En Route to the Gilis

I have lived for most of my life in foreign countries and love to travel but I have to say that I am not much of a tourist when it comes to go places for a few days. I don't do sightseeing and am easily bored doing nothing. 
But that was about to change when we decided to go to Gili Trawangan and Gili Air!
Austin was coming for a month and we had decided to get away from Bali with him for a few days. It was the first time we were going and besides knowing that the Gilis are called "the Party Islands", that there were no motor vehicles and no dogs, that it is one of the great diving spots of the world with the Biorock project and that fast boats depart conveniently from Padang Bai, 45 minutes from where we live were the extent of my research.
We arrived early in Padang Bai, had breakfast in one of the warungs waiting for the fast boat and then we were on our way! The trip lasted about 1 1/2 hour and I got my first glimpse of the islands. It was nothing like I expected; it was enchanting, different and I could not stop smiling for the entire trip!

Gili Trawangan 

Gili Air

To get there:

There are many different companies of fast boats and buying from their website is not the best idea if you can go to Padang Bai and buy the tickets directly, they cost about half price. We bought round trip tickets and I would advise against it, the return boat did not come and we had to change company, that was kind of a headache, it is very easy to buy return tickets once you are there and island-hopping is cheap and convenient. Finding a place to stay is relatively easy as well and booking in advance is certainly a safe option if you want to stay in more upscale places.

Blue Water Express Padang Bai to the Gilis/ Gilis to Padang Bai once a day
Gili Cat Padang Bai to Lombok to the Gilis/ Gilis to Lombok to Padang Bai once a day, twice in high season
Ocean Star Express Padang Bai to  the Gilis /Gilis to Padang Bai once a day.
There are other companies but those are my personal favorites.

There is a ferry which leaves every 2 hours from Padang Bai  and operates 24/7, it takes 4 hours to cross to Lombok, from there you can take a public boat to Gili T but be aware, you have to time it right since most boats to Gili T leave in the morning only from Lombok. If you arrive in the afternoon or at night, you will have to stay in Lombok. They are private boats for crossing as well but I never investigated this option. Personally, I think the fast boat is the way to go. At 375,000IDR each way, it is not too expensive, fast and fun.

You can transfer between islands by going to the harbor and buy a ticket for islands hopping, departure morning and afternoon but check at the harbor since departure time can vary, it costs around 20,000Rp or you can charter a private boat for around 175,000Rp.

Where to stay in Gili T:

Gili Eco Villas is a very nice place to stay, on the quiet north side of the island.The seven villas are antique Joglos houses facing the ocean, eco minded and comfortable with kitchens. There is even an organic vegetable garden.
Desa Dunia Beda is very special, twelve Joglo and Kampung houses beautifully decorated, adorable staff, nice place to have dinner, quiet and lovely.
Alam Gili, the Alam hotels are Balinese owned and managed hotels and they are simple, comfortable and moderately priced, the food is excellent. Make reservations early if you go in the high season. The hotel is located on the quiet northern shore and faces the ocean.
Villa Julius is as well on the north side but a little further, this has upsides and downsides, it feels very secluded but to come back at night, you need to get a Cidomo (horse cart) since there is no electricity on the road. It is a sweet place! They prepare BBQ on the beach upon request.
Tir Na Nóg This Hotel/Irish Pub/Restaurant is right where the action is, the rooms are at the back so there is minimum noise, the restaurant serves nice food, especially the pizzas and you can get fresh sushi from Ryoshi as well. The bar has a dizzying array of cocktails, we loved the Mojitos! 
Another option is to stay in a villa
Scallywags Organic Seafood Bar & Grill, one of the nice spots for dinner, not as nice as in Gili Air but very good.
Café Gili, another nice spot to lounge  and eat, right on the beach!

What to do in Gili T:

Diving! There are many dive operators, just pick one and go! It is one of the best place to dive, you will see  Manta rays, sea turtles, corals, all kinds of amazing fish. Check the Biorock sculptures. Learn more about this wonderful project here and there.
Renting a glass bottom boat and see the reef while on the boat.
Snorkeling, exploring the island with a bike (rent a bike for 20,000IDR/day), lounging on the white sand beaches and swim in the crystal clear waters, have a cocktail on the beach at sunset.

Where to stay in Gili Air:

Scallywags Mango Retreat & Scallywags Organic Beach Club. We met my friend Michael, who arrived from Lombok, at Scallywags Beach Club  in the afternoon (we arrived the night before) and stayed there until very late at night, we had tea, then cocktails, then dinner. We were back in the morning for breakfast, lounged on the beach under the umbrella, swam, had lunch and stayed late in the afternoon (that's pretty much 24 hours minus sleep). It was that good! Food is wonderful, the place is laid back with enormous lounge chairs in which you sink and do not want to get out from, it's right on the beach, comfy, yummy, friendly! My über favorite!
Villa Bulan Madu is intriguing, I wish I would have checked it out but our venture at Scallywags
prevented me from doing so.... It looks beautiful!
Sejuk Cottages, 100 meters from the beach, laid back place
Coconut Cottages not on the beach (but not far) but sweet, nice place, nice food!
Biba Beach Cottages funky nice rooms, great food on the beach!

There are plenty of  friendly homestays and places to eat right on the beach going north-west, hire a Cidomo and explore!
Gusung Indah is very nice, the phone is +62(0)87864342852
Matahari bungalows, very nice homestay, good food

What to do in Gili Air:

The vibe in Gili Air is very different, it seems as if one was propelled back in time and I felt I had arrived in paradise, maybe cliché but just go and see what I mean! (And that would be an attainable paradise at that!)
The views anywhere from Gili Air are absolutely breathtaking, if you have a camera, it is the right place to use it.
As in Gili T, diving is wonderful and there are many dive operators.
The island is very small and we enjoyed exploring it by foot instead of by bike, it is very quiet with little pockets of habitations and homestays, people are super friendly and laid back, we spent a few hours lounging in a shady balé  with pillows overlooking the ocean, drinking fresh coconut shakes and snorkeling in front, pure bliss!
Looking at the sunrise above Mount Rijani while swimming, pretty unforgettable!
And in my case, becoming a very happy couch potato at Scallywags Beach Club!

The Gilis have become my number one destination for a no problem, happy short getaway! Not even two hours from Bali and it feels eons back, it is developing though and the ecosystem is very fragile. All the soft water has to come by boat, very often showers run with sea water, everything has to come by boat, which explain the higher prices practiced on the islands. It is a wonderful place to unwind, live in the moment and be grateful for the unique beauty of these small atolls.


Tirta Gangga

I can't help but to think that Beaudelaire, Monet, Rimbaud and Salvador Dali would have loved this place...

When entering the water gardens of Tirta Gangga, one steps not only into a place of tranquil beauty, harmony and serenity but also into the complex world of Balinese Cosmology and traditional architecture, where everything is placed according to the Tri Loka: Bhur (the world of demons), Buwah (the world of man) and Swah (the world of gods) and oriented in the axis Kaja-Kelod, Kaja being towards the mountain (pure) and Kelod being towards the sea (impure) as well as the sunrise-sunset (east-west) axis.
In applying these principles, the place created is in balance with the universe and harmony with man and nature.

Tirta Gangga, which belongs to the royal family of Karangasem, was created in 1948 on the site of a holy spring by the last Raja, Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut Karangasem. He was a born architect and loved to design and build wonderful water gardens (the other one being Taman Ujung), not far from the town of Amlapura.

The king with his wife and daughter 1923 
During the eruption of Mt Agung and the earthquakes that followed for several months in 1963, the place was destroyed and fell in desuetude for a long time. 
This was certainly not because the royal family did not care but because, there was not enough money to rebuild Tirta Gangga to its past splendor.
Through the years, the place has regained its beauty as a result of the passion and dedication of Widoere Djelantik who is one of the king's grand-children and the son of the beloved Dr A.A. Madé Djelantik who was not only a great doctor and adventurer but an accomplished artist as well. He illustrated a delightful book about his life called "Against all odds, the strange destiny of a Balinese Prince" by Idanna Pucci. I love this book, full of stories of the prince's childhood and tales of his peregrinations through the world, it is inspirational and just beautiful.  

The magnificent Banyan tree above the Holy Spring and Temple

The Holy Spring Temple

The Nawa Sanga Fountain is surrounded by eight sculptures of the gods representing the sacred eight directions, it can be seen from any location in Tirta Gangga.

The bridge to the Demon Island

The Demon Island, lined with eight small ponds in the center, is flanked by eight statues on each side and one at the end for a total of seventeen.
These statues have held a strong fascination on me since the first time I saw them, I always wondered what they could represent. There are so strange and fantastic, unlike anything I have ever seen and beyond any rational comprehension. They transport me in a world unseen, one I have never entered but know to be real. 
It took me several visits with the book, "Balians: Traditional Healers of Bali" to understand that some of them were related to the magical drawings in the book. You can read more about the statues here as well if you are interested.

Sang Hyang Angga Sakti (left) Sang Hyang Bhuta (right)

Magical drawings can only be used by Balians who have received permission from the gods and know the appropriate prayers. They are a fascinating insight in Balinese beliefs.
The image of Sang Hyang Angga Sakti drawn on white cloth and placed above the entrance gate protects from witchcraft.
 The image of Sang Hyang Bhuta drawn on cloth and placed in one's pocket helps block gun barrels during war and protects from enemies.

Sang Hyang Loka Nata (left) Sang Hyang Jugil Mingmang (right)

Tirta Gangga  is located on the road towards Amed, past Amlapura and Padang Karta. It is opened every day and at night since there is a hotel and restaurant ,"Tirta Ayu", on the grounds. You should go there if you are in the area, it is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, and like many places in Bali, it is a magical and will capture your heart.