Tuesday, July 08, 2008 Thailand Thailand

Scuba diving

Diving [Enlarge]

After a few days of early nights and long sleeps, and lying in hammocks doing nothing from dawn until dusk, we felt more relaxed and rested than we had for well over a year. So it was time to begin looking around for things to do on our paradise island. LaLaanta resort offered plenty: a beautiful bay with clean sand and clear ocean, sea kayaks to borrow, two swimming pools, a small library of paperback books to read and DVDs to watch, free wifi internet throughout the resort—including in the hammocks! Still, we thought we should just check that we weren't missing anything.

Jun, our wonderful Vietnamese hostess, was happy to provide information on what was available on the island. Among the many options we could try elephant trekking, rent a motorbike, go snorkelling or scuba diving. We have always half intended to try scuba diving but never quite got round to it. So when we read that the diving in this part of Thailand is world class, it just seemed rude not to have a go. After chatting with one of the owners of Scubafish we both signed up for a four day open water scuba diving course, which would get us a basic PADI qualification that lasts a lifetime.

We had a day of training in a pool where we got to try out the equipment and learned some skills, then early the next morning we were picked up and taken to the pier on the other side of the island, where the company keeps its boat in the low season. We boarded the MV Moskito and set sail for Koh Haa, a group of tiny uninhabited islands about 15 kilometres west of Koh Lanta.

The two hour trip to the dive site was very pleasant. We ate breakfast, chatted with the other divers and enjoyed the view. Our instructor, Julie, briefed us about the first of our two dives and told us what species of fish we could hope to see. It was a long list. Then it was time to kit up and hit the water.

MV Moskito [Enlarge]

Even before we stepped off the boat we could see that we were surrounded by tropical fish. Coming from Britain, we think of the sea as a grey, cold place. For us it was like looking down into a giant aquarium. Our fifty-minute first dive felt more like five minutes as we swam round the coral reef marvelling at the colours, the variety and the sheer enjoyment of being able to breathe underwater. And got the hang of the whole don't-float-don't-sink thing. There were so many best bits: when Julie pointed out the real-life Nemos (clown fish) hiding in the anemone coral, or when a hawksbill turtle swam playfully past us, or when a banded sea snake uncurled itself from the reef and headed straight up towards the surface to breathe.

After a lazy lunch back on the boat we dived again. This time we had to demonstrate our underwater skills (this is a course after all), but there was still plenty of time for fish spotting. When we were finally dropped back at LaLaanta at about 18:00 we were exhausted, but very happy.

We had another day of study and practice in the pool on Monday. We also had to take a written exam—well, fifty multiple choice questions, no cheating! We did fine and managed to get done early.

Tuesday saw us up and ready to go for our second day of open water diving at 07:00, and back on the Moskito to Koh Haa. This time we went down to 18 metres. The visibility was over 20 metres, the water was warm (30°C / 86°F) and were able to start learning how to relax under water. When we got back to the surface we realised that the weather had changed while we'd been beneath the surface. The sea was now really choppy and it made doing the final skill (take off all your gear and put it back on again) quite hard. And getting back on the boat was a bit of a challenge, but the boat crew were there to lend a hand. After another yummy lunch we did our final dive, this time to 16 metres.

And then we were certified divers! We are now allowed to dive anywhere in the world to a depth of 18 metres. We're hooked. Being weightless under the water is amazing. On the boat back we got loads of recommendations for other places to dive in the places we're heading towards (many of them cheaper than here). This is definitely something we'll do again.