General, Travel

All The Fish

planetscubaI feel like trying to sum up a weeks worth of madness into one post is just impossible when I look back at what we did on Koh Tao. That said, pretty much all of it was eating, reading, and of course, scuba diving, so I think the posts would turn out to be pretty repetitive after a while.

I mean, who wants to read repeated posts on seeing all the fish at some of the best dive sites around, before relaxing on some of the most spectacular beaches?

Koh Tao has received an awful lot of bad press of late after the tragic deaths of tourists on the island, s for the first time, I felt myself prepare for any potential problems, and found myself thinking I would need to be on extra alert. When we arrived, there were countless annoying taxi drivers and enough rip-off tourguides to fill a football stadium, but I never felt unsafe. That didn’t change throughout my stay.

Koh Tao is renowned for its pristine beaches, it’s relaxed vibe, and it’s world class diving. As Jade and I are currently off drinking, we weren’t really keen on hitting any parties or craziness on the islands, especially with the notoriety, so spending the full moon with a Fanta and a pizza lounging on a bean bag chair looking over Sairee beach was perfect. Neither of us are particularly beach people, but there is just something about the beach-side restaurants on Koh Tao; even we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on the sand and in the sea without so much as a squeak of boredom.

Jade signed up to complete her Open Water Scuba Diving course the morning after w got there, and we moved into the first hostel we’ve been in together. If it wasn’t fan only, it would have been really awesome. Well, once we got past the shock of having 3-men in our 6-bed female only dorm room. The hostel was lovely, and the people we met there were all really nice. A couple of them were diving, one on our advanced and speciality courses, which was nice. Considering we were in a mixed dorm, originally believing it to be a female only form room, it was the other girl in the room that caused the most (and by that I mean the only tiny) problems.

There are over 60 dive schools on the small island of Koh Tao, so choosing one is difficult. After much deliberation before we went, we decided on Planet Scuba, a decision that, despite leaving us dreadfully more out of pocket than we thought we would be, was an awesome decision. The staff there (most specifically Brum, Winnie, Sabrina, Adam, and Dom) were really fantastic. And no, they weren’t expensive, they were just do good that we ended up delaying our exit from the island to dive and specialise further with them!

I struggled a little bit with what to do while Jade was diving. I visited the beach and talked to some friendly tourists who were out and about. I finally wrote a lot of postcards for people, I updated here, and I read. But time seemed to move slowly when I wanted to be in the water and Jade already was. On her last day of her open water, I completed a skills review to freshen my open water in my mind, and we got to dive the same sites, albeit separately, and meet the people we would be doing out Advanced (and ultimately speciality courses) with, Emily and Chris.

I’ve been waiting to do the Advanced for ages, so when we got to pick our dives, I was unbelievably excited. We all chose the same, a deep dive, a wreck dive, a night dive, a navigation dive, and a peak buoyancy diver. The last two were instructor recommended, and as there were no better alternatives that were practical, we opted to do them, They turned out to be pretty fun and really useful (it’s like the instructors know what they’re talking about).

They were followed by the night dive. Jade has a fear of dark water, and everyone was a little more thoughtful about diving in the dark, so chilling on the boat waiting for the sun to go down (and increase the sunburn on the back of your legs) felt like a while. Once we were down, it felt quite eerie. We got to see lots of different fish, and different fish behaviour, and saw multiple rays. The most impressive thing came when Brummie instructed us to void the lights on our torches and then wave our hands in front of our faces. The bioluminescent plankton was an awesome sight that made the night dive an incredible experience. I really didn’t think it would be topped.

Then we had our deep and wreck dives. The news that we were travelling somewhere special for our deep dive filtered to us, and it turned out that we were indeed travelling to Chumpon Pinnacle, one of the most renowned sites in the area. It was unbelievable. Not only did we dive a lot deeper than we had ever dived, but the coral was unbelievable, and we saw all the fish. And when I say all the fish, I really mean, the lot, every on in the book that wasn’t a shark or turtle. It was incredible, and spawned our own underwater signals. The wreck dive after was pretty crazy too, even though the wreck was (semi)purposely sunk, it was still strange and awesome to look round, although nothing on the morning dive.

planetBrummie, Winnie, Chris, Emily, Jade, and I all collected in the aptly named Safety Stop pub to have a drink and celebrate together. The others, plus Baldur, the Icelandic guy ever-present in Planet Scuba throughout our stay, were thinking of doing another dive t he next day, if they could go to Chumpon Pinnacle, and convinced us to stay an extra day. There is little to look forward to on Koh Phangan for us, so we decided we wanted to go back and see all the fish again.

After our cups of tea, and the a few beers for everyone else, this leisurely fun dive with the dive masters turned into two different speciality course, deep diving, and nitrox air. The first would allow us to dive to 40m (our previous allowed depth was 30m) and the nitrox would allow us to stay underwater longer, the combination would open every single recreation dive-site in the world to us. As Koh Tao is the cheapest place in the world to learn, and we had already paid to do the fun dives, caution was lost in the wind, and we committed.

I don’t regret it for a second. I may have less money, but the dives were crazily awesome. The risks of going deeper are obviously higher, so we were all waiting for the inevitable onset of nitrogen narcosis, a phenomenon our dive instructor is particularly susceptible to, but none of us suffered, allowing us to get to 39m comfortably. We got to dive around Chumpon again, and the number of fish must have quadrupled. We swam through schools of fish so large they created tunnels for us to swim through. No matter where you looked, there were fish. I’ve never seen anything like it outside Finding Nemo! (which we did, clown fish we everywhere). After our nitrox dive, and of course, the test in the pub (because why not) we became certified beyond our expectations, and can now do anything when we hit the Great Barrier Reef.

I am so glad I saved my birthday money for the scuba diving, it was definitely money well spent. I just can’t wait to dive The Great Barrier Reef, although I’m not really sure it will actually top it!


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