Ko Tao Part 1

I chose Ko Tao for a couple of reasons, but mainly for its scuba diving.  Ko Tao is the diving capital of Thailand, and I heard they’re number two in the world for scuba diving certifications completed per year.  Most people come to do their Open Water certification, but I took scuba diving as a gym class in college, so I’ve had my PADI Open Water certification for 15 years (wow that makes me feel old).  I was looking to finish the next step, and earn my Advanced.  Having your advanced opens up more possibilities and dive sites because with an open water certification, you’re only allowed to dive to 18 meters/60 feet; but with your advanced, you can dive to 30 meters/100 feet.

I got off the ferry around 9 and although it was hot, and I had all my luggage, I decided to walk the few kilometers to my hostel in Sairee Beach.  I was still in yesterday’s clothes after that hot day in Bangkok plus a night spent sleeping on a bus and a bench, so figured I couldn’t get much sweatier or smellier.  Plus I figured I’d get to see something of the island on the way.  Sairee Beach is the island’s most popular, on the West coast of the island.  I stayed at Good Dream Hostel and it was nice, the rooms were clean and air conditioned.  Each bed had it’s own pull down desk, light, outlet and safe.  Not a bad deal for 420 baht a night ($11.80).  Sairee itself feels really touristy, in both good and bad ways. It reminded me of beach towns from other trips: lots of hotels, bars, motorbike rental spots, pharmacies, convenience stores and touristy restaurants.  An easy place to be, with everything you need nearby, but not much local culture.  I spent the first afternoon recovering on the beach, the first time on the trip I’d gotten to use my bathing suit.  The sun was really intense, and I was surprised at how shallow the beach was, at high tide, the sand practically disappeared.

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Longtail on Sairee beach

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In Thai culture, shoes are removed at the door

My laundry also needed to be done pretty desperately, so I dropped it off.  It cost 40 baht ($1.20) per kilo (2.2 lbs) and when I got it back, I was surprised to find this:

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All of my underwear, tied in knots

I apologize if that’s TMI but it was too funny not to share.

The next day I was due at the dive shop at 9 am.  Due to my poor planning, the dive shop was in Chalok Baan Kao, all the way on the south of the island, so I had to take a taxi.  The driver dropped me off where the road ended, pointed in the general direction of the dive shop and told me it was only a two minute walk.  I wandered around, trying to find my way there for a bit more than two minutes.  One thing I’ve found in Thailand, especially near the water is that it’s hard to differentiate the line between public and private property.  Oftentimes I’d think I was on a street to find that I was in the backyard of someone’s house, or the grounds of a hotel.  No one seemed to mind though and eventually I found a sign pointing to the shop.

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Hotel in Chalok Baan Kao

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Boardwalk to the dive shop

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Dive shop’s front yard

There was a bit of a miscommunication regarding when I was supposed to start my class, but we got it sorted out and I headed out that afternoon to do two fun dives.  I hadn’t dove in years and wanted them as a sort of refresher.  Alvaro Diving has a pirate theme, and even a pirate ship for dive boat. I was too nervous to take out my camera on the longtail ride out to it though, so I didn’t get a great shot of the boat itself.

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Since Ko Tao is such a popular and inexpensive spot for diving, people come from all over the world to complete their more advanced certifications.  They stay for a few months, often working at the shops while working their way through the necessary steps to become dive masters or instructors.  Many (most?) of the divers on the my boat were dive master trainees.

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View from the dive boat

We dove at White Rock and Green Rock, and both were great.  The current at White Rock was pretty strong, but I didn’t mind, it was so great to just be back underwater.  I love the water, and grew up swimming, in the ocean, lakes, at the YMCA, wherever I could. Scuba diving to me is kinda like magic.  Besides the more obvious part of getting to see all sorts of amazing marine life, in its natural habitat, the actual experience is amazing.  A big part of diving, or diving well is achieving neutral buoyancy.  That is, according to Wikipedia “a condition in which a physical body’s average density is equal to the density of the fluid in which it is immersed.”  What that feels like is weightlessness, like walking on the moon, or not being affected by gravity.  It’s incredible.  You can just float there, right-side up, like you’re standing, or upside down, on your stomach, on your back, or any position you like.  When you do it right, taking a deep breath with make you float up towards the surface slightly, and expelling it will drop you down.  You can just hang out there, in mid-water, watching, living in the aquarium.  It’s amazing.  My dive buddy was a dive master from Spain, and he had a Go Pro.  I’ve never had any interest in owning one before, but I promise you I’ll get one before the next time I go diving.  We saw so many amazing things, and I can’t explain them all to you as well as photos would.  I gave him my email address and was hoping he’d share them, but haven’t gotten them yet.  The short version is I basically saw the entire cast of Finding Nemo.  This a link to the marine life around Ko Tao, and I saw almost everything on it except turtles, whale sharks, and sea horses.  http://www.simplelifedivers.com/gulf-of-thailand/marine-life-guide.html

Afterwards, I decided to walk back to Sairee.  I saw a fruit stand selling these:

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Luckily, the woman spoke English and she offered me one to try.  They’re called sala or salak, I think in Thai, or snake fruit in English.  They look kinda like pine cones but come from a type of palm tree.  When you peel them, they have two lobes, each with a pit.

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*Salak or snake fruit, 30 baht/lb

They taste kinda bright and acidic, and are a little bit astringent.  They have a nice sort of tutti-fruity flavor to them, and I bought a half kilo of them to snack on.

I also stumbled into a market or carnival on my way home.  It had a lot of the usual carnival things, food stalls and games, and a couple of unusual ones as well.

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Thai bingo

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Thai carnival game

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Carnival eye exam…?

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There was also a woman making and selling coconut wafers on my walk.  They were kinda like the pizzelles my mom makes for Christmas.  Unlike my mom’s electric iron though, she was making them over hot embers.

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*Coconut wafers, 20 baht

The sunset was really beautiful, andI got to see all of the colors change as I walked along the beach.

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Mae Head Sunset

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