As Anna-Lisa covered in our previous post, we enjoyed our few days visiting Gili Air, even though the weather was far from ideal while we were there. We enjoyed traveling back and forth between the islands a bit less. There are a few different ways to get to the Gilis, but none of them are really an enjoyable trip, and each method has a downside. However, it is possible to negotiate in order to get a good deal on travel from Bali to the Gili Islands, and this post will show you how, as well as describe our experience with each method.
The main reason that traveling between Bali and the Gilis can be a bit of a pain is because you have to cross a large body of water to do so. The sea between Bali and Lombok can and does get rough when storms come through, and we happened to be there during the rainy season, so the seas were more likely to be rough. As you’ll read, that can limit your options.
Main travel choices between Bali and Gili’s
1. Fast Boat from Padang Bai to Gili Air and Gili Trewangen and Senggigi
Approximate timing based on our experience:
6:00-7:00am Pick up from hotel in Southern Bali (we were staying at the FaveHotel in Seminyak)
8:45-9:15am Arrive in Padang Bai, wait for everyone else to arrive, pay any unpaid portion of your ticket
10:15-10:30 Leave from Padang Bai
11:45 Arrive Gili Trewangan (usually boat stops in Senggigi, Lombok before the Gili’s, but route was reversed due to the sea conditions)
12:00 Arrive and disembark on Gili Air
This is by far the fastest way to get from Bali to the Gili’s, but it is also one of the more expensive. There are now multiple fastboat companies which leave every morning from Padang Bai on Bali and stop at Gili Course Schedule, Gili Air, and Lombok. When you book, make sure the boat being used is a larger model with seating for 60-70 people. The cost of the ticket should include pickup from your hotel pretty much anywhere on the south side of the island and up into Ubud. These tickets can be purchased online (not recommended), or from one of thousands of travel agents found on every street in Bali. Be aware that the round trip sticker price of 1,260k (thousand) INR ($105) is grossly inflated and can be negotiated down tremendously (as can many things in Indonesia), at least if it’s not high season.
We didn’t know how long we wanted to stay on the Gilis, so we decided just to purchase a one way ticket. My strategy was to simply ask a couple of agents what that would cost while being non-committal about going, and go from there. Because I made it clear we might be going in the next couple days if the price was right, the first agent quickly offered me 700k one way for both of us. I thanked him and later that day went to another agent armed with this knowledge.
The 2nd agent showed me the sticker price of 1,260k round trip, and generously offered to sell us both one way tickets for only 1,000k. I had a quick laugh and told him that we were offered 600k at another place, seeing if he would bite. He did, probably because it was low season, and offered to do it for 550k. We then thanked him and told him we would come back the next day if we decided to go to Gili Air. He then got extremely desperate and kept lowering the offer all the way to 480k, but we left because we really weren’t sure when we were going. Once we decided to go, we went back and asked for the tickets at 500k. The agent countered with 550k ($45 for both of us) and I didn’t argue, since in the end the extra $4 probably helps him more than it hurts me. We paid 200k deposit and then the rest the next day at Padang Bai.
A couple quick thoughts on the negotiation. I was in a reasonable position to bargain because it was low season, I was flexible on dates, and I made it clear we might not even go if it was too expensive. If we had been trying to go during high season, it probably would have been more challenging to get over 50% off the sticker price. That said, definitely try to negotiate no matter what, since the sticker price is clearly inflated and will be for many trips/activities in Bali. Later on I managed to get an even bigger discount to go whitewater rafting on Bali.
Aside from cost, these fastboats are also extremely easy to get seasick on. They fly across the sea, bumping up, down and from side to side as they cross the waves. The waves out on the sea were probably 3-5ft the day we took the fastboat to Gili Air, and it was the worst seasickness experience of my life. I’ve never had any issues being on a boat before, but it took all my might not to throw up on this one.
Overall, this is by far the preferred method to travel if the seas are calm due to the speed, but definitely no fun when the waves pick up a bit. The trips can also be canceled if the conditions get too rough, as we found out once we were on Gili Air and decided we wanted to leave. We planned to stay three nights on the island, but found out the day before our planned departure that the fastboat service had been canceled for at least the next four days due to bad weather. Thus, we had to look into one of the other options.
2. Bali – Lombok flight, then minibus and longboat
Lombok has a brand new international airport, so after hearing about what the ferry would entail (explained below), we looked into booking the short Lombok – Bali flight. Usually you can buy tickets for as little as $30-40, but it was clear that many people had this idea because we didn’t see anything under $150 for the next few days, so this option was out of the question. Just be aware of it as a reasonably priced option if you don’t like the idea of the speedboat. Or better yet, fly directly into Lombok Airport on one of the Asian low cost carriers from Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia) or Singapore (Tigerair). Spend some time there and/or on the Gili’s, then transit across to Bali for a visit. That way you only need to do the crossing in one direction.
3. Bali – Lombok Ferry, then minibus and longboat
Since the flight options were too expensive, we looked into this option and eventually took it. The upside is that the sea voyage is on a massive ferry which carries cars and trucks as well as people, so no issues with seasickness whatsoever (at least not for us). The cost is also very reasonable; it cost us only 250k INR each ($21) to go from Gili Air to Ubud, Bali. The downside is that they are really slow, and the journey to/from the Gili islands to the ferry takes a few hours itself. You also change transportation modes no fewer than four times. Here is the outline of our day from Gili Air to our destination in Ubud.
Day before departure: Purchase ticket from one of the travel agents on the island. Your hotel can almost certainly do it, but they seem to change more and I like to spread out our dollars, so we went to a roadside one.
8:15 Arrive at harbor in Gili Air
8:25 Hop on small longboat which takes you across the small strait to Lombok island.
8:45 Land on Lombok. Watch people take your luggage off the boat without you asking, then try to make you pay them 10k for the privilege. I gave them 2k and took Anna-Lisa’s bag back. Don’t feel bad when they look annoyed at you. Once you land, agents will ask to see your ticket, take it, and send you to stand in a group with others. At this point, the process seems pretty sketchy and I got concerned we wouldn’t see our ticket again. Don’t worry, the guy collecting them will give it back to you once you all get loaded onto the correct bus.
8:45-9:15 Wait for other boats to arrive with their passengers, then load up onto the minibus which take you to the ferry in Lembar.
9:15-11:30 Travel in the minibus to Lembar. Enjoy talking with your fellow passengers.
11:45-12 Arrive at the Ferry Terminal, wait for the ferry gate to open. There are many people selling food, drinks, candy, etc. For once, I suggest buying what you are interested in, as the food on the ferry once it leaves is more expensive.
12:00pm Ferry gates open. Walk onto ferry. If you want to sit inside in the air-conditioned area, expect to pay 10-15k each. It’s totally worth it. Otherwise, stake out a seat outside, hopefully in a shaded area. All the vendors also come on board to sell their goods. Stock up as it will be your last shot at reasonable prices. Negotiate especially as the ferry fills up and they get ready to leave.
12:45-1 Finally leave. The ferry waits for its car/truck area to be full, so you might have to wait a while. Ours took about 45 minutes to leave.
4:30-6:00 Arrive close to Padang Bai, then suddenly stop and sit waiting for over an hour. There were two ferries in the port which were loading up and waiting, so we had to wait for them to leave in order to dock. This was definitely the most frustrating part of the voyage.
6:15-6:30 Get off the ferry and find the agent of your travel company. They are all waiting and calling out the company name, so it’s not too challenging. Once all rounded up, everyone is lead to a fleet of waiting minivans to take you to your final destination. In our case that was Ubud, which took about 1:15.
7:45pm Arrive in Ubud after 11 hours of traveling.
Overall, this was a long day for us, and sadly Anna-Lisa starting feeling sick in the morning and had to deal with a low fever the entire day. Thankfully she got better the next morning after we got to Ubud and she got to sleep. However, the process was remarkably smooth and all the moving parts came together like a well-oiled, if rather slow, machine.
As noted before, none of the options are great, but if the sea isn’t rough, the fastboats are definitely the way to go thanks to their speed. Thankfully, the Gili Islands were worth the hassle, even considering that there was no sun for us almost the entire time we were there.