Victoria Watson - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
Why I decided to volunteer in Thailand
I heard about Projects Abroad after my sister volunteered with them in India. She returned highly enthusiastic about her experience, so I decided I wanted to give it a go too. I chose the Care & Conservation two-week special because it enabled me to fit an intense experience into two weeks. I wanted to go to Thailand, not really because of anything I knew about the country, but because of the option to learn to scuba dive, meaning I could learn new skills at the same time as helping on conservation work. The environment is an area I am very enthusiastic about, so to be able to work on coral reef observation was an amazing opportunity, not only because of the brilliant scuba diving. However, whilst in Thailand, I also had the chance to work in different areas, such as replanting mangroves, and helping set up a new play area for a nearby school. Soon after I arrived I became fascinated with the culture there, and my experience was thoroughly enjoyable. In the end, I learned new skills at the same time as being able to contribute to a better world, which is the reason why I think going to Thailand with Projects Abroad so great.
Travel and first impressions of Krabi
I volunteered along with my sister, and we arrived together at Krabi Airport after three long flights- from Manchester to Frankfurt, then to Bangkok, then finally to Krabi, a city on the west coast of Southern Thailand. The flight from Bangkok introduced me to Thai food for the first time, and I started to get quite concerned about how edible anything would be for the next two weeks. I soon realised that it was aeroplane food in general that is awful, not Thai food. We arrived late at night but were soon greeted by a local Projects Abroad staff member, who we soon got to know very well. It was all slightly disorientating - arriving in a strange new country, with odd smells and sights when I couldn't see anything because it was so dark. We were soon whizzed away from the airport in an open truck, giving us some of the first views of dark, looming karst structures and electricity wires. The weather was also a lot more humid than I was used to, even late at night, and I was very happy to learn that our accommodation was air-conditioned. Instead of a host family, we were staying in a set of bungalows arranged around a swimming pool. Whilst not exactly hotel-standard, the room my sister and I shared was nice and clean and air-conditioned. We were introduced to the other volunteers who were on the two-week special, who were all similar ages to us, and we quickly got to know each other, despite all coming from different countries.
Exploring the local area
Because we arrived on the weekend, we had a couple of days to relax and get acquainted with the area before the work began. We went with some volunteers who had been there for a few months, and they showed us around the local town, Ao Nang, where I experienced my first Thai massage, which was an interesting experience. We also went to Railay Beach, which is renowned as one of the best beaches in the world. We had to take a boat to get there but then spent an afternoon soaking in the sun and beautiful blue sea which was incredibly different from the rain back home in England. The only problem was the monkeys, who kept trying to steal everybody's bags! We were also taken on a tour by our coordinator, who took us all out for a meal. At this point, I was really starting to enjoy my experience, and the jet lag was starting to wear off.
On Monday, we started work - well, sort of. We had been working on learning some scuba diving theory in the evenings and we were ready to get started with the practical side of things. I was really excited to learn to scuba dive, but I actually ended up hating my first day in the pool. It was hot, and I couldn't get the hang of not breathing through my nose. Because we were working towards passing the PADI Open Water Course, we also had to do tasks underwater, like taking our mask off and putting it back on. I also underestimated how heavy an oxygen tank is! However, after the first day, we went back and had a long rest and a nice meal, and I started to feel a little better. Things only got better from there, and we were soon allowed in the ocean. I absolutely loved being on the dive boat - we could sunbathe for a couple of hours whilst travelling to the dive site, before getting underwater. Though I was a little scared of the water at first, it soon got better. It was such an intensely meditative experience, breathing deeply and slowly through your mouth, with an amazing feeling of weightlessness. We did two dives a day, and during the break, we had fun doing somersaults off the boat! After the first week, we finally passed the PADI course. However, it was then time for a break from diving.
Other conservation efforts
We started on some conservation work replanting mangroves. This was certainly not my favourite part of the trip; it was several hours in the hot sun, covered in crawly insects and mud, having to very carefully extricate mangrove roots from the soil, before digging new holes with spades. But by the end of the day, I felt a real sense of accomplishment at having aided with the conservation effort, and the mud soon washed off. We also did some other activities, such as some really interesting workshops about marine conservation, where I learned a lot. Another of our non-scuba diving related activities was the trip to a local school, where we spent some time helping to create a play area for the children. However, my favourite activity was travelling to a turtle rehabilitation centre, where we helped care for baby turtles and learnt about their problems. The turtles were cute, but it also brought home the importance of the work that we were doing.
On the second weekend, we had a lot of fun travelling to different sites around the area, including several different temples. This was a fascinating insight into a wider experience of Thai culture. Although I actually thought the country was a lot more developed than I initially imagined, it was still a massive contrast to home. We also walked up a couple of thousand steps to reach one of the temples, which was crazily tiring, but also so rewarding when you got to the view at the top.
After the weekend, we started again with the scuba diving, travelling to the Phi Phi Island, which was absolutely beautiful. Because we had finally learnt to scuba dive, we spent our time in the dives helping to monitor the coral reefs. This combined the immensely enjoyable experience of scuba diving with the knowledge that I was helping to conserve the planet. During these diving trips, I also saw some amazing sea creatures, including several sharks!
We went out for a tasty meal on the final night, and I found myself quite sad to be having to go home. We left on Christmas Eve, meaning I spent the first few hours of Christmas Day in Frankfurt airport, before finally getting a flight home in time for Christmas dinner with my family. Volunteering in Thailand was a very intense experience, especially because everything was packed into two weeks. It passed in a whirlwind. There are so many things we did - visiting a night market, shopping, going to the beach, and going out for loads of meals that were just like what you would do on a normal holiday, but it was also made completely different by the fact that we were also volunteering. I learned new skills, but also found great enjoyment in experiencing a completely new culture and also contributing to the conservation efforts in the area.