Our recent SE Asia trip was a ton of fun. One thing we focused on was making sure we got lots of quality beach time. We definitely succeed in that. After five beaches across three countries, we thought it would be fun to give out some awards to these beautiful beaches.
The RotR Awards are named after yours truly, Roses on the Road, for those of you who haven’t figured that out yet. To win a RotR Award is extremely prestigious. So prestigious, in fact, that no one ever has before. Think about that for a second — thousands of people have Oscars, Grammys, Nobel Peace Prizes, but not a single person, place, or thing has received a RotR. Talk about an exclusive club.
It’s time to change that. Today we will be handing out a lucky 13 RotR Awards. But first, let’s find out who’s in the running…
Pantai Dalit Beach. Located in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo, Pantai Dalit Beach is the strip of sand facing the South China Sea that we hung out at before and after our orangutan experience. It was the first beach we experienced on our trip.
Jimbaran Beach. In spite of it being right next to the airport (literally the next thing after the sand ends are the airport runways), this Balinese beach is large, uncrowded, and an ideal spot to laze around all day.
Gili Air Island. This is the first of the three Gili Islands, a small chain of islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok, the island adjacent to Bali. With clear blue water and laid-back island feel, Gili Air had the ideal vacation vibe.
Now that we’ve met the contenders, without further ado, we present the first ever RotR Award Winners!
The Clearest Water Award: Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
Alexis said this was the bluest, clearest water she has ever seen. I don’t know if I’m ready to go that far, but I agree that the clarity of the water surrounding Gili Air was head and shoulders above any other beach on our trip. The clarity of the water was accentuated by how shallow it remained far away from shore, making it possible to bask in the knee-deep, crystal clear water many yards (or meters for you non-Americans) offshore. While no particular side of the island had clearer water than another, the section of beach just south of the docks in front of the restaurant Scallywags had the least amount of rocks and coral.
The Softest Sand Award: Klong Nin, Ko Lanta, Thailand
The sand at Klong Nin was like walking on a cloud. Ok, maybe not that soft, but I was going for a dramatic first line. A mandatory ingredient for the Softest Sand Award is a lack of rocks or big coral in the sand. Klong Nin met this requirement. You can run full speed into the water without worrying about smashing your toe on some stupid rock hiding in the sand. Right outside our bungalow door every day was a beach that was so inviting to sit and lay out on, while simultaneously making it slightly difficult to walk on since the sand caved under the weight of each step. But who needs to walk when you can, ya know… not walk. It’s vacation, after all.
The Funnest Beach Award: Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia
Jimbaran wins this award for a few reasons. Reason number one for me were the waves. There was pretty big shorebreak at Jimbaran, so while that made it less attractive to Alexis, I grew up in ocean so playing in shorebreak and body surfing is something I enjoy doing very much. Also adding to the incredibly descriptive “fun” atmosphere was the proximity to the airport. Watching planes land and take off all day (without hearing the roar of their jets) made for some good entertainment. Lastly, while surprisingly deserted during the daytime, Jimbaran comes alive at sunset. There were maybe 10 other people on the beach during the day, but that number jumped to well over 100 once dinnertime rolled around. People flock to the beach to eat at one of the many delicious restaurants that line the coastline and to take in beautiful sunsets like this one:
The Most Romantic Beach Award: Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia
Jimbaran takes home its second RotR Award of the night by being irresistibly romantic. Those restaurants I mentioned all set out candle-lit tables on the sand every night so you can dine under the stars while listing to the crashing waves. It’s awesome.
The Best Vibe Award: Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
Gili Air also claims its second RotR Award for having the best all-around vibe of any of the beaches. Since Gili Air is a small circular island that’s easily circumnavicable in under two hours, I’m not talking about any particular section of beach having an amazing vibe, but rather the whole island. The island is touristy, no doubt about that, but it’s a perfect amount of touristy. It’s not dirty-old-man-in-speedo touristy if that makes sense. The vast majority of people there were roughly in the 25-35 age range and were there to escape the crowds and crazy parties of Kuta, Bali and even the neighboring island Gili Trawangan. Tourists on Gili Air were very chill, to use an extremely douchey word. Watching the sunset at this beach bar was when I first had that thought.
The Most Secluded Award: Sapi Island, Borneo, Malaysia
Unlike The Best Vibe Award handed out to the whole island of Gili Air, The Most Secluded Award applies only to a particular beach on Sapi Island. Sapi is frequented by many tourists and the east-facing beach the boat docs on is not secluded at all. Fortunately, most tourists never make is past this beach. Take a quick 10-15 minute walk around the southeast tip of the island and you’ll find a small beach all to yourself. Whether that appeals to you might be swayed by our next award.
The Most Wild Award: Sapi Island, Borneo, Malaysia
Sapi wins again, although Gili Air also garnered some consideration for reasons we’ll get to in a bit. When you get to that south-facing beach on Sapi, you’ll be the only humans there, but probably not the only animals. We were visited by not one, but two giant monitor lizards just taking a stroll in the sand. Needless to say, they scared the crap out of us and our secluded paradise was quickly filled with unshakable always-looking-over-your-shoulder-for-the-attacking-beast queasiness. I’m sure you know that feeling. Alexis also spotted colorful tropical birds in the trees. We’re no ornithologists, so I can’t say what kind of birds they were, other than they looked like toucans. Also adding to Sapi’s wildness was the jungle forest that shot up immediately from the sand. This is where the monsters live.
As I mentioned, Gili also got some consideration for this award because of the snake we saw in the water. Thank god for that water clarity, am I right?! There are also monitor lizards on Gili, but we saw none on the beach, and when we saw it on Gili, they were already old hat by that time.
The Gentlest Water Award: Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
Those uncomfortable with a lot of wave action at the beach (like my beautiful wife) will be very attracted to Gili Air. The water was completely calm with essentially no waves. It was the softest, most gentle ebb and flow of water.
The Most Walkable Beach Award: Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia
A huge consideration for The Most Walkable Beach Award is a lack of obstructions and dangerous items like rocks and sharp coral. That rules Gili Air out despite the relatively small circumference of the island making walking the whole ring so enticing. The size of the beach is also important, which rules out Sapi because the minute beach real-estate makes “walking the beach” too close to “pacing the beach.” Pantai Dalit is out simply because, let’s face it… it’s not winning any awards anytime soon.*
The only real contenders are Klong Nin and Jimbaran, but the winner has to be Jimbaran. While Klong Nin scores a perfect 10/10 for feet safety and lack of rocks, the sand is simply too soft for optimal beach walking. The constantly shifting sand will not do your back any favors. Jimbaran, while slightly more rocky and definitely more wavey, is still by and large rock and sharp coral-free. The beach is long and wide, making it a great for long walks.
The Most Local Beach Award: Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia
Although Jimbaran definitely caters to tourists just like all these beaches, it wins its fourth RotR Award for being the most local of the contenders. Jimbaran is a fishing area, so the beach is lined with fishing boats and in the morning, and you’ll see them all returning from the sea, and the fish being scaled and cleaned. Along with the flock of tourists that show up around sunset, local kids also hit the waves around this time of day to surf the shorebreak.
The Most Unique Beach Award: Klong Nin, Ko Lanta, Thailand
In a lot of ways, Klong Nin was perfectly ordinary — a long stretch of sand sloping towards the water capped by rocky hills on each end. It was beautiful, but fairly standard. But then 3pm rolls around. I have never seen a beach react so severely to the changing tide. Sure, water levels rise and fall, wave size may change a bit, those things happen at every beach. But Klong Nin is different. Without fail, every afternoon the water level sucks way out and the ocean becomes waist-high for about 10 yards offshore. The newly exposed sand on the shoreline recedes away in crazy patterns creating a stone-like look. I’ve seen a lot of beaches, but I’ve never seen anything like that.
The Most Deserted Beach Award: Klong Nin, Ko Lanta, Thailand
This is a tricky one because Sapi already won the most secluded award, which would seem to go hand-in-hand with the most deserted, which it was, but it’s actually because it was secluded that it doesn’t also win the Most Deserted award. To us, most deserted has to be deserved — it has to surprisingly deserted in other words. What we mean by that is of course Sapi was going to be deserted. It’s a small patch of sand secluded on the back of an island off another island in a country that’s far less touristy than Thailand. Klong Nin, on the other hand, was a huge, beautiful white sand beach in a hugely popular destination for tourists, so the fact that it was so uncrowded, so deserted, was a pleasant surprise.
The Best Sunsets Award: Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
This one was really tough. Klong Nin, Gili Air, and Jimbaran all had amazing sunsets. We just missed seeing the sun set at Pantai Dalit and Sapi, but the sunsets we saw from elsewhere in Borneo were amazing and I’m sure those beaches were spectacular during that hour. I’m going to rule out Klong Nin simply because the weather usually got a little cloudy in the late afternoon, which blocked the sunset a bit. You saw that first picture of Jimbaran above — it’s absolutely incredible. But by the thinnest of margins, the winner is Gili Air.
A big part of watching of a sunset is the vibe and ambiance and Gili had that in spades. Sitting in bean bag chairs while awesome music plays softly in the background, surrounded by people who seem to be of like-mind — it all just came together there.
And with that, we’ve sadly reached the end of the inaugural RotR Awards. Let’s tally ‘um up:
Indonesia dominated these awards with Bali’s Jimbaran Beach and the nearby Gili Air just off the coast of Lombok winning the night, each taking home a record four awards. Klong Nin Beach in Ko Lanta, Thailand and Sapi Island off the coast of Borneo, Malaysia win thrice and twice respectively, while poor Pantai Dalit goes home empty handed. That goose egg has got to hurt. We appreciate everyone at home tuning in; drive safely and have a good night!
*Pantai Dalit was actually a perfectly fine beach, but fine just doesn’t cut it when you’re going up against heavyweights like the other four contenders. The sand was rather hard and the water a tad brown, but the surrounding Rasa Ria resort really pulled the whole experience together. We definitely spent more time at the resort’s pool than the beach though. To be fair, the pool had a water slide, so it was never a fair fight.
The Final Word
Phew, we did it! The RotR Awards! What did everyone think? Do you have experiences to share at any of these places?
Two last thing we would like to add are:
1) Every single one of these places far exceeded our expectations. Although some were better than others, every single one of them was amazing and gets the full RotR Recommendation.
2) While Jimbaran and Gili Air tied in terms of number of RotR Awards, we’d ultimately rank Gili Air ahead of Jimbaran for the best experience overall. The vibe on Gili was simply something we’ve never experienced before and deserves to weighted more heavily.