Imagine you’re planning the trip of a lifetime to visit the countries of Southeast Asia. You’ve done plenty of important gastronomic ‘research’ through sampling Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean and Thai cuisine at your local Banana Tree and now you’re scouring the web for suggestions on places to go. With a few strokes of your keyboard, you discover a variety of highly clickable lists counting down bustling markets, world-renowned museums, popular restaurants and stunning temples.
But what if you want to step off the beaten path? Where should you travel to explore sites that are less well known, but still brimming with beauty, intrigue, history, culture and of course pan-Asian cuisine? In Banana Tree’s ‘Unexplored Corners’ blog series, we’re investigating unique aspects of Indochina that might be new to you, so you can paint an even richer mental picture of this incredible region – and lengthen your must-visit list!
The Gili Islands: Three Islands, All Equally Beautiful Yet Entirely Different
The breathtaking Gili Islands can be found just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, and are known for their endless sandy beaches and idyllic palm trees, finished with coral reefs just offshore.
Each island offers something slightly different for travellers who are looking for a relaxing, romantic escape, a diving excursion or a party, and of course, to enjoy delicious pan-Asian cuisine.
These three small islands are easily accessible via regular transfer services; it takes around thirty minutes on a boat ride from the northwest mainland of Lombok directly to Trawangan island, and it’s easy to hop between the three.
Each island has their own distinct character. Gili Trawangan has a cosmopolitan party scene, with plenty of options for upscale dining and accommodation as well as quiet beaches, while Gili Air is full of character. Gili Meno offers the most authentic experience, and is the perfect setting for a low-key escape.
All three islands are very laid-back and relaxed, with stunning beaches, friendly, causal beachside cafes, bars and restaurants, with delicious cuisine that will never leave you wondering where to eat.
They’re also hotter and drier than Lombok, but with cooler temperatures in the evening. The peak seasons for tourists are between July and August, and December and January, with the rainy season between November and April – although it still rains much less on the islands than it does in Bali, so don’t let this put you off.
Exploring the World Beneath the Sea
The main draw to the islands is its snorkelling and diving opportunities. Each island has dive centres you can go to, and the islands all offer a rich tropical marine biodiversity and good visibility all year round – perfect conditions for some snorkelling.
One of the best parts about the islands is that they don’t have any cars of motorbikes on the road. This means they are extra peaceful and tranquil, and the air is super fresh. And since the islands are only a few km in diameter, it's entirely possible to just walk everywhere. Or at least, have a leisurely stroll.
Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno also have turtle sanctuaries open for visitors, which help the animals’ survival. Here, you’ll be able to see the baby turtles in their pools and learn more about them and their lives in the wild.
There aren’t many other attractions on the islands – but this is part of their draw. They all offer the perfect, serene settings to kick back and relax, especially if you’ve been traveling around southeast Asia and are craving a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of cities.
And once you’re back – if you still have a hankering for some of the delicious food you sampled on the islands, like Indonesian Chicken Jawa, look no further than Banana Tree, especially if you’re looking for places to eat in West Hampstead. The weather might not be the same, but you can take your senses back, nonetheless.