After Pai and elephants, it was time to head down and do some diving. Unfortunately, we didn't take a single picture while on Koh Tao. All these pics have been lifted from the internet.
Due to the time limits on James' stay in Thailand, we decided to fly down to Koh Tao instead of the standard fly/bus/overnight ferry. It cost more, but Val was able to get us there in a single day instead of the 2 or 3 that the cheaper way would take.
Unfortunately, I got sick again the day before we left. I spent the last night not feeling well at all and could hardly move when it was time to leave Pai. It was all I could do to walk down to the bus station and hang out while Val and James got breakfast. In fact, I forgot to make sure that my CPAP got loaded onto the bus. We didn't discover that it was missing until we got to Chiang Mai and tried to offload it. After nearly an hour of trying to get the bus people to understand what we were looking for, Val emailed a picture of it to the bus people in Pai and I got them to put it onto the next bus down. With that, I went back to Banjai Garden to lie down and Val and James got dinner. After dinner, Val went back to the bus station and picked up the CPAP. Yay! That would've been quite a drag to have to find another one in Bangkok.
Early (5:30AM) next morning, we were off to the airport and onto a plane from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Koh Samui. In Koh Samui, we got a ride to the ferry terminal and then on to Koh Tao. Luckily, Val had already booked us spots at Big Blue Diving. They had a driver meet us, which was really good because it was hard to negotiate the gauntlet of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Anyway, we got to Big Blue and got James set up. He headed off to his first day's class, a video and Val and I headed off to our room. Turns out that Big Blue has 3 facilities. James was staying at Big Blue 1, taking classes at Big Blue 2 and Val and my room was at Big Blue 3.
We'd chosen Koh Tao because some other Americans had told us that it wasn't a party scene at Big Blue. HA!
Even though we were a couple hundred meters from the beach, we could hear the music thumping in our room. The night before James moved in, one of his roommates got really drunk to celebrate his Open Water and then passed out while dancing on a table in the dorm room. He took a header into a table, cut his face up and got blood all over the room. The second night, another group finished their Open Water and so James spent that night in our room. After a day in the pool, he wasn't that excited about diving. It's not that fun practicing your skills when the water really burns your eyes.
In the mornings, the beach is really pretty. All the drunk farangs are snoring in their bungalows and it's mostly locals and early divers who are awake.
While James was taking his class, Val and I were diving! Big Blue has a discount policy, where you get reduced costs for more dives. The initial costs are 1000 Baht/dive, which goes down to 900 if you take 3-6 dives, ending up at 700 Baht per dive if you take more than 11 with them. They have boats that leave twice a day, with 2 dives per trip. They also sometimes had night dives, which we didn't end up doing.
The dive boats were definitely controlled chaos. When you first signed up, you would get your gear together for the next day if you were diving. That involved getting a BCD, fins and wetsuit and putting them into a numbered mesh bag. When it was time to go diving, you'd get your bag from the equipment room and take it down to the beach. They had a longtail boat then shuttle us out to the dive boats. Big Blue has 4 dive boats, one of which is dedicated to their diving classes. On the boat, we'd get a regulator from our divemaster and then set up a weight belt. At the end of the day, regulators and weight belts go back into a big bin and we took our bags back to the equipment room. If you were diving the next day, you just put your bag into the equipment room. I never needed a wetsuit since the water is so warm there. I did wear a rash guard though since it was more comfortable and made it easy for Val to locate me underwater.
The Big Blue system worked pretty well. We would be assigned to groups of 4 or 5 divers with a divemaster. Sometimes we had an assistant divemaster, someone working towards his divemaster certification. The cost of going from Open Water to Divemaster is pretty minimal at Big Blue because part of the cost of taking the class is offset by the DMT (DiveMater in Training) working dives too.
Val and I did two half-day trips (2-dives) and a full day trip (3-dives), visiting many of the sites on Koh Tao. On the full day trip, we went to Sail Rock, which was about 2 hours away. We went to Sail Rock hoping to see a whale shark, but had no luck. We did see a ton of Giant Grouper though. Fun times, but the 3rd dive was at Shark Island and we had poor visibility and strong currents. The currents were so strong that Val had trouble catching her breath on the bottom and sucked up her air pretty quickly. Didn't matter in the end, as I was eager to get out of the water after a while spent chasing vague shapes down there. Supposedly, our divemaster saw a shark, but all I spotted was him zooming off just when Val had to stop and rest.
Checking in with James that night was fun. They'd gone out and done their first open water dives. He was ecstatic and his enthusiasm was contagious. His initial dismay with Koh Tao and the scene had been replaced with a new love of SCUBA diving. Each dive was more spectacular than the last. We made plans to dive after he got his Open Water certification.
We figured an afternoon dive would be best to allow for the traditional blowout celebration. James barely made it too. Good thing he skipped out on the Jaeger bomb the night before! We had a lot of fun on our dive together and can't wait for a chance to take a dive vacation.
However, James had to get back to California and college. We set off the next day to Bangkok. After Chiang Mai and Koh Tao, Bangkok was a major disappointment to us. Lots of cars and smog and people. Costs were also higher than CM and we had trouble finding good food. James had a half day before his flight, so we tried a little exploring. Our usual tactic on this trip has been to just wander around and see what's interesting. We used the Lonely Planet as a starting point, but have found that by the time a place makes it into Lonely Planet, it also gets a hoard of folks who want to go there because they've also read about it. Bangkok was too big for that and our taste does not run to big cities anyway. After turning away from the Grand Palace, we hopped into a longtail boat for a 1.5 hour tour. That wasn't so bad.
The floating market is not so big on the weekends. It's just a few women paddling their canoes around. Supporting the local economy, we bought a beer. Good thing the drinking age in Thailand is 18
This turned out to be the highlight of our day. We spent a long time in traffic trying to get to Chinatown and then got a little freaked out because of the time it was taking us to do stuff. We didn't find any good food stalls, so we wolfed down some mystery meat on a stick and hopped on the Sky Train to the airport.
I was very sad to see James leave. He had been lots of fun to hang with for the two weeks we had him. Looking forward to when we can do this again.
After James left, we found this bar:
Supposedly, the drinking age has been increased to 20 from 18, but J never got carded. . .