A whale shark of a time in Thailand!

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
Trip End Jun 12, 2009

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Ay up!

Going to jump straight into it ohhh yarr.... We left Bangkok for the infamous "islands" of Thailand and the infamous lush beaches and parties on said beaches.  Before we left however we said goodbye to Mike (as mentioned in the last blog) and also swapped a few books in preparation.  We had two options: A) Fly to Ko Samui B) bus and boat it.... obviously coming to the end of our trip (8 1/2 months out of 12) we decided to bus and boat it.  All in all not a bad trip and leaving Bangkok in the evening i slept on the bus getting up for the three hour ferry ride taking us to our first island destination "Koh Tao"

A gorgeous island (from the very little we managed to see) and an amazing week.  The first island of our southern Thailand adventure, for us was all about diving.  This is why we chose Koh Tao being one of the cheapest places to get qualified, and although they churn through students quicker than Kentucky Fried Cruelty churn through chickens, it had been well recommended.  Our first task was to find a dive school, not much of a difficulty as five of the main schools had reps on the ferry.  We quizzed them all and narrowed our choices down to "Big Blue" and "Big Bubble" both big according to their names, but both with pros and cons.  We ended up choosing Big Blue, mainly because it had been recommended3d to us by a good friend of ours but also because as opposed to Big Bubble it was more central, closer to amenities (bookstores, cafes, etc.) and if we so wished "party time".

Big Blue turned out to be an amazing choice after only 7 days in their company we felt a great sense of community with students and instructors alike.  A great bunch of people and we almost stayed to complete dive master training, involving 5-8 weeks plus of all the dives you can handle to get you to the level of dive master at a flat rate.  I say almost, we had the money (maybe just), we definitely had the time, it was a given that we had the want and energy for the task....but we could not have given up Nepal and India (as the case would have been) for the DMT experience, and instead decided to leave it as an accomplishment to be conquered further down the line.

But i digress..... We arrive at Big Blue to find a mass of people and no accommodation.  The manager/owner (not sure which) Jim informing us of an unusually large amount of people on the island, due to a Swedish rap concert and the recent end of the full moon party on Koh Phangan.... meaning all hung-overs and drunkards head to Koh Tao for some detox and relax time.  So we were at the dive company we wanted but no accommodation (you get super discounts on accommodation if you stay with the dive company) they offered us a bungalow at 600 Baht (12) the most we would have spent on accommodation in months and way over our budget, but we decided to accept for lack of an alternative and need for some rest.  We spent a good portion of time looking for cheaper accommodation and i provoked funny looks plus laughter from locals/hotel owners when asking if we could sleep on their sofa or floor for a cheap price.  In the end coming to an agreement of 4 a night with a guest house that would let us sleep on their roof in a tent.  We checked out of the bungalow the following morning ready to move into a tent, Hanging around Big Blue on the off chance...and thank whoever we were gifted with a cancellation and moved into an on-site beach bungalow for the same price we would have paid for the tent.  I say beach bungalow, i could have farted in the room, walked to the sea, had a dip, walked back and be in the room before the smell left...wow what a childish and disgusting analogue, gets the point across i guess though so it can stay in there :)

Right so where are we.. Bangkok -> Koh Tao -> Big Blue -> beach bungalow.  Sorted, now you know where we stayed for seven nights (interesting I'm sure).  Well we were diving so i will tell you all about that yey!  Previous diving experience:

Me = 4 dives, Great Barrier Reef, unqualified
Zoe = 20+ dives, open water obtained in France, advanced obtained in Australia (GBR)

Bloody hell! I want to go on but i must digress a little once more:

Quick Digression

 - When in Australia while we were diving off of a boat called the Anaconda 3 around the Whitsundays and The Great Barrier Reef Zoe completed her advanced scuba diving certification with AUSI
 - When Zoe told Jim from Big Blue that she was advanced under "AUSI", he kind of froze, looked concerned and then asked that if by any chance we had been diving on the Anaconda 3!  Now it was our turn to freeze and we were both coming around to the idea that this guy had psychic abilities until he produced an explanation.
 - The explanation: Recently a guy attempted to complete an advanced diving course at Big Blue with open water AUSI qualification, he was refused as AUSI is not recognized by PADI or SSI or any other dive associations..... He had received ed his AUSI certification on the Anaconda 3 as did Zoe because this is the only boat in the world that uses AUSI.  It is an old, outdated dive association that had died long ago.. the guy who owned Anaconda 3 resurrected it without telling anyone, hence the issues of recognition from PADI and SSI (Plus SSI think that he stole their course material)
 - Luckily for Zoe, Jim got in touch with Mr PADI Thailand and since there had been recent discussion on the topic within PADI headquarters he could say that they are not recognizing AUSI as a qualification at this time, and Zoe could do the next level of diving if she so wished with PADI

End of digression

Wow! that was titled "quick digression" not as quick as i had imagined.

Right i will start with Zoe's diving..... as there were issues with AUSI and we could see possible issues in the future Zoe took a course the next level up with PADI.  She is now a PADI Rescue Diver :)  This involved: Half a day training to become an emergency responder (first aid training)... she resuscitated a dummy and got to mess around with a defibrillator at the local medical center...i say mess around i mean taught to use and lots of other first aid related things like that.  Then Zoe completed three days of classroom work / In water training (Learning to deal with panicked and unresponsive divers under the water and on the surface).  Zo loved it and I'm very proud at how well she completed the course.  You can read about her experiences under the water in her blog when she puts it up here: ZOE'S BLOG

I completed two Scuba dive courses...oh and in case you did not know SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (read the last bit in a snobby / stuck up kind of voice).  First i had to decide which association to complete my courses in either PADI (most recognized) or SSI (second largest), apparently the only difference on these particular courses is that PADI require you to buy the book and SSI say you can borrow it...the effect: PADI costs 800 Baht (16) more but you keep the book.  I chose SSI.  First the Open water, i will not bore you too much with the details of the course (as I'm sure i have to much already).  We completed the required skills such as taking your mask off, putting it back on and clearing it...the same with the regulator and lots more including buoyancy control, all the while enjoying the beautiful scenery and wildlife of our underwater classroom.  What did i see?  Spotted Rays, Butterfly Fish (beautiful yellow fish that you normally see in pairs as when they find a mate they stay with them for the rest of their lives), Gr4ouper, Flounder, Fusiliers, Parrot Fish, Squirrel Fish, Rabbit Fish, Barracuda, Potato Cod, Long fin Banner Fish, Annamae Fish, Clown Fish (Nemo's), Tuna, Angel Fish, Red Rusted Rass, Ramora (really liked these...looked like a palm sized shark and was swimming close to the tank of a fellow diver, the same way you sometimes see fish swimming under the belly of a shark), Trigger fish (Only thing we had to worry about... a descent size, very territorial, and named due to the trigger that pops up on their head when they are angered / on the attack), Plus gorgeous corals and rock structures.

I completed the course which included four dives giving me the ability to dive up to 18m.  Supper addicted to this super addictive hobby (try it if you can!!) i decided to complete my Advanced diving course.  Mainly because this would then allow me to dive 30m, meaning i can dive with Zoe, but also because i love diving and wish to progress through the qualifications.  I completed this with SSI through Big Blue also and loved it, my group consisted of 6 people ..... and i have to say we bonded a lot more making the experience more special, there were three cool Norwegians (2 girls, 1 bloke), a south African girl, a Spanish guy... who happens to be one of the most interesting, though provoking and inspirational characters i have met on this entire trip and ME!

The advanced course is different to the open water in that there is no classroom work / Test (I got 48 out of 50 for open water mum) and you must complete two mandatory modules (deep diving, navigation) and choose three (i chose Night dive, Buoyancy, and Nature dive).  All were good but one of my favorite modules was the night dive, firstly because of how surreal it felt from start to finish.... Jumping into the middle of the sea at night, feeling completely unaware of what was below and around you, with just the moon illuminating the seemingly black water we grouped at the front of the boat torches in hand.  As you descend you can literally see nothing but the area illuminated by the torches, it was strangely calming and i felt relaxed throughout the whole experience.  I saw stingray skirting the ocean floor, but my favorite had to be "playing god" with the very large barracuda hunting at night.  The group would train their torches on a large barracuda, our instructor would then illuminate a small fish with his...the "selected" one, within seconds the barracuda would streak forward and hit the poor thing like a hammer then disappear into the night...oh what great fun ay! hmmmm.  We descended onto the ocean floor and holding our torches to our chest, making it pitch black we played with the fluorescent plankton....as you wave your hands through the water the kinetic energy aggravates the plankton and they illuminate fluorescent green... i was Harry Potter for five minutes, whizzing my hand about with my invisible wand watching fluorescent green explode and trail behind.  Ascending to the surface, inflating your BCD and floating you go from an amazing underwater world to gazing straight up at a sky full of stars! Definitely one of my favorite dives!

My other favorite dive possibly THE FAVORITE dive was my first deep dive going down to9 30m and my first ever dive with Zoe as they said she could join us.  Although both of these factors made the dive extremely special...it was something else that made it truly special, something HUGE!  Me and Zoe were Buddy's, meaning we checked each others gear before entering the water and we checked on one another in the water.  We had descended and everyone in the class completed a few tests with a pencil and a board to make sure we hadn't gone do-lally at 30m and picked up nitrogen narcosis, now taking in the schools of fish and coral while circling a giant pinnacle.  The instructor was at the front and had just cornered the pinnacle followed by two pairs of students and then me plus Zo at the back.  Just as Zo and I were about to corner the pinnacle i noticed a school of fish disappear like a firework, yellows and silvers exploded in every direction.  Then i heard a sound, which i could only place as the drawn out noise of bending metal (mrrrwarrrraarrr hahaha... you can ask me to do it in person)...anyway it was drawn out and deep, i looked at Zo w2ho had also stopped our group now leaving us around the pinnacle, we both looked out into the ocean and through the clear blue mist a giant, gorgeous, Yellow / white spotted fish approached.....  A WHALE SHARK!!!!!!!!!  WAAAA WOOOO YEAAA!!!  It was amazing!!! apparently only juvenile and coming in at just over three meters it was so graceful and i felt so lucky to see such an amazing creature (Here is a link to a whale shark video...i was meters away from one of these!!! : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQrBwN39LJI) ... one of the best experiences of my life!

Full of adrenaline i raced around the pinnacle grabbed the rest of our group, we searched but it had moved on, me and Zoe being the only two out of our group to have seen it ( a couple of other groups spotted it also) it was shocking, exhilarating, breathtaking and inspirational all at the same time.  Talking to our instructor who had been diving for five years he had only seen them a few times, other people i talked with who had over 100 dives had never seen one, we were so lucky, especially lucky as it was my 12th ever dive plus my first ever dive with Zoe!

Anyways...dive dive dive...enough of diving...its amazing we both love it, and i recommend for anyone with the opportunity to give it a go.  So Zoe is a rescue diver and i an ab advanced diver allowing me to dive up to 30m.  Actually a tiny bit more about diving.....The whole experience at Big Blue was unforgettable, the only bad thing being that i stubbed my toe and cut a chunk out of it (remember that...i will return to it)

I think i mentioned before we are running low on money now and may have to cut our trip a little short, but we are totally happy about this because during our trip if there has been anything we wanted to do we have done it.  We haven't had to pick and choose like we should have done, we have literally done everything we wanted to do that is on offer....Talking of doing everything we want, we are now in the process of booking up a live aboard dive trip on the west coast of Thailand in the Similan islands, reportedly some of the best diving in the world.  The trip we are interested in, and will hopefully be booking is on March 6th and is a whale shark ecological research trip.  Basically finding whale sharks and taking pictures of them using underwater cameras for research purposes, the adults growing up to 12m in size...they do not complete this trip often and we happen to be in the right place at the right time so we may take the opportunity and join the three day / 9 dive trip.  It will also help me to achieve one of my goals...a "wreck dive" and explore a sunken ship.

Just a side note before i carry on...actually i think this blog is almost entirely side note?!?!?  I have found from the scuba courses, cooking courses and various other activities on this trip that as i have grown older i love learning, it definitely was not a love when i was younger, but it is now (is this the same for everyone?)  I am looking forward to learning at home by taking up different courses :)

Soooo we were done diving and reluctantly left Koh Tao after one party night at a beach bar and as a guy we were with said "all that is missing is a few beach balls flying around and this could be MTV" as everything seemed perfect and almost glossy...everyone dancing, stars above us, sea at the edge of the bar, really well laid out, hard to explain, but a good night had by all :)

We ferried it to Koh Phangan, skipping Samui, not sure why...just not that bothered about Samui.  We had decided to use http://www.couchsurfing.com/ as we had always planned to on this trip but had somehow forgotten.  The basic concept is that you create a profile and either sleep / "surf" peoples couches, host couches top be surfed or as many people do...both.  While on Koh Tao we found 13 couches possibly available and choose to contact one, a guy called Ryan who got back to us pretty quickly.  Funnily enough he was house sitting a bungalow on the beach for a guy he had couch surfed with for two weeks.  The beauty of the concept being that you stay with people who have local knowledge, you get to meet new and interesting people and all the other little bonuses such as free accommodation, use of a kitchen etc.  So Ryan (from Canada) met us at the pier, we grabbed some mopeds and whizzed up the west coast, backpacks on your backs to just as we had ordered a a very non touristy bungalow on the beach.  We settled into the bungalow Ryan very kindly giving up his double bed for us as he slept outside in a hammock, and here we stayed for a few days enjoying the beach on the doorstep, cooking with fresh ingredients from the local market and checking out beaches in the area.

My favorite day had to be an early morning motorbike ride to the start of a walking trail which led us up to the highest point of the island and an incredible view point.  We dropped our bikes off at the start of the trail and walked through the jungle, picking up our tour guide at the start.... a locals dog, the lady told us that the dog completed the trip three or four times a day, she shouted something to the gorgeous brown dog and it led us up the hill.   We were thankful to have her in the end as there is a good chance we might have got lost, traversing rocks and walking through the jungle.  I was incredibly sweaty and exhausted but glad to make it too the top and take in the stunning view of the island...the sounds in the jungle were also really cool...the random bird noises and whatever else really added to the atmosphere...plus we didn't see another tourist the whole time. Ohhh and i graduated to a bigger motor bike, will i say graduated...i had a go for a while on a dirt bike with full gears and i really, enjoyed it... i managed to pick up the gears pretty easilly and with a bit more practice i think i could handle something a bitter bigger and badder than a moped :)

This night was not such a good one as i gained a high temperature, worried it may have been the start of malaria ( i was really really hot), late into the night Zoe stuck me on the back of her moped and fully into fever i shivered my tits off all the way to the hospital in the warm nights breeze.  Given paracetamol and told to return in the morning we did just that.  I went to the doctor explaining my fever (which had almost disappeared by this point) and also mentioning two worrying lumps at my waist....he checked and immediately asked if i had any cuts on my feet!  Me and Zo both looked shocked and replied yes....and remember i told you about stubbing my toe on KO Tao and cutting a chunk out of it...well being in the sand and in and out of the sea it was struggling to heal and now infected, Yum! (the lumps were swollen glands)  So under direct orders from the doctor not to go near the sea or sand and to shower with a plastic bag on my foot, i looked forward to our last week on an ISLAND! boasting gorgeous beaches and beautiful blue sea! ha ha!

Its not that bad actually, I'm three days into resting, we decided not to burden our couch surfing host and move to a cheap room on the south side of the island.I no longer feel poorly and my foot is looking better and better by the day :)  I have been getting tons of reading in, and watching some 24 on the ol DVD player....and Zoe has been amazing looking after me :)

So thats where we are at.  Relaxing on the south side of Koh Phangan.  We have a plane booked on March 11th to take us to Nepal, we are provisionally booked in on the dive trip i mentioned for March 6th (they will hold the place for a few days... see how my gets on), and we were going to explore some more islands until the dive trip but we figure we are now staying in a very cheap 2 each a night room next to gorgeous beaches and beautiful waters, we would just be looking for the same elsewhere...so why not just stay here until the trip or the flight :) I'm thinking we will make the trip, but we will see :)

Read a few books:

Another Ben Elton..this time The First Casualty.  Did not dissapoint as i find Ben never has for me...another amazing book and another one in the recommended pile.

Martin Mcgartland - Dead man running.  The true story of a guy who worked for british intelligence undercover in the IRA... and then got left to fend for him self.  Interesting book...but very repetitive and because of this bored me!

Michael Crichton (author of Jurrasic Park) - Rising Sun..... very very good book and i look forward to reading some more from the same author.  A detective story also looking at the economic differences between Japan and America.

Love to all

Pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/discozo/sets/

Oooo one thing to mention about the pictures.... we upload them to Flickr as you are aware by now, and we keep them public, this means people are always getting in touch with us asking permission to use certain photos for different thing...online magazines and stuff like that.  The latest one to get used is for a Fraser Island, Australia Brochure and is me with a stupid Bob hair cut...check it out here :


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kallendar on

Sounds wicked. All the diving experiences sound brilliant. Dirt bike - WORD!

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