Digital Nomads Land Diary Entry 6
I have been travelling for a month without writing any updates in the Digital Nomad Diary. I have been working on a couple of interesting projects for clients and so I have written diary entries 6, 7 and 8 retrospectively.
Late October, and with my Thailand tourist visa nearing its end, I had a choice to make. I could go with my original plan and check out Vietnam, or I could go with the flow. As it happens, Lucy had a nice long break programmed for November. She was not up for lots of travelling and was also keen to get a tattoo. She suggested we look at Bali. Lombok and the Gili Islands.
I have no plan, so why not.
First impressions count-Bali South
Before we get to the islands, I suppose we should deal with the South of Bali. I landed at Denpasar airport, and Lucy had booked us one night in Kuta. The accommodation was cheap and cheerful and well-positioned for getting to the ferry port early the next morning. Those were the only criteria applied.
I had heard people talking about Kuta and how great it was. I cannot stand it. This part of Bali South stands as a monument to how western, and first world travel habits can ruin a culture. It is regrettable to see what was undoubtedly a beautiful part of the world, turned into some plastic strewn, seedy playground.
Now, I do accept that I had travelled 3800 KM and was a little tired. Still, I felt that the energy of the place was off — a truly odd, lucid dream that first night seemed to underline the weird vibe. I can say, hand on heart, that the spirits are not happy with what has happened to their sacred place. One night was enough. As we waited for the minibus to take us to the ferry, I shared my thoughts with Lucy. “I have no intention of visiting Bali again”. She smiled at me, as she does, with a knowing smile, carrying with it a weight of understanding of both my hasty opinions and Bali North. “We will see” she laughed. (See my Quick start guide to Bali North)
Digital Nomad life on the Gili Islands/Lombok.
The boat journey from Bali to Lombok is pretty painless unless you forget to put suntan lotion on. Both Lucy and I sat on the Upper deck on our first trip. Neither of us had suntan lotion, and both of us got burnt. It is three hours from Bali to Lombok. If you plan on using the upper deck, make sure you have cream before you board. There are plenty of market stalls at the port selling everything you could need, and if you haven’t had breakfast, there are local warungs and western food too.
Our first trip over was beautiful. The sea was calm, and the weather was terrific. The boat stopped at both Gili T and Gili Air before it went on to Lombok. As we left the port at Gili Air, I felt like we should be staying. All three of the Gili’s are beautiful. Gili Air seemed to have some exceptional magical quality about it. I was keen to find out more and made a decision to return soon. As we arrived at Lombok, a barrage of young men on mopeds met us at the pier. They welcomed us off of the boat warmly. “We will take you to the harbour office and arrange your transport”. For the record, these guys are NOT your official transport. The ferry staff will direct you to the free taxis on arrival at Lombok. Unfortunately, we were unaware of this. (Free taxis are within a certain radius. Past that radius, you will have to pay a surcharge).
Now, I am not in any way complaining about the young men that met us. They were friendly, funny and respectful. It helped that Lucy speaks fluent Bahasa, and they did sort a cab. If you end up engaged with them, expect to be taken to a local restaurant, the brother-in-law’s jewellery business and any other potential revenue stream before you even get to discuss a taxi. When the cab was finally forthcoming, we did pay over the odds. Of course, price is all relative. A two and a half-hour taxi ride to Koeta cost us 200,000 IDR, which equates to about £10.00/$13.00, a fraction of what it would cost back at home, but still twice the price we should have paid. I liked their style. I thought they were good-natured opportunists and deserved the win.
There are several choices of ferry company which will transport you from Bali to the Gili’s. During my time in Indonesia, I went to and from Gili Air twice. All of the fast boats are OK. By far the best experience was with Bluewater Express. Gili-Gili was also very good. Every time I booked from Bali, a cheerful and friendly driver would collect me. If you are not a fan of bumpy rides, be wary of the Freebird Express. The boat is fast, but it is a little disconcerting at times. I would use them again, but it was the bumpiest ride out of all of the ferries I used. They favour speed over comfort.
Two days in Koeta
After such a long journey, Lucy and I wanted a few days to chill, so Koeta was ideal. There were a few charming cafes and some potentially useable co-working spaces. There is one consistent issue on Lombok, and that is the WiFi infrastructure. The WiFi is painfully slow. If you intend on staying for any length of time, or if you need to have a good WiFi connection, then forget using WiFi networks and buy a tourist SIM. I went with Telkomsel which worked well on Lombok, Gili Air, Bali and Java. The service was consistent, economical and good enough to upload, download, stream audio and video. Telkomsel also tethered to a hotspot without any issues. With the Wi-Fi infrastructure, I struggled to upload a PDF
As far as working on Lombok, it didn’t happen. A month travelling in Thailand, and the big journey down to meet Lucy had taken it out of me. One of the things I have learned on this trip is to listen to your body. With no pressing deadlines and minimal mental capacity for creating anything, I switched off for three days. I will return to Lombok at some point. I don’t feel like I really found the heart and soul of the island. To be continued…
Digital Nomad Life On Gili Air.
The Gili’s are a set of three islands to the west of Lombok. As mentioned earlier, Gili Air had piqued my interest. When I found out that there were no petrol engines allowed on Gili Air, and all transport was either bicycle or pony and trap, then I knew I wanted to go. Lucy and I took the short boat ride back to Gili Air to find out what the island was all about.
Gili Air is the second largest of the three islands. Gili T is the party island, Gili Meno is the “Honeymoon” island, and so Gili Air seemed to suit our needs. I fell in love with Gili Air very quickly. After we had returned to Bali for Lucy to have her tattoo, I had no hesitation in going back to the island for another ten glorious days. So what is Gili Air like for the Digital Nomad?
Where to Stay On Gili Air
I stayed in two different levels of accommodation during my time on Gili Air. As Gili is such a small Island, there are only two choices. Stay on the perimeter next to the water and pay a premium, or stay in the middle of the island and hire a pushbike to get around. You will save money on accommodation and food by staying in the middle.
Lumbung Bungalows – Gili Air
Lumbung bungalows are on the higher end of the accommodation budget. Booking through Agoda, we were able to secure a private hut, with air conditioning, and a very substantial breakfast. The bungalows are of a high standard, with comfortable beds, and open-air bathrooms. Each has an ample veranda space. There is a large pool for guests to use.
Lumbung has a restaurant and bar, which extends out on to the beach. Friendly and engaged staff are always on hand. The food was delicious, and up there with the best I have eaten during my month in Indonesia. Lumbung Bungalows are on the sunset side of the island. They have a mixture of entertainment in the evenings, which you can enjoy while chilling out on bean bags. You can order drinks and food to the beach, so you don’t have to do very much other than chill out. The sunsets are magnificent.
Expect to pay just under £40.00 a night at Lumbung. This price is upper mid-range for Indonesia and would be unaffordable for me travelling on my own. That said, if you have that budget, Lumbung Bungalows will not disappoint.
Beranda Eco-Lodge- Gili Air
Once Lucy had returned to work in Sumatra, I looked to reduce my expenditure. At the other end of the budget is Beranda Eco-Lodge. Again, I booked through Agoda and was able to secure a private hut, with a single mattress, mosquito net and fan for £7.00 a night.
£7.00 includes a basic breakfast, which does vary throughout the week. The sacrifices you make for paying less are simple. There is no furniture in the room, aside from a mattress and mosquito net. You share communal showers and toilets. Also, you are in the middle of the island, which means a ten or fifteen-minute walk, or 5 minutes cycle, to any beach. None of these things presented an issue for me at all. Being in the middle of the island gave me a much better vantage point. I found I visited a wider variety of warungs and beach-side bars as a result.
The Beranda Eco-Lodge is a simple accommodation, but it is very comfortable. They have a large swimming pool and expansive sunbathing deck. My only slight criticism is that the pool was over-chlorinated, so you will need goggles. The name Eco-Lodge is a reference to the economy price point, not ecology. The venue sells plastic water bottles, with no centralised water hub for those with refillable bottles. I only say this in case you expect an “Eco” approach.
Digital Nomad hotspots on Gili Air.
I found two places which were conducive to work. It is tough to remain focussed on a beautiful island like Gili Air. The holiday vibe is infectious, and that can lead to a lackadaisical attitude towards getting things done. Fortunately, there are two spaces which lend themselves to work.
Breadalicious is a lovely airy cafe in the main street running up from the harbour. I enjoyed it for its space and the fantastic coffee. There are plenty of electric sockets for your laptop and phone, and you have a choice of working inside or al-fresco. The outside space is comfortably cool thanks to dense foliage.
One slight criticism is that the staff are a little forgetful. Twice I ordered food, and it didn’t show up — worth a visit for the coffee alone. Given the prices of the food, you might want to try elsewhere if you plan to work all day.
B52 is another place which attracts Digital Nomads. The coffee is excellent, and the air conditioning is a big plus too! The cafe is small but laid out very well. There are desks or benches to choose from, and an outside area if you fancy it. Again, I didn’t eat here, but the coffee was lovely! I met several nomads while working here, and it is easy to concentrate on work here.
These are two great venues for anyone looking to get their head down and get some work done. No doubt you will find more as you explore, and it is nice to break out for food at any one of many local Warungs.
What to do on Gili Air
Gili Air is a beautiful island. It is all too easy to get caught up in the beach vibe. The sunsets are amazing. As the sun sinks in the sky, the palette of colours is breathtaking. There are also several organised trips to nearby islands, snorkelling and horse riding on the beach. I can highly recommend visiting Hassan at Gili Air Tourist information. Based at the Coco Loco Resto Warung, he can arrange:
- Cycle Hire
- Lombok trips
- Ferry tickets
All of the above tours and activities are great fun and will give you a beautiful perspective of the surrounding islands.
I enjoyed the snorkelling; I went twice. The company that organises all of the trips are Gili Line. You can pop along and speak with Abdul direct, or get your trip booked with Coco Loco Gili Air.
Gili Air as a Digital Nomad Destination
I found Gili Air to be a challenge when it came to working, as life is so laid back. That said, it is incredibly inspiring, so if you are writing poetry, fiction or a play, it could be perfect for you. I had some solid inspiration for a new play I am writing. If you can remain disciplined, and need to get away from the maddening crowds, then Gili Air could be just the ticket.