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.

Phuket Food Phorn

Nai Yang not only has a beautiful beach, but also is home to some of our favorite restaurants in Thailand. We were really excited introduce Mark and Seema to Sumalee and Mr. Poon. Some highlights:

Fruit shakes at Sumalee's
Mango+pineapple and mango+banana fruit shakes at Sumalee’s

Seema showing off panang goong at Sumalee's
Seema showing off Sumalee’s awesome panang goong

Mr. Poon cooking up cashew nut chicken
Mr. Poon demonstrating how to make chicken and cashew nuts

Gathering over phad prik kiang goong at Poon restaurant
Gathering around course #3 at Poon Restaurant

Lauren and Seema with salads at Sumalee
The ladies with delicious spicy salads (green mango and glass noodles with seafood) for our final dinner at Sumalee

Phretty Pheople in Phuket

We had a fantastic weekend on the beach with Seema, who was finishing off her two-week SE Asia vacation, and Mark, another AJWS volunteer stationed in southern Thailand.

A few photos to make our Seattle friends jealous:

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Seema with her big bag o’ purchases from Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, and Lauren and Kenny using one of Mr. Poon’s beach chairs

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Seattleites on the beach

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Seema collected a number of shells and dead sea urchins

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This is the only picture of all four of us. We were walking through the Indigo Pearl hotel on our way out to the beach.

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Kenny and I enjoy long walks on the beach

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Mark and Kenny, ready for a delicious meal at Sumalee

Holiday on the Beach

We are setting out at 6am tomorrow to meet up with Seema for a weekend in Phuket. The itinerary is a little bit ridiculous: 5.5-hour bus ride to Chiang Mai, flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, another flight from Bangkok to Phuket. So we’ll have a full day of travel on each end and two days on the beach; we must really love Seema or something. ;) Fortunately our favorite Phuket beach, Nai Yang, is only a 5-minute drive from the airport. Looking forward to playing in the water and panang curry at Sumalee’s!

Sumalee Seafood

Rating:

We had arguably the best Thai food I’ve ever had on Nai Yang beach in Phuket. Among the crowd of beachfront restaurants is a gem of a place: Sumalee Seafood. The owner and chef, Sumalee, is a very sweet lady who turns out amazing curries, salads, and other Thai fare. And when you order “spicy!”, it can knock you out of your seat. Our first meal there was a lunch of spicy mango salad and massaman curry. The mango salad was fresh, crunchy and very spicy. Lauren and I rated it “6 star” spicy as it was spicier than any Thai food we’ve had. We chatted with Sumalee after lunch and she told us she used 3 chilies, and for herself she normally uses 1. The massaman curry was quite tasty, similar to the one served at Jamjuree.

The next day we had panang curry and phad see iw for dinner. The panang was reminiscent of the one we made in our Chiang Mai cooking class last year –  a full-flavored, medium dry curry with overtones of lemongrass. It’s always a good sign when panang is a darker brown/yellow color. This curry was so good we came back for another helping today for our final meal in Phuket (this time with vegetables) .

After each meal Sumalee would bring us a few fresh fruits as a complimentary dessert. I think this tradition started because she was swamped on our first visit and the food took a long time to arrive. Nonetheless, we continued to be treated to mangos, watermelon, bananas, and rambutan on future visits. :)

spicy mango salad
Super spicy mango salad, fresh and delicious

Hugs!
Sumalee and Lauren

panang prawns
Panang Goong, as good as it gets

Kenny enjoying a pineapple and coconut shake
Enjoying a tasty and refreshing coconut+pineapple fruit shake

Sumalee and her son
Alas, we eventually had to take our leave of Nai Yang beach and Sumalee Seafood

Sumalee Seafood
Nai Yang Beach
Phuket, Thailand

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Nai Yang

There is an overwhelming assortment of beaches to choose from when visiting Phuket. While we enjoyed our two nights in Kamala during our last trip, we wanted to try something new this time. The Lonely Planet wasn’t particularly helpful, but after some reading between the lines and online research we settled on either Nai Yang or Nai Thon beach, on the northwest side of the island.

Since we didn’t have time to look into lodging options before heading to Thailand, I did some TripAdvisor searching during our extended layover in BKK. There was one place on Nai Yang, Sea Pines, that really stood out in the Bed and Breakfast reviews. At 7AM, just before boarding our flight to Phuket, I called Sea Pines with our newly acquired cell phone. I think I woke up the owner, who kindly informed me that she had one room left, for three nights. Three hours later, we arrived at Sea Pines, dropped off our bags, and headed to the beach to start our tried and true jet lag recovery routine. 

Turns out we made an awesome decision with Nai Yang. The water is very warm, crystal clear, calm, and swimmable all day. The wide, rock-free beach stretches for kilometers. The mostly family-owned food stalls have tables out in the sand, and we’ve found a couple of places with truly amazing food. We haven’t seen a tout during our entire stay, and while Nai Yang is far from deserted, the beach is remarkably un-crowded.

My only regret is that we have to leave so soon. I would love to stay at Nai Yang for another few days, but since we have to move out of our friendly B&B we’re sticking to our plan of ferrying to Ko Lanta tomorrow. I’m looking forward to our next visit, we’ll certainly be back for the fantastic food, awesome swimming, and uber-relaxation. Here are a few highlights, the full set is available here.

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Coming back from a dip in the Andaman Sea

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Lounging at Mr. Poon’s

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Nai Yang borders a national park that is famous for its tall casuarina trees.

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Lauren doesn’t look jet-lagged at all!

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Sporting my new Thai bandana

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My foot!

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La Moose!

As a parting gift from Mr. Poon today, we received two smooth skin brown fruits. We asked “what are these?” and he said “in Thai we call them la moose. Peel the skin and eat the flesh inside.”

They tasted very similar to chickoo, though I liked this better as it still had the caramel overtones but was less pungent.  Courtesy of Wikipedia, it turns out that the term is lamoot over here, though we will still refer to them as la moose. :)

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Poon Restaurant

Rating:

On our first day in Phuket, we were approached by a very friendly man on Nai Yang beach. His name is “Mr. Poon” and he is the man behind Poon Restaurant. He is also a full service beach entrepreneur. He provides beach chairs, beer and other drinks delivered to you in your lounger, and will hook you up with a massage or any other service you need. He runs a tab for you until the end of your vacation. You also get Mr. Poon’s humor thrown in for free. We had two lunches at Poon Restaurant, and they were both quite enjoyable.

The first day we had garlic pepper chicken and prawns in Thai sauce. The garlic pepper chicken was fine, though nothing special (in general garlic+pepper sauce has been a bit of a let down on all but one occasion in my Thailand experiences, but that one time was amazing). The prawns in Thai sauce were phenomenal. Spiced at ~4 stars, it was garlicky, of medium thick consistency, and had a greater depth than most soy/oyster-based sauces. It was somewhat reminiscent of Thai Tom’s “#4”. He also showed us how to carve a pineapple.

The second time, we had a repeat of the prawns in Thai sauce and chicken with cashew nuts. We even got a cooking lesson, so now we can make Poon chicken with cashew nuts at home! It was a tasty mix of garlic, chili sauce, oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce, onions, chilies, and more.

Mr. Poon’s friendliness, reasonable prices, and big personality have earned him a loyal following. We saw many of the same people hanging out at Poon’s section of the beach day after day. Lauren dubbed this crowd the “Poonatics.”

He told us that next time when we come back, maybe he’ll have a second story where people can hang out and have a view of the ocean. We’ll find out when we return. :)

Me and Mr. Poon
Hanging with Mr. Poon

prawns in thai sauce
Prawns in Thai sauce

chicken with cashew nuts
Chicken with cashew nuts

fruit plate on the beach
Fruit plate (mangos, pineapple, watermelon) served beachside

Poon Restaurant
Nai Yang Beach
Phuket, Thailand

Daily: Lunch, Dinner