This is a very quickly written story for the Beijing
Dive Club web site. I included lots of contact and price information
to help people plan their own trips. Apologies for grammar mistakes,
I wrote it very quickly.
Although we initially wanted to go to the Phil
Ting's passport was valid for less than six months, so they would not
give her a visa. (And this $@*&#%! Huko system in China meant that
we would have had to go to Hainan to get a new passport. Aint gonna
happen in time.) So we settled on Phuket. The Thai embassy said that
they would give us a visa, but there was a small chance we would be
refused entry because, actually both our passports would expire in under
6 months. Except for Konner's. He could probably stay, but we might
have to leave. We decided to take the chance.
This trip had two purposes. The first was for Mark to get his Rescue
Diver certification. Mark has a new goal of getting his instructor certification
before our new son Konner gets old enough to dive. That way Mark can
certify he and his friends. The second was to figure out how to go diving
with a baby.
We arrived at midnight, worrying about whether we could get into the
country. Not only did they let us in, we got into a special fast immigration
line because of the baby. Then a customs officer helped us find a taxi
since it was late at night. But first, we tried to get money from the
ATM machines at the airport. None worked. But the taxi driver stopped
at a large shopping center where we found one that did, and we withdrew
some money. Otherwise we would not have been able to pay the driver.
We had arranged one night at the Karron Whale Resort. Although small
and in the downtown area of Karron, it was reasonable. The floors, like
everywhere we stayed, were tile, which is good for a baby to crawl on.
They had a refrigerator, bathtub and also provided a baby bed. But there
was no water boiler to make clean water or hot water for the baby's
milk. They sent up boiled water when we asked though for free. There
is a small pool that you could swim laps in if you wanted to exercise.
I went out to find some food, but as it was now about 2am, all I found
were women "accidentally" brushing up against me as they "tripped"
on the curb. They were not impressed when I told them I couldn't stay
out and drink with them because my wife was waiting for me in the room.
In the morning, breakfast was a simple buffet. Plenty of fruit, but
very disappointingly, the juice was a fruit drink, not real juice. But
overall, its not too bad. We paid 1800 Baht that night, which given
its central location was probably a reasonable price.
They were full the next day, but helped us get into the Best Western
nearby for the same price. This place normally charges a lot more, so
they suspiciously did not have a room available for more than one nite.
The BW is a nicer place yet, but a little bit of a walk from the beach
and the downtown area. But they also had a refrigerator, tile floors,
a bathtub, provided a baby bed, and had a water boiler. Too bad we couldn't
stay, but they did not have a room available. So that day I had to look
for our room for the rest of the trip. There are MANY little stores
who make reservations. We also recommend www.latestays.com for some
pretty good deals. You can reserve these over the internet, or even
call them from Phuket.
After walking a ways, on the spur of the moment, I decided to rent a
motor cycles. Unfortunately, I rented it from the first guy on the street
I saw renting them. This was a big mistake. I should have gone to a
permanent shop of some kind. (More later on this.) Just wanting it to
get to hotels quickly, he told me 250 Baht for a day, 200Baht for 4
hours. I took it for a day, even though I was pretty sure I would return
it in a few hours.
Well, this is the BEST way to get around. If I didn't have a baby, we
would have rented this for the entire week. But it would be too dangerous.
I spend the next couple hours going to hotels between Karron and Kata.
We had called the Kata Country House earlier, and they had a room open
for several days. It was a very small one, but the price was only 980
Baht. Stopping their, it seemed nice, but no bathtub for the baby. Also,
no baby bed. They said they would hold it until 6:30, but I kept driving.
And driving. And driving. Everything was either full or expensive. We
decided to take the Kata Country House room.
But when I returned the motorcycle, the renter, who ran a small fruit
stand, accused me of having an accident and damaging it. I owed him
400 Baht. I had no problems at all, so I said no. He had my driver's
license, or else I would have walked away. He proceeded to show me small
damaged areas on the motorcycle and say that I must have caused them.
He focused on a reasonably large scrape on the basket. I told him to
look carefully, there was rust along the whole scrape. Metal does not
rust in 4 hours. He eventually came down to 200 Baht, but since I certainly
had no accident, I still said no. Then I went to call the police. The
police got there, and the vendor would not change his claim against
me. So I got on back of the police motorcycle and went down to a small
police station on the main road toward Kata. There, we talked to the
office in charge, and the vendor showed him the damage, focusing again
on the rusty scratch on the basket. When I showed him the rust, it was
all over. He was talking in Thai, but it was obvious he was saying the
same thing. "Metal doesn't rust this quickly." The vendor
gave me back my license and went home. I apologized to the police officer
for making such a big problem over such a small amount of money. We
both smiled, and they gave me a ride back to the hotel. This was the
only incident that marred the trip. Everyone else we met went out of
their way to be nice to us.
The next day we moved to Kata Country House (www.katacountryhouse.com
- except this internet site is blocked by the Chinese government firewall,
so you probably cant see it.) By that time, they had somehow found a
small baby bed and a water boiler. Wow. And
the staff was extremely nice. The only remaining negative was no bathtub.
This was a problem thru the entire trip, as its hard to give a 9 month
old baby a shower every night. But at 900 Baht, we were happy anyways.
We were still happy when we moved to a bigger room half way thru at
about 1400 Baht per nite. The Kata Country House was just the right
level of price versus quality for a dive trip. The KCH is a very simple
relaxed place, but clean and everyone was very nice. The rooms (even
the deluxe one we moved to) have no television, which we liked. (Maybe
the Superior one does - I don't know.) But there was also only one electrical
outlet. (I wish we had brought an extension cord.) There was also no
telephone, which is only a problem because if you make phone calls at
the desk, they will charge you 10 Baht per minute for a local call and
20 Baht per minute for a call to a mobile phone. They have a small store
with reasonable prices on juice and candy bars. The area is quiet, unlike
the Whale Resort. The beach is about a 15 minute walk away, but they
have a relaxing pool area. If I were not diving, I would like to stay
at one of the hotels on the beach, which are at least twice as expensive.
But one or both of us were gone almost every day for diving, so this
didnt make sense. We will definitely try to stay here on our next dive
trip to Phuket also.
Breakfasts at KCH are simple, maybe a bit too simple. No brunch, just
a choice between four small "sets". I ate fried egg, toast,
and juice everyday, but they had others. They did make a hard boiled
egg every day for Konner. Turns out that their restaurant was very good
though. And reasonably priced compared to the other places in the area
we tried over the rest of our stay. The best one was the one Brendan
and Sarah took us to,
we don't know the name or how to get there. You'll have to ask them.
Of the others, one other was best food, one was best value, and one
was in the middle. If you want to know more about the restaurants nearby,
just send us an email.
Although our own planning was horribly last minute, some help from Brendan
and Sarah saved us. (www.phuketdiver.com) They arranged Mark's Rescur
Diver training, gave us a recommendation for Kata Country House which
we liked very much, and also recommended a good dive shop to buy some
gear for Ting. (We looked at others and ended up buying at the one they
They dive shop we used was South Siam Divers. (www.southsiamdivers.com
Tel: +66-76-286016~18.) They have a nice set of classrooms, and Mark's
instructor, Angus Mason-Penny from Ireland, was very knowledgeable,
especially for the Medic First Aid class as he had done similar work
in the military for a while. They have three boats. Once goes to Raja
Yai every day for student and easy diving. Another goes to other locations
such as Shark Point, King Cruiser, and Koh Dak Mai on different days.
And another either goes to or stays up in the Similans. See the pictures
for a couple of the Raja Yai boat. (By the way, look for the dive trips
with 3 dives on them. They are only a little more expensive than the
2 dive trips so worth it.) I would recommend South Siam if you want
to take a class and are looking for the lowest cost available. The cost
does not include the books, which was a mistake on my part. I should
have bought them anyways. But of course they loaned me books for the
duration of the class. But they are friendly, knowledgeable and drove
Mark to and from the class every day. People on the boat also said that
they had some of the best food of all the daily dive boats.
First dive trip was to Bungalow Bay at Racha Yai for Mark's certification.
Mark went alone to check out the boat and see if we could bring a baby
on board. 29 degree water. Two easy dives to practice rescue diver skills.
Lots of giant clams, a lion fish and the first stone fish I have ever
seen. The next day, they forgot to pick Mark up in the morning, so we
got a free day. This was because we changed the class from a 3 day class
to a 4 day class at the last minute, and this wasn't communicated to
the people in charge of the dive boat. But its definitely worth taking
the extra day to practice if you can. And you get a couple extra dives
out of it too.
The next day, Ting and Konner came along and we went back to Bungalow
Bay. They agreed to charge Ting only as a skin diver. Konner of course
was free. It was pretty scary bringing a baby on a boat, especially
when we had no life preserver that fit him. But we figured if anything
happened, we could carry hold him for a long time wearing scuba gear,
as the water was warm. And the route to the dive location was well traveled,
so we would get picked up soon anyways. (The dive location is in a cove,
so we could get to shore if anything happened while anchored.) That
said, we had some rules anyways.
1) Baby is always in the carrier going on and off the boat.
2) Baby never leaves the enclosed cabin area while the boat is moving.
3) Its OK to take baby outside the cabin area if the boat is stopped,
but he must be in the carrier.
These served us well. On this trip, Mark did one dive for his course,
and practiced some other rescue procedures on the surface over lunch.
Ting went on the second dive, while Mark watched Konner. We couldn't
dive together, but we both got to dive. This will probably be the scenario
until Konner is much older.
Next day we took off, and the following day, Mark went to Shark Point,
Kind Cruiser, and Koh Dak Mai alone. Some very nice dives. Quick summary
of these dives.
King Cruiser (#77):87m Catamaran passenger ferry that sank in 1997.
25m beam. Deck depths are 4@14m, 3@ 17m, 2@24m, 1@28m and the floor
at 32m. Going to the propeller can lead to a decompression dive if you
are not careful. (We didn't find it as it was covered in silt.) Saw
a number of 3-4 fish groups of Lion Fish and a very large stone fish.
(porcupine fish?). On ascent saw a 30-40cm Medusa Jellyfish
on the surface. They do *not*& have long tentacles like the Man-o-war,
and seems to swim deliberately rather than just ride the current. They
have a very distinctive dark orange "brainy" mass in the middle.
Apparently a sting means you get rushed home in a speedboat. Max depth
Shark Point (#78): On entry, I was the last down, and saw a school of
barracuda (100 to 150 fish) above the other divers. At the bottom, was
a 1.5m leopard shark close by. That's my first of that type of shark.
There were Lion Fish all over, sometimes 5 or 6 in a group. Several
stonefish, a couple varieties of puffer fish - one white, and a 4-5cm
seahorse in a coral head. Some areas here have moderately strong currents.
Max depth 18.7m.
Koh Dok Mai (#79): This is a nice wall dive with a couple of small caves.
People looked inside the entrances of them, but I didn't go in either
as I had no light and was starting to get tired on my third dive. Many
moray eels, about the second sea snake I've ever seen (swimming down
and away from me thank goodness), a school of squid (hard to tell what
they are at first while they are swimming), and a yellow moray eel with
brown spots sharing a hole with a typical brown colored one. I wonder
if the yellow color means anything, perhaps a different gender? This
would have been a nice dive to bring a light and a camera on, although
it is a reasonably well dived location, so visibility was not great
at times. Max depth 18.2.
After another rest day, we went back on the boat to Raja Ya, so Ting
could get some diving in. She needs to build up a little more experience
alone. After Ting's first dive, we got a nice surprise. There were not
many people on the boat that day, so one of the instructors volunteered
to hold Konner if we wanted to go on a quick dive together. So althou
unexpected, Mark got to make dive #80 with Ting. Saw several blue spotted
rays in the sand and chased after a few. Got to hover less than a meter
over one and take a good look.
On our days off, we made a couple trips into Patong to look for equipment
for Ting. Instead of a Tuk Tuk, someone from the hotel found a driver
with a nice car. (And a big trunk for the baby stroller.) We did not
feel safe in a Tuk Tuk with no doors or windows while we had a baby.
Initial price was 250 Baht one way. Of course he wanted to arrange a
time and pick us up for the return trip also. Another two hundred. But
after asking, he said he would stay with us the and drive us around
in between also, for another 100. Total 600 for about 5 hours. He just
parked and waited. We felt bad that we went to eat dinner while he was
waiting, but I guess that's the life of a driver. We never did get his
name, but his phone number is 06-9414015. We recommend calling him,
especially if you are in Kata area. We used his services another day
also when we had a lot of little errands to run. It went a bit longer,
so he asked for 700 instead. Then we arranged for him to take us to
the airport when we left also. He was always punctual and helpful.
The 1am flight home to Beijing was uneventful, and we slept the rest
of the day, to "recover from our vacation." :-)