Hi. Oh, surfing is a hobby of yours?
Good. Strap yourself in wave rider, it is about to get gnarly.
An odyssey is defined as a long and eventful or adventurous journey or experience. Therefore, I would personally describe a perfect surf odyssey as endless waves, great music, beautiful sunsets, amazing people, delicious food, infinite sand and one hell of a story to tell your mates. People will tell you that you cannot have it all. Travelling and surfing the magical beaches all over South-East Asia, I would happily disagree. So here it is fellas, the complete and unabridged guide to take you from Benny to certified Bro at the top 5 surf destinations and experiences in South East Asia.
Location #1 – The Island of Lombok, Indonesia.
I started my own little odyssey in Gerupuk Bay. Quite ironic because it turned out to be one of my favorite locations of them all. The waves are beautifully formed and in season most of the year because of how open the beaches are.
I realized quickly upon arrival that the locals here make their living from commercial fishing and renting out surfing services to those looking to carve it up on the waves. Interestingly, the locals were also very quick to tell me that the gnarly surf spots and waves stretch from beginner to advanced levels of difficulty, so regardless of your starting capability, Gerupuk Bay should be on your list. All around the town are hotels and cafes, as well as homestays. Charlie’s Shack was the premium level accommodation in the area, and it did not disappoint for both a well-earned meal and fantastic clean accommodation. The question of what to eat is answered with Ayam Taliwang. This is your typical serving of Indonesian grilled chicken. Grilled chicken is popular world-wide, and this is no different. The locals love it as much as I do.
Based on the expenses of visitors and my own spending, I would budget around $US50 per day to truly experience everything on offer.
Location #2 – The island of Bali, Indonesia.
Indonesia never fails to disappoint for amazing surf destinations, given the stable tropic climate owing to its location close to the equator. The place to visit in Bali for the best surfing in the area is called Uluwatu. All the surf breaks here run left down the reef with variations in sections that change with the size of the swell. The cliff and beach at Uluwatu are always bustling with energy and this makes for a spectacular viewing platform. You know the beach was meant for carving it up when there is a viewing platform put in!
There will usually be at least one of the five peaks at Uluwatu working well during any time of the day. You simply cannot lose while visiting this premier surfing destination. The Uluwatu Cliff Apartments are the luxury choice for accommodation while you are here, sporting large one, two and three-bedroom apartments all with a spacious living room, air conditioning, and flat-screen TV. It is important to recover with great food when you are spending so much of your time surfing, and conveniently there are a lot of warungs (small local restaurants) in the area and on the cliff at Uluwatu. These are ideal to get some great nourishments in to keep you ticking along.
Depending on your accommodation choice, your spending money with vary greatly. I would recommend budgeting about $US60 a day to thoroughly enjoy yourself.
Location #3 – Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.
Out of all the destinations on this list, I spent the most time at Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka. For some reason, I grew very fond of the small-town vibes that I got while exploring this place. Which all makes sense, because even though Hikkaduwa is one of the most developed surf tourist towns in the area now, originally it was a simple fishing village. With a well-established night life and culture scene, Hikka is now one of the best places you can go to let off some steam and get back to carving up gnarly swells in the most relaxing of ways. My favorite surf spot in the area was referred to by the locals as “Bennys”. It consisted of a left hander reef break preferred by more experienced surfers – because the magnificent waves here easily clear 6ft.
As far as accommodation in the area, you want to stick to the south of Sri Lanka, because this is where the surf action happens. The north side is reef-protected and more geared towards holiday makers and snorkelers. Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon Hikkaduwa is rated four stars and is built along the golden sands of the southern beaches. It calls out to all those who enjoy island-life and beach-life with a promise to pamper its guests with traditional southern Sri Lankan hospitality. The best food in the area is also served close by, at Mika Wu – thoroughly recommended by me. The best time to surf in Sri Lanka on the south coast is from October through April.
I would budget around $US100 per day which would fluctuate depending on your accommodation choices of course.
Location #4 – Kalim Beach, Thailand.
I was fully taken aback while visiting the pristine beaches of Thailand. Thailand has a stylish 2,000 miles (or 3,219 km) of surfable coastline, and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Rightly so, too. Depending on who you talk to, some will tell you that the coastline is crowded, but in my opinion, you will be able to find a good spot to paddle out wherever you go.
Kalim Beach is located just north of Patong Beach and, unlike its famous neighbor, still has some great authentic Thai characteristics. A car park and vendor space host a small street food market with several stands selling noodle soup, roti (pancakes), and Thai ice-creams. This is great for us surfers, because a good feed is never out of reach if there is food right on the foreshore.
From my own travelling experience, “The Nature Phuket” is the premier destination to unwind after a day well spent carving up the waves. While this is not the cheapest accommodation you can source if you are staying in the area on a budget, it certainly will not break the bank and will be worth it when you experience the pool and luxurious rooms.
I spent on average about $US100 a day here on transport, food and accommodation all included.
Location #5 – Baler, Philippines.
Changing things up completely our last location, I would like to take you on a virtual tour of the Philippines! As expected over here, the high season is when the temperatures are a bit cooler. The dry season is from December through to April and that is when everything is just a bit more expensive. The low season, June to September, is when the prices decline, but the trade of is that the humidity rises.
The Philippines as a country ranks number five in the entire world for km of coastline. Despite its small size, a lot of the country is beach, and so it easily racks up over 36,000 km of coast.
The best beach in the area, in my opinion, is Sabang Beach. The ease of access is phenomenal, the waves are manageable (until peak season when they get to 14ft!) and the food that is available from vendors lining the beach is delicious.
Being a world-class surfing destination, the accommodation here can get quite expensive as high-ticket guests and tourists frequent the area. To ensure my travel plans did not break the bank, I stayed at a place called “Playa Azul Baler” which ticked all the right boxes when it came to location and facilities. I would definitely stay there again next time.
Including accommodation, I spent about $US100 a day here, eating out a lot – so that number could be brought down significantly if you are smart about it.
So, there you have it. This has been the long result of me scratching a gigantic travel itch that I have been carrying with me for a very long time. If you had a keen eye, you would have noticed that I included two amazing Indonesian surfing destinations in the above list at location #1 and #2. As someone that has travelled the world on a budget, I would even suggest pairing these locations up together for an extended surfing holiday. This will ensure you do not break the bank if you only pay for flights once to get over and back depending on where you live. And certainly, do not forget the hospitality on offer at Charlie’s Shack in Lombok. It was a game changer!
What are you waiting for? Go explore!