Our lengthy journey to Koh Tao began as we left Singapore, bound once again for Phuket. After an evening at your favorite guest house on Patong Beach, Re’s Guesthouse, we were picked up early the next morning, the beginning of a long day. Travel in Southern Thailand is a large mix of minibus (minvan), buses and tuk tuks. The minibuses and buses cover your longer distances, and tuk tuks (flatbed trucks in these parts) fill in the remaining travel gap within localities.
All is well in a day of travel. Below is an example of our itinerary for our trip from Phuket to Koh Samui, the hop off point to Koh Tao.
7:15 AM – Hotel Pick-Up (Minibus)
12:00 PM – Arrive in Surat Thani
1:30 PM – Depart for Surat Thani Pier (Public Bus / No AC)
2:45 PM – Arrive at Surat Thani Pier
3:40 PM – Depart Ferry to Koh Samui
5:20 PM – Arrive at Koh Samui Pier
5:40 PM – Depart Koh Samui Pier (Tuk Tuk – Flatbed Truck)
6:40 PM – Arrive at Hotel in Lamai Beach
So you can see, a good day can be completely swallowed up in travel. Fortunately, our destination made it worth every minute. Taking a tuk tuk from the pier, we ended up being dropped off at Lamai Beach. Manali knew this to be one of the quieter beaches on the island, but was still excellent for swimming and strolling through the sand. We’ve also fallen in love with our motorbike rentals, so our first order of business was to procure a bike and explore Koh Samui.
After a few days of relaxation in the slow roll that is life on Lamai Beach, it was time to pick-up Kunal (Manali’s Brother) from Koh Samui Airport. Just like the locals, we maneuvered to the airport with our motorbike to retrieve Kunal and his luggage. Once landed, we piled Kunal onto the small remainder of seat space, and the three of us, fastened upon our steady stead made the 45 minute ride back to Lamai Beach without incident.
At Lamai we packed our bags, and hopped onto the waiting Minibus, transferring our group to the pier for the Koh Tao Ferry. After a 2 hour journey with comfortable seats and good air conditioning, we arrived excited in Koh Tao, anticipating an adventurous experience.
Based on research and recommendations, we knew that Ban’s Diving Resort offered great certifications packages at reasonable prices. Ban’s also had an excellent reputation, and we were not disappointed. We checked in immediately upon arrival, and started our open water course that evening.
When you’re not studying your PADI dive manual, you do have time for other things like enjoying island sunsets, and wining and dining on the sands of beautiful beaches.
If you are on Koh Tao, you should be diving. If you are not, it is quite expensive for accommodations. Most resorts seem to provide discounted or free lodging for students, concurrent with their courses. Our accommodations only cost 300 baht per night total, for Kunal, Manali and I. The rooms were nice, and although some are quite basic you have the option to pay slightly more to secure something to your standards.
Our open water and advanced courses lasted six days altogether, and we were fortunate to have two wonderful instructors, Belynda and Jonathan, as well as a great group of fellow students that made the experience so memorable.
Anyone in the world can dive, if you desire something unique, fun and memorable to add to that list of great vacations or excursions, add Koh Tao. We are not experienced enough to know if the dive sites of Koh Tao are the most remarkable in the world, but the Ban’s certification program and instructors are truly world class.
Our open water and advanced courses required 9 dives all together. Most of the open water dives were heavily concentrated on skill tests and improving your comfort and capabilities above and below the surface. The 5 advanced dives simply sought to improve those lessons.
Included in our advanced dives, was a deep dive, taking us down 30 meters below the surface. This was particularly inspiring since we performed it at one of the more active and visually entertaining dive sites in Koh Tao, Chumpon Pinnacle.
Down deep, we also had the opportunity to witness a few bull sharks, each about 2 to 2.5 meters in length. Swimming within sight of a shark, with the realization that you have no protective gear, and you are in that creatures natural habitat is a thrilling and surreal experience. I think Manali was actually more excited than I when first seeing them, which was relieving. We also were able to take in huge schools of barracudas, blue spotted string rays and trigger fish among many more.
Possibly just as surreal as swimming with sharks, was the night dive. Pitch black waters at first, the underwater environment bears her fruit as your eyes adjust to the light, mesmerizing you in her space like bosom. Turning off your light, and a flutter of your arms or legs to swirl the water reveals a fluid motion of bioluminescence that becomes your private fireworks show.
Thank you to Ban’s Diving resort, and Belynda and Jonathan our instructor’s, for an amazing adventure and a once in a lifetime experience!