Kooling down in Koh Tao

Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

As I mentioned in my last exciting instalement...I was scheduled to start my diving course next morning over 600 miles away from Bangkok, at an island called Koh Tao, so I thought it best if I skedaddled out of Bangkok pronto on the night train south. You already know this so I know - Alan move on, move on...
The train was meant to stop at 3.04am (I'm anally exact I know) at a place called Chumphoun then continue on south, so I didn't sleep all that well as I was scared that I'd miss my stop and again I was the only foreigner of the 50 people in my cabin. I had been assured that the conductor would wake me up but after seeing him this didn't fill me full of confidence.
I set my alarm and woke a bit before 3am and there was no sign of movement from the conductor or even the train for that matter...as it was stopped at a station. I thought this must be my stop so looked for the conductor but couldn't find him. Not wanting to miss my stop I decided to get off anyway. But you see I couldn't as the exit door had a whiteboard jammed in it with something in Thai scrawled on it. I decided to then go to the other end of the carriage and get out that way but there was no exit door there was there! So I rushed back to the jammed door and frantically dislodged the whiteboard as the train pulled out of the station at precisely 3.04am.
Thoroughly pi$$ed off I looked at my guidebook to find out the next stop was about 100 miles further on. Joy I am going to miss my scuba diving course! Fortunately the Thai railway seems to be like British rail and is rarely on time and we didn't actually get into the correct station for another hour. Many thanks to the Dutch couple in the next carriage who had a (more) efficient conductor to tell us this.
Don't worry I still managed to miss the start of my course as I bought the wrong boat ticket to Koh Tao! However that was my own stupid fault...

Koh Tao literally translated means Turtle Island. I didn't get to see one, though you are meant to see one about every 5 dives. As compensation I did buy myself a turtle fridge magnet. It's an idyllic island with palm trees stretching down to the water's edge, miles of white sand and some cool huts situated on rocks overlooking the water.
I met up with Yuri, Bjorn and their friend Dan to do the course and ended up dragging in an American guy - Andrew - who I met on the boat across to do it too. Our teacher was rather exotically called 'Shark' which I thought might have been because he had been attacked by a shark and killed it or something cool like that. But no - his surname was Shark!
The scuba diving was so, so, so much fun. The theory was a bit of a joke as they effectively gave us the answers to the final exam. In practice it's more difficult and initially a little scary however once you get the knack of it, it's really relaxing.

In fact if you don't relax you cannot breathe as the instrument that gives you the air - the regulator for you non scuba diving types...- won't work if you are trying to take huge gulps of air. So really you are forced to relax as the alternative of dying from asphyxiation really wasn't on my list of things to do that day.
We saw lots of fish life - funny that being in the sea...Got to see some Angel Fish, Nemo (clown fish),  barracudas, stingrays, mantra eels, puffer fish, flying fish and what I could swear was a massive fin which would have indicated a Whale Shark (a rare sight) but no-one would believe me. Hey I don't even know how to lie so I can't understand why they wouldn't believe me...

Our initial course lasted 3 days, and is all that most people do, however we got a little excited with the whole scuba diving thang and eagerly jumped at the chance of supersizing from the Open Water scuba certification to the Advanced Open Water certification for another 3 days. Should prove to be quite useful as I am going to Belize where there is one of the best dive sites in the world (Blue Hole) and all the best stuff to see requires you to at least to have done the Advanced course. Smart me.
The Advanced course consists of 5 dives to which you get a choice from about 10. We plumped for the Night Dive, Deep Dive, Photography, Peak Buoyancy and Navigation. The Photography one was a waste of time as I already know how to click a camera and we didn't learn much more. The others were superb.
On the Deep Dive we got to go to 32.4m deep (but don't tell the folks at PADI as we shouldn't have gone past 30m - shhh it can be a secret between us). After 20m there is the possibility you can get something called Nitrogen Narcosis when the level of nitrogen in your veins can make you disorientated and is therefore dangerous.
Apparently people do odd things like thinking that David Beckham really gives a stuff about improving football in the US and isn't just going there for the bags and bags of money...
We'd hoped to get to see some sharks on the Deep Dive. However the visibility was only about 3m compared to the normal 20 or so metres, so we got to see nada. If you want really great visibility April is the time to go when it's often as long as 50m, plus there's meant to be tons of Whale Sharks in early April.
The night dive one was rather eerie as it was pitch black and all the light you had was from your flash lights which only shone up a smallish area. It's a little claustrophobic, which presumably is the reason why we all stayed together in such a tight group and kept swimming into each other. Wicked that you get to see different species of fish at night and they were so, so bright when you shone a light on them.
Our diving resort was right on the beach and there were quite a few restaurants and bars that backed onto this beach. There was one really cool one called 'Lotus Bar' that had tons of mats laid out on the beach so you could kick back and stare out at the water as the moonlight flickered off it, or stare at the stars in the crystal clear night. 
 Going along there was one of my favourite things to do as I was so impressed by this one local who every night came and put on this show where he twirled either a flaming poise (sp?) or a flaming staff. I hadn't seen a poise before coming on my trip - it's effectively two weighted balls on the end of two lengths of chains which folk twirl around their body at an alarming rate of knots. Not me, no Jose.
Getting the catamaran back from Koh Tao proved to be an (unexpected) event in itself. I started off by sitting outside right at the back. Prime seats I thought as I would have a grandstand view of leaving the island.
30 seconds into the trip...I was soaked to the skin as a massive wave hit the boat and the resulting wave traveled the full length of the hull and concentrated it's rather impressive power on soaking me through to my tightie whities. Drenched I stumbled down into the cabin where they must have been getting us ready for Christmas as the air con was switched to 'Petrify'. After settling down and just about managing to control my teeth not to chatter through to my gums it got really, really rough.
Fifteen minutes into this and with another 90 minutes to go the first puker started hurling. He wasn't alone for long and after about 60 minutes in there was a seriously strong odour of stomach acid and peoples' breakfasts. I thankfully managed to escape joining that happy band and returned no worse for wear to Bangkok.
My other memories of Koh Tao were:

(1) Downing my scuba diving gear and instead going snorkeling along the shallow reefs that surround the island. I got to see nearly as many fish as I did scuba diving as the reefs started barely 50m from the beach.
(2) On two of my toes my scuba diving flippers rubbed the skin off down to the very bone.
Yeah, ouch is the right word. Flipping hurt - pardon the pun - and what made it worse was that in SE Asia it takes much longer for wounds to heal. Don't ask me why, I think it could be something to do with the humidity.
(3) Realising that I am possibly the worse frisbee thrower in the world. Andrew didn't believe it at first but after trying to teach me for an hour he agreed. I put it down to being a different action to golf - which I am pretty tasty at. Though Sp may dispute this?

(4) I swear there are more girls traveling in Koh Tao than there is the whole of Asia. Must be something to do with the miles of white sandy beach. 
Gentlemen - mental note for the next time you are thinking about a holiday destination.

Ladies - I canīt forget you so hereīs an example of what you were missing. Unfortunately this was the only sighting of this particular male brand!
(5) Starting to get really excited about Christmas when waiting for the bus to Bangkok the restaurant started to play 'White Christmas'. The only thing 'white' around that area was 'white sand'. Really bizarre.
(6) Nearly peeing myself (literally) when Yuri showed me the home video he'd taken off of Dan as he got more and more sea sick on the crossing from Koh Tao until a particularly large wave hit the boat and he redecorated the inside of the sick bag he was so fiercely gripping to.
(7) Being thoroughly annoyed when I found out the photos we had taken with a hired fancy underwater camera got corrupted. Bjorn - hopefully your version is still fine?

(8) Being sad to say adieu to Yuri and Bjorn as over the 7 weeks or so I went traveling with them they proved to be great friends. I am already looking forward to seeing them late 2007 in De Haag
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