From Koh Samui to Koh Tao
Written by Alex
It is in fact true that everything changes – I knew it the moment we boarded the ferry heading for Koh Tao. One foreigner after another boarded the monstrous boat. Eight years ago, the ferry resembled a cargo ferry and trudged its way slowly to the port of Koh Tao. I tried to prepare myself for the changes that would have occurred on my dreamy island in the gulf of Thailand in the last 8 years. The transformation is apparent and offensive – the naiveté of the place is gone though there are moments of peaceful tranquility amongst all of the change if you look for it.
Ko Tao is a very small island that was only recently developed for tourism. However, it has been infected by the tourism virus and is already much less prestine than it was 7 years ago and is certain that in 7 years time to come the island will have lost most of its innocent charm. I believe we got lucky and still hit this place -like so many- just in time before it's over. We went to the south side of the island located at a cute little bay and checked into a basic resort for the time being. We wanted something more romantic and spent some time looking but had a hard time finding something suitable that wasn't booked out. It turned out that we stayed at the same place for the reminder of our stay in Ko Tao. It wasn't that bad there and the food was absolutely amazing. By this time Alex had made her mind up to learn how to dive. This was a big feat for her since she really doesn't like being under water and had some hard time having fun with snorkeling, let alone scuba diving. Nevertheless, her mind was made up - and those who know Alex know what that means - she was going to learn to dive.
But the question was where? Ko Tao has 26 diving schools and some of them would truly earn the name "Diving Factory". Unfortunately the one we had made reservations with was exactly that: a factory. Again the combination of luck and initiative helped us out, and as Alex ask the friendly looking woman next to us in the restaurant if she had any suggestions she came forth with the perfect information. Her name was Natalie, she had just learned diving and had quite a few worries about that before hand. But the school she learned with was great and had awesome instructors that taught in a calm way. They were called Big Bubble Diving and now Alex (and I too) can endorse them as a good school to learn diving without feeling too cramped. Turned out they were a owned by a German and run by Germans and when you went to the office you got greeted by a overly joyous lady-boy named "Bo".
The same night I went on a night dive - which are the dives I love most, while Alex had to start learning.
Written by Alex
My head is spinning with buoyancy, fish and bubbles – I sat through my first three hours of PADI diving training and my head is a mess. Somewhere between scared to death and curious, I am procrastinating doing my homework by suddenly having an urge to keep up our blog postings. Funny what kinds of things can be a kick in the ass. Patrick is off on a night dive and though I have all faith in his ability, there is a level of uncertainty to this activity and I will be happy when he walks through the door.
I ate the best cashew chicken I have ever eaten tonight – the colors screamed vitality. The scallions were crisp Kelly green, the cashews whole and raw, the surprise chunks of pineapple squelched the bite of the deep blood red chilies that were sun-dried and aged. The whole thing was swimming in an oil infused with chili and lime and the explosion of flavors surprised me until the last drop. Okay, so this island hasn’t lost its allure – you just have to look for it and then count on mini surprises. It made me want to walk into the kitchen and acknowledge the artist.
There are the gentle stirrings of guitar cords lingering through the screens on our windows while the gentle whirring of the fan is keeping our room tolerable. The AC on the wall is a nice decoration – a superfluous amenity for an island that has little water and comes to life with generators. Lonely Planet likes to give metaphors about places – perhaps Koh Tao should be the well meaning traveler who ate too much and is busting at the seams.
Learning to breathe underwater
To be continued...
In fact the reminder of the next four days I had a lot of time by my self since Alex was often either in class or on the boat out to do underwater exercises. From the instructor I heard she did very well...and then passed as well. Hurray...I can go diving with Alex now! Of course Alex was wiped in the evenings while I was well rested. This led me to go to a few parties alone and once even to a -compared to Ko Phi Phi- real Thai boxing competition. It was a fascinating and bewildering experience at the same time. As the crowds started to cheer-on one combatant to finish it off the other as he got weaker just reminded me yet again how much of an animal humans can be. But, hey I was sitting there myself watching it as well (even if a lot more quieter then the others).
Time in Ko Tao went by really fast, and soon came the day to leave this lovely island. But not before we bought ourselves all the gear we needed to survive the next 10 days during the meditation retreat. These were a few fishermen pants and comfortable shirts. We also squeezed in one last round of mini-golf - the tie breaker of all tie breakers...and the winner by one stroke is me (Patrick).
Back to the mainland
This evening we embarked yet again on night ferry and hoped for one last comfortable night of sleep. Not so...next to me was a germ firing young Brit with a stuffed nose who's mean plan was to get me sick for the retreat. Besides that the boat was completely full and it was quite crowded.
Arrival in Chiaya
Nevertheless at 5:00AM we arrived in the port of Surat Thani and took an overpriced taxi to the temple, from where they told us how to get to the retreat area. Little did we know. We ended up arriving at 6:30am and went through the well engineered registration process - read rules booklet, fill out registration form (which has all sorts of yes and no questions about you understanding what you are about to sign-up for) and have an interview with staff person to see if you are "fit for duty" ( especialy couples - usually when one leaves, both leave), then pay, get your key in return for your passport, followed by giving all your valuables into the safeguarding, then go find yourself a chore to be responsible for the next 10 days, go to the mediation hall get some pillows and put them on a free spot, and lastly move into your room. They make all of this flawlessly easy and we were done with all of this in less then 45 min (I didn't know how little the concept of time would mean to me so soon in the future).
After that we went to Chaiya for a meal and to get ourselves a foam mattress to sleep on. (it was recommend by Michelle a returner). And of course one last meat meal and the visit to the internet cafe to arrange for after the retreat time. In this cafe we ran into Everett, friendly American from Boston who spoke fluently Thai. (He helped me get something figured out with the computer) who turned out to also be a participant in our retreat (that day you could assume that every non-Thai person you saw in Chaiya was there for the retreat, as it was not a tourist destination he had done this already over 5 times). He was super friendly and helped us also buy the bus ticket to Bangkok (which was a real feat to accomplish in this town, as the shop was really hidden) Best of all, the bus we got tickets for would pick us up right in front of the temple on our final day. It was brilliant.
After this we had lunch with Everett who also couldn't stop making jokes with the Thai people there so much that one woman offered him to take her friend with him. It was so nice to see the Thai life from behind the language barrier for a short time and for that we are very grateful towards Everett. With that we returned to the grounds and wouldn't leave for the next 10 days.