The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Snorkeling Tours in Thailand (Part 1)

Happy Time-Change for my international friends!  All of China is on the same time zone, and there is no time change here, but we are still happy for Day Light Savings to begin, because it means we are one hour closer to our friends and family back home 🙂  It can be difficult arranging Skype calls at a time that is both early enough for us, but not so early that our families need to get out of bed at an ungodly hour.  Until today, we were 14 hours ahead of our families back in Manitoba, and that one hour difference means we can go to bed at midnight again, instead of 1am.

A lot of the world doesn't even do the whole Daylight Savings Time 'thing' anymore.
A lot of the world doesn’t even do the whole Daylight Savings Time ‘thing’ anymore.
An old Aboriginal Man said it best:   "Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom of the blanket, and then believe that they have a longer blanket"
An old Aboriginal Man said it best:
“Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom of the blanket, and then believe that they have a longer blanket”

There was plenty to celebrate in Guiyang this week as well…Spring Festival officially came to a close with The Lantern Festival last Thursday.  This festival was actually the most beautiful celebration I experienced when I lived in Xiamen, but unfortunately, Guiyang does not put on the lantern show that is commonplace on the East Coast.  Instead, the citizens of Guiyang set off fire works….for hours!!  Our neighborhood was so smoked out by the time they were done, there was a haze in the air that was probably quite unsafe to inhale!!

The fireworks started going off at 7pm and kept going until after midnight
Some fireworks going off near our apartment.
Imagine, if you will, the sort of smoke cloud 5 hours of fireworks will generate...
The show began at 7pm and kept going until well after midnight.  Imagine, if you will, the sort of smoke cloud 5 hours of fireworks will generate…
18th Zigong International Lantern Festival
This is what the lantern festival was like in Xiamen. I was very disappointed to discover that Guiyang doesn’t do anything like this.

Things have settled down now, and as Spring Festival came to a close, Spring itself began to creep in.  The trees are blooming and the temperature is on the rise.  We are less cold at night as well, which is a relief because our good space heater started shooting out sparks and smoke upon our return from Thailand!  Luckily, we shouldn’t have to go to bed in layers of clothing for much longer!

The tree outside our old apartment building is blooming.
The tree outside our old apartment building is blooming.

Speaking of Thailand…

We went on 4 day tours while we were in Phuket, and 3 out of 4 of them were for snorkeling.  I’ve been on several tours like this in the Caribbean, but I’d never experienced any in Asia, so some aspects of the tours were surprising to me.  I’m going to write about 3 of them now and save our best tour for its own post (because believe me…it deserves its own post!!)

The Phi Phi Islands (The Good)

The Phi Phi Islands are world-known for both their beautiful cliffs and crystal clear water.  We booked this trip for our last day in Phuket because it was suppose to be the most beautiful sight to see in that part of the country, and that turned out to be quite true.  After a long bus ride to the pier, we were happy to meet our tour guide and set off to our first stop, Maya Bay (where Leonardo Dicaprio’s movie “The Beach” was filmed).

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Like I said…beautiful place!

After a bumpy ride to the island (that left my back very sore for our trip to Bangkok the next day), we arrived at our destination.  Our guide told us we had 50 minutes to explore the island and take pictures and then we would be setting off for Monkey Island.  We stepped off of the boat and were greeted with Maya Bay and all its beauty…

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And tourists…
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Did I forget to mention the tourists?
There was no beach (or crystal clear water) to enjoy.  The entire shore was lined with speed boats and tour guides blowing their whistles, trying to gather their groups back onto their respective boats...
There was no beach (or crystal clear water) to enjoy. The entire shore was lined with speed boats and tour guides blowing their whistles, summoning back the tourists in their groups

Still…I’m not one to waste a photo op, so I set off on a mission.  I was determined to get photographs of the island that showed its beauty, because regardless of the fact that its become such a popular tourist destination, it really is a beautiful place.  Under all the swimsuits, umbrellas and beach blankets, there is soft white sand and gorgeous mountains surrounding the beach.

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I couldn’t get all the heads out of the shot, but I wanted to get a shot of this particular cliff. The colours are just beautiful
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There were many areas like this where the ocean had carved away at the cliff, creating little mini caves.
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I got this shot in one of those caves. This boat had just docked on the beach across from ours. It’s most likely a private beach, given that it isn’t covered in people

Once back in the boat, we head off to an area where we were supposed to snorkel, but the tide was out and the speedboat couldn’t get into the bay where the snorkeling was good.  I settled for getting some more beautiful shots as we cruised around this fabulous area of islands.

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The Phi Phi islands are so pretty!
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The bay where we were suppose to go snorkeling. You can see many speed boats in there already. Ours was too heavy and big to go in with the tide so low
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The nicest shot I got (aside from the banana boat photo, which I took at Maya Bay). I just kept taking the picture as we passed this cliff, trying to get one without another boat in it. I think I took about 15 in total, but this is the only one that turned out! I still can’t believe just how many other people there were at the Phi Phi islands that day!

Our next stop was Monkey Beach.  I was particularly excited for this portion of our trip, although a little bit nervous.  As I mentioned when I first started blogging (back in October), no matter how much I love monkeys, I don’t trust them.  Monkeys can be little jerks!!!  They’re too smart for their own good and they aren’t afraid of people in Thailand, which makes them dangerous.  Still, I couldn’t resist getting off the boat (even after being warned that if we get bitten, rabies shots are a must) and we met this little cute guy, who was eating some peanuts left behind by another tourist.

IMG_4279 The monkeys didn’t seem at all concerned that there were nearly a hundred people surrounding them and taking pictures, and they came right up to us, hoping for an easy meal.

This guy was super chill...just hanging out...
This guy was super chill…just hanging out…

Of course, I didn’t exactly leave that island unscathed….

About 2 seconds after taking the picture above, I was still squatting and watching the monkeys, when an adult jumped onto my back for a piggy back ride!  All I could think of were the rabies shots, so I very slowly stood up, hoping that straightening my back would discourage him from using me for a free ride around the island.  It didn’t….instead, he grabbed onto my hair and used it as a vine to swing from!  He eventually jumped down but in the meantime I was pretty darn terrified!!!  I think it was probably the most fun he’d had all week!!

I can't say I blame the monkeys for messing with the tourists.  They're being fed junk food and energy drinks...they're probably buzzing from the sugar!!!
I can’t say I blame the monkeys for messing with the tourists. They’re being fed junk food and energy drinks…they’re probably buzzing from the sugar!!!

We continued our tour, stopping to snorkel in an unfortunate spot.  They let us out of the boat where the water was very shallow, and I nearly stepped on a sea urchin more than once while I struggled to get my mask and snorkel on (something that isn’t an issue if I’m just treading water…but it wasn’t deep enough for that).  After cracking my shins on the coral several times, I gave up and went back into the boat to clean up my cuts and scratches.

One of the sea urchins that was set on murdering me!  I avoided them unscathed, which is a relief!  Those spikes are very sharp and they break off when they stab someone...it's a very painful experience to step on one and I came within inches at one point.
One of the sea urchins that was set on murdering me! I avoided them unscathed, which is a relief! Those spikes are very sharp and they break off when they stab someone…it’s a very painful experience to step on one and I came within an inch at one point.

Lunch was served on yet another island, where we were also given some free time to enjoy the beach or go swimming.  When we arrived, I’d hardly taken 10 steps off the boat and a local was placing a young monkey into my arms.  This is pretty common in these tourist areas, and I strongly disagree with the practice, as it uses animals for human entertainment.  Being passed from tourist to tourist (most of whom have no idea how to handle a monkey) isn’t a healthy or fulfilling life for any animal, least of all one as intelligent as a primate.  This particular monkey was screeching as he was placed into my arms, but calmed down very quickly as I held him closer to me.  He cuddled in and got quite comfortable with me.  Probably a little too comfortable, because when I passed him back to his ‘owner’, he screeched like mad once more, breaking my heart in the process.

One thing I will say in defense of these particular people is that they seemed to be very good to the animals.  It turns out that there were actually 3 guys there, with 3 different primates.  The one I met when we first arrived was the only baby and two adults we saw were different types of monkeys.  One of them had been trained to sit facing out and to reach up and wrap his arms around your neck (kind of like the stuffed toys they give away at carnivals).  His owner came over to me and put the monkey into my arms (a popular sales tactic I suppose) and I shook my head and said ‘no thank you’ (they charge you to take pictures).  The monkey leaped back into his arms and started hugging him with joy.  The man hugged him back. The two seemed to have a very good relationship, and that made me extremely happy. Although I disagree with using animals in this way, it was good to see that some of the people doing this as a form of income do care about the animals they are using.

I did some searching online and discovered that the little dude who wrapped his arms around me is a Lars Gibbon.  I'd much rather have seen him in the wild, but I was glad to know he was cared for in his captive life.
I did some searching online and discovered that the little dude who wrapped his arms around me is a Lars Gibbon. I’d much rather have seen him in the wild, but I was glad to know he was cared for in his captive life.

That’s it for the Phi Phi Islands.  In Part 2 of this post, I’ll be writing about the other islands we visited:  The Raya Islands and Coral Island.  Check back soon!

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