I drop USD 350 to get my advanced open water diving license while living in a resort suite. What a deal.
Diving in the Gulf of Thailand
I didn't have my underwater camera at the time, but take my word for it. There's so much color off of Koh Tao. Both fish and coral are vibrant and abundant. If you're lucky you'll spot a harmless shark or two.
Our class spends only one session in the pool to learn the basics. The rest of our lessons, done over four days for our basic license, are done in the Gulf of Thailand.
The suites on the hillside.
The beach beside the resort.
As a child I dreamt of flying. Not in the plane, but like a bird, a Saiyan, a self-determined plastic bag soaring over a breeze. Diving is a close as that dream gets, an exercise moving through three dimensional space bound only by the surface, the ocean floor, and any coral in the way.
It's impossible not to want more after the four days so I extended my stay a couple of extra nights to pick up an advanced license. To earn this license I'll learn how to dive deep (30m as opposed to the 17m limit for open water licenses), navigate, and complete an "elective" dive.
Navigation is about as tedious as a driver's license test, but the other two dives are memorable.
For the deep water dive, we take a boat trip to a tiny island (White Rock?) an hour away by ferry. It's not much to look at above the surface, but underneath it is a huge conical spire that extends from the tip above down teeming with life at every depth.
Don't judge a rock by the part that protrudes above surface.
I chose the night dive for my elective over a second deep dive or a cave dive.
This ranks among one of my best travel experiences ever, plunging in from dark air into dark water. Pure serenity surrounds me in all directions. It's like none of my five senses mean anything anymore. I feel only water, hear only water, and see just about nothing—everything's a blur even with a flashlight. Paired with the need to control my breathing underwater and I may as well have been meditating.
At one point we gather as a group. Our instructor gives us a signal, the one that we agreed above water would mean turning off our torches. We flip the switch and just like that I can check off sitting 15 meters deep underwater in pure darkness off my list.
Above sea level
Koh Tao itself is a little town filled with food stalls, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. For a tiny island there's no shortage of good cheap eats. We dine like kings and queens every evening.
On our last night we're free to stay up late. There are no classes to wake up for in the morning. To celebrate our graduation from the diving course we hit the beach bar and watch the fire dancers spin. Their performance is mesmerizing.
These sausage and onion pancakes: my post-scuba street food of choice.
Beers on the beach.
Watching fire spin.