Our little group made the most of our travel day from Khao Sok to Ko Tao with Suzie as our platoon leader. We wouldn’t take no crap from nobody on this day because Alex figured out the magic phrase to say if anybody tried to rip us off. Thailand is Buddhist country so when we were asked for more money after missing a shuttle we were on time for and never showed up Alex told the guy it was “Bad Karma” that he had misled us and is now asking for more money. And you know what the guy actually did the right thing by returning our money and told us to book through his competitor who was cheaper. What a simple and magical phrase we luckily only had to use this one time for the rest of our travels in Thailand. In celebration of making it to the port for our last leg of the journey we enjoyed several Chang beers over a game of cards while waiting a couple hours to board. The high-speed boat ride to Koh Tao took a little over three hours. All those beers had us all taking turns stumbling to the bathroom on the bouncing boat, lunging between seats and poles to stay on our feet. None of us got sick, but if you have sensitive sea legs, I would highly suggest taking something beforehand.
After checking in, we met back up at a bar with a trivia night and joined in on the game. Alex and Suzie heard about the trivia night at their hostel and had already made a friend that they brought along. This was Alex’s first trip outside of the US and it was a lot of fun watching him discover the joys of foreign travel and meeting people from all over the world. The best part of trivia night was when Suzie and Alex went up to represent the team for a game involving a balloon. Their faces were priceless after they explained the rules as Alex ran back to get Lauren and I for the game instead. Let’s just say the game involved moving the balloon from a sensitive part of the body without the use of one’s hands. Lauren and I totally won the game but didn’t celebrate as obnoxiously as the two girls that finished just after us who stole the win from us!
Lauren and I had decided Koh Tao was the perfect place to get our open water scuba certifications while in Thailand. We signed up for our three-day course the next morning, but it didn’t start until the following day so we had the opportunity to spend the day exploring with Alex and Suzie. By the time we had our scuba course booked they had already rented a scooter and rode to the other side of the island to a place called Freedom Beach. We rented a scooter each because it is so much more fun drive your own scooter and we headed out to meet them there.
We spent the rest of the morning at Freedom Beach snorkeling and relaxing. This is a great beach for snorkeling with how crystal clear and calm the water is. Sadly, most of the coral looks to be bleached or dead, but there are still tons of fish to see! We ate lunch at a restaurant built on the side of a cliff next to the beach. They had the most delicious and refreshing coconut shake and great panang curry. Over lunch Suzie told us how on the way to the beach Alex was not feeling super comfortable driving the scooter with her on the back which is totally understandable for his first time driving a scooter on the crazy roads of Thailand. That actually was the primary reason Lauren and I each rented a scooter on Phuket because we didn’t feel comfortable learning to drive the scooter with somebody on the back. Since I felt very comfortable driving the scooters by now, I offered for Suzie to ride on the back of mine when we rode to check out the next beach called Ao Sai Daeng on the east coast. It is a good thing Suzie jumped on the back of my scooter for this ride. For one it made Alex feel much better driving his scooter just worrying about himself. Secondly, the ride to the next beach had a road that was so steep leading down to the beach that I was not able to stop the scooter on the hill even if I wanted to so any fear would have almost certainly led to a crash! The ride down to the beach was scary enough with the steep incline of the hill and the twists and turns, but it was going back up the hill that would make both our hearts stop for a second.
Ao Sai Daeng beach has a very beautiful view and turquoise waters lapping up on the shore. We were offered lounge chairs for free when we arrived at the beach which took us cheap travelers off guard wondering where the catch was, but they never bothered us nor made us buy a drink. This is a great beach for relaxing as there is some shade for the lounge chairs provided by trees lining the beach. We saw others snorkeling, but I would doubt this spot would be better than Freedom Beach as the water was not quite as clear and seemed to get deep quickly off shore.
Now back to our trip up the steep hill leaving the beach. On our way up I saw a sign with a picture of a scooter and one person on it with a caption in all caps under the picture saying “ONLY 1”. Nice choice of location for the sign placement as any hesitation at this point and we would be rolling back down the hill backwards. I decided to ignore the sign and hit the throttle to get us up this 35% grade and we soon learned to respect that sign. There was a gradual turn in the middle of the hill and right around this turn is where the grade went from steep to extreme. Halfway through the turn I notice the bike was no longer turning and quickly realized it is because the front wheel is no longer on the ground. After a split second of panic, I let off the throttle slightly and, luckily Suzie realized too what was going on too so, we both leaned forward to bring the front wheel back down. If I puckered my lips, I would have kissed the front wheel I was leaning so far forward the rest of the way up the hill. We both breathed a sigh of relief when we made it to the top and then Suzie immediately began to worry about Alex on his way up. After a few tense moments of waiting we saw Alex pop up followed shortly by Lauren. Yay! We all made it! This adventure brought to you by the navigation of Maps.Me. (no not sponsored but if you have been reading our blog for a while you will pick up on the many unsuspecting adventures Maps.Me has taken us on around the world)
We were both a bit nervous and tired for our first day of scuba training after staying up until midnight doing our assigned homework. There was so much information to memorize in a short time before we put on the equipment and jumped in the pool to start our skills tests. The first day was a long one, but we got through it okay because we had a great instructor to helping us. I was very surprised at how cold I got from being in the pool for over an hour and we even had wet suits on!
The second day were our first ocean dives which of course had us both a bit nervous again. We had two dives for the day, each one with several skill tests on the bottom before we could swim around to see anything. Going down on our first dive to the depth of 12 meters my right ear gave me some trouble with equalizing which was not a comforting way to start the dive. I found that wiggling my jaw worked better than plugging my nose and blowing like we had been taught. Lauren and I both scared each other shortly after getting to the bottom. She says I scared her first by floating directly above her so when she turned around to find me, she freaked out looking in every direction with no sight of me. She pulled the same trick on me about 5 minutes later and tapped me on the head when she saw me frantically looking around for her. One of the most important rules of diving is the buddy system so when we thought we lost each other it was truly a scary experience on our first dive at a depth of 40 feet. Our test for the two dives were things like flooding our masks with water and clearing them and taking the regulator out of our mouths to simulate a recovery if it fell out. Easier said than done when you look up and see 40 feet of water above you, but the best and hardest lesson to learn when diving is just to remain calm.
The third day we were told if we got all our skill test done on the first dive then our second dive would be just a fun dive so we were properly motivated. The joy of doing a dive without having my mask flooded at the start, making my eyes sting for most of the dive, sounded like a real treat! Our group also dwindled by one on our last day because the one girl who had been struggling through it all finally gave up because it was not as much fun as the bar crawls.
Our last dive was incredible and totally different without having to worry about remembering what to do for a skills test, we could actually just enjoy the beauty around us! I was also allowed to bring my GoPro down with me to film the dive or at least half of it. Still being new at diving I was processing some things on our way to the bottom when our instructor signaled to me asking where my GoPro was. I pulled it out of the BCD pocket and secured it to my wrist and started shooting….or so I thought. I had forgotten to hit that magic button on top of the camera that makes it record. So, I’m swimming around for half our dive getting what I thought was phenomenal footage and was so excited to watch it later. I’m lucky to have such a thoughtful wife because Lauren signaled for the camera to get some footage of me too. When she went to hit the record button, I even tried to stop her thinking it was already recording and she was going to stop it. That’s when it dawned on me and I was unsure if I had hit the button from the start. So, all the footage in the video below was shot by Lauren!
It’s amazing how the camera can still pick up the audio so well under the water. You can even hear us making noises when we saw cool fish and me trying to yell to Lauren when I realized the fish, we were filming was the infamous trigger fish all divers are cautious of. In the middle of the video you will see a large fish with a white butt and yellow tail directly below us on the ocean bottom attacking something. That is the infamous trigger fish. It is called the trigger fish because of a fin on its head that pops up when it is threatened and is about to attack. We heard stories of these huge fish attacking divers and yes, they have large teeth and are extremely aggressive. They also have a narrow field of vision which is like a cone looking up with the small end starting at their eyes. If this trigger fish had looked up at us Lauren and I would have been right in his sweet spot. I knew the fish by their yellow mustache and only saw it when the fish rolled to the side which is when I yelled to Lauren to swim away fast it’s a trigger fish! I also threw the trigger fish sign that looks like a gun, but that confused her, and she started looking all around us and not at the fish directly below us. I started swimming and signaled her to follow me to get us out of there and back with our departing group. It was a close call we had a good laugh about later.
We liked Koh Tao so much and were so tired from our scuba classes that we decided to stay on Koh Tao for a couple more days instead of going to Koh Samui straight away like we had intended. It gave us time to attempt to hang with the younger crowd on the famous Koh Tao bar crawl and only made it till 11pm. The bar crawl included a show at a lady boy club which Lauren was very excited about and I was terrified for. I will never forgive Lauren for trying to get me on stage immediately after they dragged some guy up there for a lap dance and make out session at the end. It’s their choice to change their gender and I don’t have anything against them, but I am not at all interested in being groped or kissed by a lady boy, so I was ready to get the heck out of there!
It was a clear sunny day when we got on our high-speed ferry to Koh Samui packed with people on all three levels. Not long after we got past the coast line of Koh Tao the waves started getting bigger and bigger. We had to leave the roof level of the boat for the covered second level to protect our electronics from the spray coming off the front of the boat crashing through the waves. We are very lucky to have good sea legs, but I would say one out of five people on this boat were not so lucky. We saw so many people vomiting into bags that the boat attendants handing out the bags couldn’t keep up with the demand! We only spent one full day on Koh Samui and were very happy we made the choice to stay longer on Koh Tao. We were on the east coast and resorts had built their walls up to the waters edge so we couldn’t even walk down the beach to get where we wanted to go. The beaches were also littered with trash and the water was not nearly as clear as Koh Tao. Perhaps we were just in a bad area, but I would not go back after what we saw.