Back by popular demand

Many people have asked why my blog has been silent the last few months. Some ask where I am and what I am and have been doing. One has been particularly persistent in the “Why aren’t you blogging?” department.

“Where” is easy to answer: Koh Tao, a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand about half a days travel from Bangkok. It is the most northerly of a group of three islands, the others being Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui. All three are firmly established on the backpacker trail through Thailand and SE Asia with about half a million visitors each year.

“What” is also easy: people mostly come here to dive; that’s why I came here last year and why I returned in April. There are about 50 dive schools on the island. There are two main certifying agencies in the dive world, in alphabetical order they are PADI and SSI. Both are well represented on Koh Tao. The largest dive school here is reputed to issue about a quarter of all the new PADI Open Water diver certifications in the world every year.

So I’ve been diving, and pretty much every day for the last six months. There has also been some yoga, meditation, watching sunsets and a two-week trip to Minneapolis. There hasn’t been any dancing. People, usually drunk people, have been known to shuffle about in bars playing too loud music shortly before passing out and falling over, or falling off their rented motorbikes on their way home. There’s a club which hosts monthly parties with international DJs and “dancing” which might appeal to anyone missing their last trip to Ibiza or needing to “throw some shapes”. But there is no proper, partner dancing. Or if there is it’s a well kept secret no-one has shared with me. This is the one real downside to being here.

The diving has been great. For the first couple of months I was mostly a virtual DMT (dive master trainee) with Big Blue, the school I used last year. There is a glut of dive masters on Koh Tao. There aren’t a huge number of permanent DM positions and competition for them is intense. There are more freelance dive masters than there is work for them all. As a freelancer I might have dived (and got paid to do it) once or twice a week if I was lucky. As a virtual DMT I got to dive every day (but for no pay). For me the trade-off was worth it.

In July I did the PADI IDC (instructor development course) with Bans Diving Centre. There are many times more jobs advertised worldwide for SCUBA instructors than there are for dive masters. Afterwards I completed an SSI instructor crossover with Big Blue so now I can teach both PADI and SSI courses, roughly doubling the number of opportunities open to me. Remember how I said there are more freelance dive masters than there is work for them? Well the same is true here for freelance instructors. And the dive schools keep turning out more new instructors every month.

I’ve taught a mixture of PADI and SSI open water, advanced open water, speciality and rescue courses and racked up a reasonable number of certifications. As we approach November the monsoon is just about starting, bringing strong currents, poor visibility and of course lots of rain for the next few weeks. People say Koh Tao is a pretty miserable place to be and to dive during the monsoon. Lots of the dive shops send their boats away for maintenance, some close down completely and re-open in December. Many of the freelancers leave and seek work elsewhere. One of their favourite destinations is the Andaman Sea west coast of Thailand. Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Khao Lak are the top three diving resorts for the November to April season. The Similan Islands national park is open during this period and there are numerous live-aboard and day trip operators needing staff. The diving in the Similans is reputed to be much better than in Koh Tao. I like the diving here and think it’s pretty good so it should be spectacular over there.

A couple of days ago I had my best day of diving so far: three dives with a whale shark at Chumphon pinnacle. I’m looking forward to being blown away by the west coast diving. Tonight I’ll be leaving for Khao Lak. There I will find a well paying job involving a mixture of live-aboard and day trip diving, dive mastering and instructing, and avoid the east coast monsoon. I might even blog about it.

Happy now, N.?

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6 Responses to “Back by popular demand”

  1. Christine says:

    Glad to hear you’re happy with your new ‘passion’. I too had been wondering where you were.

    Good Luck and enjoy every day.

    Christine

    • Mark says:

      Thanks, Christine. Where are you getting your tango fixes these days?

      • Christine says:

        We were in BsAs for Easter 2012 but haven’t got plans to return at the moment.
        In Europe we love the summer Italian tango festivals: culture, food, wonderful weather and tango. We’re also fitting in a few weekend trips to El Corte (Nijmegen).
        We’re lucky to have some lovely dance weekends in the New Forest and Devon too.

        So tango life here isn’t too bad, even when it’s hard to afford the long trip to BA.

        • Mark says:

          It seems wrong somehow to be jealous of people at “home” who get to go dancing regularly while I’m gallivanting around the world but I do miss dancing. Oh well, it’ll still be there when I get another chance to indulge…

          I have another friend who likes the dancing at Nijmegen. I can also recommend the Istanbul Tango Ritual and it’s probably not too late to book for this year – 14-18 November, details at http://www.istangoritual.org/

          • Christine says:

            Thanks Mark, I’ve just found out that a couple of friends are visiting the festival so will find out more – it looks good. Some very nice teachers too, we particularly enjoy Mario and Anabella.

            You’re right about dancing always being there and I’m sure, when the time is right, you’ll be back.

          • Mark says:

            Enjoy Istanbul if you go :-)

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