I'm not usually the lie-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing kind of holiday-goer, but Gili Air has more than just nice beaches. The sheer fact that you can walk to any point on the island is incredible (you can walk around the island in 90 minutes).
We chose to spend more time exploring in Seminyak and Ubud so were only in Gili Air for 2 nights but I wish we had stayed longer here! All I knew about Gili Air was that it was the island popular amongst backpackers, and was the middle ground between the notorious Gili T and the romantic, serene Gili Meno. So basically for whoever is left that isn't partying or on a honeymoon.
We stayed at VILLA SAÏA, and I highly recommend it. Located close to the centre of the island, it was practically equidistant to all sides of the island, which made it easy to explore and get around. It's also a stunning villa taking cues from Indonesian and European design. It's smaller than the other villas we stayed at, but it didn't feel small or lacking in any way. It actually felt spacious and really open. A testament to good design.
There's different included breakfast options too—but their smoothie bowls are delicious. It comes with bread, butter and homemade jam as well as coffee/tea and juice. We chose this on both days.
I can't recall exactly how much we paid but it wasn't much at all to rent bikes for the day directly from the villa (they also have snorkelling gear for hire and laundry services). Bikes are a great way to get around the island, I highly recommend renting some if you want to spend the day exploring. But just a word of caution that there are a few sand-only paths that will make it harder to ride (or not able to at all). Most dining places have a lock-up area for your bike (do not forget to secure your bike!) but we stumbled across some public ones too.
Cheap, tax-free, delicious, fresh food right by the water... do you really need any more convincing?
I'm no pasta expert, but I'm confident in saying that I've had very few pasta dishes tastier, cheaper and fresher than Biba's. The name doesn't really give off that impression, nor does their menu: a sticky, plastic display folder but the food is actually amazing. Most pasta dishes were ~$5 AUD. I recommend the gnocchi (whichever one had garlic).
Le Bistro 8/10
A restaurant that offers French and Indonesian dishes. Also owned by the same owners of VILLA SAÏA. Good selection of cocktails and dishes here at reasonable prices.
Truth be told, we wanted to go back to Biba, but we agreed to try somewhere different since we weren't here for long. One of the owners of VILLA SAÏA recommended the tapas for dinner here while watching the sunset, but unfortunately it was fairly mediocre for an upscale venue (not the sunset, the sunset was beautiful). The portions were decent but the prices were expensive relative to other places and the taste was lacking.
Like most other places, Scratch is a sheltered, open-air venue. There are only a few tables from which you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the sun setting over Mount Lombok, which were already occupied when we arrived so do come earlier if my review hasn't scared you off.
Scallywags Beach Club 9/10
Out of the entire 10 days we were in Indonesia, this was the only happy hour we managed to make. 2 for 1 cocktails! With 1 minute to spare, mind you. These cocktails were pretty delicious. Food was surprisingly cheap and tasted great too. We were seated at a table right on the sand with deckchairs (which was lovely but it sounds more romantic than it really is—it's dark so you can't see the water, and the breeze can get chilly).
Gili Air was a highlight of the trip for me, and one of the places I can't wait to visit again. Accommodation and food was significantly cheaper than popular destinations in Bali, and Gili Air has the largest local population of the 3 islands. It takes around 3-4 hours one way to and from Seminyak and Ubud via a small ferry and shuttle bus to our accommodation. You can sit inside or on the deck of the ferry (but apply copius amounts of sunscreen regularly because we all got burnt severely even though we put sunscreen on).
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