my travels around Thailand and Asia

Scuba diving in Ko Tao

When finishing school at the end of September 2011, I realized I had loads of free time, about a month to be exact, to travel and explore some of the great places in Thailand. Myself and Angela had spoken about doing the Padi open water scuba diving certification in Ko tao.

Open Water Diver is an entry-level full diver certification for scuba diving. Although different agencies use different names, similar entry-level courses are offered by all diving agencies and consist of a combination of knowledge development (theory), confined water dives (practical training) and open water dives (experience). In the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) system, the course is called Open Water.

Ko tao also called ‘turtle island’ is one of Thailand’s top diving islands, because it has so many amazing dive sites within close proximity of the main island. Ko Tao is also known to be one of the most affordable places to get your diving certification and is ranked number two worldwide for issuing PADI certificates. We were delighted to be just around the corner from this awesome Island, about two hours on a mini bus, then another three or four on the ferry.

I mean it didn’t take much to get us there. I had been before and thought it was a beautiful place. I had gone with my family and spent a week on the island, snorkeling and just taking it easy. I had seen all the divers around and hoped one day it would be me getting suited up and heading off into the depths of the ocean to explore the wonderful world under the water.

sairee beach

Before we could make this journey we needed to sort the pets out. Trix (the rabbit) was going to be looked after by Kung, the sister of Yaxyai, our previous employer. She had helped us a number of times already and we were confident she wouldn’t forget to feed Trix. Ollie (the dog) was being sent to a lady, that worked at the vet and offered a service for looking after animals at only 120 baht per day. He was in good hands. Once the pets were sorted, we were free and made plans to leave the next day.

Well things didn’t go exactly as planned. We had originally wanted to take a train to Chumphon and catch the night boat to the Island, but when we phoned to double check the schedule, they told us that the night boat was not running that night (later we found out it was), so we decided to go to Surat Thani and catch the ferry to Ko Tao, but upon arriving in Surat that day and speaking to some travel agents we realized that we had missed the early boat and the only other option we had was leaving at 11pm. This was out of the question.

After speaking to a number of Thai people in our broken Thai and English mix, we realized we had to get to Donsak pier (the main ferry port to Ko Samui and Phangan), which was an hour drive back towards Nakhon Si Thammarat, where we had just come from. They informed us there was a ferry leaving to Koh phangan at 12pm and at this point it was our only choice. From Donsak we would catch a ferry to Ko Phangan, change piers and then catch another ferry to Ko Tao. This was the only way. Obviously unimpressed with our organizational skills we tried to figure out where it all went wrong but soon realized it was all part of the traveling experience.  We had done some research online and phoned a few places, so other than that there was not much more we could do. Upon reaching Donsak at 11:30am ready to catch our ferry to Ko Phangan at 12pm we were told there was no ferry to Ko Phangan at 12 and that the next ferry was at 2pm. The only ferry leaving at 12 was to Ko Samui and it was leaving in 10 minutes, so we decided to get the Samui ferry, and make our way to Ko Tao from there.

After doing a little research on the boat we had discovered the last boat to Ko Tao for the day would leave at 3pm, we would arrive at 2, which gave us an hour to get to a pier on the other side of the island, where the boat would leave from. Samui is quite big so it was going to be tight. To our amazement and some sensational driving skills(not mine) in a mini bus, we made it to the pier with 5 minutes to spare and eventually got on a boat that was heading for Ko Tao. All these set backs had cost us a pretty penny and we ended paying more than double what it would usually cost to get there.

Our boat finally departed just after 3pm and to tell you the truth, we were finished. We found two cozy seats inside one of the rooms and didn’t move an inch. We met a lovely lady, Oil, onboard working for Crystal dive resort who offered us some good information about the company as well as an extra night accommodation if we signed up that day. With interest we took her pamphlet and were told to meet her when we got off the boat. We made it to turtle island in good time, even though the sea was a little rough, met Oil and headed off to Crystal dive resort to speak to an experienced dive instructor who would lead us through the open water process. While speaking to a Swedish instructor, we met an Irishman named Padraic, who was returning to do his advanced course with Crystal. He basically gave us the thumbs up and from that we were convinced and signed up immediately.

We would spend our first night on the beach drinking beers with the Irishman (one ended up being five or six, you know how it goes), and the rest I don’t even remember. We would later become good friends with the lad and he even said he would come visit us in Thung Song (our home town), which didn’t end up happening due to the floods in Bangkok.

Anyway the course would run for 4 days, which later got squeezed into 3 days because another Irishman(Matt) in our group had been confused about his flight times and realized after doing his first hours of theory, that he was not allowed to fly for 18 hours after he dove, which meant he wouldn’t be able to make his flight. His flight couldn’t be changed so our course was shortened to 3 days which we weren’t too phased about, a little more time to explore. The course broke down like this: Day 1 – theory units 1 – 3, day 2 – pool in the morning and two dives to 12m in the afternoon and day 3 – theory units 4 – 5 and final exam in the morning and two dives to 18m in the afternoon.

final day on the boat

All I can say is, what a phenomenal experience. First off our instructor Nick was brilliant. Scuba diving is all about being relaxed, breathing and not freaking out, and this is what he taught us. He was very professional, had 14 years diving experience and you just felt he had your best interests at heart. The diving itself was something unreal. We did 4 dives in total, two of which were in pretty murky waters but the last two were unbelievable. I’m struggling to find words to explain the feeling you get when you are down there. All the magical colors and strange looking animals you see are incredible. It’s like you are 10 years old again and have just entered the worlds biggest toy shop. There is so much to see, so much life, so much beauty.

equipment checks

Victor the Spaniard, Wayne the Saffa and Matt the Irishman

getting ready to suit up

our first dive

some fun time on the boat

sugar energy

suited up and looking silly

We truly enjoyed the experience and are hoping to do our advanced course in the next two months. This course allows you to dive to 30m. If I’m not mistaken it includes five adventure dives, one of which is a night dive, another is a wreck dive and the rest I don’t have a clue about. What I do know is, I can’t wait! We will most definitely head back to Ko Tao, mostly because we just loved it so much. The food is great, the people are friendly and the Island has so much more to offer than just diving. There is magnificent snorkeling all over the island, kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, yoga, beautiful view points and stunning secluded beaches that will leave you breathless.

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” Rosalia de Castro


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