The problem with the transfer to Koh Tao is that the train gets to Chumphon a good 2 hours before the first ferry. So you end up with a glut of tourists all hanging round the station waiting for the bus transfer, some for the catamaran, others for the seatran ferry. And when the buses DO arrive, you have a swarm trying to get on the buses. I didn’t even attempt to get on the first one since I’d probably be strapped to the roof – but there was another bus that was doing a hotel pickup and had 8 free spaces, so grabbed a seat there instead, and after about an hour of driving round town, arrived at the seatran.
Its a small boat, with most of the seating downstairs. Course once it actually gets going, the amount of people who stay in the seats in minimal, most going up to the deck to enjoy the view. I mix between that and lying across 3 seats to get a nap. Astonishingly easy since the water is incredibly smooth, barely feels like we’re on the water at all, and get to Koh Tao after just over 2 hours of the easiest sailing I’ve ever had.
Course, it all goes wrong once I get to the harbour. Dozens of pick ups and tons of taxis so I take a step back and wait for the chaos to clear. However, by the time everyone’s gone, even my pick up isn’t there – end up having to call and get the truck to come back – and lug my bag to the main pier.
I’m on Koh Tao for one reason – to learn how to dive. My Dad’s been a diver for years, and I had an opportunity to learn years ago but never took it up. Since I was going to be in one of the best places in the world to learn, made sense to stop off and do just that. I’d ended up booking with Big Blue Diving School mainly through impulse, but it was a nice area, and I’d heard nothing but good things via reviews. Accommodation is in their other building though, so I have to walk along the beach to get there. First time I’ve actually been out of the shade on Koh Tao, and the heat immediately hits me – within 5 minutes of walking I’m fully aware my shoulder has gotten burned and I’ll need to get the suncream out stat. Problematic since my little tube is almost dry. No problem – its Thailand, how hard can it be to get some more?
(anyone whose ever been to the South of Thailand, you can start laughing now)
Oh don’t get me wrong, you can find it, but expect to pay through the nose for it. Know how everyone says its cheaper to buy things like sunscreen abroad than bringing it along? Not true here. Walked into a chemist and picked up a bottle, and just about bolted out the store. More than 10 quid, and that was the CHEAPEST bottle they had.
A harsh lesson I larned about Thailand is that the further South you go, the more expensive it gets. And that holds true for anything you might need that the locals don’t. I either paid, or got burned to a crisp.
Thankfully, my favourite convenience store (the beloved 7/11) came to my rescue. They had smaller tubes going for a third of the price – wouldn’t last very long admittedly, but even if I needed to buy 3 more it would still be cheaper than buying the large bottles.
My training didn’t start until the evening, and I ended up hanging around the bar during the worst of the heat, fully intending to go into the water eventually but wanting to relax until then. While catching up on the electronic world, met up with another girl travelling and eventually went swimming with her. She’d originally planned to go on the diving course but was sick so hadn’t thought it wise.
The first part of the course was exactly what you’d expect. Everyone starting up slammed into one room while we signed frighteningly long waivers (I don’t even want to know how many lawsuits the diving community has had to justify so many clauses) and recieved our coursebooks. Everyone had to choose between doing a PADI course and an SSI course (2 completely different diving organisations who use the exact same training regiment, just teach it differently) – and the girl explaining it was clearly gunning for an SSI course, so it won out unanimously and we were handed coursebooks. Naturally there would be homework over the next few days, and to start up, we had to watch some extremely dull videos.
The videos one redeeming feature was the music, but I had no idea it was possible to make such an interesting topic so dull. It was introduction to scuba, the equipment required for scuba, and then a video about what you might see underwater. Everyone’s heads were dropping near the end – never see so many people bolt from a room so quickly.
By this point its pretty late in the evening and I still haven’t eaten – nor do I relish the price list at the bar, so the girl I met (for ease she is now D) and a few friends she met along the way head into town to see what we can find. There is a place that does a pizza buffet, but nobody’s really in the mood for pizza right now. Instead we end up in the restaurant next door and order twice-the-price thai food. Don’t know why people say Thailand is great for backpackers – coming here on a budget is all kinds of impossible. And my meal was awful – ended up buying a chicken skewer from a street seller to fill my still hungry tummy.
Did get one glorious moment though. We all ended up in a large store, one of the group looking for something while the rest of us mingled. And while perusing the store looking for salty popcorn, I found the holy grail.
Salt and Vinegar crisps.
I haven’t had salt and vinegar crisps since I left the UK! They just don’t exist in most of Europe and definitely not in Asia. Its the last thing on my list of desperate cravings and its in front of the tills faster than I can blink. Do at least have the self restraint to save them for tomorrow’s lunch at least, though its difficult once we get back to the bar and I crack open my course book. The homework is easy enough – just fill in the blank worksheets. But the books are just the videos recited, and its something of a slog to read through them and find the exact words. Not made easier by a table involving mathematics – which has always been my achilles heel. Needed an actual instructor (friend of D’s) from another school to sit down and explain every step to me. When he finally got me to register the right answer I was hideously embarrassed at just how easy it was – a five year old could have figured it out. I’m just praying it was the sleep holding me back.