Part 3a: Similan Islands and Koh Bon, Day 1
Part 3b: Similan Islands and Koh Bon, Day 2
There was an 8-hour layover in Bangkok between my connecting flight to Phuket (Siem Reap -> Bangkok -> Phuket). The only available tickets were ones where I had to go to a different airport in Bangkok than the one I had arrived in (Don Mueang -> Suvarnabhumi). Quite a hassle, but it’s good that I had an ample amount of leeway for error: “What does that say? Is that my bus? Or will this one be taking me somewhere else? Don’t get lost, Gelene.”
The bus ride to the other airport was cool. It would’ve been cooler to check out Bangkok but I was pressed for time and I was way too tired to make any more stops. I just wanted to get in the water and lie on a hammock for hours somewhere, nowhere.
When I arrived at the airport, I had about 6 more hours before the connecting flight. It was in the wee hours of the morning so I was looking for a place to sleep. I found one of those sleep capsule things and booked it for several hours. It was surprisingly very comfortable.
I fell asleep in no time.
I got up a little later than I had intended so I rushed to the flight, which I didn’t miss.
When I arrived in Phuket, I still had about 3 hours before the departure of the ferry that would take us to the islands, so I ate a proper breakfast at the airport. I was exhausted so I just booked an airport cab.
I took my sweet time with everything and still had over an hour wait at the pier. I changed to a swimsuit, shorts, and sandals right away. The airport and plane ride may have been cold but it was super hot out.
I didn’t know that the ferry was to stop by Koh Phi Phi. It was gorgeous but as soon as I got off the ferry, the busyness and commercialization of the island felt like a slap in the face. Phi Phi was very pretty but way too crowded for me.
I enjoyed my lunch there though. I got some fresh coconut water with a couple shots of rum.
I got back on the ferry and a couple hours later, we finally arrive.
Koh Lanta was niiiiiiiceee.
I loved the vibe right away. It was quiet, chill, and low-key.
My preferred transport of choice was Tuk-tuks because I really like those, apparently. It’s just a cool cultural thing for me, I think. Like the Philippines has tricycles and Thailand has Tuk-tuks.
I was headed to Funky Fish, a beachfront.
Funky Fish was awesome. The bungalows had its own hammock… SOLD!
Bonus points for random graffiti/art on the side of the bungalows and view of the sunset from the bar. 💯 👌
I searched for a dive shop right away but they told me that they were hooking me up with one the next day. So I decided to get comfy in the new room. I unpacked my bag, had a lizard jump out of it, shrieked, calmed down, organized my stuff, and headed out.
I walked around the area a bit and that evening, for dinner, I got a can of Chang and drank it with Pad Thai. I’m not much of a beer drinker these days but I thought that beer was pretty yummy.
I woke up around 4:30ish in the morning the next day (that’s just my norm now, unfortunately. I can’t seem to sleep in anymore). I went outside and heard the Athan (Islam call to prayer – Thailand is predominantly Buddhist but Koh Lanta was predominantly Muslim). I went back to my room, thinking it was my phone.
I have the Athan on one of my alarms. I got a couple of Muslim friends who introduced me to it.
It’s just a nice, peaceful, wakeup vibe for me. I love listening to it when I’m in chill/pensive mode, “Hmm I guess I forgot to turn off the alarm on my phone?”
I checked my phone. It wasn’t even on, “Wtf? Where is that coming from?”
I went outside again to check. That’s when I realized that it was the real thing. Hah! It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it!
It was beautiful. It really was. 💕
I stayed on the hammock and just listened to it until sunrise. Then I ate breakfast and met up with a freelance divemaster (I don’t actually know how this industry works but I gather you can be employed full-time or part-time or you can freelance much like many other industries?)
We got acquainted and hung out at the beach.
“Yeah my first bed here was so hard. My back was not happy.” I told him
“Oh yeah, no. It’s like that everywhere here,” he added, “I got excited when I got in my room, jumped in my bed and ended up with a big bruise on my head.” he added (I couldn’t stop laughing 🤣)
“So what equipment do you have?” he asked.
“Nothing. I don’t really dive enough to warrant much investments there.”
“Yeah, but you have a mask, right?”
“WTF? I keep telling people, ‘Get a mask. It will make all the difference. Get. A. Mask!'”
“Yeah but I don’t even know how to pick one.”
“Suck it on your face! Man, wtf? That’s the first thing we tell you!”
“That’s what everyone says. I did that but they all feel the same to me. It doesn’t make any sense!”
“How often do you have to clear your mask?” (Water tends to get in and you have to slightly push it back at an angle and blow it out)
“I don’t know, like, every 10-ish minutes, probably?”
“That’s a lot. Trust me on this one. I’ll hook you up tomorrow.”
We couldn’t book any dives that day because we have to notify the shops at a certain time the day before (not the day of) so I just chilled and checked out the market.
My inner hippie was very amused. I didn’t end up getting anything though ’cause half of what I packed was for people I was to see in the Philippines so I was essentially lugging it around. I was tempted to chuck it but it wasn’t mine to get rid of.
We went to shop that sold masks. I rented three masks for me to try on three dives and if I ended up buying one, they were to deduct the rental fee, which was nice of them.
It’s always good to test equipment before going live so, whenever you can, I suggest to take that opportunity… unlike what I did with my sports cam and divewatch… 🤔 (I didn’t have time though yo #DontJudgeMe)
Oh, man. He was right. Using a mask that fit right made all the difference. I didn’t even notice it until I had to clear for the first time, “Woah! I haven’t cleared ’til now! Whaaaaatttt!?!? This is awesome!!!”
It was one of those micromasks that I’ve never used, nor even heard of, before. Fucking brilliant.
I went diving with him for a couple days. There were a few things that stood out to me in those times. I don’t remember their exact order, but I’ll share with you some of the notable moments
There was one time where he had briefed myself and a couple others on some of the types of fish we may see, and so on. There were 2 other people with me. There was this Brit who’s been living there for 10 years doing Reiki/Yoga/Alternative Healing things and then there was his son.
When the divemaster was done, he said, “Alright, cool. Got it?”
“Sure?” I replied.
“No, don’t worry I’ll point it out. You’ll see this fish camouflaged. I’ll point it out.”
The Brit was more familiar with the fish. “I’ll point it out with him,” he told me.
“Yeah, but like honestly if I don’t spot it within seconds, I’m probably just gonna shrug and ‘whatever’, do my own thing or look at other stuff,” I said
“That’s cool. It’s my job though [to know the fish], and as long as you stick with the group…” said the divemaster.
“Of course,” I replied.
As a recreational diver, it’s good to know these things too, but with more leniency for me than for him on that account. That said, even if he didn’t know everything, I wouldn’t have taken it against him. If it’s your job, you should know more than the average folk but no one has answers to everything and no one has 100% perfect scope (hah! I wish!).
The Brit showed me a fresh wound right before we jumped. “I got it when I was biking here,” he said as he uncovered it from the bandage. It was something about the pedal and chain going lose and his knee hitting some parts. “That looks naaassssttyy,” I said.
“It’ll be fine.”
“That’s what I’m hoping.”
(Disclaimer: not always a good idea, depending on how clean the water is, you might get infections… our spot was clean though so I think he was good)
We went diving on a site with a shipwreck. I assumed it was purposely sunken like a lot of them (haven’t gone to real WWII ones like the ones in Palawan) but apparently, it wasn’t. It supposedly sank some 10 years ago because of some accident.
History coolness factor that you can explore underwater: lame AF.
General coolness factor: still pretty fucking cool in my books.
Check out these fishies who weren’t shy at all.
They kept surrounding us. When I swam towards them, they would either break up a bit then surround me again or they would just slightly swim away together then come closer.
I loved it.
I avoid touching stuff though. Being able to do this is a privilege.
We’re just visitors: much like the stuff I was supposed to give away to folks I was gonna see in the Philippines that weren’t mine to chuck, marine life isn’t ours to fuck with either. Please be mindful when you’re down there.
Also, things are gross and slimy anyway like sea cucumbers… *shudder* #NeverAgain Yuck.
Then there was a time when I had to cancel a dive for the first time, ever.
It was just me and the divemaster at that time.
Once we jumped in, I looked down. It seemed dark. I put my mask on and looked down again for a better assessment. It was still dark, “We’re going here? I can’t see shit!”
“Yeah, I know. But let’s go down there and check,” the divemaster said.
Sometimes shallow waters have bad visibility but then you go a little deeper and it’s much better. That was not the case there. I forget which spot it was but there was a wall of corals. We separated from the other groups and checked out another side.
Up until then, I’ve never known what 1-2 metres (3-6 ft) of visibility was like.
We were about 26 metres deep and I kept thinking, “Give it a few more minutes…”
About 15 minutes in, I was just getting creeped out. “No, no. I don’t wanna cancel! No! It might get better! It might get better!” Canceling the dive crossed my mind several times before I finally called it. I was pretty bummed out,
As soon as I signaled to cancel, he asked if I was OK. I signaled that I was fine but the visibility was bad (point to my eyes + point to surroundings + “so-so” hand gesture, then “cancel” signal, then “ascend” signal). I noticed he kept checking my equipment and looking at my entire setup while constantly asking me if I was OK while ascending. He was pretty worried.
If I were the divemaster I’d be worried too. I feel like there should be a specific hand gesture for, “This visibility sucks. Let’s get outta here” just to be clear that you’re fine type thing and divemaster isn’t fucking freaking out, “Holy shit is she out of air? Is her BCD OK? What’s going on?!?”
I don’t think I can ever be a divemaster. It’s such a crazy responsibility. Imagine losing someone underwater?
I can see myself taking the courses for fun but I feel like I’d only take my friends and family because if I lose them it’s just my friends and family like who cares, whatever.
I sulked on the boat for a bit when we got back. I hated canceling. But like some 8-year old once said, “Sometimes you just need to take a nap and get over it.” So I napped, got over it, and ate a banana.
There was another time when I was in the water and I had seen some things I wanted to take a shot of, but my camera was running low on battery. I didn’t mind so much because I wasn’t that fixated on them. I kept trying to turn it on though and I was able to sneak a shot here and there (out of juice but not completely squeezed so I was able to still push a little).
When we were about to ascend, the divemaster shakes my leg, pretty strongly. I got a bit concerned because of the force he used so I quickly look at him. He points to a dark area. I signal, “What?”
Three other divers were looking towards it.
Another diver and I look at each other.
I signal, “Big fish?” He replies with a nod. We both looked at the dark area again.
“Meh. My camera’s out anyway and I’m getting bored. Whatever. I’m ready to go.” I thought.
Just when we were about to ascend, lo and behold, this guy shows up.
video courtesy of fellow diver (the one who nodded at me)
I pressed all sorts of buttons on my camera but it was dead.
The divemaster kept signaling to look at the fish and not be too caught up in trying to capture it. He was right but I couldn’t help myself. I was thoroughly irritated.
Even when we got back on the boat, I was still pretty salty.
“Yeah but you just swam with a whale shark! Cheer up!” the divemaster told me.
I just napped. #ProblemSolving #SolutionsForEverydayLiving
When we got back on the island, I asked the diveshop where they were headed for the next day. They only mentioned spots I’ve already been to, so I passed. I called several others when I got back in my room, about where they were headed for the next couple of days. I was hoping it would be somewhere new but it was the same thing there.
I decided to cut Koh Lanta a couple days short and booked a ferry back to Phuket.
I thought it was a good idea too ’cause flying back home from Koh Lanta within a span of 18 hours would’ve been ridiculously stressful and exhausting (ride to pier + ferry + ride to airport + fly to Hong Kong + fly to Toronto, where I live).
I figured it would be better to take it easy and divvy the transfers.
On the way back, I met this woman from Mississauga (Toronto suburb). On the ferry ride, we had an interesting conversation filled with social insight.
Part 6: Wrap Up, coming up for more diving, lessons learned, and possibly some more insight.