Archive for August, 2015
Being abundantly blessed by Nature, the island’s USP lies in its wonderful beaches. Well, at least in some of them, if not all. The tourism boost has been a boon and a bane to the island; while the economy’s been smiling, the place is turning into a crime magnet at the same time.
But we’re not getting into all that at the moment. This piece is about Phuket’s best beaches, and that’s precisely what follows. However, keep in mind that Phuket’s nastiness in the form of pesky vendors and rogue taxi drivers may tag along as well.
Patong, located on the west coast, is synonymous with everything Phuket stands for―and we’re talking both, carnal and surreal. The area is abuzz with the ‘mai pen rai’ or ‘take it easy’ attitude, for when you’re in Patong, everything, and we mean everything, is easy to get. From a Pad Thai breakfast off the street, to a Thai cabaret show to round off the night, nothing is impossible when you’re here.
But amidst the neon lights, the souvenir shops, the sleazy ladyboy bars lies Patong’s super-popular beach. Stretching 3 km, the beach holds quite a reputation for its nightlife. Which doesn’t mean that families refrain from coming here. There are endless activities to indulge in, including jet-skiing, parasailing, swimming, or simply lazing on those inviting lounge chairs―you may even get a Thai massage, if you please.
If the main beach in Patong is too overwhelming for you, head to Freedom Beach, a white sand haven dotted with granite rocks and surrounded by hills covered by thick cover of green. The beach can only be accessed by boat, which means, you’ll find relatively fewer crowds here. On the agenda here is soccer, volleyball, snorkeling, and sunbathing; all of which you indulge in complete peace and quiet.
Paradise Beach is another gem in the vicinity of Patong, which stands true to its name. The beach itself is tiny and rocky, with the clearest waters that are perfect for a spot of snorkeling. You can hire a boat from Patong to get here, provided the tides aren’t too choppy. People take the effort to sail down here to simply view the gorgeous corals, and spend a relaxed day here―mind you, there aren’t any vendors here. Yay!
Surin Beach, again, is on the west coat of Phuket, and is around 15 km away from Patong. The beach is small, but makes up in terms of scenic beauty. Like other beaches, Surin is commercialized as well―you’ll find endless rows of loungers here. The atmosphere, though, is much less charged, which is a pleasant change indeed.
The tiny resort town of Surin also goes by the name of Millionaire’s Row, owing to the many famous names that come here to vacation and/or own some spanking, sea-facing property here. You’ll find some excellent grub for cheap over here, along with some high-end restaurants as well, and you can particularly enjoy a leisurely dinner here, as you watch the sun go down―truly, one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Surin is not exactly a place for those into water sports. The sea here is a little too rocky for novice surfers, and you’ll hardly find any speedboats over here. Kayaking is one activity which does find some takers, with excursions going to the Laem Singh Beach which is close by.
Karon Beach is favored by families, and you won’t spot a lot of the singles crowd here. It’s across the street from Hilton Phuket, so many of the hotel’s guest often do the hop-skip-and-jump to get here. The beach is long and clean, and more importantly, not as crowded, which makes it perfect for long walks. If you’re looking for a spot of isolation, head to the northern end of the beach, which tends to be practically deserted all the time. The nighttime markets are also a great place for some unusual finds and souvenirs to take home.
Water sports operators make their vociferous presence felt at all times on Karon. So, from parasailing and jet skiing to windsurfing and wakeboarding, you’ll find plenty of exciting options here. The beach is a great spot for snorkeling as well. A favorite way to pass the evening here, according to the locals, is to play a game of volleyball, and everyone is invited to play or watch.
Karon Beach suffered a lot of damage in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but has made quite a recovery ever since, and is now one of the most remarkable beaches in Phuket.
Kata Beach is located further south from Karon, and is a gem of a spot in the shape of a cove. The street that lines the beach is lined with trees―a refreshing splash of green in searing hot Phuket. It has all the beach essentials―loungers under humongous umbrellas, water sports like surfing, parasailing, and jet skiing. You’ll also find the beach staple of food carts and shacks selling some delicious Thai food here.
With all the white sand and turquoise water loveliness around you, it’s really hard to be wanting anything more. But even so, snorkeling is one activity that must be enjoyed here on Kata Beach, for the water is perfectly clear, shallow, and warm. Windsurfers and Hobie Cats can be rented by the hour. The southern end of the beach is predominantly a surfer’s zone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, the waves here are not as fierce, and you can even avail surfing lessons.
An erstwhile fishing village, Kamala has undergone a complete facelift in recent years. A stone’s throw away from Padong, Kamala Beach is the antithesis of its more famous neighbor. So, if you’re coming here (and you should), expect a more laid back scene, with families and couples having a relaxed day on the beach. Also, you won’t be too hassled by vendors when you’re here, which in Phuket, is a major plus.
The relative solitude here at Kamala Beach is a treasured quality for the locals, mostly comprising retirees and long-term holiday makers. As far as activities are concerned, this beach is quite good for scuba diving, although you need to get in touch with any of the local schools here to arrange a trip for you. Surfers usually head to the northern end of the beach which has beach break with stable sandbanks, owing to the presence of reefs. Besides, you’ll also find the seaside regulars like parasailing and jet skiing.
A bit about the overall beach-scene in Phuket
– Being an island, you’re never too far away from a beach when you’re in Phuket. But yes, we all have our reasons for coming here, so you need to chalk out a purpose before you hit the beach.
– Padong, by a long shot is the clear winner if you’re looking for action and excitement, be it water sports or nightlife.
– There are calmer spots in Phuket too, like the Freedom Beach or Paradise, depending upon your activity of choice.
– Most beaches on the island are accessible by car or motorbike. You may have to even take a ferry to reach a few beaches.
Phuket may have gained a bit of notoriety over the years, but rest assured, it isn’t as bad as you’d imagined it to be. Unless, of course, you choose to go looking out for trouble, wanting to live your version of The Hangover movie.
Mexico has gained a bit of a reputation as a vacation for the affluent, due to the rise of glitzy resorts such as Cancún and Acapulco. However, though that may well have been the case in the past, it is now accessible to tourists on every budget.
Here are Mexico’s best coastal resorts, the best of the gems that this wonderful country has to offer.
Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, is the ideal gateway into Mexico for most international travelers. Cities such as Mexico City, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, and Playa del Carmen have hundreds of Couchsurfing and Airbnb hosts for budget travelers. For those on a more ‘vacation budget’, there is a wealth of countless seaside resorts in each of these coastal destinations.
Getting There: Various American cities, including major hubs such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, are connected to Cancún by air. It is a major city in Mexico, and is connected to all other major Mexican cities.
➙ Starting off with the most Westernized, and consequently popular, of all of Mexico’s beach destinations, Cancún is one of the best beach vacation spots in the world. It has huge sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, which have kept it high in the tourism lists for so many years. Being a tourism-centered city, it offers a variety of restaurants, resorts, and shopping centers for the typical tourist, and some of the best nightlife in Mexico.
➙ Apart from the seaside entertainment, it has two notable museums: the Museo Subacuático de Arte, an eccentric underwater museum consisting of 403 life-size sculptures, and the Museo Maya de Cancún, which houses one of the best collections of Maya artifacts in Mexico.
➙ A day trip to Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan complex, is also a highly recommended and usually selected option.
Getting There: This island is situated very close to Cancún, and can be accessed via regular ferries.
➙ Isla Mujeres, situated about 9 miles off the coast of Cancún, is a complete contrast to the most touristy city in Mexico. It is ideal for relaxation, and is the perfect place for someone who gets bored and frustrated in the commercialized environs of Cancún. There are a few rocky caves to explore, but the USP of Isla Mujeres is its contrast with Cancún: relaxing environs, relatively uncrowded beaches, and fresh, home-cooked seafood in the thatched palapa restaurants by the beach.
➙ The inexpensive and homely inns found here are complemented by a few boutique resorts, and together provide accommodation in every price range.
➙ Biking or driving a golf cart around this tranquil island is the best way to roam it (or just walk, if you want!).
Getting There: It is quite close to Cancún, and all the destinations on the Mayan Riviera can easily be reached from there by bus.
➙ The Riviera Maya, or the Mayan Riviera, is a tourism-centric region along the Caribbean coastline of Quintana Roo, a Mexican state. It consists of several Caribbean beaches, such as Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, as well as the Mayan ruins of Tulum.
➙ Playa del Carmen, in particular, is being developed massively in order to be more attractive to tourists and to serve as a center of the region.
➙ The primary attractions in this region are snorkeling and scuba diving in the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the second longest barrier reef system in the world, and the archeological finds of Tulum and the more inland Coba. Swimming with dolphins is also a major draw in this region.
Getting There: Los Cabos is connected by air to Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Ontario, among other cities.
➙ Of all the seaside destinations in Mexico, Los Cabos offers the best of both worlds. It is made up of two cities: San Jose del Cabo, which has retained the persona of a traditional, quaint Mexican town, and Cabo San Lucas, which is the black sheep of the two and has become renowned for its nightlife.
➙ Located in Baja California, it is highly convenient for US tourists, and has consequently molded itself to attract more Americans. The region between the two cities, particularly, has become famous for its championship golf courses, an activity pursued in the US with almost religious fervor.
➙ El Arco, or The Arch, is a famous and distinctive landmark in Los Cabos, and is a frequent gathering point for sea lions. Whale watching is also a worthwhile activity in the winter; whales migrate here for the warmer waters. Due to the variety of activities available in this twin resort, Los Cabos is arguably the best of Mexico’s top seaside vacation spots.
Getting There: It is connected by air to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, etc.
➙ Like Los Cabos, Mazatlán presents two destinations in one: the touristy seaside resorts and shopping areas, and the preserved old city, which provides a fascinating glimpse into life in Mexico.
➙ The pueblo viejo (old town) has been renovated in several places, and the renaissance that turned Mazatlán from a Cancún-esque resort to one of the most lovable seaside destinations in North America is still underway. A guided tour of 3-4 hours for short groups, which can be arranged at most hotels for approx. USD 30, is a great way of getting to know the new and the old of this city.
➙ Whale watching (winter) and dolphin watching (year-round) tours, conducted by marine ecologist Oscar Guzon, are also famous.
➙ Mazatlán also contains a few options for the heritage tourist, such as the Museo de Arte and the Teatro Angela Peralta.
Getting There: It is connected by air to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, Atalanta, Dallas, Chicago, etc., and by a daily bus to Mexico City.
➙ The original Mexican party center before the rise of Cancún, Acapulco still holds the air of a typical touristy seaside resort rather than an enriching heritage destination.
➙ Being a cosmopolitan destination, it excels in providing all kinds of entertainment, ranging from pristine beaches to thrilling cliff divers. The latter, taking place at La Quebrada, is arguably Acapulco’s most famous tourist attraction; the prime time to catch the show is after 7-8 pm, when the divers hold torches while performing their routine.
➙ Its old town square is a veritable treasure trove of entertainment after evening, when various street performers add to the setting provided by the numerous sidewalk cafés.
Getting There: It is connected by air to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Toronto, among others, and by bus to Guadalajara.
➙ Once named as the Friendliest City in the World, Puerto Vallarta still retains that friendly, welcoming air.
➙ It has several unique features among Mexican seaside attractions, such as being the preferred coastal retreat for the domestic Mexican tourist. It is also emerging as a popular retirement spot for Americans and Canadians. It is also known as one of the most gay-friendly destinations in the whole of Latin America.
➙ Apart from its beaches, boardwalks, and entertainment-filled sidewalks, Puerto Vallarta is home to the beautiful Vallarta Botanical Gardens, and the small but interesting pottery museum, Museo de Cuale.