Saying Goodbye to Koh Tao
Okay, this post is just going to be a hodgepodge of my thoughts and experiences. I've been writing daily but haven't compiled it into a post, and I'm not exactly sure how to organize it, soooo I'm just going to write. I normally journal while I travel - I've kept a journal since I was 8 years old. My first journal had Scooby Do on the cover and a little padlock... I have over 15 journals in a box in my closet. I skim through them from time to time, and it always amazes me what you forget over time...
Today is my last day in Koh Tao. I leave tomorrow - a 2 hour ferry from Koh Tao to Chumpon, then a 10 hour bus to Bangkok. I'll arrive at 830pm, stay in a hostel, then kill time all day Sunday before heading to the airport for my 3am flight on Monday morning. My flight to Qatar is 6.5 hours. My flight from Qatar to Chicago is 13.5 hours. Blah.
I'm sad to leave. I wasn't expecting to spend 2 weeks on this gorgeous island. And I definitely wasn't expecting to fall in love with diving - there were only 3 days I didn't dive. I did five 6am dives. I did 3 dives in one day. I spent $653 on diving, including both courses and 8 fun dives (basically I blew my entire budget on diving...). I ended up diving 17 times in 13 days, having never even snorkeled before. There were some epic dives, and there were some not-so-good dives. I became friends with the Roctopus dive crew and looked forward to seeing so many familiar faces every morning. I grabbed a water and banana muffin from the 7-11 on the corner before every dive. Before afternoon dives, I would have my delicious, fluffy banana pancake (it is unreal how many bananas I have consumed this month). And the people I hung out with day in and day out were also diving with Roctopus. Diving framed much of my experience on Koh Tao, if not all of it. It's sad to leave the routine I had carved out here in just under three weeks.
Diving was a challenge. It scared me. I never thought I would do Advanced. I had some dives I would just constantly be clearing my mask of water. But as I became more comfortable in the water and gained more confidence in myself, I began to look forward to descending under the water's surface. It was incredibly calming. I don't know how to explain it. It's like running to some people; it clears your head. It was surreal to be so aware of my breathing - every inhale, every exhale. Every breath. Moving in the water, once I nailed my buoyancy, was effortless. It felt like flying. I loved just staying in one place and watching the fish dart in and out of the coral. I loved watching the little shrimp dig their holes in the sandy floor. I loved seeing the hull of a World War II ship suddenly appear out of ocean blue. I was just in love and in awe with this world that I had only ever seen on TV and rarely, if ever, thought about. Now it bothers me when I see trash on the ocean's surface or think about dolphin hunting...
There is one day in particular that stands out as just a truly awesome day of diving. It came the day after a very long, stressful day of diving (involving a boat propeller and sharing air...). It was the last day of my Advanced Certification with my instructor, Ty and it was my third day in a row for a 6am dive. We were diving three times that day, instead of the usual two dives. The first dive site was Green Rock, which I hadn't dived before. Our goal was to dive to the max depth of 30 meters (98 ft). We descended to 28 meters before the visibility got low and the water temp became cold. We both kneeled on the ocean floor. The pressure at that depth is amplified; it is four times the pressure than at the surface. Ty took out a raw egg and cracked it using the edge of his mask. The pressure was so high that the egg's yolk stayed perfectly intact; it was just this small, round, yellow floating ball of... yolk. We moved it back and forth using our hands. I made a goalpost with my fingers as Ty aimed the yolk. It was just a surreal moment to realize that was the pressure both of our bodies were under.
Then I used a compass to navigate us back towards the actual dive site. And it was just a glorious dive. It was perfect; no problems or stress whatsoever. Green Rock was beautiful; there were a ton of small cave swim-throughs and coral covered the site. I don't even remember what kind of fish we saw; I just remember being totally at ease.
Our second dive was at the shipwreck, the HTMS Sattakut (such an awesome video!). It was a U.S. Navy ship in World War II before it was decommissioned and given to the Thai Navy. When the Thai Navy finished using it, the government sunk it on purpose in Koh Tao so it could become an artificial reef after many decades. It was sunk in 2011, so there is no coral on it yet, but there are many fish that inhabit it. We descended and I was facing open water. Ty pointed behind me, and I was totally surprised to see the looming hull of a ship right before me as I turned.
There are two massive gun turrets on each end of the ship. The steel was corroded and grimy, but already I could see the very beginning stages of coral growth. It blew my mind that the coral I had been swimming over the past week had taken hundreds, if not millions, of years to grow. The best part: it was only Ty and I diving the wreck. We had the entire ship to ourselves - no other divers, no boats sitting on the surface above. Just us. We could have sat there all day, watching the big, lazy groupers drift in and out of the ship's captain's nest. At one point, there was a massive school of yellow fish just behind us; we were so content to just watch them swim by. There are also some huge fish at that depth - fish half of the length of my body, and even then it is hard to tell since your vision is skewed underwater due to the mask. Ty and I couldn't stop talking about the dive after we surfaced, and we still had one left for the day.
We dove White Rock last, as a shallow dive (15 meters) since we had done two deep dives previously. The visibility was amazing; there was just so much to look at! Batfish, angelfish, parrotfish, damselfish, ahhh so many! The best part was when we spotted a Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray. We were able to get low to the ocean floor so we could see it tucked under a rock - it was brilliant blue with light yellow dots, and its eyes were peeking out from the sand. It capped off an amazing day of diving, and Ty and I were so happy. And I realized that you can have some really good dives, but there are even better dives. And I think those are the ones where you feel completely at ease and at peace, because that's how I felt that day, underwater for the entire morning. It was pretty special.
Now I'm writing from the bus... And I am dying a slow death. It's over a 100 degrees out and the air conditioning is barely working. The double decker bus is full with 45 people. This is the same bus company I took on the way to Koh Tao, but that was overnight and the air con was definitely working. It's 4:05pm and I've been on this bus for 3 hours. I'm chipping off the cheap, poorly done manicure I got yesterday. The guy next to me is well over 6 feet tall and is crowding my elbow space. I've been listening to the same playlist on repeat. I'm eating another banana muffin, except it got totally squished in my purse so it's a pretty flat muffin now. This is the inevitable part of travel... Oh boy.
I definitely felt sad watching Koh Tao disappear in the distance as the ferry made headway towards Thailand. Aside from the diving, I met some truly great people and really enjoyed their company. I was lucky to be around the same group of people for nearly a week, which is unusual for a group of backpackers who are typically so nomadic.
The air conditioning is working now! Hallelujah! I'm ten times happier now.
I'll definitely come back to Koh Tao, one day. But I have a lot of other places I want to see (and dive!) first. I've also been spoiled by learning how to dive in 86 degree water, so now I have no interest in diving in cold water (you also lose body heat 25x faster in the water; not good news for someone who hates being cold). Some possible future diving trips: Florida, Mexico, Belize, Bali, North Carolina, Hawaii, Australia... So exciting!
Finally made it to the hostel. I'm staying at the same place, Bed Station Hostel. The bus arrived 20 minutes late and I grabbed a taxi to the hostel. I go for familiarity when possible so that I don't have to stress after a long day of travel; I could already recognize the streets as we got closer to the hostel, which is always reassuring. Except I forgot that it's a Saturday night and everyone is downstairs playing beer pong to EDM music and all I want to do is sleep. I also absolutely need to shower...
I have no idea what I'm going to do tomorrow to kill a whole day in Bangkok before my flight. I think I am going to check out the Temple of Wat Pho, which I missed last time because it was so hot out. I've also read that there is a really cool amulet market not too far from the temples. I haven't picked up any souveniers yet, so I'm going to try to find that road sometime tomorrow morning. I'll head to the airport in the evening. Getting closer to home!
PS: On the one day I decided not to dive at 6am, the Roctopus divers spotted a whale shark! A whale shark! They like hanging out around Koh Tao, but they are still very rare to see. Ty had only seen four in his three years on Koh Tao. You don't even say the word "whale shark" on the dive boat so you don't jinx anything! Here's some awesome 1:00 footage of the whale shark (you can see the Roctopus divers in the background): Whale Shark at Chumpon.