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Travel Diary – Phuket Part 4

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

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.

Travel Diary – Phuket Part 3

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.

Travel Diary – Phuket Part 2

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.

Travel Diary – Phuket Part 1

We’ve been back from our Phuket holiday for a week already and we have so many wonderful memories and photographs from our 8 night holiday.

I’ll split my diary up into sections since we packed so much in. I think it’s too much for one Blog Post.

Day One (Tuesday) – This was going to be a big tiring day since our flight wasn’t until 5 minutes to midnight and Brisbane Airport is a 3 and a half our drive away. First stop was dropping Minnie off to her doggy accommodation for 10 days. She seemed really happy to be back to the Pet Resort and ready to make some new friends. We continued up the Coast, stopping at Robina Shopping Centre to spend some of Alice’s birthday gift cards. After that we dropped in to my dear Uncle John and Aunt Sheila in Brisbane. They are so very special to me and I hope they know just how much we love them. Uncle John reminds me so much of my Dad who I only knew for 18 years before he died suddenly. I hold Uncle John so close to my heart as he’s the closest thing I have to my Dad.

We then caught up with my beautiful cousin Cate for dinner and she took us to a fabulous Thai restaurant to get our taste buds ready for our adventure.

Checking in at Brisbane Airport was super easy and we had about 3 hour wait for our flight. We flew Singapore Airlines and the first flight was around 8 hours to Singapore where we had a 4 hour stopover before our next flight. The plane was comfortable and the girls were excited to have their own screen to choose from hundreds of movies, tv shows and music. We were well looked after by the air hostesses. We all tried to get a bit of sleep and arrived at Singapore around 5.30am (Singapore time). There’s so much to see and do at Singapore Airport with gardens at each Terminal. We caught the sky train between terminals and visited the Sunflower Garden, Orchid Garden and Butterfly Garden. The new Jewel space is now open but the huge inside waterfall doesn’t start running until 8am so the girls did a quick trip back there before boarding our next flight to see it running. It was so beautiful.

Day Two (Wednesday) – The flight from Singapore to Phuket is only 1 hour 45 minutes and when we finally arrived hot and tired, we were surprised that our booked transfer wasn’t there to collect us. There had been a mixup with the flight times changing but they sorted it out very quickly and we were taken by mini bus to our hotel with a family who had travelled from Kalgoorlie, WA. It took around an hour to get to our hotel and there was so much to look at along the way. Lots of traffic, shops etc. I’d forgotten how good it felt to travel to another country and experience all the sights and smells. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

We stayed at the Horizon Karon Beach Resort and Spa which was a nice hotel and were greeted with cool towels and sweet lemongrass drinks. Our room wasn’t quite ready so we went for a walk to have a look at the beach which was only a couple of minutes walk away. The water was warm and it looked so pretty. There were sunbeds, umbrellas, massage stations etc on the beach. We walked around a few streets to get our bearings and look at what types of shops and restaurants were close by.

After we settled in to our room, we went to the pool for a couple of hours. There were two pools in our section of the hotel with a waterfall separating them and a swim up bar which the girls were excited to try out. We had buffet breakfasts and dinners included in our package so we didn’t have to worry about food much.

Day Three (Thursday) in Phuket was a rest day, we spent the morning in the pool and then booked the free hotel shuttle bus into Patong (the main tourist area around 20 minutes away) to check it out. We had 3 hours to explore before the shuttle bus back to our hotel. We walked along the beach and were surprised at just how busy the place is. There’s so much going on and so many people – a far cry from Tabulam! We walked down the famous Bangla Road which I’m sure is a completely different area at night time but maybe not suitable for girls Alice and Lucy’s age. By daylight it was fun looking at all the shops and bars etc. We found a big shopping centre and wandered around in the cool air conditioning for a while.

Day Four (Friday) we had booked to go to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary in Paklok. It is claimed to be the first and only ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket which was why I chose to visit this one. There are plenty of others to visit but this one stood out to me as having the least interaction with the elephants and viewing them as much in their natural environment as possible. The sanctuary have 9 rescued elephants who had led a hard life in the tourism or logging industry prior to their rescue. They now live in the jungle owned by the sanctuary and are looked after 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by their Mahout, care as well as veterinarians. We watched a video of what horrors these poor animals had been through in their previous lives, with one being chained to a tree outside a temple all day every day and only fed when visitors gave donations. She was brought to the attention of the sanctuary by tourists and her rescue was put in place. You can still see the scars on her ankles from where she had been chained. She now wanders happily and has put on weight from eating regularly. Others had marks on their backs from riding saddles and some were blind. It was beautiful to get up close to these incredible animals and hear their heartbreaking stories. We were allowed to feed them watermelon, bananas and cucumber and then we walked through the jungle viewing them as they went about their daily activities. They do have enclosures where they sleep but during the day are free to wander as they please. We had a delicious vegetarian lunch at the sanctuary before heading back to our hotel.  I made a little video of our morning spent with these beauties here

Friday afternoon in Karon there is a night market held at Karon Temple which is about 10 minutes away from our hotel. We decided to catch a taxi as the walk would take about half an hour and it was too hot. We wandered around taking in all the sights of the street food vendors and clothing stalls. The girls bought some clothes and we ate some banana and Nutella pancakes which were awesome! We stopped at a fruit stall and ordered fruit shakes each – they’re so good, just like a Boost Juice but much fresher and cheaper. The best thing in hot, humid Thailand.

More adventures will continue in the next Blog Post.

A busy two months

Two months between Diary entries and we’ve been very busy as usual. The term has flown by. Both girls competed in their school cross country with Alice placing 4th and Lucy placing 2nd. They both then went to compete at Zone level with Lucy getting a Reserve spot. She was very excited when the call came through that she could compete at Diocesan (equivalent of our Regionals in a Government School). She ran a personal best and came 16th. She was so happy with that result and we were extremely proud of her.

Casino Beef Week was held in May and Lucy competed in the Beef Week Cup girls’ soccer team. They played against other Primary schools in the area and got to the Grand Final which ended in a tied score. She also participated in the Saturday afternoon street parade with the school ‘Junk Drum Band’ and Alice walked with other students from the school. It’s such a fun, busy afternoon.

They both competed at their Athletics carnival last week and came home with a few ribbons to show for their efforts. They were very happy with their placings. Alice came first in long jump, third in 100m, 200m, 800m and the relay team. She also came 4th in a Divisional race. Lucy came first in 800m, second in 100m, 200m and third in the relay team with Alice. They will both head off to the zone carnival next term but I’m not sure yet what races they will be competing in.

Last Saturday night was the Lismore Lantern Parade which is always a fun night out. It’s held around the Winter Solstice each year and this year Lucy was drumming with the school’s ‘Junk Drum Band’. It was a lot of fun watching and cheering her and her school on.

They were then up nice and early on Sunday morning to celebrate their First Eucharist (First Holy Communion). They’ve been preparing for it with school and they loved dressing up in pretty dresses and feeling special for the day. Usually children do it in Year 3 but since we’ve only just started going to a Catholic school, we really hadn’t had an opportunity before now. Linden unfortunately had to work but I made a special day of it with the girls and took them out for a nice lunch in Lismore.

This month has also seen us celebrate Alice’s 12th birthday. I feel like we were eating cakes non-stop for a week or more with cupcakes to send to school, test cakes for her birthday and then the actual birthday cake. I did have a few fails but she was happy with the end result. We took a few of her school friends to the roller skating rink for a little party. They all seemed to enjoy themselves. At least I hope they did.

We’ve only got two more weeks of term and then it’s school holidays. We are really looking forward to the break and have a trip to Phuket planned. It will be so good to get away from the Winter for 8 days or so. I think that’s everything caught up with what we have been up to for the past two months. Until next time x

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