...Seems to be my life these days. After a few busy days in Bangkok meeting the ladyboys and doing a couple of other things I never thought I'd do-like riding on a motorcycle taxi sideways in a dress and eating chicken foot curry-I was ready for some relaxation. Fellow backpackers raved about the ease and enjoyment of traveling Southeast Asia saying it was the perfect mix of sightseeing and relaxation and I was ready to put that to the test by visiting Thailand's famous diving island, Koh Tao. 

One of my favorite things about Thailand is how easy it is to get around. I had already mapped out my plan of action: take train from Bangkok to Chompon, take bus to port, then catch ferry to Koh Tao. When I arrived at the train station to purchase my ticket they asked if i was headed for Koh Tao and suggested a combination train-bus-boat ticket. Being in the habit of figuring out my own travel plan and assuming they were trying to rip me off, I resisted. It wasn't until they said that the combo ticket was the only way I could get a sleeper cabin on the train that I caved.

They attached a yellow triangle sticker labeled, "Tao" to my shirt, and I was off. I was assigned a bench seat on the train and noticed that almost every passenger was a white tourist with a colored badge tacked to their chest. Pink circle-Panang, green square-Samui, red square-Surat Thani. It seemed like the Thais had the system down to a tee.

When the train lurched into motion, an attendant came through with dinner service and magically assembled a table between the two benches. This was now a dining car. An hour later, the attendant returned, and in three quick motions replaced the table, extended both benches and folded down a bed from the ceiling. Ta da! This was now a sleeper car with a row of bunk beds complete with individual privacy curtains. I couldn't be happier! This trip was off to a great start.

At four A.M. the attendant came through the cabin and shook me awake, motioning that the next stop was mine. Dazed, I exited the train to be greeted by the colored badge people once again. They sorted us into groups according to our colored sticker and we were herded onto our next mode of transportation-a bus that would take me to the port. The rest of the journey was smooth sailing.

Once I arrived in Koh Tao I signed up for a diving course. It was me and Nagaia, a German girl in the class. We would go out on the boat every morning, do our diving exercises and return to our bungalows on the beach just in time for a big Thai lunch. Of course being in Thailand it would be illogical to have a normal port or harbor where each boat could dock. Instead, the boats were tethered to each other in the order they came in from sea. The first one would be at the dock, the second one tied to the first, etc. In order for us to reach the dive boat we had to pass a series of boat obstacles. This involved walking onto the first boat, climbing through a window into the second boat, going up the stairs and jumping from the roof onto the third boat and so on. It must have been hilarious for an onlooker to watch the stream of divers playing follow the leader like monkeys climbing through a jungle of ships.

Our first two days were practice dives where we learned and demonstrated skills in shallow water. On the third day, our dive boat left port at six A.M. dropping us at the dive site just as the sun was rising. Air tanks on, we plunged into the blue for two hours of paradise. I felt like I was in a National Geographic video. Everywhere I looked colored fish were darting past in schools of hundreds and it was impossible to swim through the mass without bumping into a few. We saw angelfish, eels, stingrays, barracuda, clown fish and  many anemones and sea urchins. My favorite part was watching the fish playfully chase each other and swim in and out of coral arches and crevices.

At night, restaurants along the beach would set out mats on the sand and light small fires along the shore. Dancers with fire batons made their way from one end of the beach to the other stopping at each restaurant to perform their routines. We would finish each day sitting in the sand watching bonfires and spinning fires glide through the air. Then, eat Thai food, lie on beach, dive, repeat once again!
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Sunset on Koh Tao
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The boat obstacle course we had to endure each morning.
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Fishies in hiding! Photo credit: Alberto
 



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