Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Koh Tao, Thailand

I'm now in Thailand, on the small island of Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand. The island is only a couple of miles on a side, so you can walk most places pretty easily---although most people who live here have motorcycles for getting around. They don't really have much respect for pedestrians, either, but I think that's par for the course in Southeast Asia.

Anyway, I got into Bangkok a week ago, and it was pretty crazy---I stayed in a simple room that cost less than $7, and slept on the hardest mattress that I've ever seen. Well, actually, I had to lie there for a few hours before I could fall asleep---I think it was a combination of the mattress, jetlag, and the heat in Bangkok, since it doesn't cool off much at night.

I decided to get out of Bangkok and head down to Koh Tao, so on Wednesday, I caught an overnight train from Bangkok to Chumphon, where I got a boat to Koh Tao. It was the first time that I had ridden in a sleeper car, so that was cool, but again I didn't get too much sleep, this time because the train got to Chumphon at 4 in the morning.

Koh Tao is really beautiful; I'm staying about a minute's walk from an awesome beach, and the island is completely covered in trees. There's lots of palm trees, of course, but not the retarded kind that you find in California---the trees here actually give you shade and their fronds aren't nearly so deadly when they fall down. Of course, you do have to watch out for coconuts...

The most exciting part about Koh Tao, though, is the scuba diving! I started working on my PADI open-water certification as soon as I got here, and I finished on Sunday. Of course, that only took three-and-a-half days and it only involved four open water dives, so I had to do some more; now I'm working on my advanced certification. It's probably a good thing that I'm leaving on Thursday; otherwise I might spend way too much money on diving... Hey, at least everything is cheaper here, right? (It was so nice going from Scotland to Thailand, from a country where I rarely spent less than $20 on dinner to one where you can get a great meal for under $3.)

The diving has been lots of fun... The water here is warm and clear, and it's amazing how many fish you can see. On one of our dives, we even got to watch a hawksbill turtle feed from the reef for a few minutes. He didn't seem to mind us at all, just kept eating away.

We also see tons of jellyfish here. There are these tiny clear ones that end up all over the beach; they're not bad, since they don't sting, but it is a creepy feeling when you swim through a bunch of them and feel them brushing against your skin. Today, though, during our deep dive (to 30m), we ran into a bunch of jellyfish near the surface that did sting. They were actually a lot prettier than the other kind, but I ended up getting stung 3 or 4 times before I was able to reach the boat. Sure, it was somewhat painful, but the pain wears off pretty quickly.

Tonight, we're going to do a night dive, and hopefully we'll get to see some bioluminescence (but no more jellyfish!). We'll do two dives tomorrow, and I'll be done with the advanced certification. On Thursday, I'll catch the boat and train back to Bangkok, where I'll meet up with Daina; then it's off to Myanmar on Sunday!


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