We took the morning long tail boat back to Ranong, Thailand, where we switched to a songthiew and then to a minibus headed to Chumphon. We had planned to take a night ferry from there to Koh Tao, but arrived just in time to catch the afternoon high speed catamaran instead. The night ferry sounded pretty uncomfortable, but we thought it would take much longer to cross the Isthmus of Kra. We forgot we were in Thailand, where the buses are pretty reliable and you don’t have to wait very long to go anywhere. But then the boat left 45 minutes late anyway, so you never know.
The first stop of the boat was pretty jarring. We approached Nang Yuan, a small group of islands connected by isthmuses of beach. It was a beautiful setting, so Riki went up top to check it out. While he was gone, hundreds of tourists got on the boat, overflowing the aisles in their matching hats, shirts and even shoes, the first of whom yelled “where’s the champagne?” as soon as he got on the boat. We’re not in Myanmar anymore. Luckily, it wasn’t far to our stop, Koh Tao. We were a day early for our scheduled accommodation, so we stayed near the pier at a cheap place, while we cruised the little roads jam-packed with tourist shops, dive centers and restaurants. We saw more Westerners than Thais, but also a surprising number of people from Myanmar. A complete contrast to our quiet week on Koh Chang.
The next day we checked into a dive center’s hotel and then went on a hike, over the mountains to the deserted resort on the other side of the island. It was pretty eerie, as this resort has been closed only a few years, so is mostly intact, except for missing windows, furniture and a few thatched roofs.
That afternoon we started our open water class. We were introduced to the course and then watched some videos with two other students. It was a bit intimidating, as Riki and I were both a bit apprehensive about diving. After, we were given homework to complete for the morning. It wasn’t hard, but it took a brain shift to read and answer questions again. Not something we’ve done in quite a while.
On our first full day, we met in the morning to go over our homework and watch more videos. These included a lot of safety info, as well as procedures for ascending, descending and how to use all the gear. That afternoon, we took a boat out to the island, Nang Yuan, the same island where the hoards of tourist had boarded our ferry. We did a swim test, involving swimming around the boat three times and then floating for 10 minutes. We passed.
We then proceeded with our “confined” dive, which for us was in open, but very calm water. Everyone had neglected to tell us that while this sounds very easy, it is actually terrifying. The water was shallow and at no point could we not have surfaced, but just being under the water and breathing from a small hose was a shock to our senses. Plus, my goggles were fogged almost the entire time, so I couldn’t see more than just blurry shapes in front of me. Oh, and I had some problems getting one of my ears to pop, despite being only a few meters down. Riki ran out of air first (probably all that heavy breathing to calm down), so we headed to the surface for some more exercises.
Day 2, we met in the morning to go over our homework and take the final exam. We passed. Then we headed back on the boat to the same area for our first real dive. This went better than anticipated. We were able to relax a bit and swim around without freaking out. It was still really intimidating to be so far under water and there’s always that little urge to look around for sharks in the back of my mind (or front). We saw a porcupine pufferfish, a white-eyed moray eel and a ton of small fish and sea cucumbers.
Day 3 began at 6 am with a longer and very choppy ride to a deeper dive site. As we arrived, the boats already there were signalling shark. For me, that means, no way in hell am I getting in the water, but we had learned that this particular shark, the whale shark, was not a danger to us and doesn’t eat humans. I just told myself it was a whale, not a shark. So we were rushed into the water, which was not great since we were still very new to the process of getting everything ready and buddy checks and whatnot. Within a few minutes, we spotted a 4-5m whale shark, with tons of smaller (but still big) fish circling it. It was a pretty magestic sight. Apparently, this was a small one and they can get much, much bigger. It was still immense to me. The whale shark swam above us and rather than following it around like many other divers, we went off to explore the rest of the reef.
We saw so many beautiful fish, coral and things I can not yet identify. Luckily, we had a videographer with us that day, so we can share some of the images. It was like something out of Planet Earth, or the underwater equivalent TV show.
The whale shark didn’t make another appearance, so we ascended into big swells and boarded the boat for our second dive in calmer waters. Same same, beautiful marine life in clear water.
We met up that night to watch the video from that day and say goodbye to our group, as we had booked a ferry back to the mainland for the next day.
I really must thank Riki’s parents (mostly mom) for convincing us to try diving. We had both kind of shouldered it off as something we didn’t really want to do. But we were very pleasantly surprised, once we got over the kind of claustrophobia of being attached to an air hose while under 18m of water. And we were very lucky, it takes some people thousands of dives to see a whale shark. We reached the pinnacle of our diving career on dive 3. Its all downhill from here.
Next stop, Krabi, Thailand, to see some beaches and eat some good curry.