22 miles north east of Port Blair is Neil Island, a tiny island which was uninhabited until the mid-1960s and is referred to the vegetable bowl of the Andaman Islands. It is beautiful. Tiny, laid back and the perfect place to chill out for a week or so. It was exactly what we needed, not just after the chaos of Delhi, but also after over a year and a half without a break.
We decided early on that we wanted to stay somewhere 'nice' during our stay on Neil Island, and although our first hotel fell through (a long story), we landed on our feet with SeaShell Neil. I couldn't believe our luck when we stumbled in to this lovely resort with its lush greenery, cute cottages and private beach with swings and hammocks. My idea of paradise. Actually, the whole island was paradise, you could walk nearly everywhere (or run! We managed to squeeze in a few sweaty runs in during our stay!) and the beaches were insane. The only downside was the lack of beer. Only a couple of very high end hotels (including ours) sell booze, and to say Mike was disappointed is an understatement. He survived. Just.
Neil is so little that it's easy to explore without feeling like you're working too hard. We decided against hiring bikes, partly because I'm a wuss, but partly because around where we were staying had relatively busy roads. However, there were lots of tuk tuks available and you didn't need to haggle around prices, which was a refreshing change, and meant that we could head off to explore all the beaches and check out some of the awesome local restaurants that were tucked away around the island.
A highlight of our stay was stumbling on the island's Mela - essentially an Indian take on Lambeth County Fair! It was awesome to see the whole island turn out in their best outfits and party together. There's something uniquely special about seeing people at play, and this was pretty magical.
Experiences and food are what make trips, and Mike's trip to a local barber was quite an experience, complete with a head massage that involved a certain amount of slapping (!) and saw him told to remove his top. Needless to say I spend much of that particular experience quite entertained! As well as hitting the local barber we made the effort to eat in local places - never be afraid of the hole in the wall, if there are loads of local people eating there then it's probably not going to kill you, and you might have some really awesome (cheap) food. The food at Sunset Point is amazing, and Mike became a huge fan, although keep in mind the stalls are only open for a few hours around the time the beach gets busy with people wanting to catch one of the Island's spectacular sunsets.
I get the sense that Neil Island is seen as a poor second to the bigger, busier Havelock, but I'd beg to differ. Neil has a certain charm. No, there's not much to do, but it's the perfect place to relax, take things easy and not really think about much for a week or so. Although do remember to take cash, the ATM doesn't work.
Eat and Drink
The Dugong, SeaShell Neil - this restaurant was in our hotel and is one of the few places on Neil to get a beer. It does some excellent food, but it's definitely one of the pricier options.
Garden View - this place is so special. It's a tiny family run place that makes some of the best food on the island. Don't expect anything to be fast, but use it as an opportunity to sit back, have a chat, read a book or catch up with other visitors.
Halder Restaurant - right in the middle of Neil Kendra, this hole in the wall is awesome. If you didn't know you'd walk straight past, but thanks to a tip off from the receptionist at our hotel we found it.
Sutapa Restaurant - another hole in the wall, this one gives you just two options (and none if you're a veggie), but it's good stuff!
There are also various sweet shops around Neil Kendra which you really need to check out - Indian Sweets are my absolute favourite!
We stayed at SeaShell Neil, which is definitely one of the higher end options on the island. It was really lovely, and just what we were looking for - somewhere where we could chill out and not think for a week. However, there are options for every price point, including at the lovely Garden View which has cute little huts that make a great budget option.