Wednesday, August 5, 2015



As part of my journey to show my good friend South East Asia and Thailand we headed towards the island of Koh Tao right after our Singapore trip. Koh Tao is a small island about 25km long in the southern east part of Thailand right next to the more famous Koh Samui island and full moon party island Koh Phagnan.  This was actually my first time visiting the island as well and I had one main agenda on my list what I wanted to do and that was snorkeling. Koh Tao is best known for having great snorkeling and scuba diving waters with vast corals and marine life.

To travel to Koh Tao the most convenient way I have found to be taking the bus first to Chumporn and then the high speed ferry to Koh Tao as it is the most northern of the three islands and therefore closest to Chumporn. The company I recommend is Lomprayah, they have high quality buses and ferries and the service works unlike many other services in Thailand, rarely is there any delays in departures.   The ferry ride will last around an hour and half to two hours depending on the conditions usually. The buses leave next to Khoa San road twice a day, one bus leaving at 8.45am and another one 14.45. The total travel time to the port is about six hours with one pit stop at a facility where you can get food and buy snacks, granted they do raise the prices there a tad but it’s nothing unreasonable. The total cost of traveling one way is 1,100b which is more than reasonable considering the bus ride is in a good air-con bus and they even give you blankets for comfort. The other choice would be take the train which is a 11 hour ride and you can always buy a sleeper cart spot however it is just not worth it going all the way to Surat Thani (which is way more south) and then taking the ferry through Samui, Phagnan islands and finally arriving at Koh Tao, I believe the price of that is around 1,600b.

Once we arrived on Koh Tao we made our way straight to a motorbike rental shop, all the rental shops are next to the main pier so it is very convenient. As a caution you might want to check beforehand for example from the scuba diving companies or hotels what motorbike rental shops are reliable as I know many places the visitors get ripped off for having scratches or dings on the bike that were already there.  Our hotel the Montalay beach resort was on the other side of the island, Tanote bay which is a quiet place which we looked for on purpose. The standard daily rate for renting motorbike is 150-250thb in the low season, in the high season it can be couple hundred baht more per day. As we got on to our motorbikes we headed for the other side of the island, funny enough it took us a long time to find the our hotel, this is because my 3g wasn’t working as it was so remote and there isn’t any road signs where we headed. On top of this roads leading up to the resort was half paved and the other half dirt bumpy roads that a normal car could not drive over. After a good hour or so struggle we did finally find it, unloaded some of our stuff and took a long nap.

As the second day rolled around we headed towards the Sairee beach section for some lunch. We also stopped by the Koh Tao diver’s headquarters on the Sairee beach. They are a Finnish diving company that has been there since 1987, which takes people who want to try their hand at diving. They also provide snorkeling, and diving courses so you can actually complete your diver’s lessons there and become a certified firs level diver. After confirming that the following day we would try our hand at diving we headed on with our motorbikes to explore Koh Tao and its numerous vie points. Koht Tao is a very mountainous island or maybe I’d prefer to say hills. Anyhow we didn’t want to visit the touristiest spot which is the world famous Koh Nangyuan View Point; instead we opted for maybe the second or third most known viewpoint on the island the Sairee view point. This is totally accessible by motorbike (granted you aren’t very heavy and the motorbike you have doesn’t have enough power for the massive hills you have to drive up). Needless to say the view was breathtaking and more than worth it, also you have to pay a 50thb charge to enter the view point, this is to be paid for some local man who sits under a hut next to the dirt road leading up to the view point.

For the rest of the day we headed back to our hotel to do some pooling and enjoying the sun, however on my part I was way too excited about getting a change to go scuba diving for the first time ever, so naturally I had to go and rent some fins and a snorkel from our resort for a very modest 100thb for the whole day and head on into the ocean. Our hotel was located directly on the beach so all I had to do was put on the snorkel and fins and go out and swim, the Tanote bay is known to have some of the better diving spots and you could even witness some sharks there if you were lucky. So, naturally me with my GoPro camera in hand I headed off in to the depths. Ironically I hadn’t done any snorkeling for almost ten years prior to that which is in a way very sad as I have lived so many years in South East Asia and been on numerous beach holidays. The great thing about was that all I could think to myself was that ‘’why haven’t I done this more and often?!’’. Unfortunately I didn’t see sharks, or anything remotely that big either, but the sea life was still vast and lively with small bright colored fish all around and the coral as well. Later on in the evening we headed off into town for dinner near the Sairee beach and we didn’t want to stay too long out as we had an early wake up to go try our hand at scuba diving.

During the day my friend Juho apparently was too exposed to the sun and didn’t feel too good the next morning, he decided to skip out on the scuba diving and stay in bed for the day. This is a good reminder for anyone (especially if you aren’t used to these temperatures or are visiting for the first time) to use sunscreen all day even if you feel like you don’t need it. Anyhow, I made my way on my own to the Koh Tao diver’s headquarters, where I was met by Antti Karinen one of the diving insturctors. He showed me a short introduction video to scuba diving and what is good to know, avoid and so on. We also just talked in general about the different things you have to know when it comes to diving and what we will be doing when we go out into the ocean, then we proceeded to find me some fins, mask, and the vest that holds all the equipment. On our dive I had some other people join as well who were completing their diver’s courses, two girls from California, a Finnish girl from Lapland and a Japanese man who seemed very experienced. All of these people were accompanied by other diving instructors, so it’s safe to say that anyone can join in on the fun and it doesn’t matter where you come from the professionals clearly knew what they were doing and spoke excellent English. As well the Koh Tao divers had invited along Charlie an underwater camera expert who works for Fatfish movies if you are interested in checking it out, naturally he brought his camera with him and all the photos from the dive trip I have are courtesy of him As we arrived on our dive point, Antti made sure that he was continuously giving me instructions what to remember and what we would be doing and even possibly seeing under the surface. I was allowed to ask questions and he gave answers to everything to his best ability.

Once we arrived at our first destination I put on my vest, weight belt, fins and mask according to Antti’s instructions and literally jumped in to the deep end (the vest contains a floating vest that you control, I wasn’t going to sink so no worries), from there we swam towards the shore into about meter deep water where we went through different phases that needed to be learned. Things such as learning to clear your clear your regulator of water, for example I had no idea you could blow water through it even when it was in your mouth, funny enough Antti told me a story about how he had food poisoning while going on a dive and, well you can maybe imagine the rest. Also I learned how to clear my mask of water under water, and how to switch or find your regulator under water while holding your breath, again funny enough you don’t actually hold your breath instead you blow out slowly because it is easier. I also learned some basic hand signs such as everything is ok and how to get the other divers attention when you something is wrong.  While we did this Antti always told me first what we do , then we went under water he did it first and then I did it after him, every time being very encouraging even I failed (for example clearing the mask), I tend to be very competitive and hard on myself. I treat it like a sport and I want to be the best straight away.  

After learning the basics of all the essentials that you would need to know when under water we headed in to deeper waters, about 3-4meteres where learned to float buy adjusting the air in your vest so you could basically float in mid water and swim without having to worry if you will either come up on your own or slowly sink to the bottom. From then on we just headed in to the depths, Antti pointed the way and we swam off, he did hold me the whole time though just as safety precaution as it was my first dive and had to be done. The feeling when we went in to the depths of suddenly 6-8meteres was surreal, I can’t really explain it better than what Antti told me, he said for example business men and people who work under lots of pressure end up taking scuba diving as a hobby for the reason that once you are under you forget everything on top as to say. You are just in the water calmly swimming and looking around at all the different life and colors around you. I actually caught myself experiencing this, for some reason I would start thinking about what if water gets into my mouth and I swallow it and how I would maybe choke on it and so on, but immediately these ideas would go away as if I was in mid thought saying to myself in my head ‘’so now if I swallow water and ch..uuu look at that big colorful fish!’’ . It was fantastic, I literally haven’t experienced anything like it and I was loving it. Also the comradery that you have with your fellow dive partner is great, you aren’t talking but you continuously find yourself interacting or pointing at something and just laughing in your head how great it was.

As I came up from my first dive we were swimming to the dive boat, Antti told me how it went very well except for the fact that I was swimming very quick (maybe it’s my competitive spirit doing its old tricks again) and that my usage of air was very rapid.  On the boat finally heading for the second spot all of us who were on the boat sat together eating fruits, talking about diving and life in itself was great, I mean how it cannot be? You live and work on an island only majority people see on movies and the diving and the feeling you get from it is just amazing. As we arrived at our second spot, it was almost business as usual already for me, just strapped on the gear and jumped in. We went straight under in the deep, no more lessons. Also I noticed Antti didn’t hold me the whole time anymore (although staying within touching contact always); I could see he enjoyed it much more as well. This time around also we stopped around to float and stare at different fish and coral, we even posed for some pictures underwater, it was all so surreal. As we again came up and swam toward the dive boat Antti told me that we basically completed the maximum dive depth you can on a trial dive, which was 12meters! When I heard this I couldn’t believe it, it really doesn’t feel like it, I don’t know if the water is so clear or what, I do remember looking up at one point during my dive and thinking ‘’now I’m deep’’ He also said we were under for a good solid 50minutes, which again doesn’t sound believable, the time just goes so fast when you are under.  As we boarded back on the boat and headed back to camp on the shore we again had some good talks and laughs with these new found friends. Antti made it very clear he would be more than happy to take me out if I ever decide to come complete my diving courses, and to be honest I am strongly considering it.  

The day had come to an end the sun was going down, I had great memories, you can only go once in a lifetime scuba diving for the first time and have it be that amazing. I just want to thank all the staff at Koh Tao divers for making it so memorable, and Antti, Kim, Tom and our cameraman Charlie especially. I couldn’t think of a better ending for my trip. Lastly I went to see if my friend Juho was alive and well (which he was for the most part), had some dinner and sleep. The next day we packed up, hopped on our motorbikes for the last time to return them and got on the ferry back to shore and on to the long bus ride back home.  All in all I have to say this, I was waiting to come to Koh Tao for several months now, and it has been more than what I could have expected.  In comparison Koh Phagnan is a large island and has its own appeals but Koh Tao was simply brilliant and beautiful.