Tag Archives: Koh Tao

License to Krill (Part Two)

Today is my final day of scuba training! This morning, we would take two more dives in different locations, practicing a different set of skills in each area. We set out to sea early in the morning to our first dive spot called The Pinnacle Rock. It was here that we would dive to our deepest depth yet – 18 meters underwater! Some of the skills we practiced mainly had to do with running out of oxygen underwater and how to ascend properly when you have no air left. Besides that, the dive here was pretty neat. We went along the anchored rope beneath the ocean, equalizing every few feet along the way. I could barely see the ocean floor below me, schools of fish were all around, bubbles were everywhere – I felt a sense of serenity. I was able to perform tasks fine during this dive, like the mask clearing, equalizing and other skills perfectly when no one was watching. I also noticed that I use up a ton of oxygen, more than anyone else in my dive group. I was aware of this last summer in Zanzibar, and it’s still the case now. Whenever Natalie would signal to me asking “How much air I have left in my tank”, my number would always be much lower than everyone else’s – especially the deeper I am underwater. Sometimes it’s so low that Natalie sends one of the dive assistants to resurface with me so I don’t run out of air. I asked her, is it normal that I use so much more oxygen than everyone else? She said that it’s completely fine and that everyone breathes differently. I just breathe heavier than the norm, even outside of the water. Overtime I will use less oxygen, the more I dive.

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After diving at Pinnacle, we sailed to our next and last dive spot, Shark Island. It’s called Shark Island because the huge rock island is shaped like a shark fin.

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This was perhaps the best time to dive; the water was super calm and clear, the sun was shining bright, and visibility was amazing. But it was also here that I was going to have to take off my mask underwater, put it back on, and then clear it. I was a bit nervous because I was going to have to do this on the ocean floor, and if I freaked out, it wouldn’t be good. We descended to the very bottom and Natalie had me watch Viola and the others do it. Piece of cake for them. And piece of cake for me…when no one is watching and testing me! Weird I know. But we went through other tasks, like how to navigate underwater with a compass, and floating at a neutral buoyancy right above the floor. Natalie decided she wanted me to wait until we were about to resurface to do the mask clearing, so first we went on our dive!

I brought my GoPro on this trip, mainly because I wanted to capture footage underwater. But I was told by previous divers that I would need to hire a videographer if I wanted underwater photos. The dive instructors wanted us to concentrate on diving and not fiddling around with a camera, especially while learning. I was disappointed…but there was no way I could leave this without getting some underwater footage! There was no videographer nearby our resort to hire and the one I found costed a pretty penny. Skip that man! I have my GoPro which is great underwater, it’s such a waste not to use. So my plan was to sneak it in with me and use it very subtly and when the instructors weren’t paying attention. I put the GoPro in my wetsuit, snug against my chest. During our final dive, I would casually pull out my camera and record everything while holding it close to my body so it wouldn’t look blatantly obvious. Sometimes, I would tap the others on the shoulder, pointing to my camera, signaling them to smile and wave. I grew a little lax and at one point, Natalie turned around and saw me with my camera. But instead of her signaling me to put it away, she made a full on rockstar pose and resumed guiding us. This let me know that it was okay to have my camera, then I started to record everything!

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It’s hard to describe the sensation you get from freely diving, meters and meters under the sea. As cliché as this sounds, it really is like exploring a completely different world – like a strange alien planet. Except this time, you’re flying through this new world, weightless, and you’re always with other explorers who share the exact same feeling as you do. You never knew exactly what kind of marine life would pop out unexpectedly, or what ship wrecks you would come across.

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It was nearing the end of the dive, which meant it was time for me to clear my mask! During the dive, along with recording everything, I was thinking to myself “What is it that I do differently on my own than when I’m being tested in front of Natalie?” I figured it out! For some very, very odd reason, every time I try and clear my mask with Natalie, I exhale out of my nose…and mouth which results in water flying into my nose. On my own, I naturally just exhale out of my nose when clearing my mask. I don’t know why I do that, but I figured thats the reason. I got to try it when Natalie tested me again and presto! Mask was cleared in one fell swoop. I could literally hear Natalie cheering with joy underwater as she pumped her arms in the water for me! Myself, I was relieved. 🙂

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And that was that! We resurfaced and celebrated like kids! We took the boat back to Sunshine Resorts where the instructors gave us our temporary license (our permanent license will be mailed to us!). Later on, Viola and I went and enjoyed dinner with the Aussies who dove with us at a Thai restaurant down the road. Then afterwards, Viola and I drank away the night with the two Aussie guys at the beach, where we all went for a night swim under the moonlit ocean. The water here in Koh Tao is extremely warm, no matter if it’s day or night.

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If I had more time here, I would continue my training for my advanced license which would include diving during the night and going through ship wrecks. Exciting! But, for now I have to put a hold on that because Viola and I were headed to another island called Koh Phangan.

There’s a full moon ahead…

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License to Krill (Part One)

When I met Viola in Pai, we found that we were going on the same journey through Thailand to the islands in the south of the country, so we both decided to team up and travel the rest of Thailand together. We both also had interests in taking a course to receive our Open Water Scuba Diving certification in Koh Tao, Thailand. Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to receive your certification, just a little under $300. A steal compared to most places on this planet. With my certification, I would be able to dive without a guide and for a much cheaper cost at virtually any PADI site in the world! I knew after diving for my first time last year in Zanzibar, that I would want to do this. Viola shared the same ambition. So after our last night in Bangkok, we bid farewell to Clint, who was on his way to northern Vietnam (I’m also fairly certain I’ll see him again in future travels), and booked a bus and a boat to our first island destination, Koh Tao. Koh Tao is one of the more visually appealing islands in this part of Thailand.

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On the ferry to Koh Tao!

On the boat ride we rejoined Leonoor and Thom who were also going to stay on the island. Since they weren’t going to scuba dive, they were going to stay on the main beach of the island known as Sairee Beach. Once we arrived, Viola and I immediately took a shuttle truck to the southern bend of the island, known as Chalok Baan beach.

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As usual, we didn’t book anything ahead of time but found a bungalow resort called “Sunshine Resort” and booked a four night stay there along with a scuba diving certification course that would take four days to complete. The room we had was pretty simple: a bed, a fan, and a bathroom. We also had a third roommate, who Viola named “Tim”.

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This is Tim. A friendly little bugger.

It didn’t matter much to us because we would spend most of our time in the water or at the beach anyways. Even on our first day on the island, we were thrown straight into our first day of lessons, which consisted of a video with three lessons lasting about 20 or so minutes a piece. During the video we had to fill out a study packet and refer to a text book we were given. Definitely felt like school. Here we met four awesome Aussies from Tasmania who would be taking the course with us. A lot of the material we went over were the same things I learned last year, except this was more in depth, as expected.

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Our first classroom session.

The next day, it was time to practice some crucial techniques in the nearby pool. Our instructor, Natalie, told us she first has to make sure we know how to swim. So we had to swim six consecutive laps back and forth across the pool and then tread the deep end for ten minutes immediately after. Easy work. Next, we put on our wetsuits and learned how to properly set up a scuba tank and attach it to the BCD, which is typically known as the vest. She made us repeat the process five times on our own, attaching and reattaching, attaching and reattaching, to cement the procedures in our head. Then with our scuba gear equipped, we jumped into the water! Important techniques we learned how to do included filling our masks with water and then removing the water from it, staying at a neutral buoyancy underwater, hand signals, what to do if we ran out of oxygen, removing our weights and jacket underwater and then putting it back on, etc. Everything went smooth here, just as Natalie hoped because if everything went well, she wanted to take us to Sail Rock tomorrow – which is considered one of the best diving spots in Thailand! This isn’t offered to everyone and they usually go just a couple of times a year. Looks like we’ve come at the perfect time! That night, Viola and I rented a motorbike and rode to Sairee Beach where we met up with Leonoor and Thom. There we met some backpackers that they met in their hostel and we all hung out at the beach for a little bit. I think it was Leonoor who had the idea to do a jumping photo on the beach. By now, I am a master jumping photographer so I was happy to be behind the camera. Afterwards we had a great night out eating at a restaurant right on the beach, where a fire-starter was performing tricks for us, not to mention a jump rope of fire! And also, we went to a castle party. Unfortunately, Viola and I had to wake up early for the first of four dives so we left the castle a couple of hours earlier than everyone else.

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I should make a collection of all the jumping pictures I take in every country it seems like!

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Sairee Beach
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At the castle party with backpackers we met up with.

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We boarded a large boat and set out to sea around 7 am to Sail Rock. Sail Rock is essentially a giant rock out in the middle of the sea. The part of the rock we can’t see from above the ocean is lined with corals and teaming with marine life! We also had a chance to dive with whale sharks here! The chances were slim though because this wasn’t the right time of year to spot them but I was still extremely hopeful!

Sail Rock may not look like much but underneath is a world of mysterious marine life!
Sail Rock may not look like much but underneath is a world of mysterious marine life!

So for our first dive, it was just going to be mainly a free dive meaning we weren’t really going to practice any special techniques underwater. The process of equalizing myself and emptying water out of my mask was second nature while diving, but when we had to resurface to start practicing some of these skills is where I had a bit of a hard time. Everything was fine, it was just when I had to fill my mask completely with water is what was tricky for me. At the pool I was able to do it and even here in the ocean when my mask only had a little water in it, it was easy to get rid of. It’s just that I have mild claustrophobia, so when my mask is completely filled with water, it tricks my brain into thinking I’m “trapped”. How can you feel trapped when you’re in the ocean? It’s hard to explain unless you’re doing it. With the regulator hose in my mouth as my only source of air, it feels as though I’m being confined in a small space. It’s different in a pool because, it’s just a pool. However, I’m in a huge, deep ocean! Throw in the fact that I am being watched and tested makes it even worse. I managed to get through it after a couple of tries, but Natalie told me tomorrow I would have to dive into the deep and take off my mask there. Yikes!

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Viola’s ready for the dive!

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We did another dive here at Sail Rock and practiced Emergency skills with our buddies. Once we went back to the resort, we had to watch another video and then took our final multiple-choice exam immediately after. We all passed! Now all we had to do were two more dives the next morning, pass those, and we’d be certified open water scuba divers! That night, Viola and I went back to Sairee beach and met up with Thom and a couple of the backpackers we met yesterday, including a couple new ones. We relaxed and ate at another restaurant along the beach (chilling out and eating delicious food at cozy restaurants along the coast never gets old). Next we headed to a few beach parties down the coast for a couple of hours before we all were accidentally split up. No matter though because Viola and I couldn’t stay out long. We had two more early dives in the morning!

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