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.

Rose Apple

Lauren and I first had a rose apple in the Mekong Delta on our 2007 trip to Vietnam. We didn’t encounter them again until our return to Nha Trang, where we had one on our hotel room fruit plate. I was excited to revisit the refreshing crunchy, watery taste and took a bite (the Vietnamese eat them in very much the same way we eat regular apples). I was happily enjoying my first bite until I looked down at the inside of the rose apple – there were little white worms inside! Ick! I spit out that first bite and had a hard time looking at a rose apple for a few weeks afterwards. Lauren’s response: “What’s worse than finding a worm in your rose apple?” I was still a bit in shock from the worm and replied “what?” To which she excitedly quoted her father: “Finding half a worm!”

By the time we got back to Thailand my stomach had steadied again at the sight of rose apples. At Doi Suthep we introduced one of our fellow volunteers to rose apples, conveniently pre-chopped up, pre-inspected, and served with chili-sugar dip.

We’ve been eating a lot of rose apples lately, mostly at breakfast time. Our local fruit lady sells rose apples for about $1/kilo, and they provide a nice textural contrast to other fruit in oatmeal or yogurt. Inspired by a tasty local som tam fruit salad we have also used them in salads of our own. I still haven’t fully shaken my Vietnam experience though, so I always chop my rose apples up carefully into small cubes to make sure they don’t contain any unexpected protein sources.

Mark trying his first rose apple
Mark trying his first rose apple in Chiang Mai

Rose apples
Rose apples

Cut rose apple
The first slice: no worms!

Breakfast
Breakfast

Green Orange

Kind of like California oranges (easily purchased in Triangle Square), except they have a green skin! And not in the way green eggs and ham are green, this is all-natural. I’ve only seen them in Vietnam, and they call them “oranges” here. When we told the locals that oranges have orange skin in the US they didn’t understand what we were talking about.

Green orange
From the outside you would never understand why they’re called “oranges”….

Peeled green orange
…sneaky little fruits

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish Sauce

After two very pleasant weeks in Vietnam, we head to Cambodia tomorrow.

In no particular order, here are the top five things from Vietnam that I wish I could take with me:

  1. An endless supply of dragon fruit, mangoes, rambutan, and pineapples. The fruit in Nha Trang may still be the best I have ever eaten.
  2. Squeaky sand from Phu Quoc
  3. Nem cua be on the streets in Hanoi (delicious crab spring rolls)
  4. Gordon the Gecko, who was kind enough to share his living space with us at Mai House Resort in Phu Quoc
  5. Chili lemongrass shrimp, especially the rendition at Sea Star

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Our insect-control system on Phu Quoc

Seastar

Rating:

Seastar is a resort on Long Beach about a 10-minute walk north along the beach from Mai House. They have a beachfront restaurant with open air seating and a good-sized Vietnamese menu. They also serve the best chili lemongrass shrimp I’ve ever had. We discovered it on our first night in Phu Quoc, and returned just almost every day for another hit. Yesterday we discovered you can order it on top of bun noodles instead of rice, which makes the arrangement very much like Tamarind Tree’s chili-lemongrass chicken bun.

Tonight we squeezed in a second 1/2-dinner just so that we could savor the chili lemongrass shrimp as our last bite of Phu Quoc (never mind that we had eaten at Seastar today already for lunch).

The rest of the food we had at Seastar was enjoyable, though not as mind-blowing. Salads were very fresh, with a spicy fish-sauce and lime dressing. The Seastar spring rolls were crispy and well-textured, though the seafood inside didn’t have much in the way of additional flavor.

Overall, Seastar has a nice view, good prices, friendly wait staff, and chili-lemongrass shrimp to die for. If you’re on Phu Quoc Island, take a stroll along the beach and check it out!

Chili lemongrass shrimp
Chili lemongrass shrimp from heaven

Papaya salad with seafood
Papaya salad with seafood

Practicing shrimp de-tailing
I had many chances to practice my shrimp de-tailing technique: spear bottom with fork, hold spoon face down, and wedge under the tail. Pull out tasty morsel.

Beach view
View from the restaurant. We never saw anyone actually playing volleyball here.

Seastar
Ba Keo, 7 ward, Tran Hung Dao Street
Duong Dong town, Phu Quoc, Vietnam
+84 (0)77-3982-161

Lunch, Dinner

Little Vid does Vietnam

As always, the full set of Little Vid photos can be found here. Some of her recent adventures in Vietnam:

DSC_8481
Little Vid looks for answers at the Well of Heavenly Clarity in the Temple of Literature, Hanoi

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Little Vid finds a few friends in the Temple of Literature

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Little Vid relaxing on the beach at Phu Quoc

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Little Vid and Kenny both love long walks on the beach

Mai House Restaurant

Rating:

In addition to offering fabulous lodging and a private beach, Mai House also  boasts one of the better restaurants on this stretch of the island. Along with the included breakfasts, we’ve had a few dinners here while overlooking the amazing sunsets.

Mai House is run by a French expatriate, but the menu is distinctly Vietnamese. Our favorite dish (which we had 3 times) was the pomelo salad. Sweet, tart, and spicy with fresh pomelo, lime juice, shrimp and a generous topping of sesame seeds. We also liked the fish in lot leaves, a variation of the classic beef in lot leaves that incorporated blackened fresh fish into a Vietnamese dolma.

Overall, we enjoyed every dish that we ordered at Mai House, including a few memorable dishes. Good food and a stunning view, it’s hard to ask for more!

Pomelo salad
Awesome pomelo salad – we ordered ours sans pork

Black cod in lot leaves
Fish in lot leaves

Tuna in clay pot
Tuna in clay pot – caramelized and tender

Shrimp curry
Goa-style shrimp curry. While not much to look at, it was so tasty I ordered it twice!

Mai House Restaurant
Long Beach
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
+84 (0)918123796

Daily: Lunch, Dinner

Sometimes 30 = 200

We are luxuriating at a serene beach on Phu Quoc Island for a few days before making our way back towards Thailand for AJWS orientation. Our original plan for the trip back north was:

… a boat from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia, and then another boat up the Mekong into Cambodia. Stop in Phnom Penh and potentially Battambang.

This was, of course, before we had done much research related to boats up the Mekong. After doing some reading, it turns out it takes almost a full day to even reach the Mekong. We decided that a shorter boat ride from Phu Quoc to Ha Tien and then a few days in Kampot, Cambodia would be much more pleasant. We spent some time scouring the Lonely Planet and various web forums today for information on boats, Cambodian visas, border crossing process, and overland transport to Kampot. After sketching out how we might orchestrate the border crossing, we took a stroll out to the main road from the beach and saw this:

John will get you to Cambodia
Easy transport options from Phu Quoc to various destinations in Cambodia

So we’ll probably just scrap all of those plans and book transport from here to Kampot with John for ~$30/person on Monday.

Of course, none of this research would be necessary if there were a boat from here to Kampot. Apparently such boats actually exist, but Gerard at Mai House warned us to steer clear of these as they are highly illegal and usually unsuccessful at making the crossing (but they do successfully take your money). As a result, what should be a 45 minute trip will be a six hour multi-transport adventure, thanks to international borders and historic territorial disputes.

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Kenny pointing out the absurdity of our six hour border crossing trip to a destination only 30km away

After our two nights in Kampot, we’ll have two more in Phnom Penh and then we fly to Chiang Mai via Bangkok.

Sunsets over Long Beach

As part of our daily routine, we’ve been ending our day at the beachfront restaurant at Mai House, blogging and watching the sun set. We’ve had very good weather so far in Phu Quoc, but even by those standards today was particularly clear. We were able to watch the sun fully set over the Gulf of Thailand.

These five pictures are all from this evening’s sunset:

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

Sunset 3

Sunset 4

Sunset 5