Koh Tao is very nice. I expected a tourist nightmare a’la Ao Nang in Krabi, but Tao is not like that all. Despite the (over-)development, the island has its chilled atmosphere and charm. The main local attraction is naturally diving, as Koh Tao is the second biggest diving spot in the world after all. Dive shops are everywhere offering all kind of courses ranging from no-certificate diving to free diving. Snorkeling is another option and for that you do not even need to go further the nearest beach, as spectacular marine world with its corals and funky fish begins only 10 meters from the shore line. Hopefully further development won’t destroy the corals, as it happened in other parts of Thailand (eg. Railay beach in Krabi). Partying is another attraction here. Something goes on every night and globetrotting DJs visit the island on a regular basis. Cagedbaby played while I was here, but it was rather nothing special. Just a house producer spinning tunes. Unlike in Had Rin Koh Tao party scene has no messy touch, but is rather tidy and chilled.
Scandinavians dominate the island. Swedes take the top spot, you hear Swedish and see blonde people literally everywhere. Many Norwegians and Finnish too. I went to a dinner with Jussi and Mirka to Intouch (the restaurant popular among Finns) and a Thai (!) waiter after hearing us speaking Finnish asked me where I was from, as I was obviously was not Finnish judging by my accent. Amazing.
I spent a total of 9 days on Koh Tao completely losing track of time. In fact I realized that it had been 9 days only during the check-out. I did not see or do much. Stayed the entire time on Sairee Beach. Did a PADI Open Water diving course, some snorkeling and a swim to Nang Yuan island (saved 100 ba for the island entry fee too!). That’s how far my achievements go. I did not meet many people too, apart from old friends and youngsters from the diving course. It was nice for a change to hang out with people 10 years younger than myself. A different perspective and all that.
If current plans are to believe, Koh Tao seems to end the beach phase. Next stop is Bangkok, Venice of East.
ALL RUMORS ARE TRUE. Scuba diving is as amazing as they portrait it. The moment you go under the water and realize that hey I can actually breathe here is pure bliss. A little bit of trivia first. What is common between rock climbing, scuba diving and meditation? The answer is that all three put your right in the moment of HERE and NOW. Meditation achieves it through a patient and diligent practice. Slow, but the most effective way in the long term. Rock climbing does its magic by its sheer intensity. When you look for a next pocket hanging on a 10 meter cliff, there is no opportunity to be lost in thoughts. As for scuba diving, once you go under the water, body sensations become so apparent so you cannot ignore them. It puts you right in touch with your body and makes you aware that actually is going on inside it. Most people are not aware of their breathing in the daily life (are you now?), but underwater there is no way you can dismiss it. Same with tactile sensations, the resistance of water and differences in water temperature create such profound body sensations that you cannot help but to observe them. Plus every sensation you perceive is so vastly different: light, sound, gravity and tactile feelings. No room to be lost in thought here either.
Tropical marine flora and fauna is beautiful here on Ko Tao and as PADI course material states in 10 minutes spent underwater you see more wildlife than in 10 hours in a forest. So true. It is like Finding Nemo, but only in real life. Fish of all colours, shapes and sizes in various flavours of funkiness. Eye-candy all the way. I did scuba diving in a pool in Finland once before and the instructor praised diving conditions in Finland and downplayed diving in tropical countries. His reasoning was that there is so little to see in Finland, so if you see a barrel or something along those lines, you will remember it for the rest of your life. Hmm.. I guess they have to make money somehow.
As for more material remarks, it pays off to shop for the best price at least here in Ko Tao. I paid 9500 baht for the course lured by an online deal, which gave me 300 baht off if I booked it in advance. That includes four nights accommodation. Upon my arrival here, I realized that I could have done it considerably cheaper and with more perks included. The lowest price I saw was around 8000 baht. Two British guys who I did a course with paid 9000 each and that included 6 nights accommodation, free breakfast and one free dive. Same company, same course, just a different deal. I eventually managed to blag free breakfast coupons using the standard “but they told me” technique. Well, at least I had a chance to successfully apply social engineering skills in action. And one last thing, the Finnish Ko Tao Divers appears to be unproportionally expensive comparing to other diving shops. No accommodation included in the price and they even charge for the obligatory PADI material separately. Seems to be the case of paying premium only because it is Finnish.