I had so loved Gili Trawangan during my first time there in 2015, and then regretted listening to other’s pleas and trying somewhere different for the following Christmas/New Year period, that I knew long in advance I would make Gili T my Christmas/New Year destination for 2016. And having since been there a third time, I can vouch for the Christmas/New Year period being the best time to head to Gili T for the social and party scene (admittedly I was lucky with good weather).
My trip began in Kuta, Bali where my cunning plan to crash a party hostel – Captain Goose – while staying at a rad and cheap hotel next door proved fruitful, as I met a group of cool people with whom I not only hung out with in Kuta, but also for most of the time in Gili T. Similarly, when I got to GIli T I met others who were all staying the entire time: everybody who works full-time gets this short period off each year, so no one had overlapping plans. I was therefore able to really enjoy my time hanging out with the same people the whole time – in stark contrast to my next trip, where by bad luck I managed to keep meeting people whose last night it was.
I had a surprisingly great time in Kuta for Christmas, thanks to the people I met and to Captain Goose.
And then Gili T weaved its magic: meeting people in the early evening by the pool or tables at the slightly more chilled hostel Broken Compass, where I had learned to stay on my last trip; before everyone headed over to Gili Castle (the hostel across the path) for more serious pre-drinking and heading out. I hung around variously with a group from Broken Compass, my Kuta mates, and a friend from Australia who was coincidently visiting at the same time. And most of the people I met were still there by the end.
Throw in the usual boat parties every few days and you have a recipe for true awesomeness.
On the day of New Year’s Eve I had a great day joining the group I had met at Broken Compass for a somewhat spontaneous private chartered boat ride snorkelling and having a weird little lunch on Gili Air. We then all headed out together; however, I made the mistake of trying to stay with these friends during the night, whereas I would have been better to accept losing them relatively quickly and just make new friends, Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan style. The place was reminiscent of the New Year’s Eve Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan in terms of busy-ness; but it was as though that many people were trying to cram into far less space, with every bar jammed full. And unfortunately, there were quite a few Indonesian guys who were a bit sleazy; I was never too worried about this though as for every sleazy Indonesian guy there were three fit, young Western guys ready to jump to a lady’s defence (fair warning, there are also about two or three fit, young Western guys for every lady).
The island’s accommodation was also completely full for the nights before and after New Year’s Eve, such that I felt very pleased with the comfortable room at Broken Compass I had booked in advance for the entire week. It was therefore no surprise that the bars were the fullest in the couple of nights before New Year’s Eve (as well as obviously on the night itself, when the boat loads of Indonesians came over: most of them slept on the beach!).
The only downer was the night after New Year’s Eve when everywhere was very quiet: this doesn’t happen any other time of the year, when every night is busy at the designated nightspot – and also doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as the bars were only open one more hour on New Year’s Eve (4am instead of 3am). It seemed like most people felt like they had to get over-the-top drunk on New Year’s Eve and then be destroyed the next day, and it’s true that that did appear in people’s behaviour.
One thing that was different this trip from the last was that Sama Sama was no longer the go-to bar each night before heading to the designated main bar. Its crown and crowd had been taken by Ombak bar, a new semi-indoor bar right on the beach that played house music (a little too lacking in shape or vocals for my taste, but nonetheless a fun vibe – and absolutely packed on New Year’s Eve). It just goes to show how revisiting somewhere, even as small as Gili T, can provide a significantly different experience.
As I waited for the ferry back to Bali’s airport on my last day I felt the same waves of emotion as I had on my previous trip, and knew I must return soon. Why did I think a week would be enough time?
I also realised then that it was not romance alone that had made me feel that way on the previous trip: sometimes a place itself can have the kind of magic sometimes reserved for romance.