Last minute vacations are pretty much our thing. And one night over pizza, about a month ago, we were inspired for an adventure to somewhere neither of us had ever been before. So we said to ourselves, “let’s go to Goa!”
Goa had always been lingering in the back of our minds. My friends back home had regaled me about the hippie communities, the fish curries and the unique Portuguese history of the place. Hippies drinking spiked lassis!* Looking for new worlds to explore and maybe even a new muse, we were pumped for this little jaunt and introduction to India. Plus we were hitting the tail end of the monsoon (read: low) season, which meant being able to avoid the masses of western tourists and getting the best deals on hotels. We were also ridiculously lucky to stumble upon Rachel’s amazing guide to travel in Goa and the rest of India. This girl knows her Goa and I don’t even know where we would have started without her.
We had all of our flights, visas and hotels booked within 2 weeks and then we were off to one of the best surprise trips ever. And hey, not a bad way to turn thirty either.
So now I find myself back in Phnom Penh, completely inspired and infected by India, wanting to go back for more and absolutely bursting to tell you everything about it.
We arrived bright and early at 7am in Panjim, the state of Goa’s capital city. After 18 hours of travel involving one overnight layover in Mumbai, we were pooped. Excited. But pooped. Thankfully “the guest is god” in India. Upon arrival at the historic Panjim Inn, and presenting our sorry ass tired mugs, we were upgraded to their even grander heritage boutique hotel, Panjim People’s! And what a place. Owned by the same family since the 1800s, this four-room hotel in a former high schoool has been restored to its colonial glory with a cute little gallery and cafe on the ground floor. Located in the historic Fontainhas neighbourhood, this place is exploding with the same colourful colonial charm that you can find in Penang, Malaysia. Every home was a different colour! I had to pretty much be dragged away from photographing every single door and window frame around our hotel.
Motorbikes are the best way to explore a new place. If you’re feeling up to the challenge of getting to know a new driving culture, and tackling that whole “left side” of the road business, then go for it. We love the freedom that comes from getting a bike on our own. So with our little scooter and a very long night of catch-up sleep, we left for Old Goa, once the centre of Portuguese rule during the colonial era and just a twenty minute drive along the Mondavi River from Panjim. This place is teeming with history. We couldn’t get enough of it.
After two days of wandering through colour and history, and eating our fair share of fish curries, samosas and local pao (local fluffy white bread rolls here instead of naan!), we urgently needed some beach time. So off to the south we went and holy crap they weren’t joking about the white sand beaches here. Heritage hotels were our game for this trip; so we planted our bags down at Vivenda dos Palhacos (thats Villa of the Clowns for the rest of you). Or more commonly known as Simon’s house. And my god, I couldn’t have found a better place to spend my last nights of the twenties and to ring in a new decade. This century old Portuguese villa was lovingly restored to its glory by Simon and Charlotte, English siblings who were raised in India and who’s family dates back to the 19th century colonial period. Our room (one of eight unique rooms or stand alone villas), Madras, featured an outdoor bathroom with private access to the pool! I can’t even begin to tell you how much we loved it here.
To boot, each of Simon and Charlotte’s rooms comes with the most spectacular Goa guide to help you with your stay. The Love Travel Guides carefully constructed by Fiona Caulfield were the best find ever to help us uncover Goa’s best bits. They’re also printed on the most sumptuous of papers. Like a proper book should be. I can’t wait to dive into India through the rest of her guides.
And did I mention the beach? And the south offers so much to be explored. From the scenic ocean drive through Cabo de Rama, through Agonda Beach, and down to Palolem. I highly recommend hopping onto a Royal Enfield and cruising down the windy roads that open up onto aquamarine bays. And the Goan fish curry at any local resto! (we loved Karmal Ghat)
Our final stop in Goa was the north. Upon driving into Candolim, we became a tad apprehensive. North Goa is the epicentre of tourism. Thousands of western tourists descend upon these beaches every winter. I imagine it resembles Koh Phangan on a full moon. Thankfully, we found a quiet little haven at Wildflower Villas, high up in the hills with a wonderful view and eight unique villas each with a four poster bed and so much space to roll around in. Nishad and his family are all about conservation and harmony with nature, which is fitting considering they are descended from practitioners of ayurvedic medicine. This makes for the perfect escape from the traffic below.
Besides exploring the gorgeous interior of North Goa (especially in Assagao), there was also the opportunity to do some mad shopping. The best place to get the feel of a city and it’s rhythm is the local wet market. And the small city of Mapusa offers this up big time. With so many fabric sellers, spice cartels, and vegetables up the wazoo, we could have easily spent hours here. Well, if it weren’t for that gosh darned heat. As a resident of Cambodia, I should know better. In any case, do check out the Mapusa Municipal Market. And do get there early.
I can’t finish off this post without mention of the food. Man o man o man. We just couldn’t stop eating. And if I wasn’t fighting off this unfortunate airplane cold, I’d be whacking off the reps and the squats right now to burn off all of the deliciousness we consumed last week. Fish thalis were the go-to meal, but the star of the show was the tandoori snapper we had on Majorda Beach at the venerable Zeebop beachfront seafood resto. This is not a place for the goan fish curry. Splurge and definitely go for something big and freshly caught from the sea like the peri peri prawns if your spice threshold is up to par.
And how could I forget to mention the tea. And the tea houses! Little unassuming cafes owned by the most colourful and sweetest of characters. Our favourite by far was Anita’s Tea House, just around the corner from our hotel in Panjim. Anita is the friendliest of aunties and served us masala milk tea with samosas for a whopping 30 rupees (that’s 50 cents to you). Since leaving India, nothing has compared to these fragrant little cups of goodness. Guess we’ll have to go back just for a good cuppa.
PS. Here are all the details:
Visas to India can now be applied for online. An appointment then needs to be made with your local Indian consulate to complete the process and transaction.
Flights to Goa from southeast Asia can be easily booked through Jet Airways, Air India, or any of the numerous domestic airlines that India has to offer. We flew Jet Airways via Bangkok and Mumbai. Sadly 6 hours of in flight time required another 12 hours of layovers.
During the low season, rooms at Panjim Inn and its family of boutique heritage hotels start at 3315 INR (with taxes the total is about 60 USD).
Likewise, rooms at Vivenda dos Palhacos are in the range of 4400 to 6850 INR (72.31 to 112.58 USD) during the low season including breakfast and taxes. Each room is unique and we loved the Madras!
Wildflower Villas offers 8 unique villas. We stayed in the Desert Marigold at 5373.9 INR or 88.37 USD including taxes.
The low season typically ends in October. Prices will increase 2-3 fold until March or April when the hot season arrives and the monsoons begin.
Scooters are available to rent at the rate of 200-300 INR per day. A Royal Enfield will cost you about 800 INR per day. To avoid disappointment and any potential issues with local traffic police, bring a driver’s license!
*Spiked lassis, better known as bhang lassis were once a big draw for the hippie community in Goa. Unfortunately they are now mixed with an unfortunate and unknown number of illicit substances and visitors to Goa are highly recommended to avoid this local brew for risk of blacking out and subsequent robberies. Go for the cashew feni instead.
All photos are property of cait+tiff.