Adventures on Turtle Island

June 26th 2009
Published: July 13th 2009
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... Ko Tao = closest to paradise i've ever been...

Fairly uneventful trip down to Ko Tao - arrived in Mae Haad at around 6am and got in the back of a pick-up for our journey to Sairee beach. The sun was shining and the beach deserted at such an early hour - absolute paradise. It felt amazing to be back knowing i was here for at least a week and could fully relax and enjoy this incredible island. We'd decided on staying at Sairee Cottages but the office didn't open until 8am so Caroline and i relaxed on the balcony of Sairee Cottage restaurant and took in the view, looking at eachother and shaking our heads and giggling sporadically at how amazing the view was!

When the office opened we booked three huts booked for 400bht each (about 8GBP per hut per night), basic with a fan and double bed but clean, with ensuite and really close to the beach and restaurant. Headed back to the restaurant after showering and getting into our bikini's to wait for the others to arrive. Dom, George and Scott pitched up at 10am and before they'd even dumped their bags the boys

Caroline, George, Dom, Scott and me on the beach right out side Sairee Cottage restaurant...
ran straight for the sea!! Spent the rest ot the day doing very little, a bit of sunbathing, reading and drinking Chang. exactly what the doctor ordered!!

We all booked to do our SSI open water diving course with Sairee Cottage Diving school run by a really friendly irish guy called Trevor. All the staff were so friendly and welcoming and we managed to get the 3 day diving course with 6 nights accomodation included for 9000bht (around 180GBP - which is very cheap!!). We met our instructor, a really lovely Londoner called Greg who we all warmed to imediately, right on our wave length and we knew it would be a really fun few days! We agreed to start the course the following day at 4pm (first day would be watching videos and doing theory etc then following 3 days would be spent in the water!!) and he warned us that during the course it was not advisable to drink as you are supposed to be in peak physical condition during course to avoid decompression sickness etc) so went for a few beers at Fizz bar on the beach and got an early night as we were all

Full Irish with Chang...
travel weary.

We spent all day tuesday relaxing on the beach which was amazing, then met up with Greg at 4pm to start our course! After talking us through the basics he sat us down to watch some videos on the do's and dont's and theory involved... blah...blah.. we were given homework, which was taken very seriously and headed out for some food clutching our text books and discussing homework over dinner! such geeks!

Next morning after being given all our kit (including the wetsuit ... a 3mm shortie to be precise... just about the least flattering thing i've ever had to put on!!! and you can NEVER look elegant getting into one of these things!!!) and meeting Gavin the Dive Master in training who was going to be helping Greg out by accompanying all our dives and taking the rear end of the group to make sure we all stuck together underwater, we packed it all into our kit bags and got in the back of a 4x4 pick up and made our way along a very steep and scary dirt track through the jungle to Ao Hin Wong where we prepared our gear (BC jackets with scuba cylinders attached are very heavy!!). This was when our team name was decided!! Team Teabag.... very british! ha ha! various puns intended! We loaded our gear into a longtail boat driven by a very smiley young Thai chap called Dong! The boat trip was lots of fun if a little unnerving to start with as the boat swayed from side to side and i felt at times would capsize!

Did our confined session in fairly shallow water - the first time you put the regulator in your mouth and dip below the water is a very odd and scary sensation, trying to keep calm and focus on breathing was also very strange but as soon as we ducked down loads of little fish started swimming all around us and it got very exciting! The confined session consisted of various excercises designed to get us to relax under water and be confident about using the gear - including taking the regulator out of our mouths and exhaling for a few seconds before retrieving the regulator and putting back in our mouth - a very weird sensation and first time it took alot of energy to stay calm and not

Dom and Scott racing to the bottom!
panick that i suddenly had lost my air supply! your vision is restricted by the mask and so you have to reach your hand back and feel for the tube to retrive the regulator whilst exhaling.... managed it and got a big 'OK' sign from Greg so felt chuffed that i'd stayed calm... also had to learn to clear the mask, check air pressure and do some buoyancy excercises. We were down for about 30 mins first time but it flew by and felt like only 10!!! all came back up really buzzing and so excited about going on our first proper dive the next day!! Went back to do some more class time and watch a few more videos then went for dinner and got an early night ready for day 2!

Next day got the longtail out to the Island Dive Club boat - the sea was really really choppy!! quite scary mooring up to a huge boat and having waves throw the boat all over the place! We had to stay on boat whilst all the gear etc was loaded and i was expecting to be capsized any moment!! The boat was a big yellow diving boat with 3 very cute kittens in residence! we had our briefing on top deck in glorious sunshine and went over to the Japanese Gardens dive site by Nangyuan Island for our first dive of the day. The first dive was quite shallow at around 8 meters and was so exciting! it is so soooo beautiful down there and fabulous to be seeing first hand what i've previously only seen on nature documentaries, its so colourful and calm and the feeling of weightlessness in the water is incredible! spent about 40 minutes underwater but again it went by so quickly and we were all gutted at having to resurface! It was quite tricky climbing out of the water and up the ladder onto the boat still with all the gear and tanks on our backs!!

Had an hour and a halfs surface interval then went round the other side of Nangyuan Island to Twins dive site. Twins was even more beautiful and we saw the last breeding pair of clown fish in the area with their baby (since the animated film 'finding nemo' came out these fish got really valuable fetching around 1000GBP each and so unfortunately loads got caught to be sold meaning the population was nearly lost - this last pair is protected by a circle of rocks that noone is allowed to swim near).

Got back to Sairee absolutely knackered and ravenous! went out for dinner and crammed for our 'exam' the following day!!!

We got the exam out the way first thing after breakfast and another cramming sesh! The boys only just passed!! Caroline and I were joint 2nd and George got the best score!! (there was quite a bit of competition running throughout the course between us all as you will see from the DVD when that surfaces on YouTube.... Dom??....). Gregs girlfriend, Jo, who is a diving videographer joined us at breakfast as she was coming out on our last day to film us so we could have a DVD of our underwater adventure. Went back to Twins for the first dive and had a run in with a Trigger fish!!!! big fish, very agressive and tried to bite Jo so Greg went after it with his knife and ended up having a fight with it James bond style - very impressive but i nearly drowned myself laughing so hard! Very impressive, but taught me that i never want to mess with a trigger fish - they're vicious!! having fended off the trigger fish we went on to see a puffer fish (although had to be careful not to startle him - they can only puff up 3 times and then they die!!) and saw a yellow box fish which is the funniest looking fish i have ever seen! really cute though!!

Had a surface interval and went to Twins and got down to 12 meters - all came up on a high and all now addicted to diving!! it is so sooooo beautiful down there and gives you such a rush. When we got back to Sairee Cottage restaurant we were given our log books to fill in and get signed and stamped and received our diving cards!! We were now certified divers!!! certified to dive to 12mtrs!!

Mick, one of the main instructors at Sairee, then took us out on the speed boat tubing which was awesome!! George and i went up first and managed to stay on for quite a while but Mick kept going faster and faster and the sea was whipping up under my bum and was quite painful! We went over a big swell and i flew off (and nearly lost my bikini!!) but George managed to hold on for quite a while. We all had a go and just being on the speedboat being spun around and driven across swells and waves at high speed was brilliant fun!! came back and got showered and changed and met back at the restaurant for some food and to wait for Jo to turn up with our edited DVD!!! The DVD was hilarious and half of the instructors and staff turned up to watch it too (we had become quite notorious within the fold and everyone wanted to see the exploits of 'Team Teabag'). Jo had done it really well - can't wait for you to see it! will post a link as soon as i know it!

We then proceeded to head out (big crowd of usa with loads of the instructors as well!) and got completely sloshed!! Buckets are bad! jaegerbombs are even worse!! We all spent most of evening drinking on the beach outside of Ban's dive club and ended up dancing (and the boys ended up wrestling!!) in the sea in the wee hours - lots of fun!! Next day was spent recovering and relaxing on the beach and we went to Hippos restaurant that night - amazing amazing food and our dive instructor is poster boy there!

Sunday walked to the port town of Mae Haad and hired 3 quad bikes for the day and headed off to explore the island. Went up north in search of the whale skeleton i had wanted to go find and after getting lost a couple of times (driving to the northernmost point and running out of road, then getting the right road but missing the resort wherte the skeleton was and having to do a 3-point turn on quads on a very steep hill - fortunately i wasn't driving!) eventually found the skeleton and the gorgeous restaurant it was set in. this plave looked like something out of Elle decoration, all white and shabby chic - it is exactly how i want my gazebo in the garden to look like!! (when i get a garden.... mum i have taken lots of photos of it for you ground force efforts when i get a garden!!). then whizzed all the way down south of the island... will try to load a video i filmed but not sure whether that will work woth the connection being so slow here... went up to the 'High Bar' spectacular views over Ao Ta Toh bay but quite a frosty reception from the lady behind the bar. Then headed down to the south of the island and went to the pool bar which has a saltwater pool overlooking the beach and grabbed lunch. the girls had a relaxing sunbath whilst the boys took off on the quads for a QUOTE: 'Rag around' - fortunately they came back in one piece and extremely excitable about how fast they'd been going and how bumpy the roads had been!! boys! got the quads back to the town and walked back to Sairee Beach. Caroline, Scott and I decided to sign up for the Advanced course - we were hooked!!

next morning met Greg and got our lesson to start the advanced course, set off on the speed boat and went round to a dive sight on the northern tip of the island. it was really choppy and tricky trying to put all our gear on in the water as the current kept pulling us back away from the boat. Greg nearly pulled out of dive at that stage but said that we'll give it a go and if the current was too strong then we'd call off the dive... it was bloody hard work, and at times it felt we were kicking and going nowhere, i didn't really see much of the scenery as i was just working on keeping sight of Greg as the visibility was poor too. then as we got round the pinnacle and rounded the edge of the rock we were swept really fast back along the other side with little effort required at all which was loads of fun!! after a 30 minute dive (only managed to get to 26mtrs as the conditions were so poor, which i was gutted about as we'd really wanted to get to 30mtrs! but i had a bit of trouble equalizing on the way down too) we returned to the surface and went round to Hin Wong Pinnacle which was a lot calmer. it was a really pleasent dive but not very deep or challenging and we started to get worried about whether our night dive would go ahead or not as a storm was coming in and conditions worsening. we went back to the retaurant to wait and see what the weather would do - it looked like it had calmed a bit so we got psyched up to go then had our hopes dashed as Dong said it was too dangerous to go.... gutted!

Next day we'd planned to go to Chumphorn which is another 30 ntr dive site to hunt for some sharks but weather wasn't great and the sea far too choppy to get over there so went back to the reletively sheltered japanese gardens again and did a dive round the wreck down there - quite weird swimming round a bopat under water and sitting on the deck! Greg engraved Teabag onto the hull of the boat - so next time we go we'll have to check if its still there! got to around 18 mtrs and did some buoyancy excercises as part of the course and then had a bit of a swim around and did some navigation excercises. The second dive of the day was done at Hin Wong bay, the naturist part of the course where we navigated our own dive without the instructor and had to identify loads of different types of fish and coral, lots of fun but slightly unnerving having to navigate your way underwater using compasses etc (i've never been particularly good at orienteering on land let alone underwater with only 15 mtr visibility!!) that was a success though and we managed to come up right next to the boat!! it was on this dive that i had the disagreement with the coral - as most of you now know that caused me quite a few problems later on!! ...but thats for another blog...

went back to the resort to relax and i had a bit of a sleep in preperation for the night dive! met up at around 6.30pm and set off in the speedboat as the sun started to set accross the ocean - absolutley stunning to watch from the boat. When it was dark we got in the water and kitted up again (with the addition of a torch this time), floating on your back looking up into a sky full of stars in the sea is awesome, looking down and seeing nothing and knowing that barracudda up to 4 mtrs long are swimming about down there is terrifying!! not wanting to let on i was at all worried i listened to Gregs instructions about not shining torch in anyones eyes, not straying away from the main group and being aware of where you are swimming and where your buddy is at all times etc etc .... and then we descended.... one of scariest things ever.... you can only see where you shine the torch and everything looks different down there! all the daytime fish are sleeping and uglier and creepier versions come out, loads of sea cucumbers etc everywhere too. we saw a few amazing blue spotted stingrays and some moray eels but unfortunately/fortunately (can't work out whether i was glad we missed this terrifying beast or not?!) no barracuda. Came up buzzing - amazing but terrifying all at once!!

had a quick shower and change and met in the bar for a few Chang before heading up to the northern tip of Sairee beach to an amazing resort called Ko Tao Cabanna. i'd seen this on the internet in the UK and even though could not consider staying here (very very expensive!) the restaurant looked amazing and thought we'd go check it out. they had liturally just stopped serving but the staff were all lovely and freinedly and kept the kitchen open for us - well worth the hike up to it as the food was absolutely superb!! one day, when i'm rich am definately coming back to stay here - the resort is beautiful!! My naughty friends settled up whilst i'd popped out to use the bathroom and wouldn't entertain the idea of me paying my share, thank you again guys! went for a stroll along the beach and had a drink in Lotus bar and watched some fairly impressive fire twirling before heading back to Dom and Georges hut to drink vodka and play cards.

we spent the day chilling on the beach and at 2pm it was time for a sad farewell as the others headed back to bangkok for a few days before they flew back to England, we'd had such an amazing time and was really sad to see them go.

...on my own again, but drinking GnT watching the sun setting over the sea ..... not a bad way to cheer yourself up ey?

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