Our journey to Koh Tao was another big adventure of the trip so far. We caught a plane from Bangkok to Surat Thani. From the airport we booked onto a transfer to Koh Tao. This firstly involved a mini bus to the pier and then a catamaran ferry from Surat Thani port to Koh Tao. Before reaching Koh Tao the ferry made stops at both Koh Samui and Koh Phangan dropping off various groups of people, leaving only those heading Koh Tao. Officially I have been to Koh Phangan as we had a small wait here as the ferries changed over. I have physically been there but we didn’t stay longer than the change over, not sure I can claim it..?
We arrived into the pier at Koh Tao to be met by HOARDS of men offering us taxis but where we’d booked to stay had a transfer service. We wrestled through the crowds and were pleasantly surprised to find a man stood in a “Bans Diving” t-shirt with a hand held sign to match.
Admittedly my first impressions of Koh Tao weren’t amazing. It felt busy and built up in that ugly kind of way, I was scared that all the beauty on Koh Tao would be ruined by development. Gladly my views changed rapidly. We hopped in the elongated golf kart and were whisked straight to the resort.
Koh Tao is the home to hundreds of diving schools but I chose “Bans Diving school” to do my Open Water Diver course.
The main beach in Koh Tao is Sairee Beach and this is where most of the shops, restaurants and importantly the dive centres were. Bans had a fantastic location with the resort right on the beach and in the middle, of the length of the beach, it made walking both ways super do able. On our first exploration the beach wasn’t hard to find and we were impressed by the beautiful bay and clear water. Although there was a lot of building work being done after the floods, the beach was still stunning.
We stayed in a small bedroom with just Louise and I which was a nice change from the dorm rooms of hostels. The toilet and shower was a little walk away but I couldn’t complain as this accommodation was the ‘free’ one.
On day one of my course (after the intro to diving video the night before) we went straight to the pool where we learnt the basics of: kit set up; ascending and descending; and simple under water skills. For me this was a lot of fun. Having never dived before I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it but I didn’t need to worry cause I loved it. The pool was nothing special when sat on the side, it was average size, slightly murky in colour but once fitted with a gas tank and goggles the pool became a play ground. In the afternoon we did more theory about the importance of pressure change and possible side effects of diving, all of which I found very interesting. In the evening Louise and I were keen to explore what Sairee Beach had to offer on the food front. Almost all restaurants on the beach have seating area basically on the sand which allow you to sip your cocktail, watch the sun set, eat you delicious Thai food and hear the lapping of waves on the sand all at the same time. This is one of the things I believe made Koh Tao very special, that and the 100 baht happy hour on cocktails. That evening we were stunned as the sun began to set and turned the sky a gorgeous orange and set the same yellow light twinkling across the sea. The sunset was the proper post card view.
Day 2 of my dive course brought my first sea dive experiences. For this I was both super excited but also nervous that something would go wrong (spoiler alert: nothing ever went wrong). Me and my group of OW training divers were all taken to our first location, “Twins”, for the very first dive. Diving in the sea is like nothing I’ve ever done before, it’s like having a super power. We descended to around 15m and began our tour of the reef. I’ve never seen anything so amazing, hundred of fish diving in and out of crevices, shell fish of every kind covering the rocks and coral colours you’d never imagine to be real. My first dive was exceptional and was just a tease of what was to come. That day we did a second dive at slightly shallower depth but for the same duration. The second dive was just as fun! My dive buddies Joél and Philippe were so much fun and made it all much better. We did more theory in the afternoon to finalise the essentials and to complete our ‘exam’. We were getting on so well as a group that we decided we wanted to go for dinner all together. We headed to a restaurant recommended by our instructors where we ate and chatted all evening. This also gave Louise an opportunity to meet the people I’d spent the last 3 days with.
The next day was the last day of my course and included two more dives, we did these at a greater depth, learnt to use dive computers and compasses, and finalised our last skills for the Open Water course. The last dives were much easier than the day before, I think mostly because I had entirely relaxed into it. I saw more but because I was looking closer. We went to one of the same dive sights as the day before but it wasn’t the same, I saw a sea snake, a baby jelly fish and noted more different types of fish than the day before. Not only did we dive but we used the two story launch boat to jump dive and flip off into the sea in our breaks between dives.
Once back on land we filled out our log books and completed the last steps which would allow us to become certified. To celebrate Louise and I walked down the beach to a restaurant called “Lotus” for our dinner and to our surprise the bar also hosted a fire show on the beach every night. After eating dinner we migrated from the restaurant to the seats on the beach to watch the show. Three men, juggled, spun and swung lit weights on chains (poy) in time to music. It was mesmerising and also hugely impressive. After this we went back to Bans to party the night away with my fellow Open Water Divers.
At the end of the course I still had bits of Koh Tao I wanted to see so we booked another night on the island in a different hostel. Louise and I walked to the very south of the island to see the John Suan view point. It was entirely worth it, the view was stunning. You could see over the whole of the south of the island, including freedom beach. As it was cloudy we were able to sit and chat at the top of the view point without crippling in the heat. We stayed there for two hours enjoying the view and chatting, the view point was surprisingly quiet for how stunning the view was.
That evening we booked our journey to Khao Sok (an in land national park) via the night boat due to leave at 9pm the next night so we effectively bagged ourselves another final day in Koh Tao, (a last cocktail and dinner sitting watching the sun set over the horizon). Definitely a meal to remember.
But after that our time on Koh Tao was over. I was sad to leave the island but knowing within the week we’d be on another beach on the west coast made it better. I loved Koh Tao and the diving I’d done there, so all round a win.