Our first week had already flown by and it seemed like we had already done so much and at the same time not much at all. Joey and I were tired from the routine of Elephant Nature Park; although the work wasn’t hard there was always something to do and the early starts were catching up on us. We were looking forward to heading to our first island stop of Koh Tao but we weren’t expecting a whole lot of rest as next on the agenda was scuba diving!
Day 78 – Boxing Day! Before heading to the islands we had a couple of days left in Chiang Mai to relax and soak up the sun. We stayed in the lovely Eco Resort and got up late, swam in the pool and generally didn’t do a whole lot other than nap and eat. After our odd Christmas Day first at the elephant park, then at the hospital and finally at the night market, today felt more like the lazy Christmas Days I’m used to back home… except with a swimming pool and sunshine! In the evening we went out for pizza but when the restaurant turned out to be closed on Mondays we ended up at this awful Mexican restaurant across the road where the meat tasted like cat food. Ugh! Typically, when we went for a wander afterwards we stumbled across this great night market called Ploen Rudee, which was a treasure trove for foodies. We were too stuffed and tired to stay long but vowed to come back the next day.
Day 79 – Another lazy morning but eventually we roused ourselves from our spot by the pool and went on a boat tour. There wasn’t a whole lot to see and the stop at the herb garden wasn’t much more than a pretty place to eat our fruit snack but it was still enjoyable to float down the river in long, low boat with a shady roof. A relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Later we went to a place I had heard of called Art in Paradise. It’s a museum full of 3D paintings you can stand in to look like you are part of the scenery! It was so much fun, trying to pose to make the pictures look the best. It made us feel like big kids again.
In the evening we stuck to our word and headed back to Ploen Rudee night market where we had a feast of BBQ foods! It was probably the best food of the whole trip. We ate BBQ ribs, chicken wings, prawn skewers and for dessert, baked bananas with marshmallows and chocolate sauce, of which we somehow ended up with a free extra portion. We weren’t complaining! We even ran into some of A Team and got to catch up on what they had been up to since leaving the Elephant Nature Park.
Day 80 – The end of our lie ins as we had to get up early to fly to Krabi and then take a taxi to the ferry office to take a bus to the ferry to take a ferry to the island. It was as hectic as it sounds! Our taxi driver had no clue where the ferry office was and since we were tight on time we were getting more and more worried as we drove round in circles. Eventually we found it only to discover that there was complete chaos there! There was no line just a huge crowd of people all trying to get checked in at once. We battled our way to the front and got our tickets, boarded an insanely hot bus with no air conditioning and began to settle down for the journey. I went to take out my ipad to do some reading… only it wasn’t there. With a painful crystal clear clarity I remembered that I had taken it out on the plane and put it down by my side when I slept, forgetting to pick it up again. It was the cherry on top of the already stressful situation. Luckily a phone call revealed that the ipad had been found but getting it back would be a problem as we weren’t sure whether we would be passing back through Krabi and our bus was already on its way. I opted to have it sent to Bangkok and just prayed that both we and the ipad would make it back there.
The ferry ride did not improve the already horrible day. It was crammed past full capacity and behind schedule. By the time we passed Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan, finally drawing close to Koh Tao, the boat starting rocking up and down on the choppy waves. People around us were being sick and I had to stand outside and stare at the horizon to keep from losing the very little food I had eaten that day. In the process I got soaked from the splashing waves and Joey simply held me tight as we both wished we were there already. Thank goodness the taxi ride from the port to our hotel was short. We had booked this cute little beach hut for our stay on the island but after a full day travel we were too exhausted to appreciate it. We did however appreciate the kind, if abrupt, bustling host who waved the guest form away and told us to just get to our room and get some rest. Needless to say, we didn’t need telling twice!
Day 81 – First on our agenda was to book our diving! I had completed my Open Water certificate on holiday in Mexico earlier in the year but wanted to take things to the next step with my Advanced Open Water, allowing me to dive deeper and hone other skills I have already learnt. Joey was just starting out on his Open Water though so we had to make sure that I could do an extra dive so we would actually get to explore the underwater world together at some point. Our hotel recommended Scuba Shack and they were great. We were signed up straight away and that afternoon Joey started on his theory and I sat outside our beach hut (very much appreciated after a good nights sleep) doing some of my own homework and watching the sun set.
Day 82 – While Joey had to get up early to do some pool work for his first day of diving I, who was going out on the boat later, got a bit of a lie in. It was strange to be doing the same thing but on different schedules and a bit of a shame that we couldn’t do it together. It was my own fault though for being impatient and doing my open water early but it didn’t matter too much as we still crossed paths a lot over the next few days. While Joey had his first experience of diving I went out to open water to practice my navigation and peak performance bouyancy skills. The first dive was on a reef called Junkyard, an artificial reef where coral has been planted on structures and tunnels to encourage reef growth and wildlife. There are all sorts of other things down there though, including a car and some gym equipment! It was very odd to see familiar objects in such an unfamiliar environment but pretty cool too! It also turned out that I got my navigation skills from my mum (sorry mum but you know its true) and although I passed my tasks I did swim an extra length of the square I was navigating, forgetting that I had already turned enough corners to complete it. Oops!
Unfortunatly my peak performance bouyancy wasn’t much better, though I blame the weather conditions for that mostly. The sea was quite choppy, churning up all the sediment on the bottom and making visibility awful as well as making my task to hover in the water even harder. Peak performance bouyancy is where you control your weight, air in your BCD (bouyancy control device – the jacket divers wear underwater) and your breathing to be able to hover just off the bottom of the sea. This is called neutral bouyancy and when you achieve this you should be able to control your movements simply by breathing in, filling your lungs full of air and making you more buoyant, to float over the reef and then letting it out to drift downwards as you become slightly less bouyant. Obviously this is pretty tricky when the first rule of diving is to always breath continuously but the adjustments are very subtle and its a skill I enjoy practicing so it was good fun despite the conditions. It was also nice to finally catch up with Joey over dinner, getting more and more excited about the diving adventures we would soon be able to take together in the future.
Day 83 – New Years Eve! It was our second day of diving and this time we at least got to go out on the boat together as Joey started his open water dives. The conditions were still less than perfect though and I felt bad for Joey that after I had gone on about how amazing swimming underwater is and all the things you can see, he could barely see anything. He said he didn’t mind though as it helped him concentrate on learning instead of getting distracted by beautiful corals and fish, plus it would make it twice as amazing for him when he did get the chance to dive in clearer waters.
While Joey continued to learn I went on two more adventure dives. Firstly I did my deep dive, going down to 28m and seeing how colour and water pressure is different a tha depth. We took down a red packet of crisps but until my instructor shined his light on it you would have thought it was brown. The pressure had also suctioned the packet to the crisps, making it hard and awkwardly shaped. We took a bottle down too, filled it with air at depth and back on the boat watched the lid pop off as the expanded air tried to escape.
In the evening it was time to celebrate New Year’s Eve! The place to be seemed to be down on the beach. Everyone was gathered, drinking from buckets and watching the many fire shows along the shoreline. We hopped from place to place, first having BBQ prawns on the beach, then fancy dessert and wine just off the beach front and later positioning ourselves in front of the New Years signs with a bucket of booze to watch it go up in flames at the countdown. We seemed to have picked the wrong one though as next doors went off with a dramatic fiery blow torch whereas ours was lit by two guys holding long stick with flames on the end. Still, it was amazing to say that we were starting 2017 on a beach in Thailand and more amazing still to be seeing the new year in with together.
Day 84 – New Years Day! For the first day of 2017 we got a day off from diving as the instructors recovered from their hangovers. This meant we could enjoy an easy day too, exploring the island a bit more, tracking down a nice place to sit and watch the sunset, feeling grateful to be where we were.
Day 85 – The final day of diving for both of us and at last we got a chance to dive together. On Joey’s third dive I did an extra dive just to tag along and enjoy experiencing it together. Again, visibility made it slightly disappointing but it was good to get a feel for what it would be like to be dive buddies and later that evening we would already be planning dive holidays we could go on together. My final dive was Fish Identification and it was probably the most enjoyable of them all. My dad, a bit of a fish fanatic, would have been proud. This dive basically involved me diving as usual but with a board I could write on underwater to point out the different kinds of fish we saw. There were none of my favourite trunkfish, little boxy fish with tiny whirring fins, but there were huge batfish with black and white stripes and pufferfish, bigger than you might imagine, and with their spines pressed flat against their bodies.
Finally we had both passed our diving courses and to celebrate we shared a chocolate brownie after a lovely dinner. It was starting to feel like all we did was sleep, eat and dive! It was perfect! It had to end though as we needed to move on to our next stop. We had planned to make the long journey back by ferry to the mainland to cross to the west coast islands and visit Koh Lanta. We were hoping that the weather might be better that side and we could get in another dive with better visibility. Alas it was not meant to be, the ferry was booked up and instead of taking the arduous night journey that was the only option available on the day we wanted to travel, we settled on the closer island of Koh Samui. It was a decision we would come to regret but at that point we were just looking forward to some free time to explore an island properly. Little did we know what awaited us on Koh Samui.