Between travelling from Cambodia to the south of Thailand I did a stop off in Bangkok for a couple days as it was Songkran - Thai New Year. Laos celebrates Songkran at the same time as Thailand and Cambodia's is concurrent except it's called Khmer New Year. Cambodia seemed to be fairly quiet about the whole thing as we were expecting big celebrations, at least in the evening, as we were in Siam Reap and just presumed the bigger cities would celebrate in style.. Turns out that it is actually celebrated in smaller villages and family members return from their city jobs especially to celebrate for a few days with family in the outskirts. Therefore Siam Reap was actually at its quietest - not only that but travel costs went up, partly because they knew people would pay more as they want to get home to see family and also because no one wants to be working over Khmer New Year so bus driver = £££. So I ended up paying nearly double for my Bangkok ticket!
The day before I left for Bangkok and Becca was to head back to Phnom Penh to meet back up with the group, I got super ill. I was up in the night being sick and *ahem* and woke up feeling SO rough. I was annoyed because I wanted to enjoy the New Year (NY) so I stayed in bed til about 3 and then made myself go join Becca and walk around the city to see the (few) celebrations. We heard loud music down the road so headed that way til we walked past an empty car park and a load of Cambodian tuktuk drivers were in there dancing and drinking and were calling any foreigners in to join them! They were giving us free beer (I was on the water) and getting us to dance! It was all fun and games until I had to throw up behind a pile of stinking bins though!
I had an early night as I hoped more sleep = feel better = not ill for my bus to Bangkok in the morning...
And thankfully it worked! I must have had some weird 24hr bug thing but I was fine the whole journey across the boarder and back into the land of smiles. Although I could have waited a few days to travel so to get cheaper tickets and recover completely, I'd read so much about Songkran, especially in Bangkok, so didn't want to miss it. When we arrived it was complete CHAOS. Everyone on the bus had waterproof bags (or homemade versions constructed of plastic carrier bags just stapled to their rucksacks!) pulled over their backpacks which was just as well because the second we stepped off the vehicle we were bombarded with water balloons! The way Asia celebrate NY is by drenching each other in water - water pistols, buckets, water balloons, you name it they do it. With ICE water. Brrr. They also smear your face with a white clay/paint substance, the reason for which I'm not entirely sure. Stalls that normally sold sticky rice and pad thai (noodles) had turned into water refill stations and were selling pistols and paint. When we reached Kho San road it was completely MENTAL, you couldn't move because of the crowds of people and we were obvious and easy targets with our backpacks!! I say 'we' because id met a German girl, Lea, on the bus who was travelling with 2 other guys. They were flying home that night from Bangkok and she had a couple days left in the city before her flight so we planned on sharing a room to keep it cheap.
We got to the hostel and got changed ready to face the pandemonium outside. I was stood waiting for the boys downstairs when I heard someone shouting my name and turned round to see Karoline!! Last time id seen her had been in Viantiene in Laos and even if I knew she was in Bangkok I don't think I could have found her if i'd tried, so the fact she found me amongst the chaos and stood down a little alley was so weird. Karoline ended up coming out with Lea, the boys and I for a night of drenching - it was so much fun and the biggest water fight i think I'll ever participate in my whole life. And thank god my (temperamental) camera is waterproof because I got some great shots :)
Because I'd arrived into Thailand overland I was only issued a 15 day visa and so was super keen to get going the next day to the south so i could see some of the islands. I'd decided to start off going to Ko Tao as I wanted to do
My PADI open water scubadiving certificate and i'd read that Ko Tao, after Cairns, awards the second most certificates in the world. Probably because it's one of the cheapest places you can do it! Id booked a bus for that afternoon which got me to the ferry terminal the next morning at Chumphon for 5 am, and then left for various islands at 6.30am. Whilst waiting for the ferry I got chatting to an American girl called Lyla and 2 friends travelling together, Dan and Lauren. Lyla was a yoga instructor and headed back to Kho Phangan for the second time to chill out on the very north of the island, and Lauren was coming to do her open water (like me) and Dan wanted to do his Master Dive course (2 levels higher than open water). He'd done his advanced open water at a place called 'Dive Masters' on Kho Tao and was going back to further his dive qualifications with them and highly recommended them. After 2 hours on the ferry, I went with Dan and Lauren to check out Dive Masters (DM) and Lauren and I both decided to go with them. They were slightly more expensive than other places on the island but it meant that we would have 1 instructor for just the two of us, whereas at cheaper dive schools they can have up to 12 students for every 1 instructor!! And I'd heard stories of students disappearing underwater and drowning because the instructor can't keep an eye on everyone at the same time (!).
The 3 of us shared a room together in a bungalow and on the first day Lauren and I just had practical work to do in the afternoon. We'd underestimated how tired we were though from the overnight bus (which neither of us really slept on) and kept nodding off whilst watching a safety film oops. Our instructor, Simone, was lovely though and gave us coffee and let us finish early. That evening the 3 of us had tapas, a massage and bed!
The next morning was a 7am start at the dive school as we had to get our kit and sizing sorted out before packing our kit bags and hopping on the boat to our first dive site - 'Japanese Gardens'. Here we just practised some skills both above and below water (only went to 5m). The skills were basic things such as clearing the mask underwater, locating a lost regulator and inflating our BCD (buoyancy control device) etc. They were all fine and so we got to swim around underwater before returning to the boat for an afternoon of more theory.
That evening it was one of the instructors birthdays so they had put on drinks and a buffet at one of the bars on the island and then a big cinema screen came down and we all watched the film Inception.
It wasn't too much of a late night as most people had another 7am start (including us) to go for a dive. This time we went to the 'Twin Peaks' dive site and got as far as 12m. My ears were giving me a bit of jip when I had to equalise them as I went down/up and Simone said it was probably dehydration from being to hot and drinking last night! We got to see lots underwater including a school of Barracuda, a blue spotted stingray, moray eel, and a pair of maaasssive angel fish! That afternoon was another day of more theory and because we had the exam the next day we just stayed into read over notes etc.
In the morning we took the written exam and I only got 2 minor mistakes so was pretty happy with the result! We both passed the exam and then had to go for a dive so Simone could assess our water skills. All was fine with this also so we both received our certificates woo! In the afternoon we went to 2 dive sites, one was called Junkyard (a man made site where divers have sunk boats to practise wreck dives in and there was also stuff such as exercise equipment and a car underwater!) and I can't remember the name of the other site. This was pretty much just a fun dive to have a little explore and one of the instructors had a camera with him so took some photos of us on the dive. Another group doing their open water qual at DM were diving too and out of their 3 person group 2 were a couple, and the guy proposed underwater!! Good job the camera guy was there cos he got some really good pictures for them :)
It turns out that some people that same day had completed their master dive qual (what dan was going to study for) at DM and so people were going out to celebrate (because it takes a couple months to complete!). We went along and started off with drinks at a bar where the 4 newly qualified master divers had to do drinking games such as downing pints through a snorkel and quickest to put on wetsuits gets shots etc. We then headed to Lotus Bar which is on the busiest beach in Ko Tao where (from what I kind of remember and see in photos) there were fire dancers playing with Poi and skipping over a fire lit skipping rope. A lot of people ended up in the sea cos it was still really warm and then lightening started so everyone just watched that, mesmerised.
The next day, because of my limited time frame and only having about 9 full days left on my Thai visa I decided to head on to another island. I planned on going to PhiPhi but has I was about to buy the ticket I saw really cheap ferries to Kho Phangan. It was only 2 hours away from Tao and thinking back to how much Lyla had said she'd loved it I decided to head there first for a couple of days...