Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Typical Touristy Tropical Paradise

Even though I have seen my fair share of unique and diverse places on this earth, I truly thought that every typical tourist tropical paradise, was not too much more than simply that - a typical tourist tropical paradise. Seen one, seen them all.

I feel like I can't begin to explain how wrong that sentiment was, although I'll give it a try right now in a few short paragraphs about my first 36 hours here in Thailand.

I flew into Bangkok yesterday morning and between 11am and 5pm I wandered around some neat neighbourhoods. I was trying to eventually get to Koh San Road, but never found my way there. I just enjoyed being lost (completely) and eventually jumped in a tuk-tuk to the train station. Here I booked a bus + ferry boat ticket to get me all the way to my destination, one of the best attractions for scuba divers in south east Asia, Koh Tao Island.

I killed a 1.5 hours wait in the train station by treating myself to a 75 minute Thai foot massage for ~$10 CAD. The bus journey started out exciting as a bunch of traveller's from all parts of the world and speaking at least 4 different languages all settled into seats around me. I had fun meeting everyone, but we were quickly lulled to sleep by Transformers (the movie) being played a maximum volume. Nice. About 8 of us were dumped by the side of the road, cold and sleepy at 3:20am in a place called Chumphon. At 4am a jeep took us to the pier, about 40 minutes away where we sat anxiously reading all the available travel brochures describing the set of 3 islands that comprise one of Thailand's hugest tourist areas (Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui). At 6am about 60 more sleepy, rugged, and smelly backpackers joined our little group. The boat left at 7am. The view was nothing too exciting, out a thick and dirty window, so I slept for almost the entire 2.5 hour journey to the island.

A jeep picked me up at the pier in Koh Tao and took me to the dive resort. I arrived at 9:55 and as I was being checked in by one of the divemasters, she told me that and Advanced Open Water course was beginning at 10am. There were 3 students already participating, and there may not be enough students to start another class for a couple days. In about 30 seconds I went from thinking that it was crazy to begin right away, to thinking "why not?" I dumped my stuff in a very humble first floor cement room with a double bed and private bath (I can't complain as I am paying the equivalent of $8 CAD per night) and joined the class.

Our first dive was a specialty buoyancy training, basically 45 minutes underwater playing games, swimming through hoops and other obstacles, hovering upside down, and playing charades underwater - super fun! Then it was on to our navigational dive where we had to find certain landmarks underwater and use a maps and an underwater compass! I rocked at this dive and learned SO much. We are also learning how to use dive computers on all our dives - super cool! We came back onto land for a quick 1 hour break at sunset and then went out again at 7pm for a night dive, which was totally amazing. What an incredible first day.

After a shower and change into clean, dry clothes I headed to the beach for a bite to eat. I sat front and center for a specular fire dancing show and ate the best chicken green curry I have ever tasted. Honestly, one of the best meals of my life. And I am thinking, holy crap - this place is a paradise like nothing I have ever imagined. The people, the food, the environment - both above and below the water - it is all fascinating. And all I keep thinking is, "One day down, thirteen more to go." I am the luckiest person in the world!

- North End of Koh Tao Island -
(this was our second dive site today :)

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