After a heavy few days of partying we jumped on a boat to recover on Koh Phangan’s neighbouring island, Koh Tao. Like Koh Phangan is famous for its Full Moon party, Koh Tao has its own reputation as the diving capital of Southeast Asia. Thailand is known to be one of the cheapest places in the world to get your diving certifications but since we already had our open water certificate, what else could we do?
As we got off the ferry and began to hunt for somewhere to stay, it soon dawned on us that Koh Tao was just as expensive as Koh Phangan was, not to mention that most places were already booked up. We were debating whether to part with more cash or sleep on the beach when a man gave us a leaflet for a diving school. My brain suddenly switched on. I remembered someone mentioning to us that if we booked a course through pretty much any diving school, they would provide us with free accommodation. We decided to head down to the school ‘Crystal Bay’ to speak to them and get a price for an advanced course.
The advanced diving course is a three day, five dive course similar to the open water but allows you to dive up to 30 metres. As I may have told you before, the reason we decided to get our open water diving certificate was to give us knowledge and above all confidence to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. However after speaking to a few people, most of them told us that it might be wise to get our advanced as well, meaning we would be able to see more of the reef by diving deeper.
After speaking to one of the instructors at Crystal dive, we decided to go for it. The price was pretty decent and included free accommodation with a discounted price for extra nights as we wanted to stay longer. My new found confidence in diving brought excitement to my eyes but my nerves also threw butterflies in my belly! We dropped our bags in our room which was right by the beach and went for a walk to see the town.
We were staying about five kilometres away from the main town which was fine by us. We tend to prefer being in a quieter area and with a lovely beach on our doorstep, we could hardly complain. Koh Tao seemed similar to Koh Phangan, just a little smaller and more relaxed. After spending the remainder of our day on the beach, we decided to rent a moto for a few days to give us the freedom to head into town.
That night we hopped on the bike and drove to town to check out the nightlife. Although Koh Tao was still scattered with boozy adolescents, it seemed to attract an older crowd as well. Couples and families filled the many restaurants and seemed to make the place feel that little bit more mature! Needless to say we were both thankful for this after the last few days we had, but still somehow managed to attend a lady boy drag show, slung a few drinks down our throats at a beach party and stumble home very late! This by the way takes a good two hours if you’re not on a bike, you’re intoxicated and you get lost!
The following day was spent on our doorstep beach sleeping off our hangover before venturing out for some food in the evening. We had heard that there was a place that did crazy golf (one of my favourite things), so thought we would spend a quiet evening participating in a bit of light-hearted fun. Well both of us knew that wasn’t going to happen! As usual the competitive streak of the both of us took over. I was leading for a good few holes but Pete eventually caught up and snatched the trophy! It was a great laugh none the less. We may be competitive but we certainly know how to have fun! After the golf we had a delicious meal followed by a banana split for desert and a few drinks with friends we had met before heading home.
The next day we set off early on an exploration of the Island. Someone had told us that there was a small, secluded beach somewhere but you could only get to it by bike. With that we set off on the bike armed with a map. After about half an hour we found the beach. We were pointed in the direction of a hidden path leading to an enchanting little patch of sand. We spent the day there soaking up the sun and enjoying the peace with just a few others. As I lay in the warmth, I couldn’t help but wonder with apprehension how I would get on for the next two days, as tomorrow was the start of our advanced diving course!
Day one was a bright and early start for us to meet our instructor and do a few hours of theory before jumping on the boat. To our relief our instructor was an English guy called Chris so at least we would have no language barrier this time! He had a trainee instructor with him called Shawn who would assist him and look after us while Shawn looked after the other three girls we were with who were from Ireland. We all found the theory pretty easy. It just covered things we already learnt on the first course and refreshed our memories. There was no test involved so there was no need to worry about revising.
After the theory we hopped on the boat and got kitted up with our diving gear. The course consisted of five dives that we would complete over two days. It is a relaxed and fun course compared to the open water, allowing you to enjoy the experience more freely. We even got to pick which dives we did and what we wanted to learn. We decided to do a navigation dive first followed by buoyancy control. Navigation is always good to learn because it’s hard to know where you are under the water and controlling your buoyancy is a key factor in becoming a good diver (so we’ve been told).
As we descended under the water I felt myself freeze with fear. Then I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. It was Shawn signalling me to breathe deeply and equalise my ears. Luckily the boat had a decent line for me to hold on to and slowly lower myself down. Shawn stayed with me until we reached the others on the ocean bed. My ears didn’t hurt like they normally did and I felt a lot more relaxed already.
Our navigation dive was fun and gave me something else to focus on other than being submerged underwater. We had to use our compasses to find our way around and record on our underwater boards, which direction we were going in. The visibility was awful which was perfect for the exercise as it made us realise just how important navigation is when you’re diving. After quick break we got back on the boat to head to our next diving location to cover buoyancy control.
I had no trouble descending on the next dive; I just took my time and relaxed. The buoyancy control was one of my favourite dives. We learnt how to use our breathing to keep us buoyant as well as using our vests. We had to keep ourselves in certain positions, hovering above the floor and whoever touched the sea bed lost. We also had to skim the floor one by one and kiss little markers on the ground with our regulator, making sure the rest of our body didn’t touch anything. Sounds pretty straight forward but trust me its hard! Even the slightest bit of air can make you float to the surface and the opposite can make you crash down. This showed us the importance of buoyancy under the water. If you can control your buoyancy it can prevent you from damaging coral, injuring yourself, floating to quickly to the surface and it will generally help you to manoeuvre around with a lot more poise and ease.
The next day I woke up with optimism and excitement for the next half of our diving course. It wasn’t long before we were on the boat and back into the water again. We were all really excited for the next dive as we had all chosen to dive a shipwreck! There was no theory involved in this dive, just a bit of fun and exploring. When we reached the bottom I was amazed with how huge it was. It had been sunk on purpose for diving meaning everything was still intact. It was in great condition. You could see every little part of it and almost built a picture in your head of what it used to look like before it was sunk. The buoyancy control lesson came in handy when we swam inside it and manoeuvred through it.
The next dive would be our most important dive yet, the deep water 30 metre dive. This would guarantee us our advanced diving certificate if we completed it. Chris explained that it would be like any other dive we’ve done, just deeper. He was right. When we reached the bottom of the ocean it felt the same as when we were diving 18 metres, just a little colder and less visibility. By this point I could defiantly say that I enjoyed diving. Even Shawn and Chris could see from my body language that I was more confident. Pete had been like a water baby the whole time and excelled in all of the lessons we covered.
After strongly expressing from the beginning that there was no way I was going to do a night dive, there I was floating in the pitch black with Pete and our instructors. At the last minute with my new found confidence blurring my fears, I decided that I was going to do the night dive. Pete was thrilled with my decision and so was I until I was floating in the dark water wondering what was below me! As we started to descend I realised that floating in the water was much scarier than diving in it. Chris and Shawn guided us around as we shone our torches on the reef. It was like a whole different world in the dark filled with magical glowing fish of the night and nocturnal sea creatures. To my surprise, I wasn’t scared at all. I had faced two of my fears combined. Open water and the dark! I never would have thought I would do that, even after my open water course!
Our course was complete. We have now gained our advanced diving certificates meaning we can dive down to 30 metres unassisted. At one point I didn’t think I could complete my open water let alone finish my advanced course. We were so glad that we decided to dive in Koh Tao in the end. We had a fantastic time and my confidence was able to grow with the help of our awesome instructors Chris and Shawn. Thank you to the team at Crystal Dive for giving us an experience we will never forget and above all, for helping me fall in love with diving!
Next we flew to Malaysia for another boarder run before stumbling upon paradise thanks to some fellow backpackers! But not before we caught the night boat of horror to the main land!