Turtle sculptures on Patong Beach
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)
Phuket is Thailand's premier holiday destination and is renowned for its World class beaches and 5 star diving. There were 2 issues that had been playing on my mind about our visit here. The first was whether i was going to do my dive master and instructor courses and the second was which one of the array of locations we would chose to stay in. As there appeared to be no real cheap accomodation at the beaches, we opted for the less fashionable Phuket Town. Having a love of Chinese food, there were no second thoughts about taking a room above a Chinese restaurant and especially when it only cost 120baht - less than $4!
After a relaxing first evening around the town, our first taste of the beach came the following day, when we caught a sawngthaew across the island to Patong beach.
Crab on the beach
I had expected that the trip would only take 20 minutes, so was a little surprised that it took an hour, mainly due to having to pass over the mountainous interior of the island. The town of Patong is solely based on tourism, with rows and rows of bars, restaurants, hotels, shops and any other range of services that a holiday maker could possibly dream of. But the main attraction here is the long stretch of sandy beach, which runs around the bay for several kilometres.
We spent our first 4 days on the island making the trip to Patong, where we would spend hours lounging on the beach and doing as little as humanly possible. The only exception we made to lying on our sarongs was to wander around the dive shops to inquire about the courses that they had to offer.
Laem Singh beach
In each shop the managers seemed keen not only to have me doing my certificates, but also Julia. The reason behind this is that Phuket sees large numbers of Russian tourists visiting and a lack of any Russian speaking instructors to teach them. It was posing a real dilemma as to whether we should take the courses here and stay on and work, or whether my itchy feet would get the better of me and i'd be desperate to travel again within a month! The deciding factor came with the fact that we were told that we would have to buy all our equipment if we wanted to be dive instructors and this wouldn't be practical to carry around with us when we began travelling again. So we shelved the plan for the time been and will now look into the possibility somewhere near the end of the trip, whenever and wherever that may be!
Annoyingly the last sawngthaew ran back to Phuket Town at 6pm and there wasn't a great deal to do once we were back there.
Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre
On the other hand, we had coming off the back of some heavy nights on the islands and a week or two alcohol free was giving us a good chance to recharge the batteries. On the plus side there was a fantastic little restaurant in Phuket Town called Lotus, where we ate every meal possible, as its food was excellent and its prices were very cheap. I think we managed to sample most things on the menu and we were quite well known by the end of our stay. The meal which really struck home for me was a pork steak with boiled potatoes and onions and served in a tasty gravy, which only set you back $2 - bargain!
On Thursday the weather was abysmal, with a steady flow of rain coming down all day and we therefore gave the beach a miss and instead pottered around Phuket Town.
School of Yellow Backed Fusilier Fish
It did give us a chance to plan our trip to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre for the following day and early on Friday, we hired a motorbike and drove into the North of the island in search of the lovable primates. The Centre was run by volunteers, and an English woman gave us a brief introduction when we arrived, to explain what they were trying to achieve. There is sadly a large number of wild animals that are captured in Thailand and kept as pets or tourist attractions. It is not uncommon to see Thai people walking up and down beaches holding gibbons or falcons and in Bangkok
you can regularly see people walking their elephants around bars at 3am!! Normally the owners only keep the animals for a certain time and they are then abandoned or sometimes the police confiscate them.
Normally though, the police will except a small bribe and let the culprits illegally keep their animal. The centre is called upon to try and rehabilitate and release the gibbons back into the wild, which are brought to them. We spent some time just watching them interacting with each other in the cages and it was still sad to think that due to humans selfishness, these creatures would have to suffer so much.
After our trip to see the gibbons, we went to the adjoining waterfall, which wasn't really too impressive and then drove around the island to the beautiful Laem Singh beach, situated on the west coast. Although there were still plenty of sun worshippers there, it certainly had a more secluded and laid back feel from the crowded Patong. After a couple of hours topping up our tans, we drove around to Kata beach and booked some diving for Sunday, after all, the diving had been my main reason to be here!
Due to the amount of Russian tourists in Phuket, services have sprung up to cater for them, including a few Russian restaurants in Patong, so we made this our next port of call.
It was funny to enter the room and hear Russian music and see all the stereotypical Russian images. The guys were sat together with their singlets on and drinking straight vodka, whilst a portrait of Putin with the King hung behind us. We ordered some Dumplings and Borsch, but as i was driving, we layed off the vodka! It was Julia's first taste of Russian food in over a year and true to form she cleaned her bowl in record time!
Saturday was spent getting sunburnt on Patong Beach and then on Sunday i was up at 6.30am to drive around to Kata Beach to go diving with Marina Divers. Julia wasn't able to come along, as the dive sites are for advanced divers only, but i think she quite enjoyed the lie in anyway. I had booked on to 3 dives for the day and after been transported around the island to the port, it was nearly 2 hours in choppy conditions to reach the sites, which were south east of the island.
Anemone 'clown' Fish
Dive 1 was the King Cruiser wreck, which was a sunken car ferry that somehow managed to hit nearby Anemone Reef and sink. Supposedly the weather had not been bad, there were no cars on the ferry at the time, no casualties and it hit the only thing sticking out of the ocean for 30 miles in any direction, and it wasn't even on the ships scheduled course! Needless to say, most people believe it was deliberately sunk as an insurance scam.
The dive itself began at 25m, but the only Russian guy in our group decided he wanted to go deeper on his own and ignored all the instructions we had been given. Subsequently he swam off and wasn't seen again until the end of the dive, moron! The wreck itself was quite nice and had a couple of small swim throughs, some colourful moray eels and a few decent sized schools of fish.
Slightly worrying was the fact that my air gage did not work and although i signalled this to my dive master and showed him, he carried on anyway. 25 minutes into the dive and he asked to check my air again, so once more i showed him with signals it was broken and he seemed really shocked. During the 3 dives it became clear that he apparantly had no short term memory as he just constantly forgot who was buddying who, which direction we were going in and what planet he was on! Ok, maybe it wasn't that bad, but he was inept to say the least.
Dive 2 at Anemone Reef was a much better dive. Firstly we managed to keep all the people in our group, secondly my equipment worked and thirdly we managed to see some pretty cool things. Within minutes of going down, we got a sighting of a Leopard Shark, which was the first one i had ever seen.
It just sat on the bottom as we slowly went around it and it was a really incredible feeling to be so close. As the name of the dive suggests, there were also plenty of Anemone fish and the soft corals that they were hiding in were really spectacular and vibrant with colour. Other cool spots included a bright yellow Boxfish, Moray eels, Bearded Scorpion Fish and a Hawksbill Turtle.
Dive 3 was at Shark Point, where there used to be a lot of Leopard Sharks. Sadly there are now way too many divers going to these 3 sites every day and it has scared away almost all of the sharks. As it turned out, we would not see a shark here, so i was really grateful that we had spotted one on Dive 2! The major highlights of the second dive included a seahorse at the very beginning and 2 cuttlefish at the very end.
Although i had seen a cuttlefish once before, it had been swimming away from me. This time i saw 2 and as i was photographing them, they were changing colour and glowing, it was totally incredible and like watching something that you think you will only see on TV! It was an amazing end to the day and left me buzzing all the way back home!