On a work trip to Koh Tao (Turtle Island) on the opposite coast to my village, a Dive instructor colleague encouraged me to try a one day scuba discovery experience. Not being a fan of snorkels, and being infamous for holding my breath during sports, I had always been curious about scuba diving and the world under the sea (cue Little Mermaid ‘Unda Da Sea’ song) BUT was actually terrified by the thought of breathing under water! It’s just not as nature intended. Too many things to go wrong!! The scuba experience started in a pool, so I figured that was safe. I could stand up and my face would be out of water should I need to breathe fresh air. I figured if I could breathe ok under water in a pool to start, I could probably make it to the sea.
There were three of us in the class and our instructor was a lovely, gentle and patient Russian man named Sergey. Sergey found me a prescription mask so I could see in the water and out of the water when he was giving instructions, so he immediately became my hero. And he had a very patient and caring way of coaching us through this one day experience. My quirky humour kept us going and within no time, we were off to a dive site called The Twins. A lovely woman named Kate, a globe trotting, professional Event Planner, and myself did the first dive with Sergey. It was somewhat choppy on the surface and I got into my own head. Forty five minutes under water breathing via canned air and through a regulator! Freaky! Not natural! Less than a meter under water, I panicked, frantically signalled to go up and floundered to the surface. This happened two more times, with Sergey patiently coaxing me along. The third time he just suggested I go as deep as I did in the pool and decided if I was okay to continue. I became determined with that goal, signalled to descend and headed down. Getting beyond the surface waves I was totally fine and soon found the rhythm to breathing and found it easy and relaxing to be constantly sucking air in and out of the hockey puck in my mouth. You have to equalize your ears as you go down and Sergey was very vigilant about it which was a great habit to learn, I later found out.
At the bottom we saw funky statues and some cool fish. I didn’t see a lot of colourful coral and the seabed didn’t look like a Planet Earth movie as I expected but I understand it’s a very very well visited dive site. Still, my eyes were opened to the possibility of observing a whole new world under the ocean.
Back home, I immediately began looking into courses to become certified. We had learned four basic skills of the something like 22 you learn to become certified as an “Open Water” scuba diver. A former volunteer had done his Open Water at a place called Sea Dragon in the nearby Khao Lak. He chose Sea Dragon for the good reviews and the fact they had a pool. This seemed a good match for me, plus the price was reasonable and I could end with my last day being a trip to the Similan Islands so I put my deposit down, got my books and booked a place to stay for five nights.
I finished yesterday and it was one of the best expenditures of money I could have done, I think. We had one full day of theory and classroom work with videos. One day of pool exercises. A sweet Thai girl, Chida, and I were taught by a wonderful instructor who had years of experience and was a woman woman with the perfect way of explaining theories of density and pressure groups for calculating diving times named Inger. Sadly, our instructor had a cold and it worsened after our pool day, so we switched to a different instructor, Randy from the Seychelles. Randy was funny and had a lot of acronyms to help us remember procedures like safety checks. Our first dive, we went in a Thai long tail boat to just off the Thaplamu pier. It was really poor visibility and we didn’t see too much. Some cool fish, a school of little squid (one of which inked!!! How cool!) and did a lot of skills work. Chida is a snorkel guide who goes daily to the Similans,so I ended up doing the Similans trip without her, though Randy came with me.
Now, let me explain that the Similan Islands National Park is pretty famous for diving and it’s a much coveted destination for tourists. The scenery is gorgeous and the colour of the water like you see in postcards or movies. Crystal clear and turquoise water surrounds this group of nine islands that seem to be made primarily of large boulders and smooth sand. Some of my coworkers went there a LOT to do volunteer work this dry season and I heard so much about it!!!! I have always wanted to go!!! So I jumped at the chance.
I didn’t have an underwater camera but sure wish I had. The wildlife and scenery was gorgeous!!! I saw clown anemone fish (Nemo), Lion Fish, eels, a trigger fish tried to bite me several times… The little bugger just wouldn’t leave me alone! I saw a lobster and shrimp, tuna feeding off schools of fish. You know that phenomenon when there are millions of fish in the ocean and you see them all move in unison like they are one? And its magical??? I saw that. Hell, I was IN it with them!!!! So many more species and types of fish. It was unbelievable. And the coral. Fan coral, red, blue, orange, just gorgeous. I felt like David Attenborough should have been narrating as I was diving.
So…. I am now certified to dive up to 18 metres with PADI and can’t wait to go again. The season here ends May 15th so I will have to plan a holiday somewhere else next time I have a week off! Woot woot!! It’s a whole new experience under the sea!