Ko Tao is the smallest of the three famous islands in Surat Thani province, on the gulf coast of southern Thailand — its two larger and more-developed neighbours are Ko Pha-Ngan, and the mega-attraction Ko Samui. Like its neighbours, Ko Tao is a tropical paradise, and is every holiday-maker's dream. Over the past decade or so, the island has evolved into Thailand's premier spot for scuba diving, with about 50 dive schools operating on the island. I'm here to do the famous PADI beginner diver's certification; and after that, I'll stay here as long as I can, because I can imagine fewer places more blissful on all this Earth.
There are divers. And then there are fanatical divers. And then there's Flav. Originally from the Netherlands, Flavius is one of the longest-serving instructors at Ban's: he's married to a local woman, and he's been living here on Ko Tao for no less than 14 years! Hasn't even gone home once, in all that time. Flav's a part of the furniture around here, and diving is his life. I was lucky enough to have Flav as my instructor during my Open Water course this week: and despite my utter lack of natural suitability for the submarine world, he did an amazing job of getting me down and of bringing me back up.
Ban's is one of the biggest resort / diving-school joints in Ko Tao: but don't let this put you off. It's a great school: highly experienced instructors, friendly service, and all the support you could need. It's a great resort: lovely rooms, a superb bar / restaurant, and an unbeatable location. Plus, despite all that, it still manages to offer pricing competitive with many of its lesser rivals; and even more amazingly, it still manages to retain a cosy, chilled and friendly vibe. Alex, Caroline and myself stayed at Ban's for four nights (accommodation complementary with the PADI course), and we had a blast here.
Like other places in Thailand, Ko Tao is also home to the delicious late-night street snack roti (pancake). Ko Tao's roti is no different to the roti anywhere else: but in this case, it's how you cook it that makes all the difference. Ko Tao is home to the legendary Pancake Ninja: this guy can be found in his little stall on Sairee most nights; and no matter who or what you've witnessed previously, you ain't seen flippin' til you've seen him in action. In 30 seconds flat, pancake cooking meets Kung Fu. Check out the video.
And it's called Sairee Beach, Ko Tao. I'm blurting out the secret — so consider yourself privileged. This place is heaven. For our first day on Ko Tao, Alex, Caroline and myself spent most of the day semi-conscious on Sairee Beach, letting the water lap at our feet and the sun pour down on our backs. We managed to fit in some time for shopping around, as well — and after some quick research, we've booked our 4-day PADI Open Water course at what we hope is a good place. It was a chilled evening: just a few drinks at one of Sairee's super-mellow beach bars, sprawled out on the island's ubiquitous cushion-and-mat "seating", before exhaustion overcame us and we crashed into bed. If the rest of my time on Ko Tao is going to be like this, then things are looking real good indeed.
Yesterday I was halfway there. Today I made it all the way — I've landed in paradise, on the scuba-mental island of Ko Tao. Only took two nights, two buses, and a 5-hour ferry: and let me tell you, it was worth it. My second night bus left Bangkok yesterday evening — after my little pre-bus adventure had concluded — and the ferry from Chumphon to Ko Tao departed at about 6am this morning. Now that I'm here, I've got a feeling that I won't be leaving for a while.
Alex is a dutch bloke, who's currently studying finance and economics at university. Caroline is a half-Swedish, half-French girl (she's lived in Sweden since age 12), who works as a secretary back home, and who's here in Thailand for a one-month holiday. I met these two great people on the bus to Chumphon (very early this morning), and I stayed with them on the ferry to Ko Tao. The three of us ended up sticking very close to each other, for almost a week on Ko Tao — we signed up for our dive course together, and the rest is history.