When I met Viola in Pai, we found that we were going on the same journey through Thailand to the islands in the south of the country, so we both decided to team up and travel the rest of Thailand together. We both also had interests in taking a course to receive our Open Water Scuba Diving certification in Koh Tao, Thailand. Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to receive your certification, just a little under $300. A steal compared to most places on this planet. With my certification, I would be able to dive without a guide and for a much cheaper cost at virtually any PADI site in the world! I knew after diving for my first time last year in Zanzibar, that I would want to do this. Viola shared the same ambition. So after our last night in Bangkok, we bid farewell to Clint, who was on his way to northern Vietnam (I’m also fairly certain I’ll see him again in future travels), and booked a bus and a boat to our first island destination, Koh Tao. Koh Tao is one of the more visually appealing islands in this part of Thailand.
On the boat ride we rejoined Leonoor and Thom who were also going to stay on the island. Since they weren’t going to scuba dive, they were going to stay on the main beach of the island known as Sairee Beach. Once we arrived, Viola and I immediately took a shuttle truck to the southern bend of the island, known as Chalok Baan beach.
As usual, we didn’t book anything ahead of time but found a bungalow resort called “Sunshine Resort” and booked a four night stay there along with a scuba diving certification course that would take four days to complete. The room we had was pretty simple: a bed, a fan, and a bathroom. We also had a third roommate, who Viola named “Tim”.
It didn’t matter much to us because we would spend most of our time in the water or at the beach anyways. Even on our first day on the island, we were thrown straight into our first day of lessons, which consisted of a video with three lessons lasting about 20 or so minutes a piece. During the video we had to fill out a study packet and refer to a text book we were given. Definitely felt like school. Here we met four awesome Aussies from Tasmania who would be taking the course with us. A lot of the material we went over were the same things I learned last year, except this was more in depth, as expected.
The next day, it was time to practice some crucial techniques in the nearby pool. Our instructor, Natalie, told us she first has to make sure we know how to swim. So we had to swim six consecutive laps back and forth across the pool and then tread the deep end for ten minutes immediately after. Easy work. Next, we put on our wetsuits and learned how to properly set up a scuba tank and attach it to the BCD, which is typically known as the vest. She made us repeat the process five times on our own, attaching and reattaching, attaching and reattaching, to cement the procedures in our head. Then with our scuba gear equipped, we jumped into the water! Important techniques we learned how to do included filling our masks with water and then removing the water from it, staying at a neutral buoyancy underwater, hand signals, what to do if we ran out of oxygen, removing our weights and jacket underwater and then putting it back on, etc. Everything went smooth here, just as Natalie hoped because if everything went well, she wanted to take us to Sail Rock tomorrow – which is considered one of the best diving spots in Thailand! This isn’t offered to everyone and they usually go just a couple of times a year. Looks like we’ve come at the perfect time! That night, Viola and I rented a motorbike and rode to Sairee Beach where we met up with Leonoor and Thom. There we met some backpackers that they met in their hostel and we all hung out at the beach for a little bit. I think it was Leonoor who had the idea to do a jumping photo on the beach. By now, I am a master jumping photographer so I was happy to be behind the camera. Afterwards we had a great night out eating at a restaurant right on the beach, where a fire-starter was performing tricks for us, not to mention a jump rope of fire! And also, we went to a castle party. Unfortunately, Viola and I had to wake up early for the first of four dives so we left the castle a couple of hours earlier than everyone else.
We boarded a large boat and set out to sea around 7 am to Sail Rock. Sail Rock is essentially a giant rock out in the middle of the sea. The part of the rock we can’t see from above the ocean is lined with corals and teaming with marine life! We also had a chance to dive with whale sharks here! The chances were slim though because this wasn’t the right time of year to spot them but I was still extremely hopeful!
So for our first dive, it was just going to be mainly a free dive meaning we weren’t really going to practice any special techniques underwater. The process of equalizing myself and emptying water out of my mask was second nature while diving, but when we had to resurface to start practicing some of these skills is where I had a bit of a hard time. Everything was fine, it was just when I had to fill my mask completely with water is what was tricky for me. At the pool I was able to do it and even here in the ocean when my mask only had a little water in it, it was easy to get rid of. It’s just that I have mild claustrophobia, so when my mask is completely filled with water, it tricks my brain into thinking I’m “trapped”. How can you feel trapped when you’re in the ocean? It’s hard to explain unless you’re doing it. With the regulator hose in my mouth as my only source of air, it feels as though I’m being confined in a small space. It’s different in a pool because, it’s just a pool. However, I’m in a huge, deep ocean! Throw in the fact that I am being watched and tested makes it even worse. I managed to get through it after a couple of tries, but Natalie told me tomorrow I would have to dive into the deep and take off my mask there. Yikes!
We did another dive here at Sail Rock and practiced Emergency skills with our buddies. Once we went back to the resort, we had to watch another video and then took our final multiple-choice exam immediately after. We all passed! Now all we had to do were two more dives the next morning, pass those, and we’d be certified open water scuba divers! That night, Viola and I went back to Sairee beach and met up with Thom and a couple of the backpackers we met yesterday, including a couple new ones. We relaxed and ate at another restaurant along the beach (chilling out and eating delicious food at cozy restaurants along the coast never gets old). Next we headed to a few beach parties down the coast for a couple of hours before we all were accidentally split up. No matter though because Viola and I couldn’t stay out long. We had two more early dives in the morning!