I don’t believe in star signs, but if I did it would make sense that I am a Pisces. I have a need to be in water. I crave a bath every other day. I would run through sprinklers whenever the opportunity presents itself and if possible, I walk really close to those sprinkler/spritzer overhead machine things in restaurants, and markets – You know the ones I’m talking about.
And I absolutely love the beach.
It’s probably the toughest thing about living in Shanghai, because it’s so far from swimmable water, so far from the beach. We have our share of springs and swimming pools but there’s just something about the ocean. The salty air. The taste of it on your skin after being there for just three minutes. How your hair goes lighter after you’ve spent a day in the sea. Ah, it’s all magic.
For this post we’re going to dream about the beach and the ocean together. I’m going to share with you my favourite beaches; where they are, what I love about them and a little about my fondest experiences there. And I hope that in the comments below, you will share with me yours.
We’re going to start with El Nido.
El Nido is a small town on, I think the north west side of Palawan. Palawan is one of the many islands that make up The Philippines. And in my humble opinion, is the most beautiful. I’ve only been to mainland Manila, so I’m definitely no authority on the matter, but I don’t think you could ask anyone who’s been to El Nido who would disagree.
Our first visit to El Nido, we fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa which is on the southern end of the island. And you have to take a six hour journey by car to reach El Nido. There is an airport in El Nido, and since our first visit it’s become a little more accessible but it is still much more expensive to fly there directly than do the PP route and use the van.
During our first visit we did everything in one go, we flew from Manila to Puerto Princesa and took the van to El Nido, without spending any real time in the town of PP. After a heart-wrenching van ride we reached the little town, a little bit after 7pm. They had experienced some rainy weather that day. And of course, as we do, we weren’t staying in the town itself, no, we’re such ‘Wanderers’. The accommodation I had chosen was outside of El Nido town. It was near Nacpan Beach, and that’s the beach, I want to tell you about.
When we first visited this beach there was nothing. And there was no one. It was amazing.
The water it was so clear, so beautiful. Cool enough, warm enough, absolute perfection. It’s so beautiful and perfect that people from other parts of The Philippines, famous holiday destinations like the Cebu Islands, they were coming to Nacpan beach.
Before we dive deeper…
I was telling you about arriving in El Nido. We arrived in the town and our host, Raffy, who has become a friend, he meets us in the town. When I’d made the reservation we were corresponding by email and he asked if I had experience with a scooter. His accommodation offered you the use of a scooter when you book your tent. It makes sense I suppose as you’re far away from the town and the main centre and there’s not too much within walking distance of the accommodation. So that’s nice touch. When we arrived and we met him, he showed us to our bike. We were going to follow him. That’s him on his bike with a trailer that carried our luggage and us, on a bike following closely behind.
By this time, it’s nearly 8pm, it’s dark, and it’s wet, and we have no idea where we’re going. ‘Wanderers’.
And as we’re riding, there’s just nothing there. The road is not well lit. There are chickens, literally crossing the road. We pass a couple of little spots where we see people sitting, eating outside. And it’s just in the middle of nowhere. It just feels so rural, but at the same time, it’s just tremendous. To be riding through these winding roads, wet, vast, quiet.
It’s just pure bliss, that surrender that sense that this is travel, this is adventure, this IS wandering.
We arrived at the accommodation, Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and just just amazing. And it turns out that they’ve only just opened this is back in 2017. And we were only the second guests to visit, what an honor.
Now back to the beach. Nacpan Beach is the closest to our accommodation and a short but treachourous muddy journey is well rewarded with a beach where you could easily wind away hours and hours. In fact, it is where we spent all our time in the water on sand in the water on the sand. And as an extra there was something called Harmony Bar, which has since been removed, but back then, when it was allowed, it was such a treat, this floating bar. Just one gentleman with his cooler box, swimming to the shore to come and get you, paddling you to the floating bar, and then fixing your drink as you sit and enjoy Nacpan in a different way.
For me, Nacpan is my favorite beach in the world. Fast forward to 2019, our second visit and of course we’re gonna stay with Raffy at his Cabanas de Nacpan for a few nights. And even though people have come and gone, returned, and so forth we still got that same first class, treatment. Warm, welcoming, excellence.
Nacpan Beach is a little different now, with a new glamping resort right on the beach with what looks like hundreds of tents. They also have an event venue. (Raffy and Charmaine actually got married there a little after our visit).
It’s a bit of a mixed bag as it’s nice with things that are accessible, there are more options when it comes to food and drinks while you’re spending the day at the beach, but at the same time it has lost a little bit of that treasured in-the-middle-of-nowhere, hidden gem, hard to reach quality. Even so, it will forever remain a magical place, and it is still quite difficult to reach because the roads are dirty and muddy after rain, and bumpy even when it’s dry. But oh, so worth it when you dip your toes in those crystal, blue water. Oh, take me back to NacPan!
El Nido is a treasury of gorgeous beaches and when that’s not enough you can book an island hopping trip and get to explore islands that are otherwise unreachable. You also get to meet the most amazing people that way. The people of The Philippines have the most welcoming hearts and beautiful spirits, it’s no wonder tourists and travelers return again and again.
Next stop: Koh Samed aka Koh Samet, Thailand
I’ve always wanted to travel to Thailand, well, after watching the movie, The Beach. The movie made it look like an idyllic seaside jungle. Fast forward a few years and we are presented with the opportunity to travel there. While many South Africans know and have come to love Thailand and its beautiful beaches, most travel to PhiPhi, Krabi and Phuket. The ‘Wanderer’ in me wanted something a little different, something less familiar. And so I found some pictures of Koh Samet. Not to be mistaken with Koh Samui also to be found in the Gulf of Thailand.
To reach the island we flew in to Bangkok. From the city you have to take a few confusing bus trips and eventually a van – a journey that takes around 3 hours altogether – and then a ferry or a speedboat from the Ban Phe Pier.
Many tourists based in Bangkok take day trips to the island to enjoy its well preserved natural beauty. The island is also popular with expats based in Bangkok and locals as well. Ah, the satisfaction of not having to leave after a day of soaking up the sun.
The tiny island is so well maintained it is treated like a national park. You need to pay an entry fee upon arrival and there are random stops and checks so you have to carry your receipt even when doing island hopping tours. The island is small enough to discover and enjoy every inch of it in a short stay. In fact, it’s possible to scooter right around the island in less than a day! We tried but found beautiful beaches along the way and spent our time there instead.
During our visit we stayed in a simple hut a short walk away from either Koh Samet or Ao Phai beach. It’s easy and safe to rent and use a scooter for all your explorations and on our lazier days we just took the few hundred steps to one of the many beach front restaurants for a meal.
Next stop: Nusa Islands of Bali, Indonesia
Off the coast of Bali you will find three islands: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. In brief, Nusa Penida is full of touristy, Instagrammable hot spots, Nusa Ceningan is the smallest with lovely lagoons and access to companies who assist with diving and licensing and Nusa Lembongan is a delightful combo of the first two.
We chose to stay on Lembongan. There aren’t a lot of options for swimmable beaches but the beach views and are endless and sea really shows off her strength and might here. The island is tiny so a bicycle or scooter gets you around quick enough to hop from one beach to another. Lembongan is connected to Ceningan by a cute, yellow bridge. Ceningan has lots of lagoons and lagoon front bars, cafes and restaurants. Again, a bicycle or scooter is a must!
Near the connecting bridge there are countless boats that can take you across to Nusa Penida where you can tour the aforementioned photo worthy spots like the Insta-famous Kelingking beach, Broken Beach and Devil’s Tears (actually, the latter is found on Lembongan).
We spent the second half of our Bali trip on the mainland in a small town called Canggu. While the beaches weren’t great for swimming, the town was wonderful. The population is made up of expats and digital nomads, the cafes and eateries are dreamy, there’s a yoga studio or pottery class on every corner and the overall vibe is just so chill (that’s how people speak there).
Next stop: Sri Lanka (Yes, the whole country)
We started our journey in the northern parts of the island and stayed in the highly rated town, Trincomalee. We’re accustomed to travelling off-season, but what we learnt on this trip is that some places, like the beloved Trinco, only prepares to host during its peak season. The result, the beaches were terrible! Now, sun, sand and sea were in abundance, of course, but so was the rubbish.
The beach our lovely cabana faced was filled with rubbish, crows and stray dogs. It was horrendous. When we asked the staff at our accommodation about it they simply said, “We’ll clean up in June, that’s the high season.” How sad. And what’s worse, our visit was in January and February of 2020.
Chats with locals led us to Marble Beach. Still in Trinco, Marble Beach is a 30 minute drive from the downtown area. It is a protected beach managed by the military. We traveled to Sri Lanka to celebrate our anniversary and spent our special day at Marble, the only clean beach on the north eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
Onwards and well, downwards, to the south of the island we wandered. We spent the second third of our travels inland visiting beautiful mountainous areas, in the wild and traversing the jungle. After that, the beach was calling. We answered in Tangalle.
The People of the South were ready. The beaches pristine, the restaurants prepped and the fresh fruit juices flowing. Our accommodation was a lovely little guesthouse just a two minute walk from Goyambokka beach which sits in a cove. As you can tell from these photos, while the hosts were ready, the tourists were nowhere in sight. This beach was delightfully quiet, the water perfect and the sandy shore offered ample shade and seats.
While staying there we took a day trip on a scooter to Mirissa, we found some lovely seaside eateries, we saw a ginormous turtle while swimming and discovered where all the tourists were. Naturally we spent the rest of our time in the tranquility of Goyambokka.
Quick stop: Ipanema and Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
This one is more of an honourable mention than an actual favourite. We visited Rio de Janeiro in the heart of winter and beach days weren’t always possible despite the frequent balmy evenings. We did however get to explore the surrounds including the café where Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema) was written and hiked a peak, Pedra Bonita, that overlooks the famous Dois Irmãos, the small mountain range anchoring the iconic beach front; a hike that earns you a dip in the cool waters of the Copacabana.
Final stop, Cape Town.
This is where it begins and ends. Cape Town is a celebration, on one coast we have the icy waters perfect for body boarding, surfing and first dates (true story). On the other coast we find more surf spots, sharks, tidal pools, penguins and lots of colour. I couldn’t dare pick a favourite but I would like to end this post celebrating all that my hometown has to offer.
From Boulders, to St James and all around False Bay, you could spend days and not get enough of the life, the sounds, the splendour.
And on the West Coast you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on the Mediterranean, well, until you dipped your toes into the water – the glacial temperatures of the deep blue will quickly bring you right back.
And of course the beach has such special significance for us.
Now, it’s your turn!
We would love to hear and share in your beach-made memories and stories. Use the comments below or send us a photo on our Facebook page.