By Samir

Part of our budgeting includes up to two nights per month in a really nice hotel (Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Radisson, etc.). After Koh Lanta Yai, we stopped off at the Sheraton in Krabi for a two-night respite. We only left the resort to attend the Annual Nong Talay Naga Festival, which was on the beach, adjacent to the Sheraton. We spent pretty much the entire time swimming in the chlorinated swimming pools, walking around inside, playing some table tennis, and hanging out. The Festival was by and for the local community with lots of food stalls, clothing vendors, and a stage for music and cultural performances. We even saw a small custom car show, there, on the beach.

Custom pickup trucks

In Krabi, we finally tested the waterproof digital camera case that we found at Fry’s Electronics Store in Houston. I remember we, rather frantically, spent a few hours tracking one down before we left. The case worked, but the plastic casing was naturally bent, so all of the pictures came out distorted. Bummer.

Onwards to Koh Tao: We’d heard that some of the best diving around is near the island of Koh Tao, off the coast of Thailand. It was entirely possible to get scuba diving certified in Texas before we left, but there was a certain allure to doing it in Thailand.

We arrived by boat at the Koh Tao Pier on March 4th around 3:30pm. We proceeded to the diving resort that we’d previously booked. Big Blue Diving Resort was right on the beach with several bungalows, one of which was ours because we booked diving in advance.

We met with one of the instructors who told us we could start right away if we wanted, so we did. The first day was signing some liability forms, and watching a few videos on diver education. They also assigned homework (a study guide covering the first five chapters of the book) with about 20 fill-in-the-blanks per chapter.

March 5:

The day started early. 8:30am early. We watched a few more videos and then had classroom instruction, (at a picnic table inside the beach-facing restaurant at the resort). Our instructor was a tall, thin Swedish guy named Ludo. Our instructor, the two of us, and three Danish friends rounded out our group. After lunch, we suited up and headed out to the water to practice some basic skills. You’ve probably seen pictures of scuba divers fully dressed in a black wet-suit, covering all of the body. Not us. Our neoprene suits went down to the knees, and up to our necks. Our feet, hands, and head were exposed. We rode the crew-boat out to the big boat, then out to the Japanese Gardens diving point, and literally, walked off the boat while wearing all of our gear. It was incredibly difficult to imagine just walking off the boat. We swam over to the shallow waters of the beach. We practiced skills for a few hours, all of them underwater, some of which included: take off your breathing tube and then put it back in, take off your scuba gear and put it back on, take off your face mask (which covers the eyes & nose) and put it back on, etc. We all struggled, though Rachel was the only one to not be able to demonstrate mastery of all the skills.

In some diving courses, you practice these basic skills in a contained, chlorinated, fresh-water, swimming pool. Not us. Ours was on the beach, in salt-water, which meant that our eyes stung when our masks came off, we breathed in salt water through our noses, and we swallowed salt-water through our mouths.

March 6:

Rachel got up super early and met Ludo at 6:30am for some one-on-one practice time. Perhaps having the extra time to get mentally used to it was all she needed because she was able to do all the skills. I snapped a picture on the sly:

After breakfast, some more classroom instruction followed, and then a 50-question, multiple-choice quiz on all that we learned. Rachel got 49 correct; I got 47 correct.

After lunch, we headed out to do two dives, each to 12 meter depth (about 40 feet). We demonstrated skills down below, and got to see the marine life. Each dive was about 30-40 minutes long, with a 75 minute break between them, though the break only felt like 20 minutes.

After doing these dives, we started feeling better about being on the island, and being in the diving course.

March 7:

Super early. We met the instructor on the beach, with our gear, at 6:30am. Our first dive started around 7:30am at Chumpon Pinnacle diving point. We went down to 18 meters (about 60 feet deep). This dive was the most relaxed of the bunch, floating along with the currents, and just seeing the amazing coral reefs. The second dive went down to 15 meters (about 50 feet deep) at the White Rock diving point, and involved some skills practice and a dance-off, underwater, with another group. We practiced our dances, above water, on the big boat between the two dives, and then did them underwater. We clearly won.

We are now certified to do open water diving to 18 meters deep. Theoretically, we can go by ourselves, but we’ll probably go with a divemaster next time we go. We are planning to do an Advanced Diver course (five dives) sometime next year.

We took very few pictures while in Koh Tao, so instead, we purchased a DVD of our last dive. Random picture I took from the beach:

March 7 (afternoon) & 8 (all day): We did basically nothing, letting our bodies recuperate.

March 9: On our way back to Bangkok, we took a catamaran to Chumpon (on the mainland), and then a private bus to Bangkok. The catamaran was the nicest boat we’ve been on so far. At the Chumpon Pier:

Insert by Rachel:

Diving for me at first was really hard. The first day, I had problems with staying down underwater and only breathing with the regulator – it felt claustrophobic! And it kept getting worse and worse as the day went on until I had gotten it in my head that I just couldn’t breathe properly underwater. Luckily, our scuba instructor was nice enough to come out early the next morning for some one on one time where I could get used to the idea without feeling like I was holding the group back. It was a struggle and I almost stopped after the first day, but I was really disappointed in myself for quitting something without giving it another try – my main motivation for trying again! But I’m so glad I did! Once I got the breathing down, it was a lot better and more enjoyable! Especially when I started getting a feel for my bouyancy underwater and it felt like we were just floating underwater! Look forward to going diving at least once more on this trip (though it’s an expensive hobby!)!