Whilst I am trapped in the US waiting for the inane, brainless Thai government to pull its thumb out of its ass and allow foreign residents to return, I’ve been reminiscing over some of my more memorable experiences in Thailand.
In this week’s weekly, I’m covering two separate Thailand snorkeling excursions—one fantastic, one terrible. Let’s compare and contrast…
The best snorkeling trip ever: Phuket.
Before becoming a based Banngkokian, I lived in Phuket. Back then, I didn’t keep a harem. Instead, I had one gogo dancer-Bell from Bangla Road—who was my daytime playtime partner and night time sex Olympics rival. One day, out of the blue, she told me she wanted to go snorkeling. Snorkeling? I wondered. You mean there’s more to do in Phuket than drink, eat, and bang? So, we found a random tour on the 2nd road in Patong and booked for the following day. 1,200 per person, which included mask, snorkel, fins, towel rental, and lunch.
The next morning, a van picked us up at my hotel and drove us out to Rawai where we donned life jackets and crowded into a speed boat. After 15 or so minutes of bouncy boating, we arrived at a small bay near the north end of an island that was surrounded on three sides by cliffs. There was no way to get on land, but the water was deep and chock full of fish. Here, the people on the boat emptied into the water to paddle around in the dark blue water. We each got half a loaf of bread to coax the fish closer. Bell had an absolute blast. I enjoyed swimming there, and interacting with the fish was somewhat exciting. It wasn’t as good as the snorkeling I experienced in the Caribbean but it was fun. I got more out of the vicarious experience of watching my girl having the time of her life.
After about 30 minutes, they called us back to the boat and we motored around to the west side of the island where there was a gorgeous white sand beach and a handful of quaint shops. We were told we would spend the next few hours here, and that lunch would be available in an hour. We got a couple of beach chairs and took turns going down to the water to snorkel around the rocks that were just offshore. Visibility was crystal clear, and the water positively teemed with a cornucopia of gorgeous, colorful fish.
In the afternoon, we hiked up the trail to the buffet, which was served in a large open-air palapa next to yet another gorgeous beach. There was fruit, spaghetti, kow pad, shrimp, chicken wings, mixed vegetables, and fish cakes. On a scale of 1 to 10, the lunch was a 4. On a scale of 1 to 10 of day tour buffets, it was a 7. We ate our fill, and then went back to the western beach to do some more snorkeling. By the time they were calling us back to our boat, we had had our fill of snorkeling. After arriving back in Patong, we both agreed it was a great day, it was a great tour, and it was money well spent.
The worst snorkeling trip ever: Pattaya
Last year, while my mother and brother were visiting on holiday, I got the idea to take them snorkeling. Based on my sublime experience in Phuket, I thought I knew what we were in for, and assured them they would enjoy themselves. I was wrong.
I booked the trip through the tour at the Dusit Thani Hotel. “You only snorkel?” the lady asked. “You not parasail? Not jet ski?” No no, just snorkel. My mum’s in her 70s. 1,000 baht, includes mask, snorkel, and lunch. A songtaew picked us up at the Dusit, and after 90 hot minutes of picking up other tourists at hotels all along the beach road, we were finally dropped off about 200 meters from the Dusit. We could’ve walked there from our hotel in 5 minutes.
What I didn’t realize at the time was, the snorkel trip is not separate from the parasail and jet ski trip. If you choose to only snorkel, you have to sit and wait while the parasailers sail and the jet skiers ski. So we spent the better part of the day stuck on a barge while the other tourists did those other activities. It was torturous.
By the time we got to Koh Larn, we had done nothing but wait around. “Thank God,” I thought after we disembarked via a wobbly floating dock that terrified my mother. “We’re finally going to snorkel.” I was wrong.
“OK you wait on the beach now one hour. Then we have lunch.” When do we get to snorkel? “After lunch.” So we found some chairs in the shade at 100 baht apiece and rented some towels at 100 baht apiece and bought bottles of water at 100 baht apiece and waited for lunch.
Lunch was not a buffet. It was a set shared lunch divided among six people at a table. We were hooked up with some sunburnt Aussies who were very diplomatic about dividing up the rice, prawn, chicken, morning glory, omlet, and single whole fish at the center of the table. It was not a lot of food. My brother and I agreed that, after finishing lunch, we were hungrier than before we ate.
As the sun leaned toward sunset, we finally went to the snorkel location. It was a muddy, fishless lagoon at the north end of Ko Larn with some inflatable floating recreational gear. We tied up to a large, two-story boat anchored at the lagoon along with 4 other boatloads of tourists. There, we were crowded into a queue for masks and life jackets. It was pandemonium. Then we waited as, one at a time, tourists were helped into the water. Fins were not provided. The most popular part of the “snorkeling” portion was a long slide affixed to the boat, where every Chinese tourist took multiple turns to slide down the slide and into the murky water.
My mum and brother didn’t use the slide. They did paddle around in the water for about 10 minutes. I never left the boat. After 30 minutes, they called us all back and we waited in another long queue to re-board our boat. An hour later, we were back in Pattaya where they tried to sell us bad Polaroids of our trip.
Overall, the Pattaya snorkeling excursion was a day-long, hot, tedious, miserable trip that provided no actual snorkeling at any point. It was horrendous.
And in an effort to help anyone reading this to avoid the same mistake, the name of this horrible tour group was “Smile Tour.” Ironic, as no one smiled even once.
Though having said that, I’d happily endure it all again if it meant getting back home to Thailand. As it is, the process of getting me from LA to BKK is going to be much more horrific. I can’t wait.
Have a good week, everyone. If you can.