Top 10 Beaches of Our Sabbatical

We wrote this list while lounging around on the beach in Zanzibar, just to make you hate us. The criteria are totally subjective and not documented anywhere, but involve some combination of most beautiful setting, best food, best amenities, and best overall vibe.

In order from most to least amazing:

  1. Mandrem, Goa, India – we spent a week on Mandrem being beach bums at the end of our stay in India.
  2. Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand – Nai Yang was so beautiful we had to go twice, first at the beginning of our Southeast Asia jaunt in January, and then for a long weekend trip with Seema and Mark in April.
  3. Galu Beach, Mombasa, Kenya – an extremely laid-back spot to kite surf – or not – and enjoy beautiful water and endless soft sand.
  4. Long Beach, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam – we spent four nights on Long Beach in February, before we started our volunteer assignments in Thailand, and we ate chili lemongrass shrimp every day.
  5. Khlong Nin, Ko Lanta, Thailand – we spent four nights at Khlong Nin beach on Ko Lanta in January, directly after our stay in Phuket. It was a beautiful setting, but not quite as amazing an overall package as Nai Yang.
  6. Kendwa, Zanzibar, Tanzania – it wasn’t easy to get there on foot from Nungwi, but it was worth the trek, as it offered a beautiful stretch of relatively-secluded beach.
  7. Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania – we spent four nights on Nungwi, in a hotel room with an incredible ocean view. Unfortunately there isn’t much beach to speak of at low tide, but Kendwa and East Nungwi, nearby, offer good swimming opportunities.
  8. Khlong Dao, Ko Lanta, Thailand – we finished up our January visit to Ko Lanta with two nights at Khlong Dao, which was nice but not as secluded or as pretty as Khlong Nin. We did find one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the world at Khlong Dao – Thai Is-San.
  9. Nha Trang, Vietnam – the beach was not as nice as we remembered it from our first visit in 2007, but the tropical fruits are still the best I’ve ever tasted.
  10. Matemwe, Zanzibar, Tanzania – fascinating tidal flat landscape at low tide, pretty (but skinny) stretch of beach at high tide. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a place to stay, but it’s certainly worth a day trip.

If it makes you hate us any less, our tans will most certainly have faded by the time we arrive back in Seattle on September 22, and we do not have any more beach time scheduled between now and then.

Ketan

Rating:

Next door to the Dunes is a cute little family-run guesthouse and vegetarian restaurant called Ketan. At Rs100 (about $2), their vegetarian thali is the most expensive, but also one of the most delicious, I’ve had in India. It’s also large enough that Kenny and I can share one for lunch or dinner if we order a couple of extra chapatis.

We dined at Ketan three times during our week in Goa, and each time the thali featured a different combination of vegetables and curries. My favorite thali items were the dal and the delicious pumpkin sabji. Everything was a winner though, including cabbage, beets, and gobi curry.

There was always a very cute little boy running around the restaurant and sharing his toys with the guests. He looked great in my sunglasses. His older brother, Ketan, apparently inspired the guesthouse/restaurant’s name. We also befriended Keshav, who I believe was the patriarch of the family. He gave us a ride down to Anjuna for the weekly market, and also offered a good rate on a taxi to the airport at the end of our week.

IMG_0188

Ketan
Junes Wada, Mandrem Beach, Goa
+91-832-2247943
+91-942-1257616
ketanguest@yahoo.co.in

Well Garden

Rating:

As Kenny mentioned, Sean’s good friend Josh planned our Goa trip for us. One of the places he emphatically recommended was Well Garden, a hidden little restaurant behind the mini-mart in Mandrem. One of the common features of Josh’s recommended restaurants seems to be that we can’t find them on our first try; on our first night in Goa, we tried to dine at Well Garden, but after a bit of searching gave up and ate at Dunes. The next day, we had better luck, and we enjoyed a lunch of homemade fettuccine with pesto and a delicious salad of beans, celery, apples, and onions. We learned that the famous wood-fired pizzas were only available at dinner time, so we planned to return the following evening.

On our second visit, we just had to have the delicious bean salad again. We also ordered a pizza with eggplant and capsicum, which was thin and crispy, and featured tomato sauce, cheese, and veggies in just the right proportions.

When Sean and Freeman arrived on Friday, the first item on their agenda was pizza at Well Garden. So back we went, and we also enjoyed a farewell dinner there last night. Unfortunately, after our first two meals, the bean salad was never available again (maybe we consumed all of their beans?), so we tried a few other salads which ended up being much less exciting. The hummus was equally uninspiring. But the pizzas and pastas were reliably good, and we never minded that they were out of chicken so that Sean couldn’t corrupt us while we were in detox mode (no alcohol or meat for a week). The big surprise hit was the chickoo cake, which we enjoyed on two visits in a row, and even ordered a second slice of on our last night.

If you’re headed to Goa, I’d definitely recommend Well Garden, but stick to the pizzas, pastas, bean salad, and chickoo cake. Trust me, I’ve tried most of the menu. ;)

Eggplant and capsicum pizza
Eggplant and capsicum pizza from the wood-fired oven

Bean salad
This delicious salad had beans, apples, celery, and onions. I will certainly be trying to replicate this one at home.

Hummus
Hummus

Chickoo cake
Chickoo cake

Well Garden
Behind the mini-mart
Mandrem, Goa, India

Letting Go in Goa

We have spent the past few days on the beach in Mandrem, North Goa, eating delicious food and not doing much of anything. It’s hot here, but the water is clear and warm and just steps away from our beach hut. The beach stretches in both directions as far as we can see. It’s a rough life, really.

Mandrem is almost a two-hour drive from Goa’s only airport, and hasn’t seen nearly as much development as the easier-to-reach beaches. There are no fancy resorts or towering hotels, just a smattering of beach hut complexes and a few small guesthouses. Nor is there any hint of the Israeli rave party scene that made North Goa famous (although it seems that even Vagator and Anjuna have calmed down over the past decade).

In spite of its small size, Mandrem actually has a few great spots to eat – our favorites so far are Well Garden for wood-fired pizzas and delicious salads, and Ketan for huge vegetarian South Indian thalis. When we get bored, we can walk north to Arambol or south to Aswem. Arambol is a huge backpacker hangout, with lots of shops selling hippy garb, trance CDs, and kitschy souvenirs. I’ve dubbed it “Kathmandu on the beach.” Aswem is much smaller, just a cluster of a few hotels, but one of them – La Plage – features a very good, if somewhat expensive, Euro-inspired restaurant.

We’ve settled into a nice daily beach routine:

  • 6:30am: Wake up and go for a jog to Arambol and back along the beach (we’re not certain, but we’ve heard that it’s 3km each way); or sun salutations and weights on the beach. If we sleep in and let our workout slip by even 30 minutes, it’s already too hot for jogging.
  • 8:00am: Breakfast at our hotel back in Mandrem (if we didn’t already break down and eat in Arambol)
  • 9:00am until noonish: Beach time
  • Noonish: Lunch at Ketan or Well Garden; or take a hike down to Aswem for lunch at La Plage if we feel like earning it
  • Post-lunch until 4:30pm or so: More beach time
  • 4:30pm: Shower and get ready for dinner
  • 5:00pm: Check out the sunset on the beach
  • 6:00pm: Early dinner at Ketan or Well Garden (are you sensing a theme?)
  • Post-dinner: Edit photos or work on the blog backlog for a while; read for a bit before heading to bed early

Sean arrives this evening to spend the weekend with us, so I’m sure our schedule will shift a bit. We’re taking bets on whether we can convince him to join our early morning jog. ;)

A few photos from paradise:

IMG_0131
Just a small part of a large morning fishing operation about halfway between Mandrem and Arambol

DSC_6435
Our breakfast view at The Dunes

DSC_6466
Sunset at The Dunes

IMG_0162
La Plage felt like a desert oasis when we found it for the first time

IMG_0181
We often encounter this guy in the same spot on our walks between Mandrem and Aswem

IMG_0182
The rocks about halfway between Mandrem and Aswem

IMG_0201
Twinkle twinkle little starfish