S̄wạs̄dī Koh TaoAugust 20, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 88 °F
The night bus to the port town of Chumphon was pretty standard and uneventful. Unfortunately it arrived at the pier at 3am and the ferry wasn’t due to leave until 6. Plus the pier office was closed so the rest of the passengers and I had to wait on the mismatch junkyard of airline style seats outside. Somehow I managed to sleep for a couple of hours and woke up just before we were allowed to board. The ferry itself was quite nice with comfortable seating and even played a movie on the way, though i chose to sleep for the duration. We arrived in Koh Tao just after 9am and I headed straight to my hostel to freshen up. Once I was feeling slightly more refreshed I headed over to Simple Life Dive Shop to book my open water course. There are dozens of dive shops on the island, it’s the main reason people come to the island, but I was recommended to use this one by two fellow travellers on my trip, independently of each other. That was good enough for me. The dive shop has a new open water course starting every night so I was able to sign up easily. I even met my dive instructor, Eve a lovely American girl who actually did her open water course with Simple Life a year ago and loved it so much she stayed to do her Divemaster and then instructor training. If that’s not high praise for the company I sing know what is. The course wasn’t due to start until 5pm so I headed back to the hostel for a power nap. On the way to back to the shop I had a quick dinner at one of the islands many vegetarian cafes (falafel wrap, my favourite as you know). Back at the dive shop I met the three other open water trainees; Artip from England, Molly also from England and Alex from France, all just as nervously excited as me. Eve took us up to one of the classrooms where we spent the next two hours watching the first two PADI videos, answering review questions as we went which we discussed at the end. By the end of the videos we were all pretty overwhelmed by all the information but Eve reassured us that once we were in the water with our gear on it would make more sense. Feeling reassured we all headed off to our hostels for the night to rest for the next days course.
Back at the dive shop at 9 the next morning it was time to get more real. We started by trying on different sizes of BCDs (the buoyancy control device you see divers wearing), we suits and fins, making sure we all felt comfortable in the right sized gear. We then each collected an air tank (bloody heavy they are) and carried them along with the rest of our gear down to the training pool. Eve then explained each part of the gear and demonstrated how to put it all together in the right order. She then dismantled it all and showed us again. Then she went through each step with us putting together our own gear and then taking it apart. She then made us put it all together and take it apart four more times until she was satisfied that we could do it without help. Then it was time for our first test. Before we were allowed to go any further with the course we had to prove that we could tread water/float for 10 minutes. Initially nervous about this I found after a couple of minutes that actually just floating on my back was pretty easy (we are 70% water after all). Luckily we all passed the test (even Artip who had to start again after he touches the wall two minutes in). Now it was time for the fun stuff. We suited up and got in the shallower of the two pools only about 1.2m deep (compared to the 3m one we were just in). While in the water we had to do a number of skills. Eve explained each one first along with the hand signals she would be using (as we couldn’t talk down there) and then we put or regulators and knelt on the bottom of the pool (as it was so shallow). Some of the skills were clearing our mask of a little water, fully flooding our mask and clearing it, taking the regulator out of your mouth and putting it back in and clearing it of water, retrieving your regulator if it floats behind you, and swimming for a short distance with no mask but aided by Eve. We all manage the skills with ease and finished our first two “dives” feeling much more confident. We then had a brief lunch break before getting straight back into it. We had now graduated to the bigger pool were we would actually be going to a reasonable depth. We did two further dives in this pool where we learnt even moe new skills. Such as taking our mask on and off underwater and clearing it, hovering using our breath and what to do if you or your buddy is out of air (using each other’s second regulator). Each dive lasted about twenty minutes and after the two we all felt even more confident that we’d be able to complete the rest of the course. There marks the end of our second days training. Feeling proud and excited for the next day I headed back to my home on the island to rest up.
We were booked into the morning boat the next day so we met at the dive shop at 7:30am. Eve briefed us on the days objective and then it was time to catch the long boat from the beach to the main diving boat. Once were were given the mandatory safety briefing we headed downstairs to assemble our gear, slightly more difficult when you’re on a moving boat than by the pool. Eve checked them all over and then briefed us again on the skills we would be doing on the first dive. We than got to relax until we reached the first dive spot. Once there it was time for our mandatory second swim test before we were allowed to dive. This one involved swimming two laps around the boat (about 200m) or three of you wore fins and snorkel (about 300m). I wasn’t confident so opted for the latter. Thankfully we all completed our test and were allowed to continue. Before getting back on the boat we did a brief “skin diver” technique were we dove a couple of metres and then swam up clearing our snorkelled on the surface. With both skills complete it was back on the boat to get our gear on. Once we were suited up and did our buddy checks Eve showed us how to enter the water using the giant stride (no room to do that in the pool). One by one we stepped off the boat and joined Eve by the mooring line to the first dive site. Time for the main event. We did our safety check and then stated to descend down the line, equalising our ears as we went. Once at the bottom (only about 12m deep) we found an area of sand we were wouldn’t disturb the coral to do our skills for the dive. Most were repetitions of what we had done in the pool, but in the rea life scenario of the ocean. Once completed we were able to have a brief fun dive before we returned to the boat. Back on the boat we changed our tanks and went upstairs to chat about the dive, all feeling much more excited now that we knew we could do it. The boat then took us to the second dive site and we repeated much the same process as before (minus the swim test). Both dives lasted about half an hour and by the end of the morning I was feeling more confident about my abilities. Once everyone was back on the boat we headed back to the dive shop and spent the afternoon watching the last three videos, taking more in as we had more context now. Once the videos were finished we did the final knowledge review covering everything we’d learned. It was then class dismissed and we headed off for the night. I went for dinner and then straight to bed.
I was able to have a slight lie in this morning before heading down to the dive shop to get the afternoon boat. Once again Eve briefed us on our last two dives before leading us to the boat. The first dive involved doing a few new skills involving using a compass and controlling our buoyancy as we tried to hover. After we all successfully completed them we were able to explore the dive site. As we were now much more aware of how our breathing effects our buoyancy we were all swimming much more controlled over the coral. When we surfaced Eve commented on how much better our control he gotten over night. Having successfully completed all our skills the final dive was just a fun dive. And as long as we didn’t royally screw up we’d be signed off as completing the course. We spent the 35 minute dive following Eve as she pointed out various different fish and coral formation. With no skills to worry about this dive was definitely the most relaxing. Back on the boat we had a group photo to celebrate finishing the course before heading back to the dive shop where Eve gave each of us a log book and took our pictures for our new Open Water SCUBA licence. Very cool indeed. I loved the course so much and felt so at ease with Eve as an instructor I decided to go straight into the Advanced course which would allow me to dive up to 30m (instead of 18m) and give me more confidence it’s my new skills. Plus it meant I got to do five more dives! The other three decided against continuing due to time and money constraints so Eve booked us on the morning boat for the next day.
I met Eve bright and early the next morning ready for the new challenge. The advanced course consists of five dives with each one focussing on a different specialty. The first two dives we were doing were the mandatory Deep dive and the wreck dive which I chose. Alex also decided to join us for the first deep dive so that she’d be certified for 30m too. Once on the boat we had our usual skill briefing from Eve before getting geared up and jumping in. Aside from safely getting down to around 27m the only “skills” we had to do were playing with a raw egg underwater, watching how the pressure keeps the yoke together (I know, don’t) and also seeing how colours lose their brightness at such a depth (for example red looks more brown). With the skills completed we were able to enjoy the rest of the fun dive. Back in the boat we had a quick break before Eve and I geared up for the wreck dive. The HMS Sattakut is an ex Thai Navy ship donated to a Koh Tao for use as a dive site. The ship was cleaned and stripped of any hazard before its controlled sinking in 2011. It is now home to many coral and schools of fish. Although no actual skills were involved in this dive using caution and assessing where it’s safe to swim is definitely learnt. Plus knowing not to touch anything as it’s covered in rust. Pretty cool. Although the ship is safe to swim in that is for more specialised divers so we spent our time swimming around and over the hull. While swimming around I saw my first big fish, a grouper, just chilling in the shade of one of the canopies. After half an hour we resurfaced and got back on the boat before heading back to the dive shop. I had a quick break for lunch as then spent the afternoon completing the required knowledge reviews for each of the dives (involving reading textbook chapters and answering quiz questions - felt like school). Eventually it was time to call it a night and return to my island home.
After a brief lie in I returned to the dive shop in time for the afternoon boat. Today Eve and I were joined by two new advanced trainees as their instructor was unable to dive that day. Eve briefed me harry and Sam on the days dives covering navigation (mandatory) and peak performance buoyancy (chosen by me). During the first dive on navigation we had to complete a few new skills. We had to swim along a 30m like while we counted kick cycles and then return counting seconds (for our future reference); we had to swim in a square in pairs, one counting ten kick cycles and one using the compass; and finally we did some natural navigation involving Eve pointing out three distinct coral or rock formations as we swam and then telling us to guide her back. By the end of the dive I definitely felt more aware of my surroundings and not just following along. After a quick tea break in the boat he got in for our second dive. For peak performance buoyancy we learned more about controlling our movement with our breathing. Eve brought some additional weights down and did a few exercises with them (like swimming just above the sea bed and knowing them over with our regulators, and trying to over with 1,2,3 additional weights). We then swam over to the cube structures (huge metal cubes on the aww bed, like an underwater playground) and had fun swimming through them and hovering out the top and vice versa. After as the we were working a lot in our breathing we went through our air quickly so the dive only lasted 30minutes and we didn’t have any time for a “fun dive” even though I found it to be pretty fun. Once back on the boat we discussed the dives on the way back to the shop. I still had one more dive to do which I hoped would be a night dive but that depended on the weather (mainly if there was a strong wind). Eve and I decided to go for dinner in a local vegan restaurant before she had to make the call. Over dinner we discussed diving and how Koh Tao compares to other dive sites, and her new job opportunity in Japan (how exciting!). Finally it was time to head back to the shop and to my delight Eve said it was safe for us to night dive. As it was just the two of us we would do a shore dive which meant we’d gear up at the shop and walk down to the beach to enter the sea. Slightly harder as it involves carrying all your gear for 100m before you can swim. Once in the water we put or fins in and swam out until Eve said we were deep enough to descend. We turned our torches on and headed down. The only skill I had to complete was swimming in a straight line and back again using the compass like before. After that it was just a fun dive, where I followed Eve closely scared of getting lost in the darkness. The sea is completely different at night with different sea life coming out. We saw dozen of hermit crabs and a few puffer fish. At one point Eve stopped and lay down on the seabed looking at a rock. I wondered what was wrong until I saw an octopus tentacle poking out from beneath the rock. She’s told me earlier that it was her favourite animal (even having a tattoo of one on her leg). I must admit it was pretty cool seeing one, especially when it came out and swam (or whatever the do they do) around the base of the rock before it hid away again. We continued on with our dive and say yet more crabs and even a few glowing plankton when we turned our torches off briefly. After a while Eve motioned that she was going to surface to check where we were and then guided us back near where we started. Once back at the surface we were both ecstatic with the dive and what we saw. Plus at 48 minutes it was my longest yet. We spent the swim back to shore talking about all the different fish and crabs we saw, and the octopus of course (only the second one she’s seen an the biggest too). Back in shore we returned the gear and said goodbye for the night.
The next morning I headed back to the dive shop for the final time so complete my last knowledge review as have my photo taken for my new Advanced Open Water SCUBA licence. It was then time to say goodbye to Eve for the last time, thanking her for her patience and for truly giving me the diving bug. I then spent the rest of the day lazing about around the hostel, catching up on some Netflix shows and ordering take out food from the twins burrito bar (thanks for the tip Eve!).
On my last day in Koh Tao I decided to finally explore more of the island. I followed the coastal path around the south of the island and found a lovely quiet beach with crystal clear water. I spent a an hour reading and swimming before continuing my hike, hoping to find more pristine beaches. After a slightly more strenuous hike through the wood (part of which I’m not convinced is frequented by tourists) i came across another quiet beach, this one with a beach bar. Sadly the water wasn’t as clear but the cold drink from the bar and the deckchair made it worth the trek (sort of). After another hour spent reading I continued on and soon reached Chalok Ban Kao beach, the main beach on this side of the island. Across the bay I could see people on top of the hill at the John-Suwan viewpoint so I decided to push on. To reach the viewpoint involved climbing up a hill over a number of boulders with makeshift ropes to guide you up. Although pretty tricky at points the view was certainly worth it. Sitting on the large rock outcrop you could see the island in a sort of T shape with beaches on either side. I spent twenty or so minutes there taking in the view before navigating the rocks down again and treating myself to a mango shake at the bamboo bar on the adjacent freedom beach. Sadly it was soon time to head back along the main road to my hostel where I showered and got ready for my night ferry.
So there you have my week in Koh Tao where I became a certified Advanced Open Water Diver and caught the SCUBA bug. Next stop is back to the mainland to visit some national parks.
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