How to dive, and how not to dive, on Koh Tao

Out of all the Thai Islands, Koh Tao was the one I was most looking forward to visiting.

One of my best friends did her PADI dive master training on Koh Tao and everyone says it has some of the best, and cheapest diving anywhere in the world, so a few days on a beautiful island, diving every day, sounded ideal.

When I arrived, I didn’t exactly get the best impression. (Obviously not from the view above though, that was taken at sunrise from the dive boat and is just gorgeous).

People had warned me that Koh Tao would be packed with people moving on for the full moon party on Koh Phangan, so I booked a hostel in advance to be sure of a place to stay.

My room was the definition of basic – steel frame beds, torn mattresses, lights that sometimes worked, air con that was either off or arctic-like, toilets which smelt horrific and no bar or common area. Ok, I was only paying £6 a night, but I was sure I could find somewhere better.

I spent the afternoon walking around Sairee beach, which is the busiest part of the island and where most of the diving companies are based.

I visited 4 or 5 different dive shops to discuss what they had to offer and compare prices. I also asked for recommendations of accommodation, as many have rooms or partner with other hostels.

I narrowed it down to two places, but after debating and checking online reviews, I decided on the Siam Scuba Dive Centre.

As soon as I walked in Gerry, one of the managers, made me feel welcome. I explained my previous diving experience (I certified to Advanced Open Water about 6 years ago but hadn’t dived since) and he said instead of a full review I could do a check dive for 1500 baht (30-ish) and then as many fun dives as I wanted for 800 baht (£16) each.

I asked if they had accommodation and he let me have a look in the rooms upstairs – there was a 3-bed room which I could have to myself for just 250 baht and it was big, clean and a million times better than my first hostel. Plus, being directly above the dive shop was bound to come in handy for the 6am dives.

I booked my check dive for the next day, and left excited and keen to get started.

When I woke the next morning, I almost cried straight away. Sleeping in an air con room had given me an overnight cold, which at home would be a minor irritation, but at the start of a week of diving was one of the worst things that could happen.

To dive you need to equalise, to equalise you need to be able to squeeze your nose and push the air out of your ears to relieve the pressure, and to do that you need to not have blocked sinuses.

Even though I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to dive, I wanted to try, and so I met my instructor for the day, Warren, and went through everything I needed to do.

I took a couple of decongestants and luckily had no problems completing either of that day’s dives, so I thought I had overcome the cold.

Unfortunately the next morning I woke at 5am, ready to go out at 6, and my ears were definitely blocked.

Discussing this on the boat, my dive leader Daisy said I could get in the water, try to dive, and if I couldn’t manage it then get back on the boat.

So, I did, and as expected I couldn’t even go a couple of metres down. That sucked, but what sucked more was that the dive boat had misunderstood our plans, and driven what looked likes miles and miles away.

Rather than the whole group swimming back to the boat, a recently qualified rescue diver, Oscar, volunteered to go with me so the rest could carry on with the dive.

The weather that day was horrific, and only seemed to get worse as we swam. We were moving at a snail’s pace, and I honestly doubted that we would ever get back to the boat.

Luckily, the captain Channa spotted us and turned back around. It was still a mission to get back on it though, and with the waves getting choppier he actually had to use the life ring – really not the dive I had been wanting.

After we got back to the island, I was a mess – I couldn’t dive, it was pouring with rain so I had nothing else to do, and all the friends I’d made were diving so all I wanted to do was get away. Not knowing how long it might take for my ears to get better enough to dive, I booked a boat to Krabi for the next day.

I cheered up a little in the evening after going out for dinner, drinks, and the ladyboy cabaret – you can’t go to Thailand and not go to one, it’s a treat….

The next morning I got up, said my goodbyes and left. The weather had turned and it was a gorgeous day, the hottest it had been all week.

We had to change boats on Koh Phangan, with about an hour to wait in between. While waiting I was chatting to a Brazilian girl, Natalia, who I’d been sat with on the boat. She commented that with the weather so nice, maybe she should have stayed another day on Koh Tao.

This got me thinking – maybe with no rain there would be more to do than just diving, and my ears were starting to feel better….

10 minutes later and I was off – to the other pier, to buy a ticket back to Koh Tao. Did I mention I can be a little indecisive?

I figured when I got back everyone would think I was crazy, and they probably did, but it felt good to be back and I knew I’d made the right decision. In the time I’d been gone someone had taken my room though, so I had to move in with Oscar. That was fine though, he’d helped me on my epic dive fail and spent a lot of time in the room looking like this…

Everything from then on just got better and better. That afternoon one of the other divers offered to spilt the cost of renting a motorbike to drive me up to the View Bar, which is way up in the hills at the top of a very hard to drive up clay path.

The name speaks for itself, and drinking a mango juice shake while the sun set looking like this was pretty special.

 

The he next day, I started with a shallow dive to make sure my ears were ok and everything was good. Before leaving I told Boz, the other manager, that I wanted to request a turtle because I’ve never seen one diving before. Even though Koh Tao means turtle island, it’s actually pretty rare to see one here, but towards the end of the dive the dive leader Sabine made the hand signal for turtle.

I nearly stopped breathing in excitement, and it was every bit as good as I hoped. The turtle was totally chilled, didn’t mind us just being there watching it, and I could have stayed for hours.

My second dive of the day was a night dive, which I’ve never done before. It was a little scary to start with, but you get used to just seeing by torchlight and after that it’s just really, really cool.

My final two dives were awesome – the first to Chumphon Pinnacle which is considered the best site but it was the first day all week that the weather had been good enough to get there. The second was a wreck, which is another type of dive I hadn’t done before, so that was really fun too.

I’m now staying one more night on Koh Tao, because all the instructors and other divers I’ve met here are so nice and fun to be around and with no morning boat tomorrow everyone can go out tonight.

 

If you’re thinking about diving on Koh Tao I would 100% recommend Siam Scuba Dive Centre – check out Siam Scuba Dive Centre on Facebook or visit www.siamscuba.com. 

I would also highly recommend not quitting after one bad day – everything can change as quickly as the weather, and Koh Tao is a beautiful island with stunning diving, which I will definitely be returning to again.

 

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