Ao Nang Local Islands on Dive Trip

Under the Sea – What it’s really like to Scuba Dive for the first time Part 1

Scuba diving was something that I had wanted to try for a very long time, but just never really got up the guts to do it. In my research for this holiday I had been reading a lot of travel blogs that were new to me, and discovered the blog of Alex in Wanderland. Her stunning underwater pictures from her dives and the enthusiasm and love that she speaks about diving with, really inspired me to finally take the plunge (so to speak!) and make it my mission to try scuba diving for the very first time on this holiday.

I knew that I wanted to go with a PADI centre, as Ash has his Open Water Certification through PADI and I figured it was best if we both went with the same company. I didn’t have the time to do a full certification (an open water course takes 3-4 days, which would have left us not time for any other sightseeing) and I wasn’t 100% sure how I would go scuba diving so didn’t want to commit to a full course just yet.

I’ve never been a really big swimmer, as having grown up in an inland town meant that most of my swimming was done in a pool. I’ve always been a bit cautious around the ocean, so I was a bit concerned that may get the better of me. I’ve only really learned how to snorkel in the last few years (which I now love!), so going on a scuba dive was a really big step for me!

I had done a small amount of research before our trip as to the dive companies in town and read some reviews, but I hadn’t set on a place as I wanted to speak to the people in the shop and feel comfortable. I had also heard that a lot of dive shops aren’t that fond of taking people on discovery dives, and instead will try and talk you into a full course.

Luckily, the first shop we entered, Scuba Addicts, made us feel comfortable right away. Tim (the owner) was in store, and when I asked about a discovery dive he didn’t even blink. After chatting to him for a little bit about how it would work and our options, we booked in for a dive to the local islands around Ao Nang for the very next day!

Ao Nang Harbour

Bright and early the next morning, we were picked up at our hotel by Scuba Addicts, and taken to the shop in the main street to meet our dive instructors and sign in. There were only 3 other people coming along with us, 2 who were certified and one other on a discovery dive like me. We were greeted by Tim, and introduced to Remy Dielemans and Bang Geow who would be our instructors for the day. Remy would be looking after the two of us on discovery dives, and Geow was going to take the certified divers. We were soon back in the van and off to the harbour to set out in a longtail boat for the local islands.

On the boat trip, Remy took us through everything that we would need to know for a safe dive. We learnt skills such as how we would replace and clear our regulator, retrieve it if it was knocked out of our mouth, and how to clear our mask. We were also taught some of the standard hand signals that are used underwater to communicate. I really struggled with some of the hand signals as a thumbs up for me (being Australian) automatically means ok, but underwater it means that you want to go back up to the surface!

Ao Nang Dive Boat and Local Island

Once we arrived at the first dive site, we donned our wetsuits and flippers and jumped in the water. Remy suggested that it was easiest for us non-experienced divers to put our buoyancy vest etc on while we were already in the water, which he assisted us with. Now it was time to put into practice the skills that we had learnt on the boat in the water with a skills test. Remy took the other discover diver first, as this was her second discovery dive so she was familiar with what to do. She completed hers quickly, and it was soon my turn.

The first skill I had to demonstrate was to go underwater (Remy was controlling my buoyancy so that was one less thing I needed to learn), take my regulator out of my mouth, replace it and clear it so I could continue breathing through it. The first go at it, I surprised myself and managed quite easily! We surfaced and Remy asked me to try it again, just to double check that I had it down.

The second time around, I managed to easily replace my regulator once again, but then I panicked. I don’t what happened, I was just suddenly overcome with fear and rushed to the surface. I think it just hit me that there I was breathing underwater, with only an oxygen tank to rely on. I had a couple more tries, but just couldn’t get over the fear. Remy was so patient and explained that it was normal, reassuring me that it can take a few tries to become comfortable with being underwater. I didn’t want to hold up the other discovery diver, so offered to stay back and try again on the second dive. Remy suggested I snorkel around in the water using my regulator, and getting used to the entirely alien sensation of the dry air filling my lungs underwater.

Whilst I was doing this, the qualified divers who had started on their dive with Geow had returned to the boat to see where we were. Geow offered to stay with me while Remy took everyone else diving around the reef. He had seen me snorkelling with my scuba gear, and was determined to help me have a successful dive.

Stay tuned next week to see how I went on the remainder of my discovery dive!

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trekking in Gorak Shep

Everest Base Camp Trek Preparation

I can’t believe it’s here already, but this weekend all of my 18 months or so of planning and dreaming will come to fruition as I jet off to Nepal and start on the Everest Base Camp Trek! To mark the occasion, and to help everyone who may be looking to plan their own trek, I’ve put together all of the information on my preparation for the trek. I’ll be away for a while, but the blog will still keep ticking on – I have plenty of posts scheduled to keep you all entertained! To follow my travels in real time, I’ll be posting updates (where internet access is available) on social media. Don’t forget to follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

I’ll also be trekking with my friend Danielle Marsh who is the reigning Mrs Australia. She won this title by tirelessly raising funds for ovarian cancer and raising awareness of this insidious disease. In November she’s off to compete in the Mrs World competition in America to continue raising ovarian cancer awareness. Check out her website (www.daniellemarsh.com), and if you can lend a hand or donate she’d be eternally grateful!

Everest Base Camp Trek Preparation

Fitness preparation for the trek – when I was doing all of my research and planning, I really couldn’t find much information about what people had done to prepare themselves from a fitness perspective for the trek. Here’s what I did, I’ll soon find out if it was enough!

Packing list for clothing and packing list for other gear – these were so long I broke the information up into 2 posts! All the clothing and gear that I’m taking, plus the reasons why.

Tips from the TAAN – I randomly popped into a travel expo one weekend and as it turned out there were some representatives from the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN). We spent quite a bit of time talking to one of the lovely gentlemen there, and he gave us some great tips that should help us along the way on our trek.

Choosing a trekking company – Here’s all of the details about the different options that you have to do the Everest Base Camp trek, and I also go into details about how I narrowed down the thousands of trekking companies out there to select the one that we went with.

Training hikes (here and here) – As part of our fitness regime, we did a few day hikes locally around Melbourne to try out some of our gear and get used to whole trekking thing! Here’s a couple of the ones that we went on if you’re looking for trek ideas in the area as well.

If you have any last minute tips to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Header photo credit: Creative Commons License Everest Base Camp – Gorak Shep – Nepal. by lampertron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Everest Base Camp Sign

Choosing a trekking company for the Everest Base Camp Trek

When you’re organising your trek to Everest Base Camp, there’s so much information out there that it can be quite overwhelming! I’ve received a few questions about how to choose which way is best for you and how to go about finding a trekking company, so I thought I’d put together a post and give you guys the benefits of my research.

You have 3 basic options for your trek:

Book a fully inclusive trek with one of the many trekking companies available: Being a not very experienced trekker, and not being at all familiar with Nepal, this is the option I chose. There are a myriad of different options to choose from, and literally thousands of companies to sort through. I decided to trek with a local Nepalese company rather than an international one, as not only does this cut the costs by quite a bit, but it also means that the money you’re spending is going directly to locals.

Hire an independent guide and porter or porter/guide: Rather than going for a fully inclusive package, you can simply hire staff, and pay for any accommodation, meals, etc along the way as you go. This does give you more control over the speed of your trek, where you stay, etc. A guide is valuable if you’re interested in the Nepalese culture and other details of the area, where as a porter will simply carry your bags. A porter/guide generally will speak only limited English, but will still assist you with booking accommodation on the trek and also will carry your bags.

Go it alone: This means carrying all of your own clothing and equipment, finding accommodation along the way yourselves, and navigating your own way. I personally would not choose this option unless you’re a very experienced trekker with experience at high altitudes. I feel like there’s just too much risk in terms of altitude sickness, especially if you’re not experienced in dealing with it. Additionally, it does mean that you’re also not contributing as much to the local community – just by hiring a porter it means that you’ve given someone local a job! Please also note that the Nepalese Government has been considering making it compulsory to trek with a guide to help increase the safety of trekkers, so make sure you double check the latest information before you decide to choose this option.

Selecting a trekking company

If you’ve decided to go for a fully inclusive trek like I did, here’s how I made my choice. Bear in mind that I love travel planning, and usually spend ages researching! I came up with a list of things that were traditionally included in the treks, and created a spreadsheet. Then I started googling companies! Each company who’s website I visited, I filled in my spreadsheet with their website address, the trek price (if it was listed), and what the inclusions on the trek were. This helped me to compare all of the different options in a snapshot.

The first step to narrowing down my huge list (I think I had about 50 companies listed to start off with!), was to make sure that all of the companies on the list were registered with the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN). You can check the list of all registered companies here – there are currently well over 1000 companies listed! Bear in mind that if you’re considering using an international company, they will not be listed.

Next I looked at price. Realistically, all of the accommodation and meals are pretty similar on the trek no matter how much you pay (there’s not much in the way of luxury!), so I didn’t really see the point in paying a premium price. This ruled out a lot of the international companies, and any that it didn’t I still filtered out as I preferred to support a local business.

I was still left with around 25 companies, so I started looking at what each trek included and eliminating companies based on this. I knew that I didn’t want to buy and take over a sleeping bag with me, so I ruled out companies that didn’t include sleeping bag hire in the cost, and same goes for a duffel bag for the porter to take our trekking gear (our normal backpacks will be stored in the hotel in Kathmandu with all of the rest of our luggage that we don’t need on the trek).

I did one final wash of the data, just by looking at all of the remaining websites and decided if I liked what they said, and their customer testimonials. I also had a few that I had seen blog write-ups on that I held in quite high regard also.

This left me with a list of around 8 companies, so I fired off emails to each of them. I was amazed when less than 30 minutes later, I started getting Facebook friend requests, Skype phone calls and numerous emails. The company I ended up choosing was the first to call me, and what really swung everything in their favour was the awesome voicemail message I got from them – it really put a smile on my face. I had also read a blog of someone who had trekked with them previously who had spoken quite highly of them as well, so they were already near the top of my list. Stay tuned after my trek, and I’ll have a full review of how our trek was with them!

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Header photo credit: Creative Commons License
Everest Base Camp, Nepal. by Rick McCharles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Ao Nang Beach with boats

Where to eat in Ao Nang, Thailand

I found Ao Nang a bit of a strange place from a restaurant perspective. Usually when I head to Thailand, I absolutely love eating mountains of Thai food, I will easily eat it for every single meal. So when I arrived in Ao Nang I was super excited to get my usual Thai food fix.

On our first night, we walked down the main street looking at menus and trying to decide on a place to eat. To my mounting despair, there was a trend in all the menus we looked in: not one of them had only Thai food. There were heaps of Thai/Indian, Thai/Italian and other mixed cuisine type places, but we really couldn’t find a restaurant that only served Thai food on the main street.

I was a bit disappointed, as Thai food is one of my favourites, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be gorging myself on all my favourite dishes over the next few days as I had expected. Given Ao Nang is a town that seems to be solely geared towards the tourist industry, it should have come as no surprise that there was plenty of international food.

We tried quite a few different places over the few days that we stayed in Ao Nang, but to be perfectly honest, nothing really blew me away. We did have some good meals, but nothing really like that delicious traditional Thai food. A couple of places that we enjoyed were:

Rasoi: This was actually the place we ended up eating on our very first night, and given that the staff working there were all of Indian origin we opted to go for dishes on their Indian menu. The curries here were quite tasty, the service was quick and it was reasonably priced. It’s obviously a reasonably popular place as we went there a couple of times and there weren’t many free tables either day.

Crazy Gringo’s: Oddly enough, this is where I had my best Thai meal of the trip – at a Tex Mex restaurant! I had a delicious Larb Gai (Thai chicken salad) there, perfectly balanced and just the right amount of spice. Ash enjoyed the Tex Mex side of the menu as well. Crazy Gringo’s also has a great cocktail list, including an entire menu page dedicated to different flavours of margaritas – our personal favourite was the passionfruit margarita. They do have large tv’s that show sporting events, and they also have a live cover band that plays during the evening. This was probably my favourite place to eat in Ao Nang.

So if you’re heading to Ao Nang, be prepared for a myriad of different cuisines, and don’t have your heart set on Thai food for every meal!

Where are your favourite places to eat in Ao Nang?

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Longtail Boat at Ao Nang Beach

What to do when you get injured overseas

As soon as we arrived in Krabi, our first mission was to explore Ao Nang with the mission of trying to find a bar that was showing the AFL, as Ash’s team was playing and he hoped to catch some of the game.  After dropping our bags off quickly in our room, we set off in the searing midday heat on a mission.

We’d gotten directions from the hotel on the best direction to head (although it seemed that there may have been a small miscommunication as we later found out that the main street was in the other direction!), and off we rushed to try and catch the last half of the game and have a cold Singha beer.

For those who haven’t been to Ao Nang, a lot of the footpaths there are raised quite high off the ground, which I guess is to allow for flooding when the monsoons hit. As we raced along, I wasn’t really looking where I was going, as I was peering into every shop we went past to see if they were a bar and had a TV. You can see where this is going, right?

Yep, the inevitable happened and I managed to not see one of the steps down to the road, coming down hard on my ankle. Sharp pain shot through me and I cried out. Hoping I had just rolled my ankle slightly, and still determined that Ash would get to see some of the game, I insisted we keep walking hoping that my ankle would come good.

Unfortunately, after hobbling along for a 100 metres or so with my ankle swelling alarmingly around my Havaianas by the minute, we made the decision to abandon our bar search and head back to the hotel for a bit of impromptu first aid.

The great thing about Thailand (and usually South East Asia in general), is that there seems to be pharmacies everywhere, and they are always super helpful and well stocked for all injuries and minor ailments. When I’m overseas, unless of course my injuries or illness are life-threatening, my first stop is always to a pharmacy.

We finally found a pharmacy when we were almost back to the hotel, and the two lovely ladies there assisted with some painkillers and anti-inflammatories, but sadly none of the ice packs that I was hoping for. Hobbling the final stretch to the hotel, I stopped by reception on the way to our room and requested a bucket of ice, which was delivered really quickly – great service by the hotel. I made an impromptu ice pack out of some of the ice and a hand towel, and settled myself onto a sun lounger on the terrace to ice my ankle. I can think of worse ways to treat an injury!

A sprained ankle is a fairly minor injury, but something that can really put a dampener on your holiday plans. The good news is that my ankle did recover well enough for me to try out scuba diving for the first time a couple of days later. By treating an injury like this as soon as possible, it’s really easy to minimise the recovery time that you need and get on with your holiday. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with taking an afternoon to relax by the pool while you’re on holiday!

When you sustain minor injuries and illnesses overseas, they’re generally easily self-treated by visiting a pharmacy for some supplies and following basic first aid. It’s a good idea to be familiar with some of the basic first aid principles like how to apply bandages and ways to treat minor injuries, as this can make all the difference to you getting on with enjoying your holiday.

For more serious injuries and illnesses, which I’ve been lucky enough to avoid thus far, it’s really important that you do seek proper medical attention. Try to find a doctor’s clinic that speaks your native language, or an international standard hospital (most major tourist centres and cities will have one of these). I always make sure that I’m covered by a comprehensive travel insurance policy when I head overseas, so I’m not caught out with any large unexpected medical costs if something goes really wrong. Luckily I haven’t had to use it just yet!

Have you been sick or injured overseas? How did you deal with it?

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Travel, adventures and exploring the world

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