Thursday, April 14, 2011
We are, as always, keeping up with our adventure in our handy journals (thanks again mom!) so when we are sitting at home in London with no money, as we´ve spent it all, we will have plenty of time to catch up.
We just didn´t want anyone to think we´ve abandoned our little project.
Hope all is well in your respective parts of the world.
Adios from Uruguay!
H and M
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Sydney meant some first’s for both me and Heather, first time in the Southern Hemisphere, first time on the Australasian / Oceanic Continent (depending what side of the pond you’re on) and obviously the first time in Australia. I think we were both pretty pleased to be back in an English speaking country, it’s not that we didn’t like Asia, just after 4 months it was nice to have a change. Heather has somehow managed to watch around 200 hours of Border Patrol, the fly on the wall documentary about customs at Sydney Airport. Based on this she was entirely convinced that we were going to be given the ‘rubber glove’ treatment because we had some wooden chopsticks in our bags. We landed in the early morning and luckily we were given an express lane ticket, which meant we were through customs and outside of the airport in a taxi less than 25 minutes after landing…. result!
I was pretty excited to be in Oz, one of the many reasons being, my old mate Eugene had moved to Sydney around four years ago and we were fortunate that Eug had offered to put us up in his spare room, for the week that we were planning to stay in the city. Rocking up at Eugene’s place at just after 7am, we were greeted by the chirpy Irish ninja, looking just as slim line and maybe just a little bit greyer round the edges than when we had last seen each other. After a brief catch up, Eugene headed off to work, while Heather and I decided to try and get some sleep after the overnight flight from Singapore. Our plans were foiled by the weather, by lunchtime the temperature outside had crept up to over 40 degrees C (104F), however it was a few degrees warmer inside Eugene’s apartment due to the lack of air conditioning or fans!
That evening we headed down to the local pub for dinner and a few beers, sitting outside in the evening sunshine, catching up with recent life events and reminiscing about the past. Even after a few beers, I found it difficult to sleep that night with the heat. Even when I did manage to drift off I was woken up by my beautiful wife who was demanding to be taken to a hotel with air conditioning before she killed someone. Heather then went downstairs, put her head in the freezer for 5 minutes, then took a cold shower, before heading back to bed.
Next day, feeling a little weary after a couple of sleepless nights, we ventured off into downtown Sydney to see all the sights. It was another super hot day in Sydney and we were grateful that both the trains and buses are fully air-conditioned. Getting off the train at Circular Quay, you are greeted by the two most famous sights, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The harbour really is a beautiful place, there are literally hundreds of boats out on the water, ferries, power cruisers and sailboats all dance to the tune of the glittering ocean while the harbour bridge sits high above, with the city scape as its backdrop.
After being held to ransom for a bottle of water ($8 / 6 GBP), we wandered past an Aborigine playing a didgeridoo (didgeridoo techno he called it) and up to the Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney. We had arranged to meet Eugene and his girlfriend Laura for dinner in town, so we grabbed a cold drink and chilled in the shade at Hyde Park. It turns out that Eug & Laura know every good restaurant in Sydney (not great for our budget, but awesome for our taste buds) and the food in the Falconer was some of the best we’d had anywhere on our travels.
$8 water, daylight robbery!
Relaxing in the shade, Hyde Park.
Another day, another scorching hot sun beating down (this was officially a heat wave according to Australian news) and we headed back into the city to visit the Australia Museum. The Australia Museum is kind of like the Natural History Museum in London, only it focuses on the wildlife of Australia (lots of stuffed animals / reptiles / insects / birds etc.) including a very cool exhibition on Australia’s most dangerous / poisonous inhabitants, of which there were many. Heather also came face to face with a stuffed version of her childhood nemesis, the wombat (ask Heather for further explanation). On our way back to the train station, we came across the very public auditions for Australia’s Next Top Model, it would seem that Sydney has some very attractive inhabitants.
Heather meets her childhood nemesis
Australia’s Next Top Model – Public auditions
No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to Bondi Beach, so we jumped on a couple of buses and arrived at Bondi ready to play in the waves. Even though it was just after lunch on a Friday, the beach was packed, the swimming area between the waves even more so, as a few thousand people crammed into around a 50 yard width of ocean. The waves were huge and we had a great time body surfing, whilst unsuccessfully trying to avoid wiping out other people. That evening we went to yet another good restaurant (Chinese food this time) before indulging in some expensive cocktails at a cool cocktail bar. We finished the night of in a pub that definitely had seen better days, retiring back to casa de Eugene around 2am slightly worse for wear!
2 x Espresso Martini’s, Bloody Mary & a Cuba Libre yours for only $66
Eugene & Laura
There was still no let up in the intense heat in Sydney, and our penultimate day in the city turned out to be the hottest. As Eugene had a report to finish up and we couldn’t deal with the extraordinary temperature at the apartment, we headed into town to the first air conditioned place we could think of, the cinema. While we been traveling, we’ve been to some pretty hot countries, India, Thailand, Malaysia, but nothing quite compared to the heat in the city that day (46C / 115F), even the wind was hot! We got to the movie (Black Swan) about an hour early and just sat in the beautifully cool waiting area!
Our final day in Sydney, Eugene busted out the green machine (his 1962 VW Bug) and took us on a tour of the coastline. It was during this tour that the weather changed dramatically, from around 90F and sunny to 60F and overcast, all in the matter of around 30 minutes. It was a very welcome change! Eug took us around some less touristy coves and also to a wonderful viewpoint over the city, before stopping off at a little Japanese restaurant for a late lunch of udon and sashimi.
A welcome change in the weather
Yeah, we’re hipsters!
I think both Heather and I fell in love with Sydney, it has both the big city atmosphere, but also the laid back feel of a beach town. If it wasn’t so far away from friends and family, we would seriously consider a move here. It was especially great to see Eugene, the move to Australia has obviously worked out well for him and we really enjoyed spending time with him and Laura. So much so we arranged to get back to Sydney a little bit early to spend another weekend with them for Mardi Gras.
- Mark ‘No sleep makes my wife grumpy’ Cleverly
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
So as is now traditional when we fly into a new country, torrential rain greets us when we land at Singapore airport. We’d both been excited about getting to Singapore for many reasons; the prospect of exploring this super clean city, that Singapore heralds the end of Asia and the halfway point of our travels and probably the most exciting one, the chance to spend 3 nights in a 4* hotel that we’d splurged on as a treat!
The hotel itself didn’t disappoint, after spending 4 months in varying levels of budget accommodation (some good, some bad, some ugly), the comfortable bed with two, yes count them, two pillows each, the soft white fluffy towels, the carpet underfoot and the hot, high pressure water on demand in the shower was like dying and going to hotel heaven. The fact we also had a colour TV with cable and access to a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna and gymnasium was just an added bonus. After a walk in the rain to get our bearings we jumped on the subway and headed over to Chinatown, Singapore style. As we have been to China, and also Chinatown in at least 3 large cities previously, I’m not entirely sure why we went, but we did get to see a Chinese guy who was practically a fossil (at least 80) sing karaoke by the bus stop. We headed back and after some dinner in a bar serving the most expensive pint of beer we have found so far (7.50 GBP / $11 US), we snuggled up in our cosy bed and drifted off to sleep.
Heather was unimpressed with the “tropical” weather in Singapore
Street market in Chinatown
The rain had stopped, so we headed out to explore the city. Singapore is well known for being the cleanest and one of the safest cities in the world and as you walk round its streets, the level of cleanliness is obvious, you could almost eat your dinner off of the pavement. It is illegal to possess chewing gum in Singapore and there are heavy fines for littering which clearly seems to be effective. The subway is equally as clean and is also super efficient.
Super clean subway
Walking past the famous Raffles Hotel (we couldn’t stop for a Singapore Sling in the Long bar as I was inappropriately dressed) to the new marina complex, the mixture of old English colonial style buildings mixed in with the super modern glass skyscrapers creates a surprisingly relaxed feel for such a big city. One of the newest buildings in the Marina is the Skygarden Hotel, three huge towers with what looks like Noah’s Ark stranded on top. The Ark in fact is a huge outdoor garden with amazing views over the city (or so it’s marketing literature said, we were scared off by the entrance fee!). From there we headed over to the mecca for all shopaholics (Heather included), Orchard Road.
The famous Raffles Hotel
Sky Garden Hotel
Singapore sky line
Orchard Road is truly astounding, the subway station is inside one of the giant shopping malls that line the road, each of the malls is around 6 or 7 levels and they are linked so that you can pass from one giant mall to another without realising. Orchard Road itself is around 3 miles long and where there aren’t any shopping malls, there are huge individual stores such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton etc, etc. The scary thing is there isn’t just one or two huge Gucci stores (we’re talking at least 3 floors high), we must have passed at least 3 or 4 on Orchard Road, thank God we were on a backpackers budget or serious cash may have been spent!
For our final day in Singapore, we had intended to visit Singapore Zoo as we had been advised to do so by many travellers we had met on the way However Mother Nature had different ideas and as the torrential rain hadn’t abated by lunchtime (nor all day as it happens) we spent the day chillaxing at the hotel, laying in the hot tub in the rain, using the sauna and in Heathers case, the Gym, just because it was there!
Singapore really is an amazing city and we’d both really like to return here one day as tourists, so we can get to do some of the things that we’re a bit too expensive for our backpackers budget. It’s also probably the only city that we have visited in Asia that I could quite comfortably live and work in, but that is due to it’s huge western style culture as much as its clean streets and urban lifestyle.
Onwards to Australia!!!
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
After a 4 hour coach journey on the nicest bus we had been on yet (we were so happy about the huge leather seats we weren’t even put off by the Eddie Murphy movie playing the whole way) we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. We caught a taxi with the slowest driver I have ever met (he called it being safe) and settled into our first hostel. The room barely fit a bed and had no windows and it was the first time on the trip we had to share bathrooms but we decided to stick it out anyway. As we came down the stairs to find lunch we heard other guests rehashing a story of how they were mugged right outside our hostel the night before. Great.
The next morning we were tired and grumpy from lack of sleep in our room/box oven and decided ‘sticking it out’ was overrated. We had a small altercation with the manager (twat) and checked into a hotel a few doors down complete with our own bathroom and most importantly, an air conditioner.
We set out for a bit of sightseeing and once we left the seedy part of town our hotel was in, we were pleasantly surprised with the city. We walked through Chinatown and haggled for a souvenir t-shirt. It was a typical Chinatown, packed full of market stalls, traders yelling for your attention, smells from the food stalls and lots and lots of fake designer gear.
We continued onto the more modern part of town stopping for lunch at a Western restaurant in a gigantic shopping mall. We felt a little like Pretty Woman walking past Gucci and Chanel in our backpacker gear but it was nice to see some familiar stores. The upcoming Chinese New Year was eagerly anticipated throughout the entire city and the whole shopping mall was decorated with rabbits and red.
Mark really wanted to see the Petronas Towers (3rd tallest buildings in the world) so we headed to snap some pictures. While I’m not as big a fan of modern architecture as Mark I have to admit the towers were pretty impressive and looked menacing against the black and white backdrop of a dramatic stormy sky.
That night we met up with Kristofer, who had extended his stay in KL, for dinner and drinks in Chinatown. We randomly ate at a Reggae bar (in Chinatown?) and he showed us around until we settled on restaurant/bar run by locals. Plastic chairs and tables spilled into the busy street and we sat outside watching the hustle and bustle of the market. Per usual, one beer with Kristofer turned into many and we sat for a while drinking the local Tiger beer and watched as the city prepared to sleep for the night.
On our last day in KL, we wandered around the more modern part of town that was lined with trendy restaurants and boutique stores. We found a Nando’s (!) and later found a Forever 21 (much better for our backpacker budget) where I replenished some essentials and later wasted time watching street performers before our flight to the Pulau Tioman Islands.
A short flight later and we arrived in the nearly deserted Tioman Island. The airport was smaller than most of my apartments in college and we had to wait for our luggage on the runway next to the propeller plane that we flew in. Thick jungle surrounded the runway and the sun was shining. We were in good spirits for our stay.
The huge Tioman Airport
We arranged for a boat taxi to take us the the ABC beach where we would stay for the next five days. We hadn’t booked a place to stay as it was still monsoon season and there was little threat of overcrowded hostels so we set off down the singular walkway that stretched the length of the beach to find a room. Most of the hostels were still closed and the only people we saw were a group of local men repairing the walkway. We stopped at the first open accommodation and booked a very basic room. A bed, a fan and a cold water shower would have to do for the night as we were tired of walking in the tropical heat with 35 kilos of baggage and the owner was incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Water taxi to ABC beach
Food was the first order of business so we went in search of an open restaurant and found one of the two serving food. It was run by a grumpy couple who didn’t seem to be happy in their choice of occupation but we were hungry and not sure where the other food source was so we settled. The food was good and we met another American/Korean couple who had just arrived on the island as well. They asked us where we were staying and I told them only to be scolded in Malaysian by the owner who, turns out, also offered rooms to rent and thought I was taking away his business. We left as I vowed never to eat there again even if it meant foraging for fruit in the jungle to survive.
We took a walk down the beach and had our first encounter with the local wildlife. A 6ft monitor lizard was having a leisurely walk down the beach. It was less then impressed with our paparrazi like photography and ran into the jungle leaving us as excited as Steve Irwin (RIP) with a 15ft crocodile. The sun and the sand was calling our name so we grabbed our suits and relaxed on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.
The next day we rented some snorkelling gear and walked right off of the beach into the protected conservation marine park. Since there was no reef there wasn’t much to see but we did get a glimpse of a parrotfish or two and it was nice enough to be out in the crystal clear waters. We walked the length of the beach to find lunch where they served fresh seafood and local food. There were only about 15 tourists spread out over the entire island, so most of the time we had the beach or the restaurant or wherever we were, to ourselves.
We changed hotels because, it turns out, I can’t live without hot water. That afternoon the first clouds starting rolling in and the wind starting picking up so we retreated to our room for a nap. Later, we went on a search for the only other restaurant and was pleasantly surprised that it served freshly caught seafood barbequed on the grill. Mark had barracuda and I had squid and they were both delicious. Walking back to our room we got our first glimpse of the huge bats. It’s easy to see why they are called flying foxes because they are literally the size of a small fox. The massive bats flew all over the darkening sky casting an eerie feel and at some points, narrowly missing our heads. We passed more monitor lizards raiding the local trash dump and scared a porcupine before we finally arrived back in our room.
Jungle walk to our room
The next day we embarked on our dive trip, despite the start of the never ending rains, we had a couple pretty good dives and got to see a couple sharks and turtles. The weather was taking a turn for the worse as the boat came back in, the high waves made things a bit difficult but we made it back safely and more than a little tired. Julia, our friend from Koh Tao, had arrived the night before but on the other side of the island (only accessible via a 3 hour hike through the jungle or an expensive boat taxi). She was volunteering and the islands Turtle Watch project but managed to find a ride over to our side of the island. We went for dinner and found a tiki bar, literally just a tiki bar in the middle of the beach with a few chairs to sit in, and had some drinks. The rain carried on and Julia crashed in the spare bed in our room before returning to her volunteering duties, taking care of the blind turtle named Joe, among other things.
The next few days brought some pretty bad weather so our plans of hikes around the island and soaking up the tropical sun were washed away but it was nice relaxing to the sound of the rain. We were a bit disappointed to leave the beautiful island but we were pretty excited about moving on to Singapore, the last stop on our tour of Asia.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
A couple of days worth of mini buses rides and ferry crossings, brings us from Koh Tao, to yet another new country to explore, Malaysia. On route to our first destination, the tropical island of Langkawi, we make friends with an American couple, Ethan & Rachel, along with a group of Swedes, Emanuel his girlfriend Emmie and older brother Kristofer. Little did we know that we would spend the best part of the next two weeks with our new Swedish chums.
In Langkawi, we share a taxi with Ethan and Rachel, and on arrival we struggle to find a place to stay as most of the budget options are full. We luck out and find a slightly out of budget hotel room which is right on Langkawi’s amazing white sandy beach. Being able to see the ocean from your balcony is not normally something a backpacker budget affords! Langkawi is a beautiful paradise style island, but the resort town that we found ourselves in, really could have been anywhere in the world. It is also geared more to the package holiday maker than the independent traveller, so the general cost of everything was inflated.
A room with a view!
The weather on the island was beautiful, sunny and hot, and a great deal of our time was spent of the beach, relaxing, swimming in the crystal clear water (until Heather saw a jellyfish and refused to come back in unless I constantly patrolled the immediate area for them) and playing beach sports with our new friends. Evenings were spent chilling with the Swedes, drinking beer (the only thing that was cheap on the island) and playing card games.
Amazing beach in Langkawi
After a few days chilling in Langkawi, we jumped on yet another ferry for the 3.5 hour crossing to Georgetown on the island of Palau Penang. Accompanied by Kristofer, Emanuel & Emmie, we arrived in Georgetown after dark, and walked through the distinctly colonial style streets to Chinatown to find our budget digs and some much needed food. Despite being famous for serving up the best cuisine in Malaysia, we somehow found ourselves in an Italian restaurant, but enjoyed some seriously good pasta instead of the local fare.
Next day we all headed out for a walking tour of Georgetown. Georgetown has a very English feel, with plenty of grand colonial style buildings, although the hot sunshine beating down of us did not. After a stop in a museum (not great) and a walk past some of the more impressive buildings in Georgetown (city hall, early catholic church etc) we stop for some lunch and a rest from the serious mid-afternoon heat. Unfortunately Heather wasn’t feeling to great, so we cut our sightseeing short and left the Swedes in the pub and headed back to the hostel for a rest.
As Kristofer was heading off to Kuala Lumpur the next day, we went for goodbye beers. Kristofer has a wonderful talent of being able to slip yet another large bottle of beer on the table in front of you, so that what you think will be you last bottle of beer, never really is.
Kristofer (right) and Emanuel (left) after a few beers
Next morning we say goodbye to Kristofer and catch a taxi with Ema & Emmie along the coast to the beach town of Batu Ferrenghi. After a 30 minute ride, we hopped out and went looking for accommodation in the seriously hot midday sunshine. Little did we realise that Batu Ferrenghi is a popular Malay holiday hangout and after a couple of hours we hadn’t had any luck and had to settle for a overpriced budget option.
We all headed down to the beach and spent a good few hours playing in the large waves that were picking us up and depositing us back on the beach, then knocking us off of our feet when we tried to get back up, As Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, the sight of two girls playing in the waves in their bikini’s drew a crowd of locals (all male) from the nearby hotel, presumably waiting for the powerful waves to rid Heather or Emmie of their bikini tops. Fortunately (for the girls) the bikinis stayed in place and dignity was maintained. For dinner that evening, we joined Ema & Emmie and went to a restaurant shaped like an old galleon for dinner despite being at least three times more than we had been used to paying, the food was delicious and worth every penny.
A new day and a new destination, the Cameron Highlands and the town of Tanah Rata. A four hour minibus ride and we arrive (along with the remaining Swedes) at Fathers Guest House, perched away on a hilltop overlooking the main town. The Cameron Highlands are jaw droppingly beautiful, dense jungle covers the mountains as far as the eye can see and due to the altitude, the temperature on sunny days rarely gets above 25C/77F making it a welcome change from Penang,
The main attractions of the Cameron Highlands are trekking and the local tea plantations, so we decided to combine both and trek through the jungle to the Boh Tea Estate, the nearest to our hostel. We set off after breakfast and walked the 2km to the start of the jungle track, just outside of town. Having done some trekking already, we felt fairly confident of this short 3km of jungle path and the easy path for the first few hundred meters was a little disappointing. However this soon disappeared and was replaced by a narrow, muddy, slippery trail with huge drops off to one side and fallen trees to clamber over, while all the time Heather was convinced we were being followed by some mythical being (or a deer). After some fun trails, we ended up at the bottom of the road for the Boh Tea Estate, with just 6km uphill left to go before we reached our intended destination.
Trekking in the jungle
Cheeky little waterfall
Having already covered around 5km, the 6km uphill walk was pretty exhausting, although the views along the way were worth the effort. The edge of the tea estate was still a good 2km short of the main visitors centre, but the view of the tea plants stretching into the distance, looking like the worlds biggest maze, spurred us on. The Boh Tea factory offers free tours, so when we finally arrived nearly 3 hours and 11km later, we decided to relax in the tea shop with a cup of local fresh tea and a large slice of cake. The tour of the factory was interesting, other than we couldn’t hear our timid guide over the noise of the machines and that it only lasted 5 minutes, although the smell of fresh cut tea is delicious!
After our tour, we started the long walk back. Our plan was to walk back to the main road (8km) away and then catch the local bus that would bring us back to town. We wearily trudged down the road, looking enviously at the organised tour mini buses whistling past us and had just reached the point we had emerged from the jungle earlier when a local man in his pick up pulled over and asked if we wanted a lift back to the main road, we readily agreed and jumped in. On the way down he told us that we would not have made the last bus of the day if we had carried on walking and just as he dropped us at the bus stop (to find Emmie and Ema waiting for the bus), the local bus appeared around the corner, great timing! After walking the best part of 17km (11 miles) that day, we slept well!
Boh Tea Plantation
The long and winding road
Despite having good intentions of doing some more jungle trekking, the majority of our remaining time in the Cameron Highlands was spent relaxing, eating or drinking the local tea. After a goodbye dinner with Emanuel and Emmie who were heading off to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with Kristofer again, we spent another few days in this beautiful place, just drinking in the surrounding countryside and letting our minds relax.
- Mark ‘Tea Monster” Cleverly
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
We flew into the fairly small and very rainy airport at Koh Samui and made our way to the hotel we would stay at for the night. The main street of the island was full of typical beach town shops, restaurants and resorts. So many resorts, in fact, that you couldn’t actually see the beach as they all fought to be the closest to the water. We were glad that we only planned to stay there for the night as it reminded me of a Panama City spring break type of place (lots of scantily clad teens on a mission to get wasted). We were looking for something a little more laid back and quiet (perhaps, we’re finally getting old…).
We got our wish with Koh Tao. After a two hour ferry ride we were rewarded with views of emerald green water and white sandy beaches. It looked exactly like a post card and our moods instantly improved with the promise of just over a week in this beautiful place. We were picked up from the pier and taken to Sairee Cottage, our resort/dive school. There were a handful of resorts on a mostly pedestrianized dirt road that sat meters from Sairee Beach and the ocean. We were shown to our room and went for some food at the Sairee Cottage restaurant and were welcomed with smiling faces and immediately felt at home.
With the full moon approaching the main attraction of the islands for the crazy teens and singles is the Full Moon Party at Koh Phanang Island, so there weren’t many people crowding our little paradise. The next few days leading up to Christmas was spent sitting on a small patch of beach outside our rooms soaking up the sun, eating Thai food and sipping fruity cocktails.The Sairee Cottage Beagle puppy kept us entertained when it wasn’t attacking somebody's beach towels. Christmas day found our little cottage covered in green and red balloons and Christmas songs blaring from the stereo. We sat outside and watched the sunset as we feasted on delicious meals of fresh seafood and prime rib (we decided to splurge for the holiday). Bliss. We skyped our families and checked on Marks sister Anna- on the verge of labor at any minute..
Irish the Beagle puppy
A Christmas sunset
A couple days later we finally got our first Thai massage. We booked in at a small cottage parlor that backed up on the beach. With waves washing up only a few feet away from us we relaxed into our massage. Around $7 (5 GBP) bought us a full hour. It was unbelievably relaxing…for the first 45 minutes. This being my very first massage, Thai or otherwise, I was expecting to walk out feeling relaxed and calm. The last 15 minutes of our time was spent in what I can only describe as torture as she twisted my body in ways I didn’t think possible and punched me, really..repeatedly. Mark assured me, over the sound of my grunts and cries, that this was normal and that I would feel great afterwards. We walked away a little shell shocked and smelling of Tiger Balm but I have to say I was feeling better than I had an hour earlier.
Massages on the beach (no happy ending included)
That night we began our dive lessons for our SSI Open water course(similar to PADI, just cheaper). We watched videos for a couple hours and met our instructor, Bear (yea, that’s his name..even on facebook). We had a great group, Hannah and Moa from Sweden, Richard from London and Pat who was helping the instructor out while earning his Dive Masters. The videos were a bit silly but we were excited and couldn’t wait for the following day when we would actually put on our gear for the first time and jump in the ocean. That night we ate dinner next to Richard and his friend Julia, also from London, and called it an early night.
The next morning we had a lesson with Bear and after lunch we were finally ready to get into the water. We walked the short distance to the beach and waded in to do our first set of skills (learning to use our regulators, clearing our masks, signalling our buddies, etc.). Unfortunately, the visibility was very low but we still completed our tasks huddled closely together in the persistent waves.
6:45 the next morning we were boarding a boat to go on our first open water dive. Everyone was a little nervous and excited (and in Richards case, hung over). The ride was short and before we knew it we were in the water and Bear gave the signal to descend. My whole life my parents have told me stories of their dive experiences, the closest I had ever gotten was snorkelling in the Florida Keys. This was something I had been looking forward to for a very long time and it didn’t disappoint. As cliche as it may sound, it’s like a whole new world, almost like another planet. Things you’ve only ever seen in pictures and on nature documentaries are now right in front of your face. Bear took us around the reef a bit before we had to settle on the bottom to complete a skill set and then we were off again as he pointed out amazing little creatures that were part of his every day life. When we finally had to come up we had all fallen in love (even Rich who had to throw up in his regulator once). The reef was full of life and color and none of us could wait to get back in. After a quick snack and debrief we were back in and officially hooked.
Our dive group
The next day was the last day of our course and even though Bear assured us our exam would be a piece of cake none of us wanted to be the only person in the history of Sairee Cottage to flunk. Luckily, we all passed with flying colors and were officially ready for our final dives later in the afternoon.
That night our group had dinner and decided to go to the local Ladyboy Cabaret. We got there just in time for a Lady Gaga performance and danced along with the performers. Richard, all to willingly, volunteered to go on stage in costume and we all had a great time. Mark was feeling a little under the weather but was cheered up when the grand finale of an Abba medley was performed (note:Mark hates Abba with a weirdly fierce passion). Mark went home to bed and I carried on only coming home after Rich had hurt his knee while jumping into the ocean. Fantastic way to end our course-unless of course, you were Richard.
The next day was New Years Eve and after Rich and Julia went to the hospital for some crutches we prepared for the evening. Julia bought glow paint and we went for dinner where Mark got a very special text from England letting us know we were a new Uncle and Aunt!!!!! High on the news we celebrated the evening with Chinese lanterns, glow paint and champagne. A lovely way to bring in the new year.
The next day saw a trail of glow paint around the island indicating where we had been. We danced until early hours but even as we were waking up the local Thai’s were still drinking and dancing, we couldn’t help but be impressed. We spent the day recovering as we had decided to stay a bit longer to complete the Advanced Course starting the next day. This course would allow us to dive at 30m/100ft (Open water only allows depths up to 18m) and it included a night dive.
The course went really well and we almost saw a whale shark. Technically, we dove with one, we just never saw it. Details. We also completed our very first solo dive without an instructor and without a major fight. A success. The night dive wasn’t my favorite as I’m scared of the dark and I spent the entire time glued to Bears fins but it was an entirely new experience and I’m glad we had the opportunity to do it.
Another qualification called for more celebration and we finally partook in the infamous Thailand whiskey buckets with our new friends Richard and Julia. More recovering was done and we spent the days eating and relaxing on the beach.
I can easily see why people come to the islands of Thailand and never leave. This blog is mostly about diving and ‘celebrating’ and that’s mostly what we did but we did it with some pretty fantastic people in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Shoes aren’t required anywhere, in fact they are discouraged most places and a motorbike or a boat is all you need to get anywhere on the island, the food is delicious, and the diving is amazing. I fell in love with Koh Tao and sincerely hope to return one day.
Little Miss Megan Hope Fortune, the newest member of the family!