The Return to Thailand: Sun, Sea, Sand and Scuba

Trip Start Apr 09, 2010
Trip End Sep 07, 2010

Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

So we crossed the border into Trat, Eastern Thailand, and found somewhere to rest our heads before gearing up for the flight to Bangkok, where we would connect with another flight to Surat Thani, edging us closer to our destination - Koh Tao. Past experience told us that we should leave a decent amount of time for check-in, even on a domestic flight. We jumped into our taxi and arrived promptly with an hour and a half before take-off. The airport was empty. We knew this because the airport had no walls - a bamboo screen separated us and the departure lounge. We checked for screens telling us where to go when Jen stumbled upon a small wooden sign that told us that we only needed to check in at 9:00, an hour before our flight. Eventually the cleaners arrived and were swiftly followed by the airport staff. We checked in and made for the small 'Snack Shack' for a coffee and a Thai Pot-Noodle (which was all that was available) to stem the tide of hunger that was rising steadily. James lamented the fact that he had not had a proper breakfast, but Jen eventually got him to got through to the departure lounge 15 minutes before take-off. Despite the lack of walls the bamboo screen had cleverly disguised the splendid departure lounge that boasted complimentary pastries and coffee. This is where James made his money back on the cost of the ticket. The custard snails went down a treat, accompanied by 3 lattes and a hot chocolate. 
Cash back. 

We landed in Bangkok, after an easy 40 minute flight on our mini prop plane and went through to yet another departure lounge. A short wait and we were on our way to Surat Thani, landing in time to get the connecting bus and boat to Koh Pha Ngan, where we spent a night before boarding a catamaran to our intended destination. 1300km in just under 24 hours. 

The catamaran over to Koh Tao was packed full of promoters trying to get you to stay and dive at their resort. Luckily this gave us an opportunity to mull the various options over before deciding to stay with Ban's. We disembarked, checked out what they had to offer, haggled hard and came out with 5 nights in an air-con room and 4 days doing our PADI Open Water course for just under ₤180. Back of the net.

Another bonus was that we had planned to meet up with some Uni friends on the island, and after a couple of missed messages and guesthouse hunting up and down the beach we found them. It was great to see them all, although a bit surreal at first but a few beers and we could have been back in Nottingham, except we were on a beach and the sun was setting. Ace. We had planned to start our diving the following afternoon, so after a good nights sleep in the comfort of air-conditioned luxury we met up with Lizzie, Louisa and Jess for breakfast before getting a boat taxi to a secluded bay for some ray-catching and snorkeling

That afternoon we met up with our instructor Rich and the rest of our diving class in the classroom. No joke, it was like being back at school, even down to the cheesy educational videos and homework. We were given our PADI 'Diving for Beginners' textbooks and spent the afternoon and the evening learning the basic physics of diving. Fun. Luckily we met up with the girls again for a farewell dinner, as they were leaving for Koh Phi Phi the following day. 

The following morning was spent learning about our scuba gear and practicing our 'diving skills' in the pool. We even had to complete a swimming test - I'm pretty certain there were a few Americans that couldn't actually swim, and were hanging on to the side whilst 'treading water'. Trust the yanks. Once we'd got to grips with the equipment we headed back to the classroom for our orientation for our first dive, which would be 7:30 the next morning. We were ordered to stay off the booze, and unnerved by stories of 'the bends' we complied with an early night.

Diving is awesome. There are no words for it. It is honestly like being in another world. We did two dives that morning and we were both hooked the moment we hit the water. Its amazing how much life is down there, even though on our first dives we only went to a maximum on 12m it was still quite incredible. After a big lunch - diving knackers you out from all the nitrogen you absorb whilst your down there - we hit the classroom for our 'final exam' which you had to pass to get your diving license. Rowe & Clegg topped the class, of course they did. 

Our final dives took place the morning after - taking us down to 18m, which allowed us to see even more than we had the previous day. We made the decision to stay on a couple of extra days to do our Advanced Course - which meant we would be able to dive down to 30m anywhere in the world and with Oz and Fiji coming up we figured it might be worthwhile. The fact that we got to stay on a beautiful island by the beach for another 3 days was a bonus. The advanced course meant that we had the option to do 5 more dives, 3 of which were 'specialised'. We had to do a 'deep' (30m) dive, which we did at Chumphon Pinnacle just off the West Coast of the island. It was amazing how different everything looked. Our instructor told us that on the Open Water course you learn the very basics, but on the Advanced you learn how to dive, and that seemed to be the case. We saw a ridiculous amount of life down there, from small crabs to giant 'trigger' fish, which are known for being territorial, and showed it as they attacked our instructor. Looking back, there was a massive difference in what we saw and how we dived on our first couple of dives to the final few dives. Deep dive completed we set off on our 'navigational dive' which saw us complete various navigational tasks before swimming off on our buddy teams and navigating our way to the buoy line. Jen was a little nervous, but did a splendid job on the map and compass for the one dive to redeem herself after a bad orienteering experience Ant still hasn't forgiven her for. James took care of the navigation from then on - the degree in Geography finally proved its value. 

That night we proceeded onto our night dive, which was exactly what you would expect. Diving at night, by torch light. It was a surreal experience, it felt like we were drifting through space with all these weird creatures popping out from various directions. We settled on the sea bed at around 20m and turned off our torches to reveal the small phosphorescent particles that were suspended in the sea. Magic. The following day our diving dream was to come to an end, but not before we got to go on 2 dives on our own armed with an underwater camera. I don't think it needs explaining - look at the pictures - then look around you, pretty gutted? I thought so. We even managed to swim alongside a hawksbill turtle, which Jen spotted moments before we were meant to surface on our last dive. The video should be after the pictures below (internet permitting!).

All scuba-ed out, we headed over to Koh Pha Ngan - party island. We were gutted that we'd missed full moon owing to the Bangkok bust-up, being sick in Laos and being unwilling to miss too much of Cambodia, but we planned instead on hitting up Black Moon, which we heard was just as good but had a more 'trancey vibe'. Good. After sunning ourselves during the day at our beach resort (we decided to splash out $30 a night on a deluxe room in a posh resort- Sarikantang) we prepared for black-moon with a stomach lining dinner, both of us complaining of a sore throat- more on that later. 

We headed for Haad Rin beach for some warm-up buckets - a bottle of whiskey with Coke and Red Bull in a plastic bucket, all for about $2. James got roped in to playing a game involving bursting your competitors (about 20 people) balloons, alas his balloon was popped in the quarter-finals by a sneeky Israeli who went on to win. So close yet so far. We met some merry Irishmen and shared a taxi to the main black moon beach, where we had a few more drinks, met a few more people. From then on my memory (James) becomes hazy, but it think some of that 'stomach-lining' dinner made have found it's way onto the beach....

Anyway, we woke up the next morning with phosphorescent (twice in one entry - impressive) faces from the paint, sore heads but more painfully, sore throats. Putting it down to a bad hangover Jen made it out for breakfast whilst James made it to the beach late on in the day, still unable to shrug off the sore throat. The following morning James couldn't swallow without feeling like Afghanistan was happening inside his throat. We extended our stay by an extra night and made our way to the doctors where he diagnosed James with a bout of Tonsilitus. Brilliant. $100 worth of pain killers and anti-biotics later (free, thanks to the insurance) we left and used the DVD player in our room and the DVDs we bought in Vietnam to good effect. The antibiotics worked their magic and feeling slightly better we departed for Koh Phi Phi the next day. 
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