No one would agree more than a traveler how important it is to take care of one’s health while setting off for uncharted territories. Who can blame the body when it ceases to take orders from the mind if it is not given the care and attention that it needs? I realized it was time to pay heed to the the early red flags that stared out of my blood report not so long ago. The reading that caught my attention most was the lack of vitamin D in my body. Strange as it may sound, for a person who loves the outdoors in all seasons, it was a sign that there was something I wasn’t doing right!
A quick appointment with the doctor disclosed that it didn’t matter how much time one spent outdoors as much as how exposed one’s body was to direct sunlight. Unfortunately, most Asians like me are not used to baring our skin to the sun much due to obvious reasons. Even though you enjoy cycling down winding dirt roads at noon during peak summer, you might still not soak up enough vitamin D if you are covered in a track suit with a wide hat over your head! Oh yes, lying by the beach the whole day under a beach umbrella, with a book in your hand, doesn’t help either. Dispose off your sunscreen lotion too, if you have vitamin D deficiency.
While major areas of the body need to get a decent amount of exposure, wintry days could certainly pose a challenge in certain parts of the world. It is believed that our body’s fat cells store vitamin D during summers in preparation of shorter, colder days with a feeble sun, but again it actually depends on whether we have exposed our body enough to sunshine while it is warm and sunny.
I decided to stop worrying and seize the opportunity to discover cheap winter destinations for a good dose of vitamin D. A fair amount of research unearthed the following 7 cheapest offbeat beach destinations in Asia that one can visit during the winter without burning a hole in the pocket.
1. Hua Hin, Thailand
Agreed much has been documented about every inch of Thailand and yet the lure remains. Hua Hin is the oldest and cheapest beach destination in Thailand with a royal touch. With the rise in popularity of southern beach towns like Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui, Hua Hin is spared the heavy crowd and environmental degradation. One can unwind from the fast paced city life in this cozy beach town and get a taste of authentic Thailand, replete with mountains, forests and tropical coastline.
How to reach
By Air: Bangkok has the nearest airport connectivity to Hua Hin. Both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports are around 225 km from the beach destination.
By Train: Trains ply every couple of hours from Bangkok’s Hualamphong railway station to Hua Hin. It takes about 3.5 hours to reach the beach destination.
By Bus: There is a daily bus service from Suvarnabhumi airport to Hua Hin and return. The bus leaves from Level 1 – Gate 8 at Suvarnabhumi airport every 1.5 hours and costs around 270 THB/person. Apart from airport shuttle, there are blue air conditioned buses, run by Hua Hin Pran Tours, that depart from Bangkok’s Southern terminal at regular intervals. Similar buses ply between Hua Hin and the southern towns of Thailand.
By Taxi: It takes three hours to reach Hua Hin beach from Bangkok by taxi and costs anywhere between 1800-2200 THB one way for a sedan.
Hua Hin has a good mix of luxury resorts and affordable hotels and guesthouses along the coastline.
2. Khao Lak, Thailand
Yet another respite from the crowded, over-hyped beaches in Thailand is Khao Lak. Although Phuket is quite close to this beach destination, you can give it a miss altogether and soak up the sun in Bang Niang, Bang Sak, Sunset beach, Khuk Khak or Nang Thong beach. Long, unspoilt beaches in the backdrop of forests and waterfalls – what more can one ask for?
How to reach
By Air: Phuket and Krabi are the nearest airports to Khao Lak. Phuket airport is about 75 km from Nang Thong beach and 80 km from Bang Sak beach by road.
By Train: Since the nearest railway station is at Surat Thani on the east coast, it might not be a great idea to use this mode of transport unless you wish to enjoy the countryside from the train windows. However, you need to catch a bus from Surat Thani to reach Khao Lak. If on a very tight budget, this is the cheapest option as train fare is lesser than the fares of direct air conditioned buses from Bangkok.
By Bus: Although there is no direct bus from Bangkok to Khao Lak, overnight buses to Phuket going via Ranong will take you through Khao Lak. You can also get buses from Phuket (those heading to Takuapa) , Surat Thani, Ranong and Chumphon to reach Khao Lak.
Plenty of affordable guest houses are available in Nang Thong. You can also find a few budget accommodations in Bang Sak and Bang Nieng.
3. Phu Quoc, Vietnam
When you try to imagine how Phu Quoc will be, picture a mix of rugged beauty and pristine beaches listed as UNESCO-listed World Biosphere Reserve. Despite being promoted as a luxury tourist destination, there is still an idyllic charm about this Vietnamese island, just south of Cambodia in Gulf of Thailand, that will simply blow your mind away! Phu Quoc is also known as Vietnam’s secret island though hardly a secret anymore. Plenty of snorkeling and diving options to keep you busy and excited.
How to reach
By Air: You can reach Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, but its cheaper to fly from Ho Chi Minh.
By Train: Being an island, Phu Quoc has no railway lines.
By Bus and Ferry: You can take a bus from Ho Chi Minh to Ha Tien or Rach Gia and then catch a ferry from there. More information on bus and ferry timings and prices here.
Expect a mid to high range category of resorts and hotels in Phu Quoc as the chief source of revenue is tourism.
4. Mirissa, Sri Lanka
A tiny speck of paradise in the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka! If you simply wish to laze around all day on the sun-soaked sand, Mirissa is the place to head to. If you are surfer, all the better! The surfing scene is good in these waters. Just 30 km away from the crowd of Unawatuna, its more popular neighbour, Mirissa is laid back and peaceful. Enjoy the sun, sand and lots of seafood! If you happen to be there between November and March, you might be able to spot some sperm whales, dolphins and turtles. However, if you love nature and big on biodiversity, spare these hapless creatures and give them a miss instead of trampling their natural habitat. Too many operators run their boats during peak season to give tourists a glimpse of world’s largest water mammal.
How to reach
By Air: Koggala is the nearest airport (around 14 km/9 miles from Mirissa), but there are no direct flights from Colombo Bandaranayake international airport to Koggala, so it is better to catch a taxi, bus or train from Colombo itself. Bandaranayake airport is around 150 km from Mirissa.
By Train: There are trains from Colombo Fort station to Weligama station. If you are flying to Colombo and looking to go to Fort station from the airport, just catch the #187 bus to city and get down at Fort train station (will take about 1 hour). Weligama to Mirissa is just 7 km that you can cover by bus or tuk tuk. More information on train schedules here.
By Bus: Pettah bus station in colombo city is where you can get buses to Mirissa. Take the bus that goes to Matara town. Mirissa is enroute to Matara.
Depending on your budget, you will find plenty of resorts and guesthouses in Mirissa. However, it is wise to book in advance during peak tourist season (November to March).
5. Koggala, Sri Lanka
A picturesque beach with a promise of solitude and easy access to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Galle Fort – that’s Koggala in a nutshell. Enjoy the waves splashing against seaborne stilts with local fishermen perched on top waiting for their prize catch. You can also visit the Koggala lake in the vicinity and gorge on some mouth-watering local cuisine.
How to reach
By Air: As mentioned earlier, Colombo Bandaranayeke International airport would be a cheaper option than Koggala airport, but if you wish to completely avoid road journey, you could hop into a domestic flight from Colombo to Koggala (via Diyawanna Oya and Katugastota – Katugastota airport is 6 km away from Kandy, famous for its tea gardens).
By Train: you can catch a train from Colombo Fort station to Koggala station. Train schedule is available here.
By Bus: AC minibuses from Colombo to Matara go via Koggala. There are no overnight buses though, so you need to take a day journey on this route.
You will get beach side resorts in Koggala.
6. Cavelossim, Goa, India
No list of Asian beach destinations can ever be complete without Goa. This is increasingly turning into an all-season destination. Even the heavy torrential rain during monsoon season is unable to keep tourists away. It is rare to get a quiet beach in Goa in winter (peak tourist season!) with beach lovers jostling for every inch of space in the popular beaches. Although Cavelossim happens to be one of the best beaches in South Goa, surprisingly it is still pristine and laid back. White sandy beach, sparkling in the sun, beckons you to laze around all day long.
You can visit nearby beaches from Cavelossim by hiring a bike or car which turns out to be quite affordable.
How to reach
By Air: Cavelossim is 34 km from Goa airport and takes one hour to reach by taxi.
By Train: Nearest train station is Madgaon (15 km). You can take a taxi or a tuk tuk / auto rickshaw to reach your accommodation. Takes around 40 minutes to reach Cavelossim. You can also arrive at Vasco Da Gama railway station (39 km) and reach the beach destination by cab.
By Bus: Overnight buses will drop you at Madgaon or Panaji from Belgaum, Mumbai, Pune and Mangalore. You can catch a taxi from the bus terminal to Cavelossim beach.
Cavelossim has accommodations for all – from luxury resorts to budget guesthouses. However, it is best to book in advance and read the reviews properly before booking.
7. Gokarna, Karnataka, India
Gokarna is dotted with a number of pristine beaches, Om beach being the most popular one of them all. If you are intimidated by luxury resorts and other tourist traps and looking for peace and quiet, then Gokarna would suit you well. While Om beach can be a bit populated and noisy during vacation time in Karnataka, beaches like half moon, Kudle and Paradise are perfect getaways that promise you a quiet slice of nature and sunshine.
How to reach
By Air: The nearest airports are Dabolim in Goa (154 km from Gokarna) and Mangalore international airport (238 km from Gokarna). It takes about 4 hours by road to reach Gokarna from Dabolim airport and 6 hours from Mangalore.
By Train: Konkan railways connect Gokarna to Goa, Mangalore and Bangalore. It takes 15 minutes to reach town from Gokarna road station. Alternatively, you can also catch a train to Kumta or Ankola station, both around 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Gokarna. An easy taxi ride will take you to your destination from these stations.
By Bus: Buses ply regularly from Mangalore, Bangalore and Madgaon in Goa to this beach town.
Plenty of beachfront properties in various ranges are available. However, go for the reviews first so that you get your money’s worth.
8. Surathkal beach, Mangalore (Karnataka), India
This picturesque beach is among the many offbeat destinations that South India can boast of. While tourists make a beeline for the more popular (but expensive) beaches of Goa during winter, Surathkal makes an ideal getaway for some sun, sand and peaceful retrospection.
How to reach
By Air: Nearest airport, Mangalore international airport (IXE), is around 18 km from the beach.
By Train: Surathkal, the nearest railway station, is just 3 km from the beach.
By Bus: There are regular buses to Surathkal from all major cities in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala.
Although beachfront properties are slightly expensive, you will find plenty of neat small-scale hotels about 1-2 km from the beach.
So where are you heading this winter for your dose of vitamin D? Would love to hear from you. Please feel free to add your own list in the comment box below.