The beach right by Scuba Shack.
So, to continue from the previous entry, we got to our bungalow on Koh Tao
called the Sunshine Resort at around 11 AM. Along with that, their dive shop is called the Scuba Shack. After getting a room, I finalized what kind of a diving course I would be taking. It's the Open Water Dive certification awarded by SSI or Scuba Schools International. It is one of the 2 worldwide recognized certifications for scuba gear diving, the other being PADI. Having this certification would allow me to sign up for most basic dives (up to 18 meters) hassle free. The course would be completed in 4 days, conduct 6 actual dives, and cost 9,000 baht (a little under $300). The fee covered equipment, instruction, and even basic food and refreshments during dives.
Clear waters and schools of fish. (taken by Mike)
Not to mention that with me taking this course, we got a discount of 400 baht on our hotel room for each of the nights we stayed there while I took the course. Really, if you have the time and enough money to spare, this kind of an offer on Koh Tao cannot be passed up.
We only had a few hours to kill before my first class started at 3 PM. So we went to check out the beach right outside our resort after lunch. And it was beautiful. White sand and clear water. This is close to what you would imagine you'd see in those paradise beach pictures, but I heard other parts of Koh Tao are even better. Yup, this is definitely a great place to go and it will hopefully remain as pristine as this for many more years.
At 3 PM, our class got together: the instructor Will who was from Canada, and 2 other students along with myself, Sasha from Germany, and Gwen from France.
Pretty sight isn't it? (taken by Mike)
The first day was strictly academic as we covered 3 chapters worth of material regarding scuba gear, its uses, and how the dive environment affects our bodies. We had questions to answer for each chapter assigned for that night and to be discussed the following day. I'll say right now that I haven't read a textbook so thoroughly as I did with this one. My life is potentially at stake here!
The next day's lesson began at 9 AM so an unfortunate side effect of taking this kind of course is that my schedule was pretty much booked for the entire day and would be for all 4 days. It was probably the first time I had to adhere to specific times on this trip besides worrying about bus or boat tickets. So, with a thorough review of the first 3 chapters, we got a look at the scuba gear itself and how to properly take care of it as well as getting fitted for wetsuits, fins, and buoyancy compensator (BC) units.
Crazy pancake guy. This guy dices and slices and throws and flips like a champ.
The afternoon featured our first 2 dives where we would take a small boat with an adjustable propeller called a longtail out to Scuba Shack's dive ship. From there, we finished prepping on the ship and got our first taste of scuba diving. Once you actually try to take that first breath in the water with your oxygen tank, you just know you can actually do it and it was a thrilling feeling. So we swam around a bit underwater where the visibility was excellent that I could make out good details on the different coral and fish despite my poor eyesight. Then we conducted drills underwater. We had been taught and briefed on the type of exercises we would be doing before getting into the water as well as learning important hand signals. All in all, we made a few minor mistakes here and there, but nothing life threatening.
Fire dancers. I was studying so I missed seeing this personally.
Sure, in the one drill where I was to lose my regulator (breathing mouthpiece) in the water and try to find it, I fumbled around a bit as my breath slowly ran out. No worries, the point is to try not to panic and know how to respond. Our class was really calm under water and these hiccups were managed with just small reminders and tips and we got through it all smoothly. After that, we got back to Scuba Shack in the afternoon to conduct the last 2 chapters of lessons: how to plan a dive (for safety concerns, it's more than just deciding which dive site and how much air you have), and the actual ocean environment. I had to skip out on some huge parties taking place on the island due to studying, but Mike and Anna apparently partied really hard.
Day 3 was a review of those last 2 chapters as well as the 50 question multiple choice exam.
King Prawn Shrimp!!! Notice the knife for size comparison.
For the record, I actually got 100% on this. :P From there, we did 2 more dives working on more exercises like air sharing as well as seeing different underwater scenery. It felt much more routine getting into our gear this time around. That evening, Mike, Anna, and I actually found a neat buffet style (except you pay specific prices for each portion) dinner at the Buddha View Resort next to ours. They even had fresh seafood to be cooked on an open grill. After eating, we couldn't resist coming back for their happy hour and trying one of their offerings. On this day, it was King Prawn Shrimp. 100 grams cost 100 baht and so 2 shrimps we got cost us 340 baht (around $10). They were HUGE even after cooked!!! I'll say that this was probably the best shrimp I've ever had in my life.
My scuba class. From left: Sasha, Will, Trevor, Gwen.
It was big and succulent without them even garnishing it too much. I guess the people at the source know how and do it the best.
The final day of the course required me to be up at 7 AM for 2 morning dives. On this dive, we got to go down 18 meters which is the farthest I can go with this course. Even so, the visibility in these waters was amazingly good, around 15 meters. Through all of this, I didn't really get to see anything truly unique, but I still enjoyed swimming down below anyways. At the completion of these dives, we were awarded our certification cards (although due to some miscommunication, I'd get mine the following day) as well as a DiveLog to track all of our dives. I really had a blast through the whole process and though our group wasn't super buddy buddy with each other, I believe we all appreciated how well we worked together above and under water. Will commented that our class was definitely one of his above average classes. So props to Will, Sasha (my consistent dive buddy during the course), and Gwen. From there, more plans were to be made and the next entry should finally get me caught up to current events. On a final note, we also went back to the Buddha View Resort for their dinner again and this time we had marlin. Oh man, it was good too. Still tasted like fish, but it was so tender and went great with the sweet chili sauce.