The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Going Down in Koh Tao

Days 404-411, January 5-12, 2012

It’s funny how things can change in a hurry. When I was thinking about Thailand, I pictured myself spending week upon week on white sand beaches, hopping on ferries to the next out of the way island to bask(or bake as it were) in the sun. As it turns out, I got none of that, and completely on purpose. Besides the little stint on Koh Samet back in September, Koh Tao was going to be my only other Thai island. And for me, it was strictly business. I was going for my Dive certification.


Getting all the way to Koh Tao from Chiang Mai is a long affair if you aren’t willing to pony up the dough for a flight via Bangkok. The cheapest option I could find to fly was almost $200, and that was because there were no direct flights. All flights routed through Bangkok. So instead, I opted for the sleeper train, which cost a total of $30. These were an experience in themselves as they were nothing like the sleeper trains in Europe. These ones start off as individual seats until a predetermined time when the attendant comes by and turns them into pretty comfortable bunk beds(Tip: Upper bunks are cheaper!).

Thai Sleeper TrainIMG_8929

The entire journey to get to Koh Tao took just over two days. 15 hour journey overnight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on a sleeper train. A short three hour layover in Bangkok. Eight hours by train down the coast to Chumphon, a small port city. Stay the night in the city(not much there I’m afraid. And I tried my best to find it!). Then an early morning tuktuk ride to the actual port(about fifteen minutes from town) to catch a three hour ferry to Koh Tao.

Sunrise on the ferry to Koh TaoIMG_8952

While i had pre-booked my Open Water Dive course online with a reputable company, I probably didn’t have to. I had some worries about it being so soon after New Year so I opted to play it safe. The course, 9000 baht(~$290), came with my accommodation included. Though, as I explored the little township, every dive center was offering that. Some with notably better accommodation than others.

I also didn’t anticipate the fact that I was arriving at the same time as the infamous Full Moon Party which happens on the nearby island of Koh Phangan. Because of this, Koh Tao pretty much empties out. Lucky for me!

The dive course consisted of three and a half days of a mix of classroom work and actual diving. The first day doesn’t even begin until the early evening so the very first day on the island I was beginning the course. Diving right in, you could say.


The course is, by default, SSI, though they do give you the option of getting PADI certification, though that is an extra 800 Baht as you get to keep the textbook rather than just borrowing. We opted, the group that is, to stick with SSI as the differences between the two certifications are negligible. The only big differences is in some of the skills required of you and the requirements of the instructors to perform them at specific times(PADI) rather than when the water suits a particular skill(SSI). However, PADI instructors are not required to be at a “authorized” dive centre like SSI divers.

There, I think I narrowed that down.

The course was pretty easy. To start, there were six of us in a group with one instructor(Medwin) and one DMT(Dive Master in Training – Cookie). Two girls dropped out that evening as they were still dealing with jetlag.

The first full day of the course is both classroom and skills training. The classroom stuff takes up the morning. Going over the chapters of the textbooks and answering the question/study sheets. The afternoon is where the fun happens. You get your equipment, learn how to put everything on(Buoyancy Control vest onto the airtank. Regulator onto the air tank, etc). You learn all your personal tests of the equipment, and the tests you do for you dive buddy(you never dive alone). I love the acronym Medwin gave us to remember our buddy checks:

Bangkok – Buoyancy Control
Women – Weight belts
Really – Restraints
Are – Air
Fellas – Final checks

Then it’s into the water for the so-called “closed water skills training.” We spent the entire afternoon going over every single skill we were required to learn and complete. Mask clearing, taking the regulator out and putting it back in, taking the BC off at the bottom of the water and at the top, weight belts on and off at the bottom and top, and a few others including emergency ascents. We lost another of our group in the first part of these skills. And then there were three.


The second full day begins, once again with the classroom and the taking of the Final Exam. I got 100% so Medwin owed me a beer at the end of the course. Then, come afternoon, it was off to do our first two open water dives, going down to a depth of 12 meters. This was where we lost another of our group as she panicked and realized she couldn’t do it.

The world under the water is so amazing and I saw so many different fish and life down there. Absolutely amazing!

The next day was an early start. No classroom work so it was up by 5:30am to be on the boat by 6:30am. Two final dives, completely the last of the skills in the open water. These dives we did with another group as we had a videographer following us that day. Our group of four(myself, my dive buddy Robert, Medwin, and Cookie) grew by three(instructor and two students) and another(a PADI student who just needed two more dives to finish).

Sunset on Koh TaoIMG_9004

In the end we passed all the skills and tests and were awarded our brand new Dive Certification cards. It was a bit of a whirlwind few days but it was so worth it. The accommodation I received was meh at the start(dorm room), but Robert and I scored a private room together at no additional cost which was worlds better!

With our dive course finished, it was time to relax and celebrate! Funny enough, after watching the completed video of our dives, and enjoying some beers, I think most of us crashed early. I know I ended up falling asleep by 9pm as I was just too damn exhausted. I didn’t leave until I got my free beers from Medwin though!


With no need to wake up at some ungodly hour(7am), and no energy left to go on an, albeit discounted, fun dive, we decided the next morning, since it was our last full day on the island(I was heading to Malaysia the next day, Robert to Krabi), that we would head to a nearby mini-island for some snorkelling. Luckily the weather cleared on the way there and we had great sunny weather to watch all the fishies in the reef. And even a turtle! Thank goodness Robert had an underwater camera!


Koh Tao was an amazing experience. While the diving may not be the greatest in terms of views and such, it is by far the cheapest that you can get. Way cheaper than in Australia for sure. It’s an island set up specifically for diving. I don’t think there is a single hotel on the island that is not attached, in some way, to a dive centre.

Fire dancerIMG_9155


And yes, I did end up buying the DVD of my final dives. The video is just too amazing.


  1. Sounds like fun Corey!! The water in that one picture is beautiful!!

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