Monday, September 29, 2008

Here on Gili fan's islands

The Gili islands - Air, Meno and Trewangan - are an escape from an escape from an escape; they are three somnolent dots that drift just off Lombok, which in turn floats just east of Bali.

Lombok, a haven of calm compared to the hullabaloo of southern Bali, has relatively few tourists and no thumping party scene - although the dreaded karaoke virus is spreading. Its main tourism enclave, on the west coast around Senggigi beach, has a strip of international-standard resorts, plus a row of restaurants and bars. It is all low-key and tasteful but for some travellers even this is "too developed". They escape to an even farther shore, the Gili islands.

Just a short ferry ride from Bangsal harbour on north-west Lombok, the three Gili islands are an escapologist's dream. The first time I visited the Gilis 12 years ago, a simple room with bed and mozzie net cost $10 a night, including breakfast.

Bliss at a bargain price, even if the room was single, and the 25-watt light was so dim, I had to replace it with the 75-watt bulb I carried for just such occasions.

This time, we sample the decidedly more upmarket Vila Ombak on Gili Trewangan. At 10 times the price I paid in 1996, it also offers 10 times the facilities - pool, bar, honeymoon suites, air-conditioning and an absolute beachfront restaurant.

In the latter, needless to say, the menu has come a long way from those typical '90s offerings of gado gado, jaffles and mango smoothies.

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