There is something about Koh Tao that makes it one of the top Thailand destinations for many backpackers from around the world. Getting off the ferry boat, it first strikes you as a bit impersonal. Hundreds of backpackers dragging their heavy bags along the pier, each one looking more lost than the other. Most are there for the same reason – to dive, although only a few seem to know which one of hundreds of dive schools and dive resorts they are looking for. The rest will spend the next few hours wandering aimlessly around the island searching for the “best” spot.
As I got off the ferry boat following the crowds, I was glad to have done a bit of research in advance and even more glad when my Big Blue Diving Resort pick up was patiently waiting for me and a few other guests at the end of the pier. As the car pulled up at Big Blue and we were greeted by a friendly diving instructor, I instantly felt like I made the right choice. Even though the resort itself was nothing special and the dorms (which were provided for free to all divers) were VERY basic, the place just had that friendly feeling about it. Locals playing football in the sand at the end of their work days, tons of people hanging out at the Big Blue restaurant on the beach and even more people carrying around diving equipment in and out of the water. Everyone seemed so happy!….and just a few hours later I felt the same!
Ever since my first dive in the Great Barrier Reef in December 2010, getting my scuba diving certification has been at the top of my bucket list, and here I was, finally in the perfect place to do it!
The Open Water Diving certification provides you with basic skills necessary to be able to dive independently (well technically with a diving guide) anywhere around the world. It’s a fairly quick 4 day course: about 8-10 hours of videos and theory, mostly about equipment and diving safety, a 4-5 hour practice session in the pool to get the basics of breathing with the equipment and practising some basic skills, and 4 dives between 12-18m deep each. Seems so quick, but the learning curve is incredibly steep.
Despite the fact that I have been diving before and remember feeling completely comfortable under water at that time, the first 10 mins in the pool freaked the living hell out of me. I literally thought, “what am I getting myself into? I can’t do this!” But somehow I managed to calm myself down and keep going…and it got better and better with every hour of the pool practice session. It wasn’t until we were out in the ocean on Day 3 of the course that I felt truly comfortable. However, our 2 dive sites that day, Mango Bay and Japanese Gardens, were just ok. Shallow, with not too much fish….nothing, compared to my Great Barrier Reef experience.
I can truly say that Day 4 was when I fell in love with diving!!! It was an early, 6am start, but as we descended into the water at Chumphon Pinnacle, the scenery took my breath away in the best way possible! I remember thinking to myself, ” This is the most incredible way to start a day!”.
The amount of fish and coral at Chumphon is like nothing I have ever seen or could have imagined before. A true underwater paradise! A reason to keep diving day in and day out! That dive site alone could be the reason for thousands of divers on Koh Tao and hundreds of instructors and those that came to the island for 5 days and never left… That morning I wanted to be one of them.
So naturally, as I got out of the water, wide eyed and mesmerised, I was convinced…I wanted more! And more I got…2 more days on Koh Tao, 5 more dives and an Advanced Diver certification at the end of it. Despite a few downs (leaking mask, getting lost on a night dive and miserably failing to find the rocks on a navigation dive), the ups of the next 2 days ( shipwreck dive and another beautiful morning at Chumphon) were completely worth it!
As I finally forced myself to leave Koh Tao after a week on the island, I couldn’t have bee happier. This was a week of a dream coming true, some incredible underwater adventures with a group of new friends who made the nights in Koh Tao just as fun as the days were! So yes, what they say about Koh Tao is true. The place is magical and I know for a fact it is not my last time on this island!
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