Sawadee krap Phuket!
Our second stint in Malaysia came to an end, but we left with fond memories and happy tummies 🙂 Next stop, Phuket.
A little travel tip about Thailand visas: If you're flying into the country, you get a free 30 day visa upon entry (from applicable countries), but you only get a free 15 day visa if you do a land crossing. This law was changed back in 2008, encouraging tourists to get a visa before entry into Thailand. Instead of flying in (more expensive) and applying for an extension, we thought it would make more sense to obtain the 60 day tourist visa at the Thai Consulate in Penang beforehand. It costs RM110 (CDN$37) but allows you to travel overland and save you the hassle of doing a visa run later.
We got into Phuket after a 12hr minivan ride. When you've been traveling as much as we have, you do get use to the long commutes. Nothing beats the long 26hr journey from Labuan Bajo to Lombok last month though!
We stayed in the old Phuket town at the Phuket Center Apartments. Nice place for under $30/night. Big room with really fast wifi.
Phuket town is basically a hub to get to the popular beaches on the West coast and to Koh Phi Phi in the East. However, the main draw for us was neither of those. We were interested in diving the Similan Islands. We read that it was one of the top diving locations in the world. After receiving our Open Water diving certification last month, we had to take advantage! We dealt with a travel agent right in the hotel and booked a 2 day trip with 7 dives.
We had an extra day in town before the diving trip so the travel agent (named Boy) offered us a personalized day tour around Phuket Island. It offered us an authentic experience of Phuket through the eyes of a local, rather than converging to the typically crowded tourist areas.
Boy started off the day driving around the old town past a few temples in the area. He is a devote Buddhist himself so he provides insight on how religion plays an important role in Thai culture. Every time we drove past a temple, he would let go of the wheel for a few seconds, clasp his hands together and momentarily tilts his head down paying respects. Dude, you're behind the wheel! Yes that was a bit nerve-racking. Later on he told us that a fortune teller said he was suppose to die at age 25 (he's 26 now). On his 25th birthday, his cat suddenly died. Religion and superstition go hand in hand so he believed that his cat took his place in death to save him. That sounded like a scene made for Final Destination lol
He took us to a viewpoint at Kao Rang Hill to take a few pics of the city
Boy bought us a really addictive snack there. It was deep fried banana slices sprinkled with sesame seeds. They were freshly made so the batter was crunchy and really brought out the aroma of the sesame seeds. The bananas weren't overly sweet either which made it easy to eat more 🙂 If you ever see these in the street market, GRAB THEM!
One of the temples Boy took us to was the Kao Rang Temple that had the first big Buddha statue of Phuket. Many locals come here to worship and make their offerings. it's not a busy tourist place so you can take your time to walk around undisturbed. From the doors, to the walls, to the figures, the vibrant colours on all the details were quite impressive.
Boy paying his respects to Buddha
Some cute looking figures. Seems like something I would use to decorate the house during Christmas 🙂
Inside the temple
After the temple we had a fantastic lunch at a place where the locals eat. Boy also recommended an amazing local dinner spot for us too. Those two meals will be on a well deserved post on its own 🙂
Next, we drove to another park where a gibbon rehabilitation center was located. The volunteer there gave us a briefing of the center. It's divided into three sections: a quarantined area for gibbons with diseases, another section with individual cages for recovering gibbons from injury or psychological abuse, and a 25 sq km forest area for gibbons reintegrated into the wild. The rehabilitation area looks kind of shabby, but the whole center is limited by its support by volunteers, donations, and funds from park fees. So it's admirable that they're doing the best they can to help these animals without a large budget to work with.
It's swinging too fast for the shot!
I'm upside down!
Long arms buddy
The final stop back in town was at a shop that sold birds nest soup. Viv ordered a bowl for 250baht. It's a pretty big bowl so you kind of question how much nutritional value it really has if they give you that much.
We took it easy the rest of the night since we need to wake up early the next morning at 5:15am to get ready for a 2hr minivan ride to the Similan Pro Dive center. It was bound to happen some time. The alarm didn't wake us up…the hotel phone did. It was the driver on the other line and he was waiting downstairs. The time was 6am. Shit!!! We packed as quickly as we could. The next 5min the driver calls the room again, this time in a more angry tone. I went downstairs first to stall a bit as Viv was still packing. Viv came down just after he threatened to leave. Man, never felt so rushed! Talk about crunch time!
Despite our delay, we arrived at the Similan Pro Dive center on schedule thanks to the driver putting the 'pedal to the metal' lol The Tublamu pier was a short 5min walk and we took 1.5hr by speedboat to reach our liveaboard boat. It was a nice facility. The lady who made all our meals was awesome! It was basically home cooking at its best.
Climbing onto the sundeck
Front of the boat
4 dives were scheduled on our first day with one night dive. Overall, the dives were nice. The biggest disappointment was not being able to see any giant barracudas at Barracuda Point. There were a lot of fishes that we've seen already during our dives in Labuan Bajo. However, we really liked a couple of dives where thousands of small glass fish hovered over large coral groups. As a collective unit, they appeared as huge clouds that would slowly change shape when other fishes swim near them. That was a trippy sight.
It was also our first time doing a night dive. Technically, night diving is for advanced divers but we dove during sunset so the first 15min still had some visibility. However, once it got dark, it was a totally different experience. It felt like floating in space, but underwater. There's an immediate adrenaline rush as you rely 100% on your torch light. We spotted a moray and it looked much creepier than seeing it during broad daylight. Unfortunately, I don't think we were down there long enough to see the nocturnal creatures come out like crabs, lobsters, and squids. Hope to get a chance to do another night dive in the future though.
The next morning we did our best dive of the trip at the Elephant Head Rock. The site was unique with its cluster of enormous boulders. Giant sea fans and colorful corals were scattered all over the huge rocks. A diversity of sea life can be spotted here as well. Our last dive at Donald Duck Bay was a nice dive site as well.
No underwater pics as we haven't invested in an underwater cam. This will give us an excuse to get one and come back to these sites again. You'll have to settle with pics 'above' water during our down time in between dives 🙂
Just before our night dive
Sunrise before our early morning dive
The waters were really calm here
Hey, a turtle by our boat
There were a lot of unicorn fish swimming around too
We enjoyed our first liveaboard and appreciate the additional diving experience in the last couple of days. Now back in Khao Lak to rest up a couple of days before moving on all the way up North to Chiang Mai.