A Travellerspoint blog

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)


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.


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)

Caves and Safaris


This morning, monkeys were gathered up by the bathrooms, jumping around from branch to branch. They were the first animal we spotted before our next wildlife tour. We hopped back in the longboat to see the same type of hornbill we'd seen at night. It had a black body, white chest, plus a long tail and beak. When they flew, they had an orange/yellow stripe across their wingspan and their wings made considerable noise. We also saw the bright blue kingfisher.

For breakfast, we had banana pancakes plus another banana on the side for good measure. We lounged around until the 10 am checkout then took off in the longboat for our second cave adventure. It took an hour's voyage on the uncomfortable wooden plank boat seats to reach the next platform.

The hike took an hour or so, steeper than yesterday. We went up with a local ranger and Two. Two showed us a large tree with air roots that climbed other trees before strangling them to take their place. It was their invasive way of reaching the sunlight. More cicada mounds were along the path along with their shells and some spiders.


This cave was big but the tour wouldn't be as extensive as yesterday's. The cave held high levels of carbon monoxide and it could be dangerous to stay down there more than a few dozen minutes. As we explored, we found the critters here were bigger: the bats, spiders and crickets.


We walked down to the cave on a sometimes slippery path. There was a rocket-shaped stalagmite that Two joked about. We had to scale around a rock wall, and at the end Two shouted out about a two meter long snake we could see. It was lightly coloured and moved slowly enough at a distance from us. We went in a bit further to see spiders and crickets. Finally, we visited the large guano-scented bat cave with thousands of black critters just hanging out.

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We trekked back down, begging the rain Gods to make our path less challenging by staying at bay. It worked and we walked the final path across a big fallen floating log and over the random boards and rocks, hoping not to slip. We had a lunch of fried rice and egg plus creatively cut pineapple and watermelon where the peel was the eco-friendly tray.


Back at the mainland pier, our luggage waited for us in the back of a van. We thanked Two and got dropped off at a nearby bus station. Tickets to Surat Thani were 150 baht. I ran into the nearby Big C grocery store to cool off with their A/C and pick up snacks: panda cookies, croissants, M&Ms and goldfish knock-off crackers I always used to buy.

Once arrived in Surat Thani, we turned down pushy tour agents offers, found our own way to the pier and saved no money on the tickets. Sometimes we learned, people could be honest in sales. We sat at the waterfront pier area near a lively market selling clothes, household items and food. We managed to find food and drinks at a nearby restaurant stall. Ryan got to try satays, I had some big fried noodles and we both had EST Thai cola.

We had pancakes for dessert, small but tasty, made by a lady watching a football match intently with a few other vendors, and by 10pm it was time to board the overnight boat to Koh Tao. Stepping inside it looked more like a dorm than a boat with dozens of big bunk beds everywhere. At least they had toilets with toilet paper and soap, a rare find out here. Since we were travelling together, Ryan and I got the slightly larger than a single shared bunk mattress.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged lake cave safari snake khao_sok hornbill Comments (0)

Khao Sok Lake

overcast 25 °C

We moved out of our cozy jungle bungalow and had a bit more French toast before taking off on our tour. We all jumped in a songtao to go to the dammed lake. There were a few German friends, a Belgium couple and a Russian lady in our group. The drive took just over an hour, more than long enough bouncing around in the back of a songtao. Mr. Bao assured us that our big bags would arrive the following day on our through voyage to Koh Tao.

Our enthusiastic guide met us with aviators, a plaid shirt and a long braid. He introduced himself as Two, 'like one, two', he explained. We bought the 200 baht entrance tickets and boarded the longboat for an hour's journey to the raft houses we'd be staying in.


The whole area had been flooded so they could have a dam, which made the lake here quite deep. Since it was done recently enough, a lot of the old treetops were still standing in the water, dead, but a testament to how far below the former ground would have been. There were ample limestone peaks with vegetation to keep our cameras busy until too much water would splash in. I pulled out my purple poncho from 7-11 at one point to stay warm and dry. The sun and thin plastic achieved an unsettling sweaty heat quite efficiently.


An hour later, we pulled up in front of a bamboo raft complex. It had a small docking area attached to a floating restaurant. Further down the bamboo bridged path were small raft houses, really basic, just a mattress, a door and a couple chairs on the deck area each. No lights or locks. Our daypacks just fit inside the room with us, but it would only take about three steps before we'd be able to take a dip in the beautiful lake. It was a decent trade off.


Our guide, Two, explained that we'd have lunch, have some down time and then start our cave tour. We hadn't really bothered looking into the whole itinerary (though it was available to see) so the cave tour came as a pleasant surprise. We did love our caves.


We hopped into the lake for a refreshing swim. The water was a bit cool considering the outdoor temperature was also chillier, but it was still really nice. Ryan and I swam around from one log to another in the sectioned-off swimming area.

For lunch, there were several dishes, two of which were vegetarian friendly. Both were mildly flavoured stir-fries we shared with the rest of our group at a communal table. After that, we had a bit of time to rinse off, change and rest before the tour.

The boat ride to the caves took all of four minutes. We'd hike quite some time up, then do an hour through the cave and half an hour walking through the jungle to get back to the start. Our uphill hike took us through a number of small rivers so walking sandals were ideal. Two stopped to show us chameleons, spiders, a millipede, and cicada homes which were deep holes that the bugs dug in their youth to sleep in and grow wings.


At one point, we stopped and there was a black wild cat with a long tail. As we were at the back, we didn't get to see it, but Two and out other guide told us they were quite rare during the day and were pretty excited encountering one.


Two made sure it wasn't going to rain before the final hot and sweaty climb to the mouth of the cave. Inside, caverns were quite tall and large. Bats hung from the ceiling and our lights picked out a few more golden spiders. A snake was slithered around a stalagmite and crickets were abundant in some areas. Luckily, Mr. Bao had provided us with headlamps as a final thought to make the journey easier. Some of the cave formations were round and porous with water running down. Others were jagged and tall.


About halfway, we gave our valuables and clothes to Two for safe keeping in the dry bags and tied our shirts around our heads like turbans to save space and keep them dry. In just our bathing suits, we walked carefully through the water which at times came right up to our neck and chest. Then the cave would change and we'd be on solid ground again.


One section required us to scale down the cave walls to avoid being sucked away in the strong flowing water. Here the ceilings were high but the corridor was quite narrow. Two found his own sneaky dry path around the river after giving us instructions on the descent and making sure we cleared the dangerous section. We had a bit more wading ahead of us before we reached the natural light trickling through the exit and lighting up the now gentle flowing water. We'd made it safely back to the rainforest.


As we took pictures around the cave and got back into more hike-friendly attire, Two shared the story of two guides and six tourists who had died in the cave in previous years. A storm had come and rain had rushed into the cave. With the narrow pathways, the cave flooded quickly and people were washed away. Only one woman had survived, pushed up to a high spot by someone where she stayed for a few days before it was safe to rescue her. We had no idea it could be so dangerous and were thankful it hadn't decided to rain.


The cave had another interesting bit of history. It used to be home to students affiliated with communist organisations fleeing the government. The local people didn't care too much about the politics, but helped feed them because it was the right thing to do. The rest of the hike went by quickly and we had another rest by the cabins.


On the way back from the cold showers, I caught the reflection of the bamboo raft houses on the still turquoise water and it was absolutely stunning. For supper, we had a tasty massaman curry, another stir-fry, a big fried fish (head and all) and a giant plain omelette. We found out that nearly everyone in our group was a teacher or in-training to be one. The Belgium couple had travelled from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand and were heading back home in the new year.


Our night wasn't over yet, time for a night safari. With a spotlight and a longboat, Two showed us sleeping hornbills on the Banyan tree and some of the big cats with red eyes. All we could glimpse of the latter were the eyes, but it was still neat. The cicada wails were quite strong too. Two found one of the insects to show us. The bug got accidentally dropped back into the water and was subsequently rescued. When we brought him back to the raft house area, he flew away.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged lake cave longboat night_safari khao_sok Comments (0)

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