Live and Let Dive
Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
84Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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The Company we chose was Big Blue Diving resort which is one of the biggest and better known resorts on the island. It is setup on Sairee beach, a long sandy beach where most of the Diving Companies are based. Big Blue has a number of bungalows, a really nice restaurant on the beach and then all of the diving activity going on all day as they run new open water courses every day. It’s amazing how much business they get, on our day there were at least 20 new open water divers and that doesn’t even consider anyone starting an advance course or fun dive that day
We checked in expecting to start our course in the next couple of days but about 1 hour later we were sat in a classroom watching a few Blue Planet extracts with textbooks, videos and homework. We were back at school! After our first lesson we had about an hour's worth of homework to do and then our next class started at 8.30am the next morning. We had dinner at the resort but it was the 4th July and there was a big party including a big game of beer pong. As I say, you can't drink when you're diving so we gave it a miss and went back to our bungalow to do our homework like good little students. The first night, we didn't get much sleep, our bungalow was right next to the restaurant so we were basically at the party without any of the fun until about 3am, but the bigger problem was our bed. The mattress had given way in the middle dipping down severely and their solution was to lay a folded blanket on top of the hole. So, now you lay down with the springs in your back and an elevated square section in the middle.......
The second day, was more classroom time and then a tutorial with our dive instructor. She is an American who has lived at Koh Tao for 4 years with her husband and has been a diving instructor there for most of that time, can't say I blame her it seems a pretty nice life! She lives on an island where the temperature is always around 25to 35C, wears board shorts and a bikini as a uniform and goes diving at coral dive sites looking for turtles every day. At first we found her difficult to get on with, she's a nice girl but a bit patronising, a bit rude and all round a bit American (meant in the nicest possible way). For example, we were discussing our upcoming exam for the course and asking what the pass mark would be. Someone joked that it should be 40% like the UK University pass marks. "You only have to get 40%, no way! No wonder you guys are all so dumb!" ....silence ensued as we all came to the realisation that an American had called us all dumb. Unbelievable! My favourite America story is from one of my dad's work trips where the taxi driver heard that he lived in England and asked him if he had met the king!!
So, after a lot of theory we went into the water for our first session with all the gear for the first time. We all got our kit together and the boat took us out to a dive site called the Japanese gardens which is quite shallow and close to a beach so we could go to the shallows and learn some of the basics. We did a backwards fall into the water off the boat (On sea documentaries it looks so cool, when we did it you would have thought we’d been tipped over and then started to drown... ever so elegant) and then swam over to the shallows to learn some of our skills. On that swim over I had convinced myself I couldn't do diving. Every 30 seconds I felt like I needed to come up for real air and I hated breathing through the regulator. That meant that what ensued was 3 hours of being uncomfortable because all we did was sit on the seabed underwater learning and practicing the skills, and all I could think was "I hope this is the last one so I can go to the surface and breathe normally". Thoughts started going through my head of how I could possibly manage being at 18 metres when I didn't like it at 2m! However the one bit of hope was that after all our skills we went for a 20 minutes dive around the Coral and I loved it, and was distracted from the breathing. From then on it was absolutely fine and breathing wasn't such a big issue, it was purely psychological because you can breathe fine with a regulator.I would be under water for an hour but feel like I desperately needed normal air..... well I survived an hour so it's obviously fine, the problem was thinking about your breathing too much.
Katy was the opposite, she was a bit of a star with the skills and seemed quite comfortable underwater which was good because she was most nervous about it all
The next day we had more tutorials and lessons in the morning followed by the dreaded 50 question final exam. Everyone passed as it wasn’t really very tough and then the fun could start with 2 proper dives in the afternoon, this time in slightly deeper water where we went down to 16metres. We did a forward step in this time and then descended down the line to about 10 metres to start with. After just a couple of minutes of being down Katy got a load of water in her mask and then even more in her regulator and started coughing and spluttering trying to get rid of it. It was horrible and a bit scary when you're so far down and you can't communicate with each other to see what's wrong
We were so lucky on our dive and saw loads of marine life including butterfly fish, barracuda, scorpion fish, a moray eel, 2 spotted stingrays and ...... A SEA TURTLE!!!!! We were the only group to see it because it was asleep hiding in some rocks below the depth we were supposed to go. Later we asked our instructor how often they are seen on these dives and she said in 4 years it was probably about her 10th turtle... how lucky is that?!? Koh Tao means "Turtle Island" because when people first came here there were loads of them but they have mostly moved on to other areas now. I couldn't believe how big the turtle was, he looked like he must be 5 foot long but I don't know if that's just because water magnifies things, it was amazing none-the-less. So after this day we had now done 3 dives and were starting to get the hang of the whole neutral buoyancy thing and breathing underwater for quite a long period of time. Each dive was between 40 and 50 minutes but the big/deeper dives were the next day.
Our alarm went off at 5.15 as we had to have breakfast at 6am to ensure we were packed and ready to get on the boat by 6.30
During our final day's diving, we were filmed with the theme of "Let's dance", so we all had to do dancing of some description whenever the camera was on us. Not my speciality but we decided to just go for it because you look more stupid by not dancing than by going for it. The video was brilliant and really funny so we had to get it as it's the only recollection we have from our diving since we couldn't take photos. The diving videographer has such a cool job, he basically goes diving in the morning, edits the videos in the afternoon and then has beers with the groups while they watch his videos in the evening (usually having people buy him beers in the hope of copies of some of the photos)
So with diving all finished with we wanted to see a bit more of Koh Tao before we left and decided to go over and spend one more night in the main town, Mae Hadd. Our resort offered a free taxi to Mae Hadd at 9am, something which a lot of people wanted to take up and we had too many people trying to fit into this taxi all with suitcases and rucksacks because Mae Hadd is where the ferry's leave from. The taxi was parked in front of the stinking sewage cesspool outside the resort on a hill with the back facing down towards it. We all bundled into this taxi, with our bags and the first thing the taxi driver does is reverse to the point that the back wheels are right at the edge of the open sewer (the people at the back are now hovering over the murky water). Our bags are right at the back of the taxi facing down being held loosely by 2 Chinese girls and I started to become convinced all our stuff was going to end up in there, especially since our bags have wheels. The driver stopped for a moment then tried to go forwards and the wheels skidded and spun until we moved slightly, then he rolled back again! This was painful and went on for ages back and forth, eventually we moved and made it up the hill where he crashed into a moped
I'm not sure I would recommend Mae Hadd as a place to stay in Koh Tao, there's some amazing places if you can afford the posh resorts but otherwise it's not as nice as the other beach settings and we certainly preferred the town around Sairee for it's party atmosphere and friendly people. As I am writing this I thought I saw a rat climbing up the tree outside our bungalow... but as it turns out it was just a really rank squirrel. Rather than a nice bushy tail it has a scraggly limp tail with about 5 hairs on it... which reminds me. Today when we were walking down the road looking for somewhere to stay we came across this set of bungalows which were marketed for backpackers and were cheap, our primary aim. We inquired and were shown their cheap fan room, which was really nice. It had a nice big bed, a TV and looked relatively OK (as far as these cheap bungalows go). We went to look in the bathroom and the door was locked so we asked the lady if we could see the bathroom. She unlocked it and inside was a lizard about 30cm's long and he must have been eating spicy curries all night because his droppings were everywhere, there were brown splodges over everything. When we said the bathroom was a bit of a mess the women looked really offended... what is that about? Did they see the lizard and think they had better lock the bathroom so no-one sees it? I'm just glad we've only got one night here..
After we found somewhere to cheap to stay... cheap and crappy! (The whole place is concrete without being plastered, they've painted over the concrete in the bedroom in a dark purple but not the bathroom, it looks a bit like a prison cell). We decided we wanted to get away so got a long-tail boat over to Nangyuan beach which is a small little paradise island (and I mean really small) next to Koh Tao. I don't think we've ever been anywhere more perfect, it's a toss up between Nangyuan and Bamboo island at Koh Phi Phi for most beautiful beach we've seen. The water is still, clear and such a bright blue and the sands are soft and white. It must have been 35C and completely clear skies. Katy managed to get sunburned through factor 50 suncream whilst sat in the shade of an umbrella... quite an achievement. She puts the sunburn down to the 3 second interval when she left the shade momentarily to move her sun lounger even further into the shade.
Nangyuan is popular for snorkeling and every couple of hours there is an influx of people if a boat arrives but most of the time the beach was quiet and there was no problem finding some space for yourselves. On our first day of diving we had been just off that beach for about 3 hours in the water and there are loads of fish. Apparently there used to be more Coral there but Coral dies when the water goes over a certain temperature and a few hot summers had killed most of it off, although there was still plenty to look at and loads of little fish that come right up the shallowest water by the beach. It's just an amazing place, and I can't really explain how perfect it is. We took photos but they can't do it justice so although it was a bit pricey to get there it was well worth it.
Tomorrow we leave little Koh Tao for our last stop in Thailand, Koh Phangan. More beach time for us... Wooooop!