Lessons From Southeast Asia
by our Roaming Traveler
Greetings from Southeast Asia!
I’m spending a week on Phu Quoc, a Vietnamese Island off the coast of Cambodia. The waters are crystal clear, the beaches glossy white, and there’s hardly another tourist in site.
Yesterday, my travel buddy and I signed up for a snorkeling tour. We didn’t come to the island with the intention of diving, but the water is so clear, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Unfortunately, despite 6 years of giving customers tips while working at the dive shop, I failed to take my own advice, and got to experience what happens when you fail to plan. Let me share with you some of the low lights:
#1. The mask was atrocious! Once we were all herded on the boat, they passed out rental gear. They only had one size of mask, pretty standard for most dive operations, but it didn't fit anyone in our group.
What I should have done: brought my own mask. I have a big nose and I like a low volume mask that is close to my face and gives me a big field of vision. This dinky rental was never going to fit.
#2. The snorkel leaked like a sieve! The snorkel was a standard version, but water leaked in constantly. With almost every inhale I had to use my tongue to keep water from spilling down my throat. It took easily 5 or 6 big breaths to clear it.
What I should have done: packed my Aqualung Dry snorkel. I’ve never been in the ocean without it, and I’ll never make that mistake again. I had no idea how exhausting blasting a wet snorkel is. It doesn’t even feel like vacation when you’re working that hard.
#3. The fins were confusing! I’ve sized a lot of people in fins, but it was impossible to find a good fit for both me and my roommate. I’m an 11.5 and he’s a 9 shoe size in the US. Not only were we trying to figure out what that converted to in metric, but they only had three sizes of full foot fins to choose from, and many of them were too long and bulky to snorkel with. Even once we made our choice, the fin pockets were narrow and we both ended up with blisters.
What I should have done: bought a pair of adjustable heel snorkeling fins. Snorkel fins are so small and easy to pack, and an adjustable heel makes them easier to size and change up to prevent rubbing.
#4. They had life jackets instead of snorkeling vests. The rigid foam padding of a life jacket is designed to keep your body vertical in the water and your head above the surface...which is the exact opposite of the whole point of snorkeling! My buddy and I opted to go without, which meant when we surfaced from checking out a reef, we had to tread to stay above the waves.
What I should have done: brought a snorkeling vest. The bladder of a snorkel vest can be inflated with a small breath of air and deflated with a pinch of the valve. This lets you control how hard you work in the water. You can inflate it for flotation to relax at the surface and still have your face in the water to see the fish.
#5. There was no defog on the boat! The boat crew instructed us all to just spit in the masks (as I’m sure they’ve instructed every diver who used my rental mask before me.) Not only did it not work well, but days and days of spit made the mask smell like beer, jerky, and garlic Pringles (all of which were available for purchase on board the boat.)
What I should have done: packed defog. A little bottle of defog weighs less than an ounce and has enough in it that you’ll probably lose the bottle before you run out. If I had taken my own advice, I wouldn’t have had to smell the saliva of this weeks SE Asian tourist crowd all day.
#6. Absolutely no safety precautions. The 2nd snorkel of the day was near some pretty strong current. If you kept your wits about you, it was a fun place to play in the ocean. But if you got tired or lost track of where you were, you could quickly get dragged away from the boat—and no one on the boat was actively watching the snorkelers.
What I should have done: carried a signaling device. I’m a strong swimmer, and years of working as a life guard made me feel pretty good about taking care of my buddy...but I watched as families with kids were fighting the current and trying to stay together. I can’t imagine the anxiety of being tired and feeling the pull out to sea knowing no one is watching for you and your family. A safety sausage or whistle to get the boats attention would have made the whole situation a lot safer.
#7. I did it on my own. Perhaps the biggest mistake of the day was planning the whole thing by myself. I Googled a snorkel tour and booked the top result. Even working in the industry, I forget that diving is not a solo sport and we are all here to help each other.
What I should have done: contacted Jill and Michelle at One World for a recommendation. Their advice is always free and they can help book reputable dive and snorkel operators with no added cost or hidden fees to what you find online.
I hope my mistakes can be a lesson about planning your next dive or snorkel trip. It goes to prove the old saying that “if you fail to plan, then plan to fail.”