Goa is a small state on India’s west coast, 600km’s south of Mumbai. After the Indian independence of 1947 Goa remained under Portuguese rule for many decades until eventually voting to become an autonomous region as recently as 1987. The north Goan regions of Bardez and Pernem are the most popular amongst tourists and ex-pats, especially the towns of Anjuna and Arambol.
Goa is a unique place in that it has much of it’s own laws which are somewhat contradictory to the rest of India. It’s very liberal, has some of the cheapest and most readily-available alcohol in India and appears to be far more tolerant to certain behaviour than most other regions. As a result it’s also a very popular destination for wealthy out-of-town Indian men and students from up north who come to drink and party on it’s shores.
I initially spent five days in Anjuna, at an incredibly cheap hostel called Bunkin Hostel that cost only Rs99 a night (about £1). I spent the time getting to know the area and finding out where the good bars and music venues are. Anjuna is primarily focused on psy-trance music and culture, although some places occasionally play techno or progressive house. The clubs and bars are often dirty and a bit run down in contrast to Arambol which is significantly more up-market and organised. However there are certain places along the Anjuna beach front which are quite decent, including Shiva Valley at the far end of the beach, Nine Bar in Vagator, Eva Cafe (which does health foods and expensive coffee) and Nyex Beach Club which I didn’t visit but looks ridiculously posh and expensive.
Other bars and clubs worth mentioning are Shiva Place, Chronicles and UV bar – all of which have regular psy-trance nights that can go on well past sunrise for those looking to party all night. There are also a number of areas in which people organize illegal ‘squat’-type trance parties, although these usually get shut down. While I was in Anjuna about half the parties I went to got shut down, but there is always somewhere else playing music until all hours of the morning. As a result of this non-stop party scene Anjuna can be a bit tiring – most people are either wasted or hungover at any point and so meeting people, making friends and maintaining decent conversation can be difficult. For this reason not many ex-pats live in Anjuna but rather base themselves in Arambol and visit Anjuna for the occasional party.
Other affordable hostels in Anjuna include Wonderland, Caterpillar and Lost Tribe – all of which are around Rs400 – Rs600 (approx £5) a night. There are also many places where you can get private rooms for around Rs1000 (£11) and if you are brave enough there is a place that rents out high bamboo stilt beds built right on the beach, which I didn’t get the opportunity to try but looked very cool! A guesthouse called “Hideout Anjuna” deserves a mention as it provides very good, clean private rooms for excellent value. The only issue being that it’s in a slightly strange location – hidden a bit away down a dirt road in a field, but maybe you might like this opportunity to get away from the chaos.
Alcohol in Goa varies massively and can go from Rs80 for a beer in one place to Rs250 in another, but overall is still very cheap by European standards. However the best way to really save money is drinking before you head out or sneaking small bottles of the cheap local rum or vodka into parties – 200ml bottles of Old Monk rum cost only Rs40 (50p). The local Kingfisher beer from a shop costs about 50p a can – so by comparison the local spirits are incredibly cheap. I wouldn’t drink too much of them though or you’ll likely go blind!
Food ranges from cheap local dishes at around £1-£2 each to more western dishes like pizza, burgers and kebabs for £3-£4. or breakfast I mostly ate 20p samosas from a nice road-side stall near to my hostel and £1 Veg Thali’s from various local places. If you’re not a big eater you could quite easily get by on about £2 a day for food.
After five days of non-stop partying in Anjuna I headed over to Arambol to relax a bit amongst the largely music and yoga focused crowd. There seems to be a never ending supply of instructional classes for every style of yoga you can imagine, and every night there are different gigs by all ranges of musicians, collaborators, DJ’s, MC’s and singers. It’s one of the most artistic and vibrant places I’ve ever visited.
I spent a few nights in a private room over-looking the main street which was at least relatively clean and only cost Rs500 a night. The beach in Arambol is busier but slightly less interesting than Anjuna. It’s just long and flat with lots of very similar bars mostly catering to the large Russian crowd. Notable places include a resort at the far end of the beach called Riva which does a pool party with DJ’s every Sunday, ‘Garden of Dreams’ which is a beautiful outdoor restaurant just off the main street and an awesome German Bakery down by the north end of the beach where a lot of local ex-pats meet, and where I spent most of my time. Nearby ‘Sweet Lake’ is a short scooter ride away and a great place to chill for the day on the banks of a beautiful natural lagoon.
While almost everywhere in Anjuna and Arambol are accessible by foot, most people hire scooters or motorbikes to get around. Prices range from Rs300 – Rs400 a day for scooters, and Rs500 – Rs800 a day for bigger motorbikes like a Royal Enfield. A licence is not required when hiring a scooter but if the police stop you they will try get money out of you. Take note though that this is a bribe, not a fine, and the police will eventually let you go if you just keep telling them you have no money. That said, I would never advocate driving a vehicle unlicensed. I hired a Royal Enfield to drive down to Gokarna for a few days and I must say – if you can handle the Indian traffic they are exceptionally fun motorcycles to ride!
Goa is an excellent destination if you want a cheap beach holiday with a bit of party thrown in, but I would be lying if I said there aren’t better beach resort destinations. If you happen to be in India and it’s on your route then Arambol is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a musician or really into yoga.