Category Archives: Taking a Sabbatical

Visiting and Living on Koh Phi Phi Islands

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now and spent the entire time on Koh Phi Phi Don Island. I love it!

Don’t get any romantic ideas of a quiet, remote village surrounded by beautiful sea, mountains and jungle à la Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach.  It was up until The Beach was filmed here and now it’s a tourism and scuba diving magnet with a big party scene and it’s more expensive than most places in Thailand. It is however surrounded by beautiful sea, mountains and jungle and still has its own soul and vibe. The people that live on Phi Phi tend to be very helpful and smiley. Everything and everyone moves at their own pace and locals still seem genuinely curious about people that come to stay on Phi Phi for a while. I think the place is just on that fine line of being big enough to be able to handle dozens of boat loads of tourists everyday while still maintaining a local community feel and mentality. Oh, and it really is a spectacularly beautiful place.

Loh Dalum Bay
Loh Dalum Bay

The town is built on a sandy beach between two tall limestone ridges and is less than two meters above sea level. On both sides are semicircular bays lined with beaches. Tonsai Bay on the south side of town is crowded with longtail and other water vessels. Nice to look at but generally not great for sunbathing and swimming. On the north side is Loh Dalum Bay and it’s the place to be for swimming, paddling, sunbathing and of course, partying. During the day it’s fairly quiet and chilled while it night it bursts to life with beach bars and clubs.

Tonsai Bay and Loh Dalum Bay
Tonsai Bay and Loh Dalum Bay

Since I’m diving almost everyday starting at 7am I haven’t been seeing much of the partying side of Phi Phi. We mostly have a beer at work in the evenings then head to one of the more chilled out places for one or 2 more before bed. If you plan on visiting and you’re looking for chilled out drinks that don’t cost a fortune head to The Sports Bar, Relax Bar or the only rooftop bar on Phi Phi, Banana Bar (also one of the diving communities favourites). If you’re looking for a more lively scene then start at Dojo and Stockholm Syndrome and when they close head to the beach and somewhere like Slinkys.

In less than a month I’ve stayed at 3 different bungalows/rooms. If you’re staying more than a month there’s a huge range of accommodation options and not very much useful information on the internet to help. My first place was towards the back of town (10 minute walk to work) and cost 9000 Baht per month. It was one room, had a private bathroom and a fan but no hot water and toilets that are flushed manually using a bucket of water. Despite being a hot and dark room it was fine until the rain came. Then it turned into a dank, leaking puddle cave with new layers of mold growing daily. Any lengthy exposure to mold can be really really bad for your respitory system. Not cool if you dive very day. Time to move! Next was a 10000 per month place 2 minutes from work. Complete with hot shower, flushing toilet and a little fridge I thought I’d hit jackpot when I inspected the room. It was bright and spacious compared to my previous room but they had used a heavy amount of cleaning products which I didn’t like but I figured at least that meant they had just cleaned the room. Turns out they had just covered up the smell of mold. One nights stay revealed everything was riddled with mold. Even the pillows smelt like mold. Time to move! Only this time the manager refused to give me back my months rent. She wouldn’t move me to a new room either. After hours of arguing I decided my health was more important than 10000 Baht so I moved out anyway. A word of sincere advice if you’re coming to Phi Phi, do not stay at K House! I’m now in a 10000 a month place which is dry and clean. I have a hot shower and flushing toilet but dear god I miss having a fridge. Oh well.. can’t have everything.

If you’re thinking about staying on Phi Phi for a month or more most places will range from about 7000 Baht per month to 25000 per month. For 7000 Baht you’ll get a private room with a fan and shared toilet facilities. Expect no hot Water and toilets that are flushed manually using a bucket of water. Reach the 10000 Baht per month mark and you’ll be looking at private bathroom, hot water, flushing toilet, and maybe aircon and/or a small fridge. 25000 will get you a beautiful new building over looking one of the bays on a quiet location but it’s still likely to be just one room. I haven’t seen or heard of any actual apartments with a kitchen etc… needless to say, everyone eats out all the time. Good thing the food is relativey cheap. A couple of last words on accommodation speaking from some bitter experiences:
1. Book a hotel or dorm room first, come to Phi Phi then start walking around and viewing accommodation
2. Check if bills are or are not included in your monthly rent
3. Try and pay your monthly rent half upfront and half at the end if possible
4. Always check the room for damp. Lots of rooms are really unhealthily damp so if you smell or see it walk away no matter how good the deal is.

If you’re staying for a few days, Trip Advisor is definitely worth a visit to find your accommodation options. If you have any questions please just shout using comments below or use my contact form.

Yep, so I eat out everyday, 3 meals a day. It’s my least favourite thing about living on Phi Phi. I miss being able to make myself a simple sandwich or quickly scramble some eggs the way I like them. Since everyone eats out all the time there is (thankfully!) quite a a lot of variety and options. My personal favourite is Grand PP Arcade. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, the menu is relatively small but the food is perfection, prices are reasonable and the owners are lovely. It’s possible to eat out for less than 60 baht a meal but more realistically you’re looking at between 100 and 200 baht a meal. I’ve started putting together my top 10 restaurants on Phi Phi Island here.

Breakfast at work. I love working next to PP Arcade.  My wallet doesn't!
Breakfast at work. I love working next to PP Arcade. My wallet doesn’t!

The diving on Phi Phi is awesome but my shop doesn’t allow instructors to take cameras with them (for good reason) so I need to come up with another plan to bring you some diving pictures. When I have that I’ll do a full article on the diving here. For now I leave you with some above water shots of the dive sites 🙂

Ciao for now

What made you do it?

Last week my boss sent out the email letting everyone know that after 8 long years I had finally decided to hang up my suit and start my big adventure. This sparked a barrage of congrats and questions, the 2 most common of them being “Where are you going?” and “What made you decide to take the leap?”

The Decision

The where is easy, Playa Del Carmen in Mexico but I digress… The how or why I made the decision is a tad harder. Everything I’ve read on taking a sabbatical has shown me that everyone has their own reasons. My original life plan was to save for a deposit on an investment property while working my way up the old corporate ladder until two things happened to make me question that plan:

  1. London property prices rose quicker than I could save
  2. My boss resigned and a colleague asked me if I was going to apply for his job

On one hand the idea of bigger challenges was appealing yet the concept of walking the tightrope of office politics associated with that level was anything but. The realisation that I was unlikely to ever be happy in the direction I was heading was both terrible and wonderful at the same time. Several months later and it’s only wonderful.

Around the same time all this was going on, a good buddy of mine that I’ve spent many years travelling with decided he’d had enough of London and was going to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico to get his SCUBA Diving Instructor qualification.

"You know you could come with me..."
“You know you could come with me…”

Over several pints we discussed what this decision might mean for him and what life might be like during and after the trip… Goddamn it sounded good! Just as I was contemplating just how good it sounded he, casual as you like, suggested that there was no reason why I couldn’t go with him…

I scoffed, laughed and moved the conversation along but the seed was sown.

Having grown up in Oz I’ve spent a lot of time living close to the beach and miss it hugely. Oz is where my love of diving grew from and my fascination with marine life. I’ve also long had a passion for photography so an opportunity to be exposed to all of these things on a daily basis was simply too compelling to ignore, almost…

Ocean Reef Beach W.A.
Ocean Reef Beach W.A. Home! I spent almost every morning and afternoon here for several years.

Excuses Are Not Reasons

I spent months finding reasons why I had to stay. At the time, in my head, they seemed so important however in hindsight they were simply excuses. Luckily I have some fantastic people in my life, not least of which is my girlfriend, who helped me talk through them all.

  1. I can’t go, I have a mortgage – rent the apartment out if necessary
  2. I’ve spent over 10 years building a career – you’re not happy, it’ll be here when you’re back
  3. My girlfriend can’t leave – she’d hate it if I didn’t go because of her
  4. and so on

The core difference between a reason and an excuse comes down to priorities and sometimes we prioritise things to the point where there no longer appears to be a choice. Children, for example, rightly become your priority over hobbies and other passions. Fortunately I have no such responsibilities and thanks to several people and an open mind to get through the fear of drastic change, I was finally relieved of my excuses.

Your Choice

Several people have spoken to me about wanting to take a sabbatical. They worry about asking for time away from the office. I tell them, “What’s the worst that can happen? They say no!” That’s the answer I received. I’ll do a later post on how you can increase your chances of approval but think hard about what you will do and how you will feel if your request is refused.

Being without a proper income is a scary thought! Figure out how long you can afford little or no income. Keep in mind it’s possible to travel for less than your current living expenses.

Losing the job security I had been building for years felt like such a big risk until I took a step back, looked at the market and realised that job security is a complete illusion!

Having a mortgage to pay off without regular income. This one’s a tough one! Each person’s position here is different so my advice to you is get professional advice. I spoke to a Real Estate Agent, checked my Ts & Cs of my mortgage and spoke to my mortgage advisor, several times, before I got comfortable with the plan.

Taking The Leap

To those of you thinking about a sabbatical, be brave! Are your reasons really just excuses? Planning a sabbatical is much easier once excuses are eliminated so find someone you trust that will help you look at why you should rather than why you shouldn’t. As cliché as it sounds, a pros and cons list can also be really useful here.

When I can I’ll share the plans I have made, the tools that helped me prepare and the articles that I read along the way but until then…

Ciao for now!

p.s. A big thanks to Steffi and Phil for your support! 🙂

The Count Down Begins!

4 weeks and counting… the well paid and comfortable job comes to an end, I wave farewell to London and everyone I love that keeps me here and I move to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for 5 months.  The beginning of a journey towards becoming a SCUBA Diving instructor, Spanish speaker and proficient underwater photographer.

I intend this blog to be the telling of that journey.  As well as keeping friends and family updated I hope it will help and inspire people that might be thinking of taking a sabbatical, career break or just thinking about making a change.

I’ll be learning how this blogging malarkey works along the way so must beg your patience.