Live and Let Dive

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Big Blue Diving resort
What I did
Open Water Diving Course

Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, July 8, 2011

The first job on Koh Tao was to choose a diving Company where we could do our open water course. It's really hard to choose because all of the Diving Companies have the same pricing 9800 baht (Padi), 9000 baht (SSI) and there are so many different Companies so how do you choose? Plus lonely planet won't recommend anyone because they say it depends on the instructor, but you have no choice over your instructor anyway. So, we did the easiest thing which was choose the place that had free accommodation, English instructors and a nice brochure. 

 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. They have their own boats as well so when you go for a dive there are a lot of small groups going to the same sites... not that it affected the dives really. At night the bar gets quite busy and they have DJs and fire shows on the beach which is just brilliant! The only problem being that you’re not supposed to drink when you are diving the next day so all the drinking games cause a bit of a confused scene. 

 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........ not very comfortable. We expected them to be short with us when we asked to move rooms the next day (as this was a free room) but they were cool about it and setup a different room for us which was great. I think we were probably last to check in that day so it was all they had. At least it was free!

 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!!! I'm not generalising, I'm just saying I don't like being called dumb by Americans. She was actually a really good instructor especially when we were in the water, and once she got to know us a bit better she was really nice. 

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 dive site was amazing, we only went to just over 10 metres but there were so many fish and interesting Coral to look at and it's an amazing experience to be underwater for so long, so deep! I can definitely see why people love the sport. Katy was accompanied by a number of little fish who nibble at any dirt, grime or sores you may have. Well Katy’s legs are covered in mosquito bites some of which have since become scabs (stop scratching!) and these little fish thought they had hit the jackpot... 3 hours of endless food that was sitting still on the seabed. When she came out of the water all of her scabs had been removed and had to start healing all over again. Katy took this attack very personally ... “That little fish wouldn’t leave me alone, he’s evil!” 

 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. All I could see was her eyes looking scared and loads of bubbles coming from her regulator... could she not breathe? Was she choking? She was really brave though and the instructor was brilliant in sorting out the situation without us having to surface, and after just a couple of minutes we were on our way again.

 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. Our final dives were down to 18 metres and we went to Chumpon Pinnacle which at some times of the year is notorious for having sharks including bull sharks and whale sharks (although whale sharks aren't seen very often at all, seeing one is like the mecca of diving here). Sadly not for us this time but it was a brilliant dive anyway and quite exciting to be down so deep where the coral is less spoiled and you feel like you're spying on a whole different world. We both loved it, despite finding the experience a little daunting initially. We will have to consider in the next couple of years whether we should do our advanced course so we can navigate, take photos underwater and go deeper! From what the instructors were saying, you will be limited if you can only go to 18 metres because a lot of the really good dive sites are over 20 metres deep. I think we'll see if we can do some diving in Australia and see how limited we really are for the moment. 

 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).  It was a lot of fun, I would definitely recommend giving Scuba diving a go, it's so much nicer than snorkeling and you have infinitely more freedom in the water.

 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. But at least we didn't end up in the sewer which we all agreed was a good thing. 

 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... we took a different room sacrificing the TV for no scaly shower buddies. 

 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!
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Berry and Trev on

Sooo jealous!! Sounds wonderful and love the photo's!!

Phil on

Experts on Boyles law, Jolys law and partial pressures. Your education increases. It will be the North East coast next where you rope up to your buddy cos you can't see them.

charlene on

Hey my Babes, absolutely loving the blog! So amusing :-) Poor Katy seems to be having all the trouble and you all the fun what with her bites (stop scratching!!) and evil little fish and sunburn etc - I think you need to take better care of her!!! Looking forward to the next entry, love you both loads xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Lorna Bladen on

Hope the bites get better Katy!

Love the blog! x

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