I can remember perfectly the first time I went diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
It was an intro dive, where basically they hold your hand and swim around with you along a coral shelf next to a floating pontoon. You had to do belowdecks to an wire shelf a meter deep in water where you strapped on all the gear for the first time, practiced breathing through the regulator. It all happened so fast the next thing I know the divemaster said, “ok masks on, regs in, let’s go,” and then disappeared under the pontoon which prompted a very loud skeptical “you want me to go WHERE?” response from me.
It’s one thing to jump off a boat for your first dive, but it’s another to have to descend underneath a roof of a boat or pontoon – i.e. no access between you and the surface in case of freakouts and or panic attacks. Of course it was only like 2 meters wide, and I could see sunlight on the other side, but STILL. Freaky.
Luckily, I tried not to think about it and just went with it. And as soon as I saw my first nemo, I knew I had found my new passion. I couldn’t wait to get better. Since then I’ve been diving in Australia again and also in Bali, both of which were amazing.
A few months ago when I was knew I would be going to Sri Lanka from New Zealand via Thailand, I knew this was my chance to up my diving game. Also when an opportunity to visit such a place presents itself, you take advantage.
After all, Thailand is one of the most famous places in the world for diving. This would be my chance! Dive on!
Then I started researching where to go and was immediately overwhelmed.
Sending a quick FB message to my friend Alex in Wanderland, diver extraordinaire, I asked her where I should go diving in Thailand, and she replied straight away, “Koh Tao.” Travel bloggers are seriously such a great resource. She even put together a list of places I should eat in Koh Tao that would understand my peanut allergy! Rockstar!
As soon as I started digging through her Koh Tao diving posts, I knew I had to go. What an inspiration! I had been dreaming about diving with such beautiful corals, rare fish, turtles and maybe even whale sharks since my last dive.
I love being inspired by other people’s travel stories and pics!
Inspiring underwater photos from Alex in Wanderland
More Koh Tao inspiration from Alex in Wanderland
Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, has some of the best dive spots in Thailand, and so many to chose from. For someone relatively new to the diving scene, it would be a great place to improve. It’s a great place for people of all levels. However, because it’s so popular for divers, it was a bit tricky trying to find a reputable dive shop because there are dozens to chose from.
Luckily, through Alex I found out about Roctopus, the best dive shop on Koh Tao.
Located in Sairee Beach, it’s on the best part of the island and right in the center of everything. Since I was in Thailand on my own dime and without knowing anyone, I was hoping to meet some new people and bond with the island.
To be honest I was pretty nervous about going actually; I am definitely over my backpacker party scene days, and I didn’t know if I would even end up like Koh Tao or not.
From Bangkok, there are dozens of cheap flights a day to Koh Samui, the closest airport to Koh Tao. From there, it’s a quick ferry ride (less than 2 hours) to Koh Tao, which stops in Koh Phangan on the way, home of the infamous monthly Full Moon Party.
I thought about it for about half a second and then was like, NOPE.Saving that for another time.
This was meant to be a chill trip after the chaos of Sri Lanka, time to relax and recover. Sleep, eat (all the mango sticky rice) and dive in paradise. Repeat.
The boat ride over from Koh Samui was interesting to say the least. The beginning of monsoon season and the end of a storm, we had big swells on the way over, which as you can probably imagine, the hungover 18 year old backpackers didn’t handle well. Yuck.
Welcome to Southeast Asia!
You couldn’t get me off that boat fast enough to flag a “taxi.” As soon as I hopped out of the back of my pickup truck that was my taxi to Roctopus, I knew I was home. What a beautiful place!
An introvert at heart, I usually dread the whole process of meeting people and making friends on the road. Luckily the crew that works at Roctopus are friendly and fun, and welcoming since it’s a major hub for backpackers and travelers, and everyone is in the same boat as you, literally and figuratively. Just what I needed.
My office in Thailand on Koh Tao with @roctopusdive – yeah, I can get used to this. A photo posted by Liz Carlson (@youngadventuress) on
When I learned to dive in Australia, I was the only one on my course, and I didn’t realize that diving is a whole community and culture until I was in Bali. You’re connected automatically with a group of people who all share the same interests as you, usually on holiday in a beautiful place looking for a good time. In Bali I had a good experience with a dive shop and crappy experience with another, so since then I have made sure that I always try and chose a place with kickass reviews and a fun staff.
Roctopus embodies that fun loving diveshop atmosphere where everyone is friends straight away and hang out together both diving and afterwards. Perfect for solo travelers like me. My first night we all went out downtown to celebrate a big group of students finishing their open water course; it was the perfect introduction to Koh Tao.
I quickly checked in to my room at the Roctopus Hotel right across the street before heading back to meet everyone and plan my dives. It didn’t take much convincing for me to sign up to do my Advanced Adventurer dive course instead of a week of fun dives here and there.
This would mean I got to do 5 dives learning new skills over a few days doing things I had been dreaming about for months. A shipwreck dive, improving navigation, working on perfect buoyancy, a deep dive and dun, dun dun, my first night dive!!!
With all things, safety is the most important thing for me when traveling, so I always make sure to chose companies that adhere to high safety standards, which can sometimes be tricky in developing countries or places where there is a high demand for a certain activity.
Roctopus is run by expats and adheres to Australia safety standards, some of the best in the world which means SAFE DIVING woot woot! I am such a mom sometimes; I can’t believe I just wrote that.
I was stoked to meet up with Päivi from Finland who would be my instructor over the next couple of days.
She was so knowledgable and so much fun and has been diving and working on Koh Tao for years and years. She knows the sites like the back of her hand.
I feel like every time I descend I get better and better, it’s such a good feeling, especially since I am not naturally very good at sports or activities. Wahoo! We dived at so many of the famous sites around Koh Tao, and every time I submerged, I fell in love with the underwater world again and again. Swoon!
After diving my first wreck in Bali, I was super keen to do a wreck dive here. This time the ship was sunk on purpose on the day we went out for it, the water was super murky and actually quite spooky, making for a really fun ghost dive.
And my last dive of the course was a night dive, something I can say I love now, but that was certainly not the case when I got on the die boat at sunset to head out. I was terrified.
Can you say sharkbait? What if I got snatched?
I tried to empty my head as I got ready, and my hands were shaking as I pulled on my wetsuit. I jumped in straight away, trying not to think about it, and I can still remember trying to focus on the boat’s lights instead of what was below.
We all descended in a big group together along a big rope, and my fears quickly slipped away into wonder – and I mean that in the least cheesy way possible. As we slowly got deeper and deeper, I noticed the water actually sparkled!
Hiding my light I swished my hands in front of my face, moving the water about quickly, making it glow. Apparently it’s filled with bioluminescent plankton, making it feel like I was swimming among the stars in the night sky, reminiscent of the Beach.
What an experience!
As if it wasn’t enough, Päivi said it was one of the best night dives she’s had in ages. We saw a cuttlefish feeding, blue spotted stingrays swimming around, heaps of fish I’ve never seen before, crabs, and the best part, an octopus swimming through the water!
I think I’m becoming a total fish nerd.
It was the perfect experience to help me get over my fear of diving at night.
Luckily I had an extra day to do some fun dives too, and really get to know all the fish life around Koh Tao. This time I dived with Emma from Scotland who knows pretty much every single fish by name on Koh Tao. So cool.
Seriously, every instructor at Roctopus has something cool and different to bring to the table. You’re never bored.
One of my last nights on the island, I decided I had to experience the famous Southeast Asia nightlife for myself, you know for research purposes.
I’m so busy all the time, I always have excuses for not going out. I need to remember I’m young and allowed to have a wild night once in a while.
And a wild night it was. What started out simply as mojitos by a bonfire on the beach with my dive buddy and friends quickly escalated into more Singhas than I care to remember, getting carried and thrown into a pool (fully clothed) by a 6’2 hockey player from Canada, skipping over a rope that was ON FIRE (which I probably wouldn’t have done if I didn’t have this awesome travel insurance plan) and then a bit of a midnight swim (less than fully clothed) that *might* have led to a fun little fling on the beach.
Sigh, I think YOLO is the only appropriate response here.
A photo posted by Liz Carlson (@youngadventuress) on
Looking back, I keep noticing how big my smile is in all of my pictures – I think Koh Tao might be my new happy place, and I certainly can’t wait to go back again!
It was a trip that reminded me of how I used to travel before I was a blogger, and it was the prefect example of my goal of taking it easy and doing more hands-on learning trips in the future, and also helped me get over some fears.
I think I can safely say I am now a passionate diver! Thank you Alex and Roctopus!
Are you a fan of diving? Have you ever been to Southeast Asia? Do you like to slow down on your travels?
**Housekeeping note – I have a few spots left for anyone hoping to have their travel blog featured here in January
Many thanks to Roctopus Dive for helping host me on Koh Tao, aand some of the links on this page are affiliate links. But like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!