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Where the bloody hell are you?!

It’s been a while since I last posted but I’ve been enjoying a 40 day tour through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The trip has been non-stop and although the availability of WiFi in these areas is nothing short of surprising I have had a number of connection and technical issues. 

The good news is there is approximately one week left of the tour and then I should have some time to post where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. 

If you want to have a look at where I am at the moment check out my trip overview at:

http://www.intrepidtravel.com/vietnam/best-indochina-49423

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From Phi Phi Island, with love x

It’s not often that you find a place that looks better than the postcards but that is how I feel about the Phi Phi islands. As the ferry arrived in Tonsai I was blown away by the clear, turquoise water and the limestone cliff face that defines Phi Phi’s profile against a bright blue sky.

The famous isthmus of the stunning Phi Phi Don

The area “Phi Phi” that most tourists refer to actually relates to two islands: Phi Phi Don; being the area for accommodation, restaurants, nightlife, and nightly beach activities, and Phi Phi Ley which includes Maya Bay, made famous by the 1999 Leonardo Di Caprio movie, “The Beach”.

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Most of Phi Phi is road-less with the main form of transport being by foot or by long-boats. Tonsai, where the ferry docks, is the main activity centre where you follow narrow pathways lined with shops, market stalls, tourist information, bars and restaurants. If you take an unexpected turn you will end up on the sanded paths which are frequented moreso by the 20,000 island locals and offer ‘real’ Thai cuisine and half the price than those restaurants in the main thoroughfare. The cuisine is offered in shack-like structures with no so-called walls that just adds to the authenticity. Luckily, this part of the island is an isthmus so if you take a wrong turn it isn’t hard to navigate back to one of the two parallel beaches – Tonsai Bay and Lo Da Lum Bay (the party beach).

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People come to the Phi Phi islands to either relax and “get away from it all” in beautiful scenery or (and probably the most common reason) to enjoy the crazy nightly life including infamous beach parties with fire games and bars that are full to capacity spilling onto the narrow paved pathways. Unfortunately sometimes these parties give Phi Phi a bad name as it is difficult to escape this noise and those not aware of this reputation are often disappointed that their quiet getaway is interrupted until 3am most mornings with pumping music.

I was one of those people who went to Phi Phi to relax in a bungalow and spend my days lounging by the beach with a bit of partying thrown in. Unfortunately because I told the booking agents that I wanted somewhere quiet they booked me in at a very remote resort which at night the only access was via long-tail boat which could cost up to 1,000 Baht and was unsafe. Needless to say I never went to the beach parties but did have a few nights of drinking at the resort bar.

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I stayed at Power Beach Resort which is poorly rated on TripAdvisor but if you go in not expecting the best you will be pleasantly surprised. Originally I booked a fan bungalow but when the porter led me up a ridiculously steep set of uneven stairs high into the jungle which had gaps in the floor boards and no safe deposit box and an interesting smell I upgraded to an air-conditioned room which was much nicer and a lot closer to the beach although a lot more expensive at 2,500 Baht a night. As far as I was concerned it was money well spent. Each of the rooms had a veranda with a nice lounging chair to relax on. What the rooms lacked, the staff made up for – they introduced me to the Thai friendliness and looked after me well. When I cut my foot on coral the manager bathed in daily for me. The dining area has a relaxed feel about it and I made multiple friends there or laying on the beach chairs. A couple of days into the stay I ventured next door to Relax Beach Resort which when compared to my resort looked and felt like a 5 star resort despite not having electricity during the day and only fan bungalows. I spent most of my remaining time here as the food was much nicer than that on offer at Power Beach. Unfortunately this resort is usually booked out at least a month in advance so I wasn’t able to move over, however, I really enjoyed my stay at Power Beach and would recommend anyone to stay there (in an air-conditioned room only!) and spend days at Relax Beach Resort.

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I went on an amazing tour organised by Relax Beach which is a must-do. There are hundreds of versions of this trip offered on the island with the main difference being whether you go on a long tail boat or a speed boat. It stops at a number of stops on Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Lay, Bamboo and Mosquito Islands. The scenery is postcard-like but due to the popularity of this tour expect hoards of tourist at every stop which takes away some of the magic. Particularly at Maya Bay which is the famous bay from the movie The Beach. An evening tour to Maya Bay was highly recommended to me as you can enjoy this stunning location without the beach being littered with people and boats. My tour cost 1,200 Baht which included lunch and a lot of entertainment. One of our long tail boats broke down (this is a common occurrence on the island) so it was decided to tie two boats together long ways to power it with one engine. Unfortunately, one boat was heavier and water poured into the other drenching everyone. At this point, the drivers decided it was best to tow the broken down boat and tried to untie the ropes in the middle of nowhere while still moving forward. He untied the front rope but let go of the rope as the two boats pulled away from each other. They were still connected by a rope at the back, and as they were pulling away from being parallel to in a straight line at quite a speed they couldn’t separate and both boats were dangerously close to tipping over until the rope snapped in the nick of time. Just thinking about everyone’s valuables that they had with them on the boat still makes me nervous.

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I also spent a lot of time hiking to the viewpoints which in the humidity was quite tough but worth it with spectacular views. It is also popular to hike at sunset but again if you are in a remote area it is quite difficult to access and to walk from our side of the island is very dangerous as there have been stories of robberies and vicious monkeys. I had one run in with monkeys up there but luckily I wasn’t their target – they ferociously ran at an American with food in his hand and ran off with it when one of the locals started using her sling shot on them, not before the other monkeys in the trees started throwing nuts at us. Always an entertaining experience.

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The best thing about Phi Phi is the people – both the locals and those staying at the two resorts I visited. It was easy to find a beach buddy or drinking buddy alike. Now, a couple weeks on I look back and can’t wait  to have another relaxing beach resort experience just like this one!

– Wish you were here xx

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Playing Ping Pong in Patong

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As I wander through Patong at 7am seeking coffee I wonder what all the fuss is about. The streets are empty of people, yet the constant flow of traffic has already begun. Later I realise that Patong doesn’t come alive until after 11am – a true indication of a party town. I relish this time to navigate myself through the maze of alleyways until I find the long, soft white sand beach littered with men assembling their beach chairs for the day to rent at 100 Baht.

I spend some time relaxing on Patong beach after a swim in the beautiful aqua, warm water  under one of the umbrellas after I have been suitably sated by a caffeine hit. No better way to start the day. I In front of me an older Italian gentleman is set up under his umbrella with three sets of tiny Speedos (or DT’s) which he continues to change throughout the day, right in my view of course. He speaks minimal English yet feels the need to approach me and sweep my chair of sand. Quite a character.

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Later in the day it is although I’m in a different place; on every corner I am asked “Taxi, Taxi?” or “DvD?” by men with their own constructed street-side stores. Others push around large trolleys with an array of food on them including fruits, shakes and noodle dishes whilst some have converted scooters for their produce or carry them on their shoulders. The actual shops offer an array of goods that Thailand is so well known for: fake Louis Vuitton, Ray Ban, Dolce & Gabbana, even Mac and Puma. I am surprised to find that although one might feel slightly harassed walking through the streets during this chaotic time I found that as soon as you said no politely, or offered a quiet shake of the head there was no more pressure.

The biggest confrontation is the Thai women (although I questioned whether they were all women) sitting outside their massage parlours applying make-up, sometimes six of them sit at a time, trying to accost both men and women for a massage. I’m warned early on not to accept the massage when you can’t see inside the store, unless of course you’re wanting a “special” massage (which I am not!). Then later in the evening I am confronted again by the men who sit alone at bars and the women who keep them company, becoming more brazen as the night progresses. Bang La Road is infamous for this yet for some reason it is still a shock. While I sit at Starbucks overlooking the evenings activities on this renowned road where street vendors sell neon lights and the music is pumping I meet two people, both from Brisbane and one which went to my school. It was one of those situations which makes you realise how small the world really is. We reminisced about our school and spend the evening enjoying Thai food, cocktails and releasing lanterns into the night sky from the beach.

Where did I stay?

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Patong Terrace Boutique Hotel – I had a terrace room which consisted of a king-size bed and balcony, with a mini-bar and decent bathroom. Best of all there was free Wifi and the room was surprising quiet despite being perched right above Rath-U-Thit Road which was one of the busiest thoroughfares 24/7. All of the staff were absolutely lovely and on my birthday they even surprised my by filling my room with balloons and a special note. They greeted me daily and were always willing to go above and beyond offering advice when asked. Although on the more expensive end of my budget it was a great way to spend my first nights of solo travel and so conveniently located. I enjoyed the stay so much I extended by an extra day and would recommend for anyone staying in Patong.

What did I do?

The highlight of my days, other than those mentioned above was a cooking school I treated myself to on my birthday at Pum Cooking School. It was a four hour class and in a group of six we each made four meals of our choice. We were fortunate that Pum took our class as she has quite a few stores around the world and is definitely a very knowledgeable and entertaining teacher. The class included some insights into Thai culture as well as a visit to the market and of course a lot of laughs and delicious Thai food (if I don’t say so myself). Definitely worth the 2,000 Baht I paid and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in something similar.

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Later on my birthday I treated myself to a 45 minute foot massage and one hour Thai massage at Let’s Relax. Although it was more expensive then the street vendors at 900 Baht, it still only equated to 30 AUD which is a steal for a massage in Australia. It was well run, very professional and relaxing. The company has stores in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chonburi. It topped off a wonderful birthday.

Another day as I was walking through the streets and stopped at a fish tank, where you put your feet in the water and the fish eat all the dead skin. You can do this for as long as you want, however, I wanted to do it for the novelty, so paid 50 Baht for five minutes. It was very difficult not to giggle as I am very ticklish! My feet felt smooth after just five minutes!

                                                                        The fruit used to make delicious fruit shakes                                 Trying very hard not to giggle while my feet are exfoliated

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The Hawaii Diaries: Day 12 – Tantrums & Tsunamis

Day 12 – 25th October 2012 – Honolulu

Back to Waikiki and the beloved Banyan Tree. Ben andI go for a surf in the morning and in the afternoon to celebrate our last day in Hawaii. In between the surf, Dad and I go on a bit of a shopping spree fun.

My surfing has improved dramatically despite not being able to surf whilst on the cruise. During the afternoon surf session a man and a younger guy start to paddle for a wave that I’ve already started paddling hard for (and I’m much further out than them). As it is I’m paddling to the furthest left side of the hundreds of Waikiki surfers due to plain intimidation or fear of causing an accident. I decide to keep paddling towards these guys and I’m certain they must know surfing etiquette if I do, right? Since I can only surf in a straight line I’m sure they will veer away. Of course I was wrong – both guys stand on their boards less than a metre from me and keep going on the wave. As per usual I totally nosedive before even standing. On my way back out I see the older guy staring at me. As I keep paddling he says “I hope you are heading out that way”, indicating even further away from everyone else. I ask, “Why?” and he says “because you are DANGEROUS!” so again, not being a confrontational person I ask “why?” and he says I almost crashed into two people.

Not quite understanding whether I was in the wrong and being too scared to stand up for myself I paddled off, heart beating hard. Ben was out further so I paddled to him and explained what had happened. We could see the man was making snide remarks about me to the younger guy and I was getting really worked up! Ben slowly paddled closer to the guy to try and overhear him and then caught a wave. Unsurprisingly, the older guy cut in on Ben too but mid way when they are both standing Ben calls out “my sister isn’t dangerous!”, unfortunately the older guy didn’t hear him and when they were paddling back out he called, “what’d ya say buddy?” and Ben repeated himself. What prevailed was quite amusing, although not at the time. Ben and the older guy had a bit of a splashing war. The man finally heads into shore and I’m scared he has gone to get back up. I’ve now lost my confidence  and so decide to head in. Ben says he will follow me. I can’t find Ben on the shore when I’ve handed in my board for at least another 30 minutes. Watching the sunset I’m starting to visualise this guy getting some island friends to come and sort my brother out. Contemplating my options he finally comes in – Phew!! Crisis over. I will be practicing my surfing in isolation now.

Looking back this is the funniest story of the trip. It was just so comedic watching them splash around – both as serious as the other. Needless to say I haven’t been surfing since.

If only that was the most eventful part of the day…

We go to Waikiki’s only revolving restaurant for dinner. It’s the best food we’ve had so far. During our meal our waiter tells us there has been a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in Canada and all of Hawaii has a tsunami warning! We are used to warnings that never eventuate having grown up in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Queensland so we don’t rush back to the hotel. When we get there we go to our separate rooms after the concierge has assured us it is likely nothing will eventuate. Mum starts stressing out and comes to our room yelling that we are going to be evacuated and to start packing up because we need to find a hill. Her eyes are wide and wild. She spends too much time listening to crazy people in the lifts. We finally convince her to leave our room.

It’s one hour until the supposed tsunami will hit and Ben and I have the news on. It seems like a very serious matter as it is all that is on TV. There are reports that tsunami alarms have failed to go off on some of the islands and as there was a bad tsunami the year before after the Japan earthquake everyone is on edge. Ben and I are still convinced that it is a false alarm when mum calls us again pleading for us to come to the sixth floor. We refuse as are beds are so comfy and we are absolutely exhausted.

Finally, after another four calls mum and dad decide to knock on our door. Dad calls reception and they tell us we should have heard the warnings to evacuate (none of us heard any announcements) and that we needed to immediately head to the ballroom. When we get there people are prepared for the long-haul – Food and water rations are being provided which everyone rushes too and greedily takes more than their fair share, even though they would have just eaten dinner. Bedding is also supplied. It’s like a scene from a movie and I can imagine everyone slowly plotting against each other to ensure their own survival.

People are finding their own space where they can and creating make-shift beds or gathering around the TV. We finally realise this isn’t going to go away easily so I go to sleep under the table. I’m woken at 1am and told it is all over. The tsunami never hit, although waves were reported to be larger than normal.

Off to bed silently hoping our flight home tomorrow is cancelled. Unfortunately it wasn’t.

– Wish you were here xx

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The Hawaii Diaries: Day 11 – Kawaii

Day 11 – 24th October 2012 – Kawaii

Kawaii seems to be the most untouched and isolated island which appeals to me. For some reason I can’t shake the feeling we are in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of the world (yet in an endless Summer), it seems so faraway from our everyday lives that we are finally able to completely relax. We decide to have another quiet day and spend the day at the beach near where our boat is moored. It happens to be right in front of the Mariott hotel and we couldn’t ask for much more – the grounds at the Mariott are so well maintained – the setting looks exactly like a postcard. We almost wish we didn’t have to get back on the ship today and mum and dad resolve that they will return here next time they visit the US.

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We spend the day sunbaking, paddleboarding, eating at the hotel’s pool bar and wondering through the hotel’s grounds. It was a lovely day to end the cruise.

– Wish you were here x

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The Hawaii Diaries: Day 10 – Kawaii

Day 10: 23rd October 2012 – Kawaii

I’ve read about a beach called Hanelei Bay which regularly wins best beach in America awards. This is also the garden island so we decide to go for a bit of a drive. This is where Jurassic Park was filmed and it isn’t hard to see why – it looks exactly like it does in the movies.

The beach is huge and the drive is scenic. We spend the day relaxing and hanging out in the area. It was nice to have a quiet day with the family consisting of lounging, swimming, card games and beautiful Mexican food. What a life!

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– Wish you were here xx

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The Hawaii Diaries: Day 9 – Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii

Day 9: 22nd October 2012 – Kona

As the others are sleeping in I go to the mainland to find some decent coffee. We agree to meet at Starbucks at midday. As the name suggests, this is the largest island and as such, Hilo is quite a populated area with everything from Burger King (more about that later), to Starbucks to designer outlets.

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I find myself a coffee and walk through the farmers market – there are so many exotic fruit and vegetables. I buy a HUGE mango, a custard apple and some delicious Phillipino bananas. The bananas are actually grown on the island despite the name, but I’m told by the friendly shop keeper that there are over 300 species available. I taste test some and am so impressed bananas can be so delicious, they are much nicer and sweeter than Australian bananas.

I hike up to Starbucks to meet the family – if I had of known it was such a hike I would have suggested somewhere else. The humidity makes even the shortest walk almost unbearable. Whilst sweating profusely on the walk I decide that I could live on this island, even if it was just for a few months. There are so many outdoor activities; I could spend my Summer hiking, swimming, surfing and eating amazing fresh produce. I try to weigh up my current planned tour of Asia with a summer on a tropical island – both appeal to me a lot.

Mum and dad decide to the back to the boat to relax as it is so hot so Ben and I hire scooters and go for a ride. There are some awesome waves and we go to Turtle Bay for a quick dip where I spot a few turtles within minutes. They are so close to shore in a highly populated beach and most are in less than a metre of water. Truly impressive.

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At one point in the day we stop at Burger King. It was cheaper to buy all this than to opt for a smaller meal...

At one point in the day we stop at Burger King. It was cheaper to buy all this than to opt for a smaller meal…

We drive further and find volcanic rocks where the swell hits and gushes over the top. It may not sound that impressive but the waves and impact was huge and made some great photos.IMG_3023

– Wish you were here xx

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The Hawaii Diaires: Day 8 – Hilo, The Big Island, Hawaii

Day 8: 21st October 2012 – Hilo

Today we arrived at the Port of Hilo. We had another ship-organised tour of the Volcano National Park including a crater trek and Akaka falls. Mum is doing a gourmet tour instead as hiking wasn’t her idea of a holiday (I don’t blame her!)

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Last night we were drinking cocktails and whilst I didn’t have much I am very ill today. I’ve been up since 4am hugging the toilet bowl – I shouldn’t mix my drinks! I try to have breakfast and endure a very long bus ride to the National Park with limited air conditioning but can barely keep my head up. As soon as we stop I lose my breakfast which ends up being the best thing that could have happened as I’m finally prepared to go trekking.

Again, Ben, Dad and I hoped since this was quite an active tour that there would be no oldies, but unfortunately some may have overestimated their abilities and the four mile trek was a slow one. There was a lot of cloud on the day and at the start of the walk visibility into the crater was minimal. Luckily it cleared up a lot along the way. The crater was pretty cool – you are transported back in time as it is so untouched. Walking through a large lava cave it is not difficult to imagine the lava flows which is kind of scary.

After the hike we visited the Park’s museum and from there we could see another crater which had lava about 100 feet down. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get close enough to see the lava, but there was smoke and at night you are able to see a glow from the crater. Having never been near lava this was quite exciting. Apparently this particular crater’s lava levels have been steadily rising and there is some concern it might overflow.

The tour bus took us to Akaka falls which is the largest free flowing waterfall on this island. To get there we go through the town and along the coast – so much surf and tropical gardens. This island certainly has a particular appeal to me.

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We do another little hike at the falls through some lovely gardens. Both the falls and the surrounds are beautiful. It is hard to describe how stunning they actually are.

The next day we were planning on seeing Hilo’s lava flows which is where lava flows over the cliffs and into the ocean – apparently in the early evening it is a must-see and beautiful. Unfortunately our timing isn’t right and the only lava flow on the island is on private land so we weren’t able to see it although later that night while we were playing cards (I was winning of course) the captain announced that there was lava flow we could see from the boat. Being quite far offshore and without wearing glasses, it looked to me like a line of lights lit up on the island but nevertheless I’m glad that we did get to cross sighting lava off our list.

 

– Wish you were here xx

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Patong is a Lady (boy) of the night

The heat hits you like a slap in the face as you walk out of Phuket airport. Thai men are lined up along the airport pick up area all vying for your attention, “Where are you going miss? I take you there!” Luckily, I had received the best piece of advice I’ve needed to date from my friend Moff – keep your head down and walk straight to the metered taxis!  Finding the whole scene so hectic and surreal I tried to reason with the men, “Sorry I have a ride already.”

“Who with?” they replied.

“I am going to take a metered taxi”

“There are none!” a particularly brazen man pointed to a stand that had ‘Taxi Meter’ emblazoned across the top, which to my horror had a sign ‘No Taxis’.

“I’m just going to go talk to him and come back ok” and I wandered away. Arriving at the stand I inquired, “are there really no taxis?!’

‘Where you going’ the man replied so fast I could hardly understand him.

“Patong” and I showed him the address.

“500 baht! You wait!”

And so I waited about twenty minutes by the taxi stand taking in my surroundings. Others were doing the same as me, some having the luck I did and others being turned away for unapparent reasons as it seems I wasn’t the only ones having the language problems with the fast-talking taxi-dealer.

The window of the taxi stand was roughly pushed open “Miss your taxi two minutes away! Go now!” Being said incredibly fast so I can only assume this is what was said.

Getting in the air conditioned taxi was like finding heaven on earth. The heat in Phuket at even 8:30pm was incredible, and such a dry heat that I could feel my clothes sticking to me immediately.

My taxi driver was all smiles but unfortunately spoke little English. I was disappointed as I was hoping he would double as a tour guide as I took in Phuket through the window. He did try though and pointed out things he thought I would be interested in, “Shopping Outlet” he said gesturing eagerly, followed by “Sea Pearl Resort” for which the entrance was quite magnificent set against the run down surrounds we were driving through. I followed up with an obligatory “ohhh, wow” and he was pleased with himself. There was a huge billboard for a Fantasea show and my tour guide pointed and said “Show!”, “Good show?” I replied. “Yes, good show” (I have since been warned by another friend that this is not the case). This was the extent of our conversation, although it was a blessing in disguise; I was exhausted from a day of traveling and trying to take in everything I could.

The cars are the king of the roads, swerving and ignoring lanes and speed limits. My heart only stopped about three times – I take this to mean my taxi driver was a good driver. Scooters outnumber the cars and have their own lanes – they are chaotic, and many, each with anywhere between one and four (probably more) passengers, and some with so much cargo that I wouldn’t have thought would fit in a car let alone a scooter. Some of the locals didn’t wear helmets and I shook my head – they must have more luck than me on those things.

For a Monday night there were people everywhere. It appears Phuket, especially Patong, never sleeps – it is a lady (boy) of the night and through it’s boisterous charm and smiling, friendly people it has utterly seduced me.

*Meter taxi to Patong Terrace Boutique Hotel was quoted as 500 baht and ended up costing 312 Baht. Knowing that tipping is customary but still getting used to the currency I still paid 500 Baht and was offered no change, although satisfied with the drive I decided to let it slide.

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The Hawaii Diaries: Day 6 – Snorkelling in Maui, Hawaii

Day 6: 19th October 2012 – Maui

We did one of the boat’s snorkelling tours today. Given that Ben and I were two of about 20 people under 30 on the boat (and the only single people in seemed). We hoped not too many would come, but there was about 100 and most of them were older Americans who had problems swimming let alone snorkelling…

Ben and I a bit apprehensive about diving into the deep blue sea

Ben and I a bit apprehensive about diving into the deep blue sea

The first stop was a crater Island called Molokini. It is crater shaped and apparently half of a rim of an underwater crater but our guides told us this wasn’t the case and it was actually from lava flow. Either way, it was like a big rock in the middle of nowhere and we just jumped off the boat and snorkelled which was pretty intense given my severe fear of sharks. It was worth getting the heart racing though as I saw 1000’s of fish, eels and even an octopus.

Photo courtesy of www.mauiguidebook.com

Molokini Crater

Our next stop was turtle cove which was another jump off the boat in deep ocean but seeing huge turtles and swimming only a metre from themmade it worthwhile. It was such an amazing and educational day and certainly one of my favourite on the trip.

Photo Courtesy of www.scuba.com

Turtle Cove

The girls working on the boat were so passionate about their cause (saving whales and educating the public about marine life). They made the enjoyable trip even more enjoyable.

We watched a good show on the boat that night: Lights, camera & action

– Wish you were here xx

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