When booking our trip to Thailand, I only made arrangements for travel and lodging in Phuket and Ko Phi Phi Don. As for our daily activities, we were completely open and pretty clueless about what we would actually DO on the island (besides laze away on the beach and stuff ourselves with Thai food).
So as soon as we saw a big SCUBA sign on the beach we knew exactly what we wanted to do.
Although our hotel offered an introductory scuba class and diving tour, we wanted to try and find a cheaper place in the area. After walking down Laemtong Beach for about 2 minutes, we came upon the Leisure Dive Center, the source of the enormous SCUBA sign we saw earlier. We were immediately greeted by Fiona, a very sweet English girl, and couple of dogs, including an adorable bichon. We knew right then and there that we had found the right place for us.
We eagerly signed up for their Discover Scuba Diving program for beginners and arrived early in the morning for our half-day trip out to sea. The day before we met our instructor, Jens, a kind and knowledgable diver from Sweden who took us over the basics of scuba diving. He then helped us into our gear and into the pool for a quick test on 5 scuba skills.
I tend to get a little claustrophobic and was a little anxious when we first sat on the bottom of the pool and tried to breathe. I eventually put my yoga practice to use and was able to breathe slowly and steadily. It was actually really helpful!
By the next morning I was still very nervous but excited at the same time. I have always been a water bug and loved being underwater as a kid. However, drowning is one of my greatest fears. Contradictory right? But I was determined to put these fears aside and just enjoy myself.
While we waited for the crew to gather the equipment, I played with the dogs which definitely helped calm my nerves. It also made me really want a puppy. I mean look at his scraggly face. So cute!
At 9 am, it was time to load the boat. I had no idea that scuba diving requires so much heavy equipment! But I guess all that equipment is weightless in the water (thank God). Peter and I helped load the oxygen tanks into the longboat while I managed some close up shots of the process. I promise I helped carry some tanks too!
At first I thought that this longboat was actually our dive boat for the day and I was a little concerned with its small size and limited shelter, especially with what looked like an impending storm headed our way. But I trusted the judgement of our instructors and held my tongue.
We then boarded the longboat with 3 instructors, a French family, a woman from London/South Africa, and tons of heavy gear. I was facing the back of the longboat and managed to capture the amazing gymnastics of the driver as he steered us away from shore. Using his foot and rope pulley system, he would swing the long motor around and expertly maneuver the boat in different directions. It was crazy to watch.
A short while later, we pulled up to a large boat which I realized was the actual dive boat. Haha! The boat had a large indoor dry area, spacious back area for scuba gear, and top deck seating area. Now that’s more like it! Peter and I immediately headed to the top deck for the 45 minute ride to our first dive site at Koh Bida Nak, the southernmost island of the Phi Phi Islands.
A storm followed us as we chugged along but it did not deter from the absolute beauty of the islands. 30 minutes into the ride, Jens came up and gave us a quick run down of all the things we had learned yesterday in the pool. He also brought out a large brochure of all the sea creatures we might encounter while diving. He gave us the hand signals for some of the big kahuna animals like turtles, lion fish, sea slugs, and sharks. I was hopeful that we would not encounter ANY sharks. EVER.
Finally, we approached Koh Bida Nak which was swarming with other dive boats. Peter and I would be exclusively diving with Jens while the others would be diving with the other instructors. We stepped into our wet suits, slipped into our dive vests, and suddenly we were ready to go! Holy crap this was it.
Jens jumped in and then it was my turn. I put in my regulator, put on hand on my weighted belt, and one hand on my regulator and mask and attempted to step off the back of the boat and into the water. Well, of course I slipped and kind of fell face first into the water. A great indication for the dive to come right?
A short moment later we began descending into the water while I desperately tried to stay calm and remember to breathe and equalize my ears. So confusing. But miraculously we made it down to about 10 meters without a hitch.
Suddenly a whole new world opened before my eyes.
The ocean floor was magnificent and full of life. We started slowly swimming above intricate coral and various fish of unlimited sizes and colors. It was absolutely amazing. Words cannot even describe my first scuba experience. I stuck close to Jens (like really close hah!) and saw little Nemos in their anemone homes, the most colorful fish in the world, and enormous sea slugs. It was amazing!
All too soon 45 minutes had passed and Peter’s tank was low on oxygen so we ascended to the surface. WOW. That is all I can say. WOW.
Officially hooked on scuba we boarded the boat with the rest of our group and made our way towards Maya Beach, or the beach from “The Beach” for lunch. Maya Beach is located in a little cove on Koh Phi Phi Leh and is PACKED with tourists. When we arrived it actually started pouring rain so most of the tourists cleared out. We were happy to look at “The Beach” from afar while eating some delicious green curry.
After an hour or so it was time for our second and final dive of the trip. The dive site, Maya North, was located immediately outside the cove of Maya Beach and along a long coral wall. It was still raining so we were happy to get underwater and explore the world below the surface. As soon as we descended with Jens we immediately saw a sea turtle!! It was happily munching away on some algae on the coral and was completely oblivious to our presence. We watched it eat for a long time and eventually moved on.
Well what do you know but a few minutes later we saw another sea turtle swimming in our direction along the coral wall. It swam right next to me and slowly glided nearly inches away from my face. It was probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It brings tears to my eyes right now!
The rest of the dive was just as spectacular with a few eel and lion fish sightings. When we ascended after 45 minutes underwater, we were greeted with very rough seas and cold sheets of rain. We kept our regulators in as we swam back to the boat.
Sadly it was time to head back to Koh Phi Phi Don. I started feeling nauseated in the rough seas so I parked myself by the front of the boat to stare at the horizon. Eventually Peter and I fell asleep. Diving is both relaxing and exhausting!
Back at the Leisure Dive Center we carried the empty oxygen tanks back across the beach and then collapsed in the beach chairs. What a day! Peter and I both fell head-over-heels in love with scuba diving and we are so happy to have learned in one of the best diving locations in the world! If you have the chance to go scuba diving in Thailand, DO IT. You will not regret it.
I cannot wait to go scuba diving again in other amazing locations like Australia and even Florida! I have found a new passion and am thrilled to further explore this whole new world underwater. As I travel the world just keeps getting bigger and bigger!
Scuba diving is, in the words of Jens and my favorite hand signal, OK!
Recommended Koh Phi Phi Don dive information:
Leisure Dive Center
Laemtong Beach, Koh Phi Phi Don