Goa has always been on my bucket list: I kept hearing stories of people disappearing there for months at a time, relaxing on a beach, partying, smoking pot etc. Plus, it has a reputation of being “India light”, meaning less poverty, less homeless and cleaner than other areas of India and sounded like a good preview to India travel.
So finally the stars aligned and we went to India. Goa was a part of a larger itinerary which consisted of Mumbai Kerala and Delhi but this blog is only about Goa. Overall Goa is lovely, the beaches are sandy and beautiful, with restaurants, bars, live music and tons of accommodation all is really cheap but good quality. It’s definitely a place to come and hang out for a short or a long haul.
We arrived in Goa from Kochi, Kerala on a train. So here are some tips about the train system. In order to get tickets you can either go thru a travel agency which collects a rather hefty fee or register with the India train system and buy tickets online. Frankly, I tried to do that before I left for India and even though I am pretty good with online accounts this was way beyond my abilities. The system kept bouncing me back, not accepting my email (claiming its wrong?!), I wrote to customer service, emailed my passport, invested time and effort but no avail, I didn’t succeed.. The last option is to take a chance and to get tickets right at the station. However, the ticket office only sells you tickets for the same day and not the good tickets but general tickets which I called gen pop. So on the day of travel to Goa we arrived at the station well ahead of time and got our gen pop tickets and boarded the gen pop car.
This was not the Darjeeling express by no means and not for the faint of heart. The car was packed with people, the smell was not “pleasing” and we chose to remain at the gangway by the open doors so we could get some fresh air. After about 20 mins (the ride was supposed to be 7 to 8 hrs) Roman went ahead to the a/c cars to look for the conductor. To make a long story short he managed to upgrade our tickets to a sleeper a/c (this train didn’t have a/c seating cars). However, in order to get to the a/c sleeper we had to squeeze with our luggage thru about seven long cars packed with people many sleeping on the floor, an impossible task. Therefore, we waited for the next stop, jumped off and ran as fast as we could towards our new car. This was stressful because trains stop for about 2 to 3 only minutes at each station. The next 6 hours passed in comfort, food vendors walk thru nonstop and you can get, tea, coffee, nuts and food right there from your bed.
Our first Goa destination was Palolem beach. Palolem has a tiny train station called Canacona but unfortunately express trains do not stop there. So the plan was to ride to the next stop, another hour further north, then take a bus for 1.5 hrs, back to Palolem. However, shortly south of Canacona the train started to slow down and about one kilometer away from the station it suddenly stopped to give way to an upcoming train. We hesitated for about 30 seconds, grabbed our luggage, threw it off the train and jumped. Unfortunately the station turned out to be on the opposite side of the tracks and only after our train left we ran across the tracks and climbed onto the station by stacking out luggage on top of each other. Felt very dramatic and totally cool.
We chose not to pre-book any accommodations because we wanted to be flexible with our time and we also felt that we can get a better bargain right on the spot. As we came in a taxi to the center of Palolem beach, a bunch of guys were offering various kinds of accommodations. This was a very slow tourist season and thus a buyers’ market. We chose a very nice room with a/c, hot water, flat screen TV, about 30 seconds away from the beach for $20/night!!! We stayed in Palolem four nights. The best restaurant is Dropadi, we ate there every night; best music venue is Chilli. We also walked to Patnam beach, a nice walk, about 20-25 minutes and better beach bars with comfy cushions to sit on. We also checked out Agonda beach, 20 minute tuk-tuk ride. Agonda beach is mostly British expats who seem to know each other and who are meeting daily for a happy hour.
We really liked Palolem but our goal was to check out as many places as possible to scout a favorite in case we want to come back for a longer period of time. So we decided to go all the way up north and then to make our way back south to end up at the airport area. We took a local train to Perem and then a tuk-tuk to Arambol. This train was old but it was completely empty and a two hour ride was fine.
As we arrived to Arambol it was getting dark and we rushed to get a room. We didn’t like our first accommodation and the next day we moved to a very nice 4 start property right on the beach called Matre. They also have a good restaurant. This was the priciest room for us in Goa, about $50/night. We stayed there for three nights, four in Arambol in total. Arambol is a huge beach with great sand, and is very lively, more so then Palolem. It has a lot of live music at night by the beach and also the north side of the beach has cliffs with many restaurants bars and shopping as well. There are a lot of shopping and yoga class options there as well. While in Palolem we checked out Mandrem beach, which we didn’t like at all because you can only access the beach by way of series of bridges and there are no services on the beach at all. The place looked really boring too. We also visited Morjim beach which has more Russian tourists then others. Morjim is good for a day outing and has couple of nice happy hour bars.
Our next destination was Anjuna. Compare to Arambol it was a little disappointing, but I read somewhere that Anjuna “grows on you” which is true. Anjuna beach is a very narrow and not very long piece of sand lined with bars, restaurants and accommodations. We stayed at the far south part next to a mega club Lilliput. Overall Anjuna was relatively empty of tourists. There are two night markets nearby, one is Hilltop market and the other is Arpora. We liked the Hilltop better, it was bigger, more stalls, more food choices and it had an awesome rock concert till late at night. We also checked out a nearby Vagator beach, a nice upscale place with expensive restaurants. Many expats and long term visitors rent houses in Vagator. However, in order to get down to the beach one must walk down a long stair case which is not very easy on the way up in the hot afternoon after a day at the beach. One issue that was interesting in north Goa is that they don’t have many tuk-tuks as in the south so if you don’t have your own motorcycle you must rely on cabs and they are not very amenable to bargaining.
From Anjuna we kept moving south to Baga beach. Baga, Calanguta and Candolim merge into each other into a very very long stretch of gorgeous beach with plenty of restaurants and happy hour offers. At one point it took us about 2 hrs to walk on the beach from Candolim to our place in Baga. Next time I would stay in Calanguta or Candolim. Baga is very noisy and low brow, kind of Las Vegas of Goa. All the better restaurants are in Calanguta and Candolim and so are live music bars. Taxis between these beaches are quite expensive and the buses stop running at 9 pm.
Our last destination in Goa was Panaj, the capital of Goa. We stayed in Ria Residence, an ok for the money place in the Old Portuguese Latin Quarter of Fontainhas which is indeed charming. The most recommended accommodation in the area is a hostel called Old Quartier but it was full. Nevertheless we went there twice for European type breakfast and a really good coffee.
We took a taxi to Old Goa, about 20 minutes away. There are two major churches there and a good place to learn about the history of the Portuguese in Goa. In the afternoon we went on a free walking tour with a very nice guide but unfortunately she didn’t tell us that much about the town. It was very hot and we missed the beach. There was zero night life in Panaj and nothing to do after dinner.
The next day we flew to Delhi…