George Town, Penang was awesome – but it was time to move on. Time to find somewhere that wasn’t a city. Time to find white sand beaches and swim in the beautiful clear waters that Thailand is renowned for. Time to go to Ko Tao. The reason this was our choice is because it is famed for being one of the cheapest places in the world to get your Scuba diving certification, and it’s gorgeous. I had conversations with scuba divers prior to going and they were pretty scathing in their remarks about the quality of training in Koh Tao – likening it to a Driver’s Licence you get out of a Weetbix pack – I didn’t care, I’m a cheapskate, and it was cheap. After a very long day to get there (bus, ferry, train, bus, ferry), 22 hours without much sleep, we arrived at the island. Our room wasn’t ready. We were starving (this is just a figure of speech because if you’ve seen photos of me it’s clear I am not in fact starving) and found a local food stall with Pad Thai, OMG it was sooo good, and hot, and spicy hot. So we sat and ate and sweated. That night, having had bugger all rest and only the one meal, we went to a local bar and got plastered. Not on purpose, but the beer was cheap and strong, the company good (hey Big Jim, Armindo, Richard & King Andy) and all was well until the Tequila shots. Enough said. Woke the next morning with a crushing hangover and half of Thailand’s sand on the floor, covering every surface of the bathroom, and best of all, in the bed. We had also gained a cat, I know this because it was asleep on the bed (if it had been sandy coloured we never would’ve spotted it). My course started at 1.00pm . Oh joy. I drank several gallons of water (I believe there is now a water shortage in Koh Tao), ate a bacon & egg sandwich/roll thingy (best hangover food ever) and headed off to my course. The first session was in the classroom (with free tea, coffee & water – I drank several more gallons), there were three of us, a German couple (hey Lena & Sebastion) and our instructor (Romina – young Swiss lass). Luckily the material is pitched at the level of a 10 year old, so it was easy and I only nodded off once. Next day was skills in the shallow water, the irony of being overweight when scuba diving is that you have to wear more weights than skinny people – this is particularly true of women because we have a higher fat to muscle ratio to start with – suffice to say, once all the gear and weights were on I could hardly walk and climbing out of the ocean back into the boat was one of my biggest challenges of the entire course. The diving was amazing, and once we were down and just chilling along looking at stuff it was relaxed and easy. But it was incredibly busy, there were other divers over us, under us, around us and sometimes running (swimming? gliding?) into us. Romina told me there are 64 dive shops on the island. And the growing number of people visiting & living there is impacting the pristine environment, the corals and the waters. So if you want to visit Koh Tao and not be disappointed – go soon. In saying that, it’s still a fabulous place to go, accomodation & food are reasonably priced, it still has the village vibe, locals are lovely, you don’t see KFC, MacDonalds & Pizza Hutt every time you move 5 metres, and no high rises YET. After 4 intense and exhausting days I now have my PADI Open Water Scuba certification – the three main lessons I learned were: 1) NEVER hold your breath; 2) Always check your gear; 3) I seriously need to do some diving so I can learn how to Scuba dive. And where was Big J while all this was going on you ask. Remember the pub we found on our first day? It was across the road from my dive school & next to gear centre where we arrived back after diving, so what more appropriate place to hang out & await the arrival of his beloved (me). We didn’t get to see much of the island, me, because I was fully immersed in learning how not to die under water, and Big J, because he was fully immersed in beer. On our last night we thought we’d go back to the bar (it was now a habit) to hang out with our new Aussie friends because they are just like us to hang out with – funny, extremely non-politically correct, boozy, loud & generally great company (hey Tracey, Lisa, Dennis and of course, King Andy). Next we’re off to Koh Phangan, then we have to suss out a Visa run to the Burmese border because we only got 15 days when we arrived by train. Onwards intrepid travellers (us).