There's so many amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips and experiences just waiting for you on the East Coast of Australia, but none quite so well known and impressive as the Great Barrier Reef. This iconic natural wonder is the world's largest coral reef and is one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting the country and backpackers travelling up the East Coast. When you arrive in Cairns, this is the main trip you just cannot miss out on, everywhere you walk there are ticket touts and travel agencies trying to get you booked on the trip of a lifetime, promising a chance to swim with sea turtles, dolphins and even sharks. We had already booked our trip as part of our overall East Coast package and had chosen the Osprey V Premium Reef Cruise from Down Under Cruise and Dive which offered the chance to snorkel, scuba dive, to cruise on the boat and even to see the reef from the air with a helicopter ride back to shore. We were so excited for the trip, it was our chance to see some amazing wildlife and to have a go at diving for the first time. Sadly it wasn't to be, Mark had the chance to try his first dive but I had just had a cold and wasn't able to try it out, I stuck to snorkelling instead. We met at the jetty early in the morning - we had been good and not gone out the night before so weren't hungover thank goodness, we needed all our energy for the day ahead.
Before we knew it we were powering out to sea on a fabulous catamaran with the crew who introduced themselves and gave all the guests a chance to get to know each other. There was a real range of people on the trip, from some much older people to others who were barely 18, some were backpackers and others were on family holidays, others didn't even speak English as a first language. It was great to have such a diverse group and just showed that the reef is an incredible draw for people from all over the world, from all cultures and countries. Some of the guests were serious divers, others were beginners, and others didn't even plan to get off the boat - they were just there for the boat and helicopter rides. Even though I was so excited to snorkel at this point, I couldn't help but feel a bit disheartened by the dark, stormy-looking skies that were darkening the ride out to sea. The crew said not to worry about the weather, that we wouldn't let it get to us but it could be a bit choppy going out to sea - all I can say is, I'm glad I grabbed handfuls of the ginger seasickness tablets they were handing out. I was dreading feeling seasick because it does just ruin your day, I had packed my own Travelcalm tablets but I hate taking medicine for it because it often makes you feel worse. The ginger tablets were incredible and I would swear by them from now on - they rid me of pretty much all my nausea and didn't make me feel tired or groggy. When we arrived at the first snorkel site, I was eager to get in the water and suited up in my snorkel, flippers and wetsuit.Okay so I want to stress at this point, that all of my complaints about the trip have nothing to do with the crew who were absolutely amazing. It was frustratingly all down to the weather and the elements, which cannot be helped, but it did ruin the trip for me. The first dive and snorkel site was extremely open and with no real shelter from the swell and the wind, it was difficult to actually swim there. Not only was the current so strong that it kept dragging us away from the fish and pushing us into the boat, but it also meant we were exhausted very quickly despite being strong swimmers. I barely saw anything worth noting at the site because I was far too busy trying not to end up being slammed against the side of the boat by the waves. Mark was having a much better time on his first dive which took him lower in the water so he was less affected by the waves, the instructors were great and he pretty much had one-on-one coaching through every step. Back on the boat, the waves were getting rougher as we headed out further to sea and lunch was served - the food was amazing but sadly it was difficult to enjoy after spending hours being thrown around the boat and in the waves. I might not have felt sick but I definitely felt unsettled and exhausted. Unfortunately a lot of other people on the boat were feeling sick and suddenly it was turning into sick city - everywhere you turned people were going green, grabbing sick bags and running for the back of the boat. We must have been almost the only pair on there who didn't get sick - it was horrific!
At the second dive site, one guy was unable to go in the water because he was so sick from the waves and several others were huddled on the floor in corners. The staff had their work cut out with everyonebeing so I'll, but you can't fault them, their enthusiasm never faltered and they looked after everyone while continuing to rally the remaining troops into the water. We were pretty cold by now but still eager to get in the water at what we were told would be a much more sheltered site, we were glad to find it was much better and with lots more to see. I spotted a shark swimming along, loads of Nemos and all kinds of rainbow fish but it was still an anticlimax after swimming with sea turtles the previous week. We climbed back on the boat happy that we had actually seen a shark and prepared for the ride home. This was when it all went a bit crazy - a poor woman who had been suffering badly with seasickness all day was knocked off her feet as she came out of the toilet by a passing wave. She went flying and smacked her head on the wall, it started bleeding and she started being sick - it was horrible, we couldn't even get to her straight away because of the crazy waves. Luckily the crew managed to get her up and sitting at a table but she was so ill and frightened by the whole thing that she had to be helicoptered back to the shore. It was all a bit dramatic and after all the vomit and stress of the day, it really killed what little good mood was left. Eventually we headed back to Cairns and you have to give it to the crew, there was one guy in particular who decided to get up and start singing all the old classics - he had everyone singing along and laughing. It was a much better end to the day, but we were gutted to have missed out on the Great Barrier Reef experience. I'm never one to give up - I will be going back to do it again when the weather is better and hope to have a completely different trip.
How was your Great Barrier Reef trip? Did you have a better experience? Can you recommend any good companies?
Okay so to say my expectations for Koh Phi Phi were low was a serious understatement. I really couldn't bare to leave Koh Lanta and to say goodbye to all my friends. Everything I had heard about Phi Phi put me straight off the island. I know, I know, all those who have been will say it is beautiful and picturesque, some even dare say it is the prettiest of the Thai islands. I couldn't agree less. Those who have been to Koh Lanta will understand my shock horror at seeing how dirty, chock-full of tourists and how commercialised Phi Phi is in comparison, and from the moment I arrived on the island I was already counting down to the day I could leave.
Just to give you a taste of what my expectations were based on, a friend who I had met in Koh Lanta had just arrived from the island and she had told me about when she was swimming in the sea, felt something on her foot and picked it up thinking it was a stick - it crumbled in her hand, it was a giant lump of shit. This was definitely one of the worst stories I had heard about the island, but the others certainly didn't paint it in a good light. So you can understand why I was instantly put off, but for the Phi Phi lovers, give me the benefit of the doubt because despite this I still went to the island to form my own opinion.
I was staying at Rock Backpacking, which was great value for money at 300 baht a night for a dorm with fans. The toilets and showers were so clean and the guys who ran it were so helpful - all wifi on the island was abysmal though due to the sheer number of people there using it. I would recommend the hostel, although I was a little disappointed after being told it was the party hostel and finding everyone already asleep when I returned each night abut 3/4am. Wusses. There were nice people staying there, but a lot of people on holiday who were just there to get drunk and not to meet people. I prefer more backpacker central places where people actually want to get to know each other.
My first night there was spent watching the sunset from the viewpoint - so beautiful. I actually went back another night with a new friend and a guy proposed to his girlfriend while we were up there. So cute. I found the best little place for Pad Thai - seriously a godsend after finding nothing but kebab shops elsewhere! Went back loads for authentic Thai food, which was seriously lacking in other restaurants. Had a massage, manicure and pedicure, all for £10 - bargain! Then spent the rest of the night watching boxing, fire shows and exploring. My second day was spent trying to find a clean stretch of beach where the water wasn't covered in a layer of scum - finally found somewhere and sunbathed all day. Bumped into a couple I met on the ferry to Koh Lanta - they barely recognised me as I'm so black now. We spent the rest of the night eating food, going to the boxing - my friend actually competed for a bucket and ended up knocking the other guy out cold! Then we headed to the beach and made some other friends while watching the fire shows.
The next day, I had booked on to a boat trip around several beaches and islands, with plenty of opportunities for snorkelling for just 600 baht (£12) Met a guy called Tibby on the boat, he was also travelling solo from his home in Belgium before starting a new job in Melbourne. Bonding over the terrible food, we snorkelled and marvelled at all the amazing fish beneath the boat - such beautiful colours! The next stop was Bamboo Island which was so perfect and untouched - the sand was pure white and the waters so clear with reef right next to the beach so perfect for more snorkelling. We got a bit carried away spotting fish and ended up being the last ones back to the boat. After a couple more stops, we ended up at Monkey Beach, where monkeys just run wild on the beach and grab food from your hands - so cheeky! I brought along some bananas and fed them, the babies were so cute! They were all so tame, usually monkeys can be a little scary.
After this, it was the highlight of the trip, we'd been waiting all day for Maya Beach (where The Beach was filmed) and it didn't disappoint. As we pulled up in the long tail boat, it looked exactly like it does in the film, minus all those damn tourists! Such a beautiful place, you can see how it would inspire any director, set between these huge cliffs with pure white sand. I managed to find a nice empty stretch of beach to sit and chill out, then Tibby came and joined me and we took lots of photos before our time was up and we headed back to the boat. On the way back to Phi Phi, we stopped at sunset point to watch the bright orange sun burn it's way down into the waves, dead silence on the boat, everyone was speechless at the beauty of it all.
I have so many pictures and so much to tell you guys about Phi Phi that I've split this into two posts for you... The next one will have the pics from Maya Bay and everything else I got up to! I will also try and share the video of the boxing on my Facebook page as it takes ages to do it on here, so give the page a like and check it out!
For those who have been to Koh Phi Phi, what did you think? I'd love to know if anyone shared my experiences or if actually you loved the the island just as it is...