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Whale Sharks & Thai Politics

Excitement nearly ruined a whole night of sleep on Koh Samui. In ten hours I would be on the hunt for the elusive whale shark off Thailand’s Koh Tao. All the dive operators work together, relaying the latest location info if a sighting is made.  Fingers crossed.

Greg Swims Into Rock Mass of FIsh

Sweet CD CollectionSadly, Ash had a head cold, preventing her from participating in the diving excursion. So at 5:00am, I sat alone on the damp wooden planks of a picnic table as the morning fog slowly lifted from a valley below the Baan Taling Ngam Resort. Finally, a beaten pickup truck arrived and we rambled across Koh Samui for forty minutes to Chaweng Beach to fetch a beginner diver. I was enamored with the driver’s soft rock CD collection: Byan Adam’s Greatest Hits, Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, and Rod Stewart’s The Best Of. Rod and I became acquainted once more as the poor driver waited patiently for the tardy diver to appear. With a bounty of excuses, she flew out of the hostel door, her hair in tangles. Pulling up to the lively dock, we barely made the transfer boat across the Bay of Thailand to Koh Tao.

Japanese Gardens Blue-Ringed Angel Fish

Koh Tao - DockHaving exchanged the speedboat for a retrofitted junk vessel, we were aboard the scuba mothership where I met my personal instructor, Scottish Scotty. Because everyone else on the ship were either attaining their PADI certification or doing a recreational dive, just Scotty and I boarded the tender and sped off to a coast line of beautiful coral called the Japanese Gardens. Wearing a shorty wetsuit, we quickly descended into the warm blue saltwater. The visibility was decent as my experienced guide pointed out blue spotted stingrays and hidden white eyed eels among the colorful coral. Over fifty minutes passed as we hugged the depths of the alluring coastline. Although the whale shark remained our of sight, the other scenery proved deserving.

Coral & Fish Amazing

Chilaxing Between DivesBetween dives, terrible coffee and buttery biscuits (cookies) were shared atop the dive boat as we bobbed in a pristine bay. The instructors awaited info over the radio waves concerning the whale sharks, but it never came. Bummed, I dawned my dive equipment once more, spitting in the mask as an anti-fog mechanism. Scotty gave me some pointers on how to perform a front flip entry, which was rather thrilling once the twenty-one pound tank strapped to my somersaulting back gained momentum. Once again, the Mango Bay dive site was all ours as the other divers reviewed lessons. Saddle back clown, triger, blue ringed angel, parrot, coral rock cod – fish of every variety welcomed our presence. Besides the British Virgin Islands, I have never seen so many dang fish in the ocean. After an exhilarating sixty minutes (sixty minutes!) in the remarkable ocean playground, we came to a school of jack fish that formed a seemingly impenetrable wall around me. No matter which direction I peered from my mask, bits of blue sunlight appeared thru the swarming sea creatures. It was a moment that will stay with me for a long time. Scotty, an extraordinary guide, timed the dive with precision. As we were performing our safety stop twenty feet below sea level, I had to suck rather than breath from my life supporting oxygen tank. It was the longest dive of my career.

Fins White Eyed Eel

Koh TaoResting top deck with yet another awful cup of Joe, I spoke with Scottish Scotty about his experience living full-time in Thailand. Our blunt conversation covered the positives, but focused on corruption. His Thai girlfriend of six years, has been paid for every vote she has cast. And not just her, her entire family and neighbors too. Though a democratic state, it was easy to understand how the violent Red Shirt protests that dominated the news in early/mid 2010 grew to such large numbers. Many Thai citizen’s loyalties lie with the highest bidder. That is, many of the Red Shirt protestors were paid for their appearance, just like political parties are known to compensate for votes. To have government power is to control the flow of money. This is not to say that ordinary Thai’s do not have legitimate beefs with the government or cannot think for themselves. But the fact remains, when three months of your annual income is offered for a single vote, it makes the decision for poorer people a bit easier. Such was the conversation as we motored back to Koh Samui. This stark reality greatly saddened me as I remarked to Scotty how much Ash and I enjoy the people of Thailand. They deserve so much better.

Thousands of Jack Fish Lurking Fish

No whale sharks, though two hours of scuba diving in the Bay of Thailand was unforgettable. I’ll remember the mass of swarming fish and be thankful I come from a country where my independent vote still counts.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Talking domestic and/or international politics in a foreign country, is a slippery slope. Choose your conversational partners wisely as differences in opinion can escalate quickly. We have found it interesting to speak with expatriates from Western countries about their political viewpoints in their new home. Oh, and everyone wants to discuss Obama and Bush. Beware.
2) Koh Tao is #2 in the world behind Australia’s Cairns for the number of PADI scuba certifications issued per year. Thailand also happens to be one of the cheapest locations worldwide for the worthwhile education. Before spending the time and money on PADI, you can perform recreational dives, which require absolutely no experience, nearly everywhere scuba diving is offered. Dip your toe, so to speak, to ensure it is something of interest.

  • Susan Dietz

    Well done!! Wish Ashley had been able to go as well and sorry you didn't spot a whale shark.
    The blue ringed angel fish is probably the most beautiful fish I've ever seen!!

  • fofs

    Susan Dietz – Every time I saw the blue-ringed angel fish, they were in pairs, just like a perfect couple. It made my heart ache being away from Ashley for 8 hours while in Koh Tao. Then I took a deep breath of enriched oxygen and thanked the Lord for the mini-break after spending months on end with her.

    I shall swim with whale sharks at some point. This I vow.

    - Greg

  • fofs

    Susan Dietz – Every time I saw the blue-ringed angel fish, they were in pairs, just like a perfect couple. It made my heart ache being away from Ashley for 8 hours while in Koh Tao. Then I took a deep breath of enriched oxygen and thanked the Lord for the mini-break after spending months on end with her.

    I shall swim with whale sharks at some point. This I vow.

    - Greg

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