Sawatdee from the tropical island of Koh Tao! I’ve been here in the Gulf of Thailand for around a week now, and its more incredible that I could have imagined.

Koh Tao itself is a small place, and historically wasn’t heavily inhabited by humans. The island was used for over a decade as a Thai political prison in the 1930s and 1940s, and then mostly abandoned when the operation was shut down.

It’s only in the last 30 years or so that overseas tourism breathed fresh life into Koh Tao, but its popularity has skyrocketed in that time. Today, the island is most famous for its huge array of incredible scuba diving sites. It’s really quite remarkable how many dive shops (several dozen, at least) have managed to elbow their way onto such a limited amount of land.

Of course, I wasn’t about to visit and not partake in some scuba action…

Roctopus Dive shop, at beautiful Sairee Beach.

Roctopus Dive shop.

This is Roctopus, an SSI-affiliated dive shop near Koh Tao’s Sairee Beach, and where I went for my Open Water Diver certification. This is sort of your global license to dive anywhere on the planet, up to 18m (or 60ft) deep.

Diving really is amazing. Hovering 50+ feet beneath the surface, exploring the bizarre and colorful inhabitants, is like visiting an alien world. What’s particularly breathtaking is the shear amount of life underwater – something you won’t truly comprehend until you dip beneath the surface and your whole field of vision is filled with tiny schooling creatures. Most of the images you can find online just don’t compare.

Heading off to an early-morning dive at Chumphon Pinnacle.

Heading off to an early-morning dive at Chumphon Pinnacle.

There is little noise in the reef (that’s easily audible to humans, anyway) beyond the periodic release of air bubbles from your regulator, and the mask narrows your field of vision somewhat. Once you get comfortable with maneuvering and with your gear, there are essentially no distractions – nothing competing for your attention except the gorgeous fish and coral formations ahead.

You also become much more aware of your breathing, for a couple of reasons – one being that you need to take slow and deep breaths, lest you drain your air tank too quickly; and the second being that the amount of air in your lungs at any given moment determines your buoyancy. Meditation begins with deep and controlled breathing, and the effects felt during scuba can be very similar.

A couple days of classes and several incredible dives later. Aww yiss.

A couple days of classes and several incredible dives later. Aww yiss.

It’s no accident that Koh Tao issues more new scuba certifications than anywhere else on Earth (except perhaps Cairns, Australia). Hundreds of tropical species inhabit these warm waters, and I was fortunate enough to see everything from moray eels to massive groupers to vibrant angelfish. That’s not even to mention the non-fish varieties, like spiny lobsters, giant clams, and sea cucumbers

There are even whale sharks that occasionally make their way to the reef, but no such luck this time. Too bad, because swimming with one is on the bucket list.

I’ll be heading back to nearby Koh Phangan later today, where I plan to set up shop for the next 3 weeks or so. After that, it’s back to the States – at least for a while. But I’d love to return to Koh Tao some day: there’s just too much underwater that I haven’t seen. And next time, I’ll be bringing (or at least renting) a GoPro for sure.

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