A Travellerspoint blog

More about life on the island

So just what is life in Koh Tao all about? If you can imagine a picture perfect paradise island with a relaxed and chilled out vibe, stay here long enough and locals get to know you , greet you in the street or as you enter there shop / bar. My regular breakfast haunt begins cooking my cheese and bacon bagel the second I open the door! Its a small island and chalok is a smaller bay with a great local feel to it, almost like being a part of the family.

Well obviously Im at the dive shop every day from about 9 AM but there is a bit more to life than just scuba diving, Koh Tao is a small island but its a major stopping off / getting on point for tourists travelling to and from Koh Pagnan. This means besides the dedicated scuba tourists we see a considerable influx of people before and after the full and half moon parties. Some of these people are ready to chill out after pagnan and others well they just want to keep on partying!.

Chalok Bay where I'm based is pretty chilled out part of the island, we have some great restaurants here and I recommend Tukta for authentic thai food at great prices. Tropicana resort also has great food at reasonable prices. Coffee and breakfast are best at Koppee although if your on a budget its hard to beat the giant carton of ice coffee you can get in a 7/11 for just 28 baht. Fishy Burger is a 24 hour place that serves up great binge food (perfect fare after a few changs). They also do a pretty good pizza and the chilli there is the best I've had on the island (bang it on your cheese dogs or your fries!). Bar wise you have some great choices, See bar is good for cheap cocktails, Bar next door has live music on occasions and does some mean shots (night diver and yadong) but probably the coolest bar is babaloo a great place with hammocks and fire dancers a short walk along a lantern lit pier near the end of the bay. For a game of pool Moon bar is located near to Fishy Burger and although I'm told its a "girlie" bar I've never really seen any girlies in there and on the one occasion I've played pool in there none of the guys had any pressure to "rent" a girl for the night. Bizzarley the once place I have seen a chick get picked up was in the movie bar I mentioned. oddly enough she was sat chatting to a guy with one breast fully out on display, shortly after they left together and she was back (breasts now safely stowed away) before the end of the movie!

A typical day for me will be a coffee from 7/11 followed by a cheese bagel for breakfast. 10 - 3 ish will be spent on the dive boat depending on the sites we choose to dive. Ill take a late lunch in either tropicana or Tukta the Massaman curry is good at both and a real recommended dish. Normally after that I'm in need of a shower since the humidity here is quite intense and ill be caked in salt from the ocean. Between 5-6 is what we refer to locally as Mosquito O clock. The mozzies here are like mosquitos from Jurrasic park. They are ravenous and they will bite you through your clothes! Unless really nesscessary avoid that hour of the day or pay the price in itching. Luckily there is no malaria here so annoyance factor of 10 but not life threatening. In the evening ill meet some of my friends from the dive shop for a beer, usually starting in See bar and moving along the coast till babaloo. Its worth mentioning one of the bars shows movies every night starting at 6 and 8. Don't count on quality and don't expect latest releases but given the lack of Cinema its a viable alternative to a quite night in! I have no clue as to the name of this bar since Ive only ever entered it from the beach but you can miss the huge projector screen.

Its also possible to buy "smoke" in some of the bars here, I won't name names of bars since I'm not about to encourage people to break the law in Thialand, be aware the thai people have very strict laws on drug use and possession. Its easy to get here if you ask around but you have been warned and the author takes no responsibility for the readers actions!

The only negative to the island are the taxi drivers and you won't stay here long without hearing about them, they have been known to chase people with machetes and at night I've personally seen them become aggressive when a customer tries to barter a fare. This kind of bad attitude, along with ludicrously over priced fares gives them an awful reputation and the majority of long timers here simply won't use them. If you have to use them, agree the price up front and make sure of your destination (although Ive heard of taxi drivers here dropping customers off part way and then demanding a full fare regardless). Also of note are the bike rental guys, some of these guys will try and rip you off over bike rental charging exterminate sums of money (20000 baht) for minor damage (scratches and such). In general use common sense, get the owner to look over the bike with you before you pay and make note of existing damage. When riding the bike don't use roads you don't think you can handle and don't drive while half cut! Everyone is going to want your passport if you loan a bike and the last resort is to skip the island with an unpaid bill (20000 baht is more than a new bike costs) before going to a local embassy for an emergency passport.

Posted by cd108 05:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

My new wetsuit and rescue diving

Ive taken the plunge and purchased my own wetsuit. Im now the proud owner of a 5mm Scuba Pro Therma Tec. Its not as hard to put on as you might imagine but being a full suit and being significantly thicker than a 3mm its definitely more challenging. That should improve a little as I wear it in. Sadly my first dive in the wet suit was again at the wreck site I mentioned in a previous post and visibility this time was awful. To add to my discomfort I had underestimated the amount of extra weight I needed. Despite carrying out a buoyancy check on the surface with 5 kilos and feeling fine I had trouble with my descent, 5 mm is a lot more buoyant than 3. Un surprisingly we didn't see a lot during the dive and as its fairly deep at 30 meters it was quite a short dive anyway.

The following day I began my EFR course (emergency first responder) in truly american style and as always paranoid about litigation Im informed its nesscessary to introduce myself even to unconscious and indeed victims that are not breathing! let me get this straight? i find some poor fellow who has been violently thrown through the window of his vehicle and I must use this phrase before I begin CPR (hello my name is ........ I'm an emergency first responder, may I help you?" what a load of bull shit.... The EFR course is a half day course and really anyone with a dose of common sense should sail through it. Chest compressions are more tiring and challenging than you might imagine to administer especially at the recommended ratio of 2 breaths to every 30 compressions with a 100 total compressions per minute. I competed my exercise to those ratios in a minute and 4 seconds. Not too shabby I suppose! That afternoon our instructor took us skin diving, Id only ever had basic instruction for this particular skill and to be totally honest it wasn't something I found I had enjoyed so I wasn't really looking forward to it but to my surprise I actually really enjoyed it! It certainly helped that at the site we chose we saw a turtle and 2 roughly a meter long black tip reef sharks! Our instructor is truly amazing at skin diving. He has reached depths of 30 meters and can remain on the bottom for a staggering 4-5 minutes. I found it quite difficult to stay under the water for a full minute even at a depth of only 8 - 10 meters! Its deffinatley some thing I want to work on if I can only find the time in between everything else Im learning.

Day after EFR and its time to begin the rescue diver course, besides having only 2 days to read the entire manual and answer all the knowledge reviews (5) and the final assessment (25 questions if i remember right) we also had to learn a lot of new skills. Namely how to recognise the early signs of stress and over exertion that can lead to bigger problems like exhaustion, heat stroke or panic in a diver. How to search for and recover a diver who is unconscious, how to safely slow the ascent of a diver and how to treat decompression illness with oxygen. Not only that but how to safely approach a diver who is panicked at the surface (anyone who is near drowning or believes they are in danger while in the water have a tendency to climb on the nearest thing, in this case me) they may even reject your help and or remove essential pieces of equipment. This is a just a handful of the skills we picked up and as courses go it was perhaps one of the most fun diving course I've yet taken. After practicing search patterns and going through drills for an entire day and a half day 2 and 3 were devoted to actual rescue scenarios. Again this was a lot of fun albeit exhausting to continually be alert for the next "problem" our instructor threw every thing at us both under water and on the surface. Rapid ascents, un controlled ascents, poor buoyancy, over exerted diver. panicked diver, out of air diver, unconscious diver above and below the water, lost diver, panicked diver at the surface, exhausted diver amongst a number of other things such as equipment failures etc. I really enjoyed the challenges and learning how to better protect myself and others while diving (a whole chapter is devoted to self rescue on the basis if you can't help yourself effectively what goo are you to anyone else?). At the end of it all I was bone tired, too tired to do much of anything but return to my room and sleep.

Next week ill be starting the marine conservation course where I hope to learn a lot more about the eco systems I'm diving in as well as helpfully do a bit of good work towards preserving it! A month or so after that ill be starting my divemaster training!

Posted by cd108 04:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Why dive

Its peaceful down here, the only sound I hear the hiiiiiist as I draw in air from my tank followed by the gentle blobbloboboloboloblbolbo as I exhale and bubbles float past my mask. Using my equipment and breathing techniques I'm able to float weightless, as if I'm in outer space, a simple flick of my fin all thats needed to send me in any direction I choose. On the best days I can find a current to ride, its like flying ! pick a pose, laid back and relaxed or superman like arms out in front. If I choose to I can stop, spin, hover or bob vertically face down close to the choral. Im able to share my excitement with my friends, pointing out exciting things we see to each other and making sure were all OK. Or I can choose to spend my time inside my own thoughts and just relax in the calm and quiet.

As I float just above the chorals, many fish come to greet me, curious, angry at the invasion of there privacy or playful most of the fish like to inspect new arrivals in one way or another. If I'm patient and still, cleaner wrass will approach me and nibble at my fins or feet. Moray eels peer from the homes in the rocks. Looking like juveniles from the movie Aliens. Perhaps they burst from someone chest only this morning. The reef is more alive than any environment I've ever seen. Covering only 0.1 % of the ocean floor they give home and food to around 25% of fish species. The light reflects back at me and all the colours of the rainbow are present. Some of the fish are beautiful, other are down right strange to look at, like the monsters in children tales. Some of them are even difficult to spot, blending in to the rocks or choral and changing there colour or shape as they wish. Puffer and box fish look strangely cumbersome in the water and I'm careful not to approach to close. i don't want the puffer to react I know they can suffer from heart attacks when stressed and can even get the bends if they inflate and ascend to quickly. Its a problem I can sympathise with since my body can also be affected.

The rainbow of chorals glides by me, I can see stag chorals like so many amputated raindeer, brain chorals, strange and alien looking as if the oceans mind has grown out of its skull. Christmas tree worms dash back into the burrows as I pass by before once again emerging to feed. There is red, blue, purple, green. Giant clams pulse with the current feeding and I can see the intricate patterns picked out inside there bodies in magenta high lights. I know some of the marine life down here can hurt me if I'm not careful. A titan trigger fish is feeding near its nest, I give it a wide berth. There not aggressive, there defensive creatures and if I get too close it will become scared and attack me. Brightly coloured striped angel fish swim with there life long partners and bat fish swim in groups approaching me curiously before darting away to rejoin there friends. Of a sudden there is a multitude of silver flashes as sunlight reflects of the scales of a group of chevron Baracuda. The school of a few hundred or more surround me, swimming with me perhaps to deter predators. Damsel fish display. there faces changing to a yellow colour if I get to close to there homes. They bait me as if to say there not afraid. Wriggling there tails into my mask in frustration as this giant cumbersome human floats by.

We go deeper now and the colours begin to change, gone are the reds and yellows. The ocean down here is bathed in shades of greens, blues and purples. Clown fish hide inside there Anemoe and i linger for a moment floating above there home as they peer out between the fronds at me. I can feel the pressure change in my body. Bigger fish can be found down here, there are giant groupers as big as my leg. Hiding under rocks we have spotted rays and perhaps an Octopus. By changing my breathing I can start to rise again back into shallower water, I spot a hawksbill turtle feeding on some soft choral. Its sad this creature eats the reef itself but its part of the ecosystem and has been for hundreds of year. She is quite relaxed, and I'm able to glide to just above her. No more than a half meter from her as she gazes up at me, perhaps deciding if I'm a friend or foe. She must decide I'm a friend because she returns to her meal with apparent dis interest.

Checking my dive computer I see its almost time to ascend, this environment can pose all kinds of risks, some of them quite serious but I'm not concerned I'm confident in my training and I know I can handle most emergencies by myself. I have my buddy near by if its something I can't handle alone. As we make our way to the surface for a 3 minute safety stop I enjoy the feeling of weightlessness one last time and hover, crouched down onto my fins.



Posted by cd108 02:21 Comments (0)

Deep wreck dive, buoyancy world and the coolest turtle yet


The diving continues apace on Koh Tao! To think I get to do this every day for the next 3 months, I wonder if Ill ever get bored of it? for now who cares. So this mornings first dive was with an instructor and 2 Advanced open water students. After ordering and eating my customary bacon and cheese bagel breakfast we head out to the boat. Were diving a local wreck of an ex military ship that was deliberately sunk about a year ago. Our Aim is to get the students down to 30 meters and show them colour changes at depth (this can be demonstrated with any colourful item and a torch). The dive is pretty smooth with some of the greatest visibility I've yet seen here. Given that the wreck sits on a sandy bottom at 28.8 meters I can actually already see it from the surface. Sadly being such a newly sunk ship choral has not really had a chance to get going here, choral only grows around 2 - 5 MM per year so you can imagine just how long it takes to create a full healthy reef (reason alone that all divers should respect the reef and maintain proper buoyancy). Its a short dive how ever, at that depth air consumption is pretty fast - 4 atmospheres of pressure mean you effectively use your air 4 times as fast and with 2 recently certified novice divers in the group its no surprise that they use there tanks up quickly.

Our second dive of the day is at bouyancy world a sort of underwater adventure playground with obstacles and such like, I actually had great fun using some of the apparatus to test just how accurate I could be, bonus points for swimming through and under stuff without hitting the sides eh? The rest of the dive was a fun dive at the site Twins and we saw what was possibly the greatest Hawksbill turtle I've yet encountered. She was so relaxed she was not at all disturbed as I hovered less than half a meter from her pretty face and just enjoyed watching this amazing marine creature go about eating dinner, again how ever our novice divers used there air quite quickly - its not at all a criticism this is perfectly normal for new guys and I remember well the issues I had with my air consumption only a short time ago - this time how ever our instructor allowed me and a fellow Dive master trainee off the leash and let us continue our dive. Unable to locate the turtle again we did encounter a very aggressive trigger fish but safely managed to navigate it without incident. Some 15 minutes later we had both hit 60 bar and decided to make our safety stop while swimming back to our boat. We did a great job of actually finding the correct boat as well and surfaced like seasoned pros just a few meters off the boarding ladder. Back at the dive shop I'm briefed that tomorrow ill be back on the fun dive group with 2 AOW water divers, should be a great day.

That evening I retired to my room in order to start reading the rescue diver manual - even though Im already treated as a trainee dive master in actual fact I must complete rescue diver course first. Ill be starting it on monday and I'm looking forward to the challenge but in typical PADI fashion the manual reads like an idiots guide and It sends me to sleep, Im woken by a call from my buddy asking me if I'm going to hit a bar this evening but I decline and decide to get an early night, Im obviously still tired from my 4 days of partying and etc in BKK and on arrival at the island. Doesn't help that Im waking up at the latest at 6.30 Am everyday. I'm sure ill settle into life here over the next week or so.

Following day I'm up, off to 7 for a coffee and into Koppee (incidentally Koppee is thai for coffee) for my usual order of bagel. I set up my gear bag at the shop and await delivery of my bagel. Im getting to meet more the people who are working on the marine conservation and mornings are spent in a sort of communal chat / breakfast / coffee / smoke a cigarette affair in the dive shop. As usual we leave for the boat at around 10 and make our way to dive site number 1. Shark island is an advanced dive site (max depth is about 25 meters). The weather today is not great, its cloudy windy and the sea is quite choppy. I notice a few of the customers on the boat looking a bit sea sick but nothing too heavy. After gearing up we jump and we are to make our descent on the bouy line due to a little current. Unusally for me I being to have problems equalising (for anyone not familiar with diving terminology equalising is the practice of pinching your nose and blowing gently to add air to the spaces in your ears, failure to do so adequaltey during a descent can result in some fairly serious injuries as the air space compresses under pressure. Its possible to permanently damage your ears). I slow my descent and continue to try and equalise but this fails. I gently ascend a few meters and re attempt to equalise but as I slowly descend again a little its obvious I'm going to have a problem here. I made severe attempts to resolve the issue using a variety of techniques and at various depths but all to no avail. Conscious the rest of the group were already ready to dive I signed to the dive master to continue and I aborted my dive and returned to the boat. As soon as I boarded I felt my ear pop and what ever obstruction had been preventing me from comfortably equalising felt cleared but I still felt a little "tightness" so Im happy to have aborted my dive. Safety first always!

Our second dive was a pretty standard dive, I had no problems with my ears on this dive and all went as planned. Ive yet to have a major trigger fish incident but I'm assured i can expect one soon and indeed Titan trigger fish are a common site on Koh Tao. My major stress at the moment is going to be the swim tests for my dive master certification. I know Im smoking 40 a day right now and Im sure I'm going to puff out trying to swim 800 odd meters. I want to train for it but diving twice a day is pretty tiring work. Im planning to get myself into better shape over the month or so I spend on the marine conservation course. Since Ill only be diving once a day on this course I'm confident Ill have more energy to run or swim regulary. Really I suppose I simply have to develop a routine and stick with it. Im looking forward to all the challenges and I'm even feeling a little nervous about how I'm going to deal with actually leading dives by myself. I presume thats normal anxiety when it comes to being responsible for other peoples well being when you haven't done it before. Anyway its a long road before then and I'm sure my training will give me the knowledge and confidence I need to succeed.....

Posted by cd108 03:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Back to Koh Tao and more diving

sunny 31 °C

After a very quick break in Bangkok I find myself back on the night train to Koh Tao my current favourite island in the whole wide world! This particular train route serves the Ferry Terminal for Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Pangnan. It also continues on wards to Surat Thani. All these destinations are very popular for quite different reasons but it also means the train has a habit of selling out early! Book this one as far in advance as you can is my advice. Second class sleeper carriages in Thailand are absolutely fine, you can expect a full on lie down bed with air con and the whole trip only costs around 12 GBP. The risk of course comes from your fellow travellers - I've been lucky so far on pretty much every occasion I've used a train in Thailand but in this case I was travelling with a loud group of french girls (why book a sleeper carriage if you want to drink all night dick heads?) and a family with young restless babies. No matter, you have to expect these things from time to time. I grabbed what little sleep I could before transferring to the coach. Its a 40 minute coach ride the to ferry and I know from experience that being Thailand the coach is expected to hold more passengers than it has seats! Not wanting to spend the journey sat on the floor a second time I strategically positioned myself near to the coach in preparation for boarding. Coach and ferry ride are pleasant enough affairs despite Lomprayah wanting you to show your ticket 3 or 4 times (paranoia regarding stow aways I guess).

I arrived back on Koh Tao at about 9 Am and i couldn't really keep the smile off my face, I was delighted to be back and since I had arrived early I was convinced Id make the dive boat for today if I hurried. New Heaven were again good enough to pick me up at ferry terminal and I was off. Dumped my bags got suited up and was back under the ocean in the time it takes to board the boat. This is life! the fact that I had yet to organise accommodation or eat didn't cross my mind. It was just great to be back on the boat and heading out to a dive site. All of my fellow divers on the boat are training for a certification of one or the other. Im the only fun diver (which incidentally is now free for me since Ill be doing my dive master with these guys, FREE DIVING!). This means of course that my dive group consists of me and my buddy DM. A 2 man dive is always nice since you don't have to worry about bumping heads or some crazy newly certified diver kicking your mask off and your reg out of your mouth.

We hit up 2 great sites that day, didn't see anything out of this world amazing but the Choral and Marine life here is great anyway and well, I don't really care what I see if I'm under water I'm happy :) After completing our 2 dives for the day and our surface intervals we headed back to shore and arrived at about 2.30 PM. Now is a good time to organise a room for the next 3 months right. Im weighing up my options here, rooms range from about 3000 baht per month to 9000 baht per month. Suffice to say the really cheap room are very basic, a bed a fan and a shower in a single small room. Im fine with that but there is a problem. The only room available that is anywhere near convenient is on top of a fucking mountain and although the walk is a short one at about 10 minutes its really really steep. While i can manage it sober this is not the kind of hike I want to undertake after a skin full of chang. Moving on a lot of the long term rooms are already full. Shit maybe I should of booked something. My buddy is helping me out here and showing me around on the back of his bike so we head out a little further to see if there is anything available in one of the other bays. For 6.5k baht I can get a room thats a 10-15 minute drive from the shop but I would have to rent a bike for another 4k baht. In one place I was quoted 15000 baht for a room. Fuck knows what that chick was smoking but there is no way I'm paying 5 x the price of the 3k room. After about an hour of searching and finding rooms that were all inconvenient for one reason or another (I really want something thats walking distance to the bars and dive shop since taxis on the island are stupidly expensive and I want to be able to go out for a beer without breaking the bank during my 3 months I finally find a 3 room apartment that is available and meets all my criteria. its 8.5k a month which is more than I wanted to spend but given the other options are further away and would add 4k for a bike its a sensible option, not to mention that when I do the math this room is actually working out at 6 GBP a day. I can hardly call that expensive and it was without a doubt the highest quality room I had seen that day and I decide to take it. So here I am, my new home consists of a living room with leather sofa and TV / Fridge. A bedroom with Fan and big double bed. A small kitchen area with a sink and a bathroom (cold shower only, but that won't be a problem its hotter than fire on this island). Im a bit sad that my TV only has 5 changels of which 2 are in thai 1 is a news channel of some kind 1 appears to be a talk show channel and the last one has been showing a picture of god with the message "he leaves you" for the past 2 days, I don't hold out a lot of hope that its going to start showing great movies any time soon. I didn't want to watch TV anyway!

Rooms sorted, its off out for a beer with a few of the guys, I want to take it easy because I'm pretty tired from the lack of sleep. We hit up a couple of bars and I quickly discover that you can order a pint and a smoke in some of these bars. A smoke if of course thai stick and it comes pre rolled for 100 baht (about 2 GBP). How very civilised that you can purchase both of your highs in the bar while reclining on a comfy cushion and listening to the waves lap at the beach! Were having such a great laugh that I kind of forget I wanted to get to sleep early and the night doesn't end until were in fishy burger ordering double cheeseburgers at about 1 AM!

At about 4 am that morning I discover the one and only problem with my accommodation, behind my room is a sort of common area of scrub full of roosters that are giving it big balls at 4.30! Ok fuck it ill sleep when I'm dead right? Shower time anyway and ill head off to 7 for a coffee. For 26 baht or about 60 pence you can get a great big cup of ice coffee and I'm reminded of just how bad Boracay was in comparison, on that particular island id of paid like 4 pound for half of this and had the privilege of waiting 20 minutes for it thrown in for free. I head to koppee for breakfast as is my morning ritual (bacon and cheese bagel is a winner and it only costs about 1.60). At the dive shop I'm told there are no fun divers again today? Seems a bit odd that the island is as quiet as it is but again there are 2 full classes of students doing open and advanced open water classes and one half class with 2 students also doing AOW. I get my first chance to assist on a class and I'm to be an obstacle for peak performance buoyancy. Ive also picked today to change my wetsuit to a full wet suit and up the neoprene a bit. Ive gone from a 3mm shorty to a 4.3 mm full suit and really I should of added a bit more weight but I like to dive with minimal weight so I'm going to stick with my 3 kilos. This was all before I knew i was going to be kneeling on the sandy bottom at 8 meters for 20 minutes. While actually diving I'm having no issues what so ever with my trim and buoyancy but when it comes to kneeling stationary with a quarter empty tank I'm actually finding it a bit of a challenge not to rise off the floor when I breath in. Im reduced to taking little sips of air so I don't float around like a muppet and make myself look incompetent. We complete the skills section and move onto a fun dive for another 45 minutes and in total our dive time is a whopping 1 hour 17 mins. Thats probably the longest dive I've yet completed but its easy on the air when your sat on the ocean floor for 20 minutes and only diving to 10 meters.

Its a quiet one that night with all of us a bit worn out from the night before (id had 4-5 hours sleep for 3 nights on the trot now) we ate, we had a beer and I went to bed at about 10 PM. Tommorow I'm to assist with an AOW course I guess ill just be watching the students to make sure they don't do anything too crazy. I know one of the dives is to be the deep dive so it will probably be around the 30 meter mark. Students are likely to use air pretty fast at that depth and theres also a unlikely possibility of nitrogen narcosis to watch for, it should be a fun day.....

Posted by cd108 18:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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