August was a busy month for the us. Both girls competed at the Zone Athletics carnival and performed very well receiving various placings and ribbons. Alice’s 2nd place in Long Jump and Lucy’s 3rd place in the 800m qualified them both for the Diocese Carnival. This carnival saw them compete against Catholic Primary schools from Tweed Heads down to Port Macquarie and everywhere in between. Lucy didn’t have a very good run and didn’t place in her race. Alice surprised everyone by placing 3rd and earning a spot at the Polding Carnival in Sydney next term. She will be competing for a spot at the NSW State Carnival. We are all very proud of them both for their commitment.
The girls and I have had a few morning tea dates to celebrate various things happening in our lives. Along with their sporting achievements, we learned Alice has been accepted to Kincumber High school next year which we are all pleased about. We’ve heard great things about the school and knew it was hard to gain a spot as we were out of zone so were grateful to receive her acceptance letter.
So far September has been a bit turbulent with another large fire in our community starting late last week. As with most rural areas of Australia, the area surrounding us is so dry and fires can escalate very quickly. There is very little water in the river and our towns are struggling. Damaging winds are making this fire very difficult to control and we are all hoping that it is controlled very soon. It’s a very stressful time as our surrounding community are still trying to recover form the last devastating fire in February.
We had booked a night accommodation on Saturday night in Byron and decided to still go and just keep a watch on the fire from there. It was a nice little escape away from the smoke and wind for a couple of days.
We all have our fingers crossed these fires will be contained soon and we can only hope some much needed rain will come sometime.
Day Eight (Tuesday) – This is finally the end of my travel diary from Phuket. All of the tours we had planned were done and we had a couple of much needed rest days before flying back home.
The girls had been keen to get their hair braided so we left Linden back at the hotel to have some free time and I walked down the street with them to find a place that could do it. It cost around $35 each which I didn’t think was too bad and took around 2 hours. While I waited, I had a lovely hour long full body massage. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a roll up icecream, it was so cool to watch them make it.
Before leaving home, I’d borrowed a Lonely Plant book on Phuket and had heard about a restaurant called ‘The Pad Thai Shop’ that had really good reviews so Linden and I went for a walk to find it. The girls were happy to stay in the room and watch tv while we went out for lunch. We ordered a chicken pad thai to share and it was so fresh and tasty. It only cost around $2.50 for a huge meal. I know why they had rave reviews and why the place is always packed. I’m sure we would have walked straight past the place if we hadn’t known about it. Linden was so impressed, he ended up there for lunch three days in a row!
We had booked the shuttle bus to go back into Patong in the evening for a last look around but it was bucketing down rain and we couldn’t get around without getting soaked through. We ended up wandering around Otop Market and trying to get undercover as much as possible. By the time we got back to the shuttle bus, we were soaked so ended up back at the hotel for dinner.
Day Nine (Wednesday) – The day was spent relaxing and not doing much at all. The morning we stayed at the pool and then walked down to have a look at Kata Beach but by the time we got there the rain had started again and it was very windy so the beach wasn’t as inviting as we’d hoped. We decided to take the girls to the Pad Thai Shop for lunch and see what they thought. It was more crowded than yesterday but we managed to get a table and ordered chicken pad thai, chicken pad see ew and a beef noodle soup. It was all so delicious and the girls tried everything. It would have cost around $12 and that included 2 coconut waters and 3 icecreams! Such great value.
The afternoon was spent back at the hotel where we enjoyed cocktails and smoothies at the swim up bar.
Day Ten (Thursday) – Our last day in Phuket today and it poured rain all day. We’d really been very lucky with the weather. It only raining heavily the last couple of days when we didn’t have any tours booked.
Our airport transfer was booked for 4.30pm so we had most of the day to ourselves. When the rain eased a little, we decided to go out for lunch. The girls and I decided to try a restaurant close by – they felt like burgers and chips and I had a pizza that we shared. Linden decided he wanted to go back to his favourite place for pad thai again.
After lunch the girls and I walked up to the shops and bought a few little souvenirs and some snacks.
The flight home wasn’t until around 8pm and we only had a short stopover at Singapore – enough to change terminals and board the next plane.
It was nice to be back home and sleep in our own beds but it was great to get away and experience another country and culture. We have so many good memories and photos of our holiday. Now to plan the next one!
Day Seven (Monday) – We had been looking forward to this day for months. My dear friend Renee recommended the John Gray Sea Canoe Hong by Starlight tour and we’d seen many rave reviews online for it. I booked direct with the company online before we left and the service was amazing. Their correspondence and organisation made me feel very relaxed about the trip. I thoroughly recommend them, to see more or to book for yourselves, their website is here. I loved that the company have won many Ecotourism awards, are incredibly safe and serve healthy, chemical free food which is all prepared fresh on the boat. I made a little video of our day if you want to check it out https://vimeo.com/351958403.
A driver collected us from our hotel around 10.30am and we collected some other guests at nearby hotels before driving up to the Marina to meet the tour group. There were two boats going out and we were on Boat Two. We all sat upstairs and the kayaks were stacked on the bottom deck. After boarding, we chose a name out of a cup and that would be our paddling guide for the day. Alice and I chose ‘Meen’, a young Thai guy who was lots of fun. His English was really good and he was telling us that he had been a guide for two years, only learning English from the tourists he meets on these trips. Lucy and Linden chose ‘Hunny’, a young Thai girl who had very limited English and must only be new to the company as her paddling skills weren’t great but she was so happy and enthusiastic.
It took about an hour to get to the first destination and while we were onboard a delicious lunch was served. There were vegetarian spring rolls and a noodle salad. It was all so tasty and even Lucy ate about 10 spring rolls.
Phang Nga Bay was stunning, very different to Phi Phi Islands. The kayaks were really stable and easy to get in and out of. We just had to sit, relax and enjoy the scenery while our guide paddled us around. The first cave we went into was the Bat Cave which was home to lots of small insect bats. It was pitch black inside but our guides had headtorches to shine up in the roof so we could see the bats.
At the other end, we had to lay down to get out into the lagoon. It opened up into a beautiful ‘Hong’ (Thai for Room) and we paddled around and then through a little channel into a connecting lagoon. There were a lot of other tour groups paddling around. I was surprised how busy it was. In the second lagoon, we saw a monkey sitting in a tree. Our guide Meen was telling us that John Gray is the only company that doesn’t feed the monkeys which we were really happy to hear. He said they should be eating the fish and crabs, not bananas fed by the other groups. We also saw mudskipper fish in the mangroves. Back into the first lagoon, we were paddling around and saw a dozen or so monkeys jumping off rocks and swimming towards the kayaks. A couple of them climbed onto other kayaks. They were very cute to watch but I’m glad they didn’t climb onto our kayak. I wouldn’t want them getting too close.
We went back through the cave, out into the open water and then paddled around the rocks looking at lots of crabs and stalactites and we even saw a huge white breasted se eagle diving for fish.
Back on board for afternoon tea then to our next destination, Hong Island. We went through the Oyster Cave and inside Hong Island which was picture perfect. We explored around for a while, just admiring the scenery before heading back to the boat. The boat took us to a secluded beach for some free time where we had a go at paddling the kayaks ourselves, swam and the girls did flips off the boat. The guides were surprised at how well Alice could manage the kayak on her own.
Once we were back on board, we spent time making a ‘Kratong’ which is a floral/incense/candle arrangement to be floated later in the evening. Our guides helped us make them out of banana stems and leaves and orchids. They made little birds out of the orchid buds, they were amazing how intricate they were.
Dinner was amazing, the best Tom Yum Soup I’ve ever tasted, chicken cashew nut, vegetarian massaman curry, black/red rice, vegetables, chicken kebabs and prawn kebabs and whole fish. There was so much variety and so tasty. Much better than the buffet dinners we’d been getting at the hotel.
After dinner, we got back into our kayaks and headed back into the Bat Cave to light our kratongs and make a wish. They looked beautiful with candles flickering in the dark. We made sure we took them back to the boat after so they didn’t damage the environment.
Lastly, all the lights were turned off in the cave and our guides showed us the bioluminescent plankton floating in the water.
It really was a magical tour and definitely a highlight of our holiday.
Day Six (Sunday) – We weren’t planning on a trip to Phi Phi Island as we’d heard the seas can get pretty rough heading over during the low season and visibility for snorkeling wasn’t great though speaking to a tour operator and having seen some photos of the day before, we booked a trip at the last minute. I’m so glad we did the trip, we all had a fantastic day and the weather was perfect.
We were picked up from the hotel by a driver at 8.30am and drove around an hour to the Royal Marina to meet our tour guide and boat. The tour we had chosen was a speedboat so it would take around an hour to get to the islands from the Marina. There were around 25 people on the trip, mostly Australians and New Zealanders.
Our guide for the day, Moo Moo, wanted to organize photographs of each family before getting onto the boat and we were first up. For some reason, I took off my backpack and put it on the edge of the Marina and as I turned around, I heard a splash – looked around and there was my backpack bobbing up and down in the water a few metres below us. I was so embarrassed and I’m sure Linden and the girls just wanted to crawl into a hole and pretend they didn’t know me. Thankfully it floated and one of the staff fished it out of the water. I’m glad that nothing was damaged, even the car keys that I’d forgotten were in there.
After embarrassing the family, I tried hard for the rest of the day to keep out of trouble. Our first stop was Bamboo Island which was postcard perfect. The water was so warm, clear and bright blue. We spent around an hour there swimming and practicing with the snorkels and masks.
After Bamboo Island we went to Phileh Lagoon which was a stunning little cove where we moored and jumped off the boat to swim. The girls were showing off with their flips and had a ball.
We then stopped at the mouth of the lagoon to snorkel. There were lots of striped fish, some rainbow fish and angel fish. There were bright blue clams, sea urchins and coral too. It was so lovely to spend time just floating and observing the world under the sea.
There was a stop to look at the Viking Cave where little birds from Siberia nest. A man lives there to protect the nests as they’re very expensive and used in Birds’ Nest Soup. There were big bamboo scaffolds to climb up to get the nests.
Then we stopped to look at Monkey Beach. Unfortunately, they monkeys have become so used to tourists feeding them that they expect food whenever they see boats coming. They also carry diseases so I was grateful our boat only stopped so we could see them, without getting too close. One swam out to the boat in the hope we’d give it some food.
Lunch was on Phi Phi Don, the largest island at The Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort. It was a set Thai menu and was so fresh and delicious.
After lunch, we had around an hour trip to Rang Yai Island for another swimming stop but the wind had come up and it wasn’t quite as inviting as Bamboo Island earlier in the day. The seas started getting rough on the way and a couple of the younger kids got seasick. I’m so glad we didn’t get sick. I’m so glad we made the last minute decision to visit the islands. It was so beautiful and well worth it. I think we would have all been disappointed if we got home and didn’t make the trip.
Next up, John Gray Sea Canoe Hong by Starlight Tour.
Day Five (Saturday) – Before we left for our trip, I had done some research into different things to see once we were in Phuket. I’d planned our few tours and made sure we had some rest days. I wanted the girls to see some Buddhist Temples and I’d read a bit about Old Phuket Town and the weekend market so I organized to hire a driver to take us around for an afternoon.
As the weekend market is only late afternoon and into the evening, the driver was booked to pick us up from our hotel at 12.00pm and then spend 6 hours showing us around. As luck would have it, we got our first taste of monsoon rain and it started just as we left the hotel. It bucketed down and it wasn’t looking too good for our afternoon of sightseeing which was a bit disappointing. The driver drove us up the hill to the Big Buddha but the rain was so hard that we could not see anything. The road was steep and the drains don’t work too well so there were flooded sections and the van was slipping around a bit. I was a bit nervous but we finally made it to the top of the hill. It was a bit of a waste of time, the Big Buddha would have been right there, but we couldn’t see any of it! People were huddled under awnings waiting for the rain to stop but we really had no idea how long that would take.
We turned around and went back down the hill and drove to Wat Chalong, a stunning Buddhist temple with beautiful artworks and golden Buddha statues. The Grand Pavilion holds a splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone and many people come to worship here. It’s a very popular place for tourists. When we arrived the rain was still falling heavily and it wasn’t worth getting out of the van.
We were really starting to worry that our afternoon would be a big disappointment. Our driver said that even Old Phuket had ‘Big Rain’ and he suggested taking us to a couple of places that were inside. Typical of tour guides, he took us to some overpriced jewellery emporiums aimed at rich tourists in the hope that he would get some commission I guess. We also went to a cashew nut factory which was not really a factory at all, just another overpriced shop to sell flavoured cashew nuts.
Thankfully by the time we had wasted a bit of time, the rain cleared and we asked to go back to Wat Chalong so we could wander around and take some photographs. I’m really glad we managed to get back there, it really was special.
We then drove to Old Phuket Town and walked around the streets looking at the beautiful Portuguese influenced architecture and quaint little stores and cafes. It was more upmarket and trendy than Patong and Karon and we really enjoyed the colour and atmosphere of the streets. I bought myself some beautiful fabric though I really have no idea what I’ll do with it. We stopped in a little café in an alleyway and enjoyed some iced coffees and smoothies.
After an hour or so exploring Old Phuket Town, we went to the weekend market to explore for a couple of hours. The market is open from 4pm until 10pm and is a mix of food stalls and clothes, shoes, bags etc. Most of the clothes stalls were very similar to everywhere else in Phuket and we didn’t see much that interested us. We bought a few little bits and pieces, some clothes for the girls and a cheap pair of shoes for me.
I think we were more interested in looking at all the different food stalls, there was so much to see and smell. We were keen to try out a few different things but also mindful of what street food would be safe to eat. We tried some little coconut fried pancakes and I had some mango sticky rice. The girls had a homemade icecream each and fruit shakes which seem to be a daily occurrence. Linden bought some thai fish cakes which were being fried fresh as we waited. 10 fish cakes cost around $1.50 and were delicious! As we were leaving we bought custard filled donuts to take back to the hotel. The food there was so good!
All in all it was a big day and well worth hiring a driver to get us around. It was a shame we didn’t get to see the Big Buddha but I think considering the weather, we did pretty good to see everything we did.
My next post will be about our day trip to Phi Phi Island.