Category Archives: Travel Asia

Best Diving in South East Asia

Having been scuba diving in various countries around Asia, I am often asked where is the best place to scuba dive in South East Asia. Taking into account countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, here are my top scuba dive sites and the marine life you can spot during the dives such as sharks, manta rays, whale sharks and turtles. The following places are the best dive sites in my personal experience and I can’t wait to add more to the list. Consider these diving destinations when booking your next scuba diving trip for some impressive underwater adventures.

Scuba Diving in Komodo National Park

scuba diving with frogfish komodo national park

To this date, Komodo remains the most exciting and awesome place to scuba dive that I have been so far. Healthy, brightly coloured corals and a whole range of marine life from manta rays, to sharks to turtles and macro life, Komodo has such an incredible underwater world. After a holiday trip here, I decided to do my divemaster course here and enjoyed every dive. There are strong currents so it’s a great place to improve your skills. You will be expected to pay extra national park fees whenever you enter Komodo National Park whether it’s for scuba diving or snorkelling trips.  The most impressive dive sites are probably Batu Balong which is always a clear favourite, and you will see why once you jump in the water, but also the North of Komodo for crazy currents and lots of sharks.

Manta Rays in Nusa Lembongan

manta ray in nusa lembongan indonesia scuba diving

Indonesia is one of the best countries to scuba dive in, both for learning to dive, like doing the Open Water course and also for the diversity of marine life you can see there. Nusa Lembongan boasts manta rays all year round and you would be extremely unlucky not to experience a dive or even a snorkel with a manta ray there. It also has some enjoyable drift dives and some dive sites with fairly healthy coral and a lot of frogfish!

Dive with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Cebu – Philippines

scuba diver waiting for thresher sharks in malapascua cebu philippines

If, like me, you are a shark addict then definitely head to Malapascua, Cebu in the Philippines to dive with the thresher sharks. There’s an extremely high chance of seeing these 3metre long sharks at around 25 metres so this is aimed for Advanced divers or those who have completed a deep dive speciality. The tails are so impressive and I’ll never forget the early morning experience of kneeling in the sand at the bottom of the sea being circled by these amazing thresher sharks.

Richelieu Rock and Koh Bon, Thailand to Dive with Whale Sharks

Whale shark at richelieu rock in Thailand

Scuba diving Richelieu Rock is arguably one of the best places to dive in Thailand. Not far from the Similan Islands or Koh Similan off the west coast of Thailand, it has lovely purple corals and a fairly good chance of whale sharks when in season. You can only visit during dry season, approximately October to May as this area and the Similan Islands are closed over the monsoon period.

For more Thailand Scuba Diving tips check out this blog post

Gili Islands, Indonesia – “Turtle city”

scuba diving with green turtle in the gili islands Indonesia

For those seeking turtles, head to the Gili islands off of Bali and the dive site they nickname ‘turtle city’. I was told by my dive instructor that if I only saw 10 that was considered unlucky!

Tulamben, Bali – World War 2 Wreck Dive – The Liberty Bell

angel fish diving wreck dive in tulamben liberty bell

One of the best wreck dives that I did in Bali is the Liberty Bell in Tulumben, close to Amed and the jumping off point to the Gili Islands. The wreck is a shore dive so I strongly recommend diving at sunrise as there were no other divers around when I did and these huge bumphead/humphead parrotfish circle around the wreck in a school.

On my future list are Raja Ampat and certain atolls in the Maldives so watch this space! Where is the best place that you have scuba dived?

For ideas and suggestions of what you should take on a dive boat click here

Scuba Diving Packing List: What to Take on a Dive Boat

I started scuba diving around four years ago and completed my Open Water in Koh Tao, Thailand, like many others. So far I have dived around Asia extensively in Thailand and Indonesia but also in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan so this scuba diving packing list is advice meant for diving in tropical waters. For me, scuba diving is an addiction and the more I do it, the more I want to do. A few people have asked me about what to take diving, so I thought I’d make a useful scuba packing list of what I take on a dive boat. Below are diving essentials and useful items that I always check off my diving packing list.

What to take on a dive boat:

1. Gopro. There are many other similar video cameras for diving but the Gopro is still a popular, small and useful item for diving. It took me too long to get mine and I missed out on some great footage of diving with turtles in the Gili islands in Indonesia.
Scuba Diving Tip: When learning to do your Open Water or Advanced qualification and doing other dive courses you are, generally speaking, not permitted to use cameras. Compare prices for GoPro HERO4 BLACK and Gopro Hero 5 on Amazon here.

take on a dive boat
Turtles and Stunning Coral in Komodo National Park

2. A red filter for the GoPro is a must for my diving holiday packing list. It took me a long time until I cottoned on to this as before I received my red filter (thanks Dad!) all my photos and videos were so blue or green and not showing the real beauty of the coral. You lose red colour the deeper you dive. See which red filter fits your underwater camera here. 

what to take on a dive boat
How my photos looked before I bought a red filter!

3. Gopro selfie stick, a recent purchase that allows me to get closer to animals or corals without disturbing them with my bubbles or presence. Buy a similar one like this Selfie Stick GoPro Hero on Amazon.

what to take on a dive boat
Getting up close to some fish

4. Bikini or swimwear. I personally prefer to wear a bikini under my wetsuit as it is easier when you need to go to the toilet on the dive boat!

Scuba Diving Tip: I usually wear a bikini with straps so that I won’t flash anyone while peeling off my wetsuit but I also make sure it doesn’t have any ties near my neck that might irritate me when my wetsuit is zipped all the way up.

what to take on a dive boat
In my happy place

5. A rash vest is another item that makes it onto my packing list. I get cold so easily on scuba dives, even when diving in warm water so I usually wear a rash vest under my wetsuit. If you don’t need to wear a wetsuit then definitely take a rash vest on your dive trip. Cold and shivering means you go through your air a lot quicker!
Scuba Diving Tip: When diving in countries like Thailand and Malaysia, most dive centres only provide short wet suits and even might charge extra for a long wetsuit which I am not prepared to pay. Browse brand name rash vests here

Scuba Diving Tip: choose a rash vest with a zip all the way up the middle – makes it so much easier taking it on and off!

what to take on a dive boat

6. Tiger balm/ decongestant – you cannot equalise with a cold or blocked nose so these are useful for keeping your sinuses open. I have used Actifed as a very strong decongestant which always helps me equalise but you shouldn’t use it for diving consecutive days. There is also a risk of reverse block so use with caution. Buy your tiger balm and nasal sprays on Amazon or wait until you arrive in Asia as they are equally cheap here.

7. Socks! – you might not look like the coolest diver out there but if you’re wearing fins without booties for days on end then socks will stop them from rubbing (and protect my nail varnish!) Also very useful for liveaboard diving packing lists because of diving multiple dives a day.

8. Dry bag – forever a fan of these. Keep your stuff dry when climbing on and off boats, from ocean spray and monsoon weather. Buy yours here for a reasonable price.

what to take on a dive boat
Dry Bag – it goes everywhere with me from dive boats to hiking National Parks

9. Spare contact lenses – if like me you need to wear contacts to actually see the fish then make sure you take a spare pair with you. I find that clearing your mask underwater particularly stings when wearing contacts and changing them between two dives can help. I use daily contacts for diving.

Scuba Diving Tip: only soft contacts can be used for diving.

10. A hoody – maybe just for people who feel the cold but multiple dives lower your body temperature so at the end of the diving day I’m often feeling the cold.

11. Suncream – I’m still looking for a suncream with a high SPF that is reef safe and doesn’t come in a tiny plastic bottle! Drop me a comment if you have any suggestions – it will be much appreciated!

12. GoPro extensions – something to make your gopro float that doesn’t include air. I’m still looking for a GoPro floating selfie stick so if anyone knows where I can buy one then let me know please. I used to have one of these orange devices that float but you it means you cannot see the screen on my GoPro Hero 4. Buy a floating GoPro device here.

13. Your log book – recently I’ve made sure I write in my log book in between dives – especially when doing three dives a day, to help me remember and write about the moment.

14. A sarong – I never bother with heavy beach towels nowadays and I prefer to travel with lightweight, quick drying sarongs instead. I might not always head straight home after a dive and I don’t want to be carrying around a wet, heavy towel to the bar for post diving beers. I love a turtle themed one like this one 

Read more here for the best dives sites in Thailand

For the best dive destinations in South East Asia check out my list

Looking for more packing advice? Here are my backpacking essentials that I never travel without

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything from Amazon I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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scuba dive packing guide scuba dive packing guide

 

Travel Reading List

So I am a MASSIVE bookworm and devour books by the day. I have compiled a list of my loved books as well as books about countries I’ve visited. Please comment and add your favourites as I’m always after new reading material

While I love reading actual books, my Kindle is much more practical for travelling and I am now a total convert to e-readers. Any old literature is also free as the copyright has run out and most online books are often cheaper than your bookshop equivalent.

While my love for a real good-smelling book will never dwindle, I definitely recommend travelling with a Kindle.

You can buy yours here on Amazon Kindle Paperwhite – I recently lost my original Kindle and got the Paperwhite one for Christmas. It’s super light and the battery lasts for such a long time.

For more useful and practical backpacking items, have a read of my list of essentials

(Updated July 2017)

Sri Lanka

The Elephant Complex – John Gimlette – A extremely readable history which explains the complexities of the Civil War so well

Mosquito – Roma Tearne – fictional book set during the civil war

When Memory Dies Ambalavaner Sivanandanfictional book set during the civil war

Anil’s Ghost – Michael Ondaatje- fictional book set during the civil war

Tamil Tigress – Niromi de Soyza – autobiography of a former female soldier in the Tamil Tigers

For more information about Sri Lanka read this

India

Shantaram – Gregory David Robert (first book I read and decided I needed to visit India!) – Epic adventure story that is also true!

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth- Family orientated drama concerning arranged marriages and religion issues

A Fine Balance -Rohinton Mistry – Heartbreaking and important

The Palace of Illusions – Chitra Divakaruni – Tale of the Mahabharata, one of the oldest, most epic stories in the Hindu religion told from a female perspective

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie – Fantasy story set during India’s independence

Holy Cow – Sarah Macdonald – Autobiographical book concerning India’s spiritual and religious elements

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling – Children’s story of jungle adventures about a boy growing up with wolves

A Passage to India – E.M.Forster – short novel depicting the beginning of the end of the British Empire in India

The Far Pavilions – M.M.Kaye – Adventure, love, war, religion – one of my favourite books of all time.

Shadow of the Moon – M.M.Kaye – fictional story about the lead up to the First Afghan War

City of Djinns – William Dalrymple – extremely readable history of Delhi, this book feels like it’s a fictional story

Thinking about solo travel in India? Read this

Thailand

The Beach – Alex Garland (Thailand) – backpacker tales from Thailand

Forget You Had a Daughter – Sandra Gregory – Autobiography about an English teacher who served time in Thailand’s notorious Kong Klem prison, nicknamed the ‘Bangkok Hilton’

 

Travel – All Countries

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert (Italy, India, Bali) – don’t watch the movie but do read this book! Touches on dealing with depression as well as travel

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson (Worldwide and humorous!)

First They Killed My Father – Loung Ang (Cambodia)

The Quiet American – Graham Greene (Vietnam)

House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende (South America)

The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank (WW2)

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (USA- WW2)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe (USA)

The Island – Victoria Hislop (Crete – Greece)

Modern

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

The Goldfinch – Donna Tart

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnatt

Nocturnal Animals – Austin Wright

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climber Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

 

Adventure Stories

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

The Moonstone and The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Old Classics

Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

The Forsyte Saga – John Galsworthy

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tender is the Night – F Scott Fitzgerald

The Beautiful and Damned – F Scott Fitzgerald

Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Never Smile at Indian Men…and Other Bullshit

Are you thinking about solo female travel in India? Having researched and read so many travel blogs over my travelling lifetime I feel I really want to blog about dispelling some horrendous and detrimental myths there are, particularly about travel in places such as Sri Lanka and  India.

Below are some of the following ‘tips’ that I read before both my solo trips:

  • Wear a wedding ring
  • Never tell anyone you are travelling alone
  • Say you are meeting your ‘husband’ later on
  • Don’t stay in cheap accommodation – it’s for prostitutes
  • Never tell anyone where you are staying
  • Don’t take night trains (as read in Lonely Planet!)
  • Don’t talk to locals
  • Don’t smile at Indian men

Having now travelled solo as a woman in both these countries I can fairly safely say that this is complete bullshit. Don’t smile at people? I met some fantastic Indian guys who are now my good friends. I strongly feel that by never telling anyone we are travelling alone, we are not helping the world – we are playing along with society’s idea that women cannot travel solo. That we should feel scared and we are better off staying at home.

I am not naïve. I have had scary moments all over the world including my home – the UK. But that does not mean for one minute that I feel I cannot travel alone. The same things that happen in India, happen in Thailand and happen in London. While I admit that in every society there are certain uneducated and bigoted members who do not respect women, and there may be more in some countries than others, I do not think we should cower in our apartments and never see the world.

Incredible India

I have wanted to go to India since I was teenager. It took me until age 27 to pluck up the courage to stop waiting for someone to come with me and just go! After everything I read I decided to join a group tour for the first part of my trip. As soon as I was there I felt comfortable enough to travel alone. And I did so for the last 10 days of my trip which resulted in some of the most incredible experiences of the trip: whizzing around the Himalayas on motorbikes, waking up at 4am to see sunrise from a temple, building bonfires on beaches by the side of the Ganga river, attending puja religious ceremonies with locals, rafting, bungee jumping, sharing delicious Indian food…the list goes on.

India Advice

My advice to any female solo travellers wanting to go to India but feeling unable to is…GO! Book on a tour for the first part to help you feel more confident but I would without a doubt feel MORE than comfortable returning alone to travel India, Sri Lanka and many more besides…

Advice I DID appreciate and listened to: Take precautions, cover up, have a plan if you arrive late at night, always lock your doors, don’t wander around alone late at night, stay in busy areas, avoid parks/alleys at night, walk on main roads, take a card from the hotel (mainly advice because I get lost and have a terrible sense of direction!) Here’s my top most useful advice.

What are your thoughts on solo female travel? Are you tired of the world telling you it’s ‘too dangerous’? Not safe? Or do you think it’s justified?

In Awe of Sri Lanka – Solo Female Travel

Sri Lanka. As my first experience of truly travelling alone I could not have had a better one.

So I arrived at the Colombo airport at 1am completely terrified. Panic started to set it. My flight was delayed so I was arriving even later than normal, would my hostel be open? I had been unsuccessful in my quest for Sri Lankan rupees and had only US dollars and Thai baht in my purse. What if everything was shut at the airport? I was completely alone, in a strange country, with no money, no working phone. I could hear my heart over the sound of the airport announcements as I waited a disturbingly long time for my backpack to arrive.

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The moment I walked through customs and spotted a taxi stand next to an open money exchange place I knew that everything was going to be okay. Things work out as they should do. Always.

Though I spent a mere ten days in Sri Lanka, I already knew I wanted to return. A new found love in my life. I have never found people so warm or so welcoming, everywhere you turn you are greeted with a full cheeky grin and a head wobble.

I had previously been freaked out by other people’s blogs telling you that women don’t travel alone in Sri Lanka, (read more about the myths) to wear a wedding ring, that people will attempt to feel you up on crowded buses, I could not have felt any safer. Always erring on the side of paranoid I was extremely covered up when I was travelling and aware not to drink alcohol alone.

Highlights of my trip:

  • Taking obligatory photos of my train snaking like a blue ribbon through the mountains, cutting through the rock in a feat of engineering – the only good thing that the British brought about
  • The ticket inspector doubling as a palm reader while I hung my head like a dog out of the window
  • A local guide picking me up and giving me a free, extremely informative, tour of the Temple of the Tooth and insisting on being my friend for the next two days, taking me to (male-only) street food stalls, teaching me to drive a tuktuk, seeing cave paintings for the first time
  • Purchasing vegetable samosas for a bus journey and being offered the owner’s sons hand in marriage
  • Seeing wild elephants EVERYWHERE you looked, a dream come true for me, I’m still smiling now
  • Being taught to surf in Arugam Bay, falling off, salt water in my eyes and nose and loving every minute of it
  • A 6 hour ridiculously cramped bus journey up to the north, surrounded by locals and a couple of backpackers with Bollywood music videos blasting at high volume as we veer across the countryside
  • Seeing dolphins on a boat trip and an unexpected  whale shark joining in on the action!
  • Actually crying at a family run guest house because everyone was being so welcoming

Tips

Visit the Sigiriya – amazing ancient Lion’s Rock

Go to at least one National Park- Udawalawe for more elephants than you can take it! Yala for more eles and a high chance of leopards!

Consider visiting the north

Marvel at the number of significant religions – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian

Spend some time in the Hill Country

Watch the sunset at Galle Face Green

Beware if you visit a bar you will mostly likely be the only female!

Drink as much tea as possible

Eat rice and curry with your bare hands with the locals

Eat roti at every opportunity

Beware the local beer is strong!

The list goes on and on and I could not recommend this country any more. Wrecked by decades of civil war which officially ended in 2009, travellers are finally able to visit the whole country and I have no doubt that I will be back. Hopefully to live. Watch this space.