Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Koh Tao

Had an amazing time in Koh Tao as we decided to take a Scuba diving course which was just quality. While for me this was possibly the most enjoyable and rewarding things I have done while I am traveling it also absolutely rattled my budget. Scuba diving was not something that was originally on my list of things to do while traveling but after the fun I had in Phi Phi snorkeling I was now well up for trying some. It cost just shy of 200 pounds so bit a big chunk out of the budget but at this point I decided I would rather live fast and fun and the trip die out sooner than spend my whole time watching the pennies doing NOTHING just so that I can prolong the trip for as long as possible. But anyway... here is a bit about my time in the island that is Ko Tao.

Firstly I think I need to mention a small amount about the actual journey to Ko Tao as it was pretty mental in parts. One quick side note before I go on is that I am starting to realize that most of the strange and mental stuff that happens to me keeps happening while I am going places. The moment I get somewhere into the safety of a hostel things end up very standard again. So a bit of advice if you ever want to have a mental experience while traveling is probably never actually stay anywhere and just keep going as on the road is where stuff goes wrong!! Anyway...

Part one of the journey was a small mini bus taking us from Patong on the south west coast of Thailand up to a small port a bit further up on the east coast. I did write the name down in my iPhone so I could put it in my blog but that has since gone missing :( so I don't know where it was. This bus journey started off very normal as the young Thai driver sped around the small Thai streets very quickly as he went around picking up the various other people who had booked onto the bus from their hotels and hostels. Then the heavens opened and Tommy and I, as well as 2 other English chaps we met on the bus have never felt so close to death in our lives. Visibility must have been no more than 10 or so meters out of the front windscreen and the driver continued to speed along the roads at some serious speed. I just kept telling myself that he must have done this route 1000's of times and knows it like the back of his hand so everything we be okay. Every time we hit a puddle us English kept letting out a little whimper as we thought each puddle may have brought the end of out travels/life. This seriously amused the Thai people on the bus who kept turning round and pointing at us in haha stupid English kind of way. The troublesome weather hit its peak when we hit a massive puddle which shot over the minibus completely covering the windscreen. It actually looked like we had landed into lake. Luckily not long after this the torrential downpour stopped. One of the many great things about Thai rain is that it absolutely pisses it down for only around 15 minutes at a time. While in retrospect it may not sound that scary, I can assure you it was.

Part 2 of this troublesome journey was slightly worse due to the involvement of police and firearms. We some how made it to the bus depot in one piece where we had to wait 2 hours for the next bus to take us to the port. As we had a lot of time to kill we decided to go along and grab some food. So Tommy and I along with the 2 other English guys (I never found out their names) left our bags in the depot and headed off for some food. We went to the Thai version of Pizza Hut. It was OK.

An hour later we get back to the depot as the other English pair had to get their bus to Bangkok. Teary eyed we waved our new friends off and decided we would just wait for our bus in the depot. No sooner had the English guys turned the corner did a rather flustered looking Norwegian guy come round the corner being escorted by several tourist police. Something is kicking off here I thought to myself. I asked the Norwegian what was going on and as it turned out he had left his stuff at the depot like we had only to return to find his passport had been swiped and it had turned out to be an inside job from by the workers at the depot. Fearing the worse I went to the luggage storage and checked my bag. Luckily everything was still there! It was at this point we realized that none of the employs who were there previously were there now and there was now no one working at the depot. The police and the Norwegian walked off for a bit leaving Tommy and I alone in the depot. I went back to my bag to check a few more things when I start to hear a scratching inside the wall. Expecting either a gecko or a rat to appear as that normally is the case, all of a sudden a man, yes a man, bursts through the wall and runs a full pace past me and out of the bus depot off into the streets. Then back come the tourist police who with guns drawn storm the depot looking behind walls and kicking open doors looking for the other employees. Something made me wonder why they hadn't already done this but I guess that is just how the Thai Police do things. The police and the Norwegian disappear once again leaving us all alone. Our bus was supposed to pick us up at 8pm to take us to the dock. At this point it was now 7.55pm and there was no sign of any workers or a bus. Time ticked on for another hour and a half with still no one about to tell us what to do. I was starting to stress out a bit now as I really didn't want to miss the boat to Ko Tao. Finally after nearly 90 minutes of waiting a fat women, its always a bloody fat person when I'm annoyed, turns up and decided it was about time to sort our bus to the port. She makes a few calls, disappears again, then comes back with a tuk tuk. Finally we jump in the tuk tuk (slightly apprehensively) and it takes us to the port. The port turns out only to be a 10 minute tuk tuk ride away so after 3 and a half hours of faffing around it turns out we could have just walked there in a fraction of the time and with a lot less stress! Anyway we finally made it to the port with even some time to spare to grab some food before our boat set off.

The boat we decided to get was a night boat (once again I did have photos on my iPhone which obviously are no more) that would leave at 11pm from the where ever we were and arrive early morning in Koh Tao. So far this was my favorite mode of transport anywhere so far maybe even beating the Bullet train in terms of its novelty factor. But the boat was simply one big village hall with mattress numbers 1-45 on which you seemed to be able to pick and choose which one you wanted. Having a completely flat lie down bed meant I had a great nights sleep and arrived in Koh Tao feeling very refreshed. Lovely.

We pulled into Ko Tao around 6.30am and not sure exactly what we were going to do once we arrived set about reading our guide books to find a place to stay. We were sitting on the floor working out what to do when some tout come up to us and tried to sell us a driving school course. He was from Crystal diving school, one I had heard of prior to getting there and with a quick search on the iPhone decided this was a good bet and took him up on his offer. He took us to the dive school and got us signed up. It was a good deal 9000 baht for a 4 day diving course as well as 4 nights accommodation included. They wasted no time getting us set up and by the 1.30pm we were in the class room doing our first day of diving theory.

The course was broken up over 4 days. The first day was an afternoons theory followed by sleep as after only 10 months without learning anything I found it very very tiring. The second day was broken up into another half day theory followed by an afternoon in the practice pool putting all our newly learnt theory into practice as well as developing various emergency techniques for if anything bad was to happen in the sea. I found this boring as bobbing up and down in a swimming pool for 4 hours was not really my idea of fun but I suppose it had to be done to be able to go out into the open water. The third day started with our "final exam" which consisted of 50 questions all related to what we had learnt over the past few couple of days. Obviously I passed with flying colours with a stonking 97% aren't I great. (hmmm)

The rest of day 3 and 4 were spent out in the ocean. It was worth every budget breaking penny. We swam over corals and under schools of 1000's of fish saw all sorts of marine life and just generally conquered the seas. One fish that sticks in my memory is the "Trigger fish" that's only because it is a very aggressive fish and if it thinks you are after its babies it will go for you. We saw several trigger fish on our dives and every time we did I was very very scared as I think fish are weird anyway but when one if after you I just wouldn't know what to do. I just kept hiding behind the instructor whenever one did turn up.

It really is another world down there and something I am seriously looking forward to doing again when I go to the Australian barrier reef. We had a camera man follow us around and make a DVD of our underwater adventure which was later played at the bar for everyone to watch. It was great and I was even conned into buying it at great expense but it was such a great few days it was great to have some of the memories captured on to video. Its an expensive hobby though so I doubt I will do it much again once I stop traveling but I never know. I may try to my advanced course when I go to OZ which means I can do a few more things like dive at night and diving deeper down to 30 meters as at the mo I can only hit 18. I guess it just depends on the cash flow by then.

In terms of the island itself I was far to busy with the scuba course to really explore it properly. The place was pretty expensive compared to the other places we have been as there wasn't the sort of budget food places you can find on the main land. There was a good selection of bars and restaurants though and just a great vibe about the place and pretty much everyone was there to dive. One our last day however we did manage to go bowling at the only bowling alley on the island. It was proper old school it was brilliant. Nothing was done by a computer or machine and the pins were stacked at the end by a small Thai man who had to hide out of the way of the ball every time someone bowled and then roll the ball back down to you. Defiantly not my usual bowling experience.

Despite spending far more time talking about the bus journey than the actual diving it was a quality experience and the fact I didn't get the bends while doing it which made me very happy. Due to my very unlucky streak in Thailand I thought a trip to a decompression chamber was almost guaranteed. Anyway I am now going back to Bangkok to sort out my visa for my next stop in Vietnam. I cannot believe my adventures in Thailand are now coming to an end : (

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