Octopus' Garden

From Bangkok we took a cheap overnight bus and a ridiculously freezing boat trip to the northenmost of Southern Thailand's holiday islands, Ko Tao. Ko Tao is famous for scuba diving, as it is surrounded by dive sites with coral reefs and tropical fish, and it is the cheapest place in the world to learn to dive (except for the Maldives). Aside from the diving theme, the island is generally laid back and funky, with lots of resorts and bars on the beach, without being too crowded with tourists.

We managed to land ourselves in a very nice resort with a gorgeous pool for a very reasonable price. After a lot of hard backpacking, we spent our first couple of days just relaxing and dipping in the pool.

After a couple of days we decided that, given how cheap it is here, we might as well learn how to scuba dive. We had not learned many new skills during our travel and this one was very tempting. We did a quick trial session in the pool first, and although is was strange breathing underwater, we didn't feel too awkward. So we signed up for a course and managed to get an instructor just for the two of us, a very friendly Scotsman named Neil.

We did an Open Water course, which allows us to dive down to 18 metres anywhere in the world. During our course we did 4 dives in the ocean near Ko Tao, which was a spectacular experience. We saw all different types of coral, schools of colourful fishes, eels and stingrays. It is amazing just how much is going on in a small space in tropical waters; it's possible to see thousands of fish (of a dozen different varieties) at once! We liked it so much we also did 4 more dives after we finished our course. One problem we encountered was that the seas were occasionally rough and this made our diving boat rock around a little bit more than we were comfortable with! Otherwise, the experience was extremely positive and rewarding.

We spent a few days relaxing on the beaches, which were absolutely lovely. We motorcycled out to one more remote beach which was very quiet and beautifully surrounded by cliffs. The beach near our accomodation was more lively and interesting, with fire-twirlers demonstrating their very impressive skills most nights, and dozens of funky places to have a drink, a meal and watch a movie whilst the sea lapped against the sand in the background.

One day we borrowed some snorkelling gear from the dive shop and swum out a hundred metres from the main beach and we were astounded to see a great deal of interesting fish and coral in water only a couple of metres deep. We saw a group of hundreds of fish of four different varieties frantically buzzing around, eating coral and quickly moving on together. Also, Georgia managed to get a Damsel fish to bite her on the toe, making her scream loudly enough to be easily heard on the beach!

2007 rolled into 2008 whilst we were on Ko Tao, so for New Year's we had a candle lit dinner right on the beach (the waves lapped against the table legs) and then we danced on the beach well into the morning, with fireworks blasting all around. It was a really fun night and great to hear some decent electronic music after hearing nothing but Asian pop for too many months. After ten days, we decided we had better move on or we might get stuck here (our dive instructor came for a short holiday - eight years ago!) Also, the prospect of potentially better weather on the East side of Thailand appealed to us after not once seeing a decent sunset. So, we got a ticket across to Ko Lanta, and left the glorious island of Ko Tao on the night boat.

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