Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 244 (54)

Koh Tao

Sunday 7th November

Today was a no-dive day. Well, we weren’t going to be diving during the day, that is. We did have a night dive planned for the later this evening but for now, there was no compelling reason to do anything other than to lie in and relax in the comfortable heat of the tranquil morning. For some reason, doing nothing seems to be very energy sapping and we both ended up in a semi trance-like daze for much of the morning, half in and half out of consciousness, until we shook ourselves awake just enough to stagger to the restaurant on the other side of the pool for brunch. It was hard work, but we made the thirty or so meter journey all the way to the inviting dining area without once being struck by falling coconuts, falling into the crystal clear blue, motionless, twenty-nine degree Celsius pool or scratching our bare feet on the soft sand. Another small victor in this unforgiving hellhole we call paradise. With an almighty struggle, we somehow managed to down a couple of plates of mouth-wateringly delicious food for the bank-busting sum of about 200B (€3,85). The waves sloshing against the glistening sand just a few meters from where we sat, now sated and basking in the heat of the day, along with the rocketing heat from the climbing sun, meant that our ordeal was not yet over. We had to somehow force ourselves to make it all the way back to the beckoning sun beds lining the shimmering warm waters of the glistening pool, and once there, collapse into a comfortable, reclining position. Even after such exertion, our torture was not yet complete. During the course of the remainder of the morning, we repeatedly had to not only roll over a couple of times but also had to slip into the warm pool for a few refreshing minutes of cooling off before struggling to get out again, only to let the warm air currents slowly carry the moisture from our steadily darkening skin wayward into the deep blue sky and over the palm covered landscape. As if to torment us still further, this ritual had to be repeated several times during the day. I can still barely believe that we are able to tolerate this cruel, relentless, relaxing environment, day, after day, after day. If we ever make it out of here alive, someone please pinch me.

As pleasant as it clearly is here, we are now rapidly nearing the time to depart and thus I needed to start thinking about our onward journey. After all, yet more paradise islands await us still. We’ve been trying to learn what we can from other people here about some of the destinations over on the West coast of Thailand that are worth visiting. We have about six days left to explore Southern Thailand before our diving live-aboard in the Similan Islands commences. With the ‘viz’ here on the East coast being what it is, we want to head westwards towards clearer waters. The most recommended route off the island is via the night boat to the mainland. This takes three or four times as long at the catamaran and sails in the evening with an arrival time of about five the following morning. This option is off-putting for two reasons. Firstly, it is a longer time to be on a rocking and swaying boat and thus may lead to nausea or motion sickness and secondly, it means that we will likely have very little sleep, as there is nothing to lie on other than the deck of the boat. We could island hop to minimise the time spent on water but this would end up being a longer journey with the added disadvantage of needing to spend a night somewhere during the trip. Logistically, the night boat does seem like the best option but we aren’t completely sold on the idea just yet.

As far as diving on the West coast is concerned, we have a few different options and we are trying to decide which to go with based not only on cost but also on the degree to which the various locations have been developed for mass tourism. We want to avoid as much as possible those places that have been overdeveloped to the point of the environment consisting of little more than a mass tourist trap. There are quite a few places like this in Thailand, we’ve seen some already, and the West coast is no exception with more than its fair share. Probably the most obvious no-go area as far as this is concerned is Phuket. The hordes of foreign tourists that flock there year after year has resulted in a building boom that has completely transformed that location from what it was to the unfortunate drunken beer fest that it has become – great if you are into nightlife and partying but not really our scene. As a result, prices have also skyrocketed and I doubt we would be able to afford to spend much time diving there even if we were able to tolerate the party and sex tourism atmosphere. It has to be said that we’ve not been there and much of my opinion is derived from accounts taken from guidebooks as well as other travellers but if only half the accounts we’ve heard are true, we definitely want to steer clear of there and places like it.

After Phuket, in ever decreasing states of mass development, there is Krabi on the mainland, the island of Koh Phi Phi, followed lastly by the more laid back and less developed divers’ paradise island of Koh Lanta. It’s the later of these that we are thinking of making a break for. We haven’t arranged our onward transportation yet so there is still time to adjust this plan as more and more information trickles our way.

All this thinking about where to go next slowly took its toll and we eventually had to make a hasty retreat for the pool again where some more lounging around in the sun awaited us - enough of all this strenuous thinking activity. When we checked in to the resort a little under a week ago, we asked about the air-conditioning unit in the room but were told that we would have to pay the cost of the room again, although admittedly this was only 300B (€5,77), to get our hands on the remote so that we could switch it on. At the time, we elected to forgo the luxury of the A/C unit in favour of the more traditional ceiling fan in the middle of the hut. It’s not been as bad as we thought but there have been times that we could have enjoyed a brief escape from the blistering heat of the day in a nicely air-conditioned environment. This afternoon was one such occasion and this drove me to study the A/C unit a little closer. After a bit of prodding and poking, I found a small switch beneath one of the panels that apparently switched the unit on and off. Essentially, then, we now have air-conditioning, slightly cheekily for free I might add, and it is blissful. We don’t use it all the time but it certainly makes a big difference to drop the temperature in the hut a few degrees after coming in from an exhausting day by the pool.

The day slowly melted away and it was soon time to start to get ready for our planned night dive. This time we would both be going out and we would also have the luxury of not one but two dive masters between us – once again at no extra cost. This would mean that Sandy would not have to worry about where I was swimming off to with the camera and would be able to simply enjoy the dive for its own benefit. I too would be able to devote more concentration to the underwater photography so I had high hopes of some decent results, providing the viz would be OK.

The dive sight for this evening’s night dive was right here in the bay and just a few minutes boat ride away so we wasted no time, after loading ourselves and our equipment aboard, in kitting up and getting ready to jump in. The dive itself was a very good one and possibly the best dive so far. The viz was good but not spectacular and I was able to relax and concentrate on the photography much more than with the previous dives. At times, I had to carefully and softly lay myself flat on my side on the seabed, carefully avoiding spiny sea urchins in the process, to get the best possible shot of the subject with the strobe and the camera both in the best position. We saw a few things on this dive not previously seen at any of the other dive sites including a couple of different types of eel, a very nicely camouflaged stonefish, a resting puffer fish and several other things besides. All in all, it was a very successful dive and I would much preferred for it to have lasted longer than the planned thirty minutes. I spoke to my dive master after the fact and asked why we weren’t able to stay down any longer than we did, especially since we all had plenty of air, it not being a particularly deep dive site. He did consider this at the time, apparently, but decided that it would be best to stick with the original plan. This is something that is always drummed into SCUBA divers: ‘Plan the dive and dive the plan’. Straying from a dive plan once underwater is something that is very easily done but less so communicated to the rest of the dive group and this can lead to confusion all around so is best avoided altogether. Even though we might have liked to stay under for longer, the fact that we all surfaced together, and safely, meant that it was a successful dive and that is what matters at the end of the day. Based on the success of this dive, I was quite ready to sign up for another night dive but they only take the boat out for the night dives every other day and we are planning on leaving the day after tomorrow.

Back on dry land again, we cleaned off all our gear and put everything back into the storeroom. I also had to tend to the tedious but very necessary task of stripping down the camera equipment and thoroughly cleaning it all. We make sure to thoroughly rinse off all the salt water from ourselves, the dive equipment and the camera equipment in particular. It takes just one drop of salty water to evaporate and leave behind a couple of crystals of salt to get into one of the O-rings and this can led to a crack in the rubber which, in turn, can lead to flooding of the equipment – disastrous. All the O-rings have to be removed, dried and re-greased again after every day’s worth of diving.

At some point the other day when we were returning from our little snorkelling expedition over at Shark’s Bay, I pulled my left trapezius muscle again. I’ve done this several times now over the past few years and there must be a weak tear there somewhere as it usually happens without warning or any particular exertion and always in the same spot. During the day, when I’m active and moving about, it’s less bothersome but at night, in the early mornings and late evenings, it tends to stiffen up and is very painful. Fortunately, it hasn’t affected my ability to dive but it has gotten to the point of having to rub cream onto my back and even taking an anti-inflammatory tablet to get through the night.