By the end of every trip, someone always ends up asking me; “So, what’s your highest point?” And if nobody does, I find myself asking the same question to myself. Sometimes, it’s hard to decide on a winner. So I take a safer route of a tie where two contenders score neck-to-neck. Very rarely, there is a clear winner. Luckily, my Thailand trip in 2022 did have one. And boy, with what skyrocketing scores!
Without getting much into the million planning sessions amongst 11 friends, creation of wish lists and whatnots, let’s just “dive in”! As the day got closer, we were mentally prepared, emotionally psyched, and physically just about sober enough not to mess it up!
1. The East Coast Vs West Coast Quandary
Before zeroing down to Ao Nang for our Thailand Scuba Diving, we too faced our fair share of indecisiveness for the big question: East or West? Why, you ask? Well, the east coast had the most serene secluded islands like Koh Samui, Koh Samed, and Koh Chang. West Coast, on the other hand, had Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Lanta, Chicken Island, and so on! Visual magnificence could never be the deciding factor; both coasts had an abundance of that. So it all came down to one tiny element that finally helped us pick. Visibility. Thanks to a friend who shared some precious intel on his last dive. During November there were more chances of rains in the East Coast than the west which would be bad news for underwater visibility. So west coast it was. Because November was the perfect time for a Scuba experience due to the great visibility at the west coast dive sites.
Tip for first-time divers: Research well about the different dive sites before picking as per your preferred month of travel. If you plan to dive at any west coast dive site, November- May is the best time with almost 30m of visibility. Read more here.
2. That Night Before, At Chaplu (Ao Nang)
We landed from the joyful bustling city of Angels (also known as Bangkok) to a placid Krabi with coconut trees and the air smelling of the ocean, where every tiny bit of the landscape just “screams chill”! Our itinerary was anything but rigid except for the dive which was scheduled for the next day. So we freshened up a little bit and had a huge soulful seafood lunch by the beach with a couple of Leo beers (one of the most popular beer brands in Thailand).
We hung out by the streets of Ao Nang listening to some beautiful music played at the beachside bars, watched the Full Moon Festival with hundreds of floating candles in the sea, and enjoyed some street-food satays before we discovered a small modest cocktail stand called Chàplu. That, right there was where we found ourselves at a point of a dilemma! The cocktails were so brilliant that it was physically impossible to stop. From Mango Mojito to Caipiroska, every drink was magic! Created with generous amounts of alcohol yet maintaining the perfect balance of every flavour. However, our dive the next morning needed us to get some sleep and wake up fresh early. There was an internal battle between “Enough sleep for Morning Dive” & “Giving in to the Chaplu Magic” we all fought with ourselves that night. Hard to say who won though! I’d like to believe both did!
Important tip for first-time divers: Try to get a good eight-hour sleep the night before. Even if you decide to drink, start early, finish early!
3. Right Before The Big Jump
Our PADI-affiliated diving instructor Amp, really took his time with the initial training and briefing followed by elaborately explaining all the basic rules and directions to us. This was our second dive after Sri Lanka, so we were familiar with the Universal Diving signs. But the rest of the training really helped us in understanding the mechanism of the diving gears like the scuba tank cylinders, buoyancy control device, dive suits, masks, dive weights, and how all of this works. We were repeatedly reminded that being beginners, we would never be left alone underwater and our instructors will always be guiding and leading us. It’s safe, it’s fun and once you’re at 12 metres below sea level, it would be a life-changing experience.
I was ready and super kicked for all of that. Except for the very first step! The backward jump we’re supposed to make to enter the sea. The mere concept of submitting yourself almost blindly to the deep blue sea terrified me. The knowledge that Amp is there throughout, by our side, to inflate the jackets that would float us right up instantly after our jump, should be enough to help us fight the fear. Well, it wasn’t! That’s not how fear works anyway now, does it?
“How on earth do I jump though? Just how?”
Now I’m all geared up, wearing my diving suit along with the heavy aluminium scuba tank on my back and 7 or 8 dive weight cubes tied to a belt around my waist and large blue fins on my feet. I had my scuba glasses and the snorkel on perfectly fitted on my face. I was ready. Now Amp asks me to sit on the edge of the boat, facing backward to the sea…now that’s when my knees start knocking together. I know it’s safe, I know I wouldn’t die; neither would I get hurt, I know all that! But as I said knowledge, doesn’t help. Not at that particular moment, oh no!
I’m not a religious person per se. But I did call out every God’s and Goddesses’ name I could recall at that moment. Making nervous false promises to be good like a scared kid. There are a million instances in our lives when we go through that heart Vs head dilemma. That wasn’t one of those moments. My heart, brain, stomach, face, hands…every cell in my body was in complete agreement with one another. THEY WERE ALL SCARED!
Eventually, I did jump, everybody does. And it all seemed like a cakewalk after that. But those few seconds before the dive, will always stay with me. Every shiver, every pounding heartbeat, every drop of sweat…I will cherish each of these scary (or scarry?!) flashes as adornments to my diving experience.
Important tip for first-time divers: Trust your guide completely. Keep telling yourself out loud, “nothing will happen, it’s totally safe” before the jump. And honestly, just jump already!
4. Why The First Time Isn’t Always The Best, 2nd Time Is
First times are always special. True. But, the second time…that’s a whole new level of elation. Sri Lanka dive would always be special for me because it was my first. All my knowledge and expectations were based on other people’s stories or whatever visual references I’d drawn from videos or movies. I was excited, curious, and hopeful. And when it finally happened, it was heaven. I came out of the ocean as a changed person.
Now in Krabi, I was no more a dive-virgin. I had already tasted blood and therefore knew exactly what to expect. And that feeling of knowing supersedes the feeling of unknown excitement. We went for two consecutive dives at Ao Nang local dive sites and this time too, the second dive turned out to be a game changer.
Once you get accustomed to the equalisation process and how to communicate underwater and get yourself used to the whole “hey look I’m swimming under the ocean OMG!!!” stage, that’s when you start observing. Really looking and observing, processing and sinking in (pun intended!). And this is the part where you almost lose your mind. The sights are so unbelievable; the colours underwater are so vivid and the fact that you’re not watching all this on your TV but in reality…that feeling makes you forget every challenge (internal or external) you’ve had to face until now.
The first dive at Krabi was all about enjoying that feeling and soaking it all in. From clownfish to blue tang and yellow tang, we were greeted by the whole cast of “Finding Nemo” (except for the sharks thankfully) who kept blissfully swimming around us. There were sea urchins, colourful corals, and innumerable fish species which I had only seen in movies or Discovery channel documentaries. However, during my second dive, while I was happily floating about watching random seaweeds and corals, our guide suddenly clutched my hand and pointed something at me. What I saw literally made my eyes pop out and my jaw dropped & rolling on the sea floor (well not literally, but you get the gist!!).
A massive school of small yellow-tailed fish was circling right by our side and there were literally (yes, literally) millions of them. They were swimming, circling over our heads, and just swaying in some inaudible music putting on a whole performance. I didn’t have the option of being physically wide-mouthed but metaphorically, I was. And I don’t remember for how long. I’m sure I had major goosebumps, or something far more intense involving not just my body, but my soul too, perhaps. I was like a bewitched little creature who had completely surrendered to this extraordinary situation. I was ready to follow the school, and let them lead me wherever they were heading to.
Important tip for first-time divers: Rent a good quality Go-pro or pay your PADI guide for underwater memories. Having said that, pictures rarely do justice to what your eyes would witness!
5. What Happens Under The Sea, Does NOT Stay Under The Sea
When you come out of the water after such a brain-boggling encounter, you can never remain the same person. The world above the ocean seems smaller and restricted for a while. It takes quite some time to get used to the air, the breathing and most importantly, the change in vistas. It evolves you as a person. Physically, philosophically, and even spiritually. That feeling can’t be very different from the one humans experienced when they discovered fire!
Important tip for first-time divers: Eat light between your two dives and take at least a 2-hour break. Use that time to relax, or float around the water!
There are certain moments in everyone’s life when you get dumbstruck. Or inexplicably ecstatic, when you don’t have the ability to move, react or even realise how you’re feeling. Ever since I started travelling, there have been quite a few such moments in my life. When I witnessed a living root bridge at Mawlynnong, Meghalaya 2012; When I gazed wide-eyed at Michaelangelo’s Pietá in Rome, 2016; When I was kayaking for the first time in the Pacific at Lan Ha Bay in Vietnam 2019; When I watched a full moon rising from the pitch black sea at 2:00 AM at Yala national park, Sri Lanka; and when I was swimming 14 meters under the Andaman Sea at Krabi while the zillion Yellow tailed fishes casually moved around my body. It’s difficult to choose between two magnificent creations of nature (or even humans in certain cases); Almost impossible. But you know what? You don’t have to! As for me, I’m not done with scuba diving. In fact, I want more, I want deeper. I want another such underwater experience that would make me forget those Yellow-tailed fishes – now that’s a challenge I’ve thrown at myself. Would be pretty tough to achieve, don’t you think?
Get in touch with the super-efficient PADI team at Krabi for a memorable experience.
If you too have any mind-blowing travel stories, share them with us in the comment section below. Or just tell us how you feel about Scuba diving now?
(Cover Image Credit: PxHere)