The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Snorkeling Tours in Thailand

Every now and then Guiyang surprises me.  Since we got here, I’ve been called fat more times than I can really count.  My students make fun of how much ‘meat’ there is on my arms (thinking I don’t understand Chinese) and adults have done the same.  It seems that being a medium build brunette in China makes you the target of insult.  I get through it by reminding myself that commenting on someone’s weight is a culturally appropriate thing to do here.  I also tell myself repeatedly that I should take it as a compliment when people come up to my husband on the street to tell him how handsome he is, and then turn to me, smile a little and walk away.  I will say though…it isn’t always easy.

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The boys get it too sometimes, but not as bad as us ladies do!!

But every now and then, Guiyang surprises me…

This last Friday, I was teaching a Phonics lesson to one of my level 3 students, Lily.  She’s bright and very sweet and is always very curious about me and my life in Canada.  As I was teaching her the difference between the sounds ‘d’ and ‘t’, she reached passed me and picked up my Starbucks coffee cup and giggled.  I asked what was so funny (I don’t mind interruptions like this during class because it teaches her good conversation skills).  She read the Chinese scribble on my cup, which I assumed said something about the owner being a foreigner (they don’t often ask for my name here to write on my cup.  I kinda stand out…).  I asked what the Chinese meant and she giggled again and said ‘For the Beautiful Girl’.

Sadly, I don’t remember who took my order that day, and I forgot to take a picture of the cup, but boy did that whole thing ever make my day!  One more point for Starbucks!!!!

Talk about making my day!!!
Talk about making my day!!!

And now after that nice story, I will move onto the ‘Bad’ and the ‘ugly’ portion of our snorkeling tours!  Don’t worry…I can find the positive in anything so it won’t be too ranty.  But I do want to warn anyone who’s looking into booking one of these tours that there are reasons that paying more can be a good idea, because in Thailand, you truly get what you pay for!

Raya Islands:  Trip 1 (The bad)

 Our first trip to the Raya Islands was on Wednesday February 11th.  It was only a half day tour (I’ll explain why in the second half of my post), but there were 3 different snorkeling stops scheduled, so we were happy as clams.  We love snorkeling so much that we actually had my mom send us our gear from Canada once we knew that we were definitely going to Thailand.
Dave was really starting to miss it....
Dave was really starting to miss his favourite pass time….

Our tour group that day mostly consisted of Chinese tourists.  Thailand is a popular destination for Spring Festival, so this was to be expected.  What we did not expect, however, was for all our fellow snorkelers to be on their phones…in the bus on the way to the pier…at the pier…in the speedboat!  One guy actually ANSWERED HIS PHONE while we were cruising along on our way to the islands!  Dave and I brought our phones along to Thailand, mainly to keep in touch with our families now and then.  When we were out for the day, our cell phones stayed in our room safe, so this sort of cellular obsession blew us both away.

Several cities in China are actually trying out 'cell phone lanes' to help fix pedestrian traffic issues. If you think North America's bad....
Several cities in China are actually trying out ‘cell phone lanes’ to help fix pedestrian traffic issues. If you think North America’s bad….

The other problem we had taking tours with Chinese tourists is that they are (for the most part) not very comfortable around water.  The ones who did go in the water needed help getting their life jackets on and we saw one guy try and stick the mouth piece from his snorkel up his nose, because he thought that that’s how it worked!  I try not to judge…I grew up around water and it’s easy for me to just hop in the water and go…but their aquatic discomfort really disadvantaged the few of us who could swim and who were not terrified of getting wet.

I find a Chinese person's fear of water to be ironic; they recommend hot water as a cure to everything from colds, to food poisoning to spasmed necks....
I find a Chinese person’s fear of water to be ironic; they recommend water as a cure to everything from colds, to food poisoning to spasmed necks….

As a result of our group’s discomfort around water, our tour crew forbid us to go where the water was too deep or where there was coral (we could hurt ourselves on the rocks). We were also forced to wear life jackets, which make swimming a tad uncomfortable.  As a result of this bummer location, we didn’t see many fish but it luckily wasn’t a long stop.  Before long we were back in the boat and on our way to the second snorkeling location, which we hoped would be better.

Nope...our next 'snorkel' stop was at the beach...the crowded beach...
It wasn’t…our next ‘snorkel’ stop was at the beach…the crowded beach…

But, as I’ve said before, Dave and I aren’t the type to let a minor set back such as ‘no snorkeling’ on our ‘snorkeling tour’ get us down.  We decided to sneak off and explore the island during the 2 hours of free time we were given on this beach.  This was definitely the most fun we’d had the entire day…

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One of the taxis we saw on the island. A local family runs a little store and restaurant and offer shuttle services to people staying on the island.
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The local store, which mostly sold what appeared to be things that tourists left behind. Used fins, old books…that sort of stuff

 

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A sweet little bench. This part of the island was so pretty and quaint!
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For my Whovian friends! I’ve decided to start taking pictures of ‘police boxes’ in every country I visit!!
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The weather was beautiful while we explored the island. I couldn’t have been happier to enjoy the sunshine 🙂

Eventually it was time to leave, so we hopped back onto the speedboat (sitting up in front, where it’s more exciting!) and head back to the pier.  We made a video to try and show you the scenery on the way back, but unfortunately you can’t hear anything I was saying.  Instead, just enjoy the scenery and get an idea of how bumpy the ocean was for us on that very calm day!  At around 0:18, I get a nice shot of the sun…that’s because the whole front of the boat was up in the air!  Quite the ride!!

We wound up having quite a long wait at the pier, as our shuttle bus was stuck in traffic, but during the wait we made some new friends 🙂  Jackie and Yaya are a young married couple from Hangzhou…one of the cities we are considering for next year’s contract.  They were very excited at the prospect of us visiting them, and even offered to pick us up from the airport if we do!  Keep in mind that these are people we spent an hour talking to while waiting for a bus.  That’s what I love about China.  The people can be so warm and welcoming!!!

We exchanged contact info and hope to see them again in the future
We exchanged contact info and hope to see them again in the future

Raya Island and Coral Island – Trip 2 (The UGLY!!!)

We learned the hard way that in Thailand…you get what you pay for.  When we were booking tours back in China, I stumbled across one in particular tour on a website specializing in discount tours for Phuket.  One tour in particular caught my eye because it involved a TONNE of snorkeling and would allow us to see several islands.  We booked and hoped for the best.

I did find a very good Spa through this website, but I would caution people to look around before booking through them. They are happy to take your money, but not very keen on helping you when things go wrong.
I did find a very good Spa through this website, but I would caution people to look around before booking through them. They are happy to take your money, but not very keen on helping you when things go wrong.

We were originally suppose to take this tour on Wednesday, so we woke up early, had some breakfast and head down to the lobby to wait for our tour to pick us up (15 minutes before our scheduled pick up time, I should add).  After watching drivers come and go for 45 minutes, we decided to call the tour company to see when our driver would arrive.  We were told that because we were late, we missed our tour…

I've been watching a lot of House...
I’ve been watching a lot of House…

We told the operator that we had, in fact, been sitting there for nearly an hour and that nobody had come looking for us (we were sitting on the steps at the entrance of the lobby) and she said once more ‘I’m sorry but you were late and we cannot refund you your money’.

We were getting less friendly...
We were getting less friendly…

After assuring them that the staff at Sea Pearl Villas would gladly confirm that we had, in fact, been waiting for an hour at this point, they finally conceded that an error may have been made, and allowed us to rebook our trip to Friday instead.

We aren’t entirely sure what happened, but there are 3 possibilities we’ve considered:

  1.   The driver screwed up the time, and showed up WAY earlier than he was suppose to.
  2. The driver forgot to stop at Sea Pearl and didn’t want to own up to his mistake
  3. The driver did stop at Sea Pearl…did look for us…but never bothered to ask the very foreign looking people who were sitting on the front steps of the resort if they were the people he was searching for.

I personally think that the 3rd option is the most likely, but on Friday, our driver did show up a full half hour earlier than he was supposed to (interrupting our breakfast), so it could have also been the first possibility.  Either way, we had to rebook our tour for later in the week….

We did call this number from the website, and I also sent an email regarding the whole ordeal...they never bothered responding. This is why I'm so upset...they could have made things right by at least apologizing...instead they just blamed us and accused us of being irresponsible.
We did call this number from their website, and I also sent an email regarding the whole ordeal…they never bothered responding. This is why I’m so upset…they could have made things right by at least apologizing…instead they just blamed us and accused us of being irresponsible.

We arrived at the pier after an hour and a half on the bus and were greeted by a loud and obnoxious tour guide named Chai.  We spent the whole day being barked at, made fun of and bullied by this guy.  My favorite ‘Chai’ moment  of the tour was when he made fun of a Chinese boy’s attempts at speaking English.  The child’s mistake?  He called his snorkel mask ‘glasses’.  Our 40something year old tour guide stood there and mocked this kid for such a small mistake.  I shot him the dirtiest look I could and eventually he got bored and turned around, ignoring us all again.  Luckily, I don’t think the kid’s English was good enough that he really understood what was going on…

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If only I’d brought my trusty club!!

In addition to bullying young boys, Chai also liked to bully the adults on the tour, treating us like children and shouting at us in a highly condescending fashion.  On our snorkeling strops, he even threatened to leave without us  if we didn’t return to the boat as soon as he called.  On our second stop, we were told we had 30 minutes to snorkel, but I gave up after about 5 minutes and got back into the boat.  There weren’t many fish to see, and I’d been stung by several small jelly fish.  Dave stayed in the water and waited for Chai to call that it was time to leave.  Only Chai never did…he just started packing up and get ready to leave.  Luckily, Dave and a handful of other people who were still in the water noticed him pulling up the anchors, and got back into the boat.

I would highly recommend avoiding Nikorn Tours.  Pay extra money and go on a tour with a company that will actually care about your experience.

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In addition to having terrible staff, Nikorn also overbooks their trips. This was our tour group…
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Seriously…avoid them…

But the whole trip wasn’t a waste.  Once we arrived at Coral Island, we were given 2 hours of free time that most people used to book extra excursions.  We knew that if we did, Chai would receive commission, so we opted instead to walk around the island and to lay on the beach, working on our tan.   It was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon.

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Although Chai shouted at several other tourists who’d gone to explore the island, we snuck off to see what there was to see.
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There are many shops and a couple of restaurants on the island, and we found where they live.

 

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We found some broken lounging chairs to sit on (so we didn’t have to pay 200 bhat each…). Mine is propped up with a coconut haha!!!
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Our seats were a prime location to watch the para sailers come in. I’m very glad I didn’t do it, because it was 700bhat a person, and the whole ride lasted about 30 seconds.
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Instead, we sipped smoothies and relaxed, after a stressful morning with a stressful man. This was so much more our pace.

While watching the para sailors, we saw the coolest kid doing the craziest thing.  It only happened a couple of times, so I was really pumped to catch this 10 (ish) year old acrobat  on video!!

Those were the Raya and Coral Islands.  I’d definitely recommend looking into the different  tour companies before booking…there are SO many tours to choose from!  Don’t sweat over paying a couple hundred bhat extra for a proper guide…it’s well worth the extra few bucks!!

My next post will be all about our tour with John Grey Sea Canoe, a wonderful tour company who knows all about customer service and who offer the experience of a life time.  I can’t wait to write about it and show you some of the incredible things we saw in Phuket’s Hongs!!!

I’ll be writing again very soon!

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