Cebu Island – Part 4: Snorkeling

It’s no secret that Dave and I love snorkeling.  The ocean life fascinates both of us, and although I can find it mildly anxiety inducing (I get claustrophobic), I never let it stop me from diving in, taking some deep yoga breaths and enjoying the world below the surface.

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Usually, I relax as soon as I find an animal to follow.

The Philippines boasts some of the best snorkeling in the world, so we were very excited to see what there was to see off the coast of Cebu and Bohol Islands.  We had 3 snorkeling trips in total and I’m sad to say that only one of them was very enjoyable.

Punglao Snorkeling

Our first snorkeling trip was with our friends Deb and Dedrick off the coast of Bohol Island. They organized an exciting morning of snorkeling for us, which started with a boat ride through some rather choppy water, and ended up at a small island where there are sea turtles and plenty of ocean life to enjoy.

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One of several turtles we spotted

This was our first snorkeling experience in The Philippines, and as is always the case when travelling…we had to learn the ropes.  Every country does things a bit differently.  In Thailand, we booked day tours that would take us out to several islands on a speedboat, and took us to several locations to snorkel.  In Indonesia, we did 2 nights in a boat to see the Manta Rays in Komodo National Park.  In Cuba, we often just snorkeled off the beach, or hopped on a Catamaran for a day trip to various small islands.  Usually, the prices of the trip, boat, food, park fees etc are included in the package price you pay for the day.

Things are done differently in the Philippines.  We were told we needed to pay 1800 pesos to rent a boat to get to the island where there are turtles and fish to see.   Then, we were told there was a fee to get into the park.  Then, when we arrived, we were told we needed to pay another boat to take us to the ACTUAL snorkeling area (another 800 pesos).  In total we ended up paying nearly $70 Canadian and there wasn’t a whole lot to see.

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The second (smaller) boat we hired.  He actually had the guys swim back to the shore…I assert they should have been given a discount seeing as how they only get the service they paid for on the way there….

Unfortunately, the trip got worse, the longer we stayed in the water.  The boat we hired had a captain who wanted to go and take more tourists out to make more money…so after only 20 minutes of snorkeling, he was trying to get everyone back in the boat.  I obliged because I’d been stung by a few jellyfish and wasn’t feeling very well, but getting onto the boat was another ordeal yet.

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We were on a boat similar to this one

Filipino fishing boats have wooden bars that come out on either side of the boat to  help stabilize them and prevent capsizes.  The captain of this boat wanted to ‘help’ me get back on, but instead, I ended up hanging off the side as he bashed me into the side of the boat repeatedly…bruising my ribs in the process.  My friend Deb wasn’t as badly hurt in her trip back onto the boat, but she also didn’t find the task easy either.  Both of the boys just swam the short way back, because it was a much safer choice.

"You've suffered a contusion to the soft tissue below the fourth thoracic vertebra exacerbating the proximal sternum. Translation: 'you have a bruised rib.'"

Lessons Learned: 

  1. Don’t bruise your ribs when snorkeling.
  2. Wear sunscreen…even when it’s cloudy (we were out of commission for a few days we burned so badly!!)
  3. Bring good people with you on trips like this so that even if the snorkeling isn’t fantastic…the company is!

Sumilon Island Snorkeling

Our second trip snorkeling was on Sumilon Island.  I wasn’t sure whether or not to count this as a ‘snorkeling trip’ though, because we never actually snorkeled.  Allow me to explain…

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Sumilon Island is located off the coast of Cebu…near Oslob.

Sumilon Island is one of the things I’d read very little about.  We mostly went off of what locals told us….and it all sounded awesome!  We were told to expect:

  • Excellent snorkeling
  • An amazing beach with chairs set up for rental
  • Clear and calm water around the island where you can swim and snorkel

Of course, what we got was very different than what we expected.

As it turns out…it is a beautiful island and it does have amazing snorkeling…but only if you hire a boat (which we couldn’t do once we were there, from what we saw).  There was definitely no snorkeling from the shore because the water was simply too rough.  What’s worse, is that boats were coming and going constantly, taking up most of the public beach area.  They didn’t have anywhere to dock, so they’d just come up on the beach.

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Although the island is quite big, only a small part of it is public beach.  This small area in the photo was the only place to swim without being at risk of being hit by a boat.  It was very shallow and there were thousands of sharp rocks to step on.

There were 0 chairs or umbrellas for rent.  We arrived at around 3pm, and were on the west side of the island, so it was HOT!!!

It turns out that the only way to get beach rentals was to book with the resort that’s only the island….which was WAY out of our budget.  So, instead of the amazing afternoon snorkeling we had planned, we crouched under an area of rocks for shade until the next boat came around.

Lesson Learned:  Do reading ahead of time!  You never know what information you might be missing that will greatly impact your day.   We would have had a MUCH different experience if we’d organized a snorkeling or diving tour.  This island is an AMAZING place to snorkel / dive if you do it right!!!

Tingko Snorkeling

Our best snorkeling adventure was the last thing we had time to do in the Philippines.  Tingko beach is just outside of Alcoy on Cebu Island.  Our bus back to Cebu city only left at around 4pm, so we decided to try snorkeling one more time before leaving the Philippines.

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Tingko Beach

We were a bit worried when we arrived, because once more, there was nowhere to set up or put our things.  There were also no umbrellas.  We were about to walk away when a young Filipino man came over and asked us if we’d like to hire him and his boat for some snorkeling.

I was VERY skeptical at first.  We asked him about a price, and it seemed a bit high, but he quickly lowered it (probably more than he needed to).   When he said he had a ladder to get in and out of his boat (to avoid further rib bashing), we agreed to hire him for an hour to do some snorkeling.  I was so glad we did!

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A small Filipino fishing boat…similar to several others we were on

He brought us around to 3 different spots in that hour.  I only snorkeled at the first spot, because I wasn’t actually feeling very well that morning, but it was an amazing area to explore!  We actually even saw a sea snake swimming through the seaweed!  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the camera with us…but we’ve learned over the last few years that some experiences just need to be experienced.  The little snake swam away as quickly as he appeared, so I doubt we could have gotten any shots anyway.

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Dave did get a shot of a clown fish in an anemone on one of his solo trips under the sea!

While Dave explored stops 2 and 3 on his own, I chatted with our captain.  He was no more than 25 years old, but has 4 children, all under the age of 5.  He told me how much he loves being a dad and how he adores going home and hearing his kids scream ‘Daddy!’ when they see him.  He seemed like a really nice person, and in the end, I paid him his original asking price.

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Cebu island from our little fishing boat

Lesson Learned:  Not everyone in the tourism industry is trying to rip you off.  Some people are just trying to make an honest living while trying to be a top-notch husband and father.

Alright….1 post left about our time in the Philippines!  Stay tuned!  I’ll be back before you know it!

 

 

 

Island Hopping in Indonesia

There are more than 17,000 islands in the country of Indonesia.  In total, we were able to visit just 9 of them, but each provided us with new adventure.  From the architecture on Java, to the volcanoes of Sumatra, each area of the country was different and interesting in its own way.

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One of my favourite Sumatran moments

Though many people travel to Indonesia for a particularly beautiful island called Bali, our last 10 days in Indonesia were split up between 3 lesser known islands:  Flores, Gili Trawangan and Lombok.   Here’s a little about each.

Flores

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Flores is a beautiful island south of the equator.

Our time in Flores was short, but it served a very important purpose:  it where we flew in to see Komodo National Park.  Although there is more to see on the island than just Labuan Bajo, it’s all we had time for.  We spent the day before and the day after our trip cruising around LB and the surrounding area, enjoying the scenery and sunsets.

We rented a motorbike while we were there so we could make the most of the short time we had.  There are several great places to see sunsets, so we definitely did our best to check them out.  I’m glad we did.

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We also spent Valentines day cruising around the countryside.  I can’t say the day was particularly eventful, but we met some very nice people and ate some beautiful and fresh avocados while we waited for a monsoon to pass.

Lombok

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Lombok is only a short boatride away from Bali.  It isn’t quite as touristy as Bali, but it’s quickly rising in popularity.

Our next stop was Lombok, though the first time we were on this island, it was just to transfer to Gili.  Unlike Flores, which was primarily Christian (we actually saw people leaving church on Ash Wednesday while we were there), Lombok is predominantly Muslim.  When we took a daytrip onto the island, we drove out to see this beautiful mosque in Mataram city.

Other than our trip to the mosque, we spent the day driving around, picking up final souvenirs for people back home and then had back to Gili island, where we were actually staying.  It was a nice day trip to break up the week of relaxation we were enjoying on Gili T.

Of course, we did have to go back one more time, because we flew back to Shanghai (via Malaysia) from Lombok airport.  Our final moments in Indonesia were spent on that pretty little island.

Gili Trawangan

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There are 3 Gili Islands in total, and they’re all off the coast of Lombok.  They’re very small islands, without any cars or transportation aside from bicycles and horses.

Of the 3 Gili Islands, Gili T is the most popular and busy.  We chose this island because we thought there would be more to do there, and although our goal for Gili T was to relax….we knew we’d get stir crazy before long.

We did a few things on Gili T, like silver making, and our trip to Lombok, but mostly, we just relaxed.  We stayed at a beautiful little hotel called Marigio, which is owned by an Italian woman named Alessandra.  Her hotel was impecably clean and each day we ate an incredible Italian breakfast.  I spent a lot of time by that pool, working on my tan, finishing several books, and catching up on my journal.

Of course, sunsets on the Gili Islands are world famous.  There are a series of swings set up around the island where tourists can get pictures.  Dave and I aren’t big into selfies, but I loved the way the swings looked in the fading light.

The night market was also a pretty cool experience.  It was packed with people (a good sign) and all the vendors seemed to make a lot of the same stuff, but we could have probably eaten there every night we stayed on the island and tried something new each day.  The selection was great, and from what we saw, it was pretty clean!

My favourite experience on Gili T however, was not the sunsets or the food.  My favourite moments spent on Gili were spent in the ocean, ‘stalking’ sea turtles.  There is a sanctuary on Gili T and the turtles are protected in this part of the country.  So, if you are patient, you can often find these giant creatures chewing on seagrass near the beach of Gili T.

Sea turtles are very endangered at the moment, so sanctuaries and protected zones like this are extremely important to the ocean’s health.  After all, sea turtles keep reefs healthy and are an important part of the ocean eco system!

Dave even got this really cool video where you can see how close we were and how big this guy was!  We watched him for close to an hour.  What amazed me most was how he could stay underwater for so long without air!

 

So, this is how we spent our last 10 days in Indonesia.  We saw some beautiful sunsets, enjoyed some great food and had fun with local wild life.  I can’t think of a better way to finish a holiday!

I’ll be back soon with an overview of our experience in Indonesia, as well as tips for anyone looking to travel there soon!

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!

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!