Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 240 (50)

Koh Tao

Wednesday 3rd November

The train was very comfortable and nowhere near as cold as we had been led to believe but Sandy got us both up thinking that we were about to pull into the Southern station of Chumphon when in fact we still had another forty-five minutes to go. I would have quite liked to have continued to sleep for the forty-five minutes I was deprived of but in the end, it meant that we were both fully awake and alert by the time we did pull in and disembarked. As expected, the catamaran operator was there at the station and collected all the Koh Tao bound passengers from the train. We all loaded up into the back of a large pick-up truck and were driven a few hundred yards into town to a small restaurant, where we were to spend the next hour and a half waiting to be taken to the ferry dock. Together with ourselves, there were about ten people altogether and most took the opportunity to have some breakfast whilst we waited. We took advantage of the downtime to read up on the island and its amenities. We’ve already seen quite a few mosquitoes here but luckily we’ve not really been bitten that much. I think we will use the mosquito repellent that we brought with us a lot more now that we are down in the South, where the humidity is much more inviting to the little blood-sucking parasites.

The same truck that brought us this far turned up about an hour before our scheduled departure time and drove us a good half an hour to where the boat was going to be departing from. There’s been some cloud cover here and it even started to rain just a little on the way, but not very heavy and not for very long. At least it helped to bring down the temperature just a little. The dock is a very unimpressive looking place with little more than a road terminating at a hut and a long, rickety and very uneven wooden jetty leading out to the already waiting high-speed catamaran. The crossing on this vessel is a little more expensive than the other boats but gets us to the island a fair bit quicker. Our expected journey time this morning is just one and three quarters of an hour.

I had hoped that the high-speed catamaran would provide a smoother ride but we both took a Cinnarizine tablet each just to be on the safe side. After just ten or fifteen minutes of cruising, however, we both decided to take another tablet each as the ride was probably one of the most rocky and turbulent crossings I’ve ever experienced. In addition to the side-to-side motions, there was an awful lot of ups and downs and even with my veins pumped full with the nausea dampening Cinnarizine, I felt quite unwell for much of the way. Sandy was even worse and finally lost her breakfast after about an hour and a half into the ride. The sea was a little rough but there were no huge swells or anything. I think the winds may have contributed most to the turbulence. I wondered if the other boat sailings would have been any steadier but one of the other passenger told me that all the boats would have been just as rough and we were still better off with the catamaran since it would at least be all over with quicker.

The vessel stopped first for fifteen or twenty minutes at a small group of three smaller islands right next to the main island of Koh Tao. These three lumps of vegetation-covered rock are joined together by a couple of short, narrow slithers of sandy beach and even though we both still felt a little unwell from the crossing, the surrounding scenery already started to give us the impression that we had at last arrived at the beach paradise that we have for so long been anticipating.

We were particularly glad to disembark from the catamaran when it pulled into the bay at Koh Tao, after another few minutes of idling through the calm waters of the bay, not only because we were on dry land again but because of the overall scenery and relaxed atmosphere here. The island is quite small at just around nine Kilometres by about three. There is only the one main road that runs along much of the island with our dive resort being one of many in the main town. So far, everything has been walkable but we were collected at the end of the pier nevertheless by a representative from the dive centre and driven through the very small town to our resort. The actual physical distance between the pier and our resort is less than fifty meters but the truck followed about two hundred and fifty meters of paved road to get here and we were glad not to have had to carry our bags all the same. This place really does have the feel of a true, tropical paradise to it. It’s essentially a large vegetation covered rock that extends upwards from the sea and is covered with coconut bearing palm trees with each one sporting a dozen or more ripe, green, tusk-covered nuts. Every now and then we hear the dull thud of a coconut falling twenty meters or more to the ground. Watching out for falling coconuts is something we are going to have to take quite seriously here as one of those things could quite easily kill if it landed on us.

Our dive resort is little more than a few small buildings surrounded by a series of huts and cabins with an open-air restaurant, bar, dive shop, classroom and a rather nice pool, no more than about five meters from the gently crashing waves of the sandy, drift wood strewn beach. We checked in and received a well-rehearsed orientation from one of the dive masters here, an Irish guy as it happens, who was very friendly and full of useful information. He went over all the ins and outs of the resort and the island in general and very patiently answered the near constant barrage of questions I fired at him. We received our keys and were assigned a self-contained cabin. The cabin was nice enough but there were others that were much closer to both the pool and the sandy beach and we asked to be relocated to one of these more favourable locations. This wasn’t a problem and we moved our stuff accordingly. Our new cabin is also fully self-contained with two very comfortable twin beds, an ensuite bathroom, fan, TV and, most importantly for me and my laptop, a near permanent supply of electricity.

We are paying just 300B (€5,77) per night for the hut but the rate goes up to over double that for customers that are not diving here at the resort. To maintain the budget price, we must dive at least every other day. We’ve already signed up and paid for three days' worth of diving so we will probably add another couple of days' worth to this and stagger the diving days accordingly to get the most out of our stay here. By spacing things apart like this, we can stay here for a good nine or ten days of inexpensive relaxation. We still have the cost of the additional dives to worry about but this comes out of another budget and at just 700B (€13,45) each per dive including all equipment, this too is very reasonable. A day’s worth of diving typically will include a single trip in the boat to a couple of different dive sites so for each day that we go diving, we will be paying 2,800B (€53,85) for the privilege. I’ve also budgeted us both for a couple of night dives each, which I’m particularly looking forward to. A requirement for the night dives is an underwater flashlight, which they will rent to us. Each night dive will therefore cost us 850B (€16,35) each, which, again, is very reasonable considering we are at one of the premier dive locations in all of Thailand. Just about the only place in Thailand that is considered better for diving is the Similan Islands and that is where our live-aboard will take place in a couple of weeks from now.

We had a spot of lunch right here at the small resort in the open-air restaurant (most of the tables are under roof but there are no outside walls on three sides). It really is an idyllic setting and we sit listening to the gentle crashing waves not three or four meters from our table. The sun can get quite piercingly hot when the cloud cover opens up but the gentle sea breeze keeps the temperature to a comfortable level for the most part. I had expected the cabins to be baking hot but they are actually quite comfortable with the powerful yet very quiet fan that we have above the beds. We paid for a room with fan but our cabin also has an air-conditioning unit and I wondered if we had been given an A/C room by mistake so I very tentatively asked about the remote controller to activate it. It turns out that our 300B (€5,77) does not include the A/C unit but for an additional 300B (€5,77), we could have the A/C remote and switch the unit on. It does seem a bit excessive to have to pay as much for the room again just for switching on the A/C so it’s fortunate that the cabins are quite comfortable with just the fan. Apparently, the electrical supply here is quite expensive with many places having to employ a generator and this does force the prices upwards – but still.

After lunch, we lounged in and around the pool for a few hours to recuperate from the long and tiresome journey to get here. We decided to start with our refresher course tomorrow instead of today for the same reason. There are a dozen or more other travellers here that are taking their PADI Open Water certification course and we’ve been chatting with some of them on and off during the course of the day. I still find it very surprising to meet quite so many other travellers to be travelling around the world as we are, taken a year out of their lives to do so.

It rained for just a few minutes a couple of times today but just as is the case in Florida, literally just a few minutes later, you would not have known that it had rained and the sun pushed its way through again after each small downpour. The figure eight shaped pool is quite warm and is about three meters deep at one end for the benefit of the learner divers to practice their underwater skills in a controlled and enclosed area. Two small groups of novice divers were starting their practical lessons this afternoon and we dried off to make room for them to have free reign of the pool whilst we rested and napped for an hour or so inside our cabin. The tranquillity of the surrounding silence that is pierced only but crickets, calling birds and the ever persistent gentle crashing of the waves just a few meters from our cabin, is so relaxing that it was nearly dark by the time we opened our eyes again.

Most of the current occupants of the dive resort were enjoying themselves at the bar by the time we made it outside again and by now the restaurant kitchen was closed so we ventured out into the town to see what other options for food were on offer. The choice is quite limited but there are a few restaurants just a couple of minutes' walk from our resort and we found a nice pub where we could relax in a quiet and more peaceful setting to enjoy a meal. We paid a total of 410B (€7,88) for a main course and a couple of cans of drink each. Again, it was a much laid back and relaxed atmosphere and this makes up for the lack of variety and choice. In the days ahead, we will venture out farther into the island and perhaps make it to one or both of the other two small towns here. There are some very nice snorkelling sites dotted around the perimeter of the island that we will also try to get to over the course of the next week or two. Apparently, there is a near 100% chance of seeing black tipped reef sharks at one particular snorkel site so we will definitely try to seek that one out before we leave the island.

For the past few days now, we’ve been deliberately keeping track of all our outgoing expenditure and this has helped us tremendously at keeping to our budget so I’ll probably continue to do this from here on. For the past couple of days, we’ve managed to maintain an average daily expenditure of less than €40 – and the only reason it’s even been that high is because I’ve counted the cost of the train and catamaran rides in with those daily totals. For the next ten days or so, we should be able to manage around €20 a day, including accommodation but excluding the cost of the diving, which comes under a different budget anyway. This should do wonders for our overall daily average for Thailand and if all goes well, this will be another country that we will have been able to come in well under budget for. I’m anticipating to have overspent on the diving budget but I’m confident that this will be more than offset by the savings made on the daily cost of living budget.