Koh Tao And My First Scuba Diving Experience

Ammun and Tom are obsessed with Mexican food. This is a fact I’ve know about their relationship for a very long time now so when I first started looking at hostels on Koh Tao and came across one called Taco Shack Hostel that only serves Mexican food, their faces lit up brighter than the Thai morning sun.
After a relatively pain free journey, we arrived on the busy island of Koh Tao and checked into our Mexican themed hostel. It is extremely basic but that’s all we really needed. By the time we made it out of the hostel, sunset was approaching so we walked to Maya Beach Club which a friend of Tom’s had recommended and it had the most perfect view! We sat drinking beers and watching the sky change colour for almost an hour and we were all very content.

We went to the restaurant next door for dinner where Ammun and I enjoyed another massaman curry and Tom had noodles and sesame prawn toast. Even though we were already feeling a bit tipsy from drinking a couple of drinks on an empty stomach, I still ordered a cocktail and Ammun and Tom shared a whole bucket of gin and tonic!
The morning after started off with awkward looks and then turned into a lot of giggles. There was a group of 3 lads in our dorm who had clearly gone out the night before and one had gotten so drunk that he had forgotten to put any form of pyjamas on. As his friend joked about the shock of waking up to see ALL of him, he apologised to the rest of us if we had seen it too (If?! We had all definitely seen it!) and we all giggled in response, much to his embarrassment!
We spent most of the day at the beach which was just a few minutes walk down the road. It was 38 degrees so we spent most of the day constantly moving our towels back into the shade and then running to cool off in the sea. While we were in the sea, we loved watching a dog called Lara jump and swim around trying to catch the fish that were swimming around our feet. She looked like she was having a great time!

In the afternoon we sat in a cafe on the beach for a while to have a snack and use the wifi to find somewhere for snorkelling and scuba diving. We were just telling the world’s nuttiest waiter our food choices when Solène appeared behind us who we had met in Koh Phangan! We spent the rest of the day with her sitting on the beach until Lara the dog and all her other dog friends came over to say hi and absolutely covered me and Solène and our towels with sand. We decided this was time to head back and get showered.

The four of us went out for dinner together and walked along Sairee Beach drooling at the sight of all the fish on offer. We decided on Porto Bello Mediterranean Bistro which was a little bit more pricey but we all knew it would be worth it. We all had a glass of good wine for the first time in what feels like forever and shared fried Brie and jam for starter which was amazing. For main I had snapper florentine (dory fish) with mash, spinach, mozzarella and a side salad. As per usual, Ammun and I had the same thing and we were so happy to have mash potato again. We decided we didn’t have enough money for a dessert so walked to the beach to see what was going on instead.

We followed the loud music and ended up in Lotus Bar where people were playing with a skipping rope on fire and then did limbo with flames blazing from the pole. Generally people did pretty well and a few guys joined in the first time just so they could light their cigarette as they went under. We didn’t stay for too long but all in all, a very enjoyable evening with great company. This great company also had great fashion sense and all 3 of us girls accidentally went out all in navy and white stripes!

The next morning I woke up feeling very excited because I was going to go scuba diving for the first time ever!! Ammun, Tom and Solène all decided they wanted to go on a snorkelling day trip so on my own I trotted down to Chic Diving at 9:30 and the guy took me on his motorbike up to a fancy hotel which is owned by the same guy who owns the dive school. The motorbike was terrifying but I just had to trust him that I wouldn’t fall off backwards.
I was greeted by a Swedish man called Arvid who was my instructor for the day and I was very fortunate that no one else had booked on so I had a private lesson all day! Normally they have a maximum of 4 people per instructor at this school which I think is pretty good. My day started off with a classroom session where Arvid told me how scuba diving works (it’s a lot more complicated than I initially thought) with a presentation on a screen. After that and 2 really awful risk assessment videos, I was ready to get my kit on!

We started in the equipment room were I got my goggles, jacket, fins and a sexy wetsuit (not compulsory but I wanted to look the part) and then went outside to the pool. As the hotel is only a few years old, the owner has been able to construct a pool specially for teaching diving with 3 levels going down to 3.5m. After putting the 30kg worth of equipment on my back we got in the water and did basic skills like taking the mouth piece out and emptying water from my mask etc and finished with some buoyancy control (staying in a neutral position and not floating or sinking) as we swam around the pool.

For lunch, Arvid took me to his favourite restaurant called 995 duck where pretty much every meal has duck in it. This is where the private lesson felt a little weird because it felt like we were on a date just the two of us!! The food was really, really good so I had a nice, full, happy tummy before the long afternoon of swimming and concentrating ahead of me.
About 1pm we went to the pier and got on their brand new boat. As I was only doing a try dive, Arvid sorted absolutely everything for me and I didn’t even have to carry my stuff! Arvid gave me a rundown of all of the rules of the boat like how we can’t go on the very front because it has been blessed by monks and he showed me where all the equipment is. He also explained that there was free tea, coffee, water, biscuits and fruit so I felt like I was on a very luxurious boat! He showed me a map of the dive site and lots of pictures of fish that we may see and the hand signals for some of them so he could point them out to me.

After about 10 minutes we got to the first dive site called White Rock. I got all my gear on and stepped off the boat into the beautiful emerald water. Although I was excited about my new adventure, I was very nervous and my brain couldn’t understand the concept that I was going to be deep underwater for such a long time. We swam to the buoy, deflated our jackets and slowly crawled down the rope, popping our ears as we went. My first dive was incredible. There were hardly any other divers around and so many fish, I couldn’t believe it! I saw trigger fish (very territorial, can bite your finger off or knock you out if you get too close!), puffer fish, a big barracuda, lots of coral and more. I stayed close to Arvid, which was quite hard because I had no spatial awareness whatsoever, and watched him as he swam really close to the rocks and coral. I didn’t dare get any closer because the rocks were scattered with sea urchins. I still have a sea urchin in my toe from Koh Ta Kiev a month ago so I stayed clear. We made it back to the buoy to slowly climb up and then suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds of fish like the ones that make shapes in Finding Nemo. This is when I realised that the only thing I don’t like about scuba diving is that there’s no real way of expressing happiness other than the okay sign because you can’t laugh or smile with a mask on!

On this dive I went 11.6m deep with an average of 8.5m and lasted 53 minutes with my air. A lot of beginners last 25-35 minutes so I’m very impressed with myself!

After a rest and some fruit we got ready for our second dive. I told Arvid I was scared the sea urchins would reach out and get me and he laughed telling me that they only get you if you touch them. On our second dive, he joked with me and waved his hand over a sea urchin and then made some rude gestures at it which I found funny!

For our second dive, the dive site was called Twins and we saw even more pretty fish and coral. My favourite fish was called a parrot fish and it looks like the rainbow fish in the children’s books. Annoyingly I couldn’t get a good picture of it though. I also really liked a thing that looked like an underwater caterpillar the size of my forearm. It very slowly crawled around with tentacles coming from one end of it and one time I saw it eat a smaller caterpillar like thing. There was a moment a few minutes into the dive where I got a little bit panicky and couldn’t just take a deep breath like I felt like I needed to. I had to stop swimming for a bit and force myself to just breathe as normally as I could. I was very conscious that this was using up more air than normal but I had to convince myself that I wasn’t going to use up all my air and I didn’t need to go to the surface which would waste a lot of time.

Because I still had a decent amount of air left in my tank after seeing all the fish and coral, we could visit another dive site too called Buoyancy World which is like an underwater playground. It was very weird following Arvid into misty nothingness for a minute or so while he checked his compass until we arrived. There were underwater statues and a few monkey bars and I was very excited!

On my second dive I went 11.0m deep with an average depth of 9.1m and lasted 56 minutes again! When we got back on the boat I was absolutely knackered!
Back at the hostel, Ammun, Tom and I were all very excited to tell each other about our days and it sounds like they had a great day snorkelling too. I’m jealous they got to see a turtle as Koh Tao is also called Turtle Island because it used to be completely inhabited by them.
Because we were all pooped, the three of us plus Solène went to the restaurant in our hostel for dinner. We couldn’t stay at a hostel called Taco Shack and not have Mexican food right? We all had tasty food and a drink and then hit the hay for an early start the next day. It was actually quite sad saying goodbye to Solène after spending so much time together but we’re both moving on to exciting things and there’s a slim chance that we may see her again in Bali!

For us now, it’s on to Koh Phi Phi and another island experience!

Annalise x