Koh Tao is full of great dive sites for scuba divers of all abilities: the shallow coral bays of Japanese Gardens and Mango Bay where reef sharks frequently hang out, night diving in White Rock with turtles and hunting giant barracuda, deep diving in Chumphon where whale sharks have been spotted recently, and exploring the newly instated WWII Sattakut wreck.
We gained our sea legs this week with Big Blue Diving, a school that has a relaxed friendly approach to teaching you the basics and getting you out there to explore the sites. After completing the 4 day SSI Open Water certification with 4 dives, we immediately signed up for the Advanced Adventurer course to get 5 more dives in over 2 days with the same instructors Kevin and Rich. The Advanced course teaches you the specialities of deep diving, wreck diving, navigation, night diving with limited visibility and the art of perfect buoyancy. With just 3 in our group for the Advanced, with 2 instructors we were spoiled and could be shown lots of wildlife including camouflaged scorpion fish, swimming blue-spotted stingray, white-eyed moray eels and territorial titan triggerfish. We even found Nemo timidly hovering above some sea anemones before ducking to safety.
After learning the basics of responsible diving and protecting the sea life, breathing effectively underwater (sip the air, don’t be Darth Vader), assembling the kit and communicating with hand signals (warning: thumbs up for ‘ok’ results in beer fines!), we set out for our first open water dive. Here are a few highlights:
1) Diving down vertically next to a steep coral ridge to 30m, swimming through schools of juvenile golden trevally into darkness.
2) Cracking eggs open at 25m down to see how pressure affects them. Three golden wobbling spheres floated around us, sifting through our fingers before an opportunistic fish swallowed them in big greedy gulps. Then spotting a naked diver down at the wreck, swimming free on his 100th dive.
3) Navigating through the coral in the dark armed with a small torch, with silver bubbles framing every glance and flashes of pink and white fins in my peripheral vision. Watching the monstrous giant orange sea cucumbers pulsing across the sand and a blue spotted stingray flap by in hunt for food. Cancelling out our torch light and waving our free hand in front, stirring up the luminous phosphorescent particles similar to Avatar.
4) Ascending to the surface slowly and rising towards daylight, watching the waves rocking as the world slowly comes into watery focus and feeling the bubbles of other people’s regulators tickling your skin. Listening to the eery echo of boat engines rumbling on the surface which burst into your ears as you break through the surface.
5) Mango Bay delivered us a fantastic first dive filled with colourful parrotfish, moon wrasse, the goofy-looking red-breasted wrasse, paired angel fish and long-finned banner fish. At Japanese Gardens a school of yellow-tailed barracuda fish swam with us, flitting in unison to surround us for a few minutes before disappearing into the blue once more.
6) During our last dive, a curious striped remora (a small black fish which usually hitches a ride with sharks) latched on to my arm, leg, then my oxygen cylinder for the duration of the dive. We also spotted a speckled giant grouper fish with a protruding lower lip hovered in a huge barrel sponge which looked like a gramophone speaker.
7) We saw how the light spectrum changed as you dived deeper, with reds altering at 30m to become more green/blue, but returning to red under torch light.
8) The colourful blue, orange and pink Christmas tree worms on the coral that sucked themselves away when you click your fingers nearby. Hovering above them and making them hide suddenly was very entertaining.
9) Performing loop-de-loops and feats upside down at the buoyancy playground near Twins Rock, where there are hoops to swim through and giant octopus legs to glide between, along with more games to improve your hovering skills underwater.
10) Having an underwater horse race in pairs on the sandy bottom (no sea horses involved)!