If there’s one tip I could give wannabe round the world travellers that I failed to pick up on during my fifteen months of planning, it would be to think carefully about where you want to spend the Christmas and New Year period. I met countless travellers heading to Sydney who hadn’t planned ahead and were shocked to find hostels charging trip the normal rate. For a while I thought I was going to get stuck in East Timor – all the flights to Singapore and Bali were full, flights to Darwin were stupidly expensive, and all the buses out to West Timor were booked up too. Luckily I found out at the last minute that I was able to get a more indirect bus, and so I made it out just in time to get to Bali on the evening of the 23rd of December.
It wasn’t just the transport that I should have planned ahead with – I had fun enough on my last visit to Kuta back in November, but of all the places I might have chosen to spend Christmas day, it was far from the top of my list. Luckily though, I was meeting my friends Simon & Katie from back home, so at least I had good company and was able to spend the day on the beach trying my hand at surfing.
It was a pretty brief experience: I was utterly useless. I’d occasionally catch a wave and manage to get about one foot on the board before toppling off again, getting a mouthful of sea water and then struggling for the next twenty minutes to get back out to the waves again, only for each attempt to end the same way. After a couple of hours I soon realised I was never going to make it as a surfer and gave up to chill out on the beach.
If Christmas was a little disappointing, we had higher hopes for New Year. I’d loved the Gili Islands on my first visit, so we headed back there. Nice as Gili Trawangan was, I’d heard it would be pretty crowded, expensive, and difficult to get a room, so instead we decided on Gili Air as I’d heard there was going to be a party on the beach there for the once in a generation New Year’s Eve full moon party. Now, a little note to the Observer: the Gili Islands are not ‘the new Ibiza’, as a spectacularly idiotic article claimed last month. The comparison is laughable – each Gili Island is about the size of a single nightclub in Ibiza (and it’s worth noting that the islands don’t even have any nightclubs). About all the two places have in common is that they have a beach and a few hippies. It never ceases to amaze me, the drivel that British travel supplements churn out week after week.
Anyway, we arrived on Gili Air and instantly worried that we have made a bit of a mistake – despite most of the hotels being full (or out of our price range), it still felt as quiet as it had done on my last visit. The tranquility of the place is part of the appeal, but we were at least hoping for a little bit of action for the big night.
The place to be, apparently, was the Space bar, hidden away in the even quieter North Western corner of the island, so we hopefully trudged our way round the sandy coastal path with no idea what to expect. The bars we passed proceeded to get quieter and quieter…until eventually we began to hear the muffled thud of dance music somewhere in the distance. We finally arrived and were rather amazed by what we found – a full on rave on the beach, with lasers and projections and all kinds of glowing things hanging from the trees, and with a mixed group of about three hundred locals, hippies and backpackers dancing away on the sand.
It was hardly Ko Pha Ngan but I reckon all the better for it. It was bust enough to feel like a real party, but still quiet enough that there were plenty of quieter places along the beach to chill out on when we fancied chilling out from dancing to the rather banging psychedelic trance music. As we spent the night drifting between dancing amongst the palm trees, watching people dancing with fire poi, and the beach, it was one of the best new year’s parties I’d ever been to.
The next morning (well, afternoon actually, by the time we finally emerged from bed), the island has returned to its normal, sedate self. The only mystery was where on earth all those other people at the party had come – we didn’t see most of them around the island the rest of the time we were there.