A getaway in Goa: Discover this picture-perfect destination for yourself

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With its picture-perfect beaches, rich cultural history and delicious food, Goa may just be the ultimate weekend break destination. (Shutterstock)
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The Taj Exotica Resort & Spa presides as the grand dame of Goa’s luxury hotels.
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The Taj Exotica Resort & Spa presides as the grand dame of Goa’s luxury hotels.
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The Taj Exotica Resort & Spa presides as the grand dame of Goa’s luxury hotels.
Updated 30 January 2018
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A getaway in Goa: Discover this picture-perfect destination for yourself

GOA: Over the years, Goa has come to be known as many things — from hippy hangout to wellness retreat. It is all of these of course, but what one can often forget amidst the swirl of negative headlines and, indeed, the inescapable march of development, it is so much more too.
This swathe of postcard-perfect prettiness on India’s western coast has a unique cultural identity thanks to its Portuguese colonial heritage — also partly responsible for its delicious cuisine — which, combined with the stunning coastline fringed with tropical foliage and an inimitable spirit of joie-de-vivre, has drawn in travelers from all around the world who seem to find the exact form of nirvana they were seeking.
Here is an insider guide to staying, seeing and eating in Goa that will help you make the most of a quick getaway to this beach haven.
Where to stay
Steer away from the over-crowded beaches of north Goa and head to the quieter southern coast, where, on the unspoilt Benaulim beach, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa presides as the grand dame of Goa’s luxury hotels. Spread across 56-acres of lush landscaped grounds — which includes a private putting green — the low-lying resort oozes a stately, old-world charm made only more inviting with the warm Indian hospitality Taj hotels are known for (starting with the welcome reception of a seashell garland, tropical drink and lively Goan music as soon as you enter).
Make like the many A-listers who have holidayed here — from Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan to Hollywood royalty and world leaders — and check in to one of their newly-refurbished villa rooms, which boast private plunge pools. Housed in colorful hacienda-style villas, the oversized accommodations feature traditional local décor accents and plush amenities ranging from pillow menus to marble-clad bathrooms with claw foot tubs and luxury Ayurvedic bath products.
The hotel is also home to a well-equipped kids’ club, complete with daily activities and water slides, and many of the rooms are designed to be inter-connecting, making it ideal for a family break.
With the golden beach just footsteps away; multiple dining options including traditional Goan cuisine, fresh seafood right by the beach at the chilled-out Lobster Shack restaurant and a lavish breakfast buffet best enjoyed alfresco in the Mediterranean-inspired Sala da Pranzo restaurant; plus, expert therapists at the award-winning Jiva spa at hand to enable the ultimate holiday relaxation, there is enough here to tempt you to never leave the resort during your stay. But it is worth tearing yourself away to check out some of Goa’s unique heritage.
What to see and do
This city-state on India’s western coast, part of the Konkan belt, was a long-held Portuguese colony from the 1600s to 1800s, which led to the development of its own hybrid culture and cuisine.
And while lying on the beach and doing nothing is a very important part of a trip to Goa — it is impossible not to have relaxation wash all over you when lounging to the accompaniment of the crashing of the waves, tropical sunshine, and laid-back vibes — you would be amiss if you did not check out some of its incredibly-rich cultural relics.
From ancient churches and sacred Hindu temples, to 17th century forts and even some noteworthy historic mosques, it is all here. Depending on which area you base yourself in, you are probably never too far from a cute little neighborhood church or historic house. But a trip to UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Goa, or Velha Goa — an inland riverside district — is not to be missed.
Replete with cathedrals and churches featuring traditional Renaissance architecture, this is where you will also find what is probably Goa’s most famous attraction, the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Also worth trekking out for is Fort Aguada, a scenic ruin providing panoramic views and the perfect sunset vantage point.
In Goa, history coexists effortlessly with a contemporary, global arts and design scene, which you can explore at the numerous eclectic galleries and boutiques that have mushroomed over the years. The capital city of Panaji (or Panjim) is the best place to discover everything from Goa’s best-known fashion export Wendell Rodricks’ collections, to contemporary art galleries.
What to eat
An amalgam of indigenous and colonial elements, Goan cuisine is wonderfully eclectic, complex, flavorful and quite fiery. Seafood, naturally, is a mainstay, as is coconut — in true tropical tradition — which are complemented with an array of spices and culinary influences as varied as Portuguese, Asian, Konkani and Malabari and even Arabian.
In Goa, you are never too far from the staple diet of fish fry — typically done here with a spicy marinade and semolina crumb — or fish curry with rice, which you simply cannot go wrong with.
But to try some rarer authentic dishes in a refined fine dining setting, Miguel Arcanjo’s restaurant at the Taj Exotica resort is not to be missed.
The Goan chef draws upon memories and family recipes as well as his own travels around the world to serve up specialties such as prawns piri piri (stir-fried in a spicy sauce); mushroom rissioes (Goan-style empanadas); the classic chicken cafreal (grilled chicken in a coriander and chilli sauce); and xacuti (a curry made with 12 different spices, which can be made with chicken or seafood) which are best mopped up with sannas, steamed rice flour patties that tread that fine line between sweet and savory.
An integral part of Goan cuisine is the wide array of sweets, of which many, expectedly, rely heavily on coconut. If you only try one dessert in Goa, make it the signature bebinca — a rich, layered coconut cake, which pairs beautifully with ice cream. The dry cake also makes for a great culinary souvenir and is available at many stores in Goa.
In fact, bebinca may well be the perfect gastronomic metaphor for the multi-layered, moreish and delightfully sweet destination that is Goa.


On Thai island’s Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

Updated 17 August 2018
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On Thai island’s Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

  • Hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups
  • Hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans

KUALA LUMPUR: For the millions of sun seekers who head to Thailand’s resort island of Phuket each year in search of stunning beaches and clear waters, cutting down on waste may not be a top priority.
But the island’s hotel association is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic, tackling the garbage that washes up on its shores, and educating staff, local communities and tourists alike.
“Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics,” said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association and managing director of the Trisara resort.
“Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it’s going to get worse and worse,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Established in 2016 and with about 70 members — including all Phuket’s five-star hotels — the association has put tackling environmental issues high on its to-do list.
Last year the group surveyed members’ plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.
As part of this, three months ago the association’s hotels committed to phase out, or put plans in place to stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019.
About five years ago, Lark’s own resort with about 40 villas used to dump into landfill about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually. It has now switched to reusable glass bottles.
The hotel association also teamed up with the documentary makers of “A Plastic Ocean,” and now show an edited version with Thai subtitles for staff training.
Meanwhile hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups.
“The association is involved in good and inclusive community-based action, rather than just hotel general managers getting together for a drink,” Lark said.
Phuket, like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, has become a top holiday destination in Southeast Asia — and faces similar challenges.
Of a similar size to Singapore and at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, Phuket is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia and Australia.
With its white sandy beaches and infamous nightlife, Phuket attracts about 10 million visitors each year, media reports say, helping make the Thai tourism industry one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster economy.
Popular with holiday makers and retirees, Phuket — like many other Southeast Asian resorts — must contend with traffic congestion, poor water management and patchy waste collection services.
Despite these persistent problems, hotels in the region need to follow Phuket’s lead and step up action to cut their dependence on plastics, said Susan Ruffo, a managing director at the US-based non-profit group Ocean Conservancy.
Worldwide, between 8 million and 15 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, UN Environment says.
Five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — account for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into the seas, an Ocean Conservancy study found.
“As both creators and ‘victims’ of waste, the hotel industry has a lot to gain by making efforts to control their own waste and helping their guests do the same,” Ruffo said.
“We are seeing more and more resorts and chains start to take action, but there is a lot more to be done, particularly in the area of ensuring that hotel waste is properly collected and recycled,” she added.
Data on how much plastic is used by hotels and the hospitality industry is hard to find. But packaging accounts for up to 40 percent of an establishment’s waste stream, according to a 2011 study by The Travel Foundation, a UK-based charity.
Water bottles, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes and even food delivered by room service all tend to use throw-away plastics.
In the past, the hospitality industry has looked at how to use less water and energy, said Von Hernandez, global coordinator at the “Break Free From Plastic” movement in Manila.
Now hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans.
“A lot of hotels are doing good work around plastics,” adopting measures to eliminate or shrink their footprint, said Hernandez.
But hotels in Southeast Asia often have to contend with poor waste management and crumbling infrastructure.
“I’ve seen resorts in Bali that pay staff to rake the beach every morning to get rid of plastic, but then they either dig a hole, and bury it or burn it on the beach,” said Ruffo. “Those are not effective solutions, and can lead to other issues.”
Hotels should look at providing reusable water containers and refill stations, giving guests metal or bamboo drinking straws and bamboo toothbrushes, and replacing single-use soap and shampoo containers with refillable dispensers, experts said.
“Over time, this could actually lower their operational costs — it could give them savings,” said Hernandez. “It could help change mindsets of people, so that when they go back to their usual lives, they have a little bit of education.”
Back in Phuket, the hotel association is exploring ways to cut plastic waste further, and will host its first regional forum on environmental awareness next month.
The hope is that what the group has learned over the last two years can be implemented at other Southeast Asian resorts and across the wider community.
“If the 20,000 staff in our hotels go home and educate mum and dad about recycling or reusing, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Lark.