Our friendly hotel receptionist Bobo here at First Villa Ko Phangan picked us up from our room early this morning. She escorted us to a taxi that she shared with us to the Thong Sala pier for our early Seatran Discovery ferry to our next Thai island Ko Tao, which means “Turtle Island” in Thai.
She told us about how she loves her job and loves getting to know all her guests on a personal level. For practical purposes, it allows her to shoo away non-hotel guests who come and use the pool and facilities which seems to happen quite a bit and with large groups.
She was proud of learning all her guests’ names by identifying cartoons or celebrities that they resemble. She remembered me because I look like Mulan (too easy, c’mon). She remembered Maurice because he looks like the guy from Night at the Museum. Ben Stiller? Yes! Ben Stiller, she laughs. Bobo told us another guest at the hotel looks just like Mr. Grey while his partner wears glasses and has that mousy look of the girl from the movie (Anastasia Steele).
Today was the first time it rained since we started our long trip. Short bursts of downpours as is typical of the tropics. We waited at the pier wearing our cheesy ferry stickers which the workers use to herd the confused tourists to their correct ferries and destinations.
We enjoyed our low key yet active stay in Ko Phangan despite not going to any of its many full moon, half moon, black moon and pre-moon parties that the island is infamous for. Maurice spotted this drunk dog at the pier who did partake it a little tipple.
The ferry ride to tiny Ko Tao was longer than the one between Ko Samui and Ko Phangan, this time we kept the bags indoors to avoid the waves getting our clothes wet.
Upon arriving at the pier at Ko Tao, there were dozens of drivers holding up signs of various resorts and dive shops around the island. We didn’t see one for Roctopus Dive which is where we pre-booked their well-reviewed SSI Open Water Course. Seeing our confused look at least two taxi drivers kept trying to get our business by saying how far Roctopus’s shop is and that they’ll drive us over for a fair price. We kept walking away from the persistent driver as I pulled up my phone to find the confirmation email from Roctopus explaining that they have a storefront located across the street from the pier and that they provide a free ride into Sairee Beach where their actual dive shop / school is located. Frustrating to see how the drivers try to fool you out of a dollar knowing full well the popular dive shop provides free pickup.
Bobo warned us about this behavior earlier today in Ko Phangan, which is why First Villa stopped offering their own pier pickup service because taxi drivers were whisking their guests away at the pier and effectively double-charging them.
At Roctopus Dive, we talked to a few of their friendly staff and completed our course registration on their computer. We were told to come back at 4 pm to begin our Open Water Course orientation with other students. In the meanwhile, they gave us directions to our hotel the Jolly Guesthouse in Sairee Village and recommended we check out Sairee Beach. A nice perk of their relatively new location at Wind Beach Resort is that their students get access to the resort’s pool and other facilities.
We proceeded to Jolly Guesthouse, an 8 minute walk from Roctopus, to check in. The location is not bad and the rooms are very clean but this was the smallest and most basic room we’ve been to thus far.
We went to beautiful Sairee Beach for lunch. It was almost as stunning as Ko Phi Phi in my opinion but I liked it better since the beach stretches out longer, there is more activity, beach bars / restaurants and trees providing shade.
At 4 pm, we went back to Roctopus Dive to get fitted for our fins. We sat in their classroom with 13 students in total and met our instructors Rachel and Ahmed who led us through the orientation and later were introduced to our own instructor Holly, a young Australian who started with Roctopus in the last few months.
We were given our textbooks and schedules which involved morning and afternoon sessions for the next two days plus a morning session on the third day. The sessions included academics, pool skills plus four open water dives in the famous coral reefs surrounding Ko Tao. We would have to get to class at 7 am, 8 am and 6 am respectively. Then we watched some cheesy SSI diving safety videos for 30 minutes. The videos were from 2002 and had great after school special music, as one would expect.
When our school session ended, we went back to Sairee Beach to enjoy the sunset and “swim” in the warm, shallow waters. After dark we had dinner at The Gallery which was a nice restaurant with an interesting restaurant / photography gallery / spa concept. I had white coconut curry for the first time which was pretty good but I usually prefer my Thai curries spicier.
We also goofed off at 7/11 while stocking up on water for our days in Ko Tao. This 7/11 is smack in the middle of the town’s main intersection and we probably each came here at least twice a day everyday.
Back at Jolly Guesthouse, I did my dive course reading assignment (~110 pages) and its corresponding homework late into the night in our hot fan-only concrete room with no real window. Maurice spent the whole night writing his yolomimo post and then copied my homework! The guy has got some nerve… Will I be able to trust him as my dive buddy 60 feet under the surface? We’ll find out…