Still suffering from the full moon party, we slowly dragged ourselves out of bed, checked out, stumbled to the end of the road and began the haggling dance with passing public taxis. The usual rate for a songthaow from Thong Sala to Haad Rin is 100baht pp, regardless of where you get out on the way. It seemed logical that half the distance would equal half the fair, or at least a little less than the full price but that doesn't seem to translate easily in Thailand. Our driver wasn't happy but after 10mins of negotiating, we managed to knock off around 1/3 of the cost and considered it a win.
Our ferry was due to leave at 10am, and arrive in Koh Tao at 12 noon, giving us just enough time to check in before Ella and I began our open water dive course at 1pm. The dive school had suggested we get the 11am boat from Lomprayah but this costs a lot more and gets in at a similar time. Having double checked the timetables online, all feeling of confidence soon disappeared when we arrived at the very empty port. A passing local informed us that both the 10am & 11am boats had been cancelled and that the next one wasn't leaving until 12:30. Merd! 😒
After a quick call to the dive school on Charlie's dual sim phone (lifesaving equipment) we informed the dive school of the situation. They were really chilled and laid out a few options that we could discuss on arrival. A fresh round of hot toasties from 7-11 helped overcome the mornings sadness and probably helped soak up some of the remaining hangover. When we got back to the pier, it was unrecognisable. The swarming mass of bodies made the place look like a refugee camp for sunburnt, hungover tourists.
📷 – super fun
At 12:30, the announcement came for us to board and we joined the grumbling procession, managing to get ourselves four seats together before falling asleep for the entire crossing. At 3pm, we woke to beautiful coastline scenery as we approached the harbour.
The harbour area was teaming with activity as diving, snorkel and passenger boats came and went. The main road that runs parallel to Ao Mae beach is crammed full of restaurants, dive shops and tour operators while a few streets back from the coast sees activity fall away to leave quiet, relatively untouched jungle paths. Having made our way through the crowd, along the beach to Crystal Dive Resort, we checked in, signed our forms and agreed to move our course start date back a day.
📷 – Crystal Dive 🐢
Becca and Charlie have been diving for a while and both have their Advanced Open Water certification. Very recently, Charlie completed his Rescue Diver course in Malaysia and so we felt we had some catching up to do. We managed to negotiate a deal for the four of us in advance that included the Open Water course (9800baht) for Ella and I, as well as a fun dive package (700baht per dive) for Becca and Charlie. Our course included free accommodation while the others got a discount rate of 500 baht per night.
Scuba diving has been on our travelling bucket list from day 1 and being able to do our course in one of the most renowned dive areas of South East Asia, for a fraction of what we'd pay at home, made us a bit giddy with anticipation.
One of the dive instructors gave us a few recommendations for places to eat around town and so that night, we had our first experience of Yang's. Located 15 mins from the beach, the uphill walk to Yang's feels exhausting when you spend the rest of your time at Koh Taos extremely relaxed pace but I can't stress enough, just how worth it that walk is! A large, open plan, family restaurant, serving everything from authentic Thai food to almost every western dish you could want. The real selling point is the low price tag (easily the best value in town) that comes with their giant portions. It may have been the 50 baht burgers, 40 baht shakes, free water or countless sky high plates of Thai food to choose from but we were all in a deeply committed relationship after the first date!
📷 – just so big! 🍔
If you're going to Koh Tao, you need to go to Yang's. You need to try the spicy Chicken burger, the Cordon Bleu, the Panang curry, the chips! (Omg the chips!) and use all the kitchen sauce! Don't feel bad if you end up going every night, it would be rude not to! Very quickly, we found ourselves relating all costs to the amount of burgers we could get at yang's. Just go… and take us with you!
📷 – that Yang's feeling
The waddle down the hill, back into town is much nicer when filled with post yang's happiness. The perfect prerequisite for a good nights sleep.
📷 – back to the beach
The next day, Charlie and Becca went fun diving while Ella and I were stuck in a classroom for 6 hours, completing all of our dive theory in one fell swoop. By the time we left the classroom, we felt utterly exhausted, very hungry and a little frustrated with some of the more challenged members of the class. Although Crystal Dive School have amazing facilities and instructors, you're experience can be greatly influenced by the larger teaching groups, especially if the other students are utter mongs. To make things worse (things were actually fine) we didn't eat at yang's! (Idiots!)
That night we went to "Pranee's Kitchen", the restaurant next door to the dive school. The food was nice however, the portions were not quite as big as Yang's, the menu cost a little more than Yang's and there was less to choose from than say, at Yang's. To be fair, we'd probably go again, if Yang's was closed. 😇
The following day, Ella and I did our final exam in the morning before spending the afternoon in the pool, completing all of our confined water drills. We were split up into much smaller groups for the pool sessions which meant we managed to get everything done in an afternoon rather than splitting the drills over two days. We later celebrated, in the only way you should when in Koh Tao, with dinner at Yang's. (Have I mentioned how good Yang's is?)
Our 7am alarms were made redundant by the teams of Crystal Dive staff, loading air tanks into trucks, to be carried down to the boats. We didn't mind at all as the excitement for our first open water dives had us ready and waiting by the gear cages in military fashion. Our first two dives were at the "Hin Wong Bay" dive site. Visibility was great and as we completed our drills in open water, Ella and I couldn't help geeking out at the ridiculous sea life drifting around us. We instantly understood where Charlie and Becca got their excitement from, completely fell in love and wanted to live under water forever. Obviously we couldn't possibly do that, as Yang's closes at 11pm and so back on shore, we updated our log books and set off for grub. 🤗
On the last day of our course, our two dives were at the "White Rock" and "Japanese Gardens" dive sites. During the first dive, the sea was pretty choppy, adding the extra dynamic of getting off and on a boat that was repeatedly rising 10ft out of the water. The dive went completely to plan and with everything checked off, our last dive involved a relaxed explore around the reef. We saw a huge number of species, including a banded sea snake, which looks so bizarre, swimming effortlessly across the coral. 😳
Having completed all requirements for the course, we had our certificates signed and collected our free tshirts as open water divers. You can probably guess where we ate. 😇
Crystal Dive have a very persuasive offer for any diver that completes their open water course with them, giving us the option to do our Advanced course for 7500 baht (one of the cheapest in the world). We were massively tempted as it would mean we could dive below 18m, where most of the bigger fun stuff is found. In the end, we decided that we'll probably have greater need for that money, somewhere down the line and so declined the offer and instead, signed u for some fun dives with Charlie and Becca.
We had to wait another day for those dives to happen as thunderstorms meant that our morning dive was cancelled. A bit disappointed but happy not to be diving in a storm, we used the time to plan out the next step of our journey, while also watching the local fishermen try to resurrect one of their boats that had sunk during the night. ☔️🚣🏼
📷 – whatever floats your boat
Another early morning had us heading out to sea, finally all together. Our first dive was at "Laem Thain" drop off. Not the most exciting of dive sites but the underwater topography was pretty impressive.
📷 – ready to rock
📷 – Charlie is also excited… I think
Unfortunately, around 3 mins into the dive, I noticed a waterline that was definitely on the wrong side of my GoPro case. Seeing the salty water, slosh back and forth, around the camera was instant confirmation that said camera was no more. I spent the next 10 mins of the dive gripping the case as hard as I could to stop any more water getting in while using up more air just trying to subdue the anger at myself. Lesson to learn – if you're not 100% happy with a waterproof case… don't go diving with it. All frustration aside, I managed to enjoy the rest of the dive, forgetting about the soggy GoPro and instead, focusing on all the fish. 🐟
On the surface I told the others what had happened but by that stage I'd almost come to terms with it. There's something incredibly calming about being so far underwater, most likely because the alternative usually doesn't end well. 😳
The second dive at "Tanote Bay" was much more enjoyable. Not only did Becca's GoPro work for more than 3 mins but we saw a huge amount of species, including a giant school of barracuda that followed us around the reef. We didn't manage to spot the sunken catamaran but did snap a shot of a sunken moped that was being guarded by an angry Damsel fish.
📷 – buoyancy practice
📷 – the squad
📷 – huge school of Barracuda in the backdrop
📷 – Ella having an explore
📷 – checking out the moped
📷 – terrible parking
All in all, our experience of Koh Tao was incredible and has really opened our eyes to a world we had only seen before in pictures. A life goal ticked off and if anything, we're much more excited about being able to dive easily throughout the rest of the trip.
Tomorrow sees the end of our Koh Tao adventure and the end of oir journey through the Gulf of Thailand, as we head south, back to Krabi. I have no doubt, we'll be back someday for Yang's!