A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about islands

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Borneo: A view from below

sunny 30 °C

Kota Kinabalu is located on the northern coast of Borneo. It is popular for its island hopping tours and more so for the gorgeous beach resort of Gaya Island.

We decided to visit here to do a Discovery Dive as we had run out of time everywhere else. We booked with Dive Down Below, and having been impressed with the wildlife on land, we were very excited to discover Borneo from under the sea. We love snorkeling and have been on some pretty decent snorkeling trips, surprised by the variety of fish we were able to see with just a snorkel. As with all discovery dives, it was advertised that we had 3 dives; however the first 'dive' is in 4ft deep water.

We were collected promptly and taken across to the jetty before taking a speedboat for 10 minutes across to Gaya Island where the company is based. The sea which meets the island is very tidal, and so there was a 200m wooden walkway down to the boat. When the tide came in later, this added to the beauty of the view of this remote island.

After half an hour or so of instructions and training, we were kitted up with wetsuits and flippers before heading down to the water. At the edge, the oxygen canisters and inflatable jackets were put on, making our rucksacks seem incredibly light in comparison. We trudged into the water until we were at chest height. We knelt down so that our heads were below the surface and practised breathing normally! We also needed to practise retrieving and clearing our regulators, in case another diver caught ours and knocked it out, as well as how to empty water from your mask while submerged. As there had been quite a bit of rain the previous day, visibility was at about 30cm and it felt a little strange just sat on your own in all this silt, waiting for it to be your turn to practise.

After this, we took a boat out to do our first open water dive. As you dive down under water, you have to equalise your ears, popping them as you descend, otherwise your ears will hurt so much you won't be able to dive down. This is because the air contracts inside, due to the change in pressure and the weight of the water. To pop your ears, you just need to pinch you nose and try to push the air out of your ears. (Or at least that's what you feel like you're trying to do.) Most people do this all the time on planes if their ears do not pop, and it's pretty easy to do under water.

As we began to descend, the instructor was making sure we were OK and our ears were popping. Unfortunately, Chris couldn't equalise his ears and therefore couldn't get below two metres. We all went back up and Chris tried to pop his ears. The other girl with us was also struggling, but she managed it after a few more attempts. Chris could not pop his ears, so he stayed near the surface scuba snorkeling while the other instructor took us two ladies down to 4 metres. We saw all the usual fish, with some rainbow coloured parrot fish. We also saw a clown fish (Nemo) hiding in some coral. The coral was varied with some blue coloured tubular corals as well as ones which looked even more alive than normal plants. Luckily as we were only a few metres down, Chris didn't miss too much and as we headed back to base for lunch, Chris practised popping his ears.

Back in the water after lunch, we were heading down to 6 metres and from the surface, you could hardly see a thing. We all got in the water, rolling off the boat backwards with all our gear. We all started heading down slowly, and Chris sank like a rock! I was worried as you're not supposed to descend that quickly, and because of the problems he had had earlier. I don't know what the second instructor was doing, as he was not helping me and I could not get his attention to retrieve Chris. When he did finally realise, he dived down and dragged Chris back up, who was completely oblivious. It turned out his ears were fine, and he was able to complete the 45 minute dive. During this dive, I was left to swim freely, while one of the instructors kept hold of Chris and the other girl for the first half. I loved being able to swim unrestricted, and enjoyed filling and emptying my lungs to increase and decrease my buoyancy. This dive was a lot better as we were deeper, seeing coral which due to visibility only being about 5 metres, was invisible from the surface and could not be seen with just a snorkel.

I was really pleased that Chris had managed to sort his ears out as I did not want him to miss out. It later transpired though that he did not know how to pop his ears and was not doing it right.... He was just holding his breath and forcing the air in his mouth. There's always one! At least I had managed to teach him at lunchtime, otherwise he would have missed the whole thing!

In the evening, we went to a café for a coffee and as the price difference was only 50p between small and large, we both opted for a large latte. We had not expected them to be served in pint sized mugs and they became a bit sickly, especially as mine was a white chocolate latte. It was however delicious and one of my favourite flavoured coffees ever. Now to hunt that down in England!

Tomorrow it's on another plane back to KL for the third time but to finally visit the city, rather than just using it as a base for their low cost flights.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 03:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged islands fish diving beach coral Comments (0)

Ko Lipe

Island hopping 3: Crystal clear waters and white sand beaches

sunny 40 °C

We finally arrived on Ko Lipe at about 5pm and the music was already blaring for New Year's Eve. We were dropped off on the beach and were surprised at how easily we located our accommodation; it was a little more challenging accessing it. We walked the entire length of the beach, and fortunately the tide was out, leaving nice compressed flat sand to walk on. After about 15 minutes, we came to some seemingly impassable rocks with our accommodation on the next bay the other side of the rocks. We noticed the most rickety walkway over across the rocks and so we clambered up some of the boulders on to the wooden path. All this in the 35 degree blazing sun with our packs on our backs. Our walk around the rocks looked far more precarious than it actually was and 5 minutes later we were at our bungalow.

We have had some pretty interesting rooms over the past six months with us getting ever closer to our hundredth place. Bearing that in mind, we have generally done very well and not had to rough it too much. This bungalow definitely had to grow on you with its walls covered in plastic laminate boards printed with green palm and bamboo trees. The bed was a matress on a raised section of floor with a pink flower bed sheet which would not have looked out of place in a 5 year old girl's bedroom. The curtains were a pink satin like material with frills along the edge and the mosquito net was florescent pink. The bathroom had a matching pink sink, shelf and mirror with a pale blue toilet, which was no more than a foot off of the ground. The toilet was a dipper toilet, meaning it did not flush and required you to pour a bowl of water down after you had used it. Obviously, despite not managing to plumb the toilet in, their was still a bum cleaning hose. The shower was cold. At least we had an uninterrupted view of the sea from our balcony.

That evening, we went out for dinner and although the bars were all playing loud music, none of them seemed particularly inviting for new year. We decided to buy some drinks and ice and use a dry bag as an ice bag and saw in the new year from our balcony. From 11 o'clock onwards, there were constant fireworks from the bay. As we walked along the sea front, we saw people lighting fireworks from their child's outstretched arms!

The following day was spent on the beach. We did the ten minute walk across the island to Sunset beach, which was quieter and less touristy. We saw some children going out and catching fish with a rod to spear them. They managed to get quite a large lilac and green one, some small ones and also a puffer fish. We decided to go snorkeling sooner rather than later in case the children killed all the good fish.

We had to swim quite a way out to see any decent fish but saw plenty of sea urchins, some large blue coloured fish and plenty of black and yellow striped fish. I wish we had had a waterproof camera for this part of the trip as we have seen some pretty cool fish and coral on all our trips. Maybe next time.....

We headed back round to the main beach, Pattaya beach, where we hired a glass canoe for an hour. This was clearly just a novelty as it was very hard to control. The water is so clear here, it was actually a little scary passing over the sea urchins and being able to see them brushing up against the boat. We also saw a couple of blue starfish on some of the rocks.

The following day we had a speedboat booked to Langkawi in Malaysia.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands beer boat beach island sand Comments (1)

Koh Lanta Yai

Island hop 2!

overcast 28 °C

After waiting in the middle of the sea for about twenty minutes, the ferry boat appeared on the horizon and the party amongst the long tail boat men dispersed quickly as we did the final few hundred metres over to where the boat stops. In the boat next to ours was the owner of our accommodation who clearly cannot swim, and looked hilarious in his life jacket and checkered boxer shorts.

We arrived on Ko Lanta 90 minutes later and managed to get a room at the first place we went past outside the port for only 400 baht/£8. So what if it appeared to be the former kitchen with worktops and sink? Unfortunately it turned out to have a major problem with its drains and stunk more than our first one in Bangkok and Bangkok is bad for smells anyway. Thankfully it would only be for 2 nights.

The following day, we took a boat trip to Koh Mook, which we had planned to stay at, but probably couldn't have picked a worse time of year to go island hopping without prebooking accommodation. The attraction on Koh Mook is its hidden Emerald Cave set amongst the mountainous karsts in beautiful green seas.

Our long tail boat was driven by what looked like two Thai popstars from the 80s, both with thin moustaches and one with a short mullet and pink shell suit style jacket. It took a good hour and a half bouncing around in the spray from the boat to get to Koh Mook. We were drenched and annoyed that we had picked the coldest overcast day to do this trip. In the wind and waves, it was a little chilly. We stopped on the way for some snorkeling and saw plenty of black and yellow striped fish and a few other larger fish.

After lunch on the beach, we headed round to the Emerald Cave, which was unfortunately heaving with boats. It was suggested we wore lifejackets to make the swim through the cave, with the guides choosing to wear theirs upside down round their legs like nappies. Despite our boat supposedly being capable of taking 18 people on this trip, we were still a couple of lifejackets short on the 12 we needed. Chris had a ridiculously small child's vest on and I went without. The swim was only about 100m and most people found the ill fitting lifejackets to be more of a hinderance. There were a few entertaining chains of people, clinging onto each other evidently unable to swim, with their guide pulling from the front. I don't think I would have wanted to go through a pitch black cave if I couldn't swim!

Chris and I, perhaps rather sadistically, were highly amused by the number of people who were scared and freaking out from the darkness. We were in the dark for less than a minute, with a rope to follow should you wish and various guides waving torches. Karma got me though as I tripped over a submerged rock while walking out the other end of the cave onto the hidden beach. The darkness had helped build up the suspense of the lagoon, and we were not disappointed; it was beautiful with the karsts rising high, a gorgeous golden powdered sand beach, with the sea looking quite haunting as it flowed out of the dark cave.

We enjoyed the reward at the end of this cave; however preferred visiting the tourist free caves in Vang Vieng, Laos. This cave was also similar to the one we visited in Krabi on Christmas day, but with the added excitment of the darkness opening out on to the secret beach. I think we're beginning to get to the point on our trip where we have done most things, and a lot of what do now is 'same same, but different!'

The following day we have a 5 hour ferry booked to Ko Lipe, an island off the coast of Thailand near the Malaysian border.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 06:27 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sea islands beach island cave snorkeling Comments (0)

Koh Jum, Thailand

Island hopping 1: A remote and undeveloped Thai beach island

sunny 30 °C

Koh Jum is a small island about an hour off the coast from Krabi with little else to do than enjoy the beaches. Our transfer to the port was from 10.30am, with the boat leaving at 11.30am. Knowing the port was only 3km, we were not too worried when it still had not arrived by five past as this is Thai time after all. The receptionist rang to double check and said it was on its way, they just had a lot of pick-ups around town first. By half past, we were getting anxious, even though she explained the boat left at 12. She called again, and 10 minutes later a pick up truck arrived and we were hastily packed into the cab in the back. The driver was shouting in Thai down the phone and driving pretty quickly. We were unloaded at the port and told to run the final couple of hundred metres, in the midday heat, with our backpacks.

On the boat we booked some accommodation, which was a bamboo bungalow sat a few metres up the hill just back from the beach. The ferry does not dock for Koh Jum; long tail boats come out to meet you and you make the transfer across the water. The boat takes you the final 5 minutes to the beach where it stops a couple of metres back from the shore. We trudged up the beach to our accommodation dumped our bags and headed for a swim.

Our accommodation seems as though it would remain open until it fell apart. The owner had long given up with his restaurant or even getting dressed for that matter, spending his days in his checkered boxer shorts. We didn't have any bedding and when we asked, he returned with some sheets which truly reeked of antiseptic. When we visited the restaurant next door, they asked where were staying and offered us sheets! There was another guy there who was leaving that day and had also stayed at old lamp, there to return his bedding.

The next 48 hours were spent eating, drinking, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing (in the shade of course) and reading on the beach.

The beach was empty and had a rustic charm to it with broken tree branches and several large rocks,

By night, the wet sand by the water's edge was covered in crabs, with loads of different hermit crabs. The normal crabs would scurry off quickly but the hermits would give it a while before retracting into their shells. Some of them had a pretty jazzy shell on their backs and they came in various different shapes and sizes.

After two days rest and relaxation, it was time to move on and so we booked a boat on to Koh Lanta. As the boat didn't dock on the island, half an hour before it was due, we headed back out on the long tail boat and waited for it to appear.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sea islands beach island snorkeling Comments (0)

Khao Lak, Thailand

Finally made it to the Thai beaches!

sunny 35 °C

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And finally we have made it to the Thai beaches after travelling for four and a half months. Khao Lak is situated to the north of Phuket and was completely devastated by the tsunami on Boxing day 2004. Other than the place looking very new, you would not know the destruction seen from that awful day as the whole place was completely rebuilt within about 2-3 years.

Unfortunately, our accommodation, set about a kilometre back from the coast, appears to have survived the tsunami and had not received any attention since much before. The staff, probably in their early twenties at most really could not have cared less even if they tried. The whole place had a rundown feel and almost a joke between management, assuming there was any, of how long can we leave it before people stop booking their holidays with us? When we asked if there was breakfast, the guy laughed as he said no. Later we noticed a new looking sign advertising breakfast but there clearly was not.

In our bungalow, the bathroom had a decent tiled floor and the lower section of the walls were painted a deep midnight blue. At some point though, someone apparently colour blind must have been asked to give it a touch up, and instead of blue, picked up some watery yellow paint and slapped it all over the blue creating a snot green smeared layer on the walls. I would dread to think when the off-white room last had a lick of paint. To finish the room off were some pretty ghastly frosted coloured small windows.

On our room at least they might need to replace the amber glass as there was quite a hole in it by the time we left. Let's just say my washing line could have got caught in the roof during a failed installation. It might have then pinged out of the roof into the window. (Much to my surprise.) I allowed Chris to deal with that one. We would have informed reception; however if they weren't asleep in their hammock, they were glued to their laptop screen. And even then they didn't speak English. I'm sure they will notice it soon....

Khao Lak town is one straight through road with a few lanes and alleys off of it, solely existing due to the coast. If I were writing a holiday brochure, I would describe the beach as 'a long stretch of palm trees overlooking golden sand beaches containing elements of mystery.' On arriving, you would quickly realise 'mystery' was the not so picturesque unlikely to feature in the brochure black sand. Fortunately for those seeking that image, the blank sand is well contained, creating a stopping point for interested tourists. Not for us though, for we are partial to the odd black sand fight, on more secluded beaches. (Paraty, Brazil.)

The remainder of the day was a challenge, spent lying on the beach reading our books and going for a quick dip when it got too hot. I'm sure there was probably the odd power nap as well for good measure.

Although the beaches here are very pretty and the sea is marginally warmer here than on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam, we preferred Phu Quoc as the beaches were completely empty and slightly more picturesque, particularly when there were locals fishing just off the coast. We shall have to see how the other Thai beaches compare over the next week. It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it.

Khao Lak is mainly used as a base to go snokeling to Ko Similan and its surrounding islands. The following day we embarked on one of the many speedboat trips to these islands, located 70km off the coast of Thailand. The journey took an hour and a half, and would not have been complete without a bit of sea sickness from some of our new found travel companions. Some people can be so antisocial! With my stomach made of metal, I was absolutely fine and quite enjoyed it on the way back as we bounced through the air. Chris was OK, but clearly pleased when it was over.

The snorkeling was brilliant! The coral was better when we snorkeled off of Phu Quoc, but the fish here were so colourful and varied and some of them were a good foot long and really colourful. There were your usual smaller striped fish, but some of the larger fish were turquoise with lilac scales, another was an aquamarine colour with dark blue and gold. A couple of our best finds were the 6ft long barracuda, which slithered off and tried to hide under a rock with its black dog like face sticking out. The other best find was also hiding under a rock and was about 6 inches long with a black and white striped body and yellow fins with black dots.

Our trip on Phu Quoc was more of a relaxing boat ride, whereas the boat was a means to an end on this trip. There must have been about 10-15 boats carrying 30 people out that day, and on the first stop, everyone snorkeled yet by the third stop, Chris and I were the only ones who snorkeled any distance from the beach and as we got back, there were only about 10 other people snorkeling by the water's edge. Not really sure why you would bother with this trip if you weren't going to snorkel? At least it meant the water was empty for us!

We returned that evening feeling incredibly tired, as we had spent over 2 hours swimming without even really realising.

Next stop, Krabi town!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 04:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged sea islands beach snorkeling Comments (0)

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