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Koh Tao – A drinking island with a diving problem


Full size gallery of the pictures below –¬†

It was a rather long trip from Penang to Koh Tao, but after a bunch of buses and a 6 am Ferry we were on the island and ready to go (to sleep). We walked to our hostel and booked the last three beds they had left (with a fancy ocean view) and then went to their adventure/tour/diving agency attached to the hostel. The place we went is called Goodtime Adventures and in that office we made a decision that would shape and ultimately make us extend our stay on the island. We actually had no plans to but we left the office having booked the SSI Open Water Certification course which meant 2.5 days of diving and watching “educational videos”. We’ll dive for a couple of days and then have the rest of our time to explore the island, hike, cliff jump, or rock climb…right?

Open Water Course

We got up nice and early the next day in order to watch some riveting videos. We learned about tons of things but especially that we are responsible for our own safety which must have been mentioned at least every five minutes. Once that was ingrained into our brains we were ready to begin breathing under the surface of a pool. None of us knew how breathing underwater from a tank would feel or if we would like it so there was a sense of nervousness along with plenty of excitement. It’s hard to describe how it feels to be completely underwater but yet still be able to breathe. It definitely doesn’t feel natural but by the end of the day we all agreed it was incredible, and that was just after a day at the pool. We went to sleep looking forward to our first two real dives.
Before I continue I have to mention a little about our diving instructor (Daniel Halmi) because I cant imagine having had a better instructor. As far as diving knowledge goes, there was practically no subject in which he could not give us an in depth explanation. He also was a person with one of the most calm demeanors I have met, a trait that is definitely useful for diving. However, he also is the reason why we all became quite addicted to diving. He made it the experience it was. One full of laughter, joking, finding awesome things in the ocean and of just simple happiness. His love for diving was infectious and we were truly lucky enough to have had him as our instructor.

Dive 1 & 2

The beginning of an amazing love affair. The ocean is beautiful. I had never really appreciated it until I started diving. I used to think of coral as fancy rocks but they are actually some pretty amazing fancy rocks. Our first dive was in a dive site called the Japanese Gardens, so you can imagine that the main attraction here was coral. But more than just what we saw, experiencing the feeling of pretending to be a fish was one that I did not want to lose. After finally appreciating many different types of coral (my favorite being Christmas tree coral) we got back on the boat and started getting ready for our next dive at the Twins. One of the great things about these dives is that the water was about 31 deg Celsius which meant no wetsuit and absolutely no feeling of cold. Also, I wish there was a way to explain some of the hand signals we had but we had them for everything. My favorite hand signals were probably “I have to pee” and “I am peeing now”. The trick was to hug your buddy and throw out the signal of peeing or make sure they were down current and just let them know what they were swimming in. Anyway, we were definitely getting more comfortable with the idea of being a fish and started relaxing and having way more fun underwater. Dan would always show off and pull out these bubble rings he could conjure with his hands. None of us were able to master it and were barely able to pull it off once or twice throughout the dives. We had a nice sighting of a trigger fish on this dive and found out that the other group diving with us had it attack them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the joy of playing with some trigger fish.
So diving makes you tired. Combine that with an afternoon full of videos telling you things meant for a two year old. Sleep. However, I managed to stay awake and pay enough attention to know that I am responsible for my own safety. We are on a party island so the next logical thing to do would be party. I think at this point if we would have had a drop of alcohol we would’ve passed out, so we decided to simply pass out sober. Here’s the best part! We were staying at a party hostel which meant house music (just house music, the bad kind, cause its all bad when you’re trying to go to sleep) blasted until 2am pretty much inside our room. I don’t know if it was louder in my bed or at the bar. So we might as well have just partied cause sleep wasn’t a thing. After this night of rest we had our last two dives the next morning!

Dive 3 & 4

Our first two dives were to a depth of 12 m and these next 2 we got to go down to 18 m. Which to me sounded not so deep until I had 18 meters worth of sea above me, then it seemed pretty deep. Our third dive ended up being one of the best dives, which is truly hard to make a judgement on. We dove at the Chumphon Pinnacle which is known for its giant schools of fish. This was truly a sight to see as we were literally surrounded by what seemed like walls of fish that would part as we swam through it. It was a magical experience. We saw white eyed eel, fake nemos, giant grouper, and batfish to name a few. This was the dive that made me certain that I wanted to keep doing this pretending to be a fish thing.
Every dive was very unique, and the next one was no exception. We dove at White Rock and saw some very cool fish. We saw our first Blue Spotted stingray which was pretty awesome. After that we saw a Coral Trout that was actually in the process of having its breakfast. It had a fish in its mouth and it was munching on the fish and we got to see the trout eat the fish. We have a signal for “F***ing awesome” and we definitely pulled it out after seeing that.
After we got back to land we were officially certified to a depth of 18 meters. Dan, who is an amazing human that I definitely have not mentioned enough yet, talked to us about getting the advanced adventurer certification. He was very honest and told us that the dives (five of them) would be worth it and that he thought we were absolutely comfortable enough in the water to go down to the 30 meter depth this certification let us go to. We did love diving but would have to extend our stay on the island to be able to finish and just purely dive with only one day off. We said we would think about it but you know and at least I knew as soon as he talked to us about it that I wanted to do it. We finally had a free afternoon that we spent lounging on the beach. A very overdue activity that I thoroughly enjoyed — I never would’ve thought that floating in water could be tiring. We went to sleep after extending our stay a couple of more days and excited to go to a depth where we could actually get high off of our body absorbing Nitrogen (didn’t actually happen no matter what Dan says). The first four dives were amazing but the next five were on a whole new level.

Advanced Adventurer

We finally had a morning to sleep in. We took full advantage of it and fell asleep to the lulling sounds of deep base. There was, however, one disruption in our night of sleep. Without going into too many details… Collin was on the top bunk and some guy had the bottom bunk. Well, this guy thought it would be a fantastic idea to bring back a girl and go into the bed and shake the entire structure for about twenty minutes. Collin did the only thing he could do and decided he would walk down and go to the bathroom right at the apex of this ‘micro-earthquake’, which made for a very funny reaction. However, they paid no mind and kept at it. He then started singing Ed Sheeran to her — people are crazy. Anyway, on to an afternoon (and night) of diving!

Dive 5

A dream come true. From before we dived into the water I felt something weird about this dive. Dan (the man) was explaining the fish we were gonna see and when we came across the picture of a whale shark he shrugged it off and said “we’ll see”. And see we did. The feeling of being at 25 meters, near the ocean floor and then looking up, because Dan is doing the equivalent of yelling at us underwater to look up, and then seeing a massive fish just engulf your view. A whale shark was swimming over us. I couldn’t believe it. It was a baby whale shark, about 3 meters in length, but in the moment it felt like it was 10 meters. It ended up circling back two more times, with one of the times it being close enough to reach out and touch. Having such a massive creature swim past while you are in the same environment as him is a feeling that is hard to describe. So, was the diving worth it? Absolutely. After we got on the boat Dan told us that his friend had spotted the whale shark in the morning and thought we might as well dive there in the afternoon just in case. He didn’t want to talk about it on the boat because naming a fish on the boat before a dive is bad luck. Whale sharks are seen in Koh Tao but are by no means a common sight. They are rare enough for the diving instructors that weren’t with us to jokingly (half-jokingly) flick us off and tell us they hated us when we got back on land.¬†

Dive 6

The buoyancy dive, aka play with your equipment by adding air in it just enough until you control your depth with just your breathing. The goal was a feeling of weightlessness and a dexterity under water that was tested with a hoop. We swam upside down, did some flips, swam through hoops and just played with our bodies at a depth of 18 meters. This was especially fun for me because I have always loved to swim underwater. My mom has always said that I pretty much live in the water when we go to the beach. Doing flips underwater felt like home

Dive 7

The night dive. What is cooler than diving in the pitch black night with headlamps, a uv light that makes the coral glow in different neon colors, and plankton that provides bioluminescence? Not many things that’s for sure. We got to see a totally different perspective on the ocean by diving at night. It was a little scary but mostly just cool. A couple of things (other than glowing neon coral and underwater fireflies) made this night dive even more special. We had a friend following us the entire time using our light to hunt more efficiently. We would occasionally look back and see a rather large barracuda, so we no doubt had a fair few of them stalking us. If that wasn’t enough Dan said if he saw a giant grouper that he would help him hunt. So when we saw one he pointed his light at a smaller fish and this grouper swooped up and destroyed the fish – what a sight to see. What other bad ass thing can we do underwater?…

Dive 8

We had a well deserved break day the next day (first day without diving) which we spent doing absolutely nothing. It was glorious. We woke up the next day to pouring rain. Luckily that did not stop us to from going out on our dives as planned. I was cold on the boat however and when I expressed this feeling Dan had the perfect solution…

Dan: “Go to 7 eleven, they have something that will help you. It’s in the aisle, next to the Advil. They’re called ‘Man the F*** up pills'” …I did not complain about the cold anymore.

Ship wreck dive. The WWII Navy ship HTMS Satakut was sunk to make an artificial reef and going 30 meters down to swim around it was something else to check off the bucket list. There is not much to say about this other than underwater ships are a million times better than those above water.

The Final Dive

Navigation dive, aka learn how to use a compass underwater without getting lost in the ocean. Other than Collin and Shannon ditching Dan and I, this was a successful dive. Shannon claims that she asked us if we were ready to go but I think she thought it was the perfect opportunity to run away from me. After realizing we were no where to be seen they came back (mostly for Dan). We ultimately made it out to a pinnacle and then back to the boat by trusting our compass and brains.

Since we don’t believe in rest we took the ferry soon after getting back on land and then took the sleeper night train to Bangkok where a taste of luxury in the form of a hotel was waiting for us. Hostels will never be the same.

Quote of the trip


I think Dan’s “man the f up pills” is the winner but I have to mention Shannon’s moment of brilliance. We kept seeing white long thing on the ocean floor that looked like short, fat snakes. Shannon was curious enough to ask what the things that look like large turds were on the floor. Dan simply confirmed that they were in fact whale shark poop. For a couple of seconds, Shannon actually believed him! She might claim otherwise but there was a moment in her life when she thought she had seen an abundance of whale shark poop (actually sea cucumber).

Koh Tao in a compressed air cylinder shell

Go diving. Specifically with Goodtime adventures on Koh Tao. More specifically with the best diving instructor I could have ever imagine – Dan the man. An experience of a lifetime.

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