Ah, the Gili Islands. This trio of paradisiacal sands and swaying jungle tops in the middle of the Bali Sea has risen and risen on the Southeast Asian Banana Pancake Trail. Backpackers of all kinds flock here from the shores of nearby Bali and Lombok. Some come to kick-back in the company of endangered sea turtles. Others come to plunge below the aquamarine waters and seek out multi-coloured schools of tropical fish amidst the coral gardens. Then there are the SCUBA buffs and PADI seekers, the yogis and the free divers. And then there are the hedonists, who come by their droves to the bamboo beach bars and raucous spots that line the shores of perfectly pretty Gili Trawangan: the undisputed partying king of the archipelago.
This guide will discuss all the ins and outs of hitting the Gili Trawangan strip. It will show the best places to let loose on the island, reveal the top bars and the regular partying staples, where to start nights and – more importantly – where to finish them. Happy drinking!
An intro to the nightlife on Gili Trawangan
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three Gili Islands, and the furthest from the coast of Lombok (which is where most people will embark). It’s also the liveliest of the archipelago, with a small town occupying its eastern shore. Known, sometimes infamously, as the party hotspot, it’s a far cry from the laid-back, almost uninhabited likes of Gili Meno and Gili Air.
There are no cars and the rows of bars and clubs that form the nerve center of the partying are all strung out along one dirt track road that runs parallel to the beach. Everything is walkable and there’s something going on every night of the week. However, most backpackers will follow the unspoken rules of the weekly partying routine…
The weekly routine
Anyone who’s partied their way around the beachside pubs and clubs of Trawangan will know there’s a regular weekly routine that all revellers subscribe to. This is like an unwritten calendar of events that means certain bars host the parties on certain nights of the week. The upshot is huge crowds of travelers and guaranteed nights packed with hedonism and fun, not to mention the chance to meet the same people every time you start drinking.
There are three main partying nights on Gili T. The week starts with a DJ-led blowout in – believe it or not – the islands top dive provider, the Blue Marlin, on Mondays. The next large night is Wednesday, when Tir Na Nog, the Irish bar, takes over proceedings (probably the wildest evening of the lot), while Friday is the province of the Surf Bar, where full-moon and half-moon shindigs take place on the shore.
Of course, there are other parties on all the other nights of the week, but it’s this routine of Monday-Wednesday-Friday that keeps things ticking over. Anyone who’s anyone heads to these get-togethers, while Tuesdays and Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays are a chance to sneak into the shisha bars or shore-side Indian restaurants, and recover with a couple of cold Bintangs and a cocktail!
Sat smack bang in the middle of the Gili Trawangan strip, Blue Marlin is one of the undisputed mainstays of the island’s after-dark line-up. It’s instantly recognisable thanks to the huge dive pool out front, which is where the SCUBA instructors lead their classes during the day. At night, the whole place transforms from a straight-laced diving provider into a wild cocktail come beer bar. The upstairs erupts with a dance-inducing medley of 80s cheese and EDM, while the early hours of the morning see revellers spill into the pool waters with their tipples in hand. Monday night is all Marlin’s, and trust us: it’s a great place to kick-off a week in the Gilis!
Tir Na Nog
Tir Na Nog started life as rough-and-ready folk bar housed in a lean-to barn. That was way back in the year 2000, before the mixed cocktails and raucous mid-week nights here became part of the Gili Trawangan partying legend. In recent years, Tir Na Nog has grown to include an al fresco pool, a restaurant (known for its traditional English-inspired pub menu and uber-fresh Indonesian seafood), a series of bungalows and guesthouse rooms, and its own sprawling terrace just a stone’s throw from the waters of the Bali Sea. Wednesday is the night to hit this one, as the DJs take over after dinner service with oodles of chart tunes and electronica. Oh, and the whole joint is joined at the hip with the TNN Sports Bar, just in case you wanted to catch some Premier League, Cricket or NFL while in the tropics.
One of the newer nightlife favs of Gili Trawangan, Surf Bar has made its name by hosting some of the liveliest full-moon and half-moon parties on the islands. And while those bi-monthly blowouts are unquestionably some of the top shindigs Gili has to offer (anyone who’s lucky enough to be in town for one of these should be sure to attend!), this tiki-inspired conglomeration of palm-topped huts and bamboo terraces now also lays claim to wild Friday nights. (In fact, it still vies with another bar further up the strip, but accusations of fake alcohol and recent reports of methanol poisoning are slowly transferring the crowds to Surf Bar). Surf Bar really does live up to its name too, with a cluster of dinged boards waiting in the shade of a nearby tree, and a stretch of pearly-white sand out front – get there early for some truly top sunset viewing!
Instantly recognisable thanks to its rows of bright crimson bean bags on the beach, Horizontal is the perfect place to watch the dying glow of the sunset in the evening, sip a well-mixed cocktail, or simply laze off the hangover from the night before. It’s got a prime position right in the middle of Gili Trawangan town, is just meters from the sea (which is great when it’s time to cool off), and offers regular nights of reggae, ska and electronica – not to mention happy hour deals that give three cocktails for just 100,000 IDR. Not bad at all!
The only dedicated reggae bar on the island (even if the others play oodles of Bob Marley and the Wailers each night), Sama Sama is a timber-built joint that overlooks the lapping waves of the east shore. It spills out onto the sands towards the northern end of the Gili T strip, offering a laid-back alternative to many of the other EDM-fuelled clubs. The place is hardly quiet though, with the regular live music nights taking a turn for the funk towards the early hours, and oodles of revellers lingering all the way until sun up.
A note on the booze
The ubiquitous Bintang aside, Indonesia’s partying hubs are famed for their homemade liquor. Known as arak, this clear fermented rice wine has garnered an infamous rep across the country. Why? Well, for one the strength can be hard to measure, with one batch that’s like water and another that’s pure eye-popping, liver-busting ethanol. In fact, there have been reports of hospitalisation and even death after travelers opted to drink arak in Gili, so it’s probably a good idea to avoid it at all costs.
There are countless places to settle in for a meal on Gili T. On the strip itself is where visitors will find Scallywags; arguably the finest seafood joint going, where local fish cuts and fresh maritime salads meet on the menu. A little to the north is where the Pesona Resort offers up its medley of Indian treats, with both northern and southern curries and tandoori options available for eating right on the edge of the sea (there’s also some cracking shisha here). Juku Restaurant is a fine option too, combining romantic candlelit tables on the sands with a medley of western treats (think pizza and lasagne), local Indonesian nasi goreng and other regional dishes, many of which cost next-to-nothing!
The night market of Gili T is another great choice for starting the evening. This goes on between 6pm and 9pm, in a small clearing midway down the main strip. It’s home to the best street food stalls on the island, which burst with egg fried rice, gado gado and tempeh kebabs – perfect drinking food