We left Koh Samui with heavy hearts, almost 3 weeks wrapped in a doggie blanket of constant cuddles, it was a hard thing to leave but we must move onward or in this case slightly backwards to Koh Tao.
Since we had left I had seen a doctor (Dr. Worawut Clinic) on Koh Phangan and been diagnosed with a middle ear or eaustation tube infection and given a course of antibiotics and anti inflammatories. Then two weeks later, as I still didn’t feel quite right for diving, otherwise I was fine, I went to see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist (Dr. Ning, Lamai) on Koh Samui. She gave me a decongestant/antihistamine nasal spray (I reckon it was Beconase) and finally I managed to get the good stuff-pseudoephadrine. She also perscribed running 30 mins 3 times a week to increase blood flow and fitness levels for diving (I have to say, although good advice, I didn’t follow that one), the walks were pretty good for it though.
So once I was all set and Francoise was back and settled in again we made plans to move on. A few quick messages to my instructor Neal at Crystal Dive and we had the dives booked and the accommodation sorted (due to going away and coming back I was not due to get a free room). I was getting another one-to-one dive session with Neal again so I was happy enough with that.
So a month and a day after we last left it we arrived back into Mae Head as it happens onto the same dock that Crystal Dive use (we took Seatran this time-there was some weird deal with their coffee service but the journey was fine). The boat for the first dives was due to leave at 12 pm and we arrived in at 10.30 am so not a great deal of time. A quick stop at the ATM and then straight to Crystal to register, get our room, dump out stuff and for me to get some food and check my gear bag that one of the guys had kindly packed for me.
Neal had been out on the morning boat so once he was back we had a quick catch up and then we were off on the boat. It was holiday season in China and Koh Tao was experiencing a mini peak so the boat was full of very jolly and polite Chinese people.
The first dive site was Mango Bay, we headed towards the beach doing some surface skills on the way before descending. For some reason I was a bit panicky but was fine once I started the skills and then we were under the water. I guess this was attempt number three at diving here? A quick practice of the skills at 2 m (as it had been a while) and we headed off towards the deeper depths… it was hard folks but luckily the decongestants were working well and I managed my first dive (and skills)! Hurrah! Also we got to see plenty of fish such as: Parrotfish, Golden Trevally, Long Faced Emperor, some Christmas tree worms, a dying jellyfish and a funeral slug. I have to say though that when I got back on the boat my immediate feeling was relief, dive one finished.
Next site was Junkyard an artificial reef and containing Crystal’s Eco Koh Tao Clam Nursery. They rescue bits of broken coral and attach them here on various metal/cement objects to form artificial reefs. Cool idea and seems to be working quite well but the visibility there was terrible (10 m or less) so it was quite disorientating but Neal seemed to be able to find his way around (the joys of having a compass). There were some clown fish protecting their eggs which was quite cool, for such a small thing they can be quite intimidating, also got to see some boxfish, porcupine fish, hexagon grouper. Anyway the end of dive two and all skills complete (including the dreaded snorkel to reg exchange, hate that one even with Neal’s handy purge valve snorkel). So end of day one I could be qualified as a PADI Scuba diver. Ears were still behaving themselves but I continued to take decongestants and also some ibuprofen in case there was any swelling.
So once the dives were logged, there was time for a shower and dinner before bed to be ready for the morning boat at 6.45 am and my final two dives. In fairness the third dive was the one I was dreading, mask removal, replace and clear. I hate that skill. Anyway the first dive site was the lovely Japanese Gardens (just off the famous Koh Nangyuan) again we were first in the water, managed to get down ok, skills done, and we headed off down the reef to get to 18 m (ended up at 17.4 m). Saw some cool stuff including loads of triggerfish (titan, yellow) and a Great Banded sea snake, as well as lots more Parrotfish, Butterfly fish and Longfin Bannerfish. Dive 3 complete.
Finally it was dive 4 at a site near the main harbour, White Rock. The sea was a bit choppy, and there was a current- nightmare! But once we got down it was fine. The fourth dive is more of a fun dive for practice in the water. We did see three Rays (like in Gav’s video), some Blue Angelfish, and a white eyed moray eel.
So with Dive 4 complete, I became a certified PADI Open Water Diver! I have to say that on getting back on the boat, I was relieved, not even excited to be finished (that came later once I got over the shock of actually managing to do it). Gav met us at the bar as I was completing my paperwork and after a few photos we were done!
When we went to check out, the accounts team weren’t in yet and the staff on the desk had no idea what I owed (which we thought was 1000 baht for the two nights) so wouldn’t take any money. We had about 90 minutes before our boat departed so leaving our bags, we went off to grab some food at Zest (oh the salads!), and then nipped back to settle our bill, we were given back our deposit and wished a good journey, so the room was free (or honoured as part of the dive course) which we weren’t expecting! Again Crystal Dive being gems! I can’t recommend them highly enough, great team and great service!
Also as I didn’t mention in the other post- this whole experience was my second attempt at diving, the first was in 2007 at the Great Barrier Reef, we had paid for 5 fun dives and 2 nights on a boat. However on the first dive I completely freaked out once I was in the water, and then got food poisoning on the boat. I can’t remember who the company was but they took your money, gave you no training to speak of (except a quick chat on the boat) and you were then in the water. Considering how dangerous it can be it is shocking that I signed up for that, and it was a complete waste of money. Whereas at Crystal you get a whole morning of training in the pool so you are comfortable in your gear and if you don’t like it you find out when you are in the pool rather than in the sea.
Anyway with the afternoon free we took Neal up on his suggestion to visit the Turtle sanctuary and saw these guys:
So cute! I’m not sure where the hatchery is but seeing these guys was enough.
Then to top off the day of finally passing the Open Water, seeing some baby turtles I got asked to be bridesmaid at one of my best buddies wedding next September- so we will have to be back in the UK by then…. that’s almost a year away though. Best not to think of it!
So the following day, with our Thai visa rapidly running out we got the Lomprayah transfer to the other coast and the small town of Krabi. When we arrived the whole place was covered in a smog which we later found out was a result of horrendous forest fires in Indonesia which basically blanketed Malaysia and south Thailand in haze. So on our two trips out of Krabi – to the Tiger temple and to Ao Nuang (the tourist beach) we didn’t see very much.
Krabi itself was really nice though and we got to try some nice market food and in general there was a really good vibe there with a nice mix of Buddhists and Muslims so more interesting food.
It was quite cheap too, nice and local and clearly didn’t take itself too seriously.
Ao Nuang was super touristy and expensive.
So we spent three nights there- sadly not long enough to check out Ko Phi Phi (famous from the film The Beach, but good for diving and snorkling), Koh Lanta or Scaramanga’s hideout at Khow-Ping-Kan. Well there is always next time when we are in the area (well back in Koh Samui to see lovely Francoise and the animals) we will hopefully see some more of this coast.
Early on the 8th October we headed to the airport for our super cheap Firefly flight to Penang (238 MR/ $56.90/£37.11 for both of us with bags!). We arrived, had our bags scanned and then headed for the check-in and handed over our passports.
Then we hit a bump:
Check-in attendant: How long are you staying in Penang?
Me: 3 or 4 days
Check-in attendant: Have you a flight booked out of Malayasia?
Me: No…we plan on travelling for a few weeks…
Check-in attendant (pointing to Gav’s passport): Someone with this passport got sent back to the UK at immigration as they didn’t have a flight out.
Us (panic!): ok we can book one….
Nowhere on the UK or Irish government travel information is an exit flight mentioned. It is mentioned on the Malaysian travel pages though you really need to look for it.
Thankfully we still had a Thai SIM card so could use that to book the flights and after much arguing we had a flight booked from Singapore to Bangkok- £60 in total well no bags), then we could check in. Later we found one from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore for £2 (no bags)… oh the stress!
Do you know what? When we got to Penang, no one asked for anything!! Arrrggh!
Next stop Penang, Malaysia…..