Koh Tao Aug 23, 2015

Sept 9, 2015 ~4:10PM JST

The bus ride was about 8 hours to Chumphon port from the Lomprayah bus stop at Khao San Road according to the itinerary. During the 8-hour ride, we stopped at a rest point for a 30 min break. I was sleeping hard at this time and it took few seconds to realize that we have actually stopped since the lights in the bus have lit up. I went to the toilet and explored the food market. I was not in the mood of eating anything nor I was hungry. I dazed and waited to get onto the bus.

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Rest stop – souvenir food shop during night bus ride around 2:30AM or so.

We arrived at Chumphon around 5:30am. The ferry schedule was set for 7am. We set off our backpacks and waited at benches. It was still very dark. I was surprised that it was still dark because the sky would be darkly bright in Japan or even in Canada. As the sky brightened, I noticed that there was a beach right next to the boarding pass. I left my backpack at its area since others have also left their backpacks. It was the first beach I have encountered in Thailand. The beach was nothing special and of course, it was not special since it was really not a tourist area – it was just a port. Since I have been to Hawaii in the past, it was nothing to me. There were dogs freely roaming the area with no owners visible nearby. They were very friendly towards us. I could not touch them; however, due to the fact I was not familiar with pet cleanliness situation in Thailand.

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Sketch of the Chumphon Beach
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At Chumphon ferry port

Sept 15, 2015 11:29AM JST

Finally, it was the time to board the ferry. The ferry left 15 minutes late. We were all excited to get to the roof. However, the weather was very cloudy and it seemed about to rain. It was also very cold at the top. At first, there were couple of travellers at the roof. Not soon after the ferry departed, it started raining. Fortunately, I had my orange rainjacket with me and I was wearing long pants (not waterproof). I thought I could manage with the cold but eventually I, too, left the roof and moved to the main stage, along with one more person (everyone had left at this time).

It was crowded below. It was not too cold; it was perfect temperature (for me, at least). I would say half was inside the ferry while the other half was outside. Since I was solo, it was not difficult for me to squeeze into a one-person spot between people. I ended up sitting on a bench that was next to empty bench with dripping water from the rain. I talked to the people sitting beside me and we shared lots of travel stories. The girl was a Brit travelling with two others (they were sitting behind us). One of the other two men are from Norway (or Sweden?) (if I remember correctly). The other was a diving instructor from one of the dive shops in Koh Tao. He was on vacation and just came back.

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From bottom to top: Diving instructor, solo Swedish/Norwegian traveller, ME, Brit traveller

While we were socializing and waiting to get to Koh Tao, my hair got very wet by the water running from the stormy raining from the top. Without the rain jacket, it might have been miserable.

At around 9:15AM, which was about 30 mins late, we have finally reached Koh Tao. Before Koh Tao, we have stopped at a small island next to Koh Tao called Koh Nangyuan. To me, the island was beautiful with small beaches but the island was quite small at the same time. I thought Koh Tao must have been much better. Once we reached Koh Tao, the new island was indeed impressive. Rows of dive shops with boats in the water were right in front of me.

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Main ‘mountain’ of Koh Tao in the background. Dive shops with their boats and recreational boats
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Some diving boats

Once off the ferry, I followed the instructions that my dive shop Roctopus (recommended by a Malaysian CSer who has taken lessons with them back in May 2015) has given me via e-mail that was sent to me 2 months prior to the trip when I have booked scuba diving courses. It was quite easy to find the booking office – it was less than 5 minutes walk from the port. Even with all the crowd, it was easy to spot the shop because there were no one nearby and it was a little isolated.

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Too excited!

I was met by a typical blond tanned diving instructor at the office. She immediately knew my name. It seemed that I was the only one (not many Asians dive with Roctopus either since Roctopus is all Caucasian, with one Japanese employee as an exception) that day with a need to catch a ride to the actual dive shop at Sairee, which is a district with plenty of dive shops. There was another person, who was already a certified diver, looking for a last minute accomodation with Roctopus. He was also thinking about having diving trips with Roctopus. The ‘free taxi’ (actually a Roctopus owned truck) arrived about 15 min later and we went to the dive shop together. The dive shop was about 10-15 min away by car.

I carried all my luggages into the shop. The young Chilean lady greeted me warmly. I told her that I have booked lessons already and my first SSI Open Water Diver course started afternoon that day. She immediately understood and registration process began.

Sept 15, 2015 1:02PM JST

The registration process was very smooth. I input my information in the database on the computer. I was then led to the Swedish lady for payment. I completely thought that I could use credit card in Koh Tao since it was dive shop and the money involved was not small. I was not prepared for this but they indicated that I could pay the next day. I was relieved. However, at this point, I did not realize that my credit card did not work at ATM machines.

After confirming that the class course started in the afternoon, I went to Spicy Tao hostel which was where I had reserved 2 months prior. I did not know where Spicy Tao was, as I informed the Swedish lady. They were kind enough to get me a ride to Spicy Tao and the Thai taxi driver took me there. It was a very short drive. Because I was on the vehicle for such short time, I did not remember how to get there from the dive shop. So, for the first few days, I got lost quite often and took longer to get from one place to another.

When I got to Spicy Tao hostel, I was amazed on how wild the place looked like. There was a socializing table outside with a place where people can watch TV by sitting or lying (mostly) at front of the circular spot. There were very few people there once I reached the hostel, of course, since it was early morning. When I got to the reservation table, the reservationist was there so I had to wait a little.

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Front of the hostel. Cheap rental bikes.
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Relaxing and watching movies (actually the day of early morning dives – First day of SSI Advanced Adventurer course).

When the reservationist arrived, I could not wait to leave my backpack there and go explore. However, she told me I was not reserved that day but the next day! I was extremely shocked. She could probably tell. I asked if there was still room open, but it was fully booked. No surprise.

I went off and tried to look for cheap places. No luck. All of them were over 1000 baht per night which was a huge difference than the hostel which was only 300 baht per night. The most expensive I found was 1650 baht at a luxury hotel that was partnered with one of the dive shops, Simple Life.

Still at around 11AM or so, I ended up going back to Roctopus again and pondered where I should stay that night. Should I sleep on the street? Should I sneak into the hostel and sleep somewhere? Where are the cheapest places?

Roctopus had their own accommodation. Their own accommodation, however, was too luxurious for me as seen via pictures provided. It was a hotel called Roctopus Hotel which was about 10 min walk away. The cost was 600 baht for a cheapest room. The rooms were too grand and the price was not so bad but for a solo traveler who stayed in Koh Tao for diving purpose only, it was a bit too much, especially for someone who does not mind staying in hostel and rather socialize with other travellers at the hostel. The other accommodation Roctopus recommended me was a partner accomodation called Sun Smile. This one was a hostel and it was only 5 min walk away. The price was quite cheap. 350 baht per night. One room had 2 bunker beds with 4 beds. I decided to go to Sun Smile and stayed there.

I got lost and did not know how to get to Sun Smile. I went back to Roctopus again and asked for direction one more time. I was greeted by a young diving instructor and he took me to the place. He first tried to give me a bike ride, but I refused since I was told that the place was only 5 min walk away. I wanted to try the bike ride but I guess I was being nice. He confirmed with someone on the street where the hostel was. I got to the hostel and paid 350 baht. It seemd that the hostel was owned by a foreigner. An Australian lady was working and I think the man who managed the money was also from Australia. I left my backpack in the room and was ready to go. The lock to the door was actually a screw driver tip and I thought it was an interesting way to have access to the room.

On my way back to Roctopus, I learned that the instructor was actually my instructor. When I told him my name when he first greeted me, he already knew that I was his student. I told him that I have never snorkeled before and did not swim much on our way to Sun Smile. I also said I did not swim much as I had poor stamina. He told me to grab swimsuit and towel and tested me on whether I could swim for 200m and float in the water for 10min (required for the Open Water course).

We went to the pool by the beach right next to the Roctopus. I saw some students at tables outside the office. I saw them looking at some notes (they turned out to be dive log books) and some were packing away gear. I could not wait to see me at that stage in few days.

We arrived at the pool. I changed into swimsuit and started preparing to swim. I was panicking a little. I swam in the pool for 200m before but I took breaks between and I tried to float for 10 min but I always sank within 45 secs. The instructor Alex W. insisted me to relax and I could do it. I was out of breath quickly after the 200m swim. I took a break and moved onto floating in the deeper pool. I actually had no problem floating for 10 mins – I felt that I could go forever! I had no idea why it was so easy for me to float…I just floated with my body on the top. Maybe I could not float in the past because I was trying to tread water too much and got tired easily? Maybe I did not breath in and out properly? I had no idea. But at least, I passed the test. Normally though, one cannot have a rest between swimming and floating tests (I practically have ‘cheated’). I had to stop moving my arms for the last two minutes because my arms got tired badly. My arms were sore after I got up and changed back to clothes.

After the test, which was around 1:30~2:30PM I believe, I ended up staying at the Roctopus dive shop for the entire time until 4PM. I truly had nowhere to go. I even got a free sandwich from the Roctopus because one of the instructors did not want it! Well, that was lucky for me because I was indeed hungry at that time and was in the process of thinking whether I should go somewhere and get food or not.

At 4PM, Alex arrived and set up the classroom (there were only 2 classrooms but they were always fully used everyday). I went into the classroom and waited for three others to join the class. At Roctopus, classes are usually 4 people maximum and it is usually 4 people. Sometimes, when the numbers do not match, there are times with 3 people, but 2 is rare unless they want the class specifically to them as there are also RAID courses other than the more common SSI courses. I will describe each of these terms more in detail in another section (Scuba Diving). As such case in my scuba diving lesson days, my SSI Advanced Adventurer course included a couple taking RAID course only to themselves on my last two days in Koh Tao.

The three others in my team was, in fact, a family comprised of father and two sons Paul, Rory, and Adam M hailing from the UK. Adam being a student was on his vacation and together, his older brother (teacher) and father (retired policeman) came to Koh Tao for diving lessons. They were travelling beforehand. All three seemed to be very fit – the Father was very active: skiing during winter and hiking/climbing at other times, etc. and I bet his sons are the same. Rory was indeed the most fit as he was quite muscular.

The first day of the SSI Open Water Diver course was an orientation for about 1.5-2 hours in the classroom. We were taught through textbook, videos, and oral teaching. During our classroom time, there was another class of 4 people with another German diving instructor, David. We were asked to do SSI or RAID. About an hour before the course, I was actually being asked to do RAID by Alex as it was highly recommended by him and he preferred teaching RAID since RAID involved more time in the water and more technical skills. It was difficult for me pick between the two because I knew that SSI was far the most popular and more well-known. In fact, I had never heard of RAID. During this time, I was using my phone to google up RAID and discovered that RAID was much newer organization than SSI. Finally, after a long thinking period, I decided to do the RAID program, although I secretly wanted to do SSI. It was Alex’s very high enthusiasm and urge that ‘confused’ me. RAID was an online E-Learning style while SSI and PADI, another major organization (PADI and SSI are the largest, but I would say PADI is the most popular) were through textbooks.

Well…we ended up doing SSI because Paul said that he would rather do SSI because SSI was more well known. His sons agreed with him but I think they were fine with either programs.

During the class, I realized that the David was teaching differently from Alex. David was showing videos; Alex did not show much or any videos – he was more orally based. Therefore, our classroom time was much shorter than them. I am not sure if which is better, but I would probably prefer longer class time to maximize the interaction and more information and specifically, the visuals that the videos provide.

At the end of the course, at around 6PM, we were assigned half of the homework (3 chapters of total 6 chapters. We packed up and the family quickly left. I stayed a bit and relaxed.

[Sept 30, 2015 11:19AM JST]

David told me that I could join him at the restaurant area owned by Roctopus, just few steps down to the beach, to see videos of afternoon dives of that day. I agreed and said yes, but he said he had to go home and go later. After some rest, I ventured to the bar area a little past 7PM, after I dropped unnecessary belongings back at the hostel.

It took me awhile to find the actual location where the video was shown. I figured that it was probably at the bar beside the pool since there was a screen that seemed to have a video about to be shown. I was right – it was indeed the video that David was talking about. Since I knew no one, I explored the view and took some pictures. David eventually came and the video started. I was amazed at how the video was edited and it was just amazing. Exotic fish. Diving teams and instructors. Diving experience! Oh man, I could not wait to go diving. After the video finished and since I was quite hungry, I made very quick conversations and exited.

[~11:25AM]

I went to a large restaurant called The Brother Bar & Grill that was on the corner on the main road, right across Roctopus.

~Sept 15, 2015 4:35PM JST

I had a 90 baht thin noodle with vegetables.

Sept 29, 2015 5:25PM JST via phone, on train to home

That thin noodle was very delicious. I have never heard (I already forgot the name) and seen it before. It was cheap from the perspective from someone coming from an expensive country. At this time, I thought I had enough money to survive my days on the island…later I realized that it was definitely the case.

During my dinner time at the restaurant, I noticed that Adam and Rory were playing pool at the other side of the space. I felt jealous. I was extremely tired and yet, they seemed to relax and have enough time to play pool. I wished I was not by myself – doing 3 chapters homework can be tedious on my own.

At around 7PM

I returned to my room immediately after I finished dinner. Since I was alone in the room, I was falling asleep very quickly. Eventually, I felt asleep without finishing all chapters. I only finished chapter 1.

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