27th of september until 13th of october.
That's a long period to cover in one blog message? Yes, it is. And there is a good reason for that. I have been spending all that time on Ko Tao. Also known by me and many others as Paradise Island. Koh Tao is really an amazing beautifull island. Its 7 km long and 3 km in widh. Not too small, not too big to be overwhelming. No mass tourism (yet). Peacefull and a great site for diving.
After arrival in Champon with the train, I waited 3 hours for a bus. I would say; why didn't the tour office sell tickets for the train that would arrive later? Anyway, the bus arrived and quickly everyone could get on the boat. Most of the people went to Ko Tao, or Ko Phanang. After a boatride of about 2 hours, the boat arrived to Ko Tao. There, I got into a bus of the Grand coral divers and after a wait in which I bought some fruit, it was time to go to the appartments.
After arrival, we got a quick briefing for the day; just watching 2 dive movies and reading a lot of material. But first, I went to sleep for about 4 hours. After, I quickly read to a part of the theory and went to see the dive movies. Instruction video's. Also, we had to fill in a form with which we wave all responsibility to the dive agency if something wrong happens.
So, time for the first introduction to diving. The instruction video's were very good; both instruction wise as entertaining. And beautifull underwater views. The homework was to read more and the next morning at 9.00 we weer expected at the diveshop to go trough the theory. In the afternoon, the first swimming pool session. This went quite good.
The day after, we had another part of theory and after, a swimming pool session again. Breathing under water and learning important procedures if you would loose your regulator. Breathing from your buddy's air, how to handle when you're getting out of air. Emergency ascent etc. All went very good and it was a lot of fun. Though, there was one thing that I had problems with: if the mask is off, you have to be able to breath trough your regulator. That part is easy. But I tend to take the air in from my nose. Under water, without mask, that's creating the effect of drawning. So I decided to take one day of rest and decide what to do.
The next day I just relaxed a lot, booked a 'surprise accomodation' for me and my girlfriend for the first 2 nights in India, and read a lot of theory. I decided to continue the course. In a way, I actually was thinking of quitting. But then, after having seen the beautifull movies and heard the stories, I was thinking: just continue.
I got placed in another group. My own group already had its first dive in the sea. And the stories were amazing!
I got placed with an Estonian guy, who was also my neighbor in the appartments: Albert. And it was just the two of us. Very good! Our teacher was a girl from Norway: Thea.
I was very happy to be in such a small group. Before the group consisted of 5!! students. Now, just two.
Under water, still at first, I had some problems with the breathing without mask, but once getting more relaxed, it worked. It took me some time, but I managed . So I finished all needed to go to the sea the next day.
And yes, the next day it was time to go into the sea. My first 12 metres dive. Along the boatline, we went down. Enjoyed the view and did a lot of tricks and procedures. After all, we were still in training. I was amazed that under water in the sea, diving is actually more easy than in the swimming pool. And the underwater life is just incredible. We have seen a lot of different things: A lot of coral, fishes and more. Say: the goby and the shrimp. Always together. The goby is not good at making a house, but has a good sight. The shrimp is good at making a hole (house) in the ground, but cannot see. So they work together and are always close to each other. When danger passes by, the goby warns the shrimp and they duck into the hole that the shrimp made. But, the hole will collapse. So after they come out, the shrimp has to dig a new hole.
Parrotfish. Beautifull and colorfull. Anemone fish: think of Nemo. That's a clownfish indeed. Butterflyfish, angelfish, Bannerfish. All beautifull. As being in a movie. And as soon as you are under water, you're one of them. Which means, that as long as you don't come too close, they will keep doing their normal behavior. Some fishes you can approach to less then one meter. And, underwater there is the magnifying effect, so everything looks bigger.
We were followed by a cleaner fish. That fish will eat your dead skin. So we even got a massage.
The second dive was without a line. Same procedures, 12 meter and some new tricks to learn. Another incredible dive.
The next day there were two more dives. I have to say that I am starting to forget a bit. After all, now it is the 9th of october (6 am in the morning: I am waiting for the bus to Khao Sak).
I do remember that all dives were great. So yes, I enjoyed a lot and felt more and more comfortable under water.
So then the course was over and Albert and me were open water divers Yes! It took a lot of energy, a lot of reading, studying and practice. Even one day off to decide what I was going to do, but yes, I did it. And it is great!
So after, I had one more night in the coral grand divers resort. I spend the day resting. The next day I was thinking of doing a walk in the jungle of the island. So I had to book another night. Something here, surprised me. Since I was not diving anymore, or doing a fun dive, they charged 800 baht, for a room with fan, electricity and cold water. That's 20 euro. Only when I would do another course or fun dives every day, it would cost 400 baht. Ok, time to leave. I was very very surprised, because somewhere I was thinking of continuing the course and doing the advanced open water. But not with the pressure of the room price being extremely high if I would decide not to dive one day.
I spend some time searching internet for good alternatives. After all, I really enjoyed paradise island and wanted to spend more time here. I found a few places for 400 baht on internet and left. When walking, I met a canadian guy, Tarek, who stayed in the backpackers hostel; 300 baht a day. I knew that, but also knew that that means 8 people in one room. And I first wanted to check a bit on my alternatives. During the walk, Tarek and I came in conversation with a dive master. After a while, it turned out he was from the Netherlands. He left the Netherlands when he was 12 and lived in the UK for 21 years. By now, he was a diving instructor for 2,5 years. He suggested me the Prick Tai resort. About 400 baht and very close. Also, I told him I was doubting a bit of whether to do the advanced course. He explained me all and told me that for diving in Indonesia (where I would go later), I need the advanced course. I also explained him I will be back in Thailand in february next year. He told me it could also be a good idea just to wait till february and then decide. I checked out Prick Tai and it turned out to be a very good place. Nice, clean room, electricity and (cold) water. The woman that worked there was very friendly and I decided to stay for 2 nights.
I cannot remember every day exactly, but I stayed a lot longer than 2 nights. I guess it was about 5 nights. Koh Tao is truly amazing. I did a jungle walk and hang out with the Dutch divemaster (Leo) and his colleges. In the end I decided to go for the advanced open water. Leo was very open and honest and never pressed to take the course. He had 12 years experience and in a way I knew that if I wanted to go for the advanced course some day, the cheapest place to go is Koh Tao. And, you get quality here.
So yes, I went for the avanced. I got a big book to study (a few chapters) and the next morning we started diving. 2 dives on one day.
First, buoyancy control. Essential, as I will explain later. My buoyancy skills are not too bad. But with some more practice, I could use my air even more efficient as I am doing now. Leo is incredible. He could stay on one level in the sea, just 50 cm over the coral and stay completely still, to observe the aquatic life. Or, he rolls up as a ball, looks and when he wants to move, he just slowly pushes with his fins. And always, he stays on the same level. He brought down a hoop and I had to swim trough, turn, with my hands grab the upper part, make a circle around it; upside down, and then upside down, swim back trough the hoop. Pretty difficult, but fun. Also, by breathing I learned another trick. Very difficult and I need more practice on this one. Lay flat on you belly on the ground. Breath in, slowly, and out, quick. You will go up. Now, stand on the top of your fins and exhale quicker than you inhale; you will go down and just before your back hits the ocean floor, breath in more than exhaling, and you go up again. This was really cool and difficult. But when I am able to control this, my buoyancy control is very very good.
The other dive, later that day was navigation. For sure, not my strongest point. With compass, and / or natural navigation, I had to find my way back, or make a square. That was very difficult. And I need to practice more on this one. Also, natural navigation. Yes, you can use rocks and corals. I foun my way back. But as soon as I go over sand, I will get lost. Especially when the sight is not too far, I am easily confused. All suddenly looks the same.
But this also, was a great experience under water. As always . And Leo, he is really the underwater master. It is incredible what tricks he can do. I was very lucky to be his only student so I could learn a lot.
n the evening, I had dinner with Leo and Joe (USA) and his wive also joined. We had dinner in a Chinese restaurant. The next day it was time for diving. 3 more dives!
The evening during the dinner, I decided it would be great to have a movie made of the the first 2 dives. The price, 60 euro, was a bit high. But then, this experience is awesome. So in the end, I decided to go for the movie.
So there we were, 6.20 in the morning. Sun just rising, the boat ready. Ready to go. On the boat were more people, but my group consisted of Leo, Joe, Prue (she filmed the first two dives) and me. The first dive was a deep dive. That is one of the compulsary dives for the advanced course. Max 30 metres. We went to 29 metres. Before I was a bit anxious. Also, during the night. When on the boat, Leo explained that, although unlikely, we might see a shark. Honestly, it did scare me a bit, and on the other hand was very fascinating. He explained that if the shark comes close, just keep looking. Also when you swim back, always keep looking. Human are not shark food and all the stories of attacking sharks have a reason. Surfers, peddling in the water, look like seals. And yes, seals are shark food. Human kill millions of sharks a year and destroy the fish grounds. Sharks find alternative places for food and that might be more near to beaches where people swim. So, who is destroying who?
If a shark is ready to attack, he cannot bit you from head to toe. So what he does is twist a quarter. So he could bite from your left to right side. Our answer could be: either, spread our arms and legs and the shark runs off. He realises we are not food. Or, also turn a quarter.
Yes, during diving some day you might see a shark. It is more fascinating than scary. The first time will be scary. All divemasters on Koh Tao have seen sharks and are happy to see more. They are very interesting. As long as you respect their behavior, nothing will happen.
But yes, I was a bit nervous. No worries. Time to go. We first went with a line down. Then, from 20 metres, we went to 29 metres. It surprised me, but it really didn't feel like 29 metres. Therefore, it is very important to check your dept gauge. It is so easy to go down and down. But every 10 metres the pressure goes 1 bar up. That, you can easily equalise with your ears. But, you will use your air quicker. At 10 metres, 2 times as quick as on the surface. At 20 metres, 3 times as quick. Etc. This is because of the pressure. Also, when you dive around the 30 metres deep, you need to have a decompression stop at 5 metres for a minimum of 3 minutes. This to get the nitrogen out of your body. Divers that go up to quickly might experience decompression sickness. This means that the nitrogen in your body expands when the pressure decreases when going up. If you just keep breathing and don't go up to quickly, all is ok. And yes, around a 30 metres dive, a decompression stop is compulsary. If you go up to quickly, or don't do a decompression stop when needed, the nitrogen expands and creates bubbles in your body, or blood. That might seriously injure your health.
So enough physics . The point here is that when diving deeper than 20 metres, and especially around 30 metres, it is very important to monitor your gauges. It's too easy to stay down too long or too deep and you don't want to run out of air, or have to skip your decompression stop due to a low air supply.
The dive went perfect. Because of the dept, less colours are to be seen. For example, red is not seen anymore. Leo took an egg down and we had to guess what he was going to do with it. Joe and I didn't know. When he broke the egg down at the bottom, within 3 seconds the fish ate all. It was very interesting to see. But what Leo wanted to show is that the egg stays intact. We could have even played volleyball with the egg (without the shell). We stayed here for about 8 minutes and slowly ascented to shallower depts. In total we spent just over 30 minutes for this dive. We have seen a grouper, a lot of sea urchins, one lionfish (yes!) and a lot more.
After a rest and some food and drinks on the boat, we went for a second dive. This time around 14 metres and it was the fish identification dive for me. First we did some crazy stuff for the video. Playing volleyball with each other, jumping huge jumps like being on the moon, swimming trough each others arms and more. It was really cool. And because you barely feel gravity, you can swim upside down, jump high, make circles, play volleyball etc. Wow!
Then, it was time for the fish identification. Leo would point me some fish and I had to write down (under water, or later) which fish he showed. Unfortunately, he knew that I recognised parrot fish, angel fish, bannerfish and some more. So he didn't point at these. It turned out to be pretty hard. But it was another great, great dive.
We went to the shore and had a break, some food, drink and later went on the boat again for the 3rd dive. This dive was just Leo and me. We did the underwater naturalist dive. He told me I had to find 2 sorts of plants under water, 4 animals with an outside skeletton and 5 with an inside skeleton. But, for the inside skeletton all the common fish were not allowed. So yes, it turned out to be very, very hard. Not angel fish, parrot fish, rabbit fish, bannerfish. No, baracudas etc etc. And...corals are not plants. So although you think you swim between plants, it is actually millions of small animals working together. Plus, this area does not have crabs, lopsters or other common outside skelleton animals.
In the end, we found a seastar (outside skelleton), the goby and the shrimp (yes)!, and the rest, I don't know. For inside skelettons, one grouper, one white eyed murray eel (yes) and some less common fish. Also, just one plant. We stayed under water for 1 hour and 7 minutes. On about 12 metres. It was absolutely great. And even when we came up, both of us had sill 50 bar (a quarter) of the tank left. Leo explained me my breathing is very steady, and if I would work on my buoyancy, I would be able to stay under water even longer. Buoyancy means, the floatation of yourself. I you know when to breath and how to breath, you can go up or down, just by your breathing. (Taking in consideration that you are properly weighted and equiped when you go into the water). My biggest challenge is still that I don't always breath out all my air. Which, on land, is fine. But under water, means that you keep on floating up and need precious energy to go down again. If I use my whole lungs, and also breath out totally, then, yes, I will be even more efficient. Another great dive!
In the evening we met Joe and his wive again and Prue, our camera women, showed us the movie she made and edited. The movie is great and I have seen it already about 6 times ( now it is the 12th of October when I write this). I will send it to both Holland and Switzerland .
My idea was to leave the day after. But I liked the place and I needed to work a bit on my websites. And since internet is cheap here (20 bath per day at Prick Tai); in the village it is 1 bath a minute: 1,50 euro an hour, crazy, I had a good reason to stay longer. The next day, I mainly worked. About 5 hours. Catched up with a lot of things for my websites, mail and called my parents. In the evening I had the night boat to Surrathani. From there, a bus to Koh Sok. Leo suggested me to go there when I asked him what he would really recommand. Koh Sok is one of the oldest forests of South East asia. Here you can see monkeys, tigers (rare) and a lot more.
So there I went, In the evening with the night boat. Well, it was not horror, but it was definitely not the best idea. Rain season is coming up and that means waves. A boat and waves is not a good combination. I just closed my eyes and tried to sleep. But a lot of people hang over board throwing up. And the space to sleep is really, really small. Just a line of mattrasses and a matras that we would consider for one person, they sell for two persons. Luckily, the boat was not fully booked. (no surprise here).
Just a flash comes to my mind now. The first days on the island, it was fully sunny. But the days after became more cloudy. Also, the last few days, there is more rain. Not a lot, but you feel rain season is arriving. Also, the number of tourists is declining. Most of them go up north, or to the west side of Thailand, Pattaya, or the islands such as Ko Phi Phi. The good thing is that is is becoming more and more quiet and I had some dives with just my instructor. The other side is also very interesting. Most divemasters rely for their income on customers and are full time employed. They have to wait in front of the dive shop to attract customers. But there are not many. So most of them get pretty bored. Their passion is diving and without customers, no income and no diving. I did have some good conversations with them. They come from all places, mostly Europe, USA and Australia. A lot of westerner people once arrive on the island and never return.
But not having customers, waiting for income is the other side of Paradise Island.
Leo is a freelancer. He has his own house in London, near Cambridge university. He rents it to people. So he has a minimum income that at least keeps him going if there is no work.
Here, something else strikes me. When I checked out of Grand Coral Divers, where I did my open water, they wanted to charge me 800 baht. So I left. But, the park was maybe filled for 40%. There were lots of empy appartments. And, I did consider an advanced open water. Me, as a marketer, I cannot understand. They actually kicked me out and gave a new customer to Prick Tai and Leo (working for Seashell divers). That's a very short term thought. Leo, and other divemasters later explained me this is a very Thai thought. Better money today, instead of a steady stream of income for the future.
Well, I spent 8500 bath on the advanced open water and 5 nights times 300 = 1500 baht at Prick Tai. Not including dinners, breakfast and lunches. Most of this, I might have spend at Grand Coral Divers, if they didn't kick me out by asking 800 baht. Even the divemasters working for them, cannot understand.
So, Surratani. Yes, back to the original story. After getting off the boat, everyone was sent to a small office, where quickly after, a bus brought us to a big busstation. From there, a comfortable ride to Koh Sok. When getting out of the bus, I shared my taxi with a French couple and we checked in to Bamboo house. The nature here is beautifull! It is a beautifull rainforest. And yes, it is rain season and a rainforest, so it is raining . They went for an elephant ride. I just had a sleep and didn't feel like having an elephant ride. After a camel ride, donkey (a few years ago) and horseriding, I don't really feel the urge to ride every animal possible. I do like to find place to learn horseriding. But a camelride where they just hold the ropes and you slowly walk...no. And I have the same feeling for an elephant ride. But, maybe some day I will do it. Just not now.
After the sleep, I booked a tour somewhere near to the National park. Not at Bamboo house, because they charged 1500 bath, excluding the 200 baht entrance fee for the park. That makes 1700. I booked it for 1300 + 200 entry fee. And got a breakfast included.
IN the evening I had a rest. I was still very sleepy from the boatride with very little sleep.