Nirvana is playing in the background, a cold bottle of Chang beer next to my laptop on the wooden table and one of my best friends M. is on the bench reading my book. While the bar is filling up with the local expats and other people waiting for the train, I am reminiscing on our trip to the beautiful island, Koh Tao.
I’m in a pleasant bar in Chumporn (yes, that is a real name), Thailand and we’re waiting for our train back to Bangkok. My friend M. from Indonesia is visiting me for a week and so we thought we’d venture out of Bangkok for a mini break on one of Thailand’s great islands. We’ve known each other since the good old days when we were young and slightly crazy students at Sichuan University in China.
She’s about to move to the US to live with her husband, who’s also a friend of mine. This means I was and am incredibly happy that she made it over from Indonesia to visit me, after one year of not seeing her and who knows how long it will be till we see each other again.
It’s these kind of friendships, that make my life on the road fantastic. Getting lovely E-mails from my friends and when I’m lucky even hanging out with them somewhere along the way.Anyway, I wanted to write about our trip, not babble on the wonders of International friendship.
It’s a long way to Koh Tao, especially if you miss your bus
After getting up at around 5.30am and still missing the first bus because of a typo we had to wait till the evening for the next bus/boat connection to our destination: Koh Tao. At least we hadn’t bought a ticket, so the only thing we lost was precious time on the turtle island (not that there are many turtles left).
We spent the day buying presents for friends and family and marveling at the beauty of one of Bangkok’s largest temples- Wat Poh (Germans may giggle now, cause this sounds a bit like ‘what butt’ in German).
Afterwards we dragged our tired feet and massive amount of presents to the pretty pink church Santa Cruz, which is in the cute former portuguese quarter of Bangkok. Some of the houses still remind of their former portuguese population, but a lot of them sadly seem to be less than well maintained.
Since the Ferry office was close to Kao San wandered through Hangover Road (Kao San Road), which seemed so much less annoying with a friend wandering with me and checked out a marvelous little second hand bookshop where I couldn’t help buying a Murakami book and a fantastic book called ‘good poems for hard times’. Books are irresistible to me.
The ticket system to get to Koh Tao is of questionable efficiency, to put it mildly. After paying for the ticket in the morning we were given a voucher and told to come back to the office two hours before the bus left to pick up our ticket. At 7pm Farang and Thai alike were more or less orderly queuing in front of the office and being assigned seats on the bus. It might have been easier to do this when paying for the ticket, but hey, queuing is a great way to meet your fellow travellers.
Suddenly everybody started moving and we were brought to a large two level bus, with pink and purple graffiti design on the outside. It wasn’t the most pleasant journey since annoying music was playing throughout the night and the guy behind me thought it was a great idea to put his smelly feet between my seat and the window. So we were quite happy to reach Chumporn at 5.30ish in the morning where we waited by the sea for our catamaran ferry. The pier looked like a camp of stranded tourists who were all hopefully watching the sunrise, dreaming of the perfect white sand beach and a pleasant place under a palm tree.
After a ride on the catamaran and a total of over eight hours travel time we finally reached our destination. We got off the boat with hoards of other travellers, upon which hawkers, taxi drivers and dive instructors loudly fell like Bangkokian girls on a sale in the mall (only the voice levels were different and the ice cold temperature was instead super hot). We worked our way through the crowd, smilingly declining all offers off taxis, hostels and dive lessons.
Koh Tao: a bungalow on the beach, what more does one want?
I was quite happy that for once I just needed to find the friend of a friend who had kindly offered to pick us up instead of being on my own and figuring out where to go and who to. A short motorbike ride later he dropped me off at a nice assembly of pleasantly new looking bungalows, just a few steps away from the beach.
The manager of the place is an old lady who looks quite intimidating. I was quite happy that I actually managed to make the fierce old lady laugh out loud twice. My method being plain and simple stupidity. It always delights when one makes a fool of ones self.
The next days were spent with everything one would an island holiday expect to include: massages, BBQd whole fish, dinner at the beach, fresh fruit juice, cold beer, swimming and simple bumming around.
The experience that changes a holiday from great to amazing – Diving in Koh Tao
Apart from being with my friend M. and catching up on the last year, the best part of this holiday was the diving. I got my open water diving certificate on the Gili islands in Indonesia in 2009 but since then hadn’t been anywhere where there was good diving.
So it was great that my friends friend, Wes, also happened to be a dive master at the Sairee Hut Diving Resort. After a very thorough refresher session in the pool I felt ready for the first dive in three years.
We started at 7.30am and drove 45 minutes out to Chumporn Pinnacle for our first dive of the morning. I have to admit that jumping from the boat into the ocean was pretty exciting. But once I descended and looked around I just felt relaxed and lucky to be able to see something as amazing as the underwater world around me.
It’s a completely different and magical world under the surface of the ocean. The sounds alone are incredible. You hear your own regular breathing (a bit like Darth Vader though more meditative and relaxing than scary). The fish crunching on coral has to be one of my favourite sounds in the world. And except for this it’s pretty quiet.
The last two dives were almost the best. The water was incredibly clear and I felt more in control of my movement than the first two dives even though my ears were closing up, which was quite annoying (I completely blame the ice cold temperature of my office for that).
I love diving for many reasons. First of all the things you can see are amazing. Every dive (for me that haven’t been many) feels like somebody is letting me in on a magical secret. When I can come so close to a puffer fish, that I can see his seemingly smiling mouth or can float close to a coral and just watch all the little things going on there everything else is forgotten.
Looking at the wide wide ocean surrounding you, it is easier to regain a wider perspective on ones life and remembering how small and insignificant we human beings and our petty problems are. I’m not suggesting all problems will go away simply because you’re floating 20 odd metres under water, with the right mindset however it can definitely point you in the right direction.
I also think diving is great because it’s quite inclusive. You don’t need to join a team, you can just go to a dive school and even if you don’t have a diving buddy they will put you in a (preferably) small group to get out onto the ocean. You don’t need to be super fit, or super thin. You can be tall, short, slim or fat and still you can go diving, except for the finding a fitting wet suit, fins and the amount of air you use it doesn’t really matter.
Furthermore, you don’t need to talk, or more precisely you can’t. Since nobody will hear you under water and you wouldn’t really be able to speak anyway because you have your regulator in your mouth you can completely focus on your surroundings. The only way of communication is through a few hand gestures. I sometimes wish it would be the same on the shore…
After four dives, one to a very cool Japanese shipwreck I’m determined to go diving more often, even if it means diving in the murky water of England’s lakes. Even though every dive was easier and more relaxed there’s still much to work on. I feel good diving and am not continuously struggling to keep my buoyancy (balance) however there are still moments of spaziness that I want to leave behind me.