I’ve just recently returned from yet another stunning bit of traveling. Thailand and Indonesia. I felt that seeing as I live in South Korea and Thailand is sort of the go-to vacation for the expats here it was time to go. It was everything I’d hoped for and much much more. I met up with two friends from South Africa there. Debbi, who I hadn’t seen is a very long time, and Shaun. I only packed one tiny backpack, knowing that I’d just be buying things there left, right and centre. I started the long trip up to Seoul to catch my flight to Kuala Lampur and then Phuket. Meeting up with Debs and Shaun was easier than I expected. They were already in Phuket and my taxi dropped me off right at their feet. Patong on Phuket is a crazy, tourist infested city but the beach was still wonderful and it was a good first introduction to Thailand for me. The touts, the food, the heat and the mosquitos. Unfortunately Debbi didn’t have much luck with the mosquitos and after a 4 hour session of waiting around a hospital we found out she had dengue fever. Needless to say, the next week was not a highlight of her (or our) trip.
After some shopping, eating and beaching we decided to head to Koh Phi Phi. The iconicly beautiful but terribly overcrowded island to the south of Phuket. This island was made famous after the movie The Beach was shot on the shores of Maya Bay. So tourists flock here in the hundreds. The worst part is that it’s completely worth it. Koh Phi Phi is what you visualise when you think of Thailand, islands, blue water and white beaches. We hopped on a ferry and were there in about 2 hours. The ferry included a quick drive by of the most popular spots like Maya Bay and the Viking cave as well as other gorgeous little inlets. This was my first exposure to that unbelievable blue. It doesn’t look real. It’s like someone has messed white paint in the water and it’s colouring the blue water this piercing turquoise. After this fast sight-seeing trip I was so excited to just get to a beach and see this water up close. Koh Phi Phi mostly consists of a sand bank between two islands. So the town part is rather small. There are no cars or motorbikes in the streets, only some bicycles. I loved the way the streets were only really narrow enough for walking. After finding a place to stay we headed straight to the beach on the other side of the sand-bank-town. It was magical. The sea was crazy warm. If not hot. The sand the softest I’ve ever felt and the water, though not that intense turquoise I’d seen earlier, was such a light blue that it was hard to see where the sea ends and the sand actually starts. That evening we found the place that made the best Pad Thai of the entire trip. It was so good and all I could think about was trying to make this when i got back to Korea.
Debbi was feeling pretty bad so she stayed in the room most of the time. I went for a walk one night after Deb and Shaun decided to call it a day. I met a really nice mexican girl who was also out looking for entertainment after her friend had been in a scooter accident and was also bed ridden. Together we grooved the night away at several of the beach bars. We watched fire dancers and spinners and danced some more on the beach dance floor. I also met a group of Argentinians who graciously invited me to join their boat the next day. The best way to see the island and all its splendour is to hire a long tail boat and chug from beach to beach, snorkeling, swimming and tanning. I was very glad that I’d found a group willing to take me on their boat as it can be very expensive if you’re a small crowd, let alone one. Shaun was invited too but he decided to stay on shore that day. We were 9 on the boat and our captain. A tiny old guy with a cowboy hat and white rimmed sunglasses. Instead of it being a pre-planned tour we charted the boat so we could go where we wanted when we wanted. Our first stop was to snorkel and see some coral. Our captain threw some food into the water and the fish would swim right around you, bumping into you and going crazy for the bread. It was so great, you could touch the fish as they frantically ate the food. Next we stopped at a deserted beach. Here we swam in the turquoise water and ate pineapple beautifully cut up by our captain. It was truly paradise. We then headed over to the famous bays close to Maya bay. Here we snorkeled some more and rode between high cliffs disappearing into the piercingly blue waters. We then had to swim out to a bunch of rope ladders set up against some rocks on the shore, climb over and walk a short distance through the jungle. You then turn a corner and step out onto Maya bay. This beautiful white stretch of sand looks out onto a bay encircled by high cliffs with only a small opening to the sea. I did kinda feel like Leonardo Di Caprio swimming in the water there. We also stopped off and took some photos of the monkeys on Monkey beach before heading back to the main island.
The next morning I went for a hike up the one mountain to the Koh Phi Phi viewpoint which looks out over the entire bay. I couldn’t help but think of the destruction this island must have experienced during the tsunami. I read that Koh Phi Phi was one of the worst hit places seeing as the entire town area is at sea level and is basically a temporary sand bank. You’d think the people would learn but the Phi Phi of today is said to look almost exactly like the old one. Throughout our trip in Thailand we never saw anything that looked like damage from the tsunami. Though there were open plots in some places that might have been buildings before. Nothing that stood out as tsunami damage. I guess because tourism is so important to the country that that was their first priority. I watched many videos on YouTube of the tsunami when I got home. And I can honestly say that they affect me much more now that I’ve been there. It’s so easy to forget tragedies like that, especially when they happen to underdeveloped countries where you’re not constantly remind about it like 9/11.
We then headed south to Koh Lanta. This was a very pleasant change from the tourist covered Koh Phi Phi. We stayed there for a night or two at a very nice little resort right on the beach. Though Koh Lanta didn’t have quite the glitz and glamour of Koh Phi Phi and it was a bit cloudy, I still enjoyed relaxing at the pool. I should add that I wasn’t renting any scooters like the rest of the world due to my little accident I had in India. Let’s just say I didn’t feel that the busy streets of Thailand were the best place to learn how to drive a scooter, especially in my case. So I opted to walk around the island. I wish I had explored a little further. Next time I’ll hopefully either have someone with me who would drive or I’ll have learnt myself. I think we quickly realised that there were better places to be spending out time than at a pool so we made our way to Koh Tao.
The only way to get to Koh Tao in the off-season is to take a mini bus about two to three hours north to Krabi, changing busses, another two hours to Surathani and then an over night ferry to Koh Tao. Needless to say the bus rides were very cramped. In Krabi we had to wait an hour and a half for the next bus and in Surathani we were carted from bus stop to bus stop for about 2 hours before we were even taken to the port to get on the ferry. We figured out that this was the norm when it came to tourist transport. You buy a ticket at an agency for you entire journey but along the way each person needs to benefit. So they constantly juggle you between shops, restaurants and bus stop so that everyone gets a piece of the pie. We eventually arrived at the port and got onto the night ferry. It was an old wooden boat with about 50 little mattresses and pillows laid next to each other in two rows. The boat left at 11pm and was to arrive at 6am in Koh Tao. We still had about 2 hours to go before the boat left so we strolled through the night market outside. This is where I met the wonder that is Milo smoothies. A man at a cart makes a milo like I’ve never had it before. Over ice with some condensed milk on top. It was heaven in that humidity. At 11pm we left for the diving island. We made some Canadian friends on the ferry and made plans to meet up with them on the island.
Koh Tao was definitely a highlight for me. Debbi had convinced me to do the open water diving course with her. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I just wasn’t sure if it was really something that I needed to do. But now I’m more than glad I did. The course consists of 3 or 4 days of diving where at the end you are certified to dive to 18m in open water. Accommodation was included in the deal. We decided to do the course in 4 days as we had the time. I regret that decision today though. I immediately fell in love with diving. I’ll admit I was a little nervous the first time we were about to jump into a 3 meter deep pool with all our gear on. I could hardly stand with it on, let alone put on my flippers and step off the end while trying to remember to breath!! Rule number one of diving is NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH. There is a lot of theory involved in this course and we learnt a lot about air and water pressure. Rule number one has to do with not damaging or injuring your lungs when you ascend again. The breath you hold in at 10m is not the same at 5m, and so forth.
after our first day of skills in the pool we were off to the sea. That first dive into my favourite water was so magical. I felt like those tourists you see in the Kruger part going crazy over the wart hog they just saw run past their car. You ain’t seen nothing yet. We were only at about 5 or 6 meters but it was just so beautiful. Just like on tv. The coral was amazing and the colours on the fish – breathtaking. So on the 4th day we were to go on our last dive as a group and emerge out of the water, certified divers. We did a total of 6 dives. I saw too many fish to mention here. But among them were eels, turtles, clown fish, angelfish, batfish, barracuda, cuttlefish, triggerfish and many more. I really took to it like a fish to water! my instructor complimented me on how comfortable I was diving. He said he’d never had someone get into it so easily and quickly. And it really felt that way. I had no problems with the equalization or the depth. Often myself and one of the instructors would wait at the bottom for the rest of the group to descend. After our course I woke up in the morning with no diving planned. That wouldn’t do so I went and booked a night dive. This is why I wish I’d done the course in 3 days. After your open water you can get your advanced diver certification. It’s only an extra 2 days and 5 dives you have to do. These are called adventure dives and include things like a night dive, deep dive, photography dive, navigation dive, naturalist dive, drift dive etc. We were only on the island for 5 days. I could have done my advanced if I thought ahead. So instead I’ve started to rack up my five adventure dives slowly. I did a night dive in Koh Tao and a deep dive in Indonesia. So now I’m also certified to go to 30m. I enjoyed Koh Tao and the diving so much that I now plan on returning in June or July next year and completing my instructors course so that I can teach diving, live on Koh Tao and live the dream! I’ve been spoilt with some of the best diving in the world as my starting point. I’m very excited to go back and continue diving.
I’ve included a few photos here but please visit my Facebook page for more. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151894958800571.881665.870275570&type=3 Next up: Indonesia!!!