A Travellerspoint blog

November 2015

Green Christmas in Koh Tao

sunny 29 °C

In the morning, we did our little scavenger hunt. My clues were bit less cryptic than Ryan's so he had to help out with a few and grab the one that really got wedged in the light/keycard socket where I had been looking but couldn't find it. His gift was a set of drawing pencils and a sour candy and mine was a pack of coconut banana rolls, mango candy and popcorn.

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Since it was Christmas, we went to our favourite breakfast spot to treat ourselves to the big breakfast sets. The vegetarian one had beans, hash browns, toast, egg and a very oniony grilled veggie along with tea and orange juice. No room for cinnamon rolls. Ryan had a similar set but with meat in place of beans and veggies.

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On our way back, we stopped at the front desk. I was sure they were gearing up to reset the wifi since we were constantly asking about it, but instead we asked them to take our picture by their Christmas tree.

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We figured out a beach to visit up near Saiwee beach on the east coast this time. I brought sport sandals just in case we ran into island hills, which we did. The signage was poor for the roads. We passed a Thai boxing arena and Saiwee beach until we did find a sign indicating that we were at the farther beach we hadn't intended to visit, again. This was getting familiar, but we thought ah well, we'd check out Laem Thian beach anyway, known to be quiet.

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The hike soon turned challenging as we passed construction on a new resort and more signs to tell us that this road was also dangerous for inexperienced motorcyclists. The uphill trek began and we checked our not so full water bottle. If the resort area was anything like the last one, we could get some overpriced water there. Along the way we passed a man's home, a jogger, flowered trees, and old homes. But most of the trail down followed a waterline, reassuring us that there'd be some kind of development at the end, be it a shop or a hotel.

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The crashing of the ocean's waves grew stronger and the blue water would peek through the trees, leading us onto another hilly path. We came across a tall concrete building with loiterer's debris and smashed windows. Ryan joked we should climb it for a view but I was cautious of squatters.
The other stairs led down to the other section of the shabby resort that we later found out had been abandoned in 2011. Mainly English graffiti and the liquor bottles confirmed this was a party site, not somebody's temporary home. We avoided broken glass from windows and bottles as we walked.

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We sat on the tiny tip of beach and the cement ledge. The waves crashed in, too strong to swim or stand leisurely up to our knees. We welcomed the break, though we had trouble seeing why this would be ideal resort territory.

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Next, we went exploring a bit, up the two flights of stairs to the roof with a nice view. We were at the tip of the island with ocean to our left and right. The wind tunneled through and we couldn't help but think what a nightmare the place would be during a storm. Perhaps an accident or big storm closed down their business. It was always eerie to see things frozen in time, the signs still up and a few beds still around in the busted rooms.

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We walked back using our limited energy and water. There were some birds and small animals, lots of butterflies too. Parched at the bottom of the hill, we sought out shakes at a nearby restaurant. The ladyboy working took our order: a coconut shake for Ryan and mango for me. They weren't the greatest ones we'd had, but boy did we need them and the fan they turned on for us, operating at top speed. We topped up our water supply nearby and explored Saiwee beach area a bit. Most of the same shops were here like in our area, including Zest, but here was bigger and had far more tourists.

For lunch, we stopped at The Hippo as Ryan had been quoting Along Came Polly since we'd started diving. He had even wanted to get the French instructor so he could get him to say 'Rueben, are you for scuba?', but sadly it never happened. He could be 'happy as the hippo' with his generous portion of pad thai. I had a veggie burger that had my mouth watering since I read about it and enjoyed every bite. We rolled ourselves out of there and back to the familiar Mae Haad area. Our plans to visit a real beach got scrapped by our desire to rest out of the sun.

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Come supper hour, we still had minimal appetites. We wandered the streets indecisively for a bit before going to see a Thai acoustic band Fah Mai. We could only see half the musicians from our position at the back couch. At the same venue we'd ate at yesterday, they'd expanded the temporary steel walls and were cutting up vinyl table clothes during the show. The group's sound was good, like folk fest meets folklorama vibe. All the lyrics were in Thai. Overall, it had been a Christmas that would be hard to forget.

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Posted by Sarah.M 22:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach waves music christmas band resort hike thai koh_tao abandoned Comments (0)

Christmas Eve, Koh Tao

During a relaxing morning, we treated ourselves to a full breakfast at our quick favourite cafe Zest. We had cinnamon buns, a spinach omelette and Ryan had another pepper ham sandwich. We've become regulars around there. They even gave us a Christmas gift from the friendly Thai owner, a cute bag of cookies.

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Our next mission was to find a beach on the South side of the island with calmer waters. The roads weren't the greatest for walking with steady traffic and no sidewalk. There were hills too, not too bad until we reached closer. A map would have been handy as the signage was pretty minimal. Finally we saw a sign that said Haad Sai Daeng beach. It was further than we intended but there was no use backtracking. We climbed past the palm trees in our poor footwear. Not a good day for flip flops. At the summit, there was a tower with a view of Shark Island. The slope down was quite steep and not recommended for vehicles.

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The beach was a decent trek down and fairly small, overtaken by two resorts. Given the crazy road, the beaches weren't too hopping. Our stomachs begged to be taken care of first so we went to the resort and got pricey Cokes, a fried rice dish and a burger that actually filled Ryan up for once as it came with fries. Looking back it seemed cheap, but when your head is working in local currency it's two to three times the price of a regular meal.

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Next, we set our sights on finding a place on the beach where the brazen waters wouldn't soak our stuff. I had some fun photographing the waves before the sunscreen set it. We stood in the warm waters as the waves crashed in, watching the small cove, the island, the few brave swimmers and our bags until my legs started to get funny jolts in my nerves, not bites mind you, but we left all the same. Maybe muscle exhaustion from scuba and the hike, hopefully not jellyfish. We had no problem lazing on the beach after that. It clouded over a bit to offer us some relief.

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Before we left, we wandered to the opposite side of the small beach to find the other resort. The hike up wasn't as bad as we thought it would be and we got to enjoy the coconut trees.

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For supper, after our hour plus walk, we tried to go to the kebab place which was closed and instead went to Bro and Sis to watch some live music by a foreign man named Simon. He covered Johnny Cash, Passenger, Kings of Leon and had a pretty good voice. The atmosphere was neat too with a balcony and pillow seats overlooking the dark ocean and an open warehouse concept complete with cement floors and metal walls inside, though that could have been because they were doing renovations nearby to expand. From nearby Sairee beach, we could see all the party lights.

To celebrate Christmas, Ryan and I did a 50 baht ($1.60) gift exchange based on items we could find in 7-11. We'd turn it into a scavenger hunt by writing up clues and hiding the gifts around the hotel room.

Posted by Sarah.M 17:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach waves christmas hike koh_tao Comments (0)

Scuba: Final Day

semi-overcast 26 °C

We were a bit relieved this was our final day of scuba. We enjoyed diving but having someone in the group who hated and struggled with each task was trying on all of us, our instructor included. We found a lady selling Thai pancakes for breakfast. She had a mountain of coconut butter that she unwrapped as she got her stall ready for the day.

Our instructor reviewed yesterday's chapter with us at our request then he took us through Recreational Dive Planner calculations For each dive, using a depth and dive time, a diver was placed in a pressure group. It helped to calculate maximum dive times too since when you dived deeper, you had to spend less time there. To do a second dive, you should calculate your surface interval time to see what group you would start in for the next dive and penalize (take away dive time) accordingly. Luckily, dive computers did the bulk of the work nowadays, but they could be expensive and we were expected to at least attempt to calculate it manually a few times.

We also talked about decompression sickness, when the nitrogen can't exit your blood and bubbles as you ascend. You get a tingly feeling and joint pain. It takes a visit to the decompression chamber and a whole lot of cash or good insurance to fix. We weren't diving enough or deep enough to encounter that during our course.

Nitrogen narcosis, another risk, is when the body absorbs the nitrogen instead of expelling it and it produces a similar feeling to being drunk. The diver would have to ascend a bit and be cautious not to return to that depth. Apparently everyone had a different depth they could tolerate and many of the dive masters had found their narcosis level. Luckily this one didn't require such a serious fix.

With little time before lunch. we wrote our multiple choice exam and all passed. Most confusion was on things we had learned that day or hadn't read up on. We got speedy lunch at Zest, just rehashing yesterday's order, and made it back just for 11:45, boat loading time.

The first dive was a review of skills performed in deeper water at the Sai Thong dive site. We also did the emergency ascent where you say 'oh' and swim up to the surface. We followed a line down to the bottom. It felt shallower and was easier than I had expected. Our German classmate was brought to tears by our tasks (why she still put herself through this everyday was a mystery to us) and our instructor was really frustrated.

We never did practice more buoyancy control and I had a hard time finding it during our fun dive style activities. Though they say it comes with more practice. Colourful fish darted around us: a beaked coral fish, pink anemone fish, blue lined groupers, butterfly fish and a magnificent anemone. On the next dive we saw the less majestic sea urchin, the tumbleweed of the sea.

At the end, we filled in our dive logs, got our pictures taken and that was that. Cards would come in the mail. Everyone passed somehow. Ryan and I had a good vent about the whole experience at the guesthouse before wandering the pier area to find a small restaurant for supper.
I had pad thai with lime while Ryan had a burger. It was more of a relief than a celebration that we were done our open water course. We'd wanted more but it hadn't really met our expectations. At least we got two more nights paid for by our course fees and we could sleep in tomorrow.

Posted by Sarah.M 12:03 Archived in Thailand Tagged fish boat padi scuba dive koh tao open_water rough_ocean Comments (0)

Scuba

Open Water Day 2

semi-overcast 27 °C

Before scuba class, we got our 7-11 breakfast, a hard-boiled egg filled croissant and the ham and cheese classic for Ryan. When we made it to the dive shop for 8:30, the German girls weren't there so we reviewed our homework with our instructor to go over specifically what pressure did to air size and density, then emergency procedures, equipment specifics and what to do when swimming with currents.

We watched a scuba video from the nineties in main area of the shop when the German girls arrived. After that it was time to write a quiz, which we both did pretty well on. I just had to remember to swim into a current at the start of a dive so it would carry you back.

We got a long lunch break where we tried out the cafe on the other side of the dive shop called Zest. It had good sandwiches with grilled veggies or pepper ham and the food came out fast, a plus when on a tight schedule. The cinnamon rolls were heavenly.

We opted not take motion sickness tablets today and the waves were a bit calmer. We returned to Buddha point and were one of the first groups to get their gear on. We did our buddy checks following the acronym BWRAF also remembered by the phrase: Bruce Willis Rocks All Films. It was similar to yesterday's checks except this time I was checking Ryan's gear and vise versa.

BCD: inflate, deflate, orally inflate, then pull the emergency release to deflate and check the clips and straps are done up.

Weights: make sure it's a right hand release so they can come off in an emergency.

Regulator: Your buddy checks the yellow secondary by both smelling the air and taking a few breaths. Check your own and monitor the air gauge.

Air: Check buddy's tank is open and half a turn back as well as secured with the straps.

Final Check: Fins? Mask? Go time!

Ryan and I took our time doing the checks to make sure we didn't miss anything. Our instructor then showed us how to do a fall in entry. We kept our legs straight, looked up and leaned back. I wasn't the biggest fan watching it but it was okay to try. I still preferred the stride.

Our skills that day were a bit more intense. We had to fill our mask completely with water then clear it. Having a flooded mask was a bit intimidating, especially when you fill it slowly, so I ended up coughing and swallowing a bit of salt water. Surprisingly my eyes didn't burn as much as I expected. Ryan did his like a pro.

We had to remove our weight belts and put them back on. Ryan shot to the surface when his came off and our instructor had to pull him back down. He used up a lot of air struggling to re-secure his belt. We took off the BCD vest after too. When I did that, my weight belt got caught and made it really tricky. I was surprised our instructor didn't pick up on that during the last exercise and a bit let down by our safety standards today. Ryan finished the dive quite low on air, and the rest of us too since we had the usual wait for the German sister to panic after most exercises then get talked into completing her skills.

We took a break on the boat with cookies and water before getting our gear ready a second time with newly filled oxygen tanks. Our second set of skills involved some buddy skills like emergency breathing from our buddy's regulator. We also practised what to do if we ran out of air. Our instructor turned off our air to simulate it and as soon as we gave him the signal that we experienced it, he'd turn it back on. It took me a few breaths after he turned it off to get the empty breath.

We also practised buoyancy control. At the bottom, we'd empty our BCD of air and lay at a 45 degree angle. We kept adding little bursts of air until the point that we'd rise on our inhalation and sink with the exhalation, though with a slight delay. I wasn't really able to get the hang of it and was a bit disappointed we left that skill as is.

For the final bit of the dive, we swam deeper, to 11.8 metres, to go see some coral and fish. Many were similar to the ones we'd seen yesterday. A longfin bannerfish swam around and there was a clam as well. The coral types were boulder and mushroom. Soon the second dive was up as our air got to the red 50 bars and we were back on the boat. Back at the shop we filled in our dive log books to track what we saw, our depth and dive time and the visibility (low at 5-6 metres).

For supper, we went back to the cheap Thai place. Ryan got his sought after coconut shake, every bit as delicious as he remembered and I switched to mango. We shared a green curry and fried tofu with peanut sauce, both of which were quite tasty. The restaurant stayed quite busy with a mix of Thai and foreign patrons. Back at the room we still had to fight with the dodgy wifi, but luckily we had no big homework assignment to complete.

Posted by Sarah.M 12:07 Archived in Thailand Tagged fish boat padi scuba dive koh tao open_water rough_ocean Comments (0)

Learning to Scuba

overcast 28 °C

Sorry, not many pictures with this one, and if you're not interesting in diving you'll probably want to skip a few sections as they could be a bit dry. We should hopefully be able to put up a few more updates now that we've landed a sweet gig picking cherries for the next undetermined little while, two weeks if we're lucky. Crikey!!

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The ride to Koh Tao had been rough due to windy weather. The windows would show sky one minute then our view would plunge into ocean waves the nest as we rocked our way there. Walking to the water closet was a challenge of its own as we gripped each bunk bed pole to avoid toppling over. I had to sit outside for awhile in the morning to calm my unsettled stomach. Sleeping on boats is not for me. Finally, two hours past the expected time of arrival, we arrived in Koh Tao and made haste to get to Impian Divers, past the dozens of other souvenir, food and dive shops down the road.

The owner Robert welcomed us by name, and the staff were surprised the boat had taken so long. They set us up with our hotel room next door after we signed our paperwork The room had A/C and a patio set.

When we returned to the shop to get started, the German girls in our group weren't around yet but we started the lessons anyway. Our instructor went through the importance of breathing and how water pressure would compress air, lungs and objects. Equalizing allowed us to dive effectively without injury. Just plug your nose and blow on the way down. We reviewed the equipment and procedures to follow as well as helped us get all geared up with wetsuits, fins, masks, weight belts, and a BCD. This time I'd get to use the buoyancy control device (BCD) myself.

We got out of class early enough to grab lunch at the cappuccino place next door that sold great sandwiches, baguettes and baked goods. It was a bit pricey for Thailand as all the touristy restaurants that line the streets were here, but had tasty pesto sauce.

Our boat left at 12:30 and we grabbed our dive gear just before that. Our first site was Buddha point and we hopped in to do our swimming proficiency test: three laps around the boat and a 10 minute tread which all of us passed.

After all the other groups had gone, we learned the steps to set up our gear. Before using the oxygen, we checked the bottle. A sticker valid for one year showed the bottle had been visually inspected. A stamped date on the neck valid for 4 years indicated the bottle had been pressure tested and could be used safely. If there was a plastic cap on the top, it showed that the bottle had been refilled with air.

To start, we attached our BCD to the bottle using a large strap, four fingers down from the stamped area. A smaller safety strap held the top part in place too. Then we removed the plastic cap from the oxygen bottle and made sure the O-ring was there. It helped form a seal with the regulator to allow air to flow. Then we cracked the bottle open to let out a bit of air for a second before closing it. We unscrewed the dust cap from the regulator and attached it to the bottle so the screw lined up at the back.

Next, we checked the pressure gauge which should be zero if no air is flowing before placing it in a pocket of the BCD. We attached the inflator hose to the BCD so we could fill it with air should we need to be more buoyant. The lines all had to be snapped into place so they didn't drag when we dived. To crack the oxygen bottle, we pressed the regulator breathing piece to release the pressure, then opened the tank all the way, plus half a turn back. Then we needed to secure the alternate regulator, bright yellow so it was easy to see should our buddy have an emergency, somewhere in the life triangle: from the chin to where the rib cage ended.

Then we started our checks. Air should be between 180 and 220 bar for a full bottle. Mine was 10 bar short, but our instructor said it was fine. They were just short training dives anyway. BCD was checked by inflating it fully with the button then releasing all the air through the hose. Next we orally inflated it and then used the emergency release to let it out. With our regulators, which we used to breathe, we smelled of the air to make sure no contaminants made their way in, then took 3 breaths watching our pressure gauge to make sure the needle wasn't moving too much otherwise our bottle might not be open properly.

Then we were ready to strap in to the BCD with a Velcro waist strap and clips across the shoulders and stomach. The pressure gauge got clipped in too so it would be easier to access and wouldn't drag. Our flippers went in a spot that was easy to reach for later, mask around the neck and our weight belts and wet suits had gone on right at the beginning. Once the flipper went on at the edge of the boat, we had our right hand over our regulator and mask and left on the weight belt in case it released. One big stride forward and we were off!

Once in the water, we inflated our BCDs completely to float then could take out the regulator to swim to the right spot. We made it to a sand bar, shallow enough to stand but we sunk to our knees so we were underwater. We practised our breathing along with throwing the regulator away only to put it back in place. We practised clearing our mask should it get foggy by pulling it away from our face slightly to let water in then pressing on the top and blowing out our nose while lifting our head up toward the surface.

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One of the German sisters was having a lot of trouble so our instructor spent most of his time on the surface with her. While we waited there kneeling and breathing, the three of us got to see some neat fish: groupers, yellow angelfish, colourful parrotfish and even small neon blue ones. Most of the coral had died out. Once everyone was down again we practised hand signals for okay, problem (then point at the problem: ear, mask, fin etc.), how much air, ascend, descend, swim, stay close to your buddy.

Back on the boat we had water and dive biscuits from an enormous tin while the other groups did their second dive. At the center we got three chapters of assigned reading and few pages to complete. It would be a busy night. The wifi back at the hotel was patchy, but I did make it work for a bit before tackling our homework.

For supper, we found, surprise surprise, a Thai place up the main road and had cheap tasty shakes, pad thai with tofu and a stir-fry with beans, mushrooms and tofu and red curry with rice and pork. Ryan was quite jealous of my coconut shake as his pineapple just wasn't cutting it after a long day diving. He'd order one tomorrow for sure.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged fish boat padi scuba dive koh tao open_water rough_ocean Comments (0)

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