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Should You Swim With The Whale Sharks In Oslob?

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World.

Swimming with whale sharks, a divers dream, but there is a lot of controversy about swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob. Many divers refuse to swim with them in Oslob because they feel the conditions are unfair. I originally wasn’t going to go. I didn’t want to condone the behavior. I changed my mind after talking to some local and expat dive shops and hearing their take. I decided to check it out and experience it myself and try to keep an open mind while I was there.

Shark Finning In The Philippines

Before this tiny town became a popular area to swim with the whale sharks, they were being harvested and their fins sold for income. Shark finning is illegal in the Philippines now, but it wasn’t for some time, and the whale shark populations were dwindling. The act of shark finning is when a fisherman catches a shark then slices of its fins and drops the rest of the body, alive, into the water to die. The sharks aren’t used for their full body meat, just the fins. Shark Fin Soup is very popular in Asia and the fins fetch a high dollar ticket when exported out. Many chefs, like Gordon Ramsey, have promoted not putting fins in shark fin soup. The fins don’t have a taste and have just become this commodity that has drove demand over the years.

How Swimming With Whale Wharks In Oslob Started

Local fishermen use shrimp as bait to catch fish, and the whale sharks were drawn to the shrimp and stuck around the boats. A local dive shop owner encouraged the fishermen not to fin them. He said to bring them into the bay by feeding them krill where they could share them with the community and tourists alike. The small town of Oslob went from not being able to send their children to school and living in shacks with no bathrooms to now where children have education, and families live in homes with plumbing and electric. If it weren’t for the sharks, this small town would still be struggling.

A foreign dive shop owner, from the UK, talked to me about not supporting them for years, in an effort to do their part in helping to put an end to it. He realized that divers were just going to other shops when his shop refused to go. His shop now offers dive trips to Oslob again, but his staff gives a thorough briefing along with educating his guests about the whale sharks and Oslob’s history with them.

My Experience Snorkeling With Whale Sharks In Oslob

My first impression upon arriving was that it wasn’t so bad, organization wise. Once there you are ushered to get your ticket (snorkeling is 1000 pesos and diving is 1500 Pesos). You then head off to another area to listen to a briefing on the do’s and don’ts of swimming with the whale sharks. I like that they have a briefing, but not everyone attends nor does everyone listen to what they are saying. The briefer did hit all the major points: stay at least 6m away from the whale sharks, don’t use sunscreen, and no swimming off from the boat to chase after them.

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Once the briefing was over, I waited for my number to be called then headed out to the boats. The boats are regulated, and there weren’t more than 20 boats out at a time when I went. The boats were also all daisy chained up in a line, so there was some organized fashion with the boats, they’re not just a free for all in the Bay. Once chained up to your neighboring boat, you’re allowed to get in the water, staying next to the boat to wait for the whale sharks to pass you.

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Here’s where the mixed emotion comes in. There are a few smaller boats in the water with a single fisherman on each, and he is hand-feeding the whale sharks buckets of krill. There tends to be one whale shark per boat, and they just follow the boat up and down the path of the tourists, eating the krill. In my eyes, this is not really an authentic experience. The whale sharks aren’t concerned about anything other than getting fed by the fishermen. They’re basically pets without leashes following their owner.

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Why Feeding The Whale Sharks In Oslob Is Hurting Them

What I first noticed is none of the boats have propellers which are great, the whales won’t get chewed up by coming in contact with them, but what I witnessed is the whale sharks still had scrapes and cuts on them. The theory is because these sharks are used to being fed, they are going up to any boat once they are outside the bay thinking they’re going to be fed and are getting hit with the boat propellers.

Feeding the whale sharks is also breaking their migratory patterns. A local dive shop said that it’s the smaller whale sharks that stay in the bay and only for a few years then head off, but there’s not much data proving this.

Final Thoughts

I was surprised to see there were more local tourists here than foreign tourists. Since the whale shark tourism isn’t going away anytime soon, I feel it’s a great way for the local tourists to see what’s in their waters and learn how to protect them and why they’re so important. They are also supporting the locals, giving them a better life. For the foreigners, I felt like I was at Disneyland. Many were screaming like they were on a wild ride. You’re not offered fins unless you bring them. I was the only one on my boat with fins, which helped in getting underneath the manic tourists. Most of the people in the boat, once in the water, were kicking and screaming when the whale sharks got close, and some even kicked them. Not really my cup of tea.

I honestly only spent about 10 minutes in the water with them. Absorbing what was going on around me, I took a bunch of pictures, yelled at a few tourists on my boat who were getting too close and generally just freaking out, and then got out. I honestly don’t know if paying the extra money to dive with them would have been any different.

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World

As a dive professional, I believe, this is not the way to see these beautiful creatures. When you see one of these beauties in the wild, it’s like you are given a gift. Going to a place like Oslob where you know you’re guaranteed to see them, it takes the thunder away from seeing them in their natural environment. This was my first time seeing them and now more than ever, I want to see them when it’s not a guarantee, but when one randomly shows up on one of my dives. That will be an experience of a lifetime and one to remember and cherish.

 

Should you swim with the whale sharks in Oslob? - Robyn Around the World.

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What Does One Year In Southeast Asia Cost?

What Does It Cost To Travel In Southeast Asia? Robyn Around the World

One question that always gets asked is how much does it cost to travel the world? In this post, I’m going to break down my second year of travel expenses.

I separated out flights, and scuba costs then broke the rest down into three categories: Meals, Accommodation, and Miscellaneous.

Miscellaneous includes shopping, entertainment, postcards, gifts, SIM cards, etc. I didn’t want to get too detailed for here and besides the most important is food and accommodation anyway, right? 😉 I also rented motorbikes in almost all countries which averaged ~$3/day.

Year 2 Total Travel Cost

I visited nine countries during my second year: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, with the last 6 being new countries for me. I spent a total of $22,165 of which $5,671 was dedicated to getting Scuba Gear and my Divemaster and Instructor Certifications. Not bad for adding over 100 dives to my belt and now I can teach others my passion.


VIETNAM


I spent most of my year here and was by far the cheapest place to live and play. I also had three months of free accommodation while working at the dive shop, so that accounts for a good chunk of it, but the food is very cheap too, with my morning Bahn Mi costing only $0.50!  I also took a 3-day cruise and did a 7-day motorcycle tour through the mountains, which was another expense, which I added on separately.


MALAYSIA 


The second place I spent my most time in. A lot of my ‘other’ expenses went towards swimming suits and electronics. My iPhone died on me for a second time. It was cheaper to buy a new Samsung rather than fix it again, so I’m now part of the Android family (and I miss my iPhone desperately!) I also bought a new external drive as the 1TB I brought with me is full!


THAILAND


Thailand is generally pretty cheap.  My main ‘other’ expenses went to renewing my passport, gifts for family and private swim lessons to prepare for the Divemaster swim tests. I know how to do a front crawl properly! ☺  I also went a little crazy on eating western here. I found a salad place and ate there almost every day. I really craved green salads, which are not easy to come by in Southeast Asia.


INDONESIA 


I love Indonesia; it’s cheap to eat and get around. Having the villa in Ubud, I made good use of the kitchen and cooked every day. More expensive than eating out, but I love cooking and made use of all my cooking classes I’ve taken.


PHILIPPINES


Surprisingly, Phillippines was not as cheap as I was expecting. The accommodation was cheap, I averaged $7/night for a place, but I did splurge on a beautiful Airbnb condo over the water for my birthday, which accounted for more than ½ of my total accommodation cost. Transportation was really expensive. I took the bus for half the time and the other I used taxis where I was able to negotiate 3-5 hour rides for $30-40.


SRI LANKA


My daily rate was high here at ~$62/day, but I spent three nights in a 4-star hotel after my incident at the guesthouse I was staying. I also couldn’t get enough of their famous pepper crab in Colombo and ate there twice!


MALDIVES 


My cheapest country only because my mom met me there and footed the bill (Thanks, Mom!) But my flight from Kuala Lumpur direct to Male was only $75! Super cheap to get there, expensive while you’re there. We averaged ~$200/day each for room and food.


CAMBODIA 


The most expensive country I visited! I traveled with a friend and ate at mainly restaurants for this trip, which brought my meal average up. If you stick to street food, you can eat for less than $10 a day. The temples are also not cheap to enter, but worth every penny.


MYANMAR 


I spent the shortest amount of time here and really wish I could have spent a month here. I absolutely fell in love with this country. Accommodation and food are cheap. The biggest expenses I had were the entrance fees to see the temples and the visa.


SCUBA DIVING


A quarter of my expenses from the year was on Scuba Diving this year getting gear and my PRO certifications. This is an investment I was happy to make. I also got in over 100 dives in 6 countries! A small price to pay, I think!


FLIGHTS


I got my first free flight! I accumulated enough airline points through AirAsia to get a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. I love AirAsia and their cheap flights! All my flights were under $100, with most being under $50. I should buy stock in AirAisa 😉

 




How To Dive And Interact With Manta Rays

Diving with Manta Rays - Robyn Around the World

Swimming with Manta Rays is a unique and magical experience. Manta’s are extremely intelligent and each has it’s own personality. Some are shy but most are curious. Here are some manta facts and how to have an amazing interaction with these beautiful fish.

Diving with Manta Rays - Robyn Around the World


MANTA RAY FACTS


Manta got its name from the Spanish word for “blanket” or “cloak.”

There are two species – The Oceanic Manta (M.birostris) and Reef Manta (M.alfredi)

The Oceanic Mantas are the largest with a wingspan of up to 7 meters where the smaller Reef Mantas are half the size.

They have the biggest brain to body ratio of all the fish in the sea.

They feed on plankton and eat roughly about 12% of their body weight which is about 27KG (60LBS) per week!

Mantas give birth to one pup at a time and have a gestation period of 12-13 months.

They love cleaning stations and will surround these stations to get cleaned for up to 8 hours a day. The fish clean their wounds

Mantas are identified by the markings on their belly which act like a fingerprint. Fun fact if you take a picture of the belly during your dive, you can send it into Manta Matcher, and if the Manta hasn’t been identified, you get to name the Manta!

Diving with Manta Rays - Robyn Around the World


MANTA RAY ETIQUETTE


Do not swim into the path of a manta ray – If they are approaching you, slow down to a stop and they will swim around you.

Deflate all the air out of your BCD and kneel on the sand, or use your reef hook to secure yourself to a rock if you’re in a current.

Do not chase Mantas – This will put them off and scare them away.

Respect their environment – We are just visitors in their home, treat it as such.

Don’t touch the Manta – Their skin has a mucous protection and touching them removes this film and exposes their skin to harmful infections. It is also illegal in marine protected environments, and you will be hit with a fine if reported.

Be patient – They will come to you and will swim over your head watching you with their eyes.

Learn more about Manta Rays and how you can help protect them by visiting Marine Megafauna and Manta Trust.




Completing My Divemaster In Komodo National Park


Divemaster Komodo National Park

When picking out places to do my Divemaster, one location came to mind. Komodo! Komodo is known for its crazy currents, yet beautiful dive sites. Completing my Divemaster here would not only ensure I would come out of the program a better diver, but I would also get to see some beautiful marine life while I was at it.

When picking out a dive shop, it’s important to check them out and their reputation before you commit to any course, be it Open Water or Instructor. I originally started my Divemaster with another shop on the Cook Islands and had to leave two months in because I wasn’t getting the best education. Hannah Logan from Eat Sleep Breathe Travel writes a great post on what to look for and how to pick a great dive shop. I completed my Divemaster with Scuba Junkie Komodo. Since I had done my Advanced Open Water Course with their shop in Borneo, Malaysia last year, I knew I’d be getting an excellent education at their new location in Komodo and that I did!

Divemaster Komodo National Park

Scuba Junkie offers two curriculums, a 4-week, and a 6-week program. I highly recommend the six weeks as I was just finding my pace going into week 4 and that extra two weeks really solidified everything together. The additional two weeks you will get more practice with guiding dives and shadow other Divemaster and Instructors on their dives. While I was there, I did 83 dives!

Here’s the breakdown of the dives I did: 23 Divemaster Course Requirements, 10 Practice Guides, and 50 Shadow Guiding. I dove almost every day and became a better diver having been allowed to practice so much in these conditions.

The course itself is broken down into different sections: Theory, Briefings, Course Assists, Assessments, Swim Tests, Scenarios, and Projects.

KNOWLEDGE REVIEWS

As part of the crew pack, you will get a small Divemaster manual that has nine chapters covering everything from Physics to Logistics. At the end of each chapter is a review knowledge section that you fill out. Once all the chapters are done you will go over the knowledge reviews with an instructor to talk about the answers and go over anything you may have gotten wrong.

WRITTEN EXAM

There is a two-part exam that is fifty questions each, all multiple choice. Don’t worry, as long as you’ve done the knowledge reviews and know chapter 9, you’ll do great! There is also an Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving that will help supplement Chapter 9 and is just an all-around great book about diving in general.

PHYSIOLOGY & PHYSICS LECTURE

The physiology & physics lectures are not part of PADI’s core program, but something Scuba Junkie added in that I felt was important. These lectures are the fundamental principles of scuba diving. I guess they were part of the PADI program but were taken out years ago because you learn them in your Open Water Course. I’m glad I got to sit through them again, because honestly, I didn’t remember much of my OWD course, other that getting through it and being excited that I was able to dive!

BRIEFINGS

The three briefings you will do during your course are Skills Briefings, Dive Site Briefings, and Equipment Briefings. You will be practicing so many briefings it will make your head spin. With that said, I welcomed the briefings, because they are now ingrained in my head. Case in point, I did my first guide as a Divemaster at Koh Haa in Thailand, and since there were different shops on the boat, we each gave briefings to our customers individually. Because I gave so many dive briefings at Scuba Junkie (probably easily 30-40 of them), I felt confident when I was giving my first briefing to my customers. It might get monotonous doing site briefings every day, but don’t knock them if you’re going to work in the industry, this is the time to practice doing them, smooth out the kinks and get critiquing from your peers.

COURSE ASSISTS

During the course, you will get to help out instructors in supporting their Open Water Diver (OWD), Advanced Open Water Diver (AOWD), and Discover Scuba Diver (DSD) course. This means you are there to observe and help by setting up the SMB underwater, to carrying extra weights, and help with demonstrations.

ASSESMENTS

During the course you will graded on a scale of 1-5 on how well you perform each of the 24 Underwater Skills that are to be performed underwater. These skills will be practiced multiple times to get you up to demonstration quality.

You will be assessed in your Rescue Skills and go through Exercise 7. We did the assessment over two days to make sure we got it down. This is also the exercise you will do if you go for your instructor certificate, so it’s good to make sure you know this one cold.

Also not part of the PADI course, but was additional course Scuba Junkie made mandatory is a Peak Performance Buoyancy class. I’m not going to lie, before I took this class, I was decent in my buoyancy, but was still hesitant to get too close to the reef or small critters with fear of not having good enough buoyancy to stop me from crashing into them. During the course, we learned how to back-fin, helicopter turn, and control our buoyancy with our lungs while being given extra weight. After taking this class, I felt confidant getting in close to see macro life without hesitation or fear that I couldn’t control my buoyancy. This class was seriously a game changer and a pivot point in my diving.

SCENARIOS

You will be doing four scenarios while in the program; the first is a Deep Dive Scenario where you will go down to 40 meters (131 feet) while carrying an extra tank that you will switch and breathe out of right before your safety stop.

The second is a Search and Recovery Scenario where you will go through navigation skills, as you did in your AOWD course, then search for objects in the water.

The third is a Discover Scuba Dive (DSD) Scenario where you will perform all the steps of training a brand new student with one of your peers. You will start by briefing them on the three skills they will perform, talk about how to swim underwater, and the dive site, then you will take them underwater and take them through the skills and tour of the dive site. Here is where your instructor will give you problems underwater like they are your real student that you will have to solve.

The last is a Refresher Scenario where you will again pretend one of your peers is a certified OWD that hasn’t dived in a while and wants to refresh their skills. Depending on the shop this can be anywhere from 5 to all 24 skills if you’re doing the reactivate program. Basically, you will take them through a recovery, buoyancy, out of air, and mask clearing skills. You will brief them on how to do the skills ahead of time then take them underwater and show them how to perform them.

PROJECTS

There are two projects you will do as part of your Divemaster program. The first is a Mapping Project, where you will map a dive site from drawing out the contours and depths, to establishing routes with compass headings and kick cycles. This project was really fun. The other project is to create an Emergency Action Plan or EAP, which you also should have done in your Rescue course. This plan lists actions and steps that should be taken incase of an emergency from who to call, to phone scripts to what to do if an accident occurs.

SWIM TESTS

There are five swim tests you must pass with a score of 15 points. You will get a score of 1-5 points for each of the 5. If you are a strong swimmer, then you don’t need to worry. The first four tests are a 400-Meter Free Swim without the use of hands, 800-Meter Snorkel Swim without using your arms, 100-meter Tired Diver Tow, and 10-Minute Float with the last two minutes where your hands need to be above water.

STRESS TEST

Your final swim test is dubbed The Stress Test. Mind you not every shop does a stress test. The test itself is actually an Equipment Exchange where you exchange BCD, Mask, and Fins by buddy breathing (sharing one regulator). That in itself is pretty straightforward and easy, but then try it while you’re getting sand dumped on you, air blown in your face, BCDs being inflated, weight belts and tank straps being loosened all the while masks are being pulled off your head. That’s what makes it a stress test. You do this during your last days before you complete the program so that you’re ready for it. I had a lot of fun doing it and actually did it twice with two different DMT’s that were going through the program. And you know what I found? That after six weeks of diving in crazy currents and given so many different scenarios during my course, I don’t stress even when sand is being dumped on my head ☺

So there you have it! Are you ready to become a Divemaster? ☺ I promise, it will be the best time of your life!

Divemaster Komodo National Park




Maldives: Two Weeks In Paradise

Two Weeks In The Maldives - Robyn Around The World

I met my mom for two weeks in the Maldives. We wanted to visit 2 of the islands, and decided one in the north and one in the central part. The Maldives has 1200 islands stretching over 850 Km. With 200 inhabited it would take you almost three years to see them all if you just spent one day at each.

Maldives


HANIMAADHOO ISLAND


This was our first stop! We reached this newly opened Island (to tourists) after a 45-minute flight from Male. Up until November, this was only populated by locals. It now has one resort on the island that allows up to 100 visitors to visit per day. From a backpacker viewpoint, I loved this island. I liked how there was a resort on the island, but then the other half was inhabited by locals. If you wanted to get a feel for the locals and see the village you could take bikes and ride around in town. There’re a few shops and a couple of local restaurants serving up delicious Maldivian dishes for cheap ($1.50 a plate!). The resort was beautiful and even though it was buffet style for the meals, we had flavors of Maldivian dishes. Local women would come twice a week to teach the guests how to cook traditional dishes. Everything they cooked was so flavorful and not like anything I’ve tasted so far in my travels. One of the ladies invited me back to her home for a cooking class, which was actually just lunch, but she and her mom made me a huge spread and even gave me a bunch to take back to the resort. The Maldives is a strict Muslim country, and since this island has locals living in the village, there’s no alcohol allowed even at the resort. It wasn’t a big deal, but we found out our resort owned a decommissioned “floating bar” sailboat in the middle of the ocean where we could take a free speed boat out to watch the sunset and get a mojito. So we went to check it out, and it was incredible! The boat is beautiful and the sunset gorgeous. After a week here, we didn’t want to leave, the beach and water were so inviting!

Hanimaadho Island - Maldives

Hanimaadho Island - Maldives

Hanimaadho Island - Maldives

Hanimaadho Island - Maldives


KANDOOMA ISLAND


After our week up north and a flight back to Male, we jumped on another 45-minute ride down south but this time in the form of a private speedboat for just the two of us. The Holiday Inn Resort owns Kandooma Island, which is where we stayed for our second week. We got our room free for the week on points and were upgraded to a beachside villa. Score! A very different feel from the first resort, this was very westernized with only a couple Maldivian dishes and a rooftop bar. Our room had a private beach and balcony with a view of the ocean where we could snorkel, and we had a BBQ dinner out on the beach in front of our place one night where the chef came and cooked up our five-course meal right there for us. So many activities to do from water sports to scuba diving. I did one day of diving, and we both did a snorkel trip. The underwater world is just in such a sad state here as you’ll see in the next section.

Kandooma Island - Maldives

Kandooma Island - Maldives

Kandooma Island - Maldives

State of the Ocean

Being a diver, I was so excited to do a few days of diving, in the Maldives! When you look online, you see all these colorful pictures of the reef and fish, but this isn’t the full story. Once I saw how depressed the waters were, I only winded up doing two dives on Kandooma. The water temperatures are up to almost 90F. All the coral is bleached, and sea life is struggling to survive. Up north in Hanimaadhoo there were hundreds of blue triggerfish washed up on shore and floating lifeless in the water. We are seeing water warming all over the world, but witnessing this up-close hits home and is just heartbreaking. I feel for the sea-life and feel helpless on what I can do to help them as this is a world problem that needs to be addressed and another post for later…

Hanimaadho Island - Maldives

Kandooma Island - Maldives

Litter in Maldives

Trash is another issue. You don’t see it on the resort grounds, but outside the resort, in the villages and even at the airport, the streets and beaches are littered with trash. The villages don’t have the means to ship their garbage off the island so they just throw it on the ground and burn what they can. The resorts send their waste to one island that is dedicated to burning trash 24 hours a day. Plastic bottles, paper, tin, you name it they’ll burn it. So the pictures you see online are only half the story, and this part doesn’t get publicized as much.

Hanimaadho Island - Maldives

I have mixed emotions about the Maldives. Here you are in the middle of paradise and from afar it all looks gorgeous and pristine. But then you go to islands inhabited by villagers, and you see the way the locals live with all the trash. And don’t get me started on the state of the underwater world again. Out of the 26 atolls, there are two that aren’t nearly as affected as the rest with water warming, so I’m thinking after my divemaster, I’ll go back and do a week long liveaboard that goes to those atolls to document the difference.

Kandooma Island - Maldives


Diving The Andaman Sea – Phuket & Koh Lanta

 Diving Andaman Sea

I had the opportunity to dive both the Gulf of Thailand in Koh Tao and also the Andaman Sea side when I was in Phuket and Koh Lanta. Both were great diving experiences. I started my diving journey on Koh Lanta where I did a Discover Scuba Dive experience with ScubaFish. Elaine was my instructor, and she was amazing! We had a half day session in the pool then the next morning we took a boat out to Koh Phi Phi to dive to a maximum of 12 meters. It was such a great experience that after I went directly to Koh Tao to get my Open Water Diver certification, then headed back to stay in Phuket for a month and did a few days of diving while I was there. I had the opportunity to explore eight different dive sites.

Diving Andaman Sea - Robyn Hartzell


Bida Nai – Koh Phi Phi


Diving Koh Phi Phi - Bida Nai

A small island off the south end of Koh Phi Phi is one of the best wall dives one can discover. With a depth of 32 meters, it is a great place for all levels of divers to explore. You’ll see plenty of fish swimming around the large, colorful sea fans and sponge barrels. It’s also home to Moray Eels so you should be able to spot one or two on your dive.

Diving Koh Phi Phi - Bida Nai


Loh Samah Bay – Koh Phi Phi


This site, located on the east side of Koh Phi Phi is popular with snorkelers and divers alike. This wall dive is perfect forthe open water diver as it descends to a maximum of 20 meters. Try to go in low season when the boats aren’t so abundant. During high season, you will find upwards of 20-30 boats and long tails all grabbing a spot to drop their snorkelers and divers in.


King Cruiser


Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser

Just Northeast of Koh Phi Phi this passenger ferry found itself many miles off course and slammed into Anemone Reef in 1997. Some say it was done on purpose as the reef is shallow and the captain should have known to steer away from it. This dive site is now one of the most popular sites near Phuket. It has multiple decks and plenty of space for you to swim through without disturbing the sealife. It’s perfect for advanced divers as it sits between 12-30 meters.

Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser


Shark Point


Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser

Northeast of Koh Phi Phi is a dive site that is part of a marine sanctuary. The site got it’s name for the leopard sharks that often visit the site. There is a lot of beautiful coral and schools of fish to be seen at this site. The depth is 0-25 meters, perfect for both open water divers and advanced divers.

Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser


Koh Doc Mai


Diving Andaman Sea - Koh Doc Mai

Half way between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi is Koh Doc Mai, which means “Flower Island” The island is made of a big limestone rock that rises out of the water and is un-habited by humans. It is a sloping wall dive with both hard and soft coral that goes down to 25 meters. You can easily swim around half the island in one tank if you go slow to explore the sea life. There are also a few caves to explore. It’s suitable for both open water divers as the west side only goes to 18 meters where the east side drops down to 25 meters for the Advanced divers to explore.

Diving Andaman Sea - Koh Doc Mai


Banana Bay North and South– Racha Noi


Diving Andaman Sea - Banana Bay

The east side on Racha Noi is known as Banana Bay, getting it’s name from all the banana trees that grow on that side of the island. It’s a gently sloping hard coral reef down to 25 meters. Plenty of sea anemones live on the rocks, and you may even spot Nemo. You can explore the North and South end during two dives.

Diving Andaman Sea - Banana Bay


Lha Bay – Racha Yai


Diving Andaman Sea - LHA Bay

The other Racha Island ‘Yai’ is an hour boat ride from Racha Noi. You can do both islands in one day by taking the boat between during surface intervals. Lha Bay is on the east side of the island and gradually drops to 30 meters where you’ll find a sunken ship you can swim through with a proper guide.

Diving Andaman Sea - LHA Bay

3 Days On A Liveaboard Diving The Great Barrier Reef

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

I have dreamed of going to the Great Barrier Reef for years. It’s one of those places that goes on your bucket list or vision board. I created a vision board while I was planning my trip and I put Australia and the Great Barrier Reef on there. I didn’t realize that I’d get there so soon! The flight from Chiang Mai to the Cook Islands was going to be around 20 hours, so to break up the flight I decided to stop in Cairns and book a 3-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

It was the best three days I’ve had diving since I started! Doing a liveaboard is something every scuba diver should experience. I went with Pro Dive Cairns and did 11 dives in 3 days including 2 night dives. Once aboard, literally all you do is dive, eat, sleep. This is truly the best way to dive as you wake up, and you’re already at your dive site you just put on your gear that’s already set-up and waiting for you and jump out for your dive. What was even better is these were all unguided dives, so you pick your buddy and off you go to explore the reef on your own (with direction on where to go during the dive briefs). This was my first time going without guides, and it was pretty awesome. I was able to practice navigation skills, and we could look around the dive site at our own leisure and move away from areas if they got too crowded.

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

The Great Barrier Reef: Flynn & Milln Reefs

We spent our three days exploring two reefs: Flynn Reef and Milln Reef. Both these reefs are huge with a lot of dive sites on each. There’s plenty to see at these reefs including sharks, groupers, schools of bumphead parrotfish, cuttlefish, nemo and tons of colorful coral everywhere. We got lucky and the second day there we saw coral spawning that only happens a couple of times a year. We also met Brian the resident turtle during our night dive at Mickey Mouse reef.  He’s a bit of a celebrity in Cairns and is even printed on t-shirts!

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

Both reefs were clear with no current, just fish and critters to see every which way. The coral is definitely the main attraction! They were so colorful and huge! They call them “Baummies“ which is like big boulders of corals that you can swim around. There’re baummie clusters everywhere. I was surprised that we only averaged 14-18 meter dives. With the reef being so shallow, it was perfect for snorkeling too. My dive buddy’s wife snorkeled while he dove and she saw just as much as we did just from looking down. She saw turtles and all the fish and coral. What I loved about doing a liveaboard (my first!) was we were the only boat out on our dive sites all three days. The reef is huge! It covers 132,974 square miles and to reach part of it from Cairns is a 3.5-hour boat ride. Most same day dive boats won’t go out there, so it’s limited to the liveaboards which with the reef being so huge and plenty of sites to choose from, you might not see another boat for the three days while you’re out there. It was true bliss!

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

Spending 3-Days At Sea

There are many companies that go out to the reef. I found Pro Dive Cairns through TripAdvisor (I was not sponsored), and booked them off their great reviews.

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

I found staying on the liveaboard really enjoyable and would absolutely do it again. I was in the sleeping quarters for singles which included 2 bunks in the room; I was paired with a girl from Holland. The rooms are small, but you literally just sleep there, so it’s all you need. There’re plenty of shared showers on board too so if you have to wait for a shower, you’re not waiting long. I loved falling asleep to the rocking of the ocean. After being spoiled with Cairns, I will be looking for more liveaboards to go on in the future.

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef

I can’t wait to get back to Cairns and explore more of the reef.

3 Days on a Liveaboard Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Exploring Flynn Reef and Milln Reef


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Underwater




Top 7 Tips For Taking Better Underwater Photos - Robyn Around The World

So you just got a new GoPro and can’t wait to take it underwater and take amazing pictures of what you see. Before you go here are some tips on how to set-up your GoPro and get better pictures underwater.

*All images taken with GoPro Hero4

7 Tips for Using a GoPro Underwater


GET EYE LEVEL


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Hero4 Underwater

The mistake some people make is shooting from the top down. If you do this, you’re going have a ton of pictures of fish backs and not the epic shots of them staring you in the face. Get on their level. Being at eye-level will allow you to get really great pictures of the sea life.




STEADY YOURSELF


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Hero4 Underwater.

GoPro’s aren’t known for their fast shutter speed so you’re going to need to steady yourself while getting the shot. Set yourself up and stabilize your buoyancy so that you’re still when you take the shot. If there’s a rock or sand by you use two fingers or a pointer stick to steady yourself while you take the shot. If you use your fingers fan the area with your hand to make sure you’re not putting your fingers on something alive and make sure your not grabbing onto coral, they’re living too.


BUY A RED FILTER


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Hero4 Underwater

When you go below 10 meters, you lose the color red. Getting a red filter will put the color back in your pictures and save you the headache of trying to correct it post processing later. You can get a filter for ~$30 through Amazon. Polar Pro makes some good ones.


SWITCH BETWEEN VIEWS


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Hero4 Underwater

Change your settings while you’re underwater. See a big school of fish? Change your setting to wide angle to get the best shot. See a cool Moray eel? Change it to medium view for a narrower shot. Play with the views underwater to see the difference the shot makes.




USE BURST MODE


Diving the Gulf of Thailand: Koh Tao

I set my GoPro to burst mode 10 pictures per 3 seconds. As much as you can steady your self, I still like to shoot in this mode, because it helps me set-up my shot. I press the button, and I have 3 seconds to make sure I get the best shot. I tend to grab one of the shots in the middle. Those are usually the ones that turn out best and are in focus.


USE PROTUNES


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Hero4 Underwater

Although you can’t change too many settings in the GoPro, you can change some using ProTunes. Here are the settings for my GoPro Hero4.  Check your manual for other models.White Balance is set to Auto. I set my ISO to the highest speed (800) and low light on so the shutter speed is at the maximum it can handle underwater.


BE PATIENT


7 Tips for Using a GoPro Hero4 Underwater

You’re taking pictures of wild animals. Being in the open ocean is different than being at an aquarium where the animals are confined to a small tank. These critters have miles and miles of water to call their home, so if they swim away from you be patient, there will be others. Take the time to look under rooks and in holes too, some cool eels and rays like to hide in there. Keep your eyes peeled. The perfect shot may be right in front of you.




Sipadan Island: Diving At Malaysia’s Top Dive Sites

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

While I was in Phuket, I spoke with a dive shop that was right next to my Airbnb, and they said one of the top dive spots is on Sipadan Island in Malaysia. I was already planning to head to Penang so decided to check out ticket prices to get there. Malaysia is two parts. The mainland borders Thailand and the Island of Borneo is just Southeast to it. The tickets were cheap ($60 on AirAsia) and the diving even cheaper ($25/dive) so I decided to head out there and check it out.

Sipadan Island

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

Sipadan Island borders both Indonesia and Philippines. It’s rated as one of the top places to dive and only allows 120 dive permits a day. There are 12 dive spots around the island and the wall just off the beach is 600 meters deep. The island is so small that there are no resorts on the island. There is heavy military personnel there for everyone’s safety. It was a bit of a shock seeing them at first, as I wasn’t expecting it, but after hearing stories of all the recent kidnappings, I felt safe and better with them there. The dive sites we went to were Barracuda Point, Turtle Cave/Drop-off, Mid-Reef and Coral Garden. All were great sites and so glad we were able to fit in four dives that day.

The Fish

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

The dive shop on Phuket did not lie. All the sites are full of schools of Jack Fish, Black Tip Reef Sharks, Turtles, and I even saw a Day Octopus! There were so many schools of bumphead parrot fish that were huge! I swam through a vortex of jack fish like Superman, and it was amazing to see them swimming in a circle around me. Sipadan is right up there as one of my best dives right along side of Sail Rock at Koh Tao.

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

Places to Stay

There are many dive shops that go out to Sipadan. I would suggest staying at a dive shop on Malbu as it’s only a 90-minute boat ride from the resort. I dove with Scuba Junkie, and while the Divemasters and instructors are top notch, they have the least amount of permits to give out a day (7). There are other resorts on the island who have double the permits. With booking a six-day dive package, I was only allowed to dive Sipadan 1 day. I didn’t find out until later that I could have been put on a waiting list to try to score another day. I would check TripAdvisor for other options and do your research before you go.

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

Diving on Mabul

While I was there, I completed my Advanced Open Water Diver course. If you’re looking for top-notch training, I can recommend Scuba Junkie for that, and if you can request Faustine or Mike, you will get the best dive education. The dive sites around Mabul are hit and miss. Sipadan is rated as one of the best places to dive, so I assumed the rest of the diving here would be just as great. I was saddened by the state of the sites around the resort. They do reef clean-ups, but there’s just so much that comes back from Semporna and the sea gypsies that it’s hard to keep up with it. There are some sites that are better than others. All the sites I went to on Kapali were pretty good. Stingray City and Little Okinawa were my favorite, but because the reefs are run down, there’s not enough big fish stuff to show you, so they point out the small stuff. If you’re a Nudibranch freak then you’re going to love diving here, you’ll see a lot. But if you’re looking for the big stuff, you’ll get a few turtles and a couple fish here and there, but not the big schools that you’ll see in Sipadan.

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site

During my stay, I dove a total of 6 days and 18 dives and became one step closer to becoming a Divemaster. I loved all my Divemasters (Val and Jo-Jo), and I learned so much from my dive instructor (Faustine). The only flaw with this trip was only being able to dive one day at Sipadan. Had I been able to dive all my days there, it would have been pretty epic.

Sipadan Island: Diving at Malaysia's top dive site


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