Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ko Tao

We flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then took a train down to Chumphon where caught a ferry to Ko Tao in the morning. Yes, the trip was as long as it sounds, and unfortunately it was made even longer by the fact that our train suffered from “engine broke” on the way there.
Ko Tao is a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand that has become a Mecca for those seeking dive instruction on the cheap. Evidence of its growing popularity, all of the accommodation on the main beach was booked when we arrived, so we headed to the south bay. We rented some basic garden bungalows and immediately got down to business. We arrived to the island around 2:00 and by 4:30 Gil was watching his first PADI dive instruction video and Jen and her parents were sharing a Chang beer in a gazebo looking out at the sea.

Gil’s PADI course was a success and he was rewarded on the final day with sightings of a whale shark! This majestic creature swam directly at him and even nudged him a bit with his tail. The visibility could have been better, but he also saw plenty of corals, brightly colored fish and, of course, tons of other freshly certified divers!

The weather was overcast and the sea was choppy, but that didn’t stop the rest of us from spending our days relaxing on the beach. Our favorite spot was Shark Bay, which luckily has been protected from the rampant overdevelopment occurring on other parts of the island. On our last day, we did a bit of snorkeling and true to its name, several reef sharks circled as soon as we reached the deeper water. Reef sharks are supposedly harmless, but it still gets your heart racing to see them a couple of meters away from you!

We also rented motorbikes, which allowed us to get around on the island’s few paved roads. We took them out to the cliffs to check out views of the small twin islands to the northeast of Ko Tao and Jen’s Dad braved the potholed dirt roads out to one of the more isolated bays in the east one morning. It was a fun way to scoot around and we only had a couple of minor mishaps…
All in all we had a wonderful time, but we sincerely hope that the island gets its act together and starts to invest some of the money its making off of the influx of tourists to construct a much needed water treatment systems. They could also use some stricter land use regulations, as the beach in the south bay has all but been swallowed up by the ever growing hotel and bungalow operations. Of course, the reefs will need better protections too, especially given the growing numbers of people diving in this relatively small area each day.


jotty said...

Yeah Gil, you are certified! Nice, we'll have to do some dive vacations together in the future. Cool you saw a whale shark- one of my favorites!
Miss you both,

Mat said...

Congrats on getting your PADI Gil!!

when can we plan some caribean dives in Central America ?? There are some whale shakrs there too, and many of the other types.

You should get your Advanced level in Oz ;) at that rate you'll be a dive master before you get back to the west coast.
enjoy the rest of your trip