Tag Archives: scuba

The land of smiles

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กาเข้าฝูงกาหงส์เข้าฝูงหงส์- birds of a feather flock together

So true for me and my 3 friends. We met in 1989 when we went to the NHTV, a tourism education in The Netherlands. Who could have known that we would celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2009 in Thailand. Not strange, as there is one thing we all love very much: travelling.

To Thailand we were going. Why, I have no idea, but we all agreed instantly. We booked flights and off we went. From Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket for 3 of us. Our last friend decided to fly over Bangkok to Phuket. She would arrive a day later. But we did not go to Phuket. Nonono, Railay was our destination for the first week. Railay? Yes, somewhere on the other side of the bay of Phuket. When the ferry anchors and a small wooden canoe picks us up to bring us to the beach we feel like we have arrived in paradise . Yes, there is no proper harbour, just a beach. Pristine white beach. And palm trees, and amazing rocks, and… simply lovely. Our hotel is on the other side of the peninsula. It is  bit cheaper than the resorts at the landing site. Soon we learn why…

The hotel is ok. Not special, but ok. Is is sort of clean, except when one of my friends goes to the bathroom at night and sees a huge cockroach. Hahaha… right. Our side of the peninsula (East) is a bit less of a paradise. A mangrovey beach with many tiny crabs, a muay thai boxing arena and cheaper restaurants with surprisingly many transvestites walking around. The first few days we enjoy the laid back atmosphere. We eat banana pancakes, go for a canoe trip to Phra Nang beach and the special fertility cave (filled with all kinds and sizes of wooden phalluses :-D) and see many, many beautiful sunsets. Railey beach faces West, so seeing the sun set in the sea, with the traditional canoes with the bright coloured ribbons floating around, is just beautiful.

We go for a day trip to Koh Phi Phi Don, passing the beautiful cove if the movie ‘The Beach’ and spend a day on this amazing island. We realise everything has been washed away in the 2004 tsunami, killing 1000 people on the 2 Phi Phi islands. We hike the evacuation route and visit the monument, both leaving a deep impression. The next day we go diving and I see my first shark. I initially thought seeing a shark would scare me, but nothing is more true. I swim to the shark to take a picture and obviously it got more scared of me than I of him. We see turtle, nudi’s, corals, clown fish…

On our last day in Railay we hike to the Ton Sai beach, through the ‘jungle’, passing the diamond cave. We enter hippie country, with all its colours, flavours, smells and laid back people. It has been a lovely week, with so many highlights. And it was not over yet. We make a stop of a few days in Bangkok. Lovely, lovely Bangkok. Kao San Road, a busy road with a happy holiday flavour until late at night, is close to the hotel. The next day we take a boat to visit Wat Phra Kaeo, an impressive buddhist temple with the huge emerald green jade Buddha, the colourful stupas and scary demon guards.

The last day we go on a cycle tour with Co van Kessel. Guided by a Thai and a Dutchy we cycle the backroads. Straight through China town, passing small alleys and the market. We head for the Chao Praya river. Crossing it and sail over the ‘klongs’ to the outskirts of Bangkok. There we step on our bikes again to cycle over small paths, meeting lovely people, seeing lovely things until… we get to a highway. We have to cycle there as well, crazy… at the end we pass a golden, sitting Buddha in Wat Kalayanamit. Possibly you have to be Dutch to be able to survive a cycle tour like this. For me… I loved every second of it.

We visit the famous Wat Pho on our last day. It is huge and famous for a giant 46m long golden Buddha. Smiles are everywhere, nothing can confirm this more than at the end of the trip when we experience one more highlight: the karaoke taxi ride with Mr. Thawin. This guy is so happy and cheerful, you will forget every bit of worry when you take a ride and sing with him. He is the face of this country, this land of smiles!

ขอบคุณ – thank you.

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Scuba diving in The Netherlands


The sea, once it casts it’s spell, holds one in it’s net of wonder forever – Jacques Ives Cousteau

Diving in The Netherlands. I can hear you thinking. What? Where? Is there anything there? Yes, we have our lovely pea soup as we call it. Cold, dark, green waters, full of algae and thus life. There is a rather large diving community. Mostly Dutch and Belgian, sometimes even a few Germans. And me. How come?

Once upon a long long time ago. I was traveling in East Africa, Malawi to be precise, where somebody told me it was cheap to get my PADI certification. I am Dutch, so why not. I did my training in the large Lake Malawi and logged a few dives at Zanzibar some weeks later. And that was it. Years later, at the Poor Knight Islands in New Zealand, I went diving again. After being close to panic, I realized that without practice I would not enjoy diving. So I decided to go for my advanced certification close to home in a sand pit. Guess what, I got infected by the scuba virus. I was amazed by the many life forms I found under water, even with our mostly poor visibility. I kept on diving, became a Dive Master, attended some biology trainings and I started to check off as many creatures as possible, enjoying almost every dive I did. Almost, because diving in The Netherlands is not easy. Sometimes the waters were so murky that I lost my buddy, or weather was too bad to enter the waters safely. But, to be honest, I logged hundreds of dives in these waters. There surely are some really nice places for diving, each with their specific life forms.

Fresh water

The Netherlands has many lakes, all basically divable, but some have special facilities available. Think: toilets, parking, easy shore access, scaffolding and sometimes ladders, but most important food and beverages. I have been diving in some lakes like Oostvoorne, Vinkeveen & Spiegelplas. Especially in Spring, when the water is too cold for the algae to bloom, visibility is acceptable and you can see many animals waking up. Small Crayfish, Eals, Perch and small, but also very big Pike. Fresh water diving is not so much the flora and fauna as it is what we humans have dumped in the waters. Boats, tires, busses, construction waste. A lot of pollution, but also hiding places for fish. It is always a pleasure to explore. And difficult, for the compass cannot handle all the iron under water very well. Navigation skills are key in our country.

Grevelingen lake

The Grevelingen Lake is a large water area just south of Rotterdam. It used to be a sidearm of the North Sea, but due to the damming activities (Delta Works) for protecting our land, it was closed with two dams in 1965 and 1971. The largest salt water lake in Europe was born. Locks in both the Grevelingen dam and the Brouwers dam manage the salt level. Even though man intervened, the underwater flora and fauna found it’s way to flourish. It is an easy place to dive, even though navigation skills are still necessary and waters can be murky and dark. Maximum depths at dives are up to around 30 meters, but below 15-20 meters life is scarce. Some of the nice things to see are huge lobsters, crabs, all kinds of small fish, jelly fish, anemone, sponges, algae and some nudibranches. Very rarely there are sightings of porpoise and seals. In some locations artificial reefs have been placed to create hiding places for wildlife, and thus can be very interesting for divers. Even though divers have to climb with all their gear over the dikes which are protecting the land, the dives usually are very rewarding and facilities at the dive sites are great. Surely a good dive does not stand without some after dive drinks and food at one of the nice restaurants in the small, mostly pictureque towns around.

Oosterschelde

For me personally the nicest dive spots are in the Oosterschelde. Again a closed sea arm of the North Sea, closed by a storm surge barrier in 1986. It is not completely closed, the dam has sluice gate type doors which let water flow freely, until a storm and extreme high tides are predicted and the doors are closed. The flora and fauna can enter any time, making the diversity somewhat larger compared to the Grevelingen lake. Seals, dogfish even porpoise can been seen under water, but there is much more. In some areas large groups of sponges are making colourful scenes, more than 50 species of nudibranch can be found, large groups of sea bass and mullet are roaming the pillars of bridges and, my personal favourite, cuddlefish and squid are mating and reproducing in Spring. Every season has its active species ready to be found and admired. There are some hanging mussels which are accessible for divers. Amazing how good visibility is around these large numbers of ‘filters’.

Diving in these waters always depends on season, temperatures of the water, weather, tides, currents and number of divers. Anything can influence the conditions and visibility. But once I knew how it worked, I really loved diving here.

Diving: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles.