The Best Places to Snorkel in Thailand

In this article our guest author, Laura Howells takes us snorkelling in Thailand, a fun alternative to diving if you’re on a budget where you can swim with the fishes and pretend you’re starring in The Beach.

When I told people that I was going out to Thailand for a spot of travelling, I think the single piece of advice which I most often received was that I absolutely had to see the marine life. Now my Dad is an avid diver, so he recommended we don some scuba gear and hit the wrecks, but when we got there it soon became apparent that if you’re really travelling on a budget and you’ve got a pretty packed schedule, scuba diving just isn’t an option. Even if you’ve got the 9000 baht (£200) that the scuba training costs, a lot of people , like ourselves, just can’t spare the 3 days of swimming pool training that the courses requires. So we settled for some cheap and cheerful snorkelling, and what a great decision it was!

Boating to Ko Phi Phi Island Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Boating to Ko Phi Phi Island

We went on quite a few snorkelling excursions in Thailand, but my two favourite places were Koh Tao and Ko Phi Phi. The former was booked through our hotel, Asia Diving Resort and cost us only 850 baht (£18). We had transport from the hotel down to the boat, which was very handy and all we had to bring was our sun cream, shades and lovely selves.

Boating to Ko Phi Phi Island Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Boating to Ko Phi Phi Island

We were taken to 5 different snorkelling destinations during the day, the final of which was Nangyuah Island, a gorgeous spot where, if you like, you can climb to the peak of the island and enjoy the incredible views it afforded. As you can imagine, the snorkels we were given weren’t exactly state of the art, but they certainly did the job and other than one of our group accidentally throwing his into the sea and losing it, we had no problems with them at all.  If, like our lot, you haven’t really grown up yet, a big boat with a top deck can be quite a lot of fun, as you get the opportunity to test out your diving skills whenever the boat stops.

Nangyuan island Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Nangyuan island

Once we got into the water we distanced ourselves from the other groups, which was no problem as we were given at least 45 minutes at each destination and lots of room to wander off. The sea life was spectacular in all of the destinations in Koh Tao. We were constantly surrounded by all sorts of brightly coloured, beautiful fish, who were obviously quite used to being around people, as they had no problem swimming up to our outstretched hands.

Snorkelling lesson Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Snorkelling lesson

For those a little anxious about the fish getting too close, you get the added thrill of the staff throwing fish food at you, which results in a good 30 or so fish firing themselves at your body in hope of some grub. I recommend trying to stay at least slightly calm here, as gulping down sea water in a panic really doesn’t make you feel your best. My top tip if you’re going snorkelling on a big boat is to always sit downstairs in the shade. You’re never going to be fully sun creamed when you’re jumping in and out of the water and we learnt, it is far too easy to burn up there.

Ko Phi Phi snorkelling island Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ko Phi Phi snorkelling island

Our snorkelling trip in Ko Phi Phi was a beautiful sunset tour and was booked through one of the many excursion shops on the island. We paid 400 baht (£10) for a half day trip, which started at midday and finished at sunset. What made this particular tour so great was all of the extras. We were taken to see the monkeys at Monkey Island, to Maya Bay where The Beach was filmed, and to these massive caves inhabited by some pretty hardy Thai people.  Because there were only 10 of us on the boat, the trip was really relaxed and the driver let us stop where and when we wanted.  Although we saw less marine life in Ko Phi Phi compared to some of our other excursions, what we did see was much bigger, brighter or scarier (lots of razorfish) and the quiet spots we visited meant that we were often on our own with a lot of time to explore.

The best piece of advice that I can give anyone thinking of going on a snorkelling trip is to buy one of the waterproof phone cases. If you’ve got a phone with a good camera then bung it in, seal it up and you can take some incredible pictures and videos of your underwater experiences. We brought two and put our iPhones in them and the results were incredible!

Playing in the water Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Playing in the water

bioLaura Howells is part of the Melted Stories travel blog team where she regularly writes about her travel adventures. Aside from exploring the world, Laura has a passion for teaching, reading and music. You can get in touch with Laura on Twitter or Google+.

More tales from Thailand:

Planning a trip to Thailand – what you need to know from Melted Stories
Elephants encounters at Chiang Mai – in Thailand
A culinary trip to Thailand

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

Top tips from parents for family friendly Koh Samui – Thailand

Are you thinking of taking the family to Thailand? In this article we cover the beautiful island of Koh Samui,  featuring parent approved beaches, activities, accommodation and eats on the island. Check out this overview of child friendly Koh Samui for inspiration, with top tips from real parents, to show you how to navigate the island smoothly.

Beautiful beaches of Koh Samui

One of the main reasons to visit Thailand are the simply stunning beaches – with postcard perfect white sand and clear turquoise water. Some beaches are more children friendly than others. It’s important to note that no beaches are completely private in Koh Samui – if you can reach it, you can use it. Here are a few picks of those we have discovered:

Lipa Noi Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand Photo: ThailandRetreats.com

Make sure you hang around for the sunsets on Lipa Noi Beach, Koh Samui

Choeng Mon:

Choeng Mon beach is very family friendly. It tends to be quieter than the busier and lively Chaweng, but still within easy reach of a small high street shopping village. It’s a short distance from the airport. The sand is perfect for making sand castles. You’ll also find several child-friendly beach dining options.

Lipa Noi:

This is a secluded and remote beach on the south west side of the island. This area is home to a number of luxury villas and resorts that are tucked away. It is within easy reach of Ang Thong National Marine Park by speedboat. The sunsets you’ll see from this beach are well worth hanging around for.

Bophut:

This is one of the largest beaches on the island. It is about half an hour to walk from one end to the other, though you can’t always do this when the tide is in. The sand is grittier here, but it is a convenient location for families with easy access to the pedestrians Fisherman’s Village.

Chaweng:

Chaweng is incredibly lively and a central point for those on the backpacker trail. It may not be suitable for a place to stay for a family with young children. However, it is still good for a visit as lots to see and do. There are several watersports activities, shopping, markets and still a stunning beach with really soft sand and shallow safe water.

Little eats and exotic treats

Fruit in a bag on Koh Samui Photo: ThailandRetreats.com

Fruit in a bag on Koh Samui

Would you like a fried cockroach poppet? Maybe your teenager will be adventurous enough to try one of the fried creatures on offer in the Thai markets, but this level of experimental bravery isn’t compulsory. There are a range of traditional Thai dishes that will appeal to children such as ‘Pad Thai’, a stir-fried rice noodle dish and ‘Kaow Pad Gai’, a chicken fried rice dish. It will be easy to ensure your children hit their five a day quota with the abundance of exotic fruits available – pineapple, coconut, mango and papaya. Fruit is available in bags straight from sellers on the beach and you can also purchase some mouthwateringly delicious juices and milkshakes from the beachside restaurants.

Many of the traditional dishes are cooked with chilli and can be very spicy. Peanuts are also very prevalent in traditional Thai cooking. If you are looking for some Western alternatives, they can be found in most restaurants.  It seems that spaghetti and pomodoro sauce is a favourite at home and in Thailand!

In Samui you are not too far from the comforts of home, if you are travelling with very young children it can be reassuring to know that there are several Tesco Lotus supermarkets on the island as well as a Boots pharmacy. It is possible to get home brand baby food from these stores and formula milk. You can also stock up with other goodies if you have a fussy eater.

Opportunities to eat out as a family are plentiful. Here are some tips from parents:

Rose, mum of Teddy 4 and Lottie, aged 8:

“Our children loved eating fruit in a bag on the beach and milkshakes at lunchtime, then. In the evening we had dinner on the beach at Fisherman’s Village and spent the evening people watching in the market. The children really enjoyed it.”

Kerry, mum of Maya aged 4

“Bread is hard to find on Samui, but we found Maya loved filling up on croissants and pastries from the bakery at Anantara Bophut. We also had a great experience at Treetops restaurant on the branches of a tree.”

Louise, mum of teenagers Jack and Rosie:

“We always stay in a villa when we visit, that has a wonderful Thai chef onsite. You simply tell them what you would like to eat, whether western or Thai and they’ll make it for you.”

Enjoy a holiday in Koh Samui with the family Photo: ThailandRetreats.com

Enjoy a holiday on Koh Samui with the family

Impress them (and wear them out)

Many resorts and villas have swimming pools, which are a necessity to keep children entertained and cool them down in the heat. When you are ready to try something new, there is plenty more to discover around the island. A top tip from mum Rosie is to hire a driver to give you a tour of the island. This is likely to be priced similarly to tours on the island. On Rosie’s trip with children aged 4 and 8 she agreed in advance where she wanted to go. They visited the Big Buddha, a temple, the Butterfly farm and also the Na Muang Waterfall.

Rosie says “The kids really enjoyed the tour of the island, they loved seeing the elephants at the side of the road, but we made the decision not to ride them. One of their favourite things to do was football golf!”

The kids enjoy a tour of Koh Samui Photo: ThailandRetreats.com

The kids enjoy a tour of Koh Samui

Football golf is an 18-hole small golf course that you go around with a football. A unique, but popular Koh Samui sport for all ages. Those with older children and adventurous types could try canopy walking and zip lining through the jungle or going on a hunt for Uncle Nim’s Magic Garden. Half the fun is finding the magic garden!

Louise and Martin have travelled to Samui with their teenage children several times and favourite activities include kayaking in the crystal clear waters and snorkelling.

Louise says “Jack and Rosie loved hopping on a speedboat to get to the Ang Thong National Marine Park. We managed to snorkel, go kayaking and walk to a beautiful lagoon, all in one day. Amazing.”

Family kayaking on Koh Samui Photo: ThailandRetreats.com

Family kayaking on Koh Samui

Comfy Sleeps on Koh Samui

There are several family friendly hotels on Koh Samui. Another option is to rent a private villa. This can be the perfect option for a family with children. Check out the Paradise Island Estate – a collection of three luxury villas with their own private pool and just a short stroll to Choeng Mon beach.

Villas on Paradise Island Estate, Koh Samui, Thailand Photo: ThailandRetreats.com

Villas on Paradise Island Estate, Koh Samui, Thailand

Maggie Saut

About the Author: Maggie Saout first visited Koh Samui in Thailand with her family over 10 years ago and has returned every year since. Her son now lives in Koh Samui with his own family. Together they own and run Thailand Retreats – a collection of luxury villas to rent across the island of Koh Samui.

More tales from Thailand

Exploring the Markets and Night Markets of Thailand
Elephants encounters at Chiang Mai – in Thailand
A culinary trip to Thailand

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

 

A Volunteer’s experience at The Mercy Centre in Bangkok

In this article, our guest writer Kristal shares her experience of volunteering at The Mercy Centre in Bangkok, Thailand which has given her an enriching connection with Thai culture and an opportunity to experience local festivals and traditions.

For the past year I have been volunteering for the Mercy Centre. Every Tuesday morning I’ve walked into the Mercy Centre never really knowing what to expect. It’s been both daunting and exhilarating. The only thing I really know is that I will see the smiling, laughing faces of a bunch of three year olds. What usually happens is a cultural whirlwind and by the end of the day I might have learnt a few new Thai words, discovered something new about Thai culture, taught the children a new word or better yet have them asking for more.

Mercy Preschool children - Kristals class Photo: Heaatheronhertravels.com

Mercy Preschool children – Kristals class

The Mercy Centre is an NGO located within the Klong Toey slum in Bangkok. It is an organisation that is deeply connected with the community and has been working with the community to improve their lives for almost 40 years. The centre does a lot of great work and provides crucial services to the community. It provides a home for 200 orphaned or homeless children, legal aid for children in need, an HIV Aids healthcare program, 23 preschools and a community center.

I was put in touch with the Mercy Centre through the Muskoka Foundation, which is a platform for people wanting to volunteer and use their skills in a meaningful way while they travel. Finding the right organisation is one of the hardest parts of wanting to volunteer while you travel. Before I left New Zealand I knew I was going to be in Thailand for an extended period of time, and the thought of buying into a volunteer opportunity wasn’t appealing or feasible. By partnering with the Muskoka Foundation I was able to connect with a trusted organisation and skip some of the hard work.

While at Mercy I have been teaching preschool children English and assisting with funding research and proposals. My background is in social work and working with people who have experienced abuse and trauma, and this has been beneficial for my volunteer role. However my knowledge of child development and the impact of poverty on children’s lives has really expanded with the interactions I have had with the children and staff at Mercy. In many ways I feel as though the Mercy Centre has given me more than I can give back.

Kristal and the preschool children Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Kristal and the preschool children

Prior to this trip to Thailand I had travelled for about 5 months over a few years in Thailand. I felt that I had some grasp of Thai culture, enough to know it was a country I loved and wanted to come back to. The most rewarding experiences during those months of travel were the times that I got to spend talking and interacting with the locals. Now I can see what I was missing! Incorporating volunteering into my travels has provided me with so many opportunities to experience Thai culture in an in-depth way, learn some of the language and have a richer experience.

While I’ve been at the Mercy Centre I have been able to celebrate festivals in a way no other traveler would have. One day in late November I arrived at the preschool to discover most of the children dressed up in traditional clothes, some with their hair and make-up done, there was laughter everywhere and the chatter of excited children. It wasn’t just an average day – it was Loy Krathong Day! Loy Krathong is a traditional Buddhist festival thanking the water goddess for her blessings, and a key part is releasing small decorated floating offerings known as Krathongs. This festival has been one of my most memorable days of all my time in Thailand. It was a festival that would have been hard to miss for the average traveler. Krathongs were on sale all over the city and all the major water ways in the city were crowded with people. But for me I felt like I got to experience Loy Krathong on a deeper level, I danced and sang with the children, paraded around with them and their Krathongs and watched while they gently released them into a paddling pool. Being able to watch the children and teachers celebrating and seeing those celebrations happening at school was like a window into Thai culture.

Children holding Krathongs Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Children holding Krathongs

Volunteering while you travel can be hugely rewarding. I would encourage you to find something that fits with your skills. Contact Muskoka Foundation and talk about your options. If you are going to be in Bangkok contact the Mercy Centre, they take on a lot of volunteers every year and always have a need for more help. You don’t have to volunteer long term like I have been doing, you’ll be able to find shorter term projects. I have found that every day I volunteer I’m learning more, connecting with the children and staff more and giving more.

bioAbout the Author: Kristal Collis is a Social Worker, traveller and lover of Thai food. She’s been volunteering with the Mercy Centre since September 2012. To find out more about Kristal’s experiences living and volunteering in Thailand check out her blog The Big Mango Life.

Photos by Kristal Collis and The Mercy Centre, Bangkok

More rewarding experiences:

Voluntary work in Ghana, West Africa
A Fairtrade trip to the Philippines
Meeting my Indian Sponsor Child

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

Next Page »