Thailand days 11-14: Open water scuba diving course in Koh Tao + a growing experience

Day 11: Travel day + “me” evening in Koh Tao

The next part of my trip was dedicated to getting my PADI Open Water Diving Certification in Koh Tao!

Koh Tao is a small island on the gulf side of Thailand known for the beautiful marine life and diving. It isn’t as party-party as the other islands since most people are there for the diving. The whole island is filled with hundreds of dive schools and so I knew this was the perfect place to get my certification. I chose Sairee Cottage Diving based on reading good reviews from a blog + their high-qualitative, medium-sized operation. The course was 3 days and would certify me to dive down to 18 meters.

I also stayed in a cottage at the dive school just to make my life easier. I checked in around 3pm, met my super nice dive instructor from Scotland, dropped off my things, and went straight to exploring Koh Tao. First an early dinner at a yummy restaurant right on the beach front. The views were SO beautiful – I couldn’t believe the island actually looked exactly like the picture-perfect postcards.

After the past few days of roughing it in the jungle + a long day of travel, I opted for a “treat yourself” evening. I did some shopping, got a pedicure, and got a 1-hour oil massage – much more relaxing than the classic Thai massage I got in Chiang Mai πŸ˜›

The evening ended with watching the sunset on Sairee Beach. Oh. My. Goodness. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the most BEAUTIFUL sunset I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’ve never seen so many different colors, stretching out so far and perfectly blended in that way…I immediately felt excited for this next chapter of my trip. Welcome to the islands πŸ™‚

Day 12: Diving course day 1 + relaxing evening

After a good night sleep in my cottage, it was time to start the diving course! I met the 3 other people in my class: a couple from Germany and a guy from Austria traveling with his girlfriend; she also joined us for some “fun dives” later on which added to the fun. The first morning started with a bunch of videos to teach the basics of scuba diving. A pretty stale way to start the course, but it was nice to get the boring stuff out of the way.

The afternoon was spent in the pool. We learned how to set up our scuba equipment and then jumped right in with it. The first few breaths underwater took some getting use to, but eventually felt pretty cool. The air flows into your lungs very easily, and it really opened my perspective of swimming not having to worry about my breath.

We practiced skills like taking our masks on and off underwater, sharing air with each other, hovering underwater by adjusting our buoyancies, how to make emergency ascents, and more. Most of these skills would only be used in emergencies, but it was necessary to practice them as part of the course.

The first day was the longest. I felt pretty comfortable with all the scuba equipment and was definitely excited for our first dive tomorrow! My group grabbed a few beers after class to let off some steam.

Then, it was back to the beach for sunset. I couldn’t stay away given yesterday’s amazing one. It was just as beautiful the second day ❀

I was super beat after our first day of class. I had a solo dinner, watched Ali Wong’s new Netflix special on my iPad, and fell asleep early.

Day 13: Diving course day 2 + eventful hike…+ the trip must go on + partying

We were on the boat by 8am to go for our first dive! On the ride over, I met some other divers doing the other advanced courses. We shared a boat for the day so it felt more social than day 1.

My group huddled together and we started off with some lessons on the boat, going over the material from the videos yesterday. And then it was time for our first dive.

Wow…I will never forget my first dive. It was like being in a scene straight out of Planet Earth. It was the closest I will ever feel to being an astronaut as you are completely weightless underwater and in this whole different world. I’ve always had a weird obsession with fish so swimming one with them was a dream come true. My life will never be the same.

We had lunch on the boat and then went in for dive #2! We practiced the same skills that we learned in the pool the day before, but this time in the open water.

Between carrying the heavy equipment and swimming all day, I was pretty pooped. We finished around 4pm, and despite being a bit tired, I decided to go for a hike. I hadn’t really explored around Koh Tao yet since the diving course took up most of my time, and so I wanted to take advantage of the few hours before sunset to see the scenery around the island.

My dive instructor gave me a recommendation for a hike close by our cottage. I walked an hour up the steep road alone, what a workout!

Then something weird happened.

I was looking for a viewpoint to take some photos, and when I reached one, a local Thai man stopped me and demanded I pay him 40 baht. I refused and questioned why I needed to pay him for a public viewpoint, but he insisted. I felt like something was off…there was no one else there and I didn’t want to enter alone, and so I turned around.

As I was walking, the man kept following me, and I started to get nervous. I ended up stopping the first person person I saw on a motorbike and asked if I could hop on the back for a few kilometers. He was nice enough to let me, and I got away from the sketchy guy.

That was the first time in my life I ever felt unsafe traveling alone…but I shook it off. The trip must go on.

The good thing that came from the experience is that I met a new friend in Koh Tao! The guy who “saved” me was another solo traveller from the Netherlands named Maik. He was also looking for a viewpoint, and so we stuck together to find one. We hit it off right away and chatted nonstop while enjoying the amazing sunset.

Afterwards, Maik drove me down the mountain and we got some dinner together. Then, we headed over to Fishbowl Bar by the recommendation of a friend I met in Pai, and it was SO much fun! They had a fantastic live cover duo and huge bucket drinks. As then night went on, the bar filled with people and was super poppin’! Outside even had a fire show. All we needed was neon paint and it was truly the classic night out partying on the Thailand islands πŸ˜‰

Day 14: Diving course day 3 + hard decisions

I woke up massively hungover. Ugh.

We were back on the boats bright and early. Our first dive I was basically trying to stay alive. Definitely need to remember to not drink before diving in the future πŸ˜›

I felt much better later in the day. Our fourth and final dive was a “fun dive”. We were done with practicing skills and just had a normal dive where we could relax and enjoy the scenery πŸ™‚

Can you tell I like doing the peace sign? πŸ˜›

And just like that…I was open water scuba certified!!! What an amazing experience. I felt so accomplished and will now be certified to dive for the rest of my life. πŸ™‚

My awesome dive instructor πŸ™‚

After we were done, there was an hour or so before sunset, and so I hopped on the back of a motorbike with a friend I met on the beach to see some more spots in Koh Tao. I still felt like I hadn’t seen much of the island yet and so it was nice of him to take me around.

We went to three beautiful lookout points and beaches in the span of an hour. Talk about being efficient.

Aside from the viewpoints, I actually thought the best part was cruising around the island on the back of the bike. Wind in my hair, beautiful sunset, gorgeous views changing left and right. I’m so glad I found friends on this trip who let me on the back of theirs!

Later that night, I met up with Maik again. We caught up on our days and celebrated getting our certifications (he finished the advanced open water course!). We spontaneously hopped into a bar to see a “ladyboy” cabaret show, which Thailand is known for. They were so beautiful and talented!

Then, we found a an outdoor beach bar and chilled over some beers. During drinks, I was talking to Maik about some anxiety I was having about leaving Koh Tao…it was my last night and I was suppose to leave bright and early the next day for Koh Phi Phi, another island on the complete other side of the country. I honestly was not looking forward to spending another whole day traveling, starting over with making friends again, just to say goodbye 3 days later. I felt like my journey on this island wasn’t over yet…and so I VERY last minute made the decision to stay in Koh Tao until the end of my trip.

This was the first time I’ve ever completely deviated from my travel plan. I lost out on some money for things I booked for Koh Phi Phi, but that’s okay. Each step of the trip I’ve been moving things along and leaving cities not fully ready to leave (although looking back, I’m glad that I left each place when I did because it led me to the next adventure). But at this point, with only 3 days left of the trip, relaxing on this island is what would make me truly happy.

I woke up the next morning and sighed a huge breath of relief, completely confident with my decision. Even though I had no place to stay, no flight back to Bangkok, and no plan for the next 3 days, I couldn’t be more at peace. I think the hardest part about solo traveling is being honest with yourself, making these tough decisions, and then living with the consequences. It’s a big growing experience for me, but that’s what solo backpacking is all about :).

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