10 Strange Sights You’ll Only See on Gili Trawangan
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Gili Trawangan is a rare island that doesn't compare to anywhere else in the world. Their customs, social norms and interesting sights are completely unique to the island. Many sights may seem strange from the outside, locals and expats consider them normal! Here are 10 strange sights you’ll only see on Gili T.
1) No motorized vehicles on the whole island
In today’s world, to get from point A to point B, most people take a motorized vehicle . We drive cars to the grocery store, take the subway to work, or take the bus to visit friends. Most people rely on motorized vehicles for transportation. But, when you visit Gili T, the last motorized vehicle you will see is the boat that brings you to the island.
The island of Gili Trawangan is very small, only 6 km² (about 2.3 mi²) to be exact. Because the island is so small, there are no motorized vehicles! The only solo modes of transportation are by pedal bike or on foot. It takes about two hours to walk around the island in its entirety. With a bike, the same journey takes about one hour and 30 minutes.
If you arrive on Gili T and need to transport luggage to the other side of the island, there is an easier way. You can hire a horse-drawn cart, known as a cidomo, to take you where you need to go. The carts are small and can fit 2 people and 2 suitcases per trip. These Gili taxis run all day and night for anyone needing to use them. But you’ll stick out as less of a tourist if you walk it out!
2) A million cats yet zero dogs
The island of Gili T has a huge population of cats! Some of them are domestic, as many locals on the island keep them as pets. Many of them are wild, wandering about the island and fending for themselves. Most Gili cats are a mix of both. They are free, but loyal to a certain dive shop, hostel, or homestay that feeds them.
But, for as many cats call Gili T home, not a single dog inhabits the island! In fact, none of the Gili islands allows dogs at all. The reason is to avoid an overpopulation problem. There are thousands of street dogs across Bali, Lombok, the rest of Indonesia, and even the world. By banning dogs on Gili T, this avoids spreading the same problem to another island.
Still, it is strange to be in a place without such a common animal. Think of how often you encounter them at home. You might own one as a pet, see your neighbour walking his, or hear dogs barking in your everyday life. The absence of dogs might not be something you notice about Gili T at first. But it sure is strange!
3) Bare feet as far as the eye can see
If you’re going to visit a paradise island, you may as well embrace island life. The easiest way to do that is to not even bother unpacking your shoes! That’s right, leave behind those heels you planned on wearing out tonight. Forget those new sandals you planned to wear to the beach. No shoes, no problems!
It’s not safe to be a shoe on Gili T. For some reason they are far more likely to break or become lost. During the rainy season, the rain fills up the streets so high that shoes can wash away in the middle of the night! Luckily, the island supports its residents and visitors in walking around barefoot.
You're allowed to go barefoot everywhere in Gili Trawangan. It makes it easier to walk straight from the beach to any restaurant for lunch. For divers, it makes more sense getting in and out of the ocean all day. Ever seen a full free weight gym without a single pair of shoes inside? You will on Gili T. Partiers can even dance around barefoot at any bar on the island. That’s island life in a nutshell!
4) Multipurpose businesses
If you’re shopping for something specific, chances are there’s a specific business that can help you out. If you’re hungry you visit a restaurant. If you want to take a yoga class you visit a yoga studio. If you need medicine you visit a pharmacy. It would seem strange to see one business offering food, yoga classes, and medicine all in one place.
Unless, of course, you’re on Gili T. Most of the shops along the main strip of the island provide multiple services. Many dive shops have their own restaurant attached. Many hostels also serve as bars. One place offers a spa upstairs, a bar with beer pong downstairs, and a sushi restaurant out front on the beach.
The same strange rule applies to most shops on the island. In the same single shop, you can buy cigarettes, a fresh ice cream cone, a new bathing suit, bug spray, a week's worth of groceries, baby toys, medication over the counter that you usually need a prescription for, and nasi goreng to go. If that sounds like Walmart, you’re almost right. Except the shop is usually only a 2 x 6-meter room!
5) Interesting social norms when it comes to alcohol
Indonesia is one of only two countries in the world where the legal drinking age is 21 years old. But on Gili T, you wouldn’t know that. Bars and liquor stores on the island rarely check IDs. When you walk into a local shop, the owner's 12-year-old son might sell you your cigarettes and Bintang beer. On Gili T, age is pretty much irrelevant.
Day and time are also irrelevant on Gili T. It is completely normal to begin drinking in a pool at 10 AM on a Tuesday. Even more normal if you start off the day with a round of Vodka Joss shots. If you ordered a new drink at the bar and your friends decide it’s time to leave, don’t worry. You can take alcoholic drinks to go from any bar. You can even ride your bike from one bar to the next, sipping your Bintang as you go.
6) The whole calendar week is completely different
For the most part, the entire world follows the same calendar week. Monday through Friday are work days, Friday through Sunday is the weekend. And Mondays suck. For the rest of this section, forget everything you know about a typical week. On Gili T, there is a completely different order to the week.
First of all, Gili T is a paradise island. When every day is beautiful and perfect, it’s easy to lose track of what day of the week it is. Friday is Sunday, because Gili T is a Muslim island and Friday is their holy day. That makes Wednesday actually Friday because it’s the big party night to kick off the Gili T weekend. By this calendar, Saturdays are actually Mondays, except they don’t suck!
The only way people on Gili T know the correct day of the week is to check which bar is open late that night. There is a rule on the island to make sure all bars and businesses share the profits brought by tourism. All bars are open until midnight and each night of the week one different bar stays open until 3 AM. If The Irish is open late tonight, you know it’s a Wednesday!
7) Curious fashion
There are some questionable outfit choices made in Gili Trawangan. For starters, the idea of a black-tie affair is very different from the definition used by the rest of the world. If you are attending a fancy event on Gili T, it means you need to wear clothes. A Gili tuxedo is a tank top, shorts, and flip flops. For girls, wearing a sundress is as appropriate as ripped jean shorts and a tank top.
The one formal event to take note of is a wedding! There are no real fashion standards for guests of a wedding to follow. Except for men, who wear a sarong to show respect. That’s right, men wear a dress to a wedding. But they will never outshine the bride, who wears an elaborate gown and heavy makeup.
8) The turtle capital of the world
Not to make any promises here, but there’s a 99.99999999% chance you will see turtles in Gili T . Other tropical islands have sea life, but a you need a little luck see something special. The two species of turtles, green and hawksbill, are the main attraction of Gili T wildlife. You are almost guaranteed to see one or both of these turtles while either snorkelling or diving.
You can find the turtles of Gili T snacking on the coral surrounding the island. Small ones tend to snack in shallow waters, while large ones hang out much deeper. They are not scared of humans and don’t mind swimming close to us. The only rule is to NEVER touch or tease the turtles! To keep Gili T the turtle haven that it is, it’s important to let the turtles thrive.
9) A surprising amount of musical talent
Most of the Indonesian population living in Gili Trawangan are musically talented. They can play the guitar and carry the tune to many popular songs. It is very common to walk down the street and catch a handful of jam sessions taking place. Travellers are always welcome to sit and join!
What do the waiter you had at lunch, the man that led your snorkel tour, and the owner of your homestay have in common? Chances are they're all in a band together! It’s also more than likely that they know how to play the song Wonderwall by Oasis. If that’s your song, then Gili T is your island. You can request Wonderwall at any bar or sidewalk jam session and expect to hear it.
Unless you’re at Tír na nÓg! Its company policy that their musicians can’t play the song. They literally will not pay their musicians if they play Wonderwall. Doesn’t take much to be different on this island!
10) Western locals that fit a unique profile
There is a thriving expat community living on Gili Trawangan. Whether a love for diving or the simplicity of a remote tropical island brought them here, one thing’s for sure. They all fit a similar, unique profile. There are two distinct qualities that it takes to live a life of happiness on Gili Trawangan. They are:
The ability to party aggressively almost every night
Many backpackers come to Gili Trawangan to party. But very few can out-drink the local Westerners that live on the island! Divers and business owners alike take on a whole new form once the sun sets. Actually, scratch that. They’re no stranger to day drinking either.
The Indonesian slang for a white local is Bule. One of the trademarks of a Bule is to party and also be able to perform their jobs well the next day. A typical Bule day begins with nursing a hangover on the beach, by the pool, or underwater while scuba diving. Then, they go to work and manage awesome restaurants, hostels, and dive shops. When they start to feel better, they introduce alcohol and do it all over again!
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Consuming that much alcohol sounds destructive. And valuing parties so much sounds a bit selfish. But the second common quality among Western locals is much more redeeming. Not to mention, a drastic contrast to this first common trait.
Caring aggressively about the environment
If there’s one thing a Bule cares about more than partying, it’s environmental preservation! They’ll be the first to approach you at the bar and tell you to take that plastic straw out of your drink. They’ll teach you not to rip your Extra Joss packet all the way because it creates two pieces of plastic. They order delivery when they’re hungover, but they will always insist that they don’t need a plastic fork bag.
Whenever you talk to a Bule, you are always three steps away from having a conversation about diving. It will likely include topics such as coral restoration and saving the turtles. They are very active in diving and environmental groups on a local and global scale. They take part in weekly beach cleanups right here on Gili Trawangan. Yeah okay, they get a free beer for participating. But that sums up their personalities pretty perfectly!
The strange sights you find on Gili Trawangan add to the charm of the island. They make it not only a beautiful destination, but an interesting place to visit. The longer you spend on the island, the faster these quirks become normal. You’ll grow to love the strange sights you’ll only find in Gili T!