Josh Bateson - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
When I arrived in Thailand, I was unsure what to expect when stepping off the plane. I had mixed emotions upon arrival because it was my first time travelling on my own, ever, and also my first time in Asia. I was a little apprehensive to say the least, however my excitement and adrenaline took over when I disembarked and that excitement would not leave me for the month to come.
The Conservation project is based in Krabi and when I arrived I met the Conservation Project Manager, Vishal ‘V’ Pawa and Peter, one of the project’s drivers, who I immediately received a hug from. I was welcomed with open arms, literally, and this put me at ease straight away. Once the nerves and butterflies disappeared, I just couldn’t wait to start my project.
Dawn of Happiness
The drive to my accommodation gave me the best possible insight to the Thai way of life and the way I would be living for the next four weeks. My luggage along with myself was loaded onto the back of a pickup truck. As we drove past locals it soon became apparent that trucks full of people and scooters with up to four people on them were common in Krabi. It was truly a different world to England and I loved it already.
Arriving at Dawn, home for the duration of my stay, I was surprised to find out I was the only volunteer there. Most of the volunteers were on the island of Phi Phi at a beach party and the others were at the local night market. It was a pleasant introduction as I was given the full tour and even had a sandwich made for me. The hospitality of the kitchen ladies, Akira, Peesalena and Akira’s son Gong, was second to none. They couldn’t do enough for me and I felt very welcomed.
I arrived on a Saturday and so I had the day after to just relax and get to know the area and local town Ao Nang before the other volunteers returned. When I met them, the volunteers introduced themselves and gave me handy tips on Thai living. The dinner that night also helped me make friends as we all ate together. There was a great social atmosphere and I was soon chatting away to all the other volunteers and after that night I wasn’t just a part of the project, I was part of the family.
The Conservation Project
All the volunteers looked forward to ‘dive days’. I had no previous diving experience so, after dabbling with snorkelling from time to time, I had to pass my PADI open water and another advanced course before I could dive with the other volunteers. I had no trouble passing either qualification and in the second week of my project I was ready to dive with the big boys.
Lasting memories of dive days will be Phi Phi dives where the water is crystal clear and the marine life is so abundant. Nothing I’d ever experienced in my life compared to swimming alongside a turtle through the beautiful Andaman Sea or seeing a school of glimmering barracuda flash by. The diving gave me a great sense of achievement, because I was either performing a reef check survey, (counting fish and coral species) or a debris dive (picking up all sorts of items off the sea floor).
There really was nothing better than weighing the haul on the boat after a debris dive and knowing that I may have saved marine life in the hour that I spent at the bottom. I would recommend scuba diving to anyone, it is definitely something I will continue to do throughout my life and even if you feel like you wouldn’t like it I suggest you give it a go. It may be a cliché, but it truly is like entering a whole new world once you take the plunge.
Mondays were APE days. I particularly looked forward to these days as we were working alongside a local charity, Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE). We did a variety of work, from cutting out a nature trail with machetes and hoes for the local school to building a bridge across a stream.
I have to say using the machetes was very fun, revealing the inner Neanderthal in me probably. But the bridge has to be the highlight, we slaved away for what seemed like hours all working together as a team in the searing heat but when we tied the last piece of bamboo up it was certainly a sight to behold.
There were smiles from all who participated and a real sense of accomplishment coursing through every one of us. We were even rewarded with a dip in a beautiful river on the way back, just what we all needed. Fridays were beach cleanup, another invaluable example of the work the conservation team does. It certainly isn’t glamorous, but we always had a laugh and more importantly picked up more than 100kg of rubbish every week.
Free time in Thailand
Over the weekends volunteers lazed around Dawn reading a book or having a swim. I managed to get up to Bangkok for a weekend, a great place full of temples and other interesting sights. I was there for the Thai New Year (Songkran) and there was a water festival between all the locals in Ao Nang.
The hardest part of the project is saying goodbye. I made life-long friends, especially with the Thai intern Arm. The project has been, hands down, the best experience of my life. I have learnt so much and matured as a person. I would highly recommend this project to anyone, but the only problem is you’ll never want to leave!