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.

Little Vid Goes to the Beach

Little Vid enjoyed our 10-day beach holiday almost as much as Kenny and I did, especially because we got to celebrate her namesake’s birthday in Kenya.

Little Vid at Kenyaways
Little Vid enjoying the beach at Kenyaways

Camel transport
A little French girl on the beach tried to steal Little Vid when she saw her perched on the camel’s head

House red
Enjoying a glass of the house red for Vidya’s birthday

Stone Town
Lounging on our rooftop deck in Stone Town

Enjoying a vegetarian lunch thali in Stone Town

Somewhere over the rainbow is Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar

Checking out the strange environs at Matemwe Beach, Zanzibar

As always, you can follow Little Vid’s adventures here.

Day Trip to Matemwe

For our final day in Zanzibar, we struck a deal with Langi Langi’s driver to combine a morning outing to Matemwe Beach, on the east coast, with our airport transfer. The LP had described Matemwe as a peaceful, secluded stretch of sand with beautiful water. Based on our Zanzibar experience thus far, we also assumed that the beach itself would change drastically with the tides, and we were not mistaken. We arrived at low tide, when a vast stretch of tidal flat was exposed and the water was between knee and waist deep. Behind the tidal flat, about 500m away from the beach, was a long skinny sandbar, where the waves were breaking at low tide.

We decided to wade out to the sandbar, which looked like a nice spot to sit and have a game of Scrabble. It turned out to be a slightly difficult slog, as the ocean floor was littered with obstacles such as rocks and sea urchins, but it was also surprisingly rewarding. Along the way, we observed women harvesting seaweed and tending their seaweed farms, and saw a beautiful red starfish below the water’s surface. The locals seemed impressed that we expended the effort to cross, and on a few occasions attempted to communicate with us, albeit with very limited success. Unfortunately my Kiswahili is a bit rusty.

On the other side, we saw locals collecting sea creatures, and experienced a dramatic other-worldly landscape, with exposed rocks, coral, and spongy seaweed growing on the surface. We shot a few photos, relaxed, and played Scrabble until we feared that the rising tide might strand us. Besides, our stomachs were starting to rumble in anticipation of lunch. So we commenced our trudge back across the shallow water to the main part of the beach, where we sat down for lunch at the posh Sunshine Hotel, as recommended by our driver. While we lunched, the tide came in quickly, and the entire tidal flat, seaweed farms and all, was completely submerged before we finished.

After lunch, it was onward to the airport, and goodbye to Zanzibar. But we’ll be back in Tanzania in exactly one month.

Harvesting seaweed
Harvesting seaweed

Wading at low tide
Wading out to the sand bar at low tide

The sand bar at low tide
The sand bar at low tide

The sand bar at low tide
The sand bar at low tide

Red starfish
Pretty red starfish

Typical Zanzibari wooden dhow, seen from lunch at high tide