Back to the port and the fast boat to Koh Tao at 7am. We made sure we were first in line to board so we could get a prime position on the open upper deck with a table and chair. The journey flew by and in no time we were arriving at Mae Nam port on the east side of the Island. Knowing we were in for the big sale from all the scuba dive centre reps as soon as we docked, we decided to pick the beach we wanted to stay in and pick a scuba centre near there. After giving all the beaches info a quite once over we decided not to stay at busiest beach but one nearby called Cheong Lok or somink. So bags into the back of a 4X4 taxi and off we zoomed. Ten bumpy minutes later we where there, after checking out a room in one place and getting some scuba course info we figured it didn’t really matter where u stayed once you were doing a scuba course. The dive centre would pay 5 euro off your accommodation for each night u stayed there during the course, so it was just a matter of picking a nice dive centre.
I took a wander down the road and came across this fancy new dive centre building called “Big Bubble 5 star PADI Dive Centre” while Lisa minded the bags up the road. When I went in everyone was so friendly and I knew straight away this was the place we were gonna dive with. The guy said he had accommodation available down the road and he would take me to look at a room. Off I popped on the back of a little moped up the road over some very steep hills and eventually to this lovely secluded beach called “Freedom Beach”. The best was yet to come, all the rooms were little wooden huts on stilts facing out to an amazing view of the rocks to our left, coconut trees below and further below the small sandy beach. The hut was pretty basic with a bed a fan facing it and a tiled bathroom attached to it. The only thing that had me thinking hmm will Lisa like this or not was the fact that all the floor boards had gaps in them so you could basically see the ground below the hut which at night could be a potential woogiefest in our room.
Although it had the gaps it had so much more character than the sterile brick room with tiles and not near the beach I had viewed earlier. So I told the guy we would take it then drove back to Lisa to pick up the bags and sort out our course that would start in a couple of days time with our soon to be instructor Klaus.
Lisa loved the place and we soon threw our stuff everywhere and settled in. But not before we went to the supermarket to pick up some masking tape to seal up those floorboards and gaps here and there. We also decided in order to get about the island without having to get taxi’s everywhere we would need a moped. So we got a nice new flashy Honda hairdryer jobby hehe and whizzed into the main beach, bar and shop area of the island called Sairee beach. This area has some lovely bars with mats on the beach surrounded by oil lamps and palms stuck into the sand. We stayed here having drinks until the sunset and the sea had come to lap against our legs. It was sooo relaxing we couldn’t help think that John and Karen would have loved it if they were still with us.
We spent the next couple of days eating great food and drinking by the beach. As our time in the hut went by we had a new big cockroach to greet us each evening when we would come home and occasionally during the day we would see a big lizard peeping his head into our loo. Luckily there were no mosquitos in our room and I don’t think we got bitten inside the hut once.
Our first day of diving was a feckin long one. We were given our open water course book to look through before starting the course and on the first day we had to watch about 4 hours of videos on the first 5 chapters of the book… booorriiinnggg. After the vids we had to do tests which Lisa and I aced (they weren’t that hard, plus the instructor leaves the room with the books still lying there) We finished at about 7pm that evening and the six of us went out for some dinner and drinks. There was one nice English girl, one German girl from Berlin, one Dutch guy and a loud yank from San Fran with a big US ARMY – IRAQ 2001-2002 tat. They were all very nice and good fun to hang out with (in small doses).
Day 2 involved us sailing to that amazing island off the north west coast we had been the week previous with John and Karen snorkelling. Before we learned to set up our equipment and do buddy checks we were told to jump into the water and swim to a boat about 20 meteres away, then back to our boat and thread water for 5 minutes. This was unexpected and was fecking tiring. This was to obviously make sure we could actually swim and therefore be allowed learn to scuba dive in open water. Klaus told us a few years ago a Korean girl drown at this part.. grim. Lisa was starting to feel nervous about doing the underwater skills. The main thing getting her all nervous was the taking out of the regulator and replacing it whilst underwater. We eventually all got into the water and swam to a shallow area (the same place with all the fishes we were in the week before) and started to do our skills. Lisa was getting very nervous under the water and didn’t want to do the skills just yet. So Klaus encouraged her to stay and just concentrate on breathing calmly underwater and watch us do our skills then maybe try herself.
The skills flew by.. regulator recovery, half mask clear, full mask clear, take off mask put on arm open eyes and replace and clear, swim around with mask off then return to same original place and replace mask, breath off your buddies alternate air supply and remove BCD and replace it. It was a lot to do but I found it a lot of fun. Unfortunately this was not the case for Lisa. She didn’t enjoy it at all and decided not to continue with the course. She felt to complete all the skills she would need a few days and maybe individual instructor attention. Klaus incoraged her to join the next group tomorrow there and do them again but she just felt too uncomfortable so decided to leave it :o(
Klaus said that he would be my buddy for the remainder of the course so I wouldn’t be buddyless scuba jim haha. The next day was great, after a buddy check we went for a 12 meter dive around a sandy / coral area for about 40mins. Doing a few more skills and checking out lots off cool sea creatures like sea slugs, sea cucumber, yellow and blue stingray a sea snake and a massive school of barracuda plus loads of other colourful fishes. We did another dive an hour later at a different dive sight again seeing some nice fishies.
The forth and final day consisted of two deeper dives at two more different dive sites. The weather was quite choppy and my ear (Full of water for the past few days) was wrecking my head, plus I didn’t have any breakfast…. So after a while I started to feel sick so in the water asap to help clam it down. We had to swim with a compass on our wrists and show we could navigate on the top of the water and later at the bottom of the sea about 20 meters deep. Then again we had to practise of fin pivoting. Scuba diving is not so much about swimming under water but more about getting your breathing and buoyancy perfect so by breathing in a certain way you float up a little and by breathing out a lil you sink a little and by breathing in and out steadily u remain neutrally buoyant and its like you are flying effortless over coral (never touching it). Its like riding a bike, you cant really teach anyone to do it, you just kind of pick it up. The feeling is truly amazing when you finally get it and are 20 meters deep just gliding over all this amazing colourful coral and surrounded by amazing sea life. On the last dive after a nearly puked a few times under the water lol and when we had performed our final task, Klaus took out an underwater board and pen and wrote “Some new divers are born” and shook all our hands as we all beamed with smiles. Before we ascended and got back on the boat we got to see a little family of clown fish (Nemos). They were so cute looking and apparently never move away from the little noodley sea coral creature they live off.
The next couple of days we spent lying on the beach during the day, going to nice restaurants during the evening and boozing it up. One of the nights we went to this amazing Italian restaurant and after dinner we were getting on our bike and driving off when we spotted a familiar face from back home…. Rob Hatchell and his motley crew of familier Dublin faces and one from Bayside (Claire Young). So off we went to have a load of drinks with Rob and his mates then onto some bar/club thingy down the beach and drank until I decided it was time to leave and I should fetch the bike from about 2 miles away and whisk us home, which I done ever so gracefully. It was good fun seeing Rob seeing as we thought he was in OZ, but it turns out he was only on his way there with some stop offs in asia. Two weeks earlier he was on the nearby island Kohphanyang for the full moon party where the eejit was jumping through hoops of fire and on one jump fell and seriously burned his arm putting him in hospital for a week.
The next week we spent laying in the sun by day and exploring the islands bars and restaurants by night. Koh Tao was so nice, a little slice of paradise. Somewhere we would defo love to revisit. The last few days the weather started to get very stormy and wet (see pics) so it was time to move on before our visa ran out.
We were sad to say goodbye to our little hut although on the last morning we removed the masking tape and a lot of the paint from the floor so we made a hasty exit before they noticed it and maybe decided to charge us for it haha.