Thailand: Christmas on Koh Tao

Well its been a very different kind of Christmas: hot, relaxed, almost indiscernible and probably most appropriately soundtracked by ‘All I want for Christmas is you’! It was nice to enjoy our first Christmas together but very strange being so far away from home and our families. I don’t think I want to do it again!

We’re staying on Koh Tao, meaning turtle island, off the Central Gulf Coast of southern Thailand. Once a detention place for political prisoners, it’s now a bustling tourist destination aimed largely at divers. There are three main villages; we’re staying in Sairee which consists of loads of dive schools with their affiliated bungalows or guesthouses. Because there aren’t really any big resort hotels, the stretches of beach are for anyone to use and the sea is invitingly warm and blue.

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The food here is amazing, largely due to the huge expat community running and frequenting the restaurants and cafes. We’ve had amazing pizzas, pasta, burgers, sandwiches, smoothies, coffees and, of course, Thai food. There are also roaming vendors selling pancakes, kebabs, meat on sticks, cakes…all sorts. It’s strange to think of it as Thailand as, after all we’ve learnt about their customs and culture, this is like another world filled with Westerners in beach wear speaking English and not a wai in sight!

We came here to dive, and dive we did. We chose the Simple Life dive school; the people were nice but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as it was quite disorganised and seemed to cut a lot of corners. Dean obtained his PADI open water scuba diving certification when he was here six years ago so just did a half day refresher course. Meanwhile I completed the full 3.5 day course to become qualified. This consisted of five videos with accompanying worksheets, two confined water dives in a pool, four open water dives in the sea and an exam.

I found it pretty difficult. The theory was all quite packed in as we watched several videos consecutively and I missed the first 1 and watched the second after our previously described 48 hour journey. Then, when it came to the exam, we were told to do it as a group (of 9), basically meaning the fastest couple of people just said the answers before the rest of us got chance to read or compute our responses. So entering the water, knowing full well I had gaps in my knowledge was a bit daunting. The pool session was ok though, I was in a group with five men so there was a bit of pressure to keep up!

The first trip out on the boat for open water dives 1 and 2 was less successful for me, not helped by a) me not mentally preparing myself for my first venture into the sea in many years (I’m a bit scared of its power most of the time and have never really enjoyed going in it), b) a mask that wasn’t really up to the job, c) recollections of 4 days of ear pain from my only other scuba experience about 10 years ago with my dad, and d) sea sickness! But I survived! And although visibility was poor, we saw a pufferfish and Christmas tree worms and various other stripy and plain fish!

The final trip out was much more successful and I felt I got the hang of it in the end. Visibility was dire again but, as it was Christmas eve, several of my group dived sporting santa hats! One of them had an underwater camera so I managed to get a few pictures from him:

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Also on Christmas eve we took a few festive photos of our own. Here’s Dean outside our little bungalow and a few down on the beach:

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The main celebratory activity on the island was getting drunk in santa hats but we opted for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant and then a wander on the beach.

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Back at our fairly poorly constructed bungalow (lots of gaps), we had quite the I’m a Celebrity moment! We had retreated to the bathroom while the insect repellent we’d sprayed the room with worked its magic, when we noticed a big spider (Dean reckons a huntsman, spider experts?) in the corner at one end and a massive cockroach on the opposite wall! Not to mention all the mozzies buzzing around in there!

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Christmas morning was strange with no family, no church, no presents, no christmas TV or food… Instead, we first had to move house from our free dive accommodation to a far nicer place with towel art, Imperial Leather soap and well-sealed walls and ceiling! (I added the tinsel!)

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We decided to go for some breakfast at a cafe we knew did good bacon sandwiches as that’s become a Webster family Christmas morning tradition in recent years. I had my first decent cup of tea of the trip: it wasn’t perfect but it was pretty good!

Then we treated ourselves to massages which were quite possibly the worst we’ve ever experienced with our masseuses chatting to each other throughout and far more aches and pains when we left than when we’d started!

Later we decided to try out snorkeling – another first for me – in our santa hats of course! We’ve been carrying the snorkels and masks around for three months so it was good to finally try them out however visibility was so poor that we couldn’t even see our feet so we soon gave up!

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In the evening we ate some M&Ms for a Christmas chocolate fix and had brief skype conversations with our families, trying a series of different bad Internet connections. Then we had our Christmas dinner (roast chicken and chips was the closest Dean could find, and I opted for lasagne).

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Finally we wandered around the clothes shops looking for Christmas presents – we didn’t buy anything but probably will before we leave – and another little walk on the beach. And that was Christmas!

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Boxing day was nice. We spent most of the day either in our bungalow or on the beach, reading, and ate a take-out pizza. Then we decided to try snorkeling again and this time we were much more successful seeing the coral reef inhabited by iridescent parrot fish, giant blue-green clams, orange, yellow and blue Christmas tree worms, giant sea cucumbers, a sea urchin and loads of others we don’t know the names of!

So, it’s been a nice few days but not really Christmas as such…maybe we will celebrate it properly in July! We’re here a couple more days then we head to Krabi on the mainland for new year before Malaysia where we’re excited to be meeting up with Harry and Ting!

Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy 2014!

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5 thoughts on “Thailand: Christmas on Koh Tao

  1. Wow! Different or what??? Food sounded good though and the sun of course! Quite jealous of that! I’ve also always wanted to dive and/or snorkel so that’s another moment of envy from me! I bet your family (and ashgate friends!!!) wouldn’t mind a July Christmas in your honour!!! Xxxxxxx

    1. I’ll have to have a Christmas-themed belated 30th birthday party I think! I’d recommend scuba diving but not christmas away from home. You can learn to dive in the UK you know – might be a bit chilly though! X

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