To get to the Gilis (Trawangan, Meno & Air), you have to make your way to Bangsal, the access port to the Gilis.
Brace yourself: I have been informed by friends who took this route that they were harassed aggressively & rudely by touts for the boat services and almost came to blows.
I took the highroad. I arranged for a day tour and left for the islands from Senggigi itself (from the beach behind my resort) on a day trip. Yes, I paid much more but I think it was worth it (except I wish I could have stayed a night or two). My call.
Don't even think of venturing into Mataram, unless you find chaotic traffic, dusty roads and the sheer hordes of people converging at one point adventurous.
Me & my mate went in one gorgeous morning and we left wondering what we were thinking of when we went in. Like most regional administrative city, Mataram is exactly that. Roads jammed with traffic that did not really obey traffic rules. Dirty and dusty roads, piled up with garbage. People stared at you as you walked past. Houses looking simply tired and worn out for just being in the city. It's hot and humid as well, making exploring tiresome and tedious.
We were so glad when we finally returned to the sanctity of quiet Senggigi!
To read more about Mataram, please read my travelogue: WHERE EVIL RESIDES
There are 2 ways to go to Gili islands
1. The cheaper option and most hassle is to go from Bangsal.
If possible, buy your boat ticket from the boat office. The price is set. A public boat over is now at a rate of 4,500 rupiah per person and goes when it is full. Don't count on catching a public boat upon arrival. The shuttle boat is 10,000 rupiah. A private charter was around 90,000 rupiah, but now the rates have increased slightly. The boat association has now imposed some sort of tax on these rates, ask to see the published rate before agreeing to pay the price. If you purchase a private charter don't expect to be alone, all the local people waiting for a public boat will hop on your boat. That is the system. If you don't want them, tell them at the ticket office when you purchase your ticket that you wish to be alone on the boat. That should take care of the problem.
Bangsal is a transit point and once you leave they have no chance of making money. In their frenzy they have forgotten the niceties of tourism. Keep cool. You will be surrounded with people trying to sell you everything from tours to transport to souvenirs. Little kids will try to dump water on your feet for money. You will be told all kinds of falsehoods from " You can't buy anything on the island from return tickets back to mosquito coils. NOT TRUE. They are scam artists. Gili Trawangan has everything except -NO BANK-NO ATM MACHINE. You can cash traveller's checks, change currency, and even obtain cash advance on your visa for a fee of 8-10%.
2. Go to Senggigi and charter a private boat - this is the expensive option obviously
I find the touts in Lombok to be less aggressive than in Bali and thank goodness because it can get rather tiresome after some time.
With the exception of touts in Kuta and Tanjung A'an, generally the touts in Lombok are less bold and aggressive and a quick shake of a head and walking away to show disinterest is enough to stop them from hassling you.
The touts in Kuta wouldn't leave us and it took almost 10 mins and a lot of hints and head shaking before they got the message that we were just not interested. It helped that 2 busloads full of Indonesian tourists arrived in the nick of time to save us from more hassling.
This is very common in Lombok as everyone will try to ask you to pay more than the locals for the same service.
I don't think they see it as 'cheating' or 'swindling' you of your money. Rather, I think they see it as their opportunity to earn more since you are a tourist and are thus assumed to be wealthy and can 'afford' to be overcharged.
It is very difficult to get the 'local' price unless you are a local or have lived there for years and know your way around. It seems practically everyone will attempt to charge you more.
I suppose they reason since tourists can drop 20,000R or more for a meal per person whereas a local would eat a meal for around 3000R, they reason you have plenty of money to burn.
I experienced this 3 times during my stay there and only tried twice to reduce the price. The third time I did not as I considered it a 'tip' to my tour guide by buying coffee from him.
The incidences occured when a guide at Mayura attempted to charge me 50,000R for a tour there which is obviously an outright outrageous payment. I convinced him I had only 10,000R to pay. It was a pity because until that moment he asked for the outrageous amount--> I did liked the guy.
Second was when I ate nasi campor like the locals. The lady attempted to get 20,000R from me for what was a very simple meal. Knowing that it wasn't worth that much (since I saw how much others pay), I convinced her that I had 12,000R to spare only. Surprisingly she didn't seem angry at being paid lower.
Thus here's the lesson--> There will always be a local who will attempt to overcharge you for their services. It is up to you to use good judgment on what to do. For me, I choose to fight when necessary and let certain things go when called for.
Of course, if the asking price is too outrageous (because you can always sense when you are being cheated), you can choose to bargain it down trying to bargain to a more reasonable sum. They certainly cannot do anything to you if you find the asking price too high.
Be careful to let any youngster to follow to gili air. I went on charthered boat with other travelers. A youngster who was hawkering at the harbour followed, claiming that the ws the boatman's relative. He brought us to rent snorkerling sets and led us to the sea, offering to show us the corals. When far away from the others, he took advantage on me. When I pushed him away, he continue to try. When I reported the case to the police at Sengigi town, they refused to help, saying that it is not their business!