Since I'm currently working at a university in China, I get the Chinese New Year off! That's SIX WEEKS of holiday time. I'll take it :) Being already in the Eastern hemisphere, and with so much time to kill, my roommate and I decided to take a month and visit some sights in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Enjoy the third installment of that decision involving Koh Tao, Thailand:
You can book online or go directly to a travel agent type place to do what we did. I think we paid a tad bit more to book online and get the pick up at our place. From Phuket Town, we took a big bus north up and off Phuket Island and then east across Thailand. On the opposite side of Thailand, we took ferry that stopped at Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and finally Koh Tao. It was an all day affair.
Koh Tao has over 60 diving schools on one small island, but we chose Pura Vida diving for our certification. A guy we met in Dalian suggested it. Thinking back, he WAS Costa Rican so it should have come as no surprise that the school was predominantly Spanish speaking. But that was cool too, because we spent our days diving (our instructor spoke English) and our nights practicing Spanish and ending up with a lot of Spanglish. The whole island had a lot of Latin influence, actually. There were a lot more Spanish and Portuguese songs, and every restaurant had at least one table speaking Spanish.
Santi was the first dive instructor we met. He's been on the island just about a year and is from Spain. His English is really great, and he offered us rides on the back of his motorcycle sometime. He's got a very fun and welcoming personality and a great sense of humor.
Franc is from Barcelona and is a personal trainer. He was possibly the funnest to talk to because he had about as much English as we had Spanish, and he got pretty happy when he used words correctly. In just the few days we were talking with him there already a noticeable improvement in his English. Can't say the same for our Spanish.
Grisel is from Panama, but is studying in China! She's fiery, bold, beautiful, and went to the gym almost every day even after diving. So she's strong in more ways than one.
There was a storm our first morning on the island, so the rest of the week the boat schedules were messed up, the weather was a bit cooler than normal (apparently), and the waves were a bit rougher. Meaning the exercises we had to complete for our certification were done in less than ideal conditions. I’m not gonna lie, the whole diving thing was definitely harder than I anticipated. We came back every day exhausted from fighting the waves, hauling all the gear around, and just general physical activity.
Nora was our diving instructor. She's Spanish, but from the Catalan area which is super unique from the rest of Spain. Her English was great, and she was really fun to work with. She was funny and encouraging and supportive. A perfect teacher. Whenever we saw something underwater she thought was amusing, she would shrug her shoulders up and down and smile, like a visible chuckle. Her and her boyfriend live on the island with their new dog.
The most interesting and more difficult part of diving for me was establishing and maintaining neutral buoyancy. So when diving, you’ve got both a weight belt and an inflatable vest on. You keep the vest filled on the surface so it acts as a life jacket of sorts, and you deflate it when you want to descend and the weights do the rest. However, when you want to swim around the goal is to hover about a foot of the bottom so you can observe without touching. This requires you to add a couple puffs of air to your vest, and then maintain “neutral buoyancy” by playing with the amount of air in your lungs. Big inhale, you’ll start going up. Big exhale, you’ll start going down.
We don’t really have any pictures from the diving, because we weren’t allowed to have cameras out while we were supposed to be paying attention. Which is probably smart. Just know, we looked pretty badass. When diving we saw all kinds of coral and fish. My favorites were the parrot fish and the butterfly fish. Butterfly fish travel in pairs because they are mated for life. Nora said that when they have been apart for some time, when they meet back up they will dance around each other like “I’m so happy to see you I missed you!” Relationship goals. Parrot fist are very bright colored and have mouths that look like beaks. They eat coral, and because they help break down hard stuff they contribute a lot to the building of beaches. The more you know, right?
We decided to stay and extra day in Koh Tao so that we could see more of the island. We had underestimated how much time the diving would take each day. So on our last day, after much debate as to whether this was a good idea or not, we rented a scooter. Honestly, it probably wasn’t the best idea because neither of us had any experience and we were pretty wobbly. We even had to be rescued halfway up a very steep hill. No one told us it was impossible with two people! But a nice Thai guy helped us up. If you look pathetic enough, people will help you. Because a different nice Thai guy rescued us on the way down as we tried to just roll it because no way were we risking trying to drive that thing down. The views were pretty worth it though.
We met three guys who were living in Chiang Mai (a town in the north of China that is also very popular for visitors). All of them work digitally, so THAT'S COOL. Bauke is from the Netherlands, and quit his "real" job to focus on his online business, and is doing well enough to support himself and his chosen wanderings. Leo is from Brazil and is super super tall and is easily lost but very sweet. Dylan is from LA and had lost his voice for the first day we knew him. He could only talk by typing it out on his phone, so that was pretty amusing.
We also met a Russian girl named Yulya who seemed a bit reserved but also really nice to chat with. She seemed reserved until she liked the song that came on . That girl can DANCE. Whoever says white girls can't dance, I present the exception.
Koh Tao was paradise, and filled with lovely people. It’s the kind of place I’d definitely like to return to. For no reason other than to chill and just be.