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Living the Koh Tao dream/nightmare

September 8, 2013

It was just before three a.m when the night train rolled into Chumphon, not a minute too late, of course. This was the one time I would have been grateful for the Thai railways’ typical tardiness, but no, I had to camp down on a bench like a tramp and wait out the hours until seven when the ferry left for Koh Tao. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, apart from the ear-splitting bell that had to be rung every time a train came in. The ferry was over-crowded – of mix of suitcase-weilding ‘tourists’ who’d come for a two weeks in the sun, and the scruffier backpackers, sporting the fake Ray Bans and friendship bracelets they’d picked up on the South East Asia Lonely Planet trail. Almost everyone was young and beautiful.

I spent the whole journey talking to Luca, an Italian with a hatred for drunken

Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

Brit backpackers. I comprehensively agreed with him that these young Brits who down the buckets of booze and get rowdy are an embarrassment, unbeknown to me, that a few days later at some small hour of the morning I doing just that. Well, it is Koh Tao, isn’t it?

I hadn’t come here just to party, I’d come here to learn to scuba dive too. It seemed like a fun thing to do, but from the first day of my SSI Open Water course, I found that fun was the least appropriate word I would associate with it. I panicked when we were going through the basic underwater skills and I had to remove my mask, I floated up to the surface, colliding with a startled swimmer, it was cold, my ears hurt, I felt freaked out that there was all that water above. By the morning of the second day I was convinced I was going to die as we had to repeat the skills at twelve metres down. Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I was so convinced I was going to die, but anyway, I was praying for an ear infection or some other ailment that would give me a get out clause from putting on the dreaded tank, but my prayers went unanswered and DSC_0287so down into the depths I went again and this time realised that it wasn’t so bad removing the breathing regulator or the mask underwater and I survived day two with a little more enthusiasm for my new sport. But still the highlight of my day was a little black cat brazenly coming into my hut and deciding to bed down under my Koh Tao map.

By day three I was sort of liking it and finally beginning to master keeping myself buoyant in the water. I was even managing to look at the fish rather than concentrating on not colliding with fragile coral reefs now. So, Niki, our strict but very capable German instructor passed me and I am now an Open Water licensed diver!

It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, being in that underwater world. I suppose it’s the further we can get from our terrestrial lives other than going into space. Proper scuba divers seen to be obsessed with seeing the big fish, but for me what was amazing was the little fish in all their wonderful colours. How did this one fish evolve to be so vibrant yellow and with contrasting violet stripes and intricate detailing around the eye, like some beautiful post-modern object d’art? Of course, the ‘Nemo’ fish (Clown Fish) hiding in their little reefs were so cute too! At least by the end of it I was thinking “I could give this another go,” rather than wishing I’d spent my 9000 Baht on something less terrifying.

With the course finished, there was only the partying to do, something which IDSC_0273 took to much better and have a certain knack for, if I say so myself. It started with drinks with the dive school and gigantic tequila shots. Then some fellow dive students from India invited me to accompany them to the ladyboy cabaret. Who could say no? I downed a few gin and tonics whilst the very glammed-up ladyboys pranced around and lip-synched, Priscilla Queen of the Desert Style, to ‘All That Jazz’ and other cheesy classics. It was utterly brilliant. Somehow, after the cabaret I ended up at a party on the beach and from there, a party around a swimming pool which I decided it was a really good idea to jump into fully clothed when a cute French guy within it started chatting me up. Maybe I was thinking it would be like Clare and Leo in Romeo + Juliet after she’s just done the balcony speech. The illusion was lost when we were ordered out of the pool by weary Thai bar staff who were closing the party.

I woke up gone two the next day and stumbled around the town with my fake Ray Bans firmly glued to my face hence I should see anyone from the night before. Then I found a bar that was blasting out ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Soundgarden, the most perfect song for a Koh Tao hangover ever, I think.

Well, that was the Thai party island scene and I felt I had sufficiently embraced it. But I felt relieved to leave, that was until I was boarding the ferry and found someone coming or going before me had spilt gold glitter on the gangplank and something about the sight of it made me feel a pang of sadness to be getting off the god-forsaken isle. It was back to Chumphon for the night train into Malaysia. Thailand, maybe you are too touristy now and not so cheap anymore, but you sure are a hell of a lot of fun.

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