After just over 5 weeks at home, which flew by I must add. I’m back on the road. In my last blog, I reflected on what it was like to be home after so long, meaning I won’t dwell on it here. I will say though, that while I didn’t do much at home it was rather nice to be back. It took some getting used to but once I had adjusted I enjoyed my time, spending it with family and catching up with friends. Sadly there were far too many people I wanted to see and not enough time to see them. And while I have now left again, I can assure you it won’t be for 3 years this time. I’m due back in the UK towards the end of May and once back I aim to spend a considerable amount of time here. Meaning over the summer and beyond I should have plenty of time to catch up with everyone I was unable to see. Additionally, COVID restrictions and hassle shall hopefully be a distant memory then meaning we can all have a bloody good summer together. I had always intended to come home for just a few weeks over Christmas and then leave again for a few months. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the weather. I really didn’t want to spend the winter at home. Secondly, I am delighted to have been asked to be best man for my friend’s wedding, which is in July. This means I have to be home in good time to help and fulfil my required duties. Did someone say stag do! Finally, the bank balance only allowed a shorter trip to a relatively cheap country. By the time I return in the summer, the savings will all but have run dry. But after a year of not working, I’m not about to complain, we had a good run. This gave me about 4 months to kill. I decided that the best way to spend this time would be completing my PADI Divemaster, on Koh Tao, Thailand. I would be returning to the very dive centre where I took my first underwater breath, back when I backpacked South East Asia. I was recommended Sairee Cottage by a friend I met travelling in Cambodia (shoutout Keria). So on arrival to Koh Tao back in Feb 2019, I knew exactly where to go. Over the course of a week, I completed 9 dives consisting of my PADI Open and Advanced Open Water course. A total of 38 dives later and almost 3 years to the day, I would be returning to Sairee Cottage, first for my Rescue Diver course and then a 7-week Divemaster program. The first level of professional diving! I’d been contemplating doing my divemaster for some time, and having this small gap was the perfect fit. It felt only right that I returned to the place where my love for diving commenced. Sairee Cottage is an exceptional dive centre and I knew I would receive 1st class training here. I didn’t want to risk going somewhere I didn’t know and then be disappointed by the quality. Additionally, I could think of no better place to see out the “winter months” than on the beautiful little island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Average temperature for Feb, March & April, a cool 30 ℃. So stay tuned over the coming weeks where I aim to detail my divemaster experience and life on Koh Tao. Also, give my Everitts Adventures Instagram a follow where I shall be Vlogging the experience.
Like anything travel-related at the moment, the journey to Thailand was anything but simple. However, most of the planning was required beforehand, not in the journey itself. I applied for a 60-day tourist visa back in late November, which I can extend for 1 month giving me 3 months here. With that done I had to apply for my Thai pass, which is part of the covid regulations the country has brought in. Basically, you have to prove things like vaccination status, PCR test bookings, hotel bookings for the start of your stay, covid insurance, etc. I also had to scramble to apply for the Test and Go system a day before they closed it due to the Omicron variant. Luckily it was granted and meant I was able to enter under this system as opposed to the so-called sandbox scheme. (Side note Test and Go is due to reopen 1st of Feb, so if anyone wants any info hit me up, it’s actually not that difficult to get here). With all the paperwork taken care of, the final most tricky task was avoiding Covid at home. Thankfully I managed and the required PCR test 72 hours before departing was all clear. (side note again I really recommend Randox Health for any PCR testing for travel, good price and I received my result in under 24 hours). Although all this extra paperwork is a bit of a hassle and also an added cost, it can certainly be done. Plus if the length of the trip is long enough I believe it’s worth it. My main issue with it is it takes away the element of excitement before a trip. Part of the fun in travelling is looking forward to an upcoming adventure. With all these extra steps due to covid, you lose that pre-departure excitement as you’re more focused on what could go wrong than actually looking forward to what’s about to come. It’s for this reason, I really wasn’t excited to leave. It wasn’t until I landed in Thailand and was at my hotel that a massive smile came across my face and I was absolutely buzzing to be here. The actual process once I arrived in Phuket was like a well-oiled machine, you were directed where to go and helped every step of the way. First the Test and Go paperwork was checked, then I passed through immigration and had my passport stamped. After this, it was straight through to have a PCR swab taken (before even leaving the airport). Before a taxi ride to my hotel for check-in. I then had to stay in my room until the PCR result came back negative and I was allowed out to do whatever I wanted. A bit more involved than before covid, but the Thai’s have certainly put in a good system regardless. It was all very smooth and really quite easy.
On arrival at Phuket airport and the taxi ride to my hotel, the nostalgia really started to hit me. I had flown into Phuket from Cambodia almost 3 years ago to the day. That time I had been with my mates Fred, Connor and Ollie, with whom I spent 6 months travelling South East Asia. Being back in the same county and even the same airport without them felt very strange. It brought back so many happy memories and experiences and all I wanted was for them to be here with me again and to relive it all. Those 6 months will forever be some of the best times of my life. We had an unbelievable time, it doesn’t get much better than 6 months travelling and partying with your best mates. Being back now after a few years just brought everything flooding back, yet while I loved reminiscing I couldn’t help but wish I could do it all over again. While that part of my life was over, the fact it happened is what makes me happy and grateful for now. Sadly as great as something may be in life, part of the beauty is that you only get to live it once, that’s why you have to make the effort to make it great the first time around. There are no second attempts. It’s a reminder to live in the moment and enjoy the present as before you know it 3 years have passed and you’re looking back on things with a distant memory. The fact the memories are there at all and that the experiences were had in the first place is what I shall hold onto.
As well as now being here alone, Thailand itself was also going to be very different compared to when I last visited in 2018 & 19. I travelled Asia at probably the height of the backpacker scene in the region. It was thriving with life and like-minded people making the experience even more magical. I saw a statistic that said in 2019, Thailand welcomed more than 40 million visitors. In 2021 the figure was 0.05% of that, a meagre 200,000. That is an unbelievable contrast. I believe in 2019 there were a little too many tourists, so some kind of reduction is welcomed. But that kind of dramatic reduction is obviously far too much. It’s clear to see some places haven’t survived the pandemic and speaking to the Thai people, who relied so heavily on tourism the impact the pandemic has had on their lives has been stark. The Thai authorities are hoping for around 5 million visitors in 2022 and it does seem the revival is starting. My plane into Phuket was pretty much full. If you wander around the busy Bangla Road at night, there is a constant throng of people, but it’s certainly nothing compared to what it was in 2019. The demographic also seems a bit different. Phuket always was a blend of the backpacking traveller and the more refined 2-week holidaymaker. But the needle has swung drastically it seems towards the standard holidaymaker and family. The reason for this is obvious, firstly the entry requirements are geared towards people spending a few weeks in one of the resorts then leaving again, plus I imagine entry restrictions for all of South East Asia are very similar, meaning it makes it incredibly hard for the standard backpacker to return. If I had planned to embark on a trip as I did in 2018/19 I certainly wouldn’t be doing it just yet. While confidence is increasing with a return to normal there is still a lot of uncertainly for the backpacker, combine this with the fact that hopping from one country to the next would be a nightmare, why would you do it currently? I came this way simply to stay in Thailand not jump from country to country as I had done. In my eyes, there does seem to be hope though. While the numbers aren’t likely to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 if not later, things do seem to be improving. Thailand is due to drop its current covid alert level to 3 / 5 (lowest being 1). Many people around the world are now vaccinated and with the Omicron wave hopefully infecting a lot of people giving them protection but not making them seriously ill this will offer a large amount of natural protection. It’s certainly going to be difficult to get the blend just right, but covid is here to stay, so we must start living with the virus as safely and unrestrictedly as possible. People are keen to get going again, and those who maybe had never thought of doing such a trip, after being stuck at home for so long may now be more willing to entertain the idea. I’d like to hope by the end of this year, and into next, the backpacker trail might start to pick up again. It might also be the perfect time with just the right amount of people. I guess only time will tell on that one.
While I flew into Phuket, Koh Tao is situated on the opposite side of the mainland, within the Gulf of Thailand. I stayed in Phuket for 4 days, really just acclimatising, getting over the jet lag and running a few errands. For example, I had to register my drone with the authorities and I also went to the dentist for a general check-up/clean. I also wanted a quote on the removal of my wisdom teeth, as I was told I needed this done when I visited the dentist in Australia. However the prices there were ridiculous and it wasn’t urgent. The dentist was very good, I had researched it thoroughly before I left and had my appointment pre-booked. They were very professional and operated just as you would expect any dentist in the UK too. For the check-up, x-ray, clean and polish I paid 2800 THB, about £60. I was told I needed 2 fillings, which would set me back another £60 and to remove all 4 wisdom teeth would cost around £260. I am likely to go ahead and get the two fillings and removal of my left side wisdom teeth as they are the most urgent. I shall likely have this done after the diving course in April so shall update you on this later on!
After 4 nights in Phuket, I had an early start as I made my way to Koh Tao. I had wanted to go direct to Koh Tao on the 24th. But sadly the only option was an overnight ferry, with the timings being all over the place, getting in around 4 am. I therefore decided it was better to go from Phuket to Koh Samui in one day. Stay the night on Koh Samui and then take a final hour and a half ferry to Koh Tao. The journey to Koh Samui was easy, getting picked up by a minivan and driven to the ferry. The minivan driver did seem to be more interested in making and watching Tik Toks as opposed to keeping his eyes on the road though! The ferry ride was also very easy and a short taxi ride got me to my hotel on Koh Samui for the night. The journey was a stark reminder of how few travellers and tourists are here though. Back in 2019, I completed a very similar journey and the ferry was full of backpackers and holidaymakers. This time I could count the westerns on both hands, the ferry was barely a quarter full and most were Thai. Even driving around Koh Samui you struggled to spot a tourist, whereas before it would be impossible to miss them. It is a little sad, but also exactly what I expected. I was under no illusions it wouldn’t be this way, so was fully prepared for it, even so, seeing the huge difference really does hit home how massive an impact these past 2 years have had on everything. There are also still restrictions in Thailand, masks are worn everywhere and bars have to close at 11pm (it was 9pm until today 24th of Jan). I didn’t come here expecting it to be anything like 2019, I came here to do my diving course, and to be honest having the dive sites and Koh Tao to myself and the other divers on the course shall be amazing. I’m sure over the coming months it will pick up a little. Plus as long as the group of divers are good fun I know I’ll have an amazing time! As of right now, I leave for Koh Tao tomorrow morning, which I shall then call home for the 2 months. Stay tuned over this time as I shall detail all my divemaster experience. Also, check out my Everitts Adventures Instagram for more regular updates.
P.s. If anyone has any questions about getting to Thailand or is curious about the current conditions and stuff, I’m happy to answer any 🙂