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Thailand

Lets get advanced!

So we re now certified scuba divers! Woohoo!

This has been a dream of mine for a long time. In fact I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was younger but those dreams were put aside when my chemistry teacher said I wouldn't get good enough grades...Talk about inspiring your students! That's how I ended up in the world of advertising instead of the world under the sea. It's all worked out fine though as here we are about to become Advanced divers! :)

Becoming advanced would mean we would be able to dive to 30m which would open up lots of other dive sites. We would be travelling through Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia which have some of the best dive sites in the world and we wouldn't want to miss out on those.

As part of the course we would be doing a Deep dive, night dive, peak performance buoyancy, navigation and dive computer dives.

Slight diversion but this is Mimi the scuba dog. She spends her days 'guarding' the dive shop...I'm not normally a fan of tiny dogs but she's such a cutie.

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We had the day off to relax before heading to Alvaro at 5.30pm to get ready for our first night dive! As the sun started to set we made our way over to Buddha rock, I think you can see from the pic why its called that.

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Once on the boat we set up the kit and had a briefing with Steve about night diving. We were joined by two other people from France on the dive as well as Anna who was completing her dive master course and would be helping to make sure none of us got lost from the group in the dark. I'm not going to lie the thought of getting in the water with only the beam of your torch to see by was a bit daunting. Who knew what would come out of the dark!

Once in the water we were handed torches and made our way to the buoy line and started our descent, one hand holding the line with the other clutching the torch. As there were 5 of us in the water it wasn't as dark as I had thought it would be which was comforting, but as soon as you looked in a different direction from your torch and everyone else it was pitch black!

Within minutes we saw our first sting ray which was awesome and our torches showed up the blue spots on its back.

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We also had the treat of seeing three cuttlefish or they may have been squid, we weren't quite sure. We stayed with them for a while as they seemed to suspend and glide effortlessly in the water. They looked a bit like three old men hanging out as their tentacles looked a bit like a beard...ok you may have to use your imagination but that's what I thought :)

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At one point Steve signed for us to all kneel on the seabed in a circle. Then we all put our torches to our chest so we were in complete darkness. You couldn't even see the person next to you. Then Steve moved his arm and suddenly there was shimmering phosphorescence lighting up in its wake. We all started to move our free arm too and its was so magical to see this underwater light show. Definitely a highlight of our dives.

Ecstatic at completing our first night dive we all shared a few beers on the way back to the shore.

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The next morning we were up early for a morning of diving starting with our first deep dive to 30m! As an additional bonus this also would be a wreck dive too as an old battleship had been sunk to 30m for diving.

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We went through a large shoal of Rabbit fish on the way down the line. Visibility wasn't great so it came as a bit of a surprise when the top of the ship emerged next to us. We followed Steve down the side of the wreck until we were at the bottom and he showed us that we were at 30m. When you dive deep there is a possibility of getting Narked due to too much nitrogen so to check this Steve got us to do some simple maths, although i think Dan got his wrong which he is putting down to not understanding the signals but I'm not so sure! It's a bit hard to get your head round that there is 30m of water between you and the surface with no quick way of getting up there, not the time to panic! But we were calm and enjoyed the rest of the dive exploring the wreck. We watched other divers posing by the gun unfortunately we didn't have a camera with us. We also got to dive through the top tower of the ship which was cool to go through the doors and you could watch your bubbles float up and get trapped under the roof. We didn't stay too long on the wreck as the visibility was bad we surfaced and swam a bit before diving down again where it was clearer. Steve pointed out some of the smaller things such as Jans pipe fish swimming around the sea urchins and different types of nudibranch, some with unfortunate names like Varicose Wart slug!

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We had about an hour back on the boat before our next dive at White Rock which looking back on our dives was my favourite dive site for all the colours and lots to see. This was our Peak Performance Buoyancy dive for us to master our buoyancy so we would be able to keep ourselves at the level we wanted to be at making observing the sea life easier without flapping about trying to keep in position! We had already learnt how to use our breathing, a slow inhale would take you up and a slow exhale would bring you down. We practiced this some more and also the floating Buddha where you crossed your legs and use your breathing to maintain your depth in the water. Then Steve placed three spoons in the side a couple of feet apart, we then had to turn ourselves so we were vertical and upside down and knock over the spoons one by one using our head! Then we had to suspend ourselves upside down over two spoons with only our finger tips touching them and remain in that position. It was fun to do other things under the water, there is no way I could do a head stand on land!

New skills mastered we continued the dive round White rock and it wasn't long till we put them into practice as I spotted a Moray Eel peeking out from the coral. This was on our checklist if things we wanted to see and we hung upside down above it to get a closer look.

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It was great to see so many fish and corals all around us. At one point I felt a tug on my fin, thinking I might have kicked another diver I turned around only to be met with the sight of a Titan Trigger Fish with its mouth open coming at me! It had bitten my fin and was coming back for more. Remembering the briefing we had that their territory spread out like a cone as you go up I kicked hard to keep going horizontally and not up and he soon backed off. Heart beating fast I turned back round to try and get the others attention and my breathing went out the window so I started to go up so I had to calm to go back down again. Dan and Steve were unaware of what had happened as I was behind them. It wasn't till we surfaced that I could tell them "I was attacked by a Trigger Fish" and the bite marks on my fin were the evidence that proved it too!! Mental!

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After an exciting morning of diving we spent the afternoon chilling by the beach waiting for the next exciting event...my reunion with Vanessa! Vanessa and I went to university together and we hadn't seen each other for 7 years. By pure coincidence she was coming to Koh Tao with her boyfriend Fillip to dive too and was arriving that afternoon!

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A little nervous we went to meet them as the sun went down, 7 years is a long time, I needn't have worried though as soon enough it was like old days as we hugged and walked arm in arm to the restaurant. It was great to catch up in person rather than on Facebook and to meet Fillip too :)

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Our final morning of diving started with Navigation at a dive site called The Twins. Anna joined us on this dive too to assist Steve. Dan and I were both given a compass and a dive computer and Steve took us through the dive plan. After making sure we knew how to use the compass under the water Dan and I were sent off together on our own, to navigate the dive site ourselves, without Steve! The idea of this made me a bit nervous but as he reminded us we re certified divers now so we can do it on our own.

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I was to lead the dive first with the great task of Finding Nemo! I'm not joking either. I navigated with the coral on my left before taking us southwest where we found him defending his little patch of coral. A ring of rocks had been placed at a distance around his territory and divers were told not to swim over it. If you looked closely you could see little tiny baby Nemos in the coral too :) I had found Nemo sooner than expected and still needed to lead the dive for a bit so I took us back to some coral we had passed. I also saw a Trigger Fish at this point and after the incident the day before freaked out a bit but it swam past no worries. It was then Dans turn to lead the dive and his task was to navigate to the West pinnacle and also take us back to the boat. Dan had been given the diver surfacing marker which he needed to inflate before we surfaced, it was a bit tricky to get the hang of but he did it and we surfaced not far from the boat. Success!

Our final dive was back at White Rock for our dive computer element but the dive itself was more of a fun dive. It was great to be back at White Rock and we had the most amazing experience of seeing a Hawksbill Turtle! It was the biggest thing we d seen so far and it calmly grazed as we all hovered around it. Awesome Dudes! We were some of the first to find it but soon enough other divers were there taking photos so we moved on so it wasn't too crowded. What a great way to end our dives here!

We are now Advanced Divers!! Boom!! Thanks again to Steve who made diving so much fun, it ll be odd when we next go diving without you!

We met up again with Vanessa and Filip in the afternoon and just lazed by the beach catching up and hanging out.

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They took us to see the turtles that were going to be released by the dive school they were at.

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We also spied some kittens!

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After the sun went down we moved on to our favourite bar Bubaloo for some celebratory cocktails under the stars!

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Our time in Koh Tao had been incredible and we were sad to be moving on from what had become our home for over a week. I could get used to this diving and living on an island thing...but it was time to move on to our next country...Malaysia!

Bye Koh Tao and bye Vanessa, lets not leave it so long next time (that's to both of ya!)

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Sx

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles!

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Posted by doyledan 07:32 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Open Water Dive course

Alvaro, Koh Tao Island

Day 1

Leaving for Chalok beach was an easy affair as we got ourselves a taxi which dropped us off at the 7/11 and we walked a short while to collect our room key from Taraporn restaurant who owned the rooms and worked with Alvaro. The bungalow we got was very basic and was a far cry away from our previous digs but it was to be expected especially when it came free with the open water dive course.

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After settling in we made our way to Alvaro and decided to chill out before starting our course and explored the area that would potentially be our home for the next week or so should we decide to further our dive certificates. We had time to have lunch and I succumbed to my reservations and got the barnet trimmed (which didn't take long). With a new hairdo and a welcomed relief from the heat we strolled back to start our course.

To begin with we opted to watch the video that SSI had put together and it was a good job we did because it took the best part of the early evening to watch all the chapters. The video itself seemed a bit dated but easy to follow and afterwards we were loaned the text books and given some homework (which felt a bit odd) and so we made our way to the small beach by our digs to catch the last bit of sun that we missed watching the video and decided to get all the questions answered so we were ready to go for the next day.

Here are some diving signs...

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Pleased that we finished our homework we went for dinner at Taraporn which is perfectly situated on stilts that go out into the sea. The dinner was tasty and as we took in the nightlife across the bay we tested each others knowledge. Already without even getting in the water we were talking the lingo and gesturing the signs.....we couldn't wait for the next day!!

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Day 2

Today was going to be our first experience of S.C.U.B.A (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) see we did learn something!! Having met up with Steve our instructor, the first thing we needed to do was learm about the equipment and how to put it together. During this time we met up with Peter, the other member of our group, and in an instant we had became part of what we would all fondly name "Scuba Steve's Diving Squad". Peter was a lovely guy from Canada who had learned Open water before but had done it 15 years ago so a refresher was recommended by the dive school, which I thought was good because even if you have taken it it shouldn't be assumed that you still know what to do.

After trying out the gear and assembling and then dissembling it we moved to a classroom to go over more important information regarding safety and the physics of diving. Despite wanting to jump in the water I was glad to have the spoken lesson before as we got to have some Q & A during it which helped diffuse any concerns we had. At this point my impression of Alvaro and our instructor was very good and I was pleased that we took the time to research the right school.

We finished the lesson in time to get lunch and be ready for the afternoon dive session. Before we left we made sure all our equipment was the correct size and was working properly and then the team started to ferry all the bags to the boat. It looked as though it would be a full boat judging by all the bags but once on board the boat I was pleased that there was plenty of room for all even though it was a smaller boat than other dive schools.

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As we made our way on the boat Steve told us we would be heading to Mango bay to start our training in shallow water to get a grasp of the equipment when submerged and also to practice emergency procedures, buoyancy techniques and communication under water.

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The boat ride was pretty quick and we pulled into the bay and started our first buddy check of many to come. Steve was a funny Liverpudlian guy and throughout the course he would crack a joke to ease the learning process and one of which was made on how to remember the procedure for checking your buddy.

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He taught us the phrase

"Bangkok Women Really Are Fellas"

(Sarah mistakenly heard Really as Rarely due to Steve's strong Liverpudlian accent. She didn't own up to not getting it at first but I soon realised she was saying it wrong, which was funny when the penny suddenly dropped! Doh!)

Taking the first letter from each word it matched up with

B - BC
W - weight belt
R - Releases or the straps on your jacket
A - Air (quite important this one)
F - Final ok - Do you have your mask and fins? (Or as Sarah kept saying goggles and flippers to Steve's dismay)

Jumping into the water with all your gear was an odd experience as you went from being weighed down to being able to float on the surface with your BC inflated. The technique we used was the giant stride which is pretty much as it says on the tin, I had thought that we would do the fall backwards into the water but that I think would be for smaller boats and experienced divers.

We swam into shore to the shallow waters to start our training and almost immediately we were surrounded by a school of sergeant major fish. Bonus!! There must of been a 100s of them and would have loved to have stayed and watched them but we had to get to work.

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During this dive we learnt...

-What do if your mask fills up with water
-What do if your regulator falls out of your mouth.
-What to do if you run out of air and communicating with your buddy to use their secondary air supply and ascend together.
-How to control buoyancy using slow breathing.
-How to do the sitting Buddha.
-How to take your weights off and on in case of emergency
-How to use your regulator if the air is free flowing
-How to take your BC off and on when on the surface.
-Experienced how it felt if air supply was finished (we had to put a lot of trust in Steve for this one as he turned off our air supply underwater!)
-How to sign underwater how much air we had left.

It was an exhausting day taking in all the information and a nap was welcomed on our way back (I was only signalling the time honestly )

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We also managed to get some sun on the way back and noticed a familiar sight of Amanjirah in the distance which Sarah managed to zoom in on from the sea.

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The diving fever had got us and we were excited about the next day as we start to see more of the marine life.

Day 3

In the morning we had another classroom session where we learned about how we calculate your decompression limits so as to avoid dangers such as the bends. In order to do this your create a dive plan which maps out your depth and for how long you will be at that depth so you can then calculate how much residual nitrogen you have had before your next dive. As we had gone through the books in our own time and had lessons with Steve it was time for the exam!! Fortunately we had studied for it properly and both passed with flying colours (Sarah got 92 and I got 88 out of 100). With a sigh of relief we headed off for lunch again to our regular haunt which was the french cafe Cappuccino and waited for the afternoon.

As soon as it got close to dive time we got ourselves over to Alvaro HQ, checked gear and jumped on the small boat to our dive boat like we had been doing it for years. The dive site we were going to on this day was called Aow Leuk, which was a secluded bay that only had one resort on its beach but was know for having good visibility, perfect for practice dives.

It didn't disappoint. With the sun beaming down on the waters surface the blue lagoon type shimmer of the water was inviting us to jump in as we approached the bay. Before we did we got in our groups and Steve instructed us of his plan of the dive which is pretty crucial so that there is no confusion when you are in the water, and he also gave us a intro into what marine life we might find. At this point he told us about the famed triggerfish who had been known to attack divers who enter their self determined territory. A little concerning but we were reassured was not a common experience.

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We did two dives on this day which had a maximum depth of 9metres, we glided past coral and were able to see:

Weigels butterfly
Long fin banner fish
Pink anemone fish
Xmas tree worm
Re breasted wrasse
Prawn goby
Indian boat fish
Parrotfish

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It was so much fun!!!

After the dive we were introduced to a fella who had earlier jumped on to the boat with some boxes and at the time I didn't think anything of it. It turned out he was trying out his version of underwater masks that meant you could walk on the seabed. Once we saw the set up we realised that it was a bit comical, only because you had to wear this ridiculous squared mask that fed you your air and as you submerged the trapped air would stop any water flooding around your face. The mask itself is quite heavy making it quite cumbersome when getting in and out of the water. It was very 1970s futuristic type demonstrations that sprang into my mind when I saw it in action, and of course we had to give it a go. It was free for starters! We had a laugh dancing on the seabed and doing slow motion running.

I think the guy was starting up the franchise in Koh Tao, so he got us all to pose for pictures which I guess will go on his website.

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It was quite fun to try out but no way as good as diving, mainly because you had very little freedom to move around because you had a tube attached to your head which was fed from the boat keeping you alive. Sarah and I didn't get any pictures but we did get some of Steve having a go.

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That night we basked in our new found love of diving and chilled out at the local bar to our diving school called Babaloo. The fire lights and fire dancers added to the chilled out vibe that we were becoming accustomed on Chalok.

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Tomorrow would be an early start!

Day 4

By this point we were into a routine as we knew what needed to be ready before leaving for the dive boat. The early start didn't matter because we were both raring to get into into the water. We had two dives on this day and the first was the furthest away from Koh Tao at a place called Chumpon Pinnacle. During the dive plan Steve told us that this site was considered one of Koh Taos best due to the type of marine life and also the visability being superb. We were excited at the prospect of possibly seeing Whale Sharks or Barracudas!

This was going to be our deepest dive yet at 18 metres so a slight apprehension was natural but we Buddy checked, giant strided and descended in no time. We unfortunately didn't take a camera with us due to wanting to concentrate on learning the dive techniques but to put it simply, it was Awesome!!!

Despite a large amounts of divers we still managed to glide our way around the pinnacle with ease and was able to see loads of fish and I even saw a Large Barracuda which I tried to signal to Sarah and the others but they were ahead of me and by the time she turned round it was gone. It was quite funny because I was waving my arms like a lunatic but Sarah had no idea. They had to take my word for it as it was the largerst thing I had seen and made me think what would be my reaction if I saw a even bigger fish like the whale shark!

Unfortunately we didn't get a sighting of the largest fish in the ocean but we did get to see:

Yellow fin barracuda (smaller than the large one I saw!)
Golden trevally
Blue Ringed Angelfish (My favourite) the colours on this one are just mesmerising.

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There was plenty more schools of other fish and the coral was more colourful this time.

Dive 2 of the day was at Green Rock, again going down to 18m. This would be Sarah's first sighting of the famous triggerfish which I didn't get to see but her and Peter were excitedly chatting about it when we surfaced. The best thing about diving is that at any given time you could get a sighting of a fish you have never seen or think you wouldn't see, so you are always up for getting back into the water. Knowing that I hadn't seen the triggerfish that day didn't matter because I knew we would have more dives to come.

When we finished our last dive we were certified Open Water Divers!!!! Thanks Stevo!!

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We had enjoyed our lessons with Steve so much and the vibe at Alvaro was perfect so we signed up for the Advanced course and extended our stay at Taraporn that same day! We were hooked!

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Stay tuned for more tales.

Dan

Posted by doyledan 02:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand baby!

Surat Thani to Koh Tao

We were on our way to country number 6 (7 for me!)... Thailand woop woop!

Our flights from Vientiene to Bangkok and then on to Surat Thani were uneventful, apart from the novelty of having a meatball sub at Bangkok airport! We arrived at Surat Thani airport in the evening and got a ticket from a taxi counter into the town for 100 baht each which was a lot cheaper than what we had read online. This was probably because the taxi was in fact a minivan and they could get about 10 people in. We d pre booked a room at Tapee hotel and were dropped off almost outside. Everyone seems to have a big downer on Surat Thani with reviews complaining how unfriendly people are and how grotty it is. To be fair we only saw the place for one night but this wasn't our experience, so we were pleasantly surprised by how friendly the hotel staff were and how huge our room was! Literally you could swing a few tigers around in here let alone cats!

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It was only a five minute wander down to the harbour so we went to see if we could work out the ferry to Koh Tao for the next day as we thought it might be cheaper to get the ticket there rather than through the hotel. The night boats to the islands lined the dock with several stands with people selling tickets but we couldn't find any for the next day. We had already decided not to take the overnight boat as this is really a cargo boat and you sleep on mats on the floor crammed in like sardines for 8 hours, not ideal when you d been ill the night before! Groups of travellers were sitting at the outside bars with beers and their bags waiting for the boats to leave at 11pm. There is also a night market which is meant to have great food but I still couldn't even cope with the smell of all the food. With no obvious place to get tickets we decided just to go with the bus & boat option through the hotel although we felt that paying for a bus to take us only a short way down the road was not really worth it.

It turns out it was a good job we did as we had been looking at the wrong pier!! The day ferries actually go from Don Sak pier which was over an hour bus ride from Surat Thani town so that bus part of the ticket was definitely worthwhile!

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At the right pier we lead the way to the ferry to get some seats as we wanted to be closer to the back as I wasn't sure of my sea legs! It was funny to see how everyone rushed space on the sun deck but we were happy to be in the shade there was plenty of time to be in the sun.

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The boat was to stop at Koh Samui and then Koh Phangan where we would then change on to another boat to get to our final destination of Koh Tao so we wouldn't arrive till the afternoon. The first boat was fine if not a bit chilly as we were sat right next to the air con but the second boat was so fumey it made the final part of the journey not that pleasant.

We had changed our original travel plans to skip Northern Thailand as I had travelled there before and instead head straight to Koh Tao to focus on getting our scuba diving certification. We had decided to have a couple of days of luxury before we started diving and had booked a couple of nights at Aminjirah resort which is at the north of Sairee beach up on the hillside www.aminjirah.com

We were not disappointed! Our room was amazing with our own balcony and a great view of the sea.

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To top it all off there was an infinity pool!

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The next morning we dragged ourselves away from the pool and rented a bike to check out dive schools to book our open water course.

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Koh Tao is renowned as a great place to learn to dive as well as being one of the cheapest places in the world to do so. The island is rammed with dive schools and we were keen to avoid some of the larger 'factory' style schools on Sairee beach which churn out loads of people a day...I think we heard that the record for one school is having over 100 people become qualified on the same day!

We were looking for a more personal touch had heard great things about a small diving school called Alvaro which was on Chalok beach on the south of the island so made our way there first.

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We loved the vibe of the place straight away as they are located on their own little stretch of beach on the west side of the bay only accessible by a walkway over the water. We were greeted by Bruno who took us through our options and we also chatted with two brits Steve (who would end up being our instructor) and Dean who was completing his Dive Master course. We were soon booked on our SSI open water course, we didn't need to go and look anywhere else. Five days accomodation in Taraporn bungalows next door was included in the cost (9000 baht each), bargain, and we would be starting in a couple of days time! EEK!

So tell me true. Are you guys for Scuba?
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YES WE ARE!!!!

With that sorted we made our way back to Aminjirah stopping off in Sairee beach for Dan to catch up on the rugby and get some sunglasses as he had left his in Laos! It was all sorted and we could relax...but when we got to Aminjirah and started to get our tan on we found out that there was a double booking and we would need to find somewhere else to stay the next night! The hotel were helpful and spoke to the resort just down the hill but the room they had was more than we wanted to pay. We started to search for places online but anything that looked remotely good in the area was way out of our price range, we were already pushing the boat out of our backpacker budget at £50 a night! Dan jumped on the bike to check out some places but again too expensive or building work going on. In the end we decided just to pay out for the room in the resort below ours, the sun was already going down and we didn't want to look anymore.

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It was a short walk down the hill in the morning to our replacement resort. It turns out that it took up most of the hillside below Aminjirah all the way to the beach at the bottom.

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The hill was really steep and we got taken in a small golf buggy down to our room, I'm surprised it didn't flip over given the angle the road was at! The room wasn't as nice as Aminjirah and we were surprised that it was nearly 1000 baht more expensive! Bemused by the decor and frustrated that there was only a handful of sunloungers that weren't broken so we couldn't relax by the pool we were stumped as to what we were paying extra for.

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Fortunately for us the friendly manager at Aminjirah said that we were welcome to spend the day back at their resort! phew!

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At one point a huge storm cloud came over and it chucked it down. It didn't matter though as it was still warm and was quite fun to be in the pool with the rain drops splashing up around us as we watched the cloud move over the island. The sun was back in no time :)

Back at our resort we had some cocktails and watched the sun go down, excited to be moving to Chalok beach in the morning and start our scuba adventure!

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 01:01 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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