Koh Tao, Thailand
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Yet another overnight bus and boat journey took us to Koh Tao, an island off the south-east coast of Thailand, where we planned to complete our PADI openwater dive course (we had been told that this was the cheapest and best place to do it by numerous sources). On arrival at the island, we were able to negotiate a reasonable dive package, whereby we got our accommodation for free whilst completing the course which was a bit of a bargain - as you can imagine, Pam, being from the North, was over the moon!!!
The first 4 days of our stay were dedicated to diving. Joining us in our group were Fireman Nick (who was so muscly had to wear an XXXL wetsuit, but our instructor Veronica still seemed surprised that he was unable to float), his girlfriend, Alice, and her travel companion, Jessica (very bright - going to Cambridge), who were both travelling together for a year whereas Nick was over for a 2-week holiday.
Fortunately we all got on really well, which obviously made the dive course a lot more enjoyable. And a further bonus was that on our last qualifying dive, we were accompanied by Elli, the in-house videographer. Therefore, you will all now be pleased to learn that we are the proud owners of our very own dive video, so it won't just be the 7-day photo slide show that you will have to endure on our return...
The diving was absolutely fantastic and is something that we would recommend to anyone to at least try (but not in a pool - that's boring). The feeling of weightlessness is probably the closest we will ever come to experiencing space travel. So, still high from our experiences, and now fully-qualified open water divers to 18m, we decided to put our training to practice and explored the island on a hired quadbike.
It is worth mentioning at this point that I have always sworn to myself that I would never get on a moped/motorbike etc. without the proper protective gear as you hear all the horror stories and see all the scars where people have fallen off them. But we are travelling, and this is all about new experiences so we thought bugger it, let's go for it, but get 4 wheels as surely this is safer than 2 (we really do live life on the edge)!?! And up to a point we were right; right up until the point I had to dive across the road and knock Pam off the bike before she sent the bike and herself careering over a 100ft cliff. Okay - perhaps it wasn't as dramatic as that, but all I will say is, it wasn't my fault (it was, you were driving - Pam). I saved Pam (not without leaving a chunk of my foot behind and grazing Pam's elbow), but the bike wasn't so lucky. So, what was supposed to be a nice cheap day exploring the island ended up with us being left with a rather hefty repair bill for the bike plus one smashed video camera screen, and no water-based activities for 2 days. Not entirely sure which hurt the most.
So while we waiting for our wounds to heal, and James' bruised ego to feel better, we heard from our friends Ade and Steve from Scarborough who we met in China. They had arrived in Bangkok and were coming to join us to do their PADI as well. We'd also heard from Becky (also from China) and she came to join us from Koh Phangan, which was wicked. As we were going to be staying for a few more days whilst they completed their Open Water we decided to do our Advanced Open Water, which means we can dive to 30m.
Being the responsible students, the night before we started our course, whilst having a few beers at a beach bar, we all realised we had the morning off diving and thus embarked on a very drunken night, with the obligatory skinny dipping (we're just too wild). Let's just say that rocking in at 4am doesn't bode well for diving, as some of us discovered. Ade decided he was still too drunk too actually dive. After our first dive James re-surfaced, dumped his tank on the boat and promptly revisited the previous evening's culinary delights. At least the fish were happy - nice! Needless to say, we didn't make our second dive of the day. Lesson learnt - don't Drink and Dive! (sorry couldn't resist).
The next day we were to do our 30m dive. However, I think James throwing up over the boat freaked me out and I couldn't go through with it. James, being the ever caring fiance that he is, carried on without me anyway, leaving me traumatised in our hotel room (slight exageration). I think it was the thought of diving to 30m and completing a dive at night that was too much for me. Anyway, as soon as James left I was annoyed with myself and decided to give it one last try and to do the night dive. To cut a long story short, the night diving was amazing and we are now qualified Advanced Open Water divers - hurray!!!! Ade, we are pleased to report, eventually sobered up and qualified for his Open Water a few days later.
Diving now ticked off the list, it was time for us to make our way back to travelling reality and Bangkok, before making our way into Cambodia, a destination not originally on our itinerary.