Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finally...Koh Tao

So, we've already been home a week now (a month when this is finally published) and are adjusting back to real life, so it's about time we finish our Asia Blog. Quick recap... We had just landed in Southern Thailand after a 8 hours on the night bus...

We took the Lamprayah high-speed catamaran over to the island of Koh Tao. "Turtle Island" as it is translated, is known for diving in the area. When you get on shore, that's all you see, restaurants, small souvenir shops and diving schools/stores everywhere.

We arrived at our hotel, the Coral Grand Dive Resort, and had to wait to check in for a bit. Meanwhile, we sat and talked to the awesome staff there. Seriously, they had to be some of the most crazy/fun people. And they were all very friendly. They even helped talk Dave into canceling our last 3 days in Thailand at an exclusive resort and staying there to continue our diving. But we'll talk about that later. However, since this blog is coming late and we still need to finish up the rest of the trip, we'll keep it short and condensed (if that's possible).

Our room was ok, can't expect much for $18. We signed up for what is called the treasure rooms, basically subsidized rooms for the divers. Not much too it, bed, sink, bathroom, and no hot water. But we would soon find out that you don't really need hot water on Koh Tao. The resort itself is very nice. There is a beautiful pool, small villas for the paying guests, a restaurant (overpriced and not extremely good) and then the beach not even 50 yards from our room. Perfect. Plus, since most of the people visiting the island are divers, they are off on boats all day and the beaches are empty!

Our first day was pretty boring. We ended up sitting through 3 of the scuba videos we had already seen and then passed out on beach chairs. However, for dinner, we went to a restaurant that was recommended by 2 locals called Krua Thai. I am not exaggerating when I say this was one of the best Thai meals we had the entire time in Thailand (except for the fishing village of course). We actually ended up eating here for 3/4 of the meals we had in Koh Tau. The food was delicious, fresh, spicy, but not too spicy, and just delicious. Our favorites were the deep fried fish, the rice and chicken in curry paste, the spicy noodles, and of course the pad thai. All were wonderful.

Our first night in our hotel was not the most relaxing. We got home and while I was standing unpacking, Dave let out an "Oh My G-D". Without first looking, I leaped onto the bed and looked over to see a spider the size of a tennis ball on our wall. This was enormous! I ran to the front desk and no one was there. Since we had no idea if there were poisonous spiders on the island, Dave went down to the staff dorms and brought someone back with him who ended up killing the spider. Turns out it was a coconut tree spider and they live all over the island and are harmless, but my feeling is you can never be too safe. We slept with the lights on that night and soon found out the A/C did not really work either, so we switched rooms the next day to a bug-free room. Much better. Definitely not what you would consider to be high-end, but perfect for what we wanted.

The next day, we met up with our SCUBA instructor John Allen and our new classmate Dale. Both were British and both turned out to be a ton of fun. Dale and his girlfriend had already been traveling over a year at this point (they started in Brazil) and were still planning on traveling through March 2010. Amazing. My favorite story and one that would never happen to me is how they had shown up the night before at the pier in Southern Thailand only for it to turn out to be the wrong pier. For $5, they slept on the top of a fisherman's boat for their ride to Koh Tao. Completely crazy!

John, our instructor, came to Koh Tao 9 years ago to get certified in Scuba. Several years later, he decided to come back and never left. He has been there over 2 years now and has no plans to go home anytime soon (but plans to travel to a new destination at some point and set-up shop there). This is very common in Koh Tao. Many of the instructors happened here the same way. They came on vacation and never left. 700 dives later and they were still going. Dave and I almost got sucked into this thinking we could stay forever, but with a mortgage, rent, and Cody, we knew this wouldn't be a reality.

We were fitted for our equipment and told to meet back later in the day for Dave's pool dives. John was so extremely nice when we came back. Since I had already done the pool dives, I spent most of the afternoon sunbathing on the side. However, he allowed me to come join during the last dive so that I could remind myself how to get neutral buoyancy. Very helpful. (author change). The pool dive was fun- but you seriously should never go in a pool with a mask on. You see way to much! Gross little bits floating everywhere. Band-aids. Things that don't look like anything. Way gross. But, I enjoyed success and was soon ready for the real thing.

Here comes the condensed version. Over the 2 days we did 4 dives around Koh Tao. We enjoyed it so much, we took the money we were going to spend at a nice resort on Koh Samui and signed up for the Advanced Open Water Diving Class. That was 5 more dives for a total of 9. The first 4 were very cool- although the last dive was the one where I (Dave) drank way too much coffee before the dive, and had a caffeine anxiety attack underwater. It was really terrifying- I was chewing my regulator and spent the first 15 minutes thinking about shooting to the top. But, I didn't want to ruin the dive for Carrie, and I knew that it was just in my mind, so I fought thru it. The diving was awesome- very different from our 1 dive in the Carribean. The Carribean had tons of floral and plants- this was a lot of coral. The coral is almost like an oasis underwater- where there is coral, there is a ton of everything (hey polluters- remember this when you mess with the ocean). Our instructor John took us on some dives that were around more sand- those you really had to look hard to find life. The fish hid in the sand and the shrimp dug holes- but it was fun- almost like a scavenger hunt.

At the end of the Open Water Course, we got the opportunity to purchase a video that was made during our fourth dive. Fun stuff- dancing under water when we had to take our mask off and put it back on, lots of waving (hard to do much else underwater). Carrie and I went in with the intention of not buying it- but it was too compelling, since it was our first real scuba diving experience.

Our next 5 dives were to obtain the Advanced Open Water certification. You are required to do a navigation dive (I'm not very good with a compass), a deep dive (30 meters down!), and 3 dives that you select. We took underwater photography, wreck diving, and night diving. The deep dive was not scary- you hardly notice that you are down that far. You just need to be even more careful about going back up. Carrie and I will eventually purchase dive computers so we are certain not to mess up our nitrogen levels! The underwater photography was ok- our pics came out well, but the CD did not burn correctly so there is no proof that my pictures were better than Carrie's.

The wreck dive was awesome! A drunk captain of a competing dive company had actually sunk his boat(no passengers on it) a month before. So we dove around the wreck and saw how life had already started to take it over. It definitely made us think that the wreck diving up here in Massachusetts must be amazing!

The night dive was even cooler. Carrie was completely terrified before- to the point where she almost didn't want to go. Fortunately, we started into the water with just a hint of daylight left. We had underwater torches (flash lights- seriously, you should know that!) that we could aim at our depth/air gauge to make them glow underwater. We had to do a underwater navigation thing at night, but then explored. We saw lots of different things- the 3 most memorable were the 2 baby squid just floating in a random spot, and when we turned off our torches and were in complete darkness. a) it wasn't as scary as you think b) when you wave your arm in the water, you see bio-luminescence (think fireflies underwater). The 3rd was the various sting rays we saw ducking under different corals. They were magnificent- really an elegant fish. Can't really explain it- go diving and see for yourself.

Other notables from Koh Tao:

- Internet costs twice as much (hence no blogs).
- Mangosteens are the greatest fruit ever. $1 for 1 kilo. ($9 for 4 pieces here in Boston)
- Krua Thai is the best restaurant on the island. Go there. A lot.
- The tide goes really really high (literally under your feet at the sand joints, and then boats on the sand during low tide)
- Being a stray dog in Koh Tao is not that bad.
- There's nothing like having breakfast on the beach.
- Giant snails are not as gross as tiny snails.
- The beach is now boring if you can't go at least 10 meters under the water
- Deep fried fish is good.
- So is deep fried sun-dried beef.
- Fried pancakes with chocolate and bananas are good at night!
- Everything about Koh Tao was amazing and crazy!

On our last day, we took the same catamaran to Koh Samui, and got a free transfer over to the airport. It took a bit to check in, but afterwards we experienced maybe the greatest airport in the world. We walked from the check in area thru an outdoor shopping area where we stopped for Pad Thai lunch. Then we got to the international gate. They had free food, free juice, free internet. Check out the pics.
Then onto Singapore...

1 comment:

  1. Hi, found your blog via the Fodor's forum. Great travel report and pictures so far! My husband and I are leaving next week for our first trip to SE Asia and we're going to many of the same places. We are salivating looking at all of your food pics! Anyway, hope you continue posting...we'll be spending 5 days in Singapore so it'll be interesting to read about your experience.