It’s safe to say since starting out on our travels I couldn’t wait to get to Koh Tao and go scuba diving. I’ve known about this little island in the Gulf of Thailand for a while now and its reputation as a scuba diving Mecca. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The day finally arrived on the 14th Feb to start my 3-day PADI (professional association of diving) open water course. This is the very first step on your diving journey. I had booked to do the course at a dive school called Sairee Cottage after the recommendation from a friend I had met on my travels plus my own independent research. There are literally 100s of dive schools on the island, so I was glad of the recommendation and it certainly lived up to the hype. It was a truly wonderful place to learn how to dive. I would recommend it to anyone.
Right so day 1 of the course, there was my one instructor Kaylie, and two other students with me, a young guy from Germany and a young woman from Canada. A lovely sized class. The morning of day 1 consisted of watching 3 videos before playing around with the equipment, before breaking for lunch. After lunch, we then spent 3 hours in the dive schools pool going through a variety of skill which we would later need to demonstrate in the open water. I think there were 21 in total. Skills included things like clearing your mask, what to do if out of air and how to relieve a cramp in a fellow diver. Even the sensation of taking my first breaths underwater in the pool was amazing. After the 3 hours pool session, we then watched one final video before being sent home with homework to be completed by the following day. Overall the first day was great with a lot to take in. I slept really well that night.
Day 2 – The morning once again consisted of watching 2 more videos (the videos are obviously all educational stuff regarding diving) before reviewing the homework set the previous day. The homework consisted of knowledge review questions from the previous days learning. After this we then got familiar with the dive computers we would be wearing (an important bit of kit which tells you among a variety of other things how deep you are). We then broke for lunch before heading out onto the open seas for our first two real dives. The experience on the first two dives was incredible, like nothing I had ever experienced before. We dove at two different dive sites both down to a depth of 12 m. The first dive was a little surreal getting used to it all and the surroundings. The reef, however, was amazing. With so many different fish and things to see. Down at 12 m, we had to do a few of the pool skills we had learnt such as recovering your breathing regulator and clearing your mask. The second dive of the day was equally amazing. However, this time I had a little trouble on the descent with my mask leaking water and my ears failing to equalise. It was a little bit scary but after composing myself I managed to sort everything out and get on with the dive. Once again, we went to a depth of 12 m where we saw a big school of small barracuda, a blue spotted stingray and a Moray eel. Again, the reef was incredible and once again more skills to be done such as a full mask clear and supporting your buddy by passing them your spare regulator, imitating what would happen if they ran out of air.
Day 3 – Today was the final day of the Open Water course, the day started with a review of the homework questions which were set at the end of day 2 before we undertook the final written examination. This consisted of 50 multiple choice questions whereby you had to get less than 11 wrong to pass. Thankfully I only got 4 wrong so passed the exam, as did my fellow course mates. Dives 3 and 4 didn’t go a smoothly as dives 1 and 2 but were still great none the less. On dive 3 my two course mates had lots of trouble with there ears. So much so that the young German had to return to the boat early at the start of dive 3 as he was unable to equalise. My other course mate also had the same problem which meant I was left holding the mooring line at about 7 m just chilling out. This is where I stayed for 20 minutes watching all the other divers from different boats pass beneath me. Luckily, we were still able to complete our required skills on this dive even if we never saw the reef or made it to the planned depth of 18 m. (The maximum of an open water diver). Dive 4 was just the two of us and Kaylie our instructor. Once again, the Canadian lady had troubles with her ears, so we spent a lot of time descending. Eventually, we made it to around 14 m in depth where we carried out some navigation skills before enjoying the rest of the dive. Right towards the end of dive 4 when we were making our 3-minute safety stop at 5 m depth (this is to help prevent decompression sickness) we were greeted with the sight of a turtle swimming gracefully towards us as we floated in this new underwater world. Upon surfacing after our 4th dive I was officially a qualified PADI Open Water Diver. I was also officially hooked on diving and couldn’t wait to get back in the water. So much so that I opted to start my PADI Advanced Open Water course the next day. The course would allow me to dive deeper and further improve my skills. Plus, simply gave me more time in the water.
Unfortunately, my course was postponed by a day due to my instructor (same one I had for my open water) being a little sick so was unable to dive. This did mean I got some time to see a bit more of Koh Tao which is a stunning place to visit, without the diving element. It really is a beautiful little island with lots of charm and character, from little coves and beaches, to exploring to the main strip lined with bars and restaurants. It is certainly my favourite Thai island visited so far and that is without the diving element, we only enhanced my love of the place. I hope I can return one day. During my time off I was also able to catch up with the rest of the boys who had also been enjoying their time on the island and said it is one of there favourite places too. After my day off from diving I was luckily able to start my Advanced Open Water course on the 18th of Feb, a day later than planned, but thankfully my instructor Kaylie was feeling better. Also, as a bonus, it was just me undertaking the advanced course, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone else having problems. The other bonus with the advanced course was that there wasn’t any exam element and only a few skills which had to be completed. So more time spent enjoying the view.
Adv day 1 – The first dive of my advanced course was the deep dive to a depth of 30 m. Now I was a little nervous before this dive seeing as the deepest I had previously been to was 14 m, but I needn’t be as it went really well. I had no ear trouble and it was a really great dive. At 30 m there were a few skills or tests to be done. The first being a colour chart test. In summery the deeper you go the more colour you lose from the colour spectrum. The first ones to go are your reds and yellows, so at 30 m Kaylie pulled out a colour chart and asked me to write the colours I saw on the chart (I know writing underwater also very cool) the first few colours looked brown and then gradually went on to become blue. Kaylie then shone a light on the chart illuminating it to show the first colours were, in fact, red and yellow, certainly not brown. After the colour demonstration, I then undertook the Narc test. Once again to summarise, at depths of greater than roughly 25m people can experience a phenomenon called narcosis. Described as a feeling of being a little bit intoxicated. This is because of the effect of nitrogen at pressure on the body. It is a harmless phenomenon other than the secondary issues it may cause due to lapses in judgment. To test if I was feeling any narc systems we undertook a further test. Prior to the dive, I completed the test on dry land. This consisted of me pointing to the numbers 1 to 12 on a little diagram and after each number touching my nose. On the surface, this took me 17 seconds to complete. At a depth of 30 m, it took me 33. Maybe some slight effects of the narcosis then, but regardless I think it’s a little harder to do submerged in water, so I don’t feel too bad about my time haha. After completing the tests, we then just went on a dive. Once again, the reef was teeming with life and we saw some big barracuda amongst other things. The second dive of the day was a wreck dive of an old American WWII ship. The ship had been sunk on purpose in 2011 to create an artificial reef. The visibility wasn’t great being around 5-10 m, but this added to the effect of the dive as the large ship slowly came into view. The overall feel of the dive was very eerie, but it was also extremely exhilarating. There were two big guns on the deck of the boat which we explored as well as the bridge which was home to several large grouper fish. It was amazing to swim around the wreck and it is certainly something I’m looking forward to doing in the future. After exploring the wreck, we then finished the dive on the nearby reef.
Adv Day 2 – on day two of the advanced course I had 3 dives to completed. The first was the navigation dive. Maters weren’t helped on this dive when once again the visibility was very poor around 5 m. Firstly I had to complete a few basic navigation tasks underwater like swimming in a straight line following my compass and then also in a square. Both sound easy when on dry land but are completely different when submerged under 14m of water with scuba gear on your back. After this, we then measured how many kicks it would take me to swim 10m underwater. Due to the poor visibility, I lost sight of my instructor under the water while she set up the 10 m guide rope. This was a very strange moment being totally alone in the water with no one else around. Just as I was starting to panic a little, as you aren’t meant to be separated and it was me who cocked up, as I was meant to follow Kaylie, she came back into view. Much to my relief. We then carried out swimming test. After this, I was then in charge of navigating the whole dive. Something which I was terrible at. I had an underwater map of the dive site which I had drawn from the map on the surface, but this really didn’t help me at all. The whole time I had no idea where the hell we were, and it really was a difficult dive in this respect. It didn’t help matters that I thought we had entered the water somewhere completely different to where we did. On the plus side, while I was aimlessly swimming the reef we came across a turtle settled on the sea bed floor scratching an itch on the coral. It was such an awe-inspiring sight and one which will stay with me a long time. The animal was so majestic and rather large. It really was breath-taking and one of the reasons I will continue to dive due to the chance to encounter animals like this in their world. After the turtle, we made our way to the surface and to no ones surprise (certainly not mine) we were miles from the boat haha. Not how it’s meant to be done. This, therefore, meant a long surface swim back to the boat. Still, we made it back in the end.
After the navigation dive, came the peak performance buoyancy dive, basically a dive to help with controlling your buoyancy in the water which is clearly very important to ensure you don’t damage the reef you swim above or yourself. The dive involved lots of fun things like being upside down in the water, maintaining my depth in my dive position and learning some new swimming technique. Due to the nature of buoyancy, your lungs clearly play a big part, so I was focusing a lot on my breathing. I think it was due to this that when we set off to start swimming through various underwater obstacles. I had a little moment where I needed to catch my breath. I told Kaylie to stop and took a minute or two to compose myself under the water. After a few minutes, I managed to get my breathing back under control. I must admit I did fight the urge to want to swim directly to the surface as it was a little scary, but Kaylie was a very calming presence and before long we were back on our way and finished off the second dive of the day.
The final dive of the advanced course was a night dive and I was really looking forward to this as it would be like nothing I had ever experience before. To start with there was an amazing sunset which we witnessed from the boat and on the surface of the water before commencing our dive. Initially, the dive started while there was still natural light, but after a little while, you really couldn’t see your hand in front of your face without a torch. This was an equally exhilarating feeling, momentarily blocking the torches light so you were unable to see anything. It really felt like I was floating in space or something and I have never known darkness like it. I guess it would be easy to get carried away and think about all the horrible things that may be lurking out there but really with the torch, it was no different to diving in the poor visibility earlier in the day. If anything, the poor visibility in the day time was worse. The night dive depth wasn’t very deep only to around a maximum of 10 m, but we still saw some cool stuff such as a few small octopuses, I apparently even kicked one while Kaylie was trying to point it out to me haha. There was also a little bit of bioluminescent plankton in the water which was cool but nothing like what we saw when skinny dipping in Koh Rong Samloem. We ended the night dive emerging to a full moon above our heads. It was a fitting end to what had been a truly amazing and life changing 5 days of diving. It’s safe to say I think I have found a new hobby that I am hooked on and I’m very much planning and looking forward to diving in the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.
To end I would firstly like to thank Sairee cottage diving as it truly is an exceptional place to learn dive. But mostly I would like to thank Kaylie my instructor for the two courses. I don’t think I could have asked for a better teacher and she really was exceptional. I’m so thankful that I got the best possible start in my diving journey. No doubt in the following months of blogs there will be more tails of amazing diving adventures (and hopefully photos and videos to match when I take my camera) all of which will be made possible due to falling in love with diving thanks to Sairee cottage and Kaylie. Its now off to celebrate my qualifications at the full moon party on Koh Pha Ngan.