We got into Surat Thani pretty late, but with plenty of time to make it to the night boat. I was not super excited about the idea of being on a boat for 6 hours or however long it took because I get sea sick. But we really didn’t want to spend the night in Surat Thani, so we didn’t have much of a choice. We got some food and then boarded the boat. We were really early, which we were happy about because we had heard that the boat can fill up and people end up sleeping in weird places on the boat. But we ended up being two of like 10 people so we all got to spread out. So basically the boat has two levels and you can’t stand up straight in either. The top level is for sleeping and the bottom was for storage and the crew I guess. They give you a 3 inch thick foam mat to sleep on and it was not at all comfortable. We settled in and as we were doing so a girl sat down near us. We started chatting and suddenly there were a couple of Thai people with a big video camera on board. They approached us and starting asking the girl questions about traveling in Thailand and some other random stuff. I guess they were filming for a Thai news channel. Anyway, it was super weird. Eventually it was time to go and the boat started up… it was a pretty loud, old boat, which made sleeping a bit difficult. I think we did get some sleep though and when we woke up we were entering Koh Tao’s harbor.
We gathered our stuff off the boat and headed into town to find a place to stay. We wandered around a bit and then decided to head to another part of the island, called Sairee Beach, to find a place. We got a ride down there and found it to have a lot more accommodation choices. We searched for quite a while because we thought we might want to stay at a place where we could also do some SCUBA. We didn’t find a place that had SCUBA, but we did end up at a place that was a pretty good deal called Blue Wind Resort. We got our own little hut that was actually made out of concrete and not just bamboo. It wasn’t right on the beach, but it was about 100 yards away. The best part of the place was the lounge/restaurant area. It was right on the beach and they had a bunch of tables and places to chill as well as WiFi. We ended up spending a lot of time just sitting there enjoying the ocean and relaxing.
As far as we can remember we spent most of the first day checking out SCUBA places. There are tons to choose from on Koh Tao as it is known for having really good diving. Eventually we ended up at one of the mid-sized outfits called New Way Diving. The person we spoke with was really cool and all the guides seemed really nice. We ended up booking a multi-dive trip with them. We dove at two spots on the first trip. The first one we used to get our deep water dive certification. It allows you to dive up to 30m I think. We had to do some studying and pass a written quiz before we went (I think) and all seemed like it was going to go well.
We shipped out pretty early in the AM and got out to the spot where we would dive. The instructor/guide let us know that we would go down to the deepest part first and then make our way back up to the surface for the rest of the dive. Easy enough. So we go all the way down to as far as we can go (about 25m) and the guide shows us some cool stuff that happens when you are that far down. He broke open an egg and the yolk stayed in tact and he showed us a chip bag that used to be red, but because light is filtered out the farther you descend, the bag appeared to be brown (Ethan thinks it was green). Anyway, after that we start swimming and I start to feel a little weird. It gets better as we ascend, but something still didn’t feel right. At some point the guide makes a sign for a fish called a Cobia that looks a lot like a shark. Ethan had a minor heart attack because he thought the guide was making the sign for shark, but quickly realized he wasn’t. Phew. Eventually we make it back to the anchor rope where we have to wait 5 minutes for our bodies to adjust to the change in pressure. Pretty much the whole time I felt weird and by the time we reached the rope I decided it was because I wasn’t getting enough air. I tried as hard as I could to stay calm (the most important thing to do) and breathe slowly. It didn’t help. Once I had decided that something was wrong with my air, I was in panic mode. I tried to wait, but the minutes seemed like hours. I could feel myself getting lightheaded and was not about to pass out underwater. At this point we were about 15 feet below the surface. I couldn’t just bolt for the surface, but I could NOT breathe. Looking back now, there are a couple of other things I could have done, but here’s what I ended up doing….
I looked around and found the guide. I decided I would try to tell him what was going on. I had to swim around another diver to get to him, which scared me, but I went for it. I tapped him on the shoulder and then realized that there is no underwater sign for “it feels like I’m not getting enough air.” In my panicked state I gave him the sign for “problem” and “regulator” (the thing you breathe through). And, to make it seem extremely urgent, I threw in the sign for “out of air.” At this he immediately checked my air supply, but could see that I was panicking. He grabbed his emergency regulator and with my last puff of air I cleared the water out and breathed through it. I was saved! I immediately felt better and started to calm down… however I still wanted to get the hell outta there. We still had to wait maybe another 2 minutes before we could swim up and I had to try to stay along with the guide since I was breathing his air. We made it up and I think I took my regulator out before I even got to the surface so I could breathe fresh air as soon as possible. I took in a huge gulp of air, along with some water, but I didn’t care - I was free! When we got on the boat I tried my best to explain the problem, but the guide wasn’t convinced it was the regulator. He did mention that there is a valve that actually regulates how much air you are getting (in case you are running low and want to conserve). He thought that mine might have been turned to low - I checked it out and it definitely was not on full blast so I think that along with my anxiety about the situation caused my light headedness. Anyway, he gave me a new regulator for the second dive, which I was not at all excited about. Nothing remarkable happened on the second dive. I just remember feeling uncomfortable in the water.
Over the next few days we did a whole bunch of nothing. And loved it. We did rent a motorbike one day and borrowed snorkel gear from New Way to check out Shark Bay. Apparently there are an abundance of black tip reef sharks there, but we didn’t see any. We also checked out some of the other beaches, which were lovely. At the end of that day we ended up at this resort/restaurant that overlooks the northwest tip of the island and two neighboring islands. We stayed there for a while and enjoyed the view. Along with doing a whole bunch of nothing, we also ate a lot. Koh Tao is super touristy, which means tons of somewhat good Western food. We ate subs, pizza, paninis, pasta and even Mexican. We even partook in an all you can eat pizza night. We were still used to small portions so we didn’t end up eating that much, but we walked away stuffed and our pizza craving was definitely satisfied (for that night anyway). We also walked around quite a bit at night. There was a night market and the beach was always lovely at night. The resorts all have restaurants right on the beach so they set up tables and little picnic areas with candles and Christmas lights and its nice to just look at or eat there.
Ethan signed up for a night dive with the same dive group one of the nights and I was not about to participate based on my last experience and my hatred of the dark. I did go along on the boat, which I thought would be cool… it wasn’t. The waves were huge and I was pretty nauseous by the time they got back on the boat. So I guess I missed out, but to this day I’m not too broken up about it. Ethan got to see a huge hermit crab, sleeping trigger fish, barracuda and a moray eel. I’m glad he went. And he got his certification so he can do more night dives. (The night dive was the single best dive of all of our dives. Being underwater in complete darkness except for what your flashlight illuminates is incredible. It feels like you are in a completely different world. -E)
Our last two dives were the day before we were planning to leave to head back to Bangkok. Nothing super crazy happened, although we did swim through this 3 foot wide hole that was terrifying and I think I got stung by coral or something because my elbow was numb for a few days after. We also had to swim thru open water which was terrifying because the water was murky and you really couldn’t see that well. The place we dove is notorious for seeing whale sharks (even though they are harmless...still scary), but of course we didn’t see one (apparently they saw one the very next day tho!!! Ugh. And Ethan had actually considered going on that dive too (BIGGEST REGRET OF MY LIFE! -E)).
We decided to skip out on Koh Phagnan and Koh Phi Phi. Both are very well known tourist destinations and we were more than satisfied with our island adventures in Thailand. I was also getting pretty homesick again. We hopped on the ferry to Chumpon, which was much faster than the night ferry. We were on the mainland in a few hours and got to ride on the deck, which was really cool. We hoped that we could catch the train to Bangkok, but our luck had seemingly run out on us when they told us the train was booked. We thought it was some kind of cruel joke because we have seen trains with people literally hanging out of windows and standing in the aisles. But with the language barrier and no train tickets we were kind of screwed. There were two other Westerners there as well who were having the same problem. I walked out of the train station to where the tuk tuks were hoping to find some information or some kind soul that would help. I can’t remember exactly how this transpired, but one of the drivers offered to take us to the bus station. We didn’t even know there was a bus station near there, but we said yes hoping beyond hope that he wasn’t lying. And he wasn’t. Another amazingly helpful Thai citizen to add to our list. A few minutes later the bus was there and we were on our way back to Thailand’s capital.