Among Thailand cognoscenti, Koh Tao goes by ‘the diving island,” and as the world’s second biggest producer of diving certifications, after Australia, Koh Tao is indeed an island where a lot of folks go to teach diving, to dive for fun, to get their diving masters’ or simply to get their open water certifications. I belonged to the latter category, a wannabe diver scared to death of sharks and of the thought that i could be stuck under hundreds of cubic tons of water with nothing but the regulator in my mouth standing between me and death by drowning.
A few words about the diving culture – as far as we could tell, on Koh Tao, the diving community (inclusive of newbies, instructors and everything in between) has three main tenets:
- Dive, dive, dive! Dive in the morning, in the afternoon, at night, with night-lights or without, with Nitrox or without, dive with a GoPro or without, dive under-slept and partied-out, hungry or full, as often as you can, as hungover as you can. There is NOTHING else to do on this island but dive, I tell you, so for Chrissake, DIVE!
- Smoke as many cigarettes as you humanly can in between dives, including right before jumping in the water and as soon as you surface and remove the regulator from your mouth.
- Do not practice any other form of exercise because diving is sooooooo fatiguing that it literally saps your life juices. Which must be immediately replenished at the nearest bar. Repeatedly lifting pints of Chang to your mouth counts as exercise, doesn’t it?
Quirks aside, learning how to dive was terrifying and empowering, and like all hard things, it was COMPLETELY worth doing. So, to say that getting my diving certification was a personal victory would be an understatement; it was a Hallelujah moment! It was elation! And it was a very fitting way to celebrate my birthday…
And once that was out of the way, Ed and I were finally able to share amazing moments underwater, like being surrounded by a school of barracuda that looked like stainless steel blades performing an elaborate concentric dance, or, later, in Indonesia, doing a drift dive and using the current as our own aquatic jetpack (but more about that in the next post).
While Koh Tao’s moniker as the “diving island” is deserved, it’s also limited, just like nearby Koh Phan Gan, also known as the “full moon party” island. But we, farangs, like to keep things simple when we travel and we appreciate it when people clearly label their islands for us… We ended up spending almost two weeks in Koh Tao, staying in three different parts of the island (nearby the ferry landing, in busy Sairee Beach and in Southern Chalok Ban Kao) in five or six different hotels and guesthouses, explored beaches all around the island, on foot and on motorcycle, hiked it, snorkeled it, swam it and dived it – in short, we made the island our own personal playground. Words don’t do this beautiful place justice, so we’ll just show you the photos.