We spent about five days in Ao Nang/Krabi, and while the trips to islands were beautiful, the town and beach there was trashy, overdeveloped, overcrowded and you could tell the locals were just beat down by rude tourists and in no mood to be nice at all. So when Alvin and Jennifer headed back to the states, we headed off to find a different island base. We went with Koh Lanta – described on a travel review as “The Island for People Who Can’t Decide What They Want”, as in it has waterfalls and caves to hike to, great scuba diving, a little town at one end, a bunch of uncrowded beach, some rocky areas and the occasional all-night beach party. With our travel ADD, it was great for us!
We arrived in a bit of a funk, tired of the trashy overdeveloped, not-quaint-whatsoever cities… and were immediately relieved by the cute little port. We hopped in the back of a pick-up truck that our beach bungalows had sent to pick us up and rode to the other side of the island, where we quickly found the island paradise we had been hunting for!
Complete with idyllic sunsets and hippies practicing their fire dancing and hula hoop skills. (by the way, these photos don’t have filters or anything, its just that gorgeous).
The next day we went in search of where we would take our scuba course. We had thought about doing a one day “fun” dive where you don’t have to be certified, just to see how we liked scuba diving since neither of us had done it. But we quickly agreed “of course we’ll love it” and with our standard go-big-or-go-home attitude, decided to go for the 3-4 day course that gets you a PADI Open Water Diver Certification.
After talking with over a dozen different shops, landed on Phoenix Divers with kind owners and amazing staff from all over the world. We didn’t realize that Koh Lanta (Koh = Island in Thai) has a huge Swedish ex-pat population. Especially in winter when Sweden is getting only 3-4 hours of sunlight a day.
So we were off to studying, we had about 100 pages in a textbook and 3 quizzes to complete before our class started the next morning. Lots of studying, but not a bad place to do it!
The first day of the course we reviewed the theory at the scuba shop with our instructor in the morning, then headed off to a pool to put on the equipment and practice all we had heard about. Basically you’ve read a bit about how it works and what’s supposed to happen, and then you’ve read A LOT about what could go wrong, what you’re supposed to do to prevent it, and what you do when it goes wrong anyway…. And that last part is what you’re practicing in the pool.
This did not go so well for me. Turns out I take things very literally when it comes to life-or-death instructions, and I took things a bit too literally… when the book said “#1 Rule: You must breathe constantly. Never hold your breath”, I did that, which made me feel super uncomfortable breathing from the regulator, and made me want to breathe through my nose which doesn’t work well in scuba because it makes water come into your mask, which means when you breathe through your nose the next time water comes into your nose. Combine that with all of the drills where you lose your mask and have to hang out underwater without it, lose your regulator (thing in your mouth where your air comes from), swim without your mask, swim without your regulator, rescue your buddy who’s lost his air supply, do that while you’ve lost your mask, do backflips while singing the national anthem while underwater without your airsupply, on and on and on. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.
I did not enjoy it. It was like acting out “1,001 Ways To Die” Scuba episode. I was not sure I’d make it the next day when we went out into the ocean. And to add insult to to injury, we had to go home and study three more chapters for about 5 hours!
Fast forward to the next morning and we’re out at the dive location, Koh Bida, I’ve talked myself out of freaking out, but I’m not excited about this adventure. I now know that both Rick and our instructor, Alex, were rather apprehensive that I was going to bail out when we started having to do all of the “ways to die” drills underwater. But as soon as I jumped in, it all disappeared! For once my ADD paid off, and as soon as I looked underwater and saw all of the fish and coral and amazing creatures, I was like “SQUIRREL!”
My distraction by all the cool stuff to see, allowed me to stop overthinking every little thing I was supposed to do, and instead just do it. Even when I managed to breathe in a lungful of sea water during our “lost your mask, swim around” drill – my lack of panic when it happened and completing the exercise despite it, convinced Rick and Alex that I would actually make it as a diver! (what I was actually thinking was “Liz you can’t quit now because if you do, you’ll have to do this whole stupid exercise over again!”)
At Koh Bida we saw a ton of fish! A huge cuttlefish (kinda rare, we were told), stingrays, lion fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, banded sea krait sea snake, lots of more eels. I think my favorites were the dozen different kinds of clown fish playing in the anemones. The funniest thing was when Alex kept signaling us with all of these underwater signs/charade signals, and we had no clue what he was talking about. I keep trying to figure out that drill it means. We get to the surface at the end of the dive and I’m thinking “wow, I must have missed a ton of the drills”. Well turns out each fish has a “scuba signal” and he was just telling us what to look at! Some of them are quite humorous… like the one for grouper… here’s a hint it includes groping yourself 🙂
We weren’t able to bring our camera with us, even though it’s waterproof because it only goes to about 45 feet and we were diving deeper than that. So these pics aren’t ours, just a few from Wikipedia to give you an idea what it looked like.
The next day was the last day of our course, went to Koh Haa. We successfully passed all of our drills and exams – YEA!! I finally got that you don’t really have to breathe in and out constantly, and got really stinkin’ good at the buoyancy stuff, so I could control all of my vertical movement with my breath. Apparently I’m really good at managing my air supply, too. I would come with almost double the air supply left that Rick had.
Rick loved scuba diving! But not so great at the air management. He was so excited to see everything around him that he was sorta spazzy and flitting all over the place. Our instructor kept motioning to him “slow, slow”, “calm, calm”. So a little work to do there.
We got do to more fun diving on this day than the previous, including going into an underwater cave sort of. Sign language is a big deal underwater when you can’t talk to each other.
We wanted to go for another day of diving to one of the best sites in Thailand that was very close to where we were staying, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, known for whale sharks and giant manta rays. But the weather was too rough, so no trips were going. So we’ll have to get our first “officially certified” dive in somewhere else – Africa? South America? We’re taking recommendations!
We spent the next few days enjoying our beach front bungalow and exploring the island. A very relaxing way to close out our time in Asia.