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Snorkelling the sand soup around Ko Tao, Thailand

Day 19 – Round the World 2008

We awoke early this morning ready to face a day on the high seas. We had decided to book ourselves on a snorkelling trip around the island thinking that we could see some of the reportedly amazing diving sites around Ko Tao, as well as scoring a visit to some of the secluded bays that we hadn’t dared risk out scooter off-roading to yesterday. We were picked up in one of the ubiquitous pickup trucks that everyone in Thailand seems to own – literally about 75% of the cars you see on the road here consist of these huge, way out of my price range, 4×4 beasts which I was surprised to see in a supposedly relatively poor country.

The truck picked up a few other folks before despositing us all on a well used dock next to an even more well used looking sea vessel. It was a pretty big boat for the meagre 7 customers they’d managed to pick up, but the less than beautiful weather – looming grey clouds and gale force winds – probably accounted for that. We were accompanied by a couple from Holland, a couple from England and an aussie guy, all of which seemed pretty friendly.

After our nightmarish ferry ride only a couple of days ago we were slightly apprehensive about the sailing around, but the boat stayed pretty close to the coast the whole way and we arrived at the first stop without having to feed the fishes. So, this was where we’d see some of the best diving in the world apparently. The Lonely Planet and various other sources had told us that Ko Tao was among the top rankers on earth when it comes to reefs, marine life and underwater playgrounds, so I sqelched into my flippers, donned my mask and snorkel and leaped excitedly into the sea. After about 2 minutes of thrashing around trying to clear my mask I began to think that, perhaps, we’d been had. My mask was as clear as it got, it just happened to be the sea that was dirty. It turned out that our monsoon dodging had been successful by way of avoiding the rain, but the crap churned up by the storms in the sea takes a lot longer to settle down. The 7 of us were flippering around, bumping into each other in the murk, straining to even see the seabed never mind hide nor hair of a fish. It was warm at least though, and in the end we did see a stunted little fish or two, but the ‘best place to see sharks, sharks all over the place!’ as the guide said – methinks not.

In all fairness, the next stop was a fair bit better – it was a lot clearer and there was plenty more to see. You couldn’t exactly call it a secluded spot though as we were joined by around 5 or 6 other snorkeling boats and even though you could see 10m or more through the water we were still bumping into folk every 2 minutes through sheer numbers. The reef was amazing though and the fish even more so. Who’da thought you needed that many colours to make up one creature. The needle fish were cool too swimming around in big shoals looking like a big bunch of shiny straws arrowing through the water.

It was obviously a popular spot because we saw a number of divers poking around the bottom too, but from what I could see they weren’t getting much of a better view than us. I’d love to go back and do my diving qualification there at some point though, and it’s pretty bargainous at £90 for your open water certificate including accomodation.

After the second stop there was another pretty dissapointing visit to a supposedly great little bay, but it was the same as the first and we blindly swum around for 45 minutes occasionally seeing some dead coral through the haze and the odd evil looking littly spiky crab.

After the third snorkelling stop we sailed off in search of a lunch spot. When booking the trip we’d been promised fresh fruit and water all day, along with lunch at half time. At that point we’d had plenty of water but the fruit had yet to transpire, and when we saw them preparing what looking like food my mouth began to water. The ‘lunch’ however turned out to consist of nothing more than a polystyrene box each filled with plain rice and topped with, of all things, a fried egg. This might have provoked a bit of complaint among the lot of us as we’d already been moaning about the rubbish conditions and the lack of snacks, but the boat crew pulled an obviously well rehearsed masterstroke by parking up for lunch in a nice open bay, conveniently exposed to some of the best swells the Gulf of Thailand has to offer. Each of us looked with anger at our pretty sub-par lunch, took one bite, stood up to complain and then turned aside to vomit said bite over the side. Any thoughts of lunch pretty much dropped out of our heads then and I concentrated on just keeping breakfast down.

After lunch the schedule had us heading over to Ko Tao’s little brother, xxxxxxx. Xxxxxxxx is a tiny island only a few miles to the west of Ko Tao, which is actually 3 even tinier islands linked together by a central sand bar to make a kind of island version of the mercedes badge. It was the stereotypical tropical paradise, two of the islands shooting up with steep cliffs and surrounding the central sandbar which formed three back-to-back pristine white sand beaches. The remaining island housed a hotel and a beach bar and that’s pretty much it, the whole was probably less than half a mile accross but you could see that people came here to spend a week and just sit on the beach. It was pretty amazing, but I have to say I got pretty bored after spending 3 hours there never mind a week. We climbed up to the top of one of the mini-islands and were treated to an awesome view of Ko Tao and it’s surroundings, but after that and a little swim we headed back on the boat.

As I said, we were scheduled for more snorkelling after that but noone was particularly bothered about it after the morning’s adventures, and as it turned out that the skipper headed for home straight away in any case. I was torn between annoyance that they were pretty much ripping us off by finishing an hour early and relief that we wouldn’t have to spend another hour peering through silty water at sweet f-a.

We’d got on pretty well with the lone aussie, Jared, during the day so we met up with him that evening for a bit of food and some beers. After a pretty average Italian meal we found a nice little bar right on the beach pumping out some old old tunes which, surprisingly enough, got better and better as we graduated from beers to shorts to multicoloured buckets. The night ended with the Cat, I and the aussie throwing some horrendous shapes on the sand surrounded by Thais and tourists alike. The buckets strike ag

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