Posts Tagged ‘diving’

After Khao Lak

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Singapore night

I had planned to complete the season in Khao Lak and from Christmas onwards I dived pretty much every day. While doing so I applied for instructor jobs anywhere in the world with sunny weather and warm water. One of the multitude of  applications finally paid off and I was offered a full-time permanent position at a 5-star resort in Indonesia, starting early in March. It was too good to turn down so I set off from Khao Lak a few days before the end of February.

First stop was Pulau Tioman in Malaysia to sample the diving there. I flew from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur and took a bus to Mersing. Mersing is rather like Pakse in Laos; there is no good reason to go there except to go somewhere else. Bus and ferry timetables meant staying the night. While out and about I got a lot of hard, unfriendly stares from the locals, especially the men. The town did nothing to redeem itself  on the culinary front, offering some of the worst food I’ve encountered while travelling. At least it wasn’t bugs on sticks and didn’t result in a day spent sitting on the toilet. Riverside Hotel was cleanish and functional but not particularly cheap.

The diving season in Tioman was just getting started when I arrived and only some hotels and dive centres were actually open and operating. I stayed at Babura Seaview in Tekek and dived with Tioman Dive Centre which was right next door. The hotel was cleaner and cheaper than that in Mersing and the room was more comfortable but with garish green walls. I didn’t have an ocean front room but could hear the sea from it anyway. Visibility on the dives wasn’t great, mostly around 8m, but the corals were pretty and there were plenty of fish. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable and I enjoyed the six dives I did with them. The food in Tioman still wasn’t great but it was better than in Mersing.

A ferry and bus got me from Tioman to Singapore in a little under nine hours. While there I got a visa for Indonesia, visited a friend from my round the world trip, went to a dentist, and did some sightseeing and shopping. I left with a new camera and underwater housing, that Christmas present I kind of promised myself last November. It wasn’t the one I had planned to get; I got bamboozled by the salesman, but it will do for starters. There are some fishy pics which I have taken since over at Flickr.

From Singapore to Bali was a short flight. The planned one night in Kuta (kind of like Koh Tao but in Indonesia) turned into three since I got bumped from the floatplane which covered the final leg of the journey to Moyo.

Koh Tao friends

Friday, February 1st, 2013

I miss these guys’n’gals – friends and colleagues at Big Blue Diving on Koh Tao.

Back by popular demand

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

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.?