It was a fair way to reach Koh Tao. Firstly a 6.30am pick up and bus to Don Sak Pier, taking just over two hours. Then around another two hours on a boat to reach Ko Phangan, having also made a stop at Ko Samui. An hours wait on Ko Phangan, which was just enough time for Chris to find some street food for us for lunch (noodle dishes). Then finally the last boat, an hour and a half, to reach our final destination, Koh Tao. Koh Tao in English means 'Turtle island', as the island used to be inhabited by turtles, and the islands shape is also thought to resemble a turtle when viewed from Koh Phangan.
Having done some research on companies to use for my Open Water Scuba Diving qualification - yes I decided I would take the course whilst my Intro dive was fresh in my mind, we bartered for a cheaper price taxi (back of a pick up truck) to take us towards the south of the island, to Chalok bay. We got dropped off right outside my first choice company, Oceansound, so Chris suggested I just go straight in and meet them. I got good vibes, they were very professional, I knew my instructor would be a young female, and they are rated number one on TripAdvisor, so I went for it! I would start the following evening - eek!
Jasper, the co-founder, pointed us in the direction for some cheap but decent accommodation, and we were lucky to get the last room at J.D's for the night. Literally over the road from the beach, a nice spacious clean room with a balcony.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon on the beach, reading our books and taking a sunset swim. Then after a refreshing cold shower (hot water doesn't tend to exist on the islands..no need!), we walked up the road, found a busy and cheap restaurant, then had an early night.
With my Open Water course you also get accommodation, so we moved literally across the road to a place called Tropicana. It was too early to check in, but we had decided to take a yoga class at 10am. Since Chris enjoyed the 'fake' yoga we tried on Koh Lanta, I was keen for him to try out a real yoga class, also run by OceanSound. We had chicken rice soup for breakfast on the beach front then participated in a 90 minute vinyasa yoga class. It was a really good class, very sweaty, and set us up for the day. Chris enjoyed it too, so hopefully we will have a chance to take more classes as we travel.
We checked into our room, which with Chris deciding to take his Advanced scuba diving qualification, meant we would be here for five nights. It wasn't as nice as the other accommodation, due to the manual flush, aka a bucket and water to pour down the toilet. But it was spacious, clean, and also had a balcony. A quick freshen up and we headed off to explore the island on a moped. The mopeds on Koh Tao tend to have dirt track tyres due to the island only having one main road and the rest are sand/dirt tracks.
The island, at its widest part, measures 3.4km and is 7.6km long. We headed along the main road in search of some street food for lunch and came across a few stalls serving rice and noodle dishes. We had really tasty yellow noodles. Then having spotted 'Ban's Dive school' across the road, I thought it would be rude not to stop by and see if Jen's (an ex colleague) brother was around. Before we left she told me he worked here for the high season, so I had been in contact with him. Unfortunately he was not around, and not knowing what he looks like, we couldn't really search for him either. So we carried on along the main stretch, past the endless number of dive shops, to see King Rama V's initials carved on a large boulder at Laem Jor Por Ror, the south end of Sairee beach.
We then ventured over to the other side of the island to explore some bays and in search of some recommended snorkelling sites. I have to be honest, the tracks were pretty scary at some points, although Chris is a very safe rider and I do always trust him more than I would trust myself. Bumping along we made it to our first stop, Ao Tanote bay. But having walked down to the beach front we decided against going snorkelling. The beach was rocky, and the sea wasn't very welcoming. Plus we had heard the next bay along was better.
Ao Leuk bay is privately owned, but you are allowed to visit. The sea looked a little rough, but we headed in with our snorkels on. On entry I could see so much litter floating about, and once in the water it was disgusting. I was shocked to see the amount of litter, and especially in a private bay. Chris encouraged me on out to sea, ensuring it was cleaner further out. But the big waves and abundance of litter was not making it enjoyable for me, so I swam back to shore. Chris followed shortly after, with a large plastic container in hand (doing his bit for the environment), as he too was not particularly enjoying it.
Disappointed, we headed around to the next bay, Ao Thian Og. A nice long beach, flat water, and sectioned swimming area. I had been put off, so enjoyed the sun, whilst Chris went snorkelling. **** what did u c?!?
We weaved our way back to Chalok, following some very tiny tracks, not entirely sure they are for bikes, back in time for my PADI Open Water course to start.
I was at the Oceansound office for 5.30pm, and met my group; our Instructor Tanya from Germany, Angharad from Wales, Melissa from Canada, and Crystel from France (girl power!). We went through the schedule for the next few days, got handed a text book, watched an hours video, and given homework! Despite the homework, food and a drink was way more important, so we all went for dinner, Chris and Reese (Angharad's bf) joining, as well as two people that had just completed their Open Water course. It was nice to get to know the group and ask the two that had just finished how it was and what to expect. We weren't out too late as some of us had homework to complete before the next morning.
Team 'girl power' met at the office at 7.30am, jumped in the company car, aka a pick up truck, and drove just over 5 minutes up the road to a swimming pool. No where on this island is very far away!
We spent the morning learning about the equipment, gearing ourselves up, and going through a whole list of skills under the water in the swimming pool. From learning how to clear a full mask of water, to communicating and sharing air with your buddy. Your buddy is essential when diving, since you should never dive alone. It is vital you always know where your buddy is, so you must keep a close eye on them, continually communicate, and check each other are okay.
We sped through the skills, but even being in a swimming pool in a wet suit eventually becomes cold. So we took a short break to warm up in the sun, and then moved to a deeper swimming pool to learn how to control our buoyancy.
After a long morning of intense learning, we headed back to Chalok for a well deserved lunch. We opted for a healthy option and went to 'I love salad'. I had a taste from home, and chose pesto scrambled eggs with avocado on rye bread - delicious, and just what the doctor ordered! Of course it was also important for us to hydrate, so we drank a lot of water, before heading into the classroom for the afternoon.
Tanya took us through the theory side of the practical lessons we had learnt that morning. Then after checking our homework, we watched another short video, just 30 minutes this time, and were sent away with more homework!
Chris enjoyed a chilled morning, eating noodle soup for brekki, and riding around on the bike. In his element he took the bike to un-drivable dirt tracks and challenged himself. He road to the very north of the island to Ao Hin Wong and Ao Mamuang aka mango bay.
Later on in the afternoon, we met with my group to go and see some baby turtles that were rescued and being nurtured for release when they are ready. Chris and I grabbed a beer on the beach and then joined Oceansound for their weekly dinner and drinks at 'Fishes', just up the road. The burger had been recommended, but on a tight budget we opted for the cheaper Thai food, and had one of our favourite dishes, Pad Kaproa - minced meat cooked in chilli and basil, with rice and a fried egg. This meant we could also have a beer!
Back to the classroom for 8.30am, for a final lesson and our final exam. We had 50 questions to answer. I got two wrong, but 96% isn't so bad!
At 11.15am we were picked up and taken to the pier to jump aboard the boat and head out for our first dive. Chris was also with us now as he was starting his Advanced course. Although the advanced has no theory lessons, he did have to read several chapters of a text book and answer a lot of questions. For the Advanced you have to do five dives, three are mandatory (deep dive, navigation, and night dive), and two optional (Chris chose peak performance buoyancy and Fish ID).
It was quite a big boat as four smaller dive companies share it. Oceansound have the back left as their area. Tanya took us on a tour and told us the 'rules', for example, not to go to the toilet when the boat has stopped...
We set up our gear then headed to the sun deck for our briefing. The first dive was at the location called 'Japanese Gardens', and was beautiful from the surface. We only went down to 6 metres but went over a lot of skills from the previous day. We saw some red breasted wrasse, cleaner wrasse which were biting at me and Tanya, butterfly fish, and plenty of colourful Christmas tree worms.
Chris did his first mandatory dive - underwater navigation, whereby him and his buddies were taken to a spot on the reef by the instructor. They were then shown on a map (hand drawn earlier on the boat) of the reef where they were, and then instructed to navigate themselves back to the boat. They managed to get themselves very close (within 5m), but due to bad visibility didn't quite see the buoy line that the boat was attached to.
A short break to hydrate, munch on some pineapple and watermelon, and let the nitrogen escape our bodies, then we were back to the sun deck for our next briefing.
This dive site was called 'Twins', where we reached 10 metres, carried out a lot more skills, and practiced our buoyancy control. We managed to see a white eyed Moray eel, long fin banner fish, pink anemone fish, file fish, and a porcupine puffer fish.
Chris did his first chosen and recommended dive PPB (Peak Performance Buoyancy). It is recommended by most diving instructors as it can significantly help with controlling your buoyancy underwater. They had to control their buoyancy around an obstacle course under the water, including swimming through hoops, tunnels, and having to touch their mouth regulator on the tip of a knife! It was the handle of the knife...not the blade!
For dinner we all went out as a group again, to a restaurant known for its spice, called 'Ying and Yang'. As it was Mother's Day at home, and I knew mum was cooking up a lamb roast for lunch (my favourite!), it was only fair I had a red thai curry for dinner (her favourite thai dish).
Tanya couldn't stop talking about the ice cream shop across the road, which I think she goes to most evenings, and had to take us. Chris went for the chocolate ice cream which apparently was delicious - a huge scoop for just 25 baht (50p!).
By 6.30am we were all on the truck headed for the boat. We geared up, carried out our buddy checks, and entered the water James Bond styley! This involved a forwards summersault off the back of the boat.
The third dive site was called 'Hin Pee Wee', and this time we were each given a dive computer so we could track our own dive and keep an eye on our depth. The Open Water qualification allows you to dive to 18m, so we had to ensure we did not go deeper. When I saw my computer said 17.8 metres I kept a very close eye on it. We found out at the surface that Crystal had managed to reach 18.8 metres! We saw lots of Trigger fish, which I was quite weary of having had one attack my fins on my Intro dive. We also saw plenty of rabbit fish, crocodile needle fish, trevally, and long faced emperor fish.
It was back to the surface and aboard the boat for some cold toast with cold scrambled egg! Yum...not! Then not before long we had arrived at our fourth and final dive site - 'White Rock'.
Another way of entering the water is to fall backwards, so having tried the giant step, and the James Bond entry, this was the last entry for us to do. My favourite had to be James Bond, and it looks cool too!
White Rock was my favourite dive site, it was beautiful and there was loads of sea life. We even saw two blue spotted ribbon tail rays.
Chris did *****
It was back to the office to receive our log books and have our picture taken for our PADI Open Water Scuba Dive ID card. I did it! I was now qualified. I never ever thought I would dive, let alone gain a qualification for it. Of course, I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been for Chris and his six years of slowly easing me into fish and the sea again. His patience and persistence paid off though, and the best thing is that I really enjoyed it. Enough so to sign up to doing the Adventure Deep dive the next morning, so that I can dive to 30 metres, and therefore widening my options for diving different dive sites.
All the diving and learning was shattering, so we spent the afternoon on the beach, finishing the day off with a celebratory cocktail as the sun went down.
I was back at Oceansound for 6.15am and heading off to the boat for the deep dive. Team girl power had all decided to participate.
The dive site was 'Chumphon Pinnacle', a favourite for Tanya. We followed the buoy line down and slowly made our decent to 30 metres (well actually we went to 31.8m, but shhhh!). I really noticed the temperature change as we got deeper, and Angharad, my buddy, even turned to me to say she felt the cold too. Sometimes when you go below 18m, divers can get 'narced', which is basically an underwater version of being typsy. Tanya carried out a numbers test with us at the surface and then at 30m, which none of us could do. She also took out a packet of chocolate almonds to show us the pressure change And finally asked us to guess what object she had cut in half whilst we were at 30m - I thought it was a passion fruit, but Angharad guessed it straight away, it was a tomato. Due to reds disappearing from the sea colour when you get deeper, the tomato looked green.
Having carried out the experiments, we spent the rest of the dive exploring the site. We spotted a few giant groupers, and a huge school of barracuda.
My group then sat out the next dive as it cost more and we felt like we had done our fair share of diving over the last few days. We soaked up the sun on the deck, whilst Tanya could enjoy a fun dive for herself. Then it was back to the office to receive our Adventure Deep dive certificates, and fill out our log books.
Later that afternoon Chris went off for his fifth and final dive, the night dive. **** more
Both us qualified, we met up with the group for a celebratory dinner and drinks back at Ying & Yang. We said our goodbyes as the next morning we were all heading different ways.
A hearty noodle soup for breakfast as we needed the energy to climb to the John Suwan viewpoint - the best on the island, we had read. We walked and climbed for just under an hour, but when we reached the viewpoint we were dripping. There was absolutely no breeze, so when we stopped, the sweat got worse! It took us ages to cool down before we could properly enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of the whole of Chalok Baan Kao and Thian Og bays, all at once. It was sensational!
We had to hurry back down to ensure we were out of our room by midday. The staff were very persistent in ensuring we did not check out late - even knocking on our door at 11.50am to remind us.
We spent all afternoon in the shade on the beach, as we would be catching the night ferry and had no where to shower. Our last dinner was from a street food vendor, Chris had a chicken baguette, and I had omelette with rice. Both dishes just £1 each. We bumped into Tanya on her way back from the ice cream shop, and managed to say our thanks and goodbyes. Then it was time for us to climb aboard a pick up truck and make our way to the harbour, to begin our journey to Ko Lipe.
neil1marchant Really good to see you both having fun. Another great adventure!!The scuba diving must have been awesome and looks so much funWill caught a moray eel like that from a spot of reef fishing off a boat in Barbados!
Mummy Jo Amazing fish pictures. Hadn't seen those before x