getting a Bungalow with a Fan… that 100k would have covered my food for a day [but, obviously, not my beers 🙂 ].
BARS & RESTAURANTS:
In my view, these sorts of places can change weekly. What was good a couple of months ago when someone else was there may not be true today when you are there. Just walk around and find the ones that you like.
He told me to go to Eazy Gili in the village and have the Olah Olah (whatevever that is). He lives on the island and should know.
One night I set out to find the most expensive Indonesian dish in the village. I checked out all of the menus… I couldn’t find anything over 50k.
Most Happy Hours exclude beer but give you 2 for 1 cocktails made from local alcohol – which I tend to avoid because I have heard that some places lace the ‘local’ stuff with methanol (which is not a healthy option). There have been a lot of issues in Kuta.
Food along the Waterfront is westernised with BBQs and Pizzas etc. Whole fish dishes are usually sold by the 100g. You can find local dishes on the Waterfront but, I would suggest that, the village is where you go for the best Indonesian cuisine at the best prices.
Along the waterfront places like Gita Gili will do you wood fired pizzas for 30-40k, and Beef Kebabs off the BBQ for 30k. At the other end of the scale, you can get a Fillet Steak topped with Feta Cheese on a bed of potatoes in a cream sauce for 150k at Scallywags.
POWER & ELECTRIC:
I came with my Travel Plug and a set of accessories in My Luggage fully expecting that I would be well covered. I was not.
The power sockets in Indonesia are deeply inset so my Universal Travel Plug couldn’t get in far enough to connect properly.
In the village I found the Yunik Shop (when I first walked by, I thought it said the Junk Shop – which was how it looked)… anyway the guy inside was a delight. I explained what I wanted and he took me to the back of the shop where he kept plugs. He says ‘12’ for normal plug and ‘15’ for an Indonesian Travel Plug… I chose the latter.
Well, back in NZ you buy Travel Plugs for NZ$20 (200k) and up, so I assumed that he was saying 120k and 150k. When I got to the counter to pay I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, 15k (NZ$1.50). A bargain. My power problems seemed to be solved.
So, I get back with my new Travel Plug… connect everything up that night and go to sleep thinking that all of my Flashpacking Technology will be fully empowered in the morning… wrong.
My ASUS Tablet was only charged to 50%… it was struggling to get a charge even thought it was directly plugged in to the wall socket (and not sharing power with any other charging device)…
It would seem that Indonesia changed from a 110v network to 220v several years ago. However, the power is ‘dirty’ and ‘unregulated’. Power outages are common on the island.
My Tablet (like most Tablets) needs a solid 2amps to charge; if it gets less than 2amps it will not charge at all. Laptop computers tend to come with good transformers that help to resolve this problem… but Tablets that get charged by USB technology are much more susceptible to the ‘dirty’ power problem. They can also get ‘fried’ by the odd power surge.
I was lucky, I brought a Solar Powerbank with me. I overcame my problem by plugging the powerbank into the wall and my Tablet into the 2amp output on the powerbank. This ‘cleaned up’ the power enough to allow my Tablet to charge.
THE DRUG SCENE:
There is a drug scene on the island but it is very ‘low key’. Most of the ‘budget’ resorts can provide what you need.
You also quickly notice that most of the men smoke in Indonesia. You also notice that many of the tourists do too. On many occasions I found myself sitting in a crowd of people and being the only non-smoker.
Yes, you can sometimes sit at a bar and smell marijuana drifting through the air… so what. My ‘friend’ tells me that a magic mushroom fruit-shake is 100k. I met some tourists who had paid 200k for a ‘tinny’ of marijuana that was enough for about 5 joints.
An island hopping boat runs between Gili A, Gili M, and Gili T.
The boat leaves in the morning from Gili A to Gili M at 08:30, returns at 15:30, and costs 30k.
LOCAL SHOP: Small pottle of shower gel: 10k. Small pottle of shampoo: 10k. Can of DEET repellent: 15k. Laundry: 20k per kilo. Small bottle of water: 3k. Large bottle of water: 5k. Pair of cheap jandles: 15k. Can of coke: 8k.
There are 2 medical centers on the island: one at the central Village crossroads and one inland from Bel Air (sign posted as GAM – Gili Air Medical). Both are run by young guys and both try and charge western prices. Don’t let them get away with it: offer them less than half what you would normally pay for a similar visit in your home country.
As an example, I had some sores from my sandals rubbing and from a couple of mozzie bites that went bad. The village doctor charged me 200k for a small tube of steroid antiseptic cream.
In addition, I later developed a tonsil infection and went to the GAM. He spent about 2 minutes looking at my tonsil and gave me 15 tablets of antibiotics and 10 tablets of pain-killers. He wanted 650k. I said no. He dropped to 500k immediately and (since I was sick) I caved in and paid it. That is how much I would pay for a 30 minute visit to my doctor in NZ!
Besides the costs, there is a serious point here and that is that everything can turn nasty very quickly. Things that you would normally ignore in you home country (like shoe blisters) can become a problem in the Indonesian climate. Mine developed red rings around them and turned into holes. Even when they finally healed, they healed with holes. Get on top of any knocks and scratches straight away.
I showed my infected blisters to an English girl who had been on Gili Air the year before – she had got exactly the same thing. It is worth noting that she is a scuba diver. She said that when she got back to England she went to see her doctor. Her doctor put her on enough antibiotics to cure a horse… He was, obviously, concerned about something.
Please note: My tonsil infection flared up again in Langkawi and one of my mzzie bit ‘sores’ had still not healed. I went to the local medical center. It is worth noting that the quality of this center was much more like we are used to in the west. The doctor looked at the cream that I had been given my the Village and was not impressed: the cream was for itches not infections – and it was the steroids in the cream that were causing my sores to heal with deep holes.
DO NOT GO TO THE DOCTOR IN THE VILLAGE – HE IS INCOMPETENT.
Please also note: That the GAM doctor told my friend that there is a sewerage problem on the island and that he, personally, would not swim in the local waters. When my sores got infected, I was spending a lot of time in the water (swimming and scuba diving). I am left wondering whether my infections were as a result of such a sewerage problem in the local waters.
SWIMMING & SNORKELING:
The swimming around the island is disappointing. The beaches are coral based and sharp underfoot… bring water shoes. This continues well into the water. The water is shallow for a long way out.
The coral sand and shallow waters stretch around the island but you should find that the South & East side is where the best swimming is.
Snorkeling gear can be had for 35k and snorkeling is possible around the island.
A full day (10:00-15:00) snorkeling trip on a dive boat costs 100k; the price includes snorkeling gear and boat transportation to the coral reefs of Gili T, Gili M, and Gili A.
Or, you can do what I did on Christmas Day… 4 of us chartered our own fishing boat for the day inclusive of gear for the same price (100k each)… we did it through the locals that we had got to know at Gita Gili… they brought along their surf boards and we all just had a great day as a group.
The locals say that the best snorkeling on the island is in front of Gita Gili.
The Dive Shops have collaborated and agreed set prices throughout the island (I believe that this is the same on Gili T and Gili M as well). They have agreed NOT to discount below these agreed prices.
The Open Water PADI / SSI is 4.2m (NZ$420) which takes 3 days and gives you 4 dives down to a maximum depth of 18 meters.
The Advanced course is another 3.3m (NZ$330) which takes 2 days and gives you another 5 dives down to a maximum depth of 30 meters.
Fun dives are 400k each with an extra 100k if you dive with Nitrox instead of air.
That evening, I talked to some locals who seemed friendly and honest. They said that:
– Manta Dive is the best
– Ocean 5 is 2nd
– Blue Marine is 3rd
You also have a choice between PADI or SSI certification. My research indicates that there’s nothing between them… so I decided to go with the best Dive Shop with the best reputation and the best instructors – and get whatever certificate they did. Manta Dive here I come…
I found the people at Manta Dive to be a great crowd of sociable and professional instructors with a service focus. I always felt safe and well looked after.
During your lessons, you get 10% off all food and drink purchased at their restaurant & bar. This makes their large Bintang 31,500. They also have a happy hour at 6pm when Bintang drops to 28k… this all helps make Manta Dive a fun place to hang out as you get into the local dive scene. Good value, nice people, plenty to talk about… very special.
This 10% discount continues into the costs of subsequent courses and fun dives. Therefore, the Advanced Course dropped to $3m and the fun dives to 360k.
Bel Air has a flat screen TV at the bar where you can watch cable TV sports (such as English Premier League soccer). Their food and drink prices are above average (e.g. their large Bintang beer is 40k rather than the normal 35k) but you get to watch a game.
I had their Spring Rolls for 40k. You get 2 large, delicious Spring Rolls cooked in a way that you are not used to back home. Rather than deep fried in batter, they came out ‘dry crispy’… yum.
WHEN TO GO:
I am not sure if I would like Gili Air in High Season. It might become a bit ‘young’ for some of us ‘old folk’.
At full price, the accommodation would be double and (in my opinion) over-priced. Most places would be full so, to get accommodation walking in off the street would be hard along the waterfront. The bars and restaurants would be too crowded with some bars spilling onto the waterfront through lack of seating.
Having said that, Low Season is too quiet for me. Most bars and restaurants are empty and 8 people would be the most that you see in any one at one time. If you like that type of peace and quiet then you will love the low season (and the low season prices).
Gili Air is a happy medium between Gili T and Gili M. Mid Season would, in my opinion, see Gili Air at its best.
IS GILI AIR A RETIREMENT LOCATION? NO.
Simply put… it is too small and too quiet.
It would take a certain, special type of Retiree to happily call Gili Air home on a full time basis. The rest of us are likely to go ‘stir crazy’.
A better option is likely to be somewhere nice on the larger Bali of Lombok islands; each would give you easy and cheap access to this little slice of paradise.
Another option would be to alternate between Gili Air and 1-2 other Retirement Location(s)… you could easily chill out in Gili Air Mid Season for 3-4 months. You could get reasonable short-term rental accommodation in the village for that amount of time for 200k per night (if you negotiate well). This would give you a clean 1-2 bedroom villa with tiled floors, separate bathroom, small fridge, and fan (add 100 / night if you want aircon – that you probably don’t need). You can buy second hand bicycles for 2.0-2.5m each (NZ$200-$250) or do a long term rental deal at about 20k per day. You can eat out for breakfast with a coffee for 30k each, lunch for 35k each, and dine nicely every night on the beach for an average of, say, 80k each. Out of a daily budget of 750k, you will still have 220k left for hobbies, beers and entertainment. I can think of a lot worse places in the world to spend 3-4 months a year… can’t you?
However, this is conditional on the waters being clean and safe. Be careful until that side of things are confirmed. Personally, I think that they DO have a sewerage and water pollution problem.
WHAT WOULD YOUR RETIREMENT BUDGET BE?
THE GRANDPAcking ACID TEST: Can a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES.
If you were to retire full time on Gili Air, a realistic budget would be:
Where Gili Air benefits most (compared to other Retirement Locations on my shortlist) is in the cost of accommodation. The reason for this is that the accommodation that is available on Gili Air for long-term lease is not as good as elsewhere in other Retirement Locations. It’s cheaper but you also get less.
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