For a month, I noticed most travelers in Koh Phangan were passersby, their immediate next destination would be Koh Tao. For a month I kept hearing about this island being the scuba diving Mecca of the world, I could already imagine what kind of crowd would be waiting for me, it didn’t seem appealing at all. I thought about heading west and experience the craziness of Phuket, fulfill my long-awaited dream and set foot on ”the beach”. However, after one day scuba diving in Koh Phangan, I fell in love with eyes wide open while breathing underwater. I just couldn’t afford losing the opportunity.
It was almost a relief, I grew tired and lonely in Phangan. I scratched one side of a rented bike and paid so much money to replace the parts that were touched, I wanted to get back the 5000 baht I gave the owner so I worked at a hotel and was promised to be paid 10000 baht for the month, well, one month past and all I was given was 1000 baht plus some bullshit talk to delay my pay, I didn’t wait long, i packed my stuff and left the next morning without saying goodbye to anyone, I hopped on a red pick up taxi, almost not believing it all ends this way, I haven’t bothered booking a hostel in Koh Tao since I heard the diving schools offer accommodation, the first glimpse of the shore lifted my mood, the clearest waters I’ve ever seen, yellowish corals on each side and underneath a wooden passerelle.
I brushed through the first voices yelling hotels, and diving schools names, a young man asked me what I was looking for, a diving school with accommodation, I replied. He showed me a few options laid on a tourist paper map, at least his method worked, he answered my questions then offered me some choices, I chose one that has bamboo huts by the beach plus pick up service to the school, unlike most locals this guy had a good english accent, he was fun to talk to as well, he dropped me with his bike at the school.
Moments later, I met the owner and talked about their packages. Open water was what I would do, the price was higher than I expected, I almost dropped the idea because of how much money I had lost in Koh Phangan, Fuck it, I’ll probably never get to do this again, It cost me almost 500$, the program takes three days and half, that is 7 dives.
15 minutes away was my new home, a room with a queen size bed, a shower and toilet, oh and a fan too. It was the first time I would stay two steps away from a beach and what an amazing feeling, I was exuberant at the idea of waking up to the sound of shore, I immediately knew I’d miss this place very soon, the school had a second office near room, it was where the first lesson took place. I was given a textbook and a pen. The pen felt weird between my thumb, my index and my middle finger, I had to watch a little documentary about scuba diving and fill out some multiple choice questions, it was long, and I got bored and annoyed by the mosquitoes attacking my uncovered legs and arms, I thought about home and starting University, will I bear going back to classes after all these years ? I had no idea what the future was holding for me. Back to the video, some tragic statistics and security measures made me a bit stressed and made realize more what I was about to embark on, another instance of do it first, worry later.
The first evening in the island was spent between exploring Sairee Beach watching the sunset and looking for my soon to be my main meal of the day, something easy to find, cheap and filling, I stopped at a food cart, and ordered a chicken sandwich with a fresh watermelon juice, the best 3$ meal. Later on, I went grocery shopping, picked up some bananas and snacks to eat for future breakfasts. Sairee beach was the lively part of the island, a short walk from my hut and I’m in surrounded by bars and nightclubs, drunk loud groups of travellers was often the scene. What do you call an outsider between other outsiders? It was a short night for me since I had to wake up early the next day for my diving course. Vibrant and more alive than Koh Phangan, its happy vibes drew a smile on my face, this tiny island felt like a young version of the massive Koh Phangan.
The next morning, I met my instructor, a big and tall french guy who once was just visitor like me, he fell in love with diving and never looked back. Hearing such stories makes me delirious, I long for my day when I would be working on something that doesn’t feel like work but rather a hobby. I was given more sheets to complete, this time free breakfast was on the side, a cup of coffee and cookies, Jack reassured our worries, he said, if you know how to breathe, you know how to scuba dive. The school had many instructors, each with a small group, my group had a french couple and I on our first day, plus another guy on his last day. We embarked a two-story boat, the water was warm, the trip was a breeze, everyone had their half suit on. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel sick even when the boat was stationary, Unlike my first time, this was so much fun.
In order to dive, we were instructed to sit at the edge of the boat, back facing waters, an image of my first skydiving jump flashed before my eyes, the second before my body immersed in calm turquoise water, was just like the second I let myself off a plane, and just like the second a new delicious juice would fill my throat, Many of those seconds are moments that make an interesting life. those seconds, are the ones we should be living more of.
Underwater, the first inhalation felt so weird, it blew my mind how I was actually breathing with a tube stuck in my mouth, the air was tinted with rubber like smell which I quickly got used to. Once the instructor felt that we’re comfortable with breathing , he made us practise some vital gestures, the ok sign, the low on oxygen and couple of others.
A whole new world opened itself to me, I always fantasized about flying, no wings needed here, I was weightless going between eye pleasing corals, and through different schools of fish.
The french guy from our group was so reluctant to dive deeper, he was already underwater but somehow couldn’t go further down, his girl could though, she had a north african look, maybe she was Moroccan too. There was a rope to grab and help us descend or ascend, I was ready to go as deep as my ears could handle, whenever it got painful, I would just blow my nose with my fingers shutting my nostrils, sometimes that didn’t work, a good sign to go up a little before my ear lobes rip, I was a good student, like a kid excited to sit in the front of a class. The french guy probably hated me.
On the next two days, we headed to different locations, each had its own particularity. one was close to the famous Koh Nang Yuan, a private beach island owned by a transport company. However, the most memorable one was a place about an hour away from the island, it was richer with fish, Jack even showed us a card and pointed to some colorful species and other unusually big ones, we were also warned about a predator, we were told to face while swimming away from it, minutes later, we witnessed a live demonstration, that same fish was going after our instructor, such a funny scene although I couldn’t laugh with my scuba on. During the same dive, I touched a sea turtle, and for that, I had to go deeper than what we were allowed to, Jack’s instruction was to not get close to it, let alone touch it. Nevertheless, I went for it, in my defence, that is the worst thing to say to a kid.
My last day at the school was my last day in the island. we came back from the dive at noon, then I went on a mission, to find an island I had spotted while diving, it looked like a small deserted beach, JACK said it was called (tk) From my room, I only knew the direction to take, there was no signs or path that led to it. people probably get there solely by boat. hikes like these make me feel an ancient explorer. a true traveler. Koh Tao was a success.