Suritthani to Kuala Lumpur

A heaving bus depo in Thailand

A heaving bus depo in Thailand

The boat pulled into Surit Thani on time and we were greeted by various bus companies. I checked my ticket and was hussled onto a van for transfer to the travel shop. We kicked our heels until our minibus and driver appeared, then all bundled aboard. We were full to the gunnels as we set off towards the border at Hat Yai.

One quick stop for some breakfast and we arrived at Hat Yai around 12:30. First we had to check out of Thailand and were delayed by three Indian guys on our bus – not their fault, as they didn’t realise that people with an Indian passport need to pay a departure tax from Thailand. They were telling us it was 30 Ringgit, which is bizarre as this is the Malaysian currency. I would have expected a Thai border to demand Baht.

All the same, we re-boarded and drove to the Malaysian border where the queues were even larger. We also had to undergo an in-ear temperature test as they scanned for signs of H1N1 Swine Flu. I can categorically state that I am medically “cool”. My body temperature is a chilly 36.5 degrees C – the bottom end of the accepted average. It also means I’ve not been snogging any dirty porcines recently.

The immigration queue was horrendous and it took us almost an hour to pass through. Then we waited for the Indians. And waited. And waited.

Finally, our driver went in to check – they’d been refused entry. Apparently a large number of Indians come into Malaysia and choose not to go home again. I assume these guys didn’t have onward tickets or something and on these grounds they were bounced back into Thailand.

So we continued our journey, somewhat delayed. Three of our group were heading for Penang and the minibus took us there where the other three (including myself) were dropped off to change onto a KL-bound bus. Unfortunately, due to the delay we’d missed the connection we should have got and had a 2½ hour wait for the next one. This also meant we’d be arriving in KL at 2am instead of 10:30pm.

I never seem to get to KL when I’m supposed to.

To kill time, we searched for free wi-fi (amazingly with no luck, given this is Malaysia) and I introduced my new Swedish friends to KFC which they had never tried before.

Eventually, our bus arrived and I’m sat on it now tapping this lot up. With luck we’ll not be later than 2am into KL as promised, but we’ve been sat at a terminus near Panang for almost fifteen minutes now so I don’t hold out much hope!

Fingers crossed my second hostel doesn’t baulk at me. I did check mails in Penang and they hadn’t sent anything detailing a problem. I’ve also emailed to ask if they could reserve two more beds for my companions as they have nowhere organised.

[update – we arrived at 3am, and thankfully my hostel (Trekker Lodge) took all three of us]

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48 hours underwater and 8½ hours on it

Are we meant to be this wet?

Are we meant to be this wet?

I was already conscious when Dave brayed on my door shortly after 7am. I grabbed my bags to stow them in the dive shop and we hopped onto another taxi into town. No time for breakfast, and no real room in my tummy for it with all the stuff from the previous night.

We ended up crossing the Bans Boat to get to Sunshine’s own which meant we had it pretty much to ourselves. Only a couple of trainee instructor groups who we’d not see underwater and two of the other guys who were diving separately. One chap almost didn’t make it onto the Bans when his flip-flop gave way as he clambered onto one of the tyres hanging from the side. Four people managed to haul him up before he vanished down between the boats, thankfully.

Your name's not on the list...

Your name's not on the list...

First off, we hit the Japanese Garden. Nearby is a recent wreck, an old dive boat dragged out there less than a year ago. Very little has grown on it as yet, just a thin film of fuzz. It would be interesting to see it again in a year or so.

Surrounding the wreck are many small holes, each of which is guarded by a fish. Hover nearby and you can watch a sizeable shrimp (I guess) run out with clawfuls of rubble that it deposits before scarpering back insode to do more digging. Get too close and the fish backs into the hole to stop as some kind of guard.

Over at the Garden itself, there’s little in the way of large fish life although plenty of coral, anemones, nudibranches and so forth. Dave was “attacked” by a rather tenacious pilot fish that wanted to “clean” the back of his knee until I managed to swish it away.

Coral and fish

Coral and fish

At the end of the dive we got a message to re-submerge right by the boat where the instructor group was. One of them had found some kind of stone fish – very rare and hard to spot with its camoflague. Also rather nasty if you touch it, so they’d had to move the group over a few metres to stay away from it. With Dave’s help, I managed to get some great shots.

After lunch, we dived at White Rock, this time cameraless as my battery had given up the ghost. Again, another hour or so of underwater bliss and plenty of things to see and wiggle my fingers at. Without the camera I concentrated more on my own air use and buoyancy – always useful. This dive saw me go above a total of 48 hours – 2 whole days – spent underwater.

Stone fish

Stone fish

I decided back on board to see about leaving for Kuala Lumpur later the same day. Although I could happily manage another two dives, it would be more expense and my liver was crying for a night off. For 1600 Baht, I got a ticket leaving on the 9pm night boat to Surithanni, then bus from there all the way to KL – arrival 10:30 the following night.

I booked a hostel through Hostelbookers, sorted out my dues, said my goodbyes and took my taxi into town a couple of hours to check in. With my spare time, I popped into Dirty Nallie’s for a pizza and use of the free wi-fi. Where I spotted I had a reply from the hostel saying they were full. Annoying as I’d paid a deposit on the assurance the booking was confirmed. I rebooked elsewhere, did some emails and legged it onto the boat.

"Cosy" is one word

"Cosy" is one word

It’s a “sleeper” boat and gets to the mainland around 5:30am. It’s also rather cosy with each “berth” being a narrow mattress, touching those on either side. On my left was a Canadian girl and to the right was a chap I didn’t speak to. Needless to say, sleeping clothed was the common option! We set off dot on 9pm and by 10:30, the lights had been turned off.

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Fishing and grilling

Wall of fish

Wall of fish

I got up at a more reasonable hour and walked around to OK 2 Cottages up the road. The view from their restaurant while I had breakfast was fantastic. I just sat there for maybe two hours reading, then strolled back to Sunshine to get changed for my afternoon dives. This time we were on the “Bans Boat” – a boat owned by a large dive resort – so we got a taxi into town to hop onto it.

Today, Dave and I were accompanied by Jo; a bubbly Scouser on her Divemaster training course. Over the two dives, we saw a fair bit of stuff and helped Jo with her air use. Fortunately we didn’t see any trigger fish as apparently the last time she encountered some, she went through 60 bar of air panicking! After some discussion and figuring things out, I think Dave and I calculated that we both spend about twice as long breathing out as breathing in. I take roughly one second longer to breathe in than he does. The real trick is to stay calm and relaxed and enjoy yourself.

Maori wrass?

Maori wrass?

The first site we dived was South West Pinnacle and afterwards Aow Leuk which I’d done the previous afternoon.

Back at Sunshine I got talking to some of the staff and invited up to a barbeque which I couldn’t turn down. And didn’t. I grabbed some munchies, a couple of beers and the remains of my festival Jägerbombs to take with me and got a lift up.

It was a great night with many of the dive staff who knew each other from last year meeting up again. Our host, Victor, has a cottage up a hill with a disused open-air bar at the end of the street which is free for people to use. Good food, great company and plenty of booze.

Cute and unidentified

Cute and unidentified

I staggered back with a couple of the lads at around 1am, then had one more beer at the Easy Bar before heading back to my bedroom. I managed to get pretty well packed as I needed to check out in the morning and then tried to sleep. Of course, as I knew I had to get up in the morning for early dives, I kept waking up! Not ideal with a 7am rise and a belly full of beer.

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Diving in Ko Tao – day 1

Angel fish

Angel fish

Well, I wouldn’t have been awake to do the morning dives as I was awoken by Dave (my divemaster and buddy) at around half past midday. After a couple of hours’ sleep the evening before, I’d walked down to the Easy Bar on the beach and stayed till 2am downing Chang and talking to fellow divers. I guess I needed the 10 hours’ sleep I got afterwards. I certainly feel better now!

The two dives were quite close to the bay where I’m staying, so I only had time to get my kit ready before we arrived at the first: Shark Island. This was absolutely heaving with fish, and blessedly quiet of divers. There are enough dive spots around Ko Tao that I think they can afford to spread everyone over a wide area.

Sea cucumber having a meal

Sea cucumber having a meal

With water warmer (and clearer) than some baths I’ve had, it was a great hour or so. Only a shame we were limited timewise by the other divers on the boat, most of whom were doing their Divemaster course exercises. I think the fish here are about the friendliest I’ve seen yet, allowing me to get very close and snatch some decent photographs. This is a good thing because, as I mentioned before, the screen on the back of my camera is virtually unusable in low light now that the backlight’s failed. As such, I went snap-happy to try and make up. There should be some examples scattered around this post.

I’m glad to say that most of the pictures came out quite well. A personal highlight was spotting a couple of very large sea cucumbers (at least I think they were… I’m not great on identifying things) eating. They open one end of their body and feathery tendrils come out to sweep over rocks and tear off tasty morsels. Actually a very “pretty” way to eat as their mouthparts are decorated with nice patterns.

Pretty fish

Pretty fish

After a quick slice of pineapple, we maneuvered to the second site: Aow Leuk. This was more of a coral garden with fewer fish but some glorious examples of other sea life. Again, I took a ton of photos and tried to stay out of the way of the people doing navigation exercises.

We managed just short of an hour before surfacing and having a quick sunbathe on the way back. The weather is glorious, though the sunsets spoiled in the evening by cloud rolling in. It never seems to rain, although the ball lightning last night was amazing to watch.

Before I forget, the company I’m with is Sunshine Divers. All the kit it good, everyone seems happy, the boat is nice and the accommodation here is fine. The attached restaurant does decent Thai food (I’ve not tried anything else there yet) and there’s an internet place at 2 Baht per minute, which seems to be an island standard rate. It also keeps cutting out – also standard on Ko Tao!

Posing fish

Posing fish

I’m verging more towards spending an extra night here and rushing my way to KL early next week. It’s just so chilled and the diving’s so good. I’ll see how I feel by the weekend. If I remember what day it is.

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