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SCUBA Diving in Thailand, Take 2

In hunt of the elusive Whale Shark

sunny

After a few days at Bottle Beach, my head/chest cold was almost gone. And I felt confident enough to go diving within the next couple of days. (Can't dive with sinus issues.)

Along with 14 other tourists, we headed over to Chaloklum Bay -- a small and, at times, beautiful fishing village on the north side of Koh Phangan. We booked two dives with Chaloklum Diving at the famous site Sail Rock.

We didn't bring our cameras, so here's someone else's photo. Thanks Brianlegg.

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Sail Rock is an intimidating (to the novice diver) pinnacle that rises out of the Gulf of Thailand between Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. It's often hailed as some of the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand as the sides of the rock are coated in all kinds of coral, soft sponges and clams and lots of fish hang out there. A divemaster at Chaloklum called it "fish soup out there." Most divers come to Sail Rock in hopes of seeing the elusive whale sharks that often hang out near the rock. According to our divemaster, the whale shark enjoys "scratching his back" on one of the pinnacles. There's also a chimney, or hole within the rock, that divers can swim up from 18 m and exit at 10 m.

After about an hour on the boat, we reached Sail Rock. It was pretty intense, seeing this giant rock just looming in the middle of the ocean. But our instructor, Kris, a French girl with a heavy accent, was a no nonsense kind of instructor. Into our suits and equipment and into the water we went, leaving me little time to change my mind about going under.

We snorkelled over to the rock and prepared to descend. But as I looked down into the water, checking my mask's seal, I could see incredibly far down. I could see the bubbles from the other divers below floating up. "That looks awesome," Avery said. I did not feel the same way. I fiddled with my mask for what seemed like forever until I had built the courage to deflate my BC vest. I gave Kris the okay symbol, pressed the deflate button and down we sunk.

This is the worst part of the dive for me. First, I'm trying to control my breathing. Secondly, I'm trying to control my body's urge to swim for the surface. It's amazing how loud those primitive survival instincts can be. And thirdly, I get all anxious about letting too much or not enough air out of my BC, causing a nasty crash into the coral below.

But then, I stop sinking. I get my breathing under control. And I have that wonderful sensation one gets from having a dream about flying. I'm suspended in the water, watching the fish swim by. Then I flop over on my stomach and kick in long, slow sweeps. I listen to the air leave my regulator, fill my lungs, then watch the bubbles float up as I exhale. SCUBA diving is truly wonderful once one gets the hang of it.

So anyway, we descend, slowly circling the massive rock that grows even larger under the water. Though the visibility is shit (only 5-7 meters), it's still amazing. Their is life all around us. Sail Rock is covered with the most beautiful coral and sponges. We saw quite a few maroon clown fish families swimming the anemones on the rock as well.

We continued to circle the rock, heading further and further under the surface. I'm not sure how many times I had to equalize my ears. But I remember it was a lot. We eventually got down to 18 meters.

While farther from the surface, we met up with three divers who were intently staring at the coral on the rock. We turned to see what they were staring at. There, on the surface of the coral, a yellow moray eel moved across the coral, sweeping along like a snake in S-shaped movements.

Avery, Kris and I just watched it as it moved, opening and closing its mouth to allow the water to pass over its gills. Despite being so far under the water, the eel's colour was bright like a ripe banana. (FUN FACT: This was actually a green moray eel, but they have a mucous coating that gives them the yellow color!) Moray eels are the only sea creatures that truly creep me out. I'd rather encounter a shark than an eel. I thought that if I ever encountered one while diving, I would surely swim away, thinking about how the bite from a moray eel will fester for weeks because their mouths are absolutely filthy, full of bacteria.

Example given (Thanks Cameron Park Zoo for the photo):

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But, in that moment, all I could do was stare in wonder and amazement at this creature wiggling before me. I wasn't afraid, just in awe. Granted, this was a really small eel. If it had been a full grown adult, I'm sure I would have kicked my ass all the way to Koh Tao. Anyway...

We also saw a lot of beautiful schooling fish around the rock, like banner fish, barracuda, huge batfish, and, oh yes, the triggerfish. Before the dive, Kris warned us about the territorial triggerfish that hang out at Sail Rock. They can get very large and can be very aggressive. If you're diving and see a triggerfish on your right and a reef shark on your left, swim to the left. Triggerfish bite. Hard.

So at least five times while we were diving, Kris would give us the hand signal for triggerfish, which is, you guessed it, like shooting a gun. Then we would flip on our backs and swim backwards with our fins kicking pointing at the triggerfish. This way, he would bite our fins instead of our bodies.

That got annoying real fast. Every time we would see something cool on the reef, it seemed like a stupid triggerfish would swim our way, and we'd have to swim away. Damn triggerfish. But a quick Google search reveals the fish do attack recreational divers quite often. Oof. Terrifying. Those suckers are huge. Here's a picture, compliments of Ze Eduardo:

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And here's a video of a triggerfish attack.

And, alas, no whale shark sightings that day. But it was still an amazing experience. We did two 40-minute dives that day. After that second dive, I decided I really enjoy it. I hear there are some good sites in Vietnam, so I'm really looking forward to being able to do it again!

I also got a wicked wetsuit tan that shows no sign of disappearing...sigh.

Over and out.

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 04:44 Archived in Thailand Tagged fish diving thailand scuba scuba_diving reef phangan coral koh_tao koh_phangan moray_eel whale_shark sail_rock Comments (2)

Half Moon, Full Stomachs

Adventures on the island of Koh Phangan: scooters, moldy bungalows, water buffaloes, oh mY!

sunny 82 °F

Ah, it's been too long! I promise to get better at writing regularly. I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading people's reactions to my writings. It's fun to get some feedback rather than spewing into journal pages. So thanks for the comments. I appreciate it.

So where to start? We've done so much since I last wrote in Koh Tao. Can you bare with me through a longer post? I know blogs are supposed to be quick and to the point because readers have such short attention spans. But, really...would you rather be entering data into spreadsheets or reading my long travel rants? ;)

I struggle with balancing the lyrical prose I love so much with the straight itinerary that people want to hear. I'm not sure what's a happy medium. More guts, less flower? More description? I'll have to test this.

Empty Moon

We arrived on Koh Phangan, the site of the (in)famous Full Moon Party, on January 11 -- three days after the FMP. We weren't too disappointed by this. We actually planned it that way. Avery and I are feeling like curmudgeons these days. :p But we went to Haad Rin beach, site of the FMP, anyway.

The beach is stunning. Meters of beautiful, white sand. The waves were moving nicely that day, so Avery and I did some body surfing. Good times. I think I'm beginning to tolerate the taste of saltwater. Just barely.

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After the beach, we ate some food, watched a cam-copy of The Hangover 2 at the bar and just hang out. Really laid back. It was pretty dead in the town as the FMP partiers had left just days before.

We also had our first "bucket" there. The party buckets of Thailand are famous for their potency and often mysterious contents. Lots of stories of people "not drinking that much, I swear" then waking up in some strange place without their shoes or wallets. We bought ours from nice Thai ladies down the street from the beach. They have the buckets ready with a variety of ingredients. Someone can easily get a giant Johnnie Walker mixer for less than $15. Awesome. But we chose the Sangsom, mixed with Coke and Thai Red Bull. According to a slightly intoxicated bartender at Baan Thai, the Red Bull here is made by big pharma and is rumored to have amphetamines. Huh. Avery fell asleep after drinking a full bottle of the stuff though. Bad batch or are Americans immune to insane amounts of caffeine and whatnot?

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Bad Times in Baan Thai

Then we headed NW to Baan Thai. Our (locally produced) guide book said BT had miles of uninterrupted white sandy beach. Breathtaking. Coconut plantations. You'll love it.

Actually, BT is the only place on KPN with lady (go-go) bars and has the dirtiest water of the island...but with spectacular views of Koh Samui!

The taxi from Haad Rin took us to a place called Pink's. We weren't really feeling the place though as we were the only ones in the restaurant area who did not smell of patchouli or have dreads. :p So we walked...in the head and humidity. For way too long. It was terrible. There were no sidewalks. With our packs on, we looked like angry, sweaty, lost turtles trying to avoid the scooters and Jeeps. It was embarrassing.

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Finally, we got to a place called Phangan Beach Resort. It was a little overpriced (600 Baht), but it had a pool! And a private beach! AND HAMMOCKS! So we were sold. Well, they say it for a reason, looks can be deceiving.

So yeah, we check in. And it starts to sprinkle. Boo. But we were determined, but mostly bored. We decided to walk to Thong Sala, just "down the road" as Avery and I say way too often for it to be true. We walk past the notorious lady bars, which aren't that notorious really after one's been to Soi Cowboy in Bangkok. We walked past the fabled "Food Factory." We consulted our map at least 22 times. And then, just as we were about to reach the night market filled with all kinds of cheap goodies, the rain lets us have it. Just freaking pours all tropical typhoon style on us. So I wrote this:

On our way to the Saturday night market in Thong Sala, the tropical rain started. First, it was a sprinkle. And then all of the Thais pulled out their umbrellas. The street vendors began to cover their stalls. Then it poured. Heavy and fast, unlike rain I've ever seen before. This has been my first experience with getting caught in the tropical style rain. The kind characterized by the fat, wet drops that quickly soak through every layer of clothing, kissing your skin with a surprisingly warm wetness. It doesn't take long before one's whole body is dripping.

Now Avery and I sit under the tin shelter of some closed outdoor market. That stench I remember from Bangkok is drifting up from the concrete. Smells of urine mixed with the scents of the street vendors' wares and a hint of the tropical rain's sweetness. "I don't know if this is going to quit," Avery says.

Some wet, unhappy tourists walk by, cloaked in plastic ponchos. Despite the downpour, life goes on. Thais on scooters, squinting through the rain still ride the streets. Street vendors pull down plastic sheets and continue to sell their items: raw slabs of meat, noodles, sandwiches. Life goes on.

Except for the two lonely Americans, who are afraid of the tropical storms. We're still sitting on the curb, afraid to leave the relative safety and comfort provided by this overhang.

How long will we wait? There's no sign of it letting up.

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  • * Aw, thanks for letting me wax poetic there. I just finished Steinbeck's East of Eden, and the way he describes places BLOWS me away. Was hoping to channel some of that in the rain.

We eventually bought some very touristy plastic ponchos from the grocery store across the street from our hideout, got overcharged by a taxi and made it to our bungalow.

Then Avery and I were faced with a new situation: No TV, no Internet, it's raining...What the hell do we do now? Well, Boyscout Avery fashioned two lovely cups out water bottles (cut off the tops). And we filled those makeshift cups with Sangsom and Coke. Woo! No ice. :( But it was still a party. Then we made shadow puppets. Apparently we revert to childhood games when screens aren't around. Who knew? We also took some incriminating pictures of each other. Avery, please don't put that weird lip picture of me on the Internet. Much obliged. But your photos are free domain. ;) Snooze you lose!

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Next day, we're all like "guidebook lied!" :( And the next town is a 40 minute walk away! :( So what do we do? Rent a scooter of course! It really is the best way to get around Koh Phangan. Just be sure to take a picture of any scratches, dents, whatever before you rent it. Otherwise, you might get charged when you return it. Even if you didn't do it. And avoid riding in places like the "Hill of Tears" in Haad Rin. I'm guessing there's a few stories behind that nickname.

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I let Avery do all the driving because I didn't want him to feel emasculated. He also didn't want to me to drive. Weird, right? I'm guessing this might have something to do with the time I made him go on the Zipper ride at the MN State Fair...ok, this is a funny story. SEGUE

So Avery is not an amusement park/ride kind of guy. And I am. To the core. It's ridiculous. So we're at the MN State Fair, and I'm like, "Dude, come on. It's the Zipper. It's awesome." He won't budge. Peer pressure always wins in the end though, so away we go.

Standing in line: "So what does thing do anyway?" Avery asks.
"You've never watched it before?"
"No."
"Oh." And at this point, I'm thinking oh shit. He is going to kill me.

So the carnie locks us in the cage, and Avery is not talking to me. Won't look at me -- just staring silently ahead. "Okay, now when we get moving, we have to rock it hard forward to get it to spin."

Avery doesn't want to spin it. And I'm thinking, well, it's going to spin with or without me rocking it, hun. But I just nod. Smile. Nod. So we start going, and it's doing it's Zipper thing. Then we get to the top. It's about to enter its first 360 turn. I lean in. "Okay, we gotta lean into it Avery! We have to rock it!"

And I'm putting all 110 pounds of me into this cage when Avery cries out, "Don't rock it Sam! Don't rock it."

And then I feel so guilty. Incredibly guilty. Like guiltier than kicking a blind puppy guilty. Because Avery looks like he is about to die. Or maybe he already did, because he hasn't moved since the ride started. So you know how the Zipper is, it's going to turn anyway. That's what it does. It zips. So we fly forward; my head is hitting the top; my knuckles are white and hands clenched around the front. We flip. Then I feel that evasive high that only comes around so often. The kind of high that people get when they're wondering if this is their last moment, but they're having so much damn fun that it doesn't matter. And I laugh. I laugh this terrible blood curdling, Wicked Witch of the West mixed with Alvin and the Chipmunks laugh, as the cage is spinning wildly in circles. As I'm feeling this adrenaline rush, I look over at Avery, who lets out a faintly audible "Hahaha." Then closes his eyes.

So we survive. And after I've bought him some fries, and he's finally talking to me again, I ask, "You couldn't have hated it that much. I saw you laughing."
To which he replies, "I was laughing at you." And then he adds that I pretty much freaked him out. When I look back at it, that was not the laugh of a man having a good time. It was the "Oh God, I'm dating a monster...what have I done?" laugh.

SOOOO...I think when Avery thought of me driving the scooter, he then imagined me cackling as we swerved down some Haad Rin hill, nearly missing a water buffalo and crashing into a palm tree.

And I digress.

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I was going to add some more, but I think this blog post is long enough. And the mosquitoes are out. I'll add the other stories in later...

Sam

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 02:58 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach fun sun scooters koh phangan Comments (2)

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