Koh Tao – the diver’s pilgrimage

Buddy Bar, The Squeeze, Trigger Pit, The Safety Stop (recommended after every dive).

If you are a diver, the names of the above bars are all inside jokes. This perfectly illustrates the aesthetic dominating Koh Tao. This is an island built for divers. This one island supposedly issues more PADI diving certificates than anywhere in the world. I’ve spent the last week here.

Every city block has a dive shop or two, the port is packed with boats packed with air tanks and diving gear, day and night share-taxis ferry divers from bungalow to boat and back again.

I came to do my PADI open water certificate, which will allow me to rent diving equipment and dive down to 12 meters, anywhere in the world. It was an amazing experience. For three straight days I got up at 7 am, went for 2 dives in bathtub warm water with nice reefs, and whenever I got back to my dive center, a delicious beach BBQ dinner was waiting for me.

I also had an awesome group of people with me – a group of BS and masters students from MIT and Boston University taking a short vacation from their  bio-tech research in Bangkok. They were fun and hilarious.

The diving itself was also amazing. I won’t waste words trying to describe it all, it’s something that must be felt. But I’ll just say that the worst part of everyday was stepping out of the water back onto the boat – everyday I felt like a bird getting my wings clipped. Underwater, once I learned to deal with the water pressure and breathing, I simply felt like I was flying.

Breathing in, air filled my lungs and I effortlessly floated towards the surface. Breathing out, I gently floated down to the sand below. But stepping onto the boat, my weightless air tank grew heavy on my shoulders – and no matter how much I breathed, I couldn’t rise any closer to the sky.

The long and short of it, I spent five straight days diving, as much as possible. One of the students in the group I met was also training for an advanced dive-master certification – she persuaded me to stay two more days and get my advanced open water as well, good to dive 30 meters. I foresee a lot of diving in my future.

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