Hiking to Tanote Bay and beyond

With another barotrauma looming in now the left ear, a morning off diving was in order. Awakening at half 7 to the sound of soft snores emanating from Abi’s bed, I slyly pulled on my fitness gear and snuck out of the room. After rambling along a stretch of main road, a massive sign loomed in the distance directing me to Aow Leuk and Tanote Bay. Making my way up an undulating dirt road, the route was littered with hand painted signs for the mysterious ‘Campsite’, instructing you to drive safely and giving promises of new friends.

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A little explore was in order, after which it’s safe to say that the group was immediately told, point blanc, that we are attending the next Jungle Party. There were so many little tents and areas perfect for chilling out in, so we absolutely cannot wait for February 11th to come around.

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The mid morning sun was beginning to beat down, and luckily for me the Tanote Bay cliff top restaurant came into view. They’d just opened, were booming out Bob Marley and made me a mean banana shake.

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Looking out at the bay, I could see the rock where Abi tragically injured her foot the other day. She didn’t even jump off it (like the boys did), but it turns out that it’s lethal to those barefooted among us.

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After all that exertion, a big bowl of the best homemade pasta was in order from Cappuccino, a lovely French bakery on the up road in Mae Haad. We often sneak in just before closing at 6pm, after a strenuous afternoon boat to refuel before bed. Pad Thai five times a day sometimes doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

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Totally redeeming the fact that we couldn’t dive, an impromptu girls night occurred at Fishbowl. A blissful incident involving a jug of passion fruit mojito, and a mistaken five hundred baht note for a thousand, meant we ended up being paid to drink at said bar. What a turn of luck! Long may it continue.

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“I think we’ve gone too far North!” “Agreed.”

After putting together my own signature rainbow dive kit in dribs and drabs, it finally became time to lead my first dive. The only pieces of kit that have been deemed unnecessary to purchase as personal items are the BCD (buoyancy control device) and a set of regulators. These are positively abundant at the dive centre, with the single downside being that if we are overrun with customers who require my extra small BCD and regs, us DMTs without our own will be left on the shelf and not able to dive. Fortunately for me, hardly anyone out there uses my size, and the small is just as dandy in a pinch.

My adjustable fins, mask, snorkel, booties, kit bag and wetsuit have all been essential, trusty items that were bought at the very beginning. Shopping around for a dive computer in Sairee and Mae Haad for the past four weeks has been an entirely different story. Fellow DMTs recommend the Koh Tao for sale Facebook page to find a second, third or fourth hand billy bargain, whereas local instructors insist you need the warranty that comes with a brand new boxed dive computer, that will never let you down. Being the safe, non-risk taking person that I am, my search has been for the cheapest brand new Suunto Zoop on offer. A basic, bulky watch that gives you the bare minimum dive information, but is all you need to start off with on the path to becoming a Divemaster.

Using my powers of charm (and bringing in friends to buy multiple compasses), the lovely owner of a shop I cannot name offered to pop down to the nearby dive supply shop and use his hefty discount to buy me the Zoop. Usually costing 10,350 baht (just over 200 pounds), he said ‘Just give me 8,000 and promise not to tell a soul!’ Locking up shop, he whizzed off and came back straight away with my beautiful new equipment.

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Feeling as happy as can be at the sheer kindness of people in this world, I only went and splurged my cunningly saved thousands on a floaty dress and some cheeky bottoms. The obligatory staring out to sea shot was completed on the morning boat, courtesy of our wonderful friend and photographer, Maria.

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Armed with all the gadgets and raring to go, it was finally my time to shine and lead a dive. We moored the boat to the Southern buoy line at White Rock, and my first dive brief consisted of explaining the plan of the dive, and going over safety procedures in case of separation. The plan was to descend down the buoy line (slowly, because we’ve all had some issues with equalising lately), swim North over the coral patch to reach White Rock, do a figure of eight and finally swim back South along the other side.

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As you can guess if you know me and my complete lack of sense of direction, this plan absolutely did not turn out to be the case in practice. We were innocently swimming North, clocking a Moray eel out and about from its cave along the way, with no glimpse of White Rock coming into view whatsoever. Little did we know, the current had been pushing us West the whole time, so we ended up swimming over the most wildlife-barren sand for what felt like forever. Eventually, Tess got out her pencil and slate (a lifesaving tool, some conversations cannot be spelt out in hand movements) and we scribbled our thoughts down, deciding to swim back South to find the dive site. At this point, it was all feeling a tad too ‘Open Water’ for my liking.

Thanking the heavens above, we finally ended up finding it and had a little explore of the rock. On the way back to the boat, poor Maria had to get a spurt on to catch up with me, pulled on my fin and made the hand signal to slow the eff down. Being a smidgen partial to the odd panic, I was positively gunning it through the water, thereby racing through my air with the stress of it all. My poor fellow divers were exhausted by the end of our marathon underwater sprint! Sorry, guys. Lesson learnt.

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With the visibility being so atrocious that day, lo and behold I lost the boat, so we decided to surface in the middle of nowhere. We were running too low on air to afford searching around at 20 metres, and poor Maria was on the brink of collapse. Our three minute safety stop was successful this time, with no one losing their surface marker buoy (seeing as though mine was borrowed from Sam, I held onto it with an iron grip). When we bobbed up and took a look around, the Simple Life boat was surprisingly right next to us! My inner compass actually hadn’t let me down too badly, we just couldn’t see a darned thing down there, so it was all a bit of guesswork.

All in all, it was both the most enjoyable and terrifying dive of my life. Having a dive computer to tell you your depth, dive time and when to do your safety stop makes it all the more interesting. Feeling totally knackered and drained after coming back to shore and washing the kit, I met Abi at our local taco shack for my favourite mustard beef burrito, feeling particularly accomplished for the day!

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Ironically, the pizza he chose was called the ‘Spanish Lovers’. Puh-leez.

To combat the necessary early rise for the morning boat, while still having a whale of a time of an evening, we’ve discovered a few places that put on dinner and a show. Funny story – a man friend took me to El Toro to see the Hobbit. While I was perusing the Mexican side of the menu, deciding between a chicken chimichanga or sizzling fajitas, he insisted we share one measly pizza and huffed and puffed at the suggestion of a side. Eventually, he yielded to the addition of spring rolls. Not the most promising of starts, to say the least.

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When it came to settling the monstrous bill of 280 baht (just over five pounds), he looked at me incredulously, saying, “Well I GUESS we’ll pay together…” to which I replied, “Why, do you want to split the bill?”

Expecting an effusive refusal of my polite offer, he instead wagered, “No, but only if YOU buy the drinks at Simple Life.” Needless to say I wanted nothing more than to shoot off like a rocket there and then, putting the evening firmly behind me and never meeting a man for food again if he looks like he enjoys living off the land. In reality, I moped back to Simple Life feeling very hard done by with my own personal Scrooge in tow, naively thinking that after treating him to a beer we could call it a night.

Ordering myself a Malibu and pineapple, asking if he would prefer a Chang, Singha or Tiger (bearing in mind all he’d ever drank around me were cheap Changs from the 7/11, what was I thinking?!) he reached over the bar for a menu and muttered, “Actually, I think I’m going to go for a cocktail…”

Infuriating rage ran through my entire being, and in hindsight, my response should have been along the lines of, “Do one, you cheap b***d!” Instead, I swallowed my pride and forked out the 250 baht for the most disrespectful date ever known to man. Positively glaring at him as he sipped on his mojito, Abi and Gill gallantly helped me hatch my escape plan. We pretended that we were in dire need of a ‘girls night’, despite the fact that Simple Life was chock full of boys who were playing drinking games with us the whole time. Visibly perplexed, he toddled off home and we were free to despair in the utter hilarity of the situation. Looking back, it was rather an amusing and eye opening experience, with many a lesson learnt (namely, don’t date a Canadian hippy with a strangely woven hat).

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Exploring the underwater world

The only potential downside to the otherwise perfect-in-every-way morning boat, is our captain’s tendency to have his favourite dive sites that we must return to, day after day. While it seems that everyone else on the island is appreciating the exotic wonders of Chumphon (home to whale sharks, so I hear) we are treated to multiple return visits to our local White Rock and the Wreck. We’re like those families who insist on the same Disney holiday, year after year, because you know full well just how much fun you’re sure to have. This describes my family perfectly, so I’m actually rather suited to getting to know these dive sites like the back of my hand, especially considering my complete lack of sense of direction.

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The wreck is thirty metres deep and has notoriously bad visibility, but luckily for us Abi brought her go pro on a day of relative clarity. Four of us girls took to the ship, free to be as snap happy as our hearts desired.

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Behold my underwater grace and flair! These moves cannot be taught, I was born with it.

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For the first time since reluctantly proving some skills in my scuba review, the regulator came straight out for smiling purposes. Approximately three pints of sea water were consumed during the making of these photos, but there was no way watermelon mask was coming off (not quite yet, anyway. The salt water burns!).

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Due to the distinct lack of fish to see or Christmas tree coral to play with, we even had time to master our O rings.

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Playing at being models for the day was tiring work, so we treated ourselves to a little retail therapy. While I was watching the sunset from atop a large rock (don’t ask), Abi and Gill found the loveliest little shop in Mae Haad where they purchased some gorgeous bikinis and dresses. All too eagerly I had a browse myself later on, and found this dress which I just might have to invest in. What do you think?

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Wearing a new little black dress from a minimalist clothes shop we found, dinner was eaten at our favourite ramshackle Thai place where a jolly woman cooks us our dinner right in front of us. We divert our eyes at the sugar adding stage of the pad thai – what we don’t know won’t hurt.

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Bellies filled and money saved from sticking to the local grub, we met up with the gang over in Sairee to spend said savings on beautiful cocktails and not-so-refined buckets. A brilliant day!

Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi oi oi

Health-wise it seems we have a case of the old out of the frying pan and into the fire. Well, perhaps not as dramatic as that, as I’d always rather have the sniffles than a debilitating stomach bug. It seems that we’re all partaking on a five day course of Amoxycillin to fend off the germs that keep making us ill. Despite regularly washing the shop regulators in dettol after each dive, us girls all seem to have contracted a rattling cough and relentless sinus issues. But nothing eases the pain like a classic fry up from our local favourite cafe spot, Zest!

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After a couple of weeks of settling in and getting to know the island, we’ve come up with a nice sort of routine. Early on, we cottoned onto the fact that waking up early to catch the morning boat at 7.30am is absolutely the way to go. The boat is far less busy than the hectic afternoon slot, with the water as flat as a pancake, a beautifully calm and peaceful way to start the day. Now that we’re almost responsible DMTs, we don’t need chaperoning underwater anymore, just as long as one of our group has a dive computer and an SMB (surface marker buoy). Even though I’m yet to complete my kit, instead purchasing items in dribs and drabs, this has made diving all the more fun. We can explore the coral and frolick around as much as we please, mastering our water rings and never quite knowing whether we’ll bob up anywhere near the boat! Abi bravely led a dive one morning, and it was honestly one of my most fun underwater experiences so far. She expertly found a blue spotted stingray hiding under a rock, monitored our air with expert attention and navigated a perfect route, resulting in a super short surface swim back to the boat. What more can you ask for! Poor Sam had slightly less luck leading our wreck dive, but he had a top act to follow. My anklet got stuck on Erik’s snorkel when we were thirty metres under, but we wangled our way out of it without having to brandish a knife. Our leader of the pack had some buoyancy issues when we ascended so ended up abandoning us during our safety stop, but all in all it was great, as I got to explore the boat that the Thai people sunk especially for us divers. Next time, Abi will remember to bring her go pro and we’ll get the classic shot of us wielding the gun at the bow of the ship. Tourists, who, us?!

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Upon returning to shore around 11am, you then have the entire day ahead of you to enjoy. These days we’re all pretty committed to getting the Koh Tao glow, so we’ve been whiling away the afternoons on the beach. I break up the day by bringing my mask and practising front crawl along the buoy line, taking care to avoid the snorklers. Swimming through shoals of tropical fish with the warmth of the sun on your back really puts lengths in the local 25m pool to shame. We also love to laugh at Joe’s peculiar habit of sitting half emerged in the surf, letting the water wash over him for hours! Weird habits, hey?

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The best parts of our day is when the local samosa man does his rounds, keeping us hungry sunbathers nice and full. Crispy pastry stuffed with spiced potato, all yours for 20 baht a pop. That’s 40p – it’s no wonder we’re developing a bit of an addiction.

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One of the wonderful perks of having a Perth resident as a roomie was being able to celebrate Australian day as soon as we hit the shore from a productive morning of fun diving.

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Being the uber organised gal that she is, we were fully prepared with all her Aussie paraphernalia from home. After showering the sea water out of our hair, we plastered ourselves in patriotic tattoos (a heart on the face, flag on the shoulder and letters across the back – go big or go home), we brandished our flag/sarong and set off to Maya beach club to revel in the festivities.

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Mojitos and strawberry daiquiris were in full flow, all day. Most probably annoying all the bar girls who wished we’d just drink easy bottles of beer, I threw caution to the wind and sampled the Bahama Mama (a coconut milk, rum and grenadine concoction) and a Mudslide (kahlua, baileys, Oreos and ice cream – heaven in a glass). Much to our dismay, there was absolutely no point in taking care over our appearances that day as Baden and Nick, two simple life instructors, decided to take it upon themselves to dunk any girl they saw with dry hair. Water up the nose and everything, we were well and truly soaked, several times.

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We spent the entire day balancing our drinks on paddle boards that people had rented, often swimming up to other groups to share in the fun. One particular successful hour was spent drinking a jug of delicious passion fruit sangria, generously donated by a group of Welsh guys who were interested in diving on the island. The job has its perks!

2015/01/img_1853.jpg Watching the sun set over the water, we started to feel a bit peckish, so a couple of us hot footed it over to Fishbowl, where there were rumours of a free BBQ. Sadly, everything remotely good had already gone so we drunkenly made do with bread rolls filled with coleslaw and mustard, and a couple of buttery corn on the cobs. Our appetites not quite satisfied, we trekked inland to the glorious Duck 995, where everything on the menu is super cheap, super tasty and duck-orientated. Number 9 is fast becoming my regular order – egg noodles in a soy bean sauce for 70 baht, you simply can’t go wrong!

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Left with full tums, mild to severe sunburn and tattoos that won’t come off no matter how hard you scrub, Australia day was an absolute cracker of a day that I shall never forget. Simply put, we had heaps and heaps of fun!

Diver, diver! Inflate your BCD

Fizz beach bar is fast becoming our ultimate favourite hangout spot for all occasions. The bright green bean bags are perfect for lounging on with our ‘sundowners’ (Australian for drinks at sundown, such a fun activity), offering the best view of Sairee beach and a banging menu to match.

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Dennis, a newly qualified instructor at Simple Life, excitedly told us that we had to try the soft shell crab when he heard we were going to Fizz. Boy oh boy, it did not disappoint! Abi was a bit iffy at first about the idea of eating a crab’s face and eyes, but we dug in with gusto and simply cannot wait to order it again. The chilli jam that it came with was a winner, too.

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After two weeks of endless shivering both below and above the water, I’ve finally found the perfect wetsuit after trying on what felt like a hundred. Five millimetres of thick neoprene has completely transformed my dive experience like nothing else! The only minor setback is that my nickname could well become rainbow diver, as the red panelled wetsuit more than slightly clashes with my bright green fins and good old watermelon mask. In all honesty, I’m rather pleased about this explosion of colour as someone is bound to spot me if I start floating away, distracted by a clump sparkly coral. And most importantly, the cold is no longer going to be a problem, which is more that I can say for this fellow.

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Before coming to Koh Tao, my spare time was spent scouring the Internet searching for things to try, places to visit and food spots to discover. Alex in Wanderland has been an absolute treat to read, offering up all her favourite spots and advice about living on the beautiful island. Grounded Yoga came highly recommended by her, and it just so happens to be right on Gill’s doorstep, so we’ve been finding a time to try out a class ever since we got here. Living Juices is just around the corner, so we started off our day right with two green monster smoothies and buckwheat banana bread with sliced banana and honey. So tasty and wholesome – a welcome change after a few too many 7/11 toasties!

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The yoga centre was hidden away up in the jungle, made up of lots of ramshackle huts with rustic signs directing us to the sala. Sandra, our instructor, was a lovely woman from Spain who welcomed the two of us with open arms. Luckily, the class was small with about six of us in the morning 10am to 11.30am slot. With the fans on full blast and sounds of birds tweeting all around us, we were taught the sun salutation routine and many different types of asanas (we thought of them as positions). It was a simply wonderful experience, with the only dodgy moment being when my legs ended up a bit too far around my ears and it was a struggle to bring them back down to earth. The absolute best part was the fifteen minutes of total relaxation at the end, where me and Gill have honestly never felt so deeply relaxed in all our lives! Only the whine of a mosquito brought me out of my slumber, but what can you do, there’s only so much bug spray a girl can handle.

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With a class costing only 250 baht (a fiver), yoga is fast going to become a hobby of choice for us. We were offered tea at the end with everybody which sadly we had to miss to cycle back in time for the afternoon boat, but next time will be sure to take up the offer. It was such a brilliant start to the day in one of the most beautiful settings you can imagine – now it’s time to transform into fully fledged yogis within the month!

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Feeling rather zen (more like spaced out), we set off on the boat with our group of ten to complete our surface rescue skills. This consisted of an entire afternoon spent jumping in and out of the water, both with and without the scuba gear, to save our buddies in various states of responsiveness and different levels of thrashing out. The most difficult situation was dealing with an unresponsive diver, where you have to learn a long routine starting with shouting ‘Diver, diver! Inflate your BCD! I am an emergency rescuer, may I help?’ with the following step being to administer rescue breaths, while towing them back to the boat, while removing their equipment, while removing your own equipment. Nobody thought I could handle carrying a lifeless body out of the water, but my core strength surprised them all and it was a doddle. Sadly for Gill, her sinuses were playing up so she couldn’t equalise when we went down to do our underwater skills. Thank goodness we had the lovely Dina instructing us because she was SO kind and helpful, not even batting an eyelid when I lost her snorkel (nothing an expanding square couldn’t find). After an exhausting day all in all, we settled down at our local taco shack in Mae Haad to sample our favourite Mexican cuisine. A pineapple chicken burrito for Gill, and mustard beef taco for me.

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The night ended as all good nights should, with a packet of Oreos dunked into a glass of cold milk. With the final exam looming in the morning, there was a late night of studying on the cards for me. As soon as this rescue course is done and dusted, I’ll finally be a bonafied DMT. Something that we’ll certainly celebrate!

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Days off: catching the local illness

Despite all my best efforts to strengthen the old immune system, including frequent hand washing, vitamin C tablets, eating local honey, drinking bottled water…you get the idea, I was struck down by the local bug going round. The day started off brilliantly with my first stab at ‘double boating’, where you set off at 7.30am on the morning boat for two dives, have an hour or so at the dive centre to grab lunch then hop back on around 12.30pm for two more. On my third dive I was starting to feel a bit funny, but went down with the group putting it down to a spot of tiredness. About five minutes into the dive my body started to convulse with shivers, and I totally lost control of motor function in every which way. After half an hour of stupidly suffering in silence, my amazing buddy Gill noticed that I was in a bad way and made the sign for an emergency ascent to our divemaster, Doug. We came up and I couldn’t even catch my breath, I had become that cold (it was in fact quite warm that day, the water was about 28 degrees.) Doug was brilliant and so supportive, telling me off for not mentioning the problem sooner – never again, I promise. They plonked me up on the boat to warm up and wait out the last dive, where I was wrapped in everyone’s towels and waited for the shivers to subside. What followed was a solid nap back at the room, fan and air con switched off, then a roast chicken dinner and warming caramel latte from our new favourite coffee shop, complete with comfy sofas and a wide array of lost and left behind books from all over the world.

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Then disaster struck from about midnight onwards. Needless to say I won’t be facing a roast chicken dinner anytime soon, and I was so lucky to have such brilliant, caring and medically qualified friends surrounding me during this time of need. While Abi went to smash her final rescue course exam the following morning, I caught up on some reading and drifted in and out of consciousness (it had been a rough night).

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My lovely roomie then came back, having cancelled her afternoon dive to look after the sick patient. Having advised me to follow the BRAT diet (banana, rice, apple and toast) we ordered a margarita pizza for her, toast with no butter but two jams for me, and rented a cracking film on iTunes called Before I Go To Sleep.

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It was the best recovery plan a girl could wish for, and I had my amazing mum giving me all the love in the world, complete with the most incredible advice from my brilliant aunt who is a nurse (and knows everything about everything – it’s truly unbelievable. Thank you Joan!)

Once I was on the mend, stuffed full of Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Buscopan and rehydration tablets, I ventured out for a detoxifying juice of pineapple, ginger, lemon and apple from Cafe del Sol around the corner. Finally, we have found a place where the drinks aren’t crammed full of either sugar or sugar syrup, sometimes even both.

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Nobody was feeling particularly up to par due to a night of beer pong at Simple Life followed by dancing at Sunset until closing. A little birdie even told me they saw Gill diving off the top board into the pool in her undies! I, for one, am so gutted to have missed this. But next time I’ll be sure to be jumping in with her. We all decided to toddle along to the idyllic Shark Bay, where there is a stunning resort called Haad Tien that you can quite easily sneak into to enjoy the facilities.

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Tess cleverly brought her Bose speakers, complete with an epic Summer playlist, and we lounged on the oversized sunbeds all day, soaking up the bits of sun (it was quite cloudy) and enjoying some of the cocktails they had to offer. PiƱa coladas, mojitos and a banana and strawberry shake for me – as you can imagine, alcohol is firmly off the cards for a few more days.

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From left to right we have Tess (here doing her DMT with her boyfriend Ryan), me, Abi and Gill.

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My first proper meal in days was a gloriously cheesy pizza – since eyeing up Abi’s during our filmathon I had some serious pizza on the brain.

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The boys tried to spot some sharks in the bay but sadly the visibility was so poor they could hardly see a hand in front of their face. Instead they messed around with a ball, frolicked in the surf and lounged around generally feeling a bit hungover. We call this piece ‘Ross on the Rock’.

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It was a fantastically chilled day (precisely what the doctor ordered), made all the better by the top notch service we received at the resort. Tess gallantly polished off two hefty bottles of Prosecco, so we ended up being treated like members of royalty. They led us to the free salad bar where we excitedly ate our first non-fried vegetables of the trip. Even when the rain started they ushered us inside and plied us with free coffees, after we’d settled the bill. Still feeling a bit fragile, the group dropped me off at Blue Wave with a packet of Oreos and the wish for an early night, hoping tomorrow will bring a slightly more stronger and back to normal me.

Diving miss daisy

It’s high time that you were introduced to some of the lovely folks that I’m lumped in with for the DMT. Most of us are staying at the Blue Wave guest houses near Simple Life, and we have a Facebook message group where every night someone will suggest somewhere for dinner, to all meet up for tasty grub and a catch up.

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Abi, the simply wonderful gal I’m sharing a room with, is a trainee nurse from Perth who came travelling on her own, same as me. We were all having a cheap and cheerful dinner at Nana’s one night (mixed seafood Massaman curry for me) when we were joined by an amazing girl called Gill, also from Australia and a fully fledged occupational therapist (at the same age as me, I feel suitably under-qualified and a tad clueless!). She has been bravely travelling all over Asia by herself for the past few months, and recently completed her open water course here on Koh Tao. Luckily for us, she loved it so much that now we have another DMT to welcome to the fold! It has been made our life goal to find somewhere to rent bicycles for our time here, because we want to be able to explore the island (not just be confined to Sairee beach) while avoiding the risk of man-handling a moped. A bad experience consisting of my best friend falling off her scooter on Koh Lanta has absolutely scarred me for life!

Here are the beautiful Gill and Abi, from left to right.

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My past couple of dives have sadly played havoc with my poor ear drums. For some reason, my left ear is having issues equalising on descent. Reassuringly, this happens to pretty much everyone once they begin diving regularly, and with time the muscle will strengthen. It feels like a balloon is being blown up inside your head, and no matter how much you try to equalise, the air simply won’t escape, instead making a terrible squeaking sound and feeling like a perforated ear drum is imminent. This meant a couple of days off diving for me, in which a spot of pampering and some R&R took place.

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Another merry member of the DMT clan is our very own Liam Hemsworth lookalike, Joe from Essex. He struggles with taking his mask off underwater, and is living in a ramshackle place in the middle of nowhere. When he sent this photo below to his mum to show her what we were up to, she responded, ‘Is the girl on the left old enough to be travelling by herself?!’ Well, Joe’s mum, that is quite actually a fair question. Abi ‘Liability’ Bampton has provided us with a fair few laughs already, only last night falling drunkenly asleep on the dive centre steps after our blow out barbecue.

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A day spent soaking up the sun near Fizz bar on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. After sourcing some bicycles from a man up the road in Mae Haad, me and Joe rode along to Sairee for sandwiches from Zanzibar. It is hands down one of the best sarnie shops, rivalling Upper Crust for that special place in my heart. Their feta, avocado and pesto sandwich on brown multigrain bread has already seen me through the between-dive-munchies many a time. After finding a quiet spot nestled between a topless sunbather and a used condom (very nearly stood on by me) I took my new mask out for a spin to snorkel around the shore.

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We call it the watermelon mask, with it being so distinctive that I can always be spotted above and below water – safety first and all that. The matching green fins are on order from the dive shop, so I’ll be the most colour coordinated dive master that ever was at this rate! Practising my front crawl for the 800m swim coming up, I saw plenty of colourful fish around the reef, taking care to avoid the sea urchins and a suspicious looking trigger fish (they are notoriously territorial creatures).

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It was a beautiful day spent exploring and working on the all important base tan, ending the night at Blue Chair for a prawn Thai green curry and peach iced teas. We’re supposed to be laying off the drink to save ourselves for a group day trip to Shark Bay, where they let you use a 5* resort for the day if you spend 300 baht at the swim up bar. How lovely indeed!

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Breakfast of Chumphons

The day began with a delivery from Greasy Spoon to start the day right. Abi cleverly went for the full English, complete with baked beans in their own little plastic bag and a crispy hash brown. The only downfalls were the browned-yet-still-soft ‘toast’, and a tragic incident involving a falling fried egg landing yolk down on the balcony floor. The sacred three second rule sadly couldn’t come into play in this case. I plumped for the slightly lighter breakfast of muesli, fruit and yoghurt, with the obligatory banana shake, of course.

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My advanced course started with an instructor called Sam and no others in our group for the first dive. He taught me different types of swimming kicks, to best conserve energy and air. The frog kick was easily mastered, but swimming backwards and going upside down were certainly not my most graceful of moments. Navigation was rather a doddle, learning how to use a compass for diving in a straight line or a square. As I was navigating us back to the boat using sights he had pointed out for me to remember (for example a buoy line, a chunk of an old boat), we swam across a turtle nibbling away at some coral. We watched him in awe for a fair while, me mesmerised by his whopping size and later finding out he was actually the smaller species, totally forgetting any of my landmarks to get back to the boat. But oh well, I was the envy of everyone when we eventually swam back to the boat and told them what we saw.

Exhausted from my first properly successful dive, we decided a massage was in order (oil, not Thai – never making that mistake again!). You can mix and match what you go for, so I paid 300 baht for half an hour of head, back and shoulders and half an hour of a foot massage. It was utterly unbelievable! There were a few painful moments where the elbows were really grinding on some sore spots, but it was an experience I bet we will be repeating week after week. Suitably relaxed and feeling rather peckish, we ambled along to the Seashell Barbecue, for beautiful beef and mixed seafood skewers. They come with a baked potato and salad, which is like a fresh homemade coleslaw. It was our favourite meal yet, especially as the staff were super friendly and kept laughing at us when we ordered more and more butter for our jackets.

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After a few compulsory drinks at Simple Life, we were in a total state of zen so called it a night, stopping off at the 7/11 for crisps and a ham and cheese toastie, subsequently falling asleep watching The Hunger Games on our fox movies channel.