Koh Tao is a little island off the southeastern coast of Thailand, North West of its larger and noisier cousins Koh Pha-Ngang and Koh Samui. It has a population of 5000 or so, and it's only about 13 square miles. So my heart sinks as I get on the Catamaran at Koh Samui and find that every seat in the hideously over airconditioned downstairs seating area is not only packed, but packed with the type of half drunk overweight british sex tourist that I have so far managed to avoid contact with. I buy a bottle of water and then get the hell out and onto the deck. Where I find a great place to sit in the sun. The crowd is worrying me. Drunk american teenagers strut around with their tattoos, shouting at each other and playing drinking games. I read my book - I'm on those Steig Larsson books about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Which are perfect holiday reading and I can get lost for hours. 45 minutes later we arrive in Koh Pha-Ngang and a girl comes and joins me in my little corner. "Don't go downstairs," I warn her. "It's hell down there, and freezing." She looks at me as if I'm insane and says nothing. I go back to my book. Ten minutes pass and I decide I want a conversation and a beer. I ask her if she wants a beer, but she declines, and I head down to the lower deck of the boat to discover that there is virtually nobody there anymore. What the fuck? I come back up and announce to her "They've vanished! Last time I went down there it was packed to the gills, now there's nobody - no wonder you looked at me as if I was mad." She laughs. Apparently it's a full moon and they all got off to raise hell in Koh Pha-Ngang. I try to work out if i regret not doing the same now I know. We get talking - she's a yoga teacher by vocation and teaches kids for money. She wants to set up her own yoga studio and she is so peaceful and present that I think that it's a brilliant idea. By the end of the conversation I feel that I have made a friend - after all I've been craving company for some time, and hers is easy and intelligent. All too soon the ferry pulls in to Koh Tao and we say goodbye.
At the ferryport waits the usual chaos of howling taxi drivers. I wade through them and am relieved that there are only about ten of them. Quite suddenly peace happens. I walk down a street and nobody shouts anything to me. The streets are pretty basic here - open drainage on the sides of the road, a rash of shops and restaurants, and hundreds of dive outlets. This is the major industry on Koh Tao - scuba. It's unavoidable. Not wanting to get ripped off, I have made a decision before arriving about where I want to take my PADI scuba certification. I want to check out a place called Crystal Dive. Unfortunately, my distaste for the shouty people means that once again I have ended up lost. Knowing this place is small, all I really need is a map, or some helpful advice. I approach a man who - refreshingly - is sitting on a bench smoking with a sign saying TAXI, and not shouting at anyone. "Crystal Dive?" I ask. He tells me that I have to go to Sairee beach on the other side of the island, and that he will take me there for 300 Baht. I know this is a lie, and 300 baht is far too much, so I smile and wiggle my fingers - "I'll walk." "Which way you walk?" he taunts me. "You say you walk but you not know which way!" I shrug. Which turns out to be an excellent idea as about 30 seconds later I see a gigantic sign reading "Crystal Dive - this way." I look over my shoulder and indicate the sign. The taxi driver is laughing. I laugh too, shake my fist at him, and head over to check it out. It's awesome. I'll write it up in my next post.