I did my Open Water Dive Certification back in February 2011, and I loved diving so much, I decided to go back to Koh Tao and do the next step in certification, the Advanced Diver (or Advanced Adventurer). It was AMAZING! About 10 times better than the Open Water, because you didn’t have to learn that many new things, you got to use a dive computer, and it was all about the fun of diving. Perhaps if I hadn’t already had plans afterwards, I may have stayed somewhat longer.
The first step was to travel from Chiang Mai down to Koh Tao. My sister and I took the overnight train from Bangkok, and it stopped at the airport to let her out. I think I stayed on the same train as it trundled down the length of Thailand. I remember arriving at a ridiculous time in the morning at Chumphon, about 2am, and had to wait a long time at the train station, trying to sleep, but being too paranoid about my stuff to really relax. Finally we got into the back of a big truck which took us to the ferry.
It was interesting seeing so many wooden fishing boats at the port where we boarded the ferry. On the boat there was hardly space to move as everyone tried to find a place to sit down. I went to the front, as I seem to get less seasick when I can see where we are going and if I have the wind on my face. Hopping between the minuscule bare patches of deck, touts spoke to various travellers about the merits of the dive schools they represented. Most of the time these guys are not aggressive, and if you decline interest, they’ll leave you alone.
Once we got to the island, everyone disembarked, many going with the touts who had signed them up to a dive school. I actually recommend this route, especially if you want to stay at Sariee Beach, and if you have a heavy backpack. The people will take you to the dive school, and then if you don’t like it for some reason, you can always just up and leave, and find a different place. Taxis from the pier are expensive, and it’s a bit of a mission to walk there.
I wasn’t intending to go back to the same dive school. It had been a fun experience, but the accommodation had been a little lonely since they gave you your own hut. I asked around at a couple of other dive outfits, but they were already fully booked. As I was walking past the dive outfits, I saw Phoneix Divers (where I had done my Open Water cert), and figured I may as well pop in. All-in-all they had been pretty good, and it might actually be nice to get a decent night’s sleep after the drunk Aussie snorer in our Chiang Mai dorm room, and the zero sleep I’d had the previous night.
I signed up for the Advanced course, and it turned out to be a good thing that I’d chosen the same company, as they give a discount to repeat customers. Anyway, I hadn’t dived for a while, not since Indonesia about 11 months previously, and as such was a little nervous about diving again. I spoke to the centre about a refresher course, but they suggested I just do a couple of fun dives with two of their dive masters instead. It would be cheaper and more fun than an actual refresher course. They were right! I did the dives that afternoon and felt much better about starting my course the next day. Unsurprisingly I slept like a log on the first night!
The Advanced course was awesome. During the course I learnt to navigate and use a dive computer. These may not sound very exciting, but to a diver these are very useful, make diving much easier, and therefore much more fun. We also did the deep dive were the Dive Instructor played a trick on us – and we all fell for it! Damn narcosis! One of my favourite dives was the night dive. It’s totally magical in the ocean at night, and I felt like a wizard, waving my hand, lighting up the phytoplankton.
The interesting thing about the dive sites in Koh Tao are that they are quite big. Even though there were a number of other boats at the same site, and many other divers in the water, we barely noticed anyone once in the water. After we finished the course, I hung out with some American girls, and we ended up having drinks with some Israeli guys. Below is a photo of the guys lighting their cigarettes on the fire limbo stick.
Overall I had a great time on the island, but again I felt quite lonely, and next time I’m going to try and find a bigger dive school with more social accommodation.