Category Archives: diving

postcard from paradise

Model poses on our own little beach View from the beach Giant monitor lizards Palm trees in the morning

We are finally leaving the Perhentian islands after a week and I am really going to miss this place. I’ve been out diving most days, hanging around the dive shop chatting to the owner Jakub and looking at his amazing photos of sea horses and cuttlefish, lying on our balcony with the boys from next door, Steve and Ben, playing guitar in the evenings, drinking M&M milkshakes, swimming in the warm waters, wandering through the jungle to find our own private beaches, hanging out with guys who work here (one of whom Pappa, has kept the python they found in one of the chalets and is feeding it rats he catches behind the kitchen), eating French toast and drinking pots of Earl Grey tea. The diving has been really good fun and there is some fantastic coral around the reef, bamboo sharks who seem to permanently lie under the rocks doing nothing, colour-changing cuttlefish, playing with the tiny Nemo fish and coaxing them out of their sea anenomes, crazy coloured nudibranches, huge Jenkins whip rays and brightly patterned blue spotted sting rays, giant angel fish, batfish, schools of mean looking barracuda and grumpy looking giant moray eels. Is it any wonder I don’t want to leave!

gecko heads The wonderful milkshakes of Pulau Kecil the boys next door! View from the restaurant

under the sea

The beach on Redang for our surface stopOkay, I am actually on holiday now, there is no way I can call this week even slightly difficult, stressful or challenging. Then again, I’ve been on the move for 13 months and quite frankly I think I deserve a holiday before coming home.

Right now I am in the Perhentian islands with Bron, on Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Imagine a stretch of cobalt blue ocean with gently undulating waves. You are speeding across this stretch of water in a speed boat heading for two small islands almost interlocking into one another. They rise up to hills in the centre and are covered with dense, thick green jungle. Around the shores are small idyllic white beaches and rocky outcrops. As you round the corner there is a long beach ahead of you with pale creamy sand, a few brightly coloured parasols dotted along the length and a few locals and tourists playing volleyball. The sea morphs from dark blue to turquoise as you get closer to the shore. A few restaurants and wooden bars are dotted about the place with most of the simple wooden A-frames and bungalows set back in the bush and palm trees, large spotted geckos hanging out in the eaves and snap up the insects and huge monitor lizards sulk around in teh shadows. Waking up to go for a morning dive you can see the sun rising over Long Beach and shining through the palm fronds and in the afternoon you can walk five minutes through the jungle to see the sun set over the clear waters from Coral Beach. Jealous yet?

This place is lovely, relaxed, beautiful, laid back and easy. The Malay people generally are just the loveliest warmest people which makes such a difference after Vietnam and Cambodia where there is a reasonable amount of hassle and rip offs. No, the Malays are relaxed, helpful, friendly and all seem to have an excellent sense of humour. We’ve been here for three days and I’ve been on some fantastic dives, I’ve seen turtles, Bamboo sharks, Bat fish, Blue Ring octopus, Cuttlefish, Moray eels, seahorses, huge mangrove rays, angelfish, scorpion fish, Titan trigger fish, lionfish and barracuda to name but a few. I’m loving the diving, just the feeling of being under the water and looking up a bank of coral to see the sun shining from above the water through shoals of hundreds of tiny fish, looking down on tiny orange and black clownfish darting in and out of their anaenome homes or staring out into the blue and seeing crowds of hunting trevallis swimming by. I took a digital camera out for the first time and turns out underwater photography is a lot harder than it is on dry land but I’ve included some of my better efforts.

This afternoon I went down to a huge sunken boat called Sugar Wreck which was just like something from a Jules Verne novel. Huge baracle and clam encrusted sides towering above us with bamboo sharks hiding under the base, cuttlefish changing colour as they swam over the sea floor and we even came up into air pockets nine metres down under the wreck and had a quick chat! Bron has been entertaining herself and has gone off snorkelling in a secluded beach with one of the very lovely guys who works in our chalets. She said something about needing to go and improve her Malay language…

Coral baySadly as I came up from the Sugar Wreck dive I had to move away from the line as another group were going down. So I swam alongside their boat as ours was behind. The current here is really strong so I was staying close to the boat. Now if you dive off a boat you usually enter the water with a backward roll. You always check behind before you do this and usually the boat driver or the instructor (who should be the last one off the boat) also keep a look out. Unfortunately for me this didn’t happen and this guy just rolled back without checking and clunked me on the head with his air tank. Those things are big and heavy. By the time I reached my boat it was bleeding profusely and there was blood in my mask. Our dive master pulled me out whilst yelling at the other boat’s driver. None of them apologised which I thought was more than a little rude, they just sawm off for their dive. I am fine though, it throbbed a bit but otherwise I’m okay and the guys at the shop have covered it in antiseptic and antibiotic cream. Still I’m taking it easy for the rest of the day just in case. Luckily the afro hides the bump. Now if I can just go and find the monitor lizard that lives behind the kitchen…

the easy island life

Phu Quoc Island, VietnamWhat is it about islands? It doesn’t matter which part of the world you are in but when you put any kind of civilisation on an island small enough to drive around in a day, with hot weather and palm trees the whole pace of life just slows down and any urgency to do things kinds of drifts away with the tide. Getting to Phu Quoc island was probably the most I have actually had to work at transport in Vietnam. This country makes you supremely lazy, tourists buses have booking cafes a go-go offering you easy, inexpensive fares to everywhere you want to go, they pick you up from the door of your hotel, drop you off slap bang in the middle of all the hotels of your destination, in fact a trained monkey could probably travel around Vietnam with ease. Long Beach, Phu QuocThere are no tourist buses that go to Phu Quoc as sensible people fly directly there. We decided to take the hard route and besides, the flights were all booked out. So we had to get a taxi and a minivan to the bus station and then get a local minivan bus six hours across the bumpy roads of the Mekong Delta to Rach Gia. There were two tiny old women on the back seat with Mary and I and quite frankly they were mean. They were at least half our size and took up all the space, refusing to budge and then sprawling against and over the seats with their wrinkly arms and legs. Nice! It was a long ride to Rach Gia. We spent the night in a little hotel and then caught the morning ferry over to the island where a local bus ride and 30 minutes of phaffing up and down the guest houses on the back of three motorbikes eventually brought us to somewhere to stay!

Mary getting suited up on the boat, Phu QuocWe’d picked a small place with a series of spacious but simple bungalows with balconies and hammocks in a long garden that lead down to the beach and beautiful views of the island. All the places to stay are along the west coast in an area called Long Beach. Our section of beach was covered in white sand, a few shaded sun loungers, a few small rocks lay in the impossibly clear waters that led out into the warm turquoise sea. Blue sky, white puffy clouds, restaurant right on the edge of the beach and cheap, ice cold beer. What more do you need. Well rum actually. Mika and I brought a litre of cheap dark rum and cans of Diet coke thinking we’d never drink the whole lot. Then after dinner Mary went to bed and somehow the two of us were up chatting watching a seriously impressive thunder storm rage outside and bizarrely, by 4am, we’d finished all the rum!

Bat Fish, Nudibranch gardens, Phu QuocThe next day we managed to do nothing but swim, eat, read and lie dozing in the hammocks. I’m not usually a beach person but it’s been a long time since I switched off and properly relaxed, so it felt wonderful. The next day we went out diving in the northern area of Phu Quoc. I hadn’t done any diving for two years so although the visibility wasn’t great it felt really good to be under the water again and it has got me seriously excited about diving in Malaysia. Me Scuba Diving, Phu Quoc, VietnamWe did see the most incredible jellyfish on the first dive, a huge pulsating pink and red translucent animal with dozens of tiny white fish swimming around beneath the umbrella of it’s body. I was torn between trying not to get too close and trying to get a good picture with my new underwater disposable camera! Between the low visibility and infrequent sunshine the photos are, interesting, but I’ve put some on anyway, they kind of have an blurred, exploration of unknown depths kind of quality to them! Mika and Mary, Phu QuocThe second dive was at a place called Nudibranch gardens and apart from the beautiful branch corals everywhere it is known for the Nudibranches which are small slug-like creatures in psychedelic purples, yellows and blues. They look a little like those weird lighters they sell at festivals with fluorescent spikes sticking out of the sides! There were also bat fish, which were far larger than I’d realised from the photos, and when I turned around to spot one I was somewhat startled to see something the size of my head peering straight into my goggles. I backed up a little hurriedly and managed to take out a chunk of dead coral reef behind me… I’m so graceful!