India's happiest state
When Julia Roberts country-hopped from Italy to Maharashtra in the midst of her much envied Eat, Pray, Love journey, India garnered plenty of attention from the world as an ideal place for some soul-searching away from stress and reality. But unlike its bustling main cities that are better known to the world, Goa's like a secret haven with its own magic that even locals from other parts of India might not know about.
Call me ignorant, but I never knew of its existence in India prior to this trip. Goa was a foreign name to me, and when Google search results threw keywords like " state of fun", "hippie haven" and "UNESCO world heritage site" into the picture, my mind was blown to say the least. After 6 days of experiencing Goa’s cultural beauty and fun-loving nature, I’m here to tell you that the Internet did not lie.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do; in Goa, chill like the Goans chill. If India has yet to be added to your travel bucket list, trust me when I say you should kick start your own Eat, Pray, Love (and perhaps party) journey with Goa.
Here are 14 reasons that will convince you to visit India for the first time, or if you’ve already done so, see the country in a completely different light with what Goa has to offer!
1. Bazaar and night market-hopping, all day and all night
Anjuna Wednesday flea market. Source.
Local markets like these are easily the best place to immerse yourself in this vibrant culture that is uniquely Goa’s. Amongst the hustle and bustle are stalls offering extensive selections of local cuisines, Indian spices, handmade pottery, traditional handicraft, and embroidered textiles! It's impossible to leave this visual feast with empty hands.
For free spirits, the party goes on anytime, anywhere. Yes, even in markets. If shopping isn’t your thing, stop by a bar for a refreshing cocktail and prep yourself for a night of entertainment. Live music plays all night long by local and foreign talents, so let your hair down and groove along!
*Note: some markets are seasonal.
2. Try one of the most exotic spirits in the world
Do we hear, organic alcohol?
Well known as India’s party capital, it only makes sense for Goa to have its very own ‘country liquor’ to welcome partygoers from all around the world.
Feni is typically made with either coconut or cashew nut, and leaves a pretty strong aftertaste similar to that of vodkas at first sip. However, it’s the light lingering fragrance of coconut or cashew nut in your mouth that will allow you to appreciate the beauty of this exotic spirit.
Traditional method of making feni by distillation. Source.
At only RS40-60/quarter, there’s honestly no better deal than this, especially when its organic nature is said to give you zero hangover the next day. Alcoholics, rejoice! Because that only means one thing - even more partying, minus the grogginess and headache.
3. Unleash your inner hippie at Arambol beach
Perhaps the true definition of hippie culture has gradually become ambiguous since the 1960s, but its strong belief in non-conformity, happiness and freedom is still widely celebrated by ree spirits around the world.
Located far from the central districts of Goa, Arambol is a beach town with a mysterious charisma, almost too hidden away from the world. If you’re wondering where all the hippies have disappeared to, you’ll likely find a bunch of them gathering for some music, dance and laughter on the long stretch of shores at Arambol.
4. Savour authentic Indian cuisine
The usual roti prata, naan, thosai, and tandoori might not be unfamiliar to Singaporeans, but those can hardly sum up the great variety of regional delicacies that Indian cuisine encompasses. Goa’s location along India’s west coast blesses its people with rich sources of fresh seafood, making their staple food mostly rice and fish.
An exotic mix of puffed rice, vegetables and tangy tamarind sauce, Bhel chaat is one of the many savoury delicacies that left me wanting more. It gave a refreshing twist to a familiar taste which reminded me of many Singaporeans' favorite childhood snack - Mamee noodle! No prize for guessing how many portions of Bhel chaat I ended up ordering that night.
Of course, no feast is complete without a satisfying dessert. People with a sweet tooth shouldn’t miss bebinca, a traditional pudding dessert that resembles kueh lapis. Painstakingly baked layer by layer, bebinca is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream
5. Watch sunsets at undisturbed beaches
Living on an island, we Singaporeans were never really deprived of soft sand and open seas, especially when we’re also blessed with great accessibility to many gorgeous beaches in Southeast Asia.
But Goa has something different to offer on its 103km long coastline. The southern shoreline is home to some of the most tranquil, untouched beaches in South Asia. Compared to heavily commercialised ones surrounded by fancy beach resorts and excited tourists, beaches like these are indeed rare gems for those who appreciate peace.
The setting sun painted hues of orange, red and pink across the wide sky as I just sat there in awe. Stray dogs at the beach made surprisingly good companions while I spent the evening just listening to the waves beat ceaselessly on the shore in a calm and constant tempo.
6. Spot dolphins at Cavelossim Beach
From the sandy shores of Cavelossim beach, take a boat trip to say hello to the adorable dolphins from a close yet comfortable distance. As someone who's against dolphin captivity, watching these gentle creatures in their natural habitat beats trained dolphin shows anyday.
Worried about luck? Some boat trips actually offer a “No See – No Pay” policy to guarantee that no tourist leaves in disappointment.
7. Spice up all your senses at a spice plantation
What’s a trip down to India without some natural elements to spice things up a little! If you’re curious about the secrets behind the alluring smell and taste of everything Indian, find your answers at one of Goa’s spice plantations.
Before you pass this off as yet another boring tour, the guided tour turned out to be quite a refreshing experience for me, and a great opportunity to get close to nature.
Meals made with the freshest spice ingredients are also served on a banana frond at the open-air restaurant, in case you get hungry.
Before leaving, brace yourself for a refreshing “cold treatment” - pouring chilled medicated water down your neck to beat the heat. It literally sent chills down my back, except I couldn’t complain!
8. Meet the warm, fun loving Goans
Adorably called the 'Goans', the people of Goa are a warm, friendly and lighthearted bunch that are surprisingly approachable. This is perhaps best reflected through their open-mindedness and gracious acceptance towards each other’s different religions, something that remains unachieved in many other part of the world.
A genuine smile from this roadside cobbler that caught me off-guard as I captured this on camera. All my worries of offending strangers by photographing them were gone in a whiff when this uncle warmly gestured at me, saying “take photo, take photo!” before he got camera-ready with a wide smile across his face.
Being used to living in a fast-paced city where most people are busy and individualistic, I almost forgot how heartwarming it can be to hold short but genuine conversations with strangers on the street.
9. Join in cultural festivals happening all year round - including Christmas!
As crazy as it sounds, the entire India celebrates 1,095 festivals across all 365 days of the year. Here in Goa, there’s no better way to experience the diverse yet harmonious mix of cultural influences unique to this former Portuguese province than crashing a local festival.
From Hindu festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali, to Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter, the Hindu and Christian populations celebrate each and every one of them together with equal enthusiasm.
Nothing showcases the comfortable co-existence of these two religions better than the celebration of “Zagor”, a traditional folk drama filled with exuberant singing and dancing, performed by Hindus and Christians from different villages. Talk about religious harmony!
Like other parts of the world, Goa celebrates Christmas with twinkling light decorations and merry exchanges of gifts and greetings, but just imagine how amplified the spiritual ambience would be with all the beautiful churches and cathedrals they have here.
10. Explore the Latin Quarter of the capital city of Panjim
At first glance, Fontainhas already stood out from its surrounding with its narrow, winding streets lined with well restored, Portuguese style houses coated in contrasting shades of vibrant colors. From a distance, the entire landscape simply paints a storyful picture.
But take a step closer and you’ll be enticed by the mesmerizing use of random broken tiles and china to build walls that are like no other.
Step into gothic churches, ancient homes and other colonial architectures and simply let the old world charm of this Latin quarter sink in. Easily one of the most charismatic place to visit in Goa, every single alley here is asking to be explored, not to mention totally insta-worthy!
11. Be part of Asia's largest EDM festival - Sunburn Festival
Put music, food and amazing crowd together, and you’ll have the perfect formula for the dopest party ever.
For 3 days in December, Goa hosts the annual Sunburn Festival, South Asia’s largest dance music festival where more than 150,000 party animals from all over the world gather to do nothing but party non-stop. The event’s line-up is glorious with international DJs Armin Van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Fedde le Grand and the likes to be spinning in this 500,000 sq ft of space with multiple stages.
This is where you can witness the party state of India in its full glory. EDM addicts, bring on the party!
12. Live a Maharaja life at one of Goa’s luxurious hotels
Vivanta by Taj Fort Aguada. Source.
The best part of a vacation lies in how it can give us a chance to lead an unrealistic life that’s unlike our daily grind, and Goa gives you a chance to live like a Maharaja. If living behind the walls of a fort with a sweeping view of the Arabian sea doesn’t make you feel like one, I don’t know what will.
13. Try your luck at the casino cruises
The night is always young in Goa, especially when it is one of the few states in India where gambling is actually legal. Brightly lit offshore casinos anchored in the Mandovi River paint an alluring nightscape of Panjim City, where the night finally comes alive.
Boats will transport you from the shore to the casino cruises in less than 10 minutes. Entrance fee ranges from 1500-3000 rupees at most casinos with unlimited food and drinks. In any case, even if you have to leave with an emptier wallet, at least your stomach would be full!
Unsure of what floats your boat? Goa's newest and largest luxury floating casino, the Deltin Royale, might be your best bet. Literally.
14. Go on a heritage hunt at Goa’s UNESCO World Heritage site
Sé Cathedral. Source.
They say old is gold. In contrast to Goa’s loud and magnetic party scene, monuments from its olden days showcase yet another charm of this former Portuguese colony.
Ruins of the St. Augustine Church.
Spend a day around Old Goa, a historical city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, and discover some of the most ancient churches and convents built by Portuguese colonial rulers in the 16th to 18th century.
Said to have been modelled on the original design of the Basilica of St.Peter in Rome, Church of St. Catejan had me in awe. Both the interior and exterior of this beautiful white church are architecturally Corinthian, while the intricately carved gilded altars are rich in Baroque style. Build in 1655, St. Catejan is one of the many cultural gems that Old Goa takes pride in preserving.
Get on a direct flight to Goa from Kuala Lumpur
Visiting Goa from Southeast Asia has never been more convenient with AirAsia’s new direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Goa. Despite the 2-hour waiting time, my fly-thru experience with AirAsia at KLIA2 was comfortable to say the least without the hassle of going through immigration and collecting luggages during the stopover.
Even visa application is easy peasy with the newly introduced e-tourist visa. All you need to do is submit an online application on the Indian government’s tourist visa website, make a payment of US$60, then sit back and relax while you wait for their approval. The efficiency level is truly commendable - I got it done within 24hrs!
AirAsia now operates 3 weekly flights to Goa from Kuala Lumpur:
For more flight information, visit www.airasia.com.
This post was brought to you by AirAsia and Goa Tourism.