Coming up to the coastline of Koh Tao, I instantly felt something was very different about the island. From afar it rose up out of the water, mountainous peaks breaking the horizon. But the closer you get the most amazing rock formations appear. It was like rounded boulders everywhere, looking like a pile of melted Raisinets. The rocks jutted out of the water, and continued on up in to the peaks. Lush vegetation grew amongst the tumble rocks, palm trees and other tropical plants. There were all kinds of exciting rock formations, some looking decidedly phallic. But not to worry, because some looked like mother worship also. The small harbor was just a pile of boats really, all locked together, with no logical order. We actually had to cross numerous boats to get to the dock.
I did so much video on this trip that I am just going to include it all at the end, but I will label the spots with a VIDEO label so you know it’s source.
We were picked up in a Tuk Tuk and whisked away to our villa. Yvonne’s mother hooked us up with the most amazing place to stay. Alila Villas have an open layout, with a full kitchen, flat screen TV, fully loaded movie hard drive, and two bedrooms. The rooms were all done in a modern style, but with beautiful accents of natural wood, bamboo chairs, and large couch. The outside had a great sitting area, with a thatched roof, and a small pool. We met Belynda, who was the Canadian manager of the house, and she was the nicest girl in the world. She would do anything to help you out, and was a wealth of information.
The house was only ten minutes from a very touristy village, Sairee, filled with restaurants, clothes stalls, and dive shops. But it was not dodgy like the Chaweng Beach town, sure there was a ton of bars, but the whore houses were nowhere to be seen. It felt like a place to party and drink, but not so seedy. There were a few book shops, a circus school, cooking school, and many other things. The bars had movie nights, fire shows, and sporting events. Mainly it was a village that became a diving Mecca. Some of the shops here let you dive forever with them if you get your dive masters license with them. I met a guy in the Gili Islands who did that and has been diving for free for ten years. So I think you get my point, this was my kind of town, though I am sure the sweet digs helped.
The next day we set up a snorkeling trip around the island. It was a rather large boat, with close to thirty people on board. The sky was very overcast, with storm clouds massing in the distance. It was actually a bit chilly believe it or not. But we were all excited. Yvonne stayed with her mother to go check out the town so it was Derek, Elaine and Stephanie. Like I said earlier, the coastline was just gorgeous, with rounded rocks easing out of the ocean. There were cliffs everywhere, huge boulders sitting on top of cliffs in precarious positions. It was thrilling to sail around the island, and it just kept getting better on our way to Shark point. It was a small cove with exceedingly smart-looking bungalows going up the side of the ridge, with rocks and palms jutting out amongst them. A place like this is where I could retire quite happily, sipping my beer and watching the endless waves crashing against the rocks. We were not given fins, which makes snorkeling more of a floundering experience. I launched off the top deck with a large splash, and swam towards the shore. It was probably ten meters deep, and not that much to see, certainly no sharks, and nothing bigger than a foot long. Mainly little fish swimming amongst garbage bags.
I was a good distance from everyone else, searching amongst the stones for clams, which have iridescence purples and blues shining when their shells are open. I am endlessly amazed by their colors, and love to swim up to them as they slam their shells shut. I have seen some more than two feet wide, though most are six to seven inches.
On the surface I feel a fine spray on the back of my legs, like some one kicked water on me. I ignored it and swam farther away. But I kept getting sprayed, which was annoying so I popped my head up from my watery world. The waves were small when I last looked, but now they were three times the size with whitecaps on them. The spraying was the wind blowing the tops off the waves. The boat in the distance was engulfed in a rain cloud. There was loud whistling coming from the boat, and everyone was jumping up and down waving their arms like it was the end. Most people were back on the boat while some were struggling to get up in the waves. Hmmmfff. I stuck my head back under and began swimming back to the boat.
We had two sister boats loaded up to go and the wind blew one of the boats into the other, knocking off part of the railing. I found it all pretty exciting, but no need for panic. Well everyone managed to get back to the boats, though three people ended up on the wrong boat.
The wind was really strong, with sheeting rain, visibility was down to practically nothing. Everyone was huddled downstairs looking miserable. I made sure that all of us were accounted for then went to check on my wet bag on the top deck. It was slick with the rain, and the boat was rocking back and forth like a bucking bronco. I plopped down on my ass and slid across the deck grabbing the railing. All the bags were gone except mine which was hooked to the railing. Movement was difficult up there, but the energy of the storm was not to be missed. I slid to the pilot house up front, and wedged myself between it and the rail and enjoyed the ride. It blocked the worst of the wind and rain, and gave me a great view of the waves crashing on the rocks that were getting closer and closer. Our two sister boats were pulling away from us as our boat seemed to be sputtering. The first mate used his best English to inform me it was bad. There was a lot of back and forth with captain and first mate, running from engine room to pilot house. The engine kept starting and stopping. After some time Elaine popped her head around the corner, happy to see I was alive. She had searched the boat for me, but did not look on this side of pilot house. Of course I was fine, though it did look like some fun swimming out there.
I headed down to pandemonium, people were all huddled together looking like a refuge ship. For being in the tropics there were a hell of a lot of pale looking people, and I’m not talking about the Irish part of our group. The captain was down in the engine compartment, tinkering away. I was going to offer my services to spray some carburetor fluid in the engine, like I do every time my brothers old wood boat stops working, but they did not seem to need my help. So Elaine came up with the most brilliant idea ever of having a nice cold beer, perfect. So we all had beers and had a good laugh. We were the only ones having fun! One woman was crying in hysterics, screaming about dieing, completely out of control. Her man was comforting her but she was slapping at him and wailing. Her kids were all crying because mom was a mess. I think she needed one of those slaps in the face that straightens everyone out in the movies, or at least a good shake. “Get your head together woman, yes there are zombies, but no need to panic!”
We were thirty feet from shore when the boat finally got going. We continued our trip around Koh Tao. It was lovely, even more beautiful than I imagined it. The sun finally broke out and we docked at three islands that are connected by a thin beach linking them at low tide. It’s interesting because waves meet at this spot, from both directions, forming the beach. Half the boat jumped onto water taxis and went back to their hotels, not finishing the trip. This was a nice place, and the photo of it is in every tourism office featuring Thailand, because of that there are way too many tourists.
The next day Derek and Elaine headed off to their honeymoon in Kratie. It was a blast hanging out with them for a couple weeks in Thailand, and we were sad to see them go but excited for the rest of their trip. First on my agenda that day was to get the seal of approval for my health from a doctor so I could dive. I found one in town whose English was not so great, but it seemed my lungs were clear so I got the ok. I went straight to the Sairee Cottages Dive shop and signed up for the next days dive.
I woke up bright and early, before six a.m. to walk down to the shop. I hate waking up so early, screws me up for the rest of the day. I wake up when I wake up, which is normally around seven. Well it was a nice walk just the same in the dark, I passed a small house that had an out-door light on, and there were four frogs there just having a buffet of these white, long-winged bugs. There were hundreds of them and they just kept landing in front of the frogs, zipp goes their tongue, gulp, and another one is gone. I watched for five minutes as they ate 36 bugs during that time period, I know because I counted them.
After about ten minutes I arrived to town. There was a Seven Eleven there, and everyone was getting their morning lattes. Out front was a monk with his alms jar, and people just gave him their change. Now I believe monks walk endlessly in the morning collecting food or money, and they are only allowed to eat at this point. Now if that’s the case and he is just eating Seven Eleven food, then he is going to be the fattest monk in the world. Continuing my walk to the dive shop, I passed a bar that has a swimming pool. At this point the sun has just started to rise, but at the pool there were people still in party mode, drinking beers, tossing each other in, and passed out on the deck. It was one of the most surreal walks I have taken, going from rural village, to suburban chain store, to drunk frat boys all in the time it takes the sun to rise. VIDEO D
At the dive shop there were six or seven guys all reading their dive books, while fighting the endless battle with mosquitos. On a chalkboard out front there was an eco dive planned in two days and a girl names Rebecca was doing her 100th dive, which according to diver tradition, had to be done in the nude. Under the words was a crude drawing of a girl with enormous boobs diving. The dive master slept in that morning, so we waited for forty minutes.
Photo taken by Maggie Danninger
The first dive was pretty nice, seeing a sea snake and some lovely corals, but visibility was not great. The week before a whale shark popped its head out but no such luck this time. The next dive at the ship wreck was interesting but visibility was worse. The ship was an old world war two battle ship known as the USS LCI(M)-739 that was given to the Thai government and renamed HTMS Sattakut in 1947. After years of use they decommissioned it and sank it in 2011 as an underwater reef. Till a few year ago divers could still rotate the giant guns.
Paddy, the sleepyhead dive master was organizing the eco dive on Tuesday, two free dives to clean up the bay. This is a brilliant idea, and I applaud diveshops that take an active stance on the environment. The waters now are so filled with plastic that even the most remote uninhabited beaches have plastic on them. It’s really sad, and I truly feel bad for future generations. Here is a link to the blog detailing to dive cleanups. Unfortunately, by time I had rearranged my schedule to go on this dive it had filled up, so I was not able to help. But where ever I go diving now I ask if there are any Eco dives going on. Every little bit helps.
Sairee Cottage Cleanup
The next day we took the ferry back to Koh Sumai to take Yvonne’s Mom and sister to the airport. To give them some time to say goodby I went to the movies and saw the Hobbit, sporting my Gollum with a Ring Pop shirt. Yes, I am that dork. I have heard all the critics slam it, but it brought me back to a world I loved, with the same team. My only complaint is three movies is too much, less is more sometimes.
So I would love to show you all those exciting videos, but unfortunately my last night in Koh Tao someone stole my camera, taking away all my exciting pictures and videos. I hope they enjoy my barely working camera as much as I did.
Hey. Mike sorry the visibility was poor on your dives. Jake got open water padi certified and we are going to Aruba next week!!! Keep writing and taking photos, we love it.
That’s awesome, we will all have to go diving. We are plotting our course now, and a few weeks on the beach is in order. I have video of a octopus that jake will love.
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