Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild

Gunnhild

Colombo

It was a 4 hour drive from Tangalle to Colombo, but with a lot to see along the road. Several temples, one with two elephants living in the garden, small towns and larger cities, an area known for cashew nuts had stands selling these every few meters, an old Portugeese fort, a romantic beach full of couples with umbrellas, crazy traffic, pimped up tuk-tuk’s and full families on small scooters. In Colombo there were some demonstrations towards the new government, for raising taxes and fines with several 100 percent, but our driver was prepared and got us to the hotel without any problems.

    

Our hotel, Cinnamon Red, was everything Ceylon Sea was not. Efficient, elegant, artsy, 24 hour service, quiet, great food, surprisingly cheap and with an amazing roof top terrace with an infinity pool on the 26th floor. We probably spent more time in the hotel than we should have, but we had such a great time there, and never really figured out Colombo. The city was quite loud and dirty, and we didn’t really find any nice areas to walk around. We spent a lot of time trying to find a cheap place to do laundry, and ended up in a strange place with no signs quite far from the hotel. When picking it up the next day, the place was closed, and after calling the owner we still had to wait 45 minutes for someone to show up.

    

We booked a 4 hour city tour, but got a very strange driver, driving in 20 km/h most of the time, and who was more interested in showing us bus stations and military buildings than the actual sights. We still got to see Galle face green, the parliament, the lighthouse, the Independence Hall, Sambodhi Chaithya stupa, several beautiful mosques and churches, an impressive Hindu temple, old and new city hall, large hotels, ports, courts and statues. We had a relaxing stop at Beira Lake, with a romantic island in the middle and several couples in swan-shaped boats on the lake. The most interesting stop of the tour was Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, built in a mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. The temple itself with statues, pagoda, Bodhitree and assembly hall was interesting, and we got very fascinated by the museum. It contained some old artifacts and a lot of worthless gifts and souvenirs (like old pens, beer mugs etc.).

  

    

We spent a lot of time in Colombo booking the rest of our trip. High season starts in the middle of December, and it was a lot harder to find good and cheap places to stay. The biggest challenge was the train ride to Kandy. We were told we needed to pay in advance for luggage online, but after several email back and forth with the helpdesk we gave up and asked the reception to call them. We were advised to go to the station to arrange everything, but their printer didn’t work and they said we could pay for luggage on the train (which we never did).

  

Our best meal in Colombo was without a doubt at Lagoon restaurant. It is part of the posh Cinnamon Grand Hotel (with pink Christmas trees and decorations all over the place), but is located in a quiet, green oasis in the back. You pick the seafood of your choice from their display, and select how it should be prepared. We ended up with a starter (lobster tail), and 1,5 main dishes (Tuna steak and a couple of scampi in a sauce that sounded too good to miss). Everything was absolutely delicious, and we even had room for a small dessert in the end. Great night!

Tangalle

We booked a private air conditioned car from Unawatuna to Tangalle, an even smaller beach town on the south coast. There was a problem with one of the tires, so we had a short visit at a turtle hatchery & hospital while the driver got it changed. In one pool around twenty 10 days old turtles were swimming around, ready to be released in a couple of days. There were also several turtles injured by fishing nets that were receiving treatment, and one disabled turtle swimming in circles. We also had a short stop in Weligama to see the poles used for stilt fishing, and in Mirissa to see yet another beautiful beach.

   

After 2,5 hours we arrived at our hotel, Ceylon Sea Hotel & Spa, where there was a wedding party going on in the garden. The hotel was less than a year old, and is rated as a 4 star hotel, but it didn’t really live up to the expectations. The location was superb, with a short walk through the garden to a beautiful beach, but with weddings in the garden pretty much every day (starting with loud drums at 8 am) it wasn’t that easy to reach after all. The hotel is built with the balconies away from the sea, there was two dining room chairs and no table on the balcony, the 24-hour reception closed at 4 pm, the spa was a yoga instructor with a table, and none of the other advertised facilities were available (including internet). The young trainees were superb tough, showed us around, fixed what could be fixed, and always met us with a huge smile.

  

  

In addition to the loud weddings, we also had quite a bit of rain while in Tangalle, so we spent a lot less time at the beach than originally planned. But we spent a lot of time in the warm ocean, fascinated by the waves, the super soft sand bottom and “being all alone in the sea”. We went to the local bottle shop to buy some dark beer, which was kind of a crazy experience. Locals pretty much climbing on top of each other waving money around, but after a while one of them helped us to the front of the line. There were not a lot of tourists at all in Tangalle, so everybody wanted us to eat at their restaurant (mainly family owned places it seemed). We had dinner twice at Sea View restaurant, which was highly recommended on Tripadvisor, had really good food, a few cozy tables at the beach and a very friendly waiter (Lali). Our first night there it started raining, so we were invited for some arrack and soda with the owner and friends until it stopped.

  

We also had dinner at Kura restaurant one day. Afterwards we were invited over for some drinks with some locals and an American couple. We had a great time for a few hours, but then more and more friends kept showing up, and they all wanted a piece of us, so we figured it was time to leave. Friendship Beach Bar was also an interesting place at the beach. It was very laid back, and some young locals were playing drums and guitar. They were quite good when playing local songs, but we struggled to keep a straight face when they tried to sing modern pop songs. Fun for a while though. All in all, Tangalle was not the paradise we were hoping it would be, but we still had a good time there, and it felt a lot more genuine than Unawatuna.

 

Unawatuna

The first 4 weeks of my 2 months South East Asia adventure will be spent in Sri Lanka with my good friend (and previously weekend trip travel buddy) Linda. I will meet my long time travel buddy Fredrik in the Philippines for the last 4 weeks. It is always a bit scary to travel with someone new, but so far it has been amazing although different. Fredrik and I usually move around a lot, and always have a lot of plans for things to see and do. Linda is teaching me to slow down and relax, which turns out to be pretty great too.

We arrived in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, after travelling for about 20 hours. Emirates were great, but none of us could sleep much on the flights, so we barely managed to stay awake until 7 pm before crashing for more than 12 hours. Our first impressions of Sri Lanka were that it was very green and that everyone are super friendly. Unawatuna is a small beach town on the west coast, known for its beautiful beaches and corals. Both were badly damaged by the tsunami, but the beach is still beautiful, and the coral reefs are getting better.

Our hotel, Prime Time, was located across the road from the beach. It had Swedish owners, but the manager and the staff were locals. Quite good value for money, but our backs were not too happy with the mattresses. We had peacocks, squirrels, lizards, birds and probably a lot more on the roofs and in the jungle around the hotel. Most if the time we had the shared balcony outside our room to ourselves (except the mosquitoes). We also had some drinks with staff and friends in the common area downstairs.

Most of our time in Unawatuna we spent on the beach
(or in the water actually) and in the many beach restaurants (preferably the ones with shadow and ceiling fans). It was warm and quite humid, and with 30 degrees Celsius in the water it was difficult to cool off. Sun beds were free if you bought some food and drinks, so we had
breakfast or lunch at the beach most days, and lots of fresh pineapple juice. A few people were walking around selling clothes, blankets, coconuts, souvenirs and offering tours, water sports and massages, but they were all very polite and actually took no for an answer. We got very fond of one of them, Auntie Coco, which we had a long talk with one evening.

There is only one street through town, and we walked parts of it several times every day. The tuk tuk drivers and shop owners all said hi, and when we didn’t want to buy anything they still wanted to talk or at least wish us a good day. After a few days it felt like we had friends all over town (even though they kept calling us madam). 😀 I also have to mention the quite annoying bread van (tuk tuk) driving around and playing Für Elise day and night.

We tried several different restaurants, and had so much great food. Even the more western dishes were served with some amazing local sauces, which made all the difference. Our favourite restaurant was without a doubt, Kingfisher. The first time we went there was in the middle of a thunderstorm, and we had water over our ankles on our way there. They had large, solid tents on the beach though, so we had a great time watching the rain and lightning. We even had a scorpion on the beach, trying to escape the water. All the dishes we had there were top notch, and especially their Brandy-zucchini sauce was to die for. The creamy pineapple daiquiri was amazing as a dessert, and the service was really great too.

As many of you know, we are fond of good craft beer. In Unawatuna there was only one beer available, Lion lager. Not a bad beer, but quite boring after a while. Luckily we were able to buy Lion Strong (just ok) and Lion Stout (surprisingly good) at the wine store at the main road. In the evenings we often had a couple of drinks instead of beer. Drinks made from fresh fruit are actually quite delicious, especially while lying in a pillow-filled bed at the beach listening to the waves.

We had a daytrip to nearby Galle fort. Our tuk tuk driver suggested a short stop in a herbal garden on the way there, and it was actually quite interesting. We got to taste, smell and try a lot of the different herbs and plants, and even ended up with a little shopping at the end. Galle fort was built by the Dutch in 1663, and is still a vibrant part of the city. It has lots of historic houses, churches, mosques and temples, but it was too hot for us to walk around, so we only saw a few of them. We also had a walk on the fort walls to the 18 meter high lighthouse. We had lunch in a hammock bar in the recently restored Dutch Hospital, a beautiful colonial building from the 18th century overlooking the small lighthouse beach. On our way back to Unawatuna we stopped at the spice market for some shopping and local recipes.

Another highlight was a deep tissue massage at The Sanctuary Spa. It really lived up to its name. The experience started in a beautiful and serene garden, and from the massage bed I had beautiful views of the surrounding jungle. The massage itself was really good (although a bit painful at times), and afterwards I enjoyed a fresh coconut in the peaceful garden. Lovely!

In between all the relaxation, I also had time for some scuba diving. I decided to go with Unawatuna diving center, which seemed more professional than most of the smaller places. They were very accommodating, drying and storing my gear between dives, offering free transport to and from the hotel, did all the heavy lifting and always had time for questions. They also had small groups (3 divers + guide), which was really nice. Since the water was so warm, I didn’t even need a wetsuit, just a thin rash guard. I did all dives in the morning, when the visibility was best, around 10-15 meters. The dive sites I visited was SS Rangoon wreck, SS Orestes wreck, Galle wreck and Goda Gala Diyamba. Lots of colorful fish, starfish everywhere, lionfish, cuttlefish, a giant moray out swimming and 5-6 large octopuses. Nice!
 

Red Sea Liveaboard


One of the reasons we choose Egypt and the Red sea was the diving. It is famous for more than 1000 species of invertebrates, over 200 species of soft and hard coral and 1100 species of fish (more than 200 can only be found in the Red Sea). We went on a wreck tour (Famous five) with the Emperor Superior, a 37 meter dive boat with space for 25 guests, 2 sun decks, a large dive deck and spacious common areas. Our group consisted of 20 people, mainly from the UK, but also South Africa, Canada, Germany, Spain and Norway. A lot of the dive sites on the trip was quite deep, so 16 of our 19 dives were deeper than 20 meters.
We started our diving with an easy check dive where we for the first time dived on our own without a guide. We started off with a guide, but decided to leave him half way into the dive since he had to sort out some problems with other divers’ gear. The rest of our time at the Emperor we dived without a guide, although we often stayed close to the guided group to benefit from the guide’s trained eyes and local knowledge.

We had two dives on the Salem Express, one afternoon dive and one night dive. This is a controversial wreck to dive, since a lot of people lost their lives here. The passenger ship sank on her return journey from Mecca with up to 1600 people (mainly Egyptian pilgrims) on board in 1991, and only 190 survived. It was an interesting dive, but since we don’t have enough training we did not go inside the wreck, and because of that didn’t see much of the luggage and personal belongings still to be found inside.

During the night we cruised out to the Brothers islands witch is a world famous scuba diving destination. It offers some of the best diving in Egypt and in Red Sea, but can be quite challenging due to strong currents and rough surface conditions. These 2 small Islands (Little Brother and Big Brother) are famous for their abundance of colourful soft corals and gorgonian fans and the rich diversity of marine life and large pelagics including sharks and manta rays.

We were a bit early for the shark season, but were very lucky with the weather and the currents. We had 6 dives in total here, saw several large Napoleon Wrasses, a few different types of shark in the distance, visited the wrecks of Aida and Numida, and were seconds away from seeing two large hammerheads (they were spotted just under the boat as we were climbing up the ladder). On Big Brother there is a lighthouse and a navy base. On the second day at the Brothers, we were allowed onshore to climb the lighthouse and buy some t-shirts. The view was good, but since we were so far from everything, there was little to see 🙂
From the brothers we had a 12 hours journey to “Ras Mohamed National Park” on the tip of the Sinai peninsula. We did one dive, with beautiful corals, loads of small fishes, crocodile fish, scorpion fish and moray eels. The wreck (Yolanda) had a cargo of toilets, so there was a lot of them as well.

Our first penetration of a wreck was at the Dunraven.The dive guides said it was a very easy penetration with lots of exits, so we went for it. Inside we did not see much, but Gunnhild spotted a nudibranch on the way out. We ended the dive at the nearby reef, which was very colorful and with loads of fish.

In the afternoon the same day, it was time for SS Thistlegorm witch is considered THE best wreck dive in the world. There are 2 locomotives, 2 tanks, army trucks, jeeps, motorbikes, boots, stacks of rifles and various spare parts for planes and cars. Our fist dive on the wreck was a little crowded, but on the two next dives the crew made sure that we were the only ones on the wreck. We had one of our best night dive so far on this wreck, and the next morning we penetrated the wreck to explore 3 of the cargo holds. It was a very special experience!
Dive number 100 for Fredrik was at Giannis D, a very picturesque wreck, due to the great visibility. It is possible to access the engine room, but because of a lot of stilt this was only recommended for experienced wreck divers. We enjoyed the blue spotted sting rays on the outside, and again spent the last part of the dive on the shallow reef nearby.

Gunnhild started the last day with dive number 100 at Shaab El Erg, famous for dolphins in the passage between two reefs.We had a long and relaxed dive (our first over 70 minutes!), and also saw two Red Sea Walkmen,a very strange scorpion fish using it’s pectoral fins to walk along the bottom. One dolphin swam by as we were surfacing, and we saw several from the sun deck after the dive. Our next dive at Umm Gamar Island was maybe one of the best of the entire trip. We saw lots of large stone fish, a very rare (especially during the day) Spanish dancer, a huge moray eel and again loads of colorful fish and beautiful corals.

We both celebrated our birthdays on the boat, and the chef had made birthday cakes for the both of us. The entire group sang the birthday song, and Fredrik even held a short (slightly ironic) thank you speech. In addition he made a cake for a couple that got engaged on the trip (underwater proposal!), and a shared cake for 5 people (including us) that reached 100 or 500 dives during the trip. Since we are not really that fond of cake, we had brought some other treats to enjoy on our birthdays; Norwegian craft beer and aquavite!

After a week on a boat with wreck dives, we agree that corals and fish are more interesting than wrecks. Not that we don’t like wrecks (some of them were awesome), but we had our share for a while and will focus on other things on our next trip. Liveaboards on the other hand is something we will definitely do again. Living on a boat for a week, walking around barefooted, diving 3-4 times a day, meeting great people, relaxing on the sun deck, going to remote dive sites, learning so much from the dive guides and the other divers, watching the stars and the life in the sea around the boat, staying up late drinking beer and sharing travel stories, being exited to get up although you are tired because a great dive is waiting, eating great food, having someone to help you with your gear and put your fins on, warm cacao when getting up from a late dive, music, laughter and nice conversations. Gotta love it!

Hurghada, Cairo and Luxor

Time for a new dive trip, this time to Egypt. We ended up booking a charter trip, since that was the only direct flights to Hurghada, and we got a decent hotel for a very good price. Just 4 days before our departure we got an email from the charter company saying that due to few bookings our return flight was cancelled, and we had to travel via Copenhagen the day before instead. Not too happy about that, but not much we can do (except get some money back). Our flight from Oslo to Hurghada was not full either. Less than 50 of the 180 seats were taken, so we had plenty of space. We arrived in Hurghada around midnight, were the first ones out of the airport and were happy we had pre-booked a shuttle instead of waiting for the charter buses. When we arrived at our hotel (Triton Empire Hotel), we were told that it was closed and that we were moved to the beach resort instead. We got a nice room with a view over the beach and the pool area. Even though it was quite late, we went to a bar close by (Debbies) for a few beers before going to bed.

The next day we explored the resort area and the neighborhood. Our main goal for the day was to find a dive shop, and we stopped by a few different ones. We ended up booking 4 dives with Funny Divers who were very helpful, professional and flexible. We got the cash we needed for the next few days, bought beer and snacks for the boat trip, delivered our dive gear at the shop and packed the few things we needed for our next excursion, Cairo and Luxor.

The next morning we got up at 4.15, and were picked up 30 minutes later and taken to the airport. We had a 6 am flight to Cairo, where our guide for the day was waiting for us. We had a large van all to our selves, and got a lot of information while driving through Cairo. The French president was visiting, so the main roads were decorated with flags and banners, but the traffic was luckily not too bad. We started at the Egyptian Museum, and were the first ones through the gates when they opened. The museum has more than 120000 items, including the treasures from the tomb of king Tut Ankh Amoun.

Our guide showed us the highlights, explained a lot about the history and the culture, and thought us which signs and features to look for in statues and carvings to know what or who they represented. We were amazed by the details, and impressed by the condition of these very, very old treasures. The mask of Tut Ankh Amoun was one of many highlights.

Good food and great views, but way too much to eat as always. At 1 pm we arrived at the Giza plateau, and had our first view of the great pyramids. Wow! They are the most substantial ancient structure in the world and still surrounded by mysteries. They were built over the span of three generations from 2575 to 2465 BC. The great pyramid of Cheops/Khufu is the only remaining Seven wonders of the ancient world. We also visited the Great Sphinx, a limestone statue with a lion’s body and a human head, most likely representing Pharoah Khafra. It’s the largest monolith statue in the world. Our visit ended at The Valley Temple, made out of red granite and used for the embalming process.

As always we were quite efficient tourists, so when we finished we had a lot of time before our flight. We stopped by a papyrus factory for a short tour, and stopped for tea and coffee at a small coffee bar downtown. The plan was to eat dinner at the airport, but the airport was very quiet and all we could find was a couple of sandwiches and some Sakara beer.

We arrived in Luxor quite late in the evening, and were again picked up by a guide and a driver. Luxor was small, cozy and very green compared to Cairo. We spent the night at a beautiful 5 star hotel with great views over the Nile, and were picked up again at 7.30 am. We had a short stop at Colossi of Memnon, a temple ruin currently being excavated, and where two large statues were restored. In Valley of the kings (no cameras allowed) we visited three tombs. Ramses IV was very colorful and Merenptah was very long, but the most interesting one was Horemheb which was newly opened for visitors. It was very steep and closed before it was finished. Here we could really see the different stages from stone cutting to carving and painting. Really cool!

We visited Hatshepsut Temple, built for the queen that ruled as a king. Two of three levels were mostly restored, but a lot of the carvings were ruined by her stepson after her death, as a revenge for keeping him from the throne. We had an amazing lunch at Cafe Africa by the Nile, and went on a short cruise on the river in our own boat while crossing over to the other side (east bank). Nice!

The final and maybe best stop of the trip was Karnak Temple. The complex is the second largest temple complex in the world(247 acres), after the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. The temples were built over several generations of pharaohs (around 30 contributed). There were several large obelisks, lots of carvings on large pillars and walls and the colors of the paintings were still strong in certain areas. The drive back to Hurghada took 4 hours and we arrived at our hotel around 6 pm.

It seems we ate something we shouldn’t have on the way back to Hurghada, because in the evening Gunnhild got sick, and Fredrik the next morning. Luckily it didn’t last very long, so we were still able to go on the two planned day trips with Funny Divers, but the energy level was not very high. We spent a lot of time between dives talking to a group from Belgium and The Netherlands, and it turned out that 4 of them stayed in the two rooms next to ours at Triton Empire. The dives were also very nice. We saw lots of Napoleon Wrasse, loads of giant moray eels, some beautiful nudibranches, bluespotted stingrays, cornet fish, crocodile fish, box fish and all kinds of colorful fish. We also had a filmcrew following us for a day, to take photos and videos for their webpage and Facebook. When we got back on the second day we had about 20 minutes to pack and get ready to be picked up for the liveaboard. Luckily we were almost done already, so we didn’t forget anything very essential.

Liveaboard and going home

We stayed one night in Khao Lak, 60 km north of Phuket island, before and after our liveaboard. This way we could repack and only bring our dive gear and a small bag of clothes on the boat. We lived in a cozy hotel, Fasai house, just off the main road. The city was very quiet, and it seemed that most tourists in the area stayed at the various beach resorts. We enjoyed our time there, had time for some quiet shopping, found a relaxed German bar with some import beers, had a lot of great food (springrolls, satay and pad thai in particular), enjoyed some thai massage, had a local tailor fix a ripped bag etc.

The hotel let us keep the room until our pickup at 6.30 pm, and after a short ride in an open truck to the pier we were welcomed onto our home for a week, Deep Andaman Queen. Most people were coming by car from Phuket, so we gathered on the main deck, getting to know the other guests while waiting for everyone to arrive. Several of the people we were talking to realized after a while that they were on the wrong boat though, but by 8 pm our group was complete, we were introduced to the crew and got ready to leave. The thai crew had decorated the bow of the boat for the good spirits, and as we left the pier firecrackers were going off to scare the bad spirits.

Our group was quite international with 2 Norwegians, 3 Russians, 1 Dutch living in Switzerland, 1 American living in Japan, 1 Chinese, 2 Singaporeans, 1 Australian and 2 Americans living in China. The 4 dive guides were American, Australian, Dutch and Japanese (private guide). The evening was spent finishing all the paperwork (Myanmar visa, departure cards, dive certifications etc), setting up our dive gear, packing out a bit, getting to know the boat and have a few beers.

The next 7 days we did a total of 22 amazing dives, both in Thailand and in Myanmar. We normally had to get up at 6 am, but instructor Tod had the best wake-up call ever, and knowing we were going diving it was actually not that hard to get up. We had some toast or a yoghurt, something to drink and a briefing in the saloon before we were ready to jump in around 7 am. When we got back up the chef had prepared a large, hot breakfast and we had a couple of hours to relax before our next dive, normally around 10 or 11 am. After lunch we had another dive, and normally ended the day with a sunset or night dive. And after that it was beer o’clock, shower and dinner time. What a good life!

Our very first dive of the trip was on Koh Bon. This was a so-called test dive, where they see which level everyone is on, and try to create the best groups possible based on that. We were 5 people (the two of us + Tim, Al and Danny) who were both advanced and nitrox certified, and we were in Anne the Dutchie’s group. And what a test dive it was. After a nice start we hit strong currents, and were all low on air and pretty exhausted when we got back up. But we all passed the test, and stayed in the same group for the rest of the trip (except some minor changes on a couple of dives).

On our second full day we had a chance to sleep in a bit. Breakfast was not until 9 am, since we were crossing the border to Myanmar and had to spend most of the morning getting through immigration.
4 Myanmar officials boarded the boat to go through everything, and a local guide stayed on the boat for the duration of our stay in Myanmar. On the way back to Thailand 5 days later we even got to leave the boat for an hour. It was a weird feeling to wear shoes (well flip-flops that is) again, and we all had a bit of sea legs. We did some tax free shopping and had a few local beers at Smile restaurant in Kawthoung.

We had to do some changes to the original plan, sometimes because of currents or visibility, but the biggest change was that we had to skip Black Rock due to dynamite fishing, which sadly still happens occasionally here. We still got to dive a lot of great sites though: Koh Bon West Ridge, Tachai Pinnacle, Richelieu Rock, Pratong wreck and Bonsoon wreck in Thailand, and High Rock, Three Islets, North Twin, Shark cave, Square rock, Submarine, Rocky island, Stewart island, Cavern island, Dancer/Holy crab,Frog rock, Fan forest and Western rocky (cave + pinnacle) in Myanmar. Some of the dive sites had so much to see that we did several dives there, and sometimes we returned to a previous site for a night dive, which was a completely different experience. We hardly saw other dive boats our entire time in Myanmar, so we had the dive sites all to our selves. Awesome!

We were a bit early to see manta rays and whale sharks, but other than that we got pretty much all we were hoping for and then some. The highlights would have to be the octopus changing color, the frog fish and last but not least our very first sea horse! Mantis shrimps, barracudas, cuttle fish, squids, rays and spanish dancers were also pretty cool. In some of the sites there were so much fish it was sometimes hard to see your buddy, and other sites had so many moray eels and scorpion fish we lost count after a few minutes. Tim brought a large camera, and was showing us a lot of small stuff we haven’t seen before, like different kinds of anemone fish, sea snails, nudibranchs, shrimps etc.

We also got to do several cool swim throughs and caves, and test ourselves in a few more currents and surges. The swim through at Tachai pinnacle was absolutely gorgeous with large sea fans everywhere. On Stewart island there was a large swim through with a current taking us on a ride the last part of the way and at the end it really pushed us out and up over a wall. On this dive we also went in to a cave with currents going in all directions in the middle. Anne knew how to time it and went through while the rest of us were holding on to the bottom the best we could. Both Tim and Fredrik tried to get through, but were both thrown back by the currents, and we had to exit where we came in. On Cavern island we went into a large tunnel going into the middle of the island, and out an exit on the other side. Quite some surge and so much fish on the way out it was hard to see where to go. On Western Rocky there’s also a large cave, with a beautiful archway by the entrance and lots of large lobsters along the walls. Also our night dive at Three islets was totally crazy with movement absolutely everywhere.

Deep Andaman QueenThe boat itself was very comfortable. It had 9 cabins of different sizes, with room for in total 16 guests (we were only 13). Upstairs there was a saloon, where we had all our briefings, watched pictures and videos, looked up all the marine life we saw during our dives and relaxed when we needed some air condition. We had a large area with a bar and seating for everyone. This is where all meals were served, 5 per day (if you include the pre-dive mini-breakfast) and so much to choose from every time. On top there was a sun-deck with several sunbeds and some sofas in the shade,First of many delicious meals and this was also a good lookout to see dolphins and sharks swimming close to the boat. Downstairs in the back was a large dive deck, with plenty of room for everyone to get ready. The crew was so helpful putting our gear on, making sure everything was set up correctly and showering us with water if it got hot waiting in the sun. Tod usually played music while we were getting ready, and our group often had a little get-ready-to-dive-dance while we were waiting for the captain’s signal to jump in. The captain was really good at what he was doing and manouvered the boat onto the exact right spot every time. When picked up after a dive he “sucked” us right in to the ladders without having to swim at all. Impressive! And of course the crew welcomed us, helped us off with our gear, served fruit juice and at the late dives provided hot towels.

In the evenings we were all hanging out in the seating area (and a bit in the smoking area in the front), playing music, sharing Norwegian aquavite and other drinks, talking, learning new languages, laughing a lot, sharing dive and travel stories, sometimes even singing and dancing. We were a great group and had so much fun! People are telling us we are getting older, but it hasn’t sunk in yet. We skipped the naps a lot of people took during the day (I’m sure the nitrox helped a bit as well), always went to bed last, had twice as much beer as the rest of the group (yes, the list got full and they ran out of our beer of choice) and were still able to be the first one’s ready on dive deck in the morning. The Thai crew actually named Fredrik “Number one”, and always allowed him to get first onto the boat when getting up from a dive.

It was really sad leaving the boat, especially since we were going back to Norway the next day. We took a lot of group photos both under and over water the last day, exchanged email addresses, connected on Facebook, agreed to meet again and said goodbye with a lot of hugs. We really want to do the same trip again, next time probably a bit later so we might be lucky enough to see mantas and whale sharks as well. And hopefully get to dive (and drink) with Anne and Tod again. And a trip to Japan to dive with Tim also sounds like a really good plan. 😉

Liveaboard (going offline)

Today we will go on a liveabord named Deep Andaman Queen. This boat will take us to  Myanmar water and back to Kho Lak.

Deep Andaman Queen

Our itinerary will be like this:

Day 1:

Arrival at MV Deep Andaman Queen in Tablamu pier. Welcome drink serves – Cabin allocation – Staff introduction – Boat briefing – Welcome Dinner – Leave from Tablamu Pier travel overnight to the fantastic dive sites of Similan.

Day 2:

Enjoy with 2 dives at Koh Bon and Koh Tachai then follow by 2 dives at the Richelieu Rock. After diving will have a night cruise to Ranong for immigration on the next day.

Day 3:

In the morning we will clear border formalities at Ranong-Thailand and Kawthoung in Myanmar before cruising out towards islands of Myanmar. Exploring 3 dives at High Rock, Rocky Island and Shark Cave areas.

Day 4:

4 extremely exciting dives at the Black Rock.

Day 5:

Happy dives at North Twin, Shark Cave and Stewart Island.

Day 6:

Morning dive at North Rock then follow by Fan Forest Pinnacle and 2 more dives at Western Rocky.

Day 7:

Two dives at Western Rocky then returning to Kawthoung for checking out from Myanmar and back in to Thailand.

Day 8:

2 wreck dives at Boonsung and another wreck in front of Khao Lak.

Bangkok

We arrived in Bangkok in the afternoon. The official taxi line was very long, so we went for an unofficial one. The taxi driver did not know where we where going, but luckily Gunnhild had saved the location on Google maps and could guide him. The hotel (Playhaus) was a theatre themed hotel and we got the Aladdin Room with an Arabic theme. In the room we had a bathroom with mostly (but not all) frosted glass. Luckily there were curtains! Other than that it was a great hotel with the best bed we had so far on this trip.

We chose this hotel mainly because it was close to many beer pubs like BREW, HOBS (House of beers) and Mikkeller. We also found a place named CRAFT with 40 craft beers on tap when looking for a tailor. In these pubs, they had a lot of beer that we had tried before, but also a descent amount of beers new to us.

We expected Bangkok to be dirty, noisy and way too warm, but was pleasantly surprised, so instead of going to Kanchanaburi as planned, we booked two extra nights in Bangkok. This way we could see the city and get everything in place before the liveaboard (laundry and some shopping) without stress. We didn’t do a lot of sightseeing while in Bangkok. Because of the river festival it was very crowded near the main sights, and getting around was quite hard. Sky train, metro and speed boats were the best options, but with just a few lines and limited transfer options, this took time as well.

 

We took an one hour boat trip on the Chao Praya river, through the locks and into the canals known as klongs. We could see why Bangkok used to be called “Venice of the east”. The klongs were lined by houses in all sizes and styles from small shacks to grand wooden villas. Locals were running their business here, people were fishing, swimming, doing laundry and selling food and d
rinks to boats passing by. We also passed several temples, shrines, restaurants and schools. It felt like a different city, and was a nice break from the busy streets. Our boat ride ended close to Wat Pho (the temple of the reclining buddha), one of the largest temple complexes in the city. It is famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long, 15 meters tall and is covered in gold leaf. It was squeezed into a building just large enough to cover it, and was a quite impressive sight.
The rest of the temple was also nice, with lots of buddha statues and some funny looking Chinese statues guarding the gates and buildings. We skipped Temple of Dawn which was being renovated and Grand Palace where the dress code was too strict (we didn’t bring any shoes!). We have seen our share of Asian temples and palaces on previous trips though, so one was more than enough. 

Our last night in Bangkok started at Cloud 47, one of very few casual rooftop bars where flip flops are allowed. We had dinner, a couple of drinks and enjoyed the sunset and the views. The rest of the evening was spent in the bar CRAFT, where Italian brewery L’Olmaia were launching their beers. We had a long talk with the head brewer and his team, got a guided tour in the back of the bar and spent the night talking to the owner and his friends and tasting a lot of good beer.

Koh Lanta

After a quick lunch and a beer, we went to the dive shop we had been emailing with (Hidden Depths) to book diving for the next day and agree on the Nitrox course we had booked. Gary and Jo were very welcoming and flexible, so we were really looking forward to the next few days. We ended up watching the PADI video as soon as we had all the paperwork sorted, and went back to the guesthouse with a lot of theory to read. Both were very hard to get through with jetlag and no sleep on the flight, but we didn’t really have any rush, so we just postponed the exam one day. As part of the training we also went to the filling station, where the German owner explained how they were mixing and filling enriched air, and we analyzed and marked the cylinders we were going to dive with after the exam.

Hidden Depth’s speed boat was currently out of the water for maintenance, but they had agreements with the other diveshops, and we could pretty much pick between all available trips from the island. We loved being diving gypies, moving from boat to boat (always with our own guide from Hidden Depths though). They were all quite similar, and served breakfast, fruit and lunch on the boat. Most of them left from piers just next to ours, which was very convenient, but our favourite boat, Kon-Tiki, was worth the short drive. Awesome service, dark bread and delicious pancakes.

We had 11 dives in 5 days: Koh Haa Lagon, Koh Haa Yai, Bidah Nok, Hin Bidah, Kled Gaew wreck, Bidah Nai, Hin Muang, Hin Daeng, Koh Haa Neung, Hin Yung and Hin Klai. We had great visibility on most dives, 30 degrees water and saw a huge variety of marine life. No manta rays or whale sharks, but the over two meter long leopard shark was pretty cool. We saw several cuttle fish, scorpion fish, turtles and moray eels in all sizes, loads of snappers, trigger fish, trivalies, glass fish, longfin bannerfish, moorish idol, scribbled filefish, andaman sweetlips, yellowback fusiliers, yellow boxfish, spotted boxfish, masked/common porcupinefish, trumpetfish, cornetfish, clownfish, shaded batfish, barracudas and lion fish. Banded sea krate (sea snake), durban dancing shrimp, peacock mantis shrimp, flounder, nudibranchs, stingrays, bigfin reef squid, red tooth triggerfish and a bamboo shark.

The first day we had divemaster Erica all to ourselves. This was the first time we really were able to test our new dive gear, and after some minor adjustments we are both very happy with it! The rest of the week we were diving with instructor Dave as our guide. One day we were joined by freshly certified Sam. She was great though, so that was no problem, even though she told us afterwards that she got a bit stressed when hitting a thermocline with low visibility. After that we were joined by Vivian and Trevor, both instructors on vacation. We stayed together until they were headed back home, had a lot of great dives, many laughs at the boat and also spent several evenings together.

On Koh Haa Yai we dived into some cool, quite large caves with swimtroughs connecting them. In one of them we also saw a huge giant puffer. Koh Haa Neung is famous for a series of vertical swimtroughs and caverns known as ‘The Chimney’. We entered one of the shallow entrances head first, had a short stop in the central chamber at 8-9 meters and exited at around 18 meters. At the end of the dive we took the other way through the chimney and ended up in a cave called the fish bowl. Fun! Another highlight was the trip to Hin Muang (purple rock) and Hin Daeng (red rock), which are bearly breaking the surface 40 nautical miles south of Phi Phi. Beautiful colors, loads of marine life and the reef was in a much better condition than closer to the coast. We also had a nice wreck dive just outside Phi Phi. The 47 meter long vessel was originally the Norwegian Ms Norfest (1948) and commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy in 1956 and renamed. The ship was donated and purposely sunk via controlled explosion to create a new dive site on 19 March 2014. It was impressive how much marine life had “moved in” in such a short time. We also did our first Nitrox (enriched air with 32 % oxygen) here. Didn’t really feel much of a difference, but had more energy in the evening which was nice.
Most of the evenings were spent in Saladan where we lived. All along the water there were restaurants with large terraces over the water, and we also found some nice places in the main street. We even had time for some shopping, a rash guard for Fredrik and new glasses for Gunnhild. The first days it was very quiet, but suddenly on Wednesday a lot of people arrived. It was warm (28-32 degrees Celsius), very humid and mostly sunny. A short rain shower in the evening was just refreshing. The last evening before Vivian and Trevor left, we took a Tuk Tuk to Relax bay, where also Dave joined us for a few beers at the relaxed Fusion bar. We were sitting on pillows around a low table, enjoying the sounds of the ocean and the bonfires on the beach. Some of the local boys showed off their fire spinning skills, and we were talking, laughing and having a wonderful time. So good actually, that by the time we were ready for dinner, all the restaurants were closed. We went back to Fusion and they arranged great local food, and later in the evening a private car to take us home. Great night!

We didn’t use the balcony at our hotel as much as expected. During the day, it was way too warm in the sun, and in the evening we were invaded by a monkey trying to steal our swimwear, drinks and whatever he could find. He also loved licking our windows. Funny guy.

On Saturday it was time to leave Koh Lanta for some days in Bangkok. We picked up our dive gear that had been drying in the dive shop, said goodbye to all the great people we had met, packed our bags and waited for our pickup to the ferry terminal. The speedboat to Phuket was a bit delayed, but with 3×250 HP it only took 1,5 hours, including a short stop at crowded Phi Phi. We spent one night in the old town of Phuket Town, mainly to repack our bags and store our dive gear etc instead of bringing it all to Bangkok. Gunnhild got a haircut while Fredrik was waiting in an expensive wine bar across the street. The evening we spent in Brasserie Phuket, which had a nice beer selection and a great waitress very eager to learn more about beer.

Thailand

About 20 hours after we started we arrived in Koh Lanta, Thailand at 3 pm. The travel was smooth and on time, but there were long lines for the passport control both in Oslo and Bangkok, so we didn’t have much time to spare. We were picked up at the airport by the guesthouse owner, Manus. The drive from the airport was supposed to be a 1 hour drive plus 2 ferries, but it ended up being more than 3 hours all together because we where waiting for more than an hour on the last ferry. Too bad the bridge they are building will not be opened until February. Koh Lanta is a small island south of Krabi, and we are staying in a city named Saladan where most of the dive shops are located. We are staying in a small guesthouse at the end of the road (Lanta MP Place). We have a large room with a big balcony, and great views over the palm trees to the beach. The city is quite small, so everything is within walking distance, and the dive shop (Hidden Depths) is just 2 minutes away.

We have booked the room until Saturday, but we haven’t really decided where to go next. Probably Bangkok and maybe Kanchanaburi. The friday the week after we are boarding a liveaboard cruise from Khao Lak (north of Phuket), and will spend 8 days diving outside Phuket and in Myanmar. Hardly any boats go to the dive sites in Myanmar, so they are quite untouched, and there will probably not be any other boats there at the same time as us.

Since we will do a lot of diving, we will probably not update the blog every day, but try to write a summary when we move to a new location.