Category Archives: Adventure Sports

I’m moving to Koh Tao!

Koh Tao is one of the worlds most popular dive locations. The extraordinary diversity of Koh Tao’s underwater world coupled with the reputation as the cheapest place in the world to dive, is undoubtedly drawing a crowd. Koh Tao boasts between 35-45 dive sites (depending on who you ask and who you know) so despite it’s popularity it hardly ever feels busy. The same applies on land too, with the laid-back atmosphere only an island of scuba divers could pull off, you never feel in too much of a hurry to do anything.

Heading out to the dive boat.

Heading out to the dive boat.

With that being said, I planned on visiting for around 5 days, just enough time to do my Open Water diving course and then I would farewell the islands of Thailand and head north. Only, Koh Tao doesn’t actually let you do this. I started chatting with the instructors and ex-pats that had moved to the island and the funny thing was that most of them had a similar story. They planned on staying for a few weeks or a month and here they were a year later with no plans on leaving.

So, there will be no surprises when I say I’m moving here for a couple of months too. I had been looking for somewhere to lay low somewhere for a while, catch up on a lot of writing and work for this blog, but mainly I was looking for somewhere that I could unpack my bag. Here’s how it happened.

I like long walks along the beach, as long as they go to a dive boat.

I like long walks along the beach, as long as they go to a dive boat.

The Open Water certificate was another bucket list item. Koh Tao was on my radar, so I hopped on a boat from Koh Phagnan with my full moon party hangover and went in search of a dive school. I’d been recommended Sairee Cottage from a good friend of mine so I headed that way. They were about 1000 baht more expensive that other dive schools, as a budget backpacker this is usually the point where I walk away but there were a couple of things that swayed my decision.

The dive office, pool and surrounding bungalows looked immaculate and there was a friendly group of staff hanging around to help me out. I was shown the complimentary dorm room and on the walk up the instructor let it drop that there was plenty of bar work available for westerners and this is what sparked the idea of a long-term stay.

That afternoon I began the Open Water course which was just a couple of videos and an orientation. Walking out from the classroom, I crossed a small road and was at the beach just as the sun was making it’s way for the horizon, showcasing a sunset that I’d rarely, if ever, seen beaten. Yeah. I could probably live here.

Sunsets on Koh Tao.
The following day was divided between the classroom and the pool to learn the basics of diving and the two days after were when the fun was to be had. The course takes you on 4 dives to a depth of 18 metres and we saw blue-spotted rays, barracuda, yellow box-fish, huge groupers, puffer fish and a whole lot that I can’t even begin to name but I’ll be exploring more of the underwater world in the next couple of posts. It was stunning enough that I decided to back it up with an Advanced Open Water course which meant wreck dives, night dives and chance to learn the basics of Navigation.

DCIM100GOPRO

So where has this taken me? Well, it all amounted to convincing me to complete my Rescue Diver and Emergency First Responder training and I’ve signed up to spend the next 2 months training as a Divemaster which will mean some opportunity to work once I’ve finished.

I’m on my way to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend to extend my visa and then I’ll be back to diving. Watch this space, exciting things to come.

Bucket List #5: Train Muay Thai in Thailand

Another tick off the bucket list as I signed up for what promised to be a gruelling week of Muay Thai in Phuket. Muay Thai is the traditional martial art of Thailand and combines punches, elbows, knees, kicks and clinching and the Thai’s are brought up on it. From the moment they can walk they’re trained in the art of Muay Thai and often by their mid-twenties they’ve had well over 150-200 fights. If they weren’t so strongly Buddhist, it would be easy to call Muay Thai their religion.

Training Muay Thai at Phuket Top Team

Knees for days!

I checked out a few of the gyms in Phuket and with the help of a recommendation from a friend who has fought in Thailand for the past 2 years I settled on Phuket Top Team. I won’t bore you with the details but PTT have fighters in the biggest organisations of the Muay Thai and MMA world. As well as that the trainers their are a mixture of retired champions and some of the elite fighters still in competition. It was safe to say I’d be in good hands there but it also meant they would take no excuses.

DSC02066

I had trained back at home for 2 years but it had been at least 18 months since then and the past 6 months of travel had taken a toll on my fitness. I secretly hoped my treks in the Himalayas would provide me with some fitness but it didn’t prove to help me all that much.

It was 2 x 2 hours sessions a day for 6 days and most of the sessions went down in more or less the same way. Skipping, stretching, sparring and clinching with other people of a similar skill and weight, bag work, 1 on 1 pad work in the ring with a trainer (this involved the trainer calling out combinations of kicks punches, knees and elbows for you to throw and occasionally throwing some back at you to block) followed by a warm down with a couple of hundred push ups and sit-ups.

DSC01975

Fifteen minutes into my first training session the mouth guards were in and I found myself behind a pair of boxing gloves facing off with an Italian guy in our class. It was the first time back at training for both of us so we stuck to light sparring, moved around a bit, traded some punches and had some fun with it.

The trainers in true Thai-style weren’t so forgiving when my lack of fitness showed up during the pad-work. They’ve been training since they were 2 and excuses never worked for them so they expect the same out of you. In fact, the more you shut up and try to get it done, the easier it’s going to be for you. I saw people learn this the hard way, if you’re the type to whine and complain well guess who’s getting extra push ups.

Phuket Top Team Muay Thai

It’s all smiles for the camera.

DSC02029

As the days went on my fitness was slowly coming back as was some of the technique I had hidden away from a few years ago. I was sore just about everywhere and spent my time in between sessions either in the pool, in bed or at the massage parlour up the road all of which seemed to make the after sessions that little bit easier.

trainers at Phuket Top Team Muay Thai

The Trainers at PTT

The week came to an end and I had to move on as I have the full moon party booked in on the 9th but I will most definitely be returning to train with the team again only next time I’m hoping to stay for a month.

Have you ever trained in a traditional martial art somewhere? What was your experience like?

Photo Essay: Trekking the Markha Valley

After attempting to tackle the Himalayas only to be turned back a couple of weeks ago I know had the Markha Valley firmly within my sights. The Markha Valley Trek is perhaps the most popular trek in the Ladakh region and can range from 4-10 days depending on your starting/finishing point and how fit you are.

We started at Chilling and ended at Chokdo 4 days later. We had orignally allowed 6 days for the trek but we put in some serious hours of trekking each day and managed to race through the trek in time for the Kalachakra Festival back in Leh.

Guides aren’t really neccessary on this trek as it’s quite well marked but I would highly recommend  a book with a basic outline of the route and homestays available. Camping is also available. In saying this we got lost on day 1 of the trek and a leg that should’ve taken 1.5-2 hours took us 4 and had us sliding down a rocky slope, wading up a river knee-deep in water and pretending to be native trackers tracing out old footprints but we got there!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves as the scenery was simply amazing.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

There was only one way day…

River crossings became normal on day one

River crossings became normal on day one

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

Prayer Wheels

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Wunderschön

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The two Swiss girls that dragged me through the trek – Team WunderSchnell!

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The beautiful lady of the homestay in Hankar

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Multi-coloured mountains.

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

It snowed on the way to the pass at 5200m. Naturally my beard was good at catching it.

IMG_4177
Have you trekked the North of India before? What has been your favourite place?

Trekking the Himalayas in the North of India

Trekking in the Himalayas of India was always going to have it’s surprises. The mountains of the Himalayas is home to some of the most unpredictable and arduous terrain on the planet. India itself also has the reputation of unpredictability. No matter what you do in India, there’s always the ‘Indian Surprise’ – a little curveball to keep you on your toes – and eight days of trekking the Himalayas would be no different.

Taking a break during the trek

Taking a break during the trek

I had just enjoyed 3 weeks in Manali – a welcome to the Himalayas I wouldn’t forget and after tearing myself away I soldiered on north to Kashmir. The trek was supposed to begin in Sonamarg and finish 7 nights later in Naranag passing through some of the great lakes and mountain passes of Kashmir.

DSC01679

We were greeted with bad news on the first night. Kashmir had record snowfalls this year and was a little delayed in melting, we would have to keep an eye on conditions. The second day was meant to be a move in camp to Nichnai however the group leader had decided it would be best to leave the camp where it was and we would head towards Nichnai on a day hike as part of a reconnaissance trek.

The freshest drinking water going round.

The freshest drinking water going round.

Reaching Nichnai we saw first hand what we faced for the next few days. There was a lot of snow and no way around it. 

Returning to camp we had decisions to make – well kind of. I was happy to put my trust in the expertise of the two trek leaders, they proved to be very knowledgable and safety was clearly a priority of theirs. They had decided it was safe to go ahead for the next couple of days although they admitted at some point we may have to turn back. I’d come all this way, I was willing to give it a shot. The rest of the group – all 20 of them – were not as easily convinced. At one point it was looking as if it would just be me and trek leaders. Eventually 9 others came to their senses and jumped on board. It’s a shame the remaining 10, when faced with challenge and adversity let their fears overcome their logic.

We pushed on to Nichnai (3600m) the next day and set up camp, arriving just before a brief afternoon shower. Ironically enough, even though everyone had been afraid of the snow it was the mud that proved most difficult.

Looking back from Nichnai

Looking back from Nichnai

From Nichnai we headed over the pass – which would end up being our highest point at 3900m – and descended into Vishansar. We set up camp on a beautiful open meadow just 150m from the Lake. Vishansar Lake was still half frozen nestled in-between a horseshoe ring of mountains around one side. A semi-nomadic fisherman who had set up camp by the lake for 4 months invited me in for tea and watermelon (god knows where he got watermelon from).

Sharing watermelon with the local fisherman

Sharing watermelon with the local fisherman

The next pass through the mountains is where  we would run into trouble. The trek leaders, guides and helpers all trekked up to the pass that afternoon and set about clearing a path for the mules. They spent hours up on the pass and returned at 9:30 bearing the bad news that there was just too much snow for the mules to get through. We would have been fine but without our mules it was pointless. We had to go back.

Hiking through the snow

Hiking through the snow

We spent the next day at Vishansar playing soccer, frisbee, horse riding and I went for a short hike with one of the guides in the afternoon. It was good to relax for the day and enjoy the surroundings. We pushed through a huge day of trekking and skipped the Nichnai camp heading straight back to Sonamarg which gave us time the next day to explore the glacier across the valley before returning to Srinagar.

Sunsets at Vishansar

Sunsets at Vishansar

Although we didn’t complete the trek I had an amazing time the scenery was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and I can’t count the amount of times I stopped, looked around and said ‘Shit, this is ridiculous’. The nights were equally impressive and I thought I’d been treated to an interstellar show on the desert safari but the Himalayan skies blew that out of the water.

Have you trekked the Himalayas before? What was your experience like? 

Video: Rock Climbing in Manali

Manali is home to a whole different bunch of adventure sports, something I didn’t quite expect to see in the calmer Himalayan region of India. Although I’m using Manali as a place to rest up after a chaotic 4 and half months in India (not to mention the ride here) I figured a little bit of adventure wouldn’t hurt. Walking into the booking office, I had a choice of of canyoning, trekking, white-water rafting, snowboarding, mountain biking, and paragliding. I’d already taken on paragliding in Varkala and White-water rafting in Rishikesh so I decided to tick off another item off my Bucket List – Outdoor Rock Climbing!

I had done a little bit of indoor before but that’s a whole different ball game. I ended up in a group of 6 plus our two instructors Ravi and Vikram. They seemed very experienced and took the safety side of things very seriously which was re-assuring as some of the rock faces were as high as 30m.

They ran us through a few warm up climbs and gradually stepped up the difficulty teaching us different techniques along the way but they were clearly saving the biggest climb until last.
Check out the video below and see just how big it was for yourselves (there’s a language warning on the video).

If you’re considering taking on any adventure sports in Manali I would highly recommend Himalayan Caravan, their guides were excellent and they even let us climb for 2 hours longer than we had paid for. (I’m in no way sponsored by them but was so happy with the service that I thought I’d share it).

Have you rock-climbed before? What was your experience like?
Is it something you would consider doing?