Explore Scuba-diving in Hong Kong
Dear Travel Guru,
It seems my family aren't going anywhere this year. Friends of mine have gone or are going on holidays to Phuket, Singapore and other exciting locations, but I'm stuck in Hong Kong. There are only so many days you can spend at home watching DVDs and surfing the internet, and only so many times you can wander around the nearest mall. I need a little adventure. What do you suggest?
Thanks for your letter, Stir Crazy. I sympathise. It's no fun spending the entire holiday stuck at home. But don't forget, there's more to Hong Kong than malls. There are plenty of hikes to do in the New Territories and on Hong Kong Island.
And, if getting out of the house and going on a leisurely, or vigorous, hike is not enough for you, how about learning to scuba-dive? When most people think scuba-diving, they think Thailand or the Philippines. It's true the underwater world is at its most beautiful in the tropics. But that doesn't mean you can't gain the skills in Hong Kong - and you will probably be surprised by life under the surface here. The visibility is not as good in Hong Kong, and there's not quite as much marine life, but there's still plenty to see.
Take the plunge
There are many dive shops scattered around the city that offer scuba-diving courses certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (Padi).
Start out with a one-day Discover Scuba Diving course. Most of these feature one or two dives in shallow water which introduce two concepts that are slightly strange the first time you experience them - breathing underwater and being weightless. You will receive a diving certificate, and get a taste of what diving is all about.
You have two options after that. One is a two-day, intermediary scuba-diver course. Once you pass this course, which features two dives, you can go diving anywhere in the world, provided you are accompanied by a Padi professional.
But, if you want to have certification that allows you to dive with a friend anywhere for the rest of your life, go for the four- to five-session Open Water Diving Course. This will teach you all the basics to be a confident diver.
Check out this list of dive operators in Hong Kong: www.dive-centers.net/diving-hong_kong-33.html
It's true that Hong Kong is not the best place in the world to go diving. Pollution, landfills, construction and overfishing have affected marine life.
But the situation is improving and some marine life is bouncing back. Visibility underwater in Hong Kong is usually only about half as good as in a popular dive destination like Phuket, but you will still get a glimpse of creatures you probably didn't even know were swimming around off our beaches.
There are some 200 islands in Hong Kong and no shortage of potential diving sites. Some scuba clubs organise weekend dives - often by chartering a junk. Popular diving destinations include Sai Kung and Sharp Island.
For more information about all the fascinating fish that can be found in our waters, check out Hong Kong Fish Net: www.hk-fish.net/
1 Check out several dive shops and ask what they offer. For example, it'll be more fun to do an introductory course in shallow seawater than a swimming pool.
2 Go for a Padi-certified course. There are others, but Padi is the most famous and has thousands of operators in around 180 countries.
3 Wear casual clothes - shorts, T-shirt - and bring a cap, but you'll be changing into scuba gear anyway.
4 Don't forget sunscreen - even if it's overcast.
5 Scuba-diving is not the same as swimming, but it's probably not a good idea to take a course unless you are a reasonably confident swimmer. It's unlikely you'll enjoy being underwater if you are afraid of being on the surface.