After a couple hours of obnoxiousness, I was properly sedated with the help of a valuum and ¾ bottle of whiskey to get me straight through to Chumphon. Next thing I knew, I woke up on the picnic bench at the pier. Shook my head and made my way to the ferry. Once aboard the only way I could think to postpone the inevitable was a sandwich and a couple more beers in the sun.
Koh Tao appeared on the horizon. My third time in the Thai Islands and finally I was going to see what all the hype was about. So many people I’ve talked to stress how great Koh Tao is and how it’s their favorite island. I knew it was a beautiful island, as they all are in their own right, but upon closer inspection nothing really appeared different. I mean, all the islands are expensive compared to the north of Thailand, geared towards that picturesque beach haven and partying. Not that I’m opposed to either of those, the main difference I noticed was the Koh Tao pub crawl shirts are obtained here opposed to the full moon shirts on Koh Phangan (seen floating all over Southeast Asia).
I was primarily here for the one thing Koh Tao is known for more than the other islands… diving and attaining a diving license as cheap as possible. It really depends on what you’re looking for, quality or price point. Like most situations you get what you pay for and I was going for price point. I booked a course at Coral Grand Divers for 8500 Baht, about 300 dollars, give or take. It included accommodation thankfully, training in the pool and 4 open water dives. First things first, I was shown to my room and my face had a brief meeting with the pillow.
Gathering in the evening we were split into groups, assigned instructors and worst of all, given textbooks. I’m a terrible student and never really planned on being back in a school setting. A few chapters of ‘homework’ were assigned to read over and we were to meet at 8am to commence training. Off to the High Bar for me to get in the zone and ‘study’. On the far side of the island, an hour and a half walk and up on a perch sat the High Bar, looking out at the island below. Also selling the usual things expected at such an establishment.
We fitted our gear and headed for the pool. 6 hours of training. What started off exciting began to draw on through the afternoon as we practiced skills and hand signals. I knew all this was necessary, but anxiousness what setting in to just get in the open water.
Destination: Mango Bay
The time had come. Our gear loaded, we were taxied out to the boat. Mango Bay came into sight as we came around the north side of the island. I had confidence in my instructor and myself, but a twinge of nervousness remained. Like when bungee jumping, I put confidence in the cord. I also don’t usually see a couple snap first. Here though, one BCD unit had to be replaced last minute for inflation problems along with a few regulators and gauges. Once again you get what you pay for. Problems averted, it was time to James Bond into the water. Roll backward, holding the regulator in and your goggles on, you hit the water. A quick shock, I gathered my bearings and surfaced. The warmth of the tropical waters was soothing. We performed the decent check and began our decline.
My head became submerged as I took my first few breaths underwater. Following the rope down adjusting the pressure in my ears every meter or so, a euphoric feeling came over me. I looked up to see 6 meters of water over me and the sun beaming through. I was actually underwater. The weightlessness was like nothing I’ve ever felt, but it’s not just that. This was access to a whole new world. One I’d only imagined exploring a couple years ago. Now finally, by the end of tomorrow I would have my scuba diving license. Focusing on my breathing, sounding a bit like Darth Vader through the regulator, we leisurely swam around getting used to our temporary environment, and for me, these damn flippers. I’d never even snorkeled before this.
Unfortunately unable to bring my GoPro until I was licensed, we spotted 2 seahorses, the last thing I expected to see. I didn’t realize how small they would be, but so ancient and majestic looking. This was only dive one, I was hooked. Chumphon Pinnacle, White Rock and Southwest Pinnacle were the other dive sites being able to go to the full 18 meters. Throughout these spotting: giant grouper, pufferfish, triggerfish, giant barracuda and a blue spotted stingray just to name a few. The coral captivating, like an ancient petrified forest. The schools of fish were entrancing as they swirled, the sun glistening off their scales. The tranquility was a high in itself, slowly gliding through water, rising or sinking with the air in your lungs. A feeling I now have a longing for.