Koh Tao means “Turtle Island” and is the smallest of the 3 islands that lie in the Chumphon Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand. It may be small, but it’s just as beautiful as Koh Phangan and Koh Samui with its sandy beaches, blue water, and lush jungle, but it’s small enough to explore on foot – if you’re so inclined!
The first time I went to Koh Tao, my friends and I spent three glorious days on Sairee beach kicking back, enjoying lazy days on the beach and dancing the night away in the beach bars in the evenings. One day, we visited the stunning island of Nang Yuan, just a short boat ride away. It’s a dive resort and it’s so small there are no cars or motorbikes – just calm and serenity. There is a hilly outcrop where you can walk around and up to the top for some fantastic views of the islands and the surrounding ocean. The climb is a bit tricky in parts, with some scrambling over large rocks, but it is well worth the effort.
Back on the beach there is a coral reef called the Japanese Gardens. The water is very shallow, so it’s perfect for beginner divers and snorkelers. There are beautiful corals, and colourful fish who follow you in the hope of some tasty titbit you might pass their way.
To get onto Nang Yuan, a small fee is charged and, in the name of conservation, plastic bottles and cans are banned from the island. There are refreshments available at the restaurant there, but at prices higher than what you would normally pay. Nevertheless, it is money well spent to be able to have a few hours in this little bit of paradise.
Later that year, after my friends had left, and I was alone again, I decided to add a new travel experience to my repertoire. I was going to go back to Koh Tao to achieve a PADI.
After the long journey from Bangkok, I arrived back on the island and checked into Ban’s Dive Resort – a lovely little place in Sairee beach. I was so tired I went straight to bed. Later that afternoon, I watched a video to learn about the dos and don’ts of diving. The next day, I had a session in the classroom watching more videos, which was necessary but not very exciting. I was pleased when the next part was actually in the water and therefore more exciting – even though it was just the swimming pool. (Everyone has to start somewhere!) I learned lots of new things like how to assemble the equipment and how to put my wet suit and flippers on easily. When I was suitably attired, into the water I went.
It was a very strange sensation – it felt like I wasn’t getting enough air into my lungs which made me panic. After a few minutes, I got used to the feeling and the panic subsided. I learned more things like how to fill the mask up with water and empty it underwater, take the weight belt off and on again, take the buoyancy control device off and on again, how to help your buddy diver use your air supply, controlled ascent and free flow breathing. I managed to complete everything successfully but it was absolutely shattering – I have never felt so tired- and this was only in the swimming pool!
The next day I had two dives out at sea and I was really nervous as the boat drew nearer to the dive site. When the boat stopped, the choppy water made it lurch back and forth. This made it really difficult to get my equipment ready and wet suit on, but I did it and jumped into the water.
I started my descent easily enough, but that’s where it started to go wrong. The pressure underwater as I descended made my eardrums feel like they were going to burst! It was really painful. I didn’t think I was going to make it to the bottom, but I touched down onto the sand. There, I completed everything I had learned in the pool as well as navigate my way back to the instructor using a compass – a tricky feat in the murky waters. I felt so elated!
I managed to do all the skills I had been taught in the pool which were obviously a little more difficult because of the swell of the open water. After a morning out at sea, I was back in the classroom in the afternoon, followed by two more 18 metre dives the next day. My ears hurt again, but I managed to do everything that was required which meant I passed the course!
Diving is not as easy as it looks and, since achieving my PADI, I have done a few dives with the same outcome. I was in so much pain from the pressure – even to the point of getting a nose bleed. So, it makes me nervous, but I know that once I get down to the right depth, I enjoy the experience of the wonderful watery world hanging out with all the fish. It is such a wonderful experience, (forgetting the painful ears) and it opens up a whole new and fascinating world to you.