Diving and Biking in Ko Tao
24.03.2009 - 26.03.2009 32 °C
It doesn't take much to navigate round Cow Toe and early in the morning it is pleasant enough to walk round without saturating your t-shirt. Confusingly, the word 'Hat' and 'Ao' is put before most of the place names here, so we soon forgot which one we were looking for as we stumbled across Hat Sai Rin, or was it Hat Sai Nauan, no, Hat Sai Daeng. For a so-called un-developed island there are still plenty of grand resorts and big, beach-side bars, but they seem to be located in one area and are still aesthetically pleasing. We're not usually out and about at 6:30am so it was a novelty to watch the place come alive with people going about their early morning duties - praying, sweeping or just contemplating life. Interestingly enough Cow Toe has a somewhat chequered past, and in the early days before the glitzy hotels it was a favourite hideout for pirates and a detention centre for political prisoners. It is known that the dependents of the original inmates still make up a large part of the local community. So, I was on the look out for salubrious looking locals ready to pinch my passport, but instead we were met with welcoming smiles and friendly banter in that lovely drawn-out Thai accent: "Hellooo my friiiend, look somethiiiing, very niiiice!!". Prices are certainly higher here than anywhere we have been, but we found a pleasant, budget room near the beach and breakfasted on fresh fruit.
Next we scouted out a Padi-accredited, buzzing dive centre called Scuba Junction, which was offering great fun dives for only 15pounds! Apparently, the diving here is great but not the best in Thailand, but we weren't going to grumble at these prices! So, the next morning was another early start where we headed to the dive shop to prepare our equipment. Kay, our Thai Dive Master was extremely efficient and knowledgeable and as we sailed to our first sight she ran thought the briefing about what to expect and what we may see. Andy went a bit green when whale sharks were mentioned but thats maybe because the boat was a bit rocky. Thankfully the company had 15litre tanks for Andy's consuming lungs, so I was hoping for a long, fish-fueled frenzy, and I was not disappointed. Lots of live, colourful coral, covered in floaty anenome with clown fish hiding inside. Three huge Groupers went swanning past while bright angel and butterfly fish came close. I am pleased to report Andy's previous 'flapping' diving style has been controlled slightly and he now holds his hands together in a prayer-like manner - possibly to pray for no sharks?
Back on the boat for a slice of pineapple and to change out tanks, then onto our next sight. Amongst other things we saw little barracuda, a blue-spotted ray and a tiny octopus, but no sharks unfortunately/fortunately for some. Despite the popularity of this diving island - Ko Toa is the second largest issuer of the open-water dive certificate behind Cairns in Oz - the coral seemed largely unspoilt with fish in abundance. But while we were underwater a big boat load of divers joined us and kinda ruined the serenity. Price you pay for popularity I guess.
For the next days activities we decided to hire a little quad bike to explore the island which is only 21sq km. Now, before you get your knickers twisted about safety and insurance - it's ok, these nippy motors are considerably more stable than skiddy mopeds, especially on these multi-terrain paths. I must admit at times the rough tracks nearly got the better of us with vertical inclines and slippy, sandy descents, but what a laugh! We scooted around every possible trail and found secluded, tiny beaches like at Ao Him Wong. At one southwest point we saw the most picturesque views, and there was one little guest house right on the beach, with giant rocks nearby to jump into the deep blue. The water was clear as glass here and as we paddled by the shore hundreds of little black and white fish came to greet us and see if we tasted nice. One confident parrot fish took a particular liking to Andy's foot, I'm sure fish can smell fear.
Much to Andy's annoyance I took to the biking rather well, and after he reluctantly handed over the reins to me I was off... bumping around the jungle roads. Sitting at the back is rather more bumpy but for both there is a certain strain on the derriere, so after a few more hours we retired to the soft, bean-bags on the beach and watched the sun set. Ahhhh!
Tomorrow we head to the next island along, Ko Pha-Nang, which is dubbed the 'rebellious little sister' due to its ability to party. We will unfortunately miss the world-famous Full Moon Party which happens on the island, but we hoped to see what else it had in store.