Getting around in Bali: What NOT to do

All in all, land transport was NOTHING compared to the shit show that ensued in the ocean.

The second half of our Bali trip was spent on the Gili Islands. Technically outside of Bali, these three little islands are well-loved for partying, relaxing and enjoying some amazing beach time.

There are many companies that run boats over from the mainland. We arranged ours through our hostel, and boy was that a mistake. If you’re out there Kememai hostel, know that I HATE your sticking guts.

Basically we got absolutely scammed; tourist trapped in the truest sense of the term.

To begin, we were given two travel options, the “fast boat” and the “slow boat.” The hostel receptionist explained that the fast boat costs more but takes only three hours, compared to the 7 hour slow boat. Naturally, we asked for the fast boat. After making a phone call, the man at the desk returned and excitedly informed us that we had secured the last three spots on the “fast boat.” We happily paid him the 250,000 Rupiahs ($25) he requested. This price was cheap, compared to flyers we’d seen in Ubud. We were expecting to pay closer to 500,000. 

Little did we know, this should’ve been the first sign that something was off.

The next morning we were told to be ready for 7AM pickup. The driver turned up around 8AM, with a full bus of other passengers. We weren’t particularly bothered, assuming that boats depart throughout the day. The drive to the harbour (Padang Bai) is about 2 hours, or if your driver is an absolute drag-racer like ours, you’ll arrive in 90 minutes.

We rocked up around 9:30am to an absolute shit show.

People and buses everywhere. Tour operators throwing backpacks, people squeezing through traffic, and just general disarray. Luckily we managed to find our service desk. The operators began frantically calling passenger names and handing out boat tickets for the 10am boat.

At about 9:50AM things came to a halt.

About half of our bus had been called and sent to the dock. The other half us, nervously watching the clock had a feeling we’d be waiting for a later boat.

What we did not anticipate was that we would not be getting on the "fast boat" at all.

Basically, the man who told us we had “secured the last three spots” was full of it. On a daily basis, these boat charters oversell tickets. They know tourists will pay the fast boat price and settle for the slow boat when push comes to shove.

Me and 20 other pissed off passengers were told there was no room for us. Either settle for the slow boat, with no refund or wait until tomorrow. Everyone, myself included, had already booked accommodation in the Gili’s and so it was slow boat or bust.

Better yet, this was not one boat for 7 hours.

No no, we had to now take a shipping ferry to Lombok (4 hours) where we would transfer to a shuttle bus, driven to the next port (2 hours) and finally, take a speed boat to the Gili’s (30 mins).

All in all about 7 hours? No, no, this turned into TWELVE HOURS.

Compared to what was to follow, the first boat was actually enjoyable. We lied on the top deck, suntanned and laughed off our misfortune. We began docking on time; around 2:30PM. Somehow it took a full hour to get everyone off the boat...Why? Not a frickin clue. Anyways, at 3:45PM we found our “shuttle bus driver.” He brought all of us slow-boaters to two little chicken buses which held our bags on the roof by a wee bit of string.

Phase two seemed to be going smoothly until a tiny little man with a squeaky yet authoritative voice informed us that there was, “an issue with the boat” and that we would be not be getting to the Gili’s until tomorrow.

Ah good.

Exhausted and overheated, we, the slow-boaters, began revolting.

The little man started screaming back, in very broken English told us there was another option. “YES, WHAT IS THE OPTION SIR!? a feisty Italian lady enquired. “YOU PAY MUCH MORE AND WE TAKE TO NEW PORT WITH VERY FAST SPEEDY SPEED BOAT. YES? GOOD!”

No, this was not good, we replied.

All of us had been told the 250,000 we paid was for a fast-boat ticket, which I now realize was impossibly cheap. The scam was revealed. This little man simply fakes an issue with the boat, and traps his slow-boaters into paying or getting left behind.

After 30 minutes of yelling, questioning, threatening, and eventually admitting defeat, we each handed this nitwit 150,000 more rupiahs to get us there ASAP. With no real receipts or company name I realized that we’d been had. We didn’t have much to take to the authorities and a refund would not be received. Nothing but a lesson would come of this. 

From this point on you could say the worst was over (other than the fact that our bus driver drove on the wrong side of the road for the majority of the time and we got stuck in traffic outside of what appeared to be either or a drug raid or hostage situation).

Literally, nothing phases me anymore.  Anywho, we eventually got off the bus, kissed the ground, got on a rocky little speedboat and made it to Gili T.

Coming home, we were sure as hell not getting on a slow-boat.

We asked our hostel repeatedly to guarantee us a spot on the fast-boat before we paid them the 350,000 RPH they requested. The lady at the desk smiled, nodded and assured us if we showed up at the port at 10:20 we would have a spot on the 11AM boat. We explained what happened to us on our way here and asked for a guarantee that it wasn’t overbooked. She nodded and proceeded to phone a tour operator to come by the hostel. After another 15 minutes of questioning them, the man told us he would meet us at 9AM to “check-in.” Once again, the same scam almost occurred. Had we shown up at 10:20AM we would’ve risked being at the end of the list and denied the spot we’d paid for.

Lesson learned: question everything.

The next day, we made it on the fast boat. It came one hour late, but we made it on. Proud of ourselves for our resilience, we fell asleep, comforted by the lack of pandemonium that lied ahead.

Exactly one hour into the ride I was awoken by what could only be considered “extreme turbulence.” Never, ever, ever, did I imagine that it was possible to sail through waves of this size in such a small boat and survive. As someone who generally gets a tad motion sick, this was literally surreal.

For the most part I kept my eyes closed. When I accidentally snuck a glimpse I noticed that we were literally sideways. It was like being inside a washing machine and genuinely not knowing if you would survive.

I’m being a bit funny, but I was actually crying and scared for my life. 

What I would do, if I ever return to the Gili’s, would be to play it safe.

Take the slow ferry to Lombok and spend the night. The next morning, hitch a ride to the port and take one of the speedboats. Unless you are one of the lucky few to get the fast boat from Padang Bai. It’s not worth your headache to tackle this trek in one day.

Happy Sailing !