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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Zaporzan

Underwater in Koh Tao

It feels like only yesterday I was sitting in the Winnipeg airport awaiting my departure flight to begin my journey through Southeast Asia. I can’t believe the half way marker of this trip has already passed! It’s crazy how fast time flies, but luckily I still have 2.5 weeks left of this amazing trip.

After the action packed 2 days in Krabi and Railay, I headed North to Khao Sok National Park, the oldest evergreen rain forest in the world. I was looking forward to taking in nature to its fullest degree; trekking in amongst the towering bamboo trees and lush forest, listening to the chirping birds, watching the exotic wildlife and finding the hidden waterfalls in amongst the park.

For the 3 nights I spent in this new area, I stayed at the Khao Sok Green Valley Resort, which was the perfect spot, only 200 meters from the park entrance and within walking distance of many local restaurants and shops. I spent most of my time in the park hiking and sight seeing however I originally thought there would be more to do and see in the surrounding town but there wasn’t, so I am glad I didn’t spend any longer than 3 nights here.

From all the trips I have been on and all the outdoor adventures I have taken in my life, I have never been attacked by a wild animal. Unfortunately, that perfect streak ended during my visit to this beautiful National Park...

I got up early my first morning eager to get the day started with a long hike in the park and on a mission to find the perfect swimming spot with a waterfall as a backdrop. As I entered the park, I noticed a small cafe just opening so I went and got a strawberry smoothie to take with me on the hike (looking back I regret this decision...). 5 minutes into my hike I rounded a corner and saw a family of monkeys playing and walking down the left side of the trail. As any tourist would do, I stopped to take some pictures and a video of these cute looking animals. About a minute or two after, I continued walking however as I did so and got closer to the monkeys, I noticed they stopped playing, shifted their eyes and became quite interested in me. It then dawned on me that I was not the only one that wanted a strawberry smoothie for breakfast. You know your’re screwed when 5 monkeys surround you in a circle and slowly keep creeping towards you... I wasn’t sure what to do and so I started making some noise and trying to walk forward to see if they would leave me alone but that did not work. Then, all of a sudden one of the monkeys launched themselves right at my stomach. Without even thinking, I reacted by swinging my right arm and just as the monkeys paws hit my stomach, my right hand hit his chest and he went flying back into the bush. As soon as I made contact with the monkey I thought the rest of the monkeys would all attack (especially the mom) but the complete opposite happened... they slowly started stepping back and opened a path in the circle for me to continue my hike. Thank God. That was a frightening experience that I will always remember... let’s just say after that incident, their cuteness factor dropped 10 times.

Khao Sok is a beautiful area in the jungle and is the perfect spot if you need a break from the beach-bumming island lifestyle. Interspersed by hidden waterfalls and caves, this 738 sq-km Park has many hidden gems and is the perfect spot if you are looking to get away from the tourist sights and immerse yourself in nature. It’s vast terrain leaves endless amounts of hidden gems to find and new adventures to be made... just watch out for those monkeys.

After Khao Sok, I was ready to get back to the island lifestyle and headed east to the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Thailand: Koh Tao.

Koh Tao is a tropical dream! Being the baby of the Samui, Pha-Ngan, and Tao island trio, this island is full of life, relaxation and has an awesome island vibe. Tao is known worldwide for its diverse diving sites just off shore, jumping with sharks, rays, and beautifully colored fish in a playground of tangled neon coral, clear blue water and soft white sand. Although a divers paradise, the island offers many activities from great hiking to perfect beaches, snorkeling and nightlife. 

I had heard from so many people (both from back home and from people I’ve met on this trip) that Koh Tao is one of everyone’s favorite spots in Southeast Asia. After spending 6 nights on this piece of paradise, I understand why everyone raves about it, and it has definitely become my favorite place in Thailand... no words can describe it.

I decided that I was going to stay in a hostel for my first couple nights and then switch to a bit more luxury for the remaining nights, so I booked into the Blackwood hostel not far from the pier. After arriving full of excitement, I quickly became full of disappointment and questioning my accommodation plan. As soon as I approached the hostel I got a weird feeling in my gut - the one where you feel unsure and uneasy about the situation that lies ahead. After checking in, the receptionist handed me my room key and proceeded to guide me to my room and show me where I would be staying. After I walked in, I looked at the bed and immediately new my gut feeling was right. The bed was solid as a rock, had sweat stains and pieces of hair all over the sheets, the floor was covered in dirt and it felt like 30 degrees in this dark room... needless to say, the room did not look like the photos online! Within 25 seconds of entering the room, I looked at the gentleman, I handed the keys back to him, told him I wasn’t staying there and walked out the door. I know it was a cheap hostel, but you gotta have some standards, right?? Leaving the hostel I was quite disappointed and unfortunately that had put a damper on my excitement from my arrival, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin the next few days.

I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and the days to follow would prove that theory. After leaving Blackwood, I stood on the street in the 35 degree weather carrying all my gear and started looking on my phone for a new place to stay. I walked for about 15-20 minutes and headed to the Dearly Koh Tao Hostel, one that was newer and a fair bit more expensive, but because of this I new my chances were better at finding a decent place to stay. Long story short, this place was the best! The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, it had a large swimming pool with a perfect lounging area, they had free breakfast and I ended up meeting some awesome people during my stay (people from England, Canada, Ireland, United States, Czech Republic, and France). I liked it so much that I decided to spend every night in Koh Tao at this place instead of my original plan to change after 2 nights.

After spending my first couple days lounging around the pool, hiking to a viewpoint, chilling on the beach, snorkeling around some reefs, and exploring the island, I decided it was time to check off another bucket list item. As I mentioned earlier, Koh Tao is one of the best and cheapest places in the world to go scuba diving and as it has always been something I’ve wanted to do, I found a small dive shop called CZONE just down the street from my hotel and I booked in to try diving the next day. Was I ever excited! I signed up for the Try Scuba course, which is a beginner course to learn the very basics of diving and go on 2 dives with a certified instructor to experience what it’s all about. Normally groups range from 2-4 people per instructor, however I lucked out and was the only one scheduled to dive with this dive company (there are millions of dive shops in Koh Tao..!) that day! How sweet is that... a private one-on-one lesson for my first time diving! I was thrilled and so looking forward to taking those first few breaths underwater and experiencing a whole new world, 60 feet below the surface.

After being filled with excitement and therefore not getting much sleep, I arrived at CZONE the next morning to watch a short intro video about diving and learned how the day was going to unfold. After watching the video I met my instructor, Aaron, who is from South Africa and has been living in Koh Tao teaching diving for the past 10 months. We then got our gear, headed to the pier, got on a boat and headed out to the Japanese Gardens dive site not too far off the island.

After gearing up and listening to the final instructions from Aaron, we were ready to jump in and get started. I can clearly remember those first few breaths underwater and how different, riveting and surreal it felt. It was serene! Swimming in amongst the beautiful coral reefs and the schools of fish well below the surface was the coolest thing I have ever done. It was such an amazing experience that I decided to extend my stay in Koh Tao one more night so that I could complete the 3 day PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open water course and be a certified scuba diver around the world. I got lucky once again and because I continued the course after my first day of diving, it was just Aaron and I for the next 2 days! 3 days of learning how to dive and getting certified all one-on-one! I lucked out big time by having Aaron as my instructor for all 3 days - he was the absolute best! Very friendly, a great instructor and a fun guy to be around. We had an awesome 3 days together of diving and I am so excited to be leaving Koh Tao as a certified diver... definitely the #1 highlight from my trip so far. 

You know how I said everything happens for a reason... the CZONE dive shop was a 15 second walk from my new hotel. There is no way I would of ended up doing my diving at that dive shop if I didn’t listen to my gut feeling and stayed at Blackwood. I probably would of chosen one of the many other dive shops closer to that hotel and would not of gotten the one-on-one learning, would not of met Aaron and might not of had as good of an experience. Listen to your gut and don’t let any negative experiences ruin your day... everything happens for a reason.

Koh Tao was phenomenal. The island vibe, the endless amount of activities, and the world renowned diving sites make for this land to be a special piece of paradise. If visiting Thailand, a stop on this island is a must. Just be careful... it’s serendipitous lifestyle, white sandy beaches and stunning views makes it easy to get sucked into the island culture and not want to leave!

My time in Thailand is just about expired. After leaving Koh Tao, I will make my way to Bali in Indonesia where I will spend my remaining 2.5 weeks. I am really excited to explore this new country, meet up with friends that I met earlier in my trip, and soak in the final stretch of my amazing trip through Southeast Asia.

New adventures, new friends and a new country to get lost in... Indonesia here I come.

Until next time,

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