If heaven is a pizza, then Koh Tao is a slice. Falling in love maybe unexpected, but you can expect falling for this island at first sight, on the first night.
Born at a place where my 24 hours view is a dighi, my point of contact with water is always at peak. Spending hours in the water with my fellow cousins and making sure we don’t leave until shouted upon by parents. The thrill of staying in water was something that stayed with me, even now, at this very moment while you’re reading this.
When the opportunity came, to go dive at Thailand. I agreed at once. I’ve heard of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket almost everywhere but when I knew that I will be diving at Koh Tao, an island in the Gulf of Thailand, I was over- whelmed; I get to explore a place which I haven’t even heard of. If you’ve ever experienced love at first sight, you know how I’ve felt the very first time I laid my eyes upon.
If you are a thrill seeker, nightlife creature, food lusty, nature thirsty, peace and quiet seeking, beach loving and me. This is your place. After the mad parties and nights at Bangkok, I believed, there cannot be any other place in Thailand that would provide me that rush. But, OH Boy! Koh Tao blew me. After arriving, I went to my dive shop where I’d be starting with my open water Scuba Diving course. I had my accommodation in their bamboo made dorm right opposite to the Sairee Beach. The water was clear, the sand was white and the sun was up. What more could you ask from an island.
For the past few years, I’ve met and interacted with people who have or do spend most of their time in the mountains. I did the same. I’ve met a few divers earlier, one such is now a dear brother and friend. But whenever asked I’d always say that, I’m a sea per- son. Then I’d be fired with a quick question but you spend most of your time in the mountains?
Koh Tao attracts a particular kind of travellers, definitely not the touristy ones. The ones I’ve met and interacted have mostly planned to visit this place for a day or two but have stayed for weeks now. They just couldn’t leave. It’s either, the food, the nights, their beach side beer sipping buddies they made or the diving. It’s mostly the beer and beach. The dusk glows here, flares up the coconut trees and warms even the coldest hearts. How can anyone leave.
The island has a catchy laid- back vibe; the food excels expectations and the diving is out of this world.
Escaping the nagging city life and taking off at intervals to experience the goodness of nature has been my mantra. Considering me, only a 66% adrenaline junkie, a full- time fanatic towards mother nature, I always believed the best conversation starters would be the first time you bunked class, or locked a teacher in the lab or maybe your first sip of alcohol. At the end, we remember only what we cherished.
I was incredibly lucky to be a part of Koh Tao Divers for my first open water Scuba Diving course and not to mention, without a doubt the best instructor ever, Tom Helin AKA Tommpa. He is professional, friendly, sometimes strict but extremely knowledgeable. A great guy to lead and learn, who made sure he eased every qualm I had regarding scuba diving.
After some ‘in class’ trainings, Tom covered everything from safety to equipment, and the techniques while underwater. On completion, we proceeded to the shallow waters where I was taught and practiced the essentials of diving.
Being my first scuba dive, Tom prepared me with scuba gear bag and all the basic required equipment, both ‘in class’ and on the boat. It was me and other 8 divers who left for the dive sight. I realised, I was the odd one out being the only first-timer, while the rest were professionals.
It took me a while to take my first jump.
After I learnt how to clean my mask and the technicalities of the BCD Buoyancy Control Device, we were ready for my first dive. It’s a weird feeling to breathe underwater with the regulator. It’s a cosmos where my mind is telling me to breathe through my nose, whereas my instincts are ask- ing me to hold my breath and my brain is reminding me that the worst thing to do is to stop breathing.
As a beginner, the struggle for breathing from your mouth is real and swallowing the salty water is obvious. And then there’s this conscious attempt where I’m trying to convince myself to breathe from the mouth. The struggle is real, believe me. But you know what’s fascinating? The sound of my own breath underwater. I was so loud initially, but I’ve improved.
The aura underwater is serene, mild, slo-mo and definitely like outer space; coming from my pictorial imagination of space from the numerous movies I watched. With abundant nameless fishes, petite, moderate and huge crisscrossing around you, in their own zig zag route makes it miraculous.
P.S. Koh Tao Divers has a book with all the names of fishes, corals and anything living underwater. I could only memorise a few.
The first few metres cannot be described, the first descend is like an entry into another dimension with the hope of acceptance from that pristine world. You question yourself, will I be accepted.
Your heart beat decelerates from the dismay. Now you are in sheer aw and wonder.
Something I’ve experienced in the different corners of the Himalayas. Isolation, in the positive form ever. Every detail is carved in you, as you savour every moment.
The first dive limit is 18 metres when you’re doing an SSI open water course. I felt my heart beat and ears bursting out, but Tom made sure I equalized my ears often, until I was ready to explore the underwater. There were a series of not so positive thoughts that I came across, full of “Why’s”, but I made sure I stayed positive, even after I puked in the boat after my first dive. Tom didn’t give up on me, why should I; his positivity and will, takes most of the credit of me becoming a certified diver.
For starters, when I doubted myself after my first dive, I didn’t want to lose the opportunity
to explore a world unseen by some and I wanted to relish what came thereafter. I successfully passed my SSI Open Water.
Astonished by experience, of the first 5 dives, I wanted more. I enrolled myself to the Nitrox and SSI Advanced Diver programme, which would now allow me to dive till 30 metres.
Below 18m. It is colder than the rest. All you hear is your steady breath and bubble formations. Visibility is less, but you see large schools of fish grooving on their own tune, while some swim calmly around you, sometimes peck you. Colour is lost at such depth. I remember, when I finally landed on the sandy bottom of the ocean bed at 29.2 metres. That was a sense of accomplishment as I was right next to the Sattakut wreck.
Today, I am a certified diver with a Nitrox certification and I can dive up-to 30 metres. And all I can add to my excitement is “it is irresistible”, so peaceful down there. So quiet, yet so resonating.
The state of being submerged underwater, is serene and mellow. There is no gravitational pull, regardless to the gear I wore. Regardless of what level of water, I chose to stay, I was the one in control. I was flying underwater. Believe me, I was. That’s how I felt; I did the Superman posture countless times as I looked over the life underneath, underwater. Tom is a witness to my posing.
This island shelters one specific kind of explorers, the divers. After Koh Tao, I feel euphoric to be a part of these explorers. They are in abundance, yet similar. If there is group of people chatting up while sipping their drinks, laughing and goofing up with each other, and making you ask yourself a question “aren’t they the happiest?” They are the divers. The soulful, jovial, human example of cool.
Until your first dive, you are clueless to what you are miss- ing. “It is amazing”, “a must try” is usually what we hear from those who dive, until now. Honestly, the hype is real. And I’m gratified to be one of them.
Published at Maqtoob Travelogue