Our SeaTran Ferry pulled up to the dock at Koh Tao at around 3:30pm on Sunday and we walked off onto the pier as dozens of touts rushed up in our faces and offered us rides, accommodations and diving courses. Koh Tao is a less developed island than Koh Samui, and a diving mecca famous for its professional and inexpensive diving courses. We were here to indulge Felix’s desire to get back down below the waves, and although apprehensive about the whole thing, Jordan agreed to be a good sport and try it out. We had to call Phoenix Divers for our pickup, but only a few minutes after our arrival, we jumped in the back of their truck for the 10 minute drive to their shop.
Our first order of business was to sign Jordan up for the Open Water Certification course ($278 including the basic accommodation option and breakfast) and Felix for a refresher session + 4 fun dives ($127 total). We upgraded to the basic a/c room (totally worth the extra $16 for all 4 nights) and somehow fit ourselves and our stuff inside the tiny space to get ready for Jordan’s intro lesson in the shop’s classroom. The hour and a half lesson was mostly watching videos and Claus, the Swedish instructor, gave each student a textbook and a 6-page workbook to complete by the end of the 4-day course. Felix watched the sunset, scoped out the scene and found a Mexican style restaurant which was showing Life of Pi on a big screen later on. Together, we went back there for dinner (veggie fajitas and pad thai – hey, it’s still Thailand after all, $10 incl. drinks) and watched the movie along with a few others, sitting on cushions on the floor.
We reported for our respective classes at 10am after a disappointing (but free) breakfast of eggs and fruit. Jordan’s session was diving basics while Felix donned scuba gear and went for a dip in the resort pool with Divemaster Neus, a Catalan native. We had some time to catch up over a lunch of noodles ($2.66) supplemented by yogurt ($1) and musli with some leftover lychees. Jordan’s afternoon session was a hands-on experience and along with her 5 classmates she learned how to put on all of the scuba gear and how to use it. Next, she went for her first dive in the resort’s 3 meter deep swimming pool. She had some trouble with the drills and as soon as she returned the gear and got back to the room started crying and decided that she was done with this whole diving thing. Felix promised he would be her buddy the next day and Jordan eventually agreed to give it one more try. Tired from a rigorous day, and in need of some comfort food, we had pizza for dinner, along with a piña colada and a beer ($12) while overlooking the water. Dessert was a banana Nutella roti ($1.33), completing the comfort food trend, before we turned in for the night.
At 9:30am on Tuesday after a breakfast of muesli and yogurt with fruit, Jordan reported for her next lesson while Felix hung around. This lesson was a review of the important information to prepare for the first open water dive that afternoon. We prepared for the dive further by eating a hearty lunch of veggie pad thai with tofu ($2.33) and ice cream bars ($1) before gathering our things and heading back to the dive shop. We got our gear in order and along with the other fifteen people who were going out for a dive that day, walked into the water and hopped into a long-tail boat which brought us to the large pink dive boat. Once aboard, we set up our gear and went up to the sun deck as we motored to the first dive site, Japanese Garden. We followed the instructors and one at a time jumped off the back of the boat into the 30 degree water. Claus instructed us to follow the buoy line down to about 10 meters. As we started the decent, Jordan had some trouble equalizing her ears and as the she watched her fellow divers go deeper and deeper below her, she was overcome with fear and anxiety. There was no way she was going down there! She came to the surface followed by Felix and Andreas, the Swedish DMT (Dive Master in Training) and crying told them she did not want to continue as she thought to herself: “Crying into my mask is a weird sensation”. Andreas reassured her that she did not have to dive if she didn’t want to, so she sent Felix to join the group and started making her way back to boat with Andreas. Along the way, Andreas asked Jordan if she wanted to snorkel a little and see some fish, after all she was already in the water and geared up. She agreed and swam beside Andreas. A few minutes later, noticing that Jordan had calmed down, Andreas asked if she wanted to dive 1 or 2 meters down where there was more to see. Feeling a little more secure, Jordan agreed and they ended up diving for about 15 minutes at 5 meters depth, which she only discovered after getting back on the boat.
Climbing back up the ladder onto the boat was a real pain, but it felt good to breath normal air and get the heavy tank off our backs. We switched out the tanks for fresh ones to use on the second dive and headed up to the sundeck for a well earned snack of cookies, pineapple and watermelon as we motored to White Rock, our next dive site. Jordan filled in Felix on her modified dive, and he was so excited that she had accomplished a real dive that it didn’t bother him that she had fired him as her buddy in favor of Andreas, the expert. Still not convinced she would do that next dive, she told Andreas she would consider it. When the time came to jump in again, everyone, including Jordan, waddled up to the back of the boat and plunged feet-first into the water. With Andreas at her side, Jordan gained confidence and completed the dive with the group. As we motored back toward the island, we watched another dive boat sink and its passengers get picked up by a police boat – good thing we didn’t go with that company! Proud, tired and emotionally exhausted, we made it back to shore where we showered and enjoyed a delicious dinner of grilled Barracuda (yes, it’s kosher, we checked) with baked potato and salad ($7.66). We topped that off with a double roti: our first savory roti – egg, cheese, onion and tomato, which was pretty good, and of course, our regular banana Nutella roti ($3 total) which just can’t be beat. A good night’s sleep was in order.
Our dives began early on Wednesday morning and we were at the shop by 6:45am having already somehow downed a yogurt from 7 Eleven ($1) with muesli. The rest of the day went smoothly and we enjoyed two more dives. Jordan continued with her class and with Andreas of course, while Felix joined a group of fun divers led by Neus. The diving routine was familiar by this point and we enjoyed the sea life we saw down below. It was cool to bump into each other at 15 meters down and hand-signal a cute “I love you” to each other. At Chumphon Pinnacle and Green Rock, we saw brain coral and lettuce coral as well as parrot fish, scorpion fish, box fish and many other fish. After our two dives which were split up by some socializing and snacking on the boat, we motored back to shore. Claus asked Jordan if she wanted to go on an additional shore dive that afternoon with Andreas and make up the dive she didn’t fully complete so that she could still get Open Water Certified. Jordan agreed and made plans with Andreas to meet back at the shop at 2pm.
Back on land, we went to get a well deserved lunch, a mozzarella and tomato sandwich and fries which were both free since the restaurant was still closed when we left for our early morning dive and we couldn’t use our breakfast voucher. Jordan made her way back to the shop and met Andreas who was setting up their gear while Felix relaxed on the beach and took some photos. Jordan and Andreas geared up and walked into the water carrying their fins. Once deep enough, they donned their fins and started swimming. The dive lasted close to 40 minutes and they went down to 12 meters. At one point, Andreas took Jordan to a sandy clearing on the sea floor where they kneeled at the bottom and he tested her on some skills: clearing the mask and removing the regulator (breathing device). She had already proven that she knew how to do an emergency assisted assent during a previous dive. Andreas and Jordan returned to shore exhausted, but happy to have had the opportunity for another dive and for Jordan to finish off the required tests.
After a nice shower, Jordan returned to the classroom for the final exam. Not to brag, but she got the highest score in the class (aren’t you proud, Ima?) and once that was over, Felix joined the class to watch the video. An underwater videographer (also Swedish – surprise, surprise) joined us for the morning’s dives and in only a few hours managed to produce a rather impressive video. We might have been tempted to buy it if it didn’t cost $100 – after all, that goes a long way in Thailand. We hung out and Claus bought everyone a round of beer before we said our goodbyes and headed off to dinner. The last night’s dinner was so good that we decided to repeat it, especially after swimming with the barracudas earlier in the day. It strangely felt like the right thing to do after hanging out with the fish (want to give it a shot, OG?). Feeling accomplished, but tired, we finished off the night with a banana Nutella roti ($1.33) and headed to bed.
Thursday morning started early as we had to catch the SeaTran ferry back to Donsak on the mainland (with a one hour layover in Koh Phangan) which was met by a SeaTran van that brought us all the way to Phuket ($32 each). Koh Tao was different than any place we had visited so far and we appreciated its untouched beauty, relaxing vibe and diving playground. Still, it was time for a new island and some much deserved down time.