Mikayla Mangotich - Diving & Marine Conservation in Thailand
Open water scuba diving? Exploring marine life? Working with turtles? Traveling through Thailand? Yes please! I could not sign up fast enough. I was instantly intrigued and tremendously excited when I stumbled upon the Projects Abroad Diving & Marine Conservation Project in Krabi, Thailand. I was definitely not disappointed with the experience.
I am an avid traveler and a self-proclaimed globetrotter, after having traveled to more than 25 different countries in my 17 years. I am always scouring the internet for new adventure and travel opportunities I can join. This is what brought me to the small beach town of Ao Nang, Thailand. Here, I spent my days learning about marine life, diving amongst fascinating fish and making friends that I will have forever. With all of my travels, I can genuinely say that this project was one of my favorites.
My experience at the Conservation Project in Thailand
Within my first week at the project, I was certified with my Open Water Diver Certification for scuba diving by the Projects Abroad staff. We had three dive days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and did two dives each of those days (six dives over one week). It was a 45-minute boat ride to the local dive sites, and up to 2-3 hours for Phi Phi Islands. However, these commutes were one of my favorite parts of the trip. Thailand is gorgeous and during the rides, we had the chance to enjoy the sunshine and the view. All of the volunteers would relax together, but this time was also used to touch base with the staff. We would have dive debriefs with the dive masters or learn fish identification.
Diving was the most amazing part of the trip and one of the most incredible experiences in my life. On my very first day, as we were boating out to one of the dive sites, I remember expressing my concern to the other volunteers and staff that I was worried I would not see a fish when I was diving - and they just laughed! The second I jumped in the water, I understood why... the marine life in Thailand is incredible. Schools of vibrant fish swam by each second, along with other unique fish - including my favorite, a lionfish.
Members of my group also had sea turtle and stingray sightings. Our dives were a lot of fun, but that was not the purpose of the dives - we did trash collection dives, coral reef surveys, and fish identification. It was a bittersweet feeling to emerge from the water holding a bag full of trash, because while it feels great to help clean the ocean, it is very sad to see how poorly the environment is treated.
Monday and Friday were cultural days where we did beach clean ups, visited school and temples, planted mangroves, and – my favorite – volunteered at the Phuket Turtle Rehabilitation Center.
My dive instructor was fantastic, as well as the entire Projects Abroad Thailand team. They always made me feel 100% comfortable at all times, in and out of the water. I do not have enough positive things to say about all of the staff – the boat staff, dive masters, project leaders and manager were all welcoming, happy to explain and answer all of my questions about the project and conservation, accommodate any requests or feedback from volunteers and ultimately help the whole team have an amazing time. It felt great to be involved in such a fun and exciting project that also served an important purpose.
Living in Ao Nang
My accommodation was great. The bungalows are very basic – but that is all you need when you are there. I loved that our bungalows we all so close together, it helped enforce the close bond between all of the volunteers. Super easy to pop next door to say hello, ask if someone wants to hang out with you, etc.
After a long day at work or diving it was so nice to all sit down on our little pond patio and chat, play cards and have a good laugh together. Where we stayed also backed onto a ‘jungle’ (as I called it, but I’m not exactly sure of the scientific term), so it was not uncommon to walk onto our patio in the morning and catch a couple monkeys scurrying away!
Traveling and sightseeing in Thailand
One of my favorite parts about traveling with Projects Abroad is that they leave time in the week for the volunteers to have the freedom and independence to tour Thailand on their own. I was able to explore the country with other volunteers, visit local tourist sites, climb mountains, visit temples, restaurants, and even bus to Phuket for a night where a group of us stayed in a hostel! This trip was the perfect balance of tourism, fun, volunteer work and education.
It was wonderful traveling with a company that also gives you the freedom to explore independently. I really appreciated this... though the trip would still have been worthwhile without this aspect, I would've been disappointing to have traveled over 37 hours from Toronto to Thailand and not gotten to participate in some sightseeing and social activities as well. I am so glad that that was not the case.
When I was at the Conservation Project, there were volunteers ranging in age from 16 to 27 years old. We all got along well together. As a 17 year old, I was on the younger side of the group but still connected with everyone. The whole team felt like one big family. Whether we were on the water, at our accommodation, and socializing, everyone had each other’s back, watched out for each other and had a great time.
My month went by far too fast... I wish I could do it all over again! I do not have enough amazing things to say about this adventure, and have and will always continue to recommend it to anyone looking to travel abroad with purpose.