Scuba diving has been on Mike’s to-do list since the beginning of our trip. I had always said I didn’t want to do it so we passed by likely locations in Mexico, most of Central America and Indonesia. By the time we got to Thailand I had decided to give it a try although I was not certain what “giving it a try” involved. We made our way to the island of Koh Tao which all the guide books described as “the” great place to take the PADI Open Water Dive course. Ko Tao, literally Turtle Island, is an island off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand. The island is geared toward diving tourists because there are hardly any currents and a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, accommodations and restaurants. Historically Ko Tao was once a detention place for political prisoners during WWII.
Mike met a young Thai man named Run on the ferry who sold (being a salesman, Mike loves to be sold) him on Crystal Dive School. Run wanted us to come with him as soon as we got off the ferry to sign up for the school but after twenty-four hours of travel (bus, ferry, night train and ferry) we were just too tired. After a couple of hours to rest and settle in, we walked to the school and after talking to the staff we decided sign up.
The Open Water course takes two half days and two full days to complete and ended up costing $243 apiece. The first half-day was all book work, videos and lecture. Day two we spent learning skills in the pool. There was so much to learn and it seemed to go so fast, after eleven hours we were exhausted. But no time to rest, the next day began with a swim test some more book work and then our first two dives.
As we were loading our equipment bags and heading for the dive boat, I was thinking I was not ready… I did not know enough yet. Setting up our buoyancy control vests and tanks was confusing and took a long time. At White Rock, our first ever dive site, we prepared to leap (giant stride) into the water. I hate jumping into the water from a distance as my family will attest but I did it with a minimum of drama. As we cleaned our masks and began to descend I concentrated on not panicking. Those first few breaths under water were exhilarating. Initially it was hard to look around as we were busy breathing, clearing our masks and trying to figure out the buoyancy. We were so surprised by how hard it was to find “neutral buoyancy”. Zigzagging up and down, bumping into other divers or trying not to, took up much of our effort. At one point our instructor was showing us four little “Nemo” type fish and I thought I was going to crush them because I was so out of control. We were excited to see nature in action as a large Grouper fish with a small Rabbit fish halfway in its mouth swam by.
Our second dive at the Junk Yard was a little better and we were able to look around a little more. At junk yard local divers have purposely submerged many metal sculptures, cars, stationary bikes and have transplanted coral onto it which is taking root and attracting much sea life (the underwater pictures are not ours as we don’t have an underwater camera).
On each of the dives we had skills to complete like rescue breathing off of our dive buddy’s alternate regulator and the three-minute safety stops while ascending. I was freaked out by the remove and replace my mask while kneeling on the ocean bottom skill. I panicked when I did it in the pool (twice) and pushed off the bottom to get to the surface. After worrying about it overnight and into the water the next day I finally completed the task with no panic.
The next day we completed two more dives, passed the written exam and became Certified Open Water divers! Then we decided to take the Advanced Diver Certification course which included completing five chapters in a textbook and five dives ($220 per person). Our dives were a deep dive (to 98 feet), wreck dive, night dive, navigation dive and fish identification dive.
We were really glad we decided to do the advanced course as all of our skills were reinforced and we had much more fun. The night dive was probably the only night dive we will ever do as we did not like it. At one point Mike and I got separated from our instructor and didn’t know what to do…. we just knelt on the bottom holding hands looking at each other with wide eyes. Neil was probably out of sight for about thirty seconds but it was scary. During our navigation dive we went back to the Junk Yard. It was great to go back with so much more confidence. We could really feel how much we had learned and how far we had come. We greatly enjoyed learning to dive and are looking for locations for diving as we move on.