Thailand and beyond...

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Thursday 6th April

Today I left Hell after warning an unsuspecting potential guest to run away as fast as possible. I got the MTR to the ferry terminal and then caught the ferry to Macau. I caught the bus to the airport and then got on my flight to Bangkok. I arrived in Bangkok to see that hyper-inflation had set in since my last visit three weeks ago, as all of the taxi drivers were charging way too much. I opted for the airport bus, and arrived in Koa Sarn Road about a fortnight later. The heat was almost unbearable and the humidity was incredible. I chilled out and had a lovely green thai curry, a beer and some ice cream for less than two pounds! I crashed out afterwards as it was such a busy day.

Friday 7th April

This morning I woke up in a pretty determined mood; determined to get the hell out of Bangkok before I started a riot. I rushed around in the morning, sorting out boring domestic stuff and then got a ticket to go to Koh Tao (a drop of paradise in the Gulf of Thailand). I then wandered around and saw a sign for diving in Koh Tao. Ten minutes later and about 150 quid lighter, I had a pass to do my PADI Open Water qualification! As I strolled through the streets with my Newcastle shirt on, people were shouting 'Toon Army' and 'Alan Shearer', much to my delight. Before long I went to get the bus to Koh Tao, but as per usual the place was like a circus and no-one knew what was happening at the coach depot.

In my element - diving in the Gulf of Thailand
All you could hear was a Yorkshireman explaining to everyone how he likes everything to be spot on... just what you want to hear in the 140C heat with 200% humidity. We eventually got on the bus, and I ended up sitting next to a group of funny Israeli's!

Saturday 8th April

We arrived in Chumporn at 5.30am, which was great! It was pitch black, but as the sun rose, we discovered we were on a beach, which was somewhat of a surprise. The catamaran soon appeared and we were on our way to paradise! I arrived in Koh Tao at 8.30am and it was boiling, so was grateful for the pick-up truck that took me to the dive school. The school didn't have any rooms free, so they subsidised my accomodation, which was next door and at least a hundred times better.

The sensation island of Koh Tao
I paid a few extra pennies and got upgraded to a double room with sea views! I started to read some of my PADI book, (about as thrilling as Joseph Conrad) before thinking better of it and subsequently had a beer and watched some football!

Sunday 9th April

This morning was an early start and I met my diving group. There were seven of us; two Germans, one Aussie, one Canadian, one Frenchie, an Icelandic person and yours truly. We started of with theory work in the classroom (fascinating stuff), which was interrupted by the most vicious storm I have ever seen. The thunder was almost deafening and the ceiling was leaking all over the place. Sitting there, with an open book, writing on the whiteboard and a miniature Niagara Falls going on over my ear, I was thinking 'this isn't what I signed up for'! Never mind, in the afternoon we done a 'Confined Dive' (went into the swimming pool).

Celebrating a great day's diving with a few Tiger beers!
I had questioned about going into the pool despite the lightning, but they insisted that they always do that, which is was just what the insurance company would love to hear. I noddd and got kitted out in my Action Man gear, which was an effort in itself, although I was told that I bore an striking resemblence to James Bond! We then went under and were taught how to breathe underwater, which I must add, took a while to get the hang of. We done some other skills and then came out of the confined aquatic compound before sinking a few beers with the gang and had a huge BBQ.

Monday 10th April

Today I woke up in the beautiful sunshine, with a stunning view again from my room. I had breakfast on the beach and then made my way to school, complete with my homework (seriously)! After another morning session in the classroom and a fantastic lunch I wobbled back to base and we headed out on the boat into the sea for our first experience with saltwater.

Out with the diving crew for dinner
I was a bit nervous, as we were a fair bit away from land and the sea looked a bit more threatening than the confined water facility from yesterday and as I was mentally psyching myself up for the dive, I looked around at the others and said to myself 'Well, we're all in the same boat as each other', before turning around and almost wetting myself at the hopeless pun. The dive turned out to be only 6m, but let me tell you that 6m is a lot! You try sticking your head up whilst standing on the sea bed!  The first fish I saw was a Sergeant Major (black and white). We also saw a sea cucumber, which the instructor passed to me and he asked me to shake it. What?! Shake it! No! Shake it, white stuff comes out! I was intrigued, and so finally obeyed him and soon after the sea was getting covered in streams of white goo. At this point, I passed it to one of my mates and he got covered in the stuff! We swam around a bit and then came back up. I had some trouble equalising, but it was still fantastic. We returned and had more great food and a cheeky pina colada.

Tuesday 11th April

Another familiar morning of a wake-up call (a guy walking next to my window, shouting 'Good morning' until I responded) followed by breakfast. It was exam day, so I done some revision in the morning and got on with the exam before doing the first two 'official' dives of the course. We cruised to the first site, known as the Japanese Garden and dived 12m before surfacing and then moving to Twins, where we dived 12m again. It felt great. I was underwater for a total of 90 minutes, so was pretty chuffed of the days efforts. We returned and got our exam results (92%) and celebrated with... a few beers.

Wednesday 12th April

Today we had morning dives (leaving at 7.30am) and so I headed off dozing off on the boat. It was our big dive that we had been looking forward to, so I perked up a bit and jumped in. The site was beautiful (Chumporn Pinnacle) and we went to 18m before going back to Twins for a 14m dive. They were much more comfortable and felt much more fun after we had grasped the basics. The advantage of the morning dives were that we had the afternoon to relax, which I managed to do very well. I went for a massage with a mate, only to find one masseuse. She massaged him, leaving me, to my horror to the old woman. The old woman then wandered off to someone else and left me in the capable hands of a young kid, who was basically playing the playstation on my back. It was about as therapeutic as a rollercoaster, whereas my mate was almost asleep. The masseuse came over, cracked my back (almost in half) and that was that! I shuffled to the beach like a hermit crab and fell onto the sand to let the sun rays de-crease me. The sun was boiling and I felt myself burning, despite the SPF 30. The bay is so shallow that you can walk out 200m and it would still be upto your waist, however the water is often mirky, so I went in to rinse off, only to stub my toe on a rock and emphatically sink (if anyone was watching, they would have peed themselves!) I then hobbled back to land, which took ages, as I had to feel my way back with my good foot! I was in a right state when I made it to the shore... After I healed the innumerable wounds, we went out and had a farewell meal as I was leaving the next day.

Thursday 13th April

Today was the Thai New Year (Songkran) and is celebrated by the use of water. The Buddhist belief is that the celebration should incorporate the cleansing and purification of ills and misfortune. The Thai's are either incredibly religious or they love water fights, but on my way to the boat, I was covered with water as I scrambled to hide my money into a waterproof compartment (without much success). On the boat over there, I sunbathed on the top deck for ages and as I was leaving the in Koh Pha-Ngan and coolly tripped over, falling onto a bag of garlic! I got onto another pick-up style taxi and then got soaked as I made my way to Zab and John's place. People were out in the streets with super soakers, hoses, buckets and some kindly put washing powder in with the water so I was covered in foam by the time I arrived. Nice. I had to sneak past the receptionist in order to crash out in their room, which proved amusing. They went off to the beach and I fell asleep in preparation for the infamous full moon party. However, I startled myself when I woke up as I had turned orange with the sun! I was somewhere between David Dickinson and Des O'Connor and was getting darker by the minute. In the evening, we went out and had a nice curry and a few drinks for the party. The party itself started off crazy and went progressively downhill from there. I do remember inventing a game called, which I can only describe as 'Stepping Stones on Tables to the Music'. It became quite popular and I'm confident that it will catch on in the UK before long. The party went on until sunrise and I stumbled back to base at 7.30am.

Friday 14th April

This 'morning' I woke to find Zab and John leaving early to do the final day of their PADI Open Water course. It was only four hours since they returned from the party. John explained he had been up all night (morning) throwing up, to which I laughed and turned over. I eventually got up at 2.45pm and went to watch 'The Simpsons'. It should be noted that in Koh Pha-Ngan has millions of cafe's, which will choose a sitcom/comedy and play it continuously throughout the entire day. I was in the mood for Homer et al., so I chose that cafe. I had a bite to eat and then mooched around before heading to a cafe I know as 'Friends'. As I was in the cafe, I realised that I had been completely raped by mosquito's the night before, as my arm had large boils that were expanding and becoming even more innumerate by the minute. Before long it was 8pm and Zab and John had returned in mixed spirits. Zab was famished and was wanting some decent food and John retired straight to bed after spending most of the day hurling into the sea from the boat! Zab and I went ot the Outback bar, where last night had kicked off and managed to see the video made the night before. To my surprise/horror, Zab, John and I all made a guest appearance on the video, which obviously accounted for the excessive prices they wanted for it. By the time I went to bed, my arm looked like something from a Freddie Krueger film...

Saturday 15th April

After my 'cultural mission' to Koh Pha-Ngan I decided that I would rather be in Nepal than stay in the island that eats me alive and plays music next door until 5am. I went back to Koh Tao with Zab and John in tow and by the time the shambolic authorities managed to get 3,000 people onto a fishing boat we were reading for some chilling (John was still ill this morning!). As soon as we arrived, I got us checked in with Buddha View and Zab and I enrolled on the PADI Advanced diving course. We chilled out and had a great meal back in paradise.

Sunday 16th April

'Why did I enrol on another bloody diving course?!' was the initial thought of the day, as I awoke at 6.30am for the morning dive. We enthusiastically skipped to the pick-up truck and boarded the boat that took us to Chumporn Pinnacle (familiar territory for a native like me), where we dived to 30m, which is the deepest you are allowed to do without doing the Dive Instructor training. The dive was fantastic and I swam over a swirling school of barracuda, which was beautiful. We returned to the vessel and arrived at Twins (another one of my former conquests), where we had a shallow depth dive, but used an underwater compass to navigate our way around. Zab was my buddy and therefore we had to work together, however I soon found that Zab couldn't find his way out a closet, never mind the sea bed of the Gulf of Thailand, and after a discussion mainly involving hand signals underwater, we later surfaced and I explained and had a 'difference of opinion' when it came to who was completely incompetent when it came to swimming in a straight line (as you can guess, I was obviously right). I simmered gently for the rest of the day, before our night dive that night. It was fantatic to use torches underwater and see creatures that aren't present during the day. We also saw some massive trigger fish, which were peacefully sleeping until we shone the torch in their faces! We went to see some barracuda, but I had some bouyancy issues and couldn't go deeper, ending up surfacing. I was given another weight on the belt and jsut missed a barracuda annhilate some unsuspecting prey. By the time I went back down I saw the half-eaten carcus of the unfortunate fish that we decided to shine the torch on.

Monday 17th April

Today we had another gloriously early morning dive, this time to Southwest Pinnacle, which was a really beautiful dive to 22m. We saw groupers, a collosal school of fusiliers and banner fish. I loved it, despite a head cold I had developed. The fish were incredible - definitely the best dive so far. The second dive was called 'Peak Performance Buoyancy'. English translation: 'Not flapping around and crashing into rocks and other unsuspecting objects'. This involved doing spins and somersaults, which was fine. I took one of my weights off and all of a sudden my 'PPB' (as we call it) went all Pete Tong and I went flying towards the surface! Lesson learnt! I returned to the depths of the ocean and saw some incredible coral. The second dive of the day was to White Rock for 14m, where we saw a stingray and cruised around (with excellent PPB, btw!). Upon surfacing, I realised I had a nose bleed, which I guessed wasn't very healthy and was assured by the instructors that it was fine. I felt a bit queezy during the day, but managed to do all of my homework, like a good boy and then had one of the biggest BBQ's man had ever seen, consisting of tunafish, tiger prawns and everything else caught that day to celebrate my Advanced status.

Tuesday 18th April

This morning, we got a taxi to the pier and then a boat to the mainland. This seemingly boring escapade was enlightened by the DVD on the catamaran (American Pie). John and I were the only one's on the boat that were howling all the way through the film, much to the bemusement of the remaining Thai audience. That only spurred us on even more, and we received a few sideways looks from them as we left the boat.We got on the bus and cruised to Bangkok, continuing the jolly-up (John has the same stupid sense of humour as me, so we generally laughed all eight hours to Bangkok). The jokes were disrupted by a chocomilk purchased en route, which meant that we nearly hurled at one point. We arrived in Koh Sarn Road (yet again) and had dinner. To my dismay, I found out that the Thai's weren't allowed to serve beer. At first I thought it was just a major delivery problem, but later learnt that it was a religious order (that's all I got from the taxi driver anyway)!

 

Sarah says:
James, your blogging style is just how you talk, it's brilliant!! So funny!! Sounds like you're having an awesome time, so jealous. Can't wait to hear more about Thailand :) Lots of love xxx
Posted on: Apr 16, 2006
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In my element - diving in the Gulf…
In my element - diving in the Gul…
The sensation island of Koh Tao
The sensation island of Koh Tao
Celebrating a great days diving w…
Celebrating a great day's diving …
Out with the diving crew for dinner
Out with the diving crew for dinner
Bangkok
photo by: Deats