December (41)

Thai Food

 

 

When asked what they most enjoy about this country, most Thailand backpackers we get here at Big Blue will mention the incredible food that’s easily available all over the country, from road side stalls to luxurious restaurants. A simple combination of Eastern and Western influences, often enough spice to keep you in the bathroom a lot longer than you expected and that lovely mix of flavours that shouldn’t really work (yet does) there’s something for everyone to love with Thai food, and then when we take into account the different styles of the South, with it’s lovely creamy curries of Indian influence, or my personal favourite the spicy Isan style of the North-East…well it’s easy to see why this dynamic food is so popular all around the world.

 

These are my top 3 ultimate recommended dishes to try when you’re next here on Koh Tao.

 

pad krapow chicken

Pad Krapao (Stir-fried meat/fish with chili and holy basil leaves)

Served with rice, this is found all over Thailand and it’s a great one on-the-go with every bus station, food market and train having someone somewhere knocking up a batch. It is normally cooked by stir-frying the basil very quickly with sliced chili, garlic, and your favorite meat which often comes minced – pork is usual when you buy it from food stalls. I love it with fish or beef personally, and you should definitely try it in typical Thai style with a fried egg on top, it really sets off the flavours!

Spice rating: Can often come with a lot of chili, so if you’re not a fan it’s advisable to request it less spicy. In Thai you say ‘nik noy pet’ which means ‘little bit spicy’.

 

 

som tam

Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

Som Tam is a type of salad. Papaya is a disgusting fruit. Mixed together should be something unfit for human consumption, but instead you end up with a delicious dish full of everything Thai food should be – spicy, sour, sweet, fishy…it’s really quite amazing!

It is mostly made of shredded unripe papaya, which is crisp and unsweet, mixed with garlic, chili, sour lime, palm sugar, and a bit of fish sauce. It’s often served with green beans, dried shrimp, tomato or green beans depending on the chef, and very often can be bloody spicy! Can be ordered with seafood usually, I really like it with crab which comes with the added bonus of being able to order ‘som tam poo’, as we all secretly want to order poo right?

 

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Panang curry

One of the most popular Thai dishes, and easily one of the most ordered here at Big Blue, Panang (also spelt ‘phanaeng’ and other slight variations) is a plate of warm cooked rice topped with an incredible thick curry tasting of coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, chili and more!It has a lovely mix of tastes, giving off salty, sweet and creamy all at once, and usually comes only mildly spiced, so is a good one for those of you who prefer not to sweat all over your food.

It’s usually mixed with beef, pork or seafood, but I recommend the classic Panang Gai, which is with chicken.

 

 

Bon appetit!

 

 

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Is Scuba Diving Safe?

 

Scuba diving is practised by thousands of lucky people around the world every single day. It’s something very special to be underwater yet a lot of people are very apprehensive about diving for the first time, even though it is considered a low-risk activity compared to many other outdoor and sporting activities – jogging for one is a lot more likely to put you at risk!

Of course it would be irresponsible of me to play down the risks involved, scuba diving is essentially an extreme sport which requires training and a licence. The most common medical issues are sunburn, seasickness and dehydration (all of which are easily avoided) but there also the dangers related to the effects of the increased water pressure underwater, dodgy scuba equipment and on the odd occasion marine creatures.

So is scuba diving dangerous? I think the best answer I’ve ever heard to this question is “diving is as dangerous or as safe as you want it to be”. If you practice safe diving by only diving to the limits of your experience and licence, maintain a reasonably fit and healthy lifestyle plus ensure the equipment you use is in good working order then diving is not very dangerous at all.

 

scuba turtle 160382899 56a8468d5f9b58b7d0f1ec11

 

Let’s look at a few ways on how to be a safe diver:

 

  • I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: dive within the limits of your experience – if you’re an Open Water diver stick to an 18 metre maximum depth, Advanced 30 metres and so on. Don’t be tempted to push your limits until you’ve had the necessary further training; it’s worth considering taking your PADI/SSI advanced, deep or wreck specialties.

 

  • Maintain good health. A high percentage of dive accidents are caused because of a pre-existing medical condition, so if possible have a medical check-up before taking a dive course to make sure you’re in tip-top condition.

 

  • Check your dive equipment thoroughly. If you have your own make sure it’s maintained and serviced regularly, rinsed in fresh water after diving and stored in a dry place. If you’re using rental equipment from your dive centre have a look at how it’s kept, check the hoses aren’t damaged and that it’s all being cleaned after every dive trip.

dsmb 3

  • Respect the buddy check! Insist on a thorough buddy check EVERY time you dive regardless of your own or your buddy’s experience, and take a minute to make sure the air is turned on fully, all regulators are working properly and secured in the correct manner, and that the weight belt/pockets are secure. A proper buddy check as taught in your SSI/PADI Open Water is more than sufficient here and stops any silly little problems that can occur. Many times I’ve heard people saying ‘don’t bother with the buddy check’, and inevitably they’re the ones returning to the surface because they’ve forgotten something or have compromised their safety somehow.

 

  • Always dive with a buddy, and that means staying close enough to each other so that in the event of an ‘out of air’ situation you can easily reach each other in a few seconds. Also make sure before the dive you’ve worked out who will be following whom underwater!

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  • Plan your dive properly, and stick to it as much as is possible. A good dive plan (and pre-dive briefing) will eliminate a substantial level of risk, but no plan is safe unless you follow it. In the event of the plan needing to change (for example, if a whaleshark appears on the divesite) make sure the whole group is aware of what will happen next, and make sure that each diver is aware of the reason for the change (in our example simply point at the whaleshark excitedly). The dive plan should also discuss at which point the divers will start their ascent – never go over the decompression limits without the correct training!

 

  • Keep practising to keep your skills fresh. Try to dive at least every 6 months, and if it’s been longer than that you should definitely consider doing a refresher dive: If it’s more than a year between dives then a refresher dive (also known as a scuba tune-up) should definitely be carried out for your safety and that of your buddy. I always ask all of my diving group when they last dived to get an idea of how good or bad they will be underwater, and which of them may need a little extra attention.

 

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To conclude, as long as train properly with a reputable dive centre (and keep diving to the way you were taught to), keep your skills fresh by diving regularly, and look after yourself and your equipment there’s no reason why you can’t lead a happy and safe scuba diving life!

 

 

 

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10 Things That Kill More People Than Sharks

 

Ever since I was a child, sharks have been generally portrayed as being absolute twats. These toothy, gobby little underwater fish-missiles could terrorize you the second your foot entered the water, would jump nonchalantly onto your boat and gobble bits off you, or baby ones would swim up your toilet as you sat there and put an end to future child support forever. It was movies like ‘Jaws’ (amazing) and media reports of gory attacks on surfers that helped perpetuate the myth, as myth it is as we’ll see here by looking closely at statistics from the USA.  

We chose the USA because as we all know, absolutely anything can happen over there and regularly does - Tide-Pod anyone?

 

 

Current figures indicate that sharks are responsible for an average of ten deaths a year worldwide.

 

 

10 Things That Kill More People than Sharks

          

bfe93994c72f021d2772973397a05f07 Cows kill 20 Americans a year, mostly from smashing into people or kicking them to death. Delightful.

          

Coconuts

Coconuts cause about 150 deaths a year, I think from people bashing them together pretending to be horses and then getting raped to death by horses.

 

Autoerotic asphyxiation kills 1000 peoplerverts a year. RIP David Carradine, in your closet. vaderchokefeature 619 386

 

 

 

 maxresdefault Champagne corks kill over 20 people a year. What a great excuse to leave the party early.

 

 

Tripping kills over 5000 people each year! Not the fun one, the old person on the pavement one.

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       Bees kill around 100 honey-stealing nincompoops a year in the USA. Bee Sting Remedies

 

imagesYou’ve got to be kidding me, hot TAP water kills about 100 people a year in the US. Stop this stupidity. 

      77 slutty/stupid/greedy idiots choke to death each year trying to eat hot dogs.170905140330 boy eating hotdog stock super tease

vengeful vending machine  Vending machines killed 37 people in the US between 1978 and 1995. Sharks didn’t.                  

You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the man flu. It's 1 in 3,748,067 from a shark.man flu men verses females

 

So you see, sharks are just a bit misunderstood, but feel free to punch a cow right in the kisser next time you see one!

 

 

 

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Big Blue - The Best in Koh Tao for Fundiving

 

I’m often found to be browsing the various Thailand backpacker forums out there on Facebook, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor and one question that pops up a lot is who to choose to dive with after you’ve been certified. With something like 100 dive centres on Koh Tao (1 great, 99 less so) it seems like a difficult task, but with a little bit of research it’s easy to see why Big Blue are the undisputed leaders of fundiving on this lovely little island for those wanting to dive more challenging and exciting sites than those the Open Water students are going to.

Here we will look at the different types of dive centre on the island, and what they’re offering to the already-certified scuba diver.

 

mapp

Sites Visited

It’s essential for any fundiver, be them experienced or freshly certified, to be offered the chance to visit the best dive sites Koh Tao has to offer on a daily basis. The dive sites widely acknowledged to be the best are Chumphon, South-West and Samran Pinnacles, plus other classics like Green Rock, Shark Island and the wonderfully challenging Laem Thian ‘Caves’ on the east of the island. When looking for a dive centre to use for your holidays here, it’s an excellent idea to speak to the Divemaster in their reception  and have a look at their schedule for the coming days (and also the past week) to see which sites are being visited the most – if the same sites are being repeated daily then it usually means the dive centre is using the same boat for both Open Water students and the fundivers, especially if you see sites like Japanese Gardens, Aow Leuk and Mango Bay listed.

 

Fundiver-only Boat?

‘So what’s wrong with Japanese Gardens, Mango Bay and Aow Leuk?’ I hear you ask? ‘Nothing at all!’ is our resounding answer, these sites are absolutely perfect for those of you diving for the first time, with lots of shallow sandy patches to practice your buoyancy skills without bumping into the delicate corals. However, for those with more diving experience looking to see the most beautiful sites around Koh Tao these would be a disappointing choice.

It’s here where having a boat exclusively for fundivers really makes the difference!

Our dedicated fundiver boat has no restrictions on where it can go around Koh Tao, so we don’t have to follow the crowds and stick to the nearby western dive sites like White Rock and Twins every day – no site is too far, and it’s also one of the only big boats on the island that can comfortably go from Chumphon to South West Pinnacle in a normal morning run; way too far for the slower boats out there! Most importantly of all, it means that the dive sites we go to are not determined by the majority, the learner divers. All dive sites are now viable, currents to play with and swim-throughs to squeeze through are our goals, and of course we now have absolutely no restrictions on where the boat will end up so the moment we get the ‘Whaleshark!’ call over the radio we can immediately change our plans and head straight towards it, something that wouldn’t be possible if we were sharing the boat with our OW students!

The choice here is simple, really.

fish

 

What else should we consider?

There are always more things to consider before taking the plunge with your dive centre of choice, the most important of all being safety. Boats should always have fully-stocked first aid kits, plus plenty of pure oxygen on the boat in case the worst happens. I usually have a quick search online to find out a bit more info, looking out in particular for reports of accidents etc. that may have occurred there, but maybe this is me just being a bit morbid!

The way the fundivers are organized is also key to a happy dive experience. More than 4 divers per DM is a little too much for my liking, and I do not like being told to go up because of a time restriction on the dives – there are a few dive centres on Koh Tao that won’t let you dive over 1 hour, some even have a 45 minute time limit! On a shallow site Advanced divers should be able to get at least an hour underwater safely, and here at Big Blue we will always try to give our fundivers as long as we can without compromising safety with the air in the tank, or the limits set by the dive computer of course.

Finally (and this is something that really drives me crazy!) the groups should never mix the certification levels. As a divemaster myself I don’t want to be placed in a group containing Open water level divers…ever!  More often than not the OW divers use their air a lot faster and have less control over their movement underwater, which can often result in short dives and lots of bumping into each other and the bottom. I don’t want to sound like a scuba snob but diving is expensive, and I want to get the most out of my dives without someone swimming into the back of me or kicking up sand when I’m trying to get a photograph - give them their own DM, and the put the advanced divers in another group for God’s sake!

 

whal

 

Here at Big Blue we wouldn’t dream of mixing our advanced and open water divers, there are no time limits, maximum group sizes of four per DM and absolutely no restrictions on where we send the boat. Our safety record is the envy of many, and our worldwide reputation for quality is one we’re very proud of here. Coupled with some of the most talented DMs on the island, and our big, comfortable dive boats (rather than the converted fishing boats so many of our competitors favour) there’s no reason why any sane diver wouldn’t at least come for a chat to find out just why we’re the best choice for fundives, every single day of the year.

 

 

Come and sign up for your fundives in person at our resort on Sairee Beach, or with me in the little office in Sairee village.

 

 

 

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Why Does the Open Water Course take so long to Complete?

 

For those wishing to learn how to dive, the SSI or PADI Open Water course is a great choice here at Big Blue. We’re often asked why the Open Water course takes so long to complete, so this blog will hopefully explain just how the course works, and why taking four days to complete it is the best way to become certified whilst not rushing through it too much – after all why hurry something that’ll give you memories that’ll last a lifetime!

 

learntodive

 

When researching which dive centre to dive with, you’ll often hear the expression ‘getting certified’. This means taking and passing a scuba diving course given by one of the 120 accredited scuba certification agencies such as PADI, SSI and NAUI, the most commonly seen here in Thailand. When you’ve become certified you are now able to fill your own tanks and go diving without a dive professional (of course you’ll need to show a certification card before they will fill a tank) or, alternatively, they can now go diving with any dive shop worldwide without further training.

The training for the Open Water license consists of four parts, spread over four days: 

  • Theory work
  • Written exams
  • Pool training
  • Four Open water dives

OWPOOL

So why do we need four days – it doesn’t seem like that’s a lot to do?

When learning to dive for the first time, our students need time to let all the new information from the theory-side of the course sink in. With the average attention span of students nowadays being an embarrassing 10 minutes maximum (according to educational research) the teacher will have to structure the class sessions in a way that ensures the student is kept engaged and also interested in all the cool new information being introduced. This means spreading the classroom sessions out, with a typical theory schedule looking something like this:

Day 1: 17.00 – 19.00

Just over an hour of videos, and a quick chat with the instructor.

 

Day 2: 08.30 – 17.00

A half hour of videos, and about an hour and a half of class time with the instructor followed by a break for lunch then the pool session.

 

Day 3: 08.30 – 17.00

 An hour and a half of classtime with the instructor, lunch break then two shallow dives in the afternoon.

 

Day 4: 06.30 – 11.30

The final two deep dives of the course, no theory today!

OW

 

This spacing of the theory is, in our opinion, the best possible way to teach our Open Water students precisely what they need without running the risk of them being distracted or losing interest. If it’s all done in one go even a student with the best intentions will struggle to stay stimulated during the theory work, and will certainly not be able to recall all that’s being taught. Also, by spacing the Open Water over four days it really helps with the camaraderie of the group, as learning together always quickly leads to firm friendships amongst the group, which in turn aids learning due to the positive atmosphere that pervades.

 

On the second day, usually after a little instruction from you dive-pro, you will head to the pool (or pool-like environment). You will practice the basic scuba skills you will need to complete your open water training, including such things as putting on your gear, taking off your mask, sharing air, and so on. This shallow water session (known as ‘confined skills’) tends to take about 3-4 hours, but in some situations we will take longer if we feel the students need it to really learn all that is necessary to get maximum enjoyment out of the first ocean dives the following day.

Next comes the four ocean dives. During these dives you will demonstrate the skills you learned in the pool portion of the course, whilst also learning how to control your movements underwater – known as ‘buoyancy control’.

OW2

 

So we can do all four in one day easily, right?

Wrong! There are many safety standards the instructors MUST stick to, dictated by the Gods of diving the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) who tell every dive organization (PADI, SSI et al) precisely what needs to be done to become an Open Water diver. In regards to the ocean dives they say this:

“No more than three open water scuba dives may be conducted on a given day.”

And hereby is the reason for the fourth day! Personally, I think to do it in a shorter time period can be a little daunting, as to really get comfortable with everything takes time, and to rush through would serve no benefit to either student or instructor – our new divers often call their Open Water experience ‘one of the best times of their lives’, so why hurry?

Sign up for your SSI or PADI Open Water course here at Big Blue’s resort, or through our website at

www.bigbluediving.com

Courses starting every day of the year, at 5pm.

 

OWSS    PADI

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10 Cultural Differences of Thailand

 

With Thailand becoming increasingly more accessible for travelers of all age, nationality and IQ level, it’s starting to become quite common to see embarrassing situations where people act in ways that would be completely normal in other destinations, but raise an eyebrow or two here in Thailand.

As Thai and western culture are very different it’s very important for the conscientious traveler to do a little research on the customs of Thailand, so here is our own list of things to consider to make your trip to The Land of Smiles as wonderful as we lucky farangs who live here find it every day!

  1. Dress Properly

It’s all well and good to walk up and down the beach in your bikini or Speedo (please God stop people wearing Speedos) but Thai people do not appreciate you in the same beachwear when walking the streets, so please cover up when you leave the beach! Men shouldn’t really be walking around topless, and girls should cover themselves with a sarong – also topless sunbathing is a BIG no-no ladies, and will definitely offend.

Pay particular attention to what you wear in the southern (predominantly Muslim) areas of Thailand like Koh Lipe and Koh Lanta.

  1. Public Displays of Affection

It’s very unusual to see Thais showing a lot of affection in public, and very rarely indeed have I seen couples kissing passionately in public. Holding hands is fine, otherwise try to save your loving for more private situations!

 

smile

  1. Smile!

Thailand is famous for it’s happy, smiley people so if you really want to make the most out of your trip remember to get in on the act and return the smiles you’ll be given! Smiles are used in Thailand during negotiations, in apologies, when things haven’t gone as planned and for conventional reason too, so you’ll find you make friends with local people a lot more easily with a well-timed smile, plus you’ll also receive much better service in bars and restaurants!

  1. Use the ‘Wai

Within minutes of arriving in Thailand you’ll see Thais greeting each other not with a handshake or a hug, but with a ‘wai ‘ – holding your hands together as if in prayer, fingertips raised to your nose and a little bow of the head. There are many particular social etiquette rules (regarding placement of the hands, how far to bow etc.) which I won’t get into here, but it’s always very much appreciated by the Thais if you give it a go!

In general, you don’t have to do it to people younger than yourself, but give it a go with anyone elder than yourself or those in a position of power – it’s made a few traffic fines disappear for me in the past! Also if someone gives you a ‘wai’, do return it for maximum politeness (with the exception of those working in the service industry apparently, though it certainly doesn’t hurt!)

wai

 

  1. Sabai Sabai

Things do not usually happen very quickly here in Thailand, that’s for sure - if you’re told to wait ten minutes, expect it to be at least twenty on a good day! A phrase you will often here when waiting impatiently for something is ‘sabai sabai’, which means ‘happy’ twice – the Thai love to use a word twice to exaggerate its meaning! In this case, however, they are telling you to chill out, after all the way of life in Thailand is particularly famous for being relaxed.

Sabai sabai everybody!

  1. Don’t Cause a Confrontation

Thai people are generally quite reserved, quiet and in true sabai sabai fashion don’t like confrontations at all, so remember no matter how frustrated you’re feeling, or how different everything is to ‘back home’, try to understand that we’re all guests in this remarkable country and we should also try not to shout or raise our voices in anger in public. Causing a scene is very much frowned upon in all of Asia, and even if you win the argument you’ll lose as a whole, as causing someone to lose face in Asia is a terrible thing!

So remember dear readers, the next time the waiter messes up your order or the bus is inexplicably delayed (when you can see it right in front of you) try to stay calm and acquiesce to the Thai way, and everyone won’t think you’re a dick.

  1. Heads and Toes

In Thailand the feet are considered low and dirty, second only to Miley Cyrus in the filth stakes. You shouldn’t point them at people, touch people with them, step over people sitting on the ground or rest them on seats and tables. The head, in contrast, has a much higher importance, so try to avoid touching people on the head or sitting on pillows meant as head rests. Also passing things over someone’s head is also considered rude!

  1. Shoes off or on?

Remember to remove your shoes when entering a Thai persons home or entering a temple. Some businesses, restaurants and shops also ask that you remove your shoes, so if you’re unsure, just look to see if there is a pile of shoes at the entrance, or check to see if the staff are wearing shoes. This is why simple footwear is a good idea on Koh Tao, as you’ll find you’ll need to take your shoes off a lot especially when shopping.

 

kings

  1. Respect the King

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the royal family is revered throughout the country. You’ll see photos of the Royal Family in all homes and busineses, on the streets in towns and cities, pretty much everywhere actually! Remember to always stand when the King’s anthem is played before movies, concerts and sporting events, and you’ll also hear it at train stations every day at 08.00 and 18.00. Travelers should definitely not make any negative remarks about the royals, in serious cases you can be imprisoned!

  1. Toilet Troubles

A LOT of places in Thailand will have a surprise for you when you go to the bathroom, as the squat toilet is prevalent all over the country and is often a little troubling for us poor farang. When using one please remember to flush it with the nearby bucket of water, and if your body didn’t produce it don’t throw it down the hole! Toilet paper and sanitary items will easily cause a blockage (not that you’ll find toilet paper in most squat toilets anyway) and for wiping you’ll often have to use the old classic of bucket of water/ left hand for cleaning method, or the best-thing-ever-invented, the 'bum-gun'! Once you get used to it you’ll never go back to paper, believe me.

toilet

 

Thai people are usually very forgiving of foreigners that don’t understand Thai culture, so don’t panic too much if you get things wrong, however they really appreciate when you do try.

 

Chok dee (good luck) everyone!

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The Best Dive in the World

 

 

 

Ask any knowledgeable diver for their bucket-list of dive sites and there’s a few that are mentioned again and again – Blue Hole in Belize, Barracuda Point in Sipadan, muckdiving in Lembeh Strait to name but a few – however there’s one event in particular that most of here at Big Blue would give our right arm to dive, filling divers with excitement and I imagine a little trepidation over what they might encounter on their dives.

This event is known as the ‘Sardine Run’.

 

 cape gannets diving for sardines 3871

 

The Sardine Run is a unique phenomenon occurring from May to July where millions of sardines travel up the south and east coasts of South Africa, causing a frenzy of excitement amongst everyone and everything that comes into contact with them. This migration of small fish come because of the cold currents along this stretch of coastline, and their insane appetite for the plankton that comes with it. The sardines converge close to both the shoreline and the surface whilst feeding on this plankton, making millions of ideal targets for all sorts of hungry predators which take great delight in this underwater banquet.

The first time I became aware of this was, like so many others around the world, watching the Emmy-award winning BBC documentary ‘Blue Planet’. There were birds diving 30 metres down to catch the fish, a few types of whale, bottlenose and common dolphins, sailfish and a few different types of shark too…it seemed every large predator in the ocean had converged to eat their fill and leave a large empty space where just minutes before had been thousands of tiny fish. Watching that at home with another Divemaster was like seeing something imaginary – surely it couldn’t have really been like that, it must have been cleverly edited over a long period of time, right?

Google being our friend, it turned out that this was the real-deal, and it happens every year off the coast of South Africa. It also coincides with the migration of humpback whales which also like to gatecrash the party for a quick feed, because a plain old sardine run obviously isn’t quite enough!

 

sardine whale 

 

How to Do it?

The closest international airport to all the action is Durban, and from there you can head to your dive centre of choice for your ‘safari’. If your budget allows it go for one of the 7 day options to really maximize the amount of stunning marine life that can be seen here – chances are you’ll see everything that you’ve witnessed on Blue Planet/National Geographic/Discovery Channel, however you’ll need patience, time and of course a helping of good luck!

It’s possible to experience the Sardine Run from a number of locations on the coast, with the most popular leaving from Mbotyi, Coffee Bay, Mpame, Port St. Johns and East London (not that one).

The dives on the trip are always dependent on the amount of action that is going on underwater, but the birds are always waiting, and when they’re spotted it’s in the water quickly! Sometimes you’ll be snorkeling, sometimes diving – again it depends on what’s happening underwater at the time, if could be over in minutes or may last longer and go deeper giving you the chance to don your dive equipment and head into the bait balls created by the predators.

 

sardine dolphins4 1688155i

 

What’s a Baitball?

A baitball is a portion of the huge school of sardines that the dolphins have managed to separate from their friends. The dolphins swim around the sardines, release air bubbles from their back to disorientate them and then herd the separated sardines together, which are also packing tightly together themselves for protection. Unfortunately for the stupid sardines it’s an idea that doesn’t work at all, as the bottlenose and common dolphins then push them towards the surface and pounce on their prey, usually gorging on every single one of the little blighters, leaving just a few fish scales as evidence of the massacre.

 

sardine4 

 

What can we see?

The numbers and variety of sharks is astounding: bronze whalers, zambezies, hammerheads, coppers, dusky, black-tip and great whites can be seen by the hundreds.  Bottlenose and Common dolphins are seen daily, with estimates declaring there to be around 18,000 of the delicious little buggers around during this event.

We also have our good friends the birds, without which it would be very difficult to find these baitballs. The cape gannet, African penguin and cape cormorant (amongst others) are our early warning signal to the action going on beneath the surface, and when we spot them we diving you can be sure something incredible is going on beneath you.

One of the most awe-inspiring creatures seen in the Sardine Run (for both divers and non-divers alike) are of course the visiting whales. Bryde’s whales, humpback, minke and southern right whales are common, even if they’re not joining the run.

 

 

How much does it cost?

Expect to pay a bargain price of around $2000 US for a 5 day trip, with prices going up to around $4000-$5000 for a week, which is recommended. This includes all food and lodging for the duration of the trip. Lodging is usually back on the mainland at your town of choice.

 

sardine3

 

The Sardine Run is an event for everyone to enjoy - be it bird watchers, marine-life enthusiasts, amateur or highly experienced divers or snorkelers. The best dives in the world? I’d have to say a definite yes!

 

Now if only I can find someone to take me...

 

The proof!

 

 

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The 5 Hardest Skills on the Open Water

 

 

As simple as diving is (kick legs, breathe and look at fish) it’s very common for our fresh new Open Water students to encounter a problem or two when first trying out all of the new equipment involved in scuba diving in the shallow waters of the first day.

With years of experience dealing with these challenges, we’ve come up with our Top 5 ‘Hardest’ skills of the Open Water right here:

 

bubbles

  1. Breathing out of your Nose

As I said earlier diving is pretty simple, and it’s often the things that seem most straightforward that people trip up on. It therefore comes as no surprise that a surprising amount of students (for reasons unbeknownst to many) get stuck on the uncomplicated task of blowing air out of their noses. Breathe in through your mouth, out through your nose – easy eh?

Well, apparently not! From just simply not exhaling at all, or breathing in instead of out, or my personal favourite of blowing out of their mouths (and then arguing that they didn’t) it’s one of the essential things for all scuba divers to master, as all you certified divers know this is how we get rid of any water that may have collected in our masks.

So what’s the best way to get through this terrible ordeal?

It’s here when the quality of your instructor shines through, and usually with a few reassuring words, a quick cuddle and a pat on the head the students are all happily blowing all sorts of muck out of their noses without even realizing it. It also helps to reassure yourself when feeling anxious in a situation like this, tell yourself ‘don’t panic, you can do this’ and more often than not the perceived problem is overcome easily!

 

 mask clearing 2

  1. Mask Clearing

Ask any dive professional about problems encountered during mask clearing practice and they will no doubt talk of terror, blind panic, and bolting to the surface to get that damn mask off as soon as humanly possible. It’s a vital skill to be mastered by any new diver as it is quite common for water to enter the mask due to a variety of reasons, be it because of a poorly fitting mask, a stray hair caught under the skirting, a kick from another diver or a broken mask strap – the list is endless!

So how do we perfect this technique?

The easy answer is to practice as much as possible, preferably first in a training pool! A safe, controlled environment free of boat traffic, current or visibility issues means a novice diver can feel as comfortable as possible without outside factors causing more stress, and with a few choice words and expert advice from a good instructor the student, before long, is taking the mask of like a true pro.

The following tips may be of use to those having trouble with mask clearing:

  • Practice! You can do this at home, in the kitchen sink or the nearest bathtub
  • Try breathing through the regulator on the surface without a mask on, breathing in through the mouth and out from the nose till it feels normal.
  • When feeling a little more comfortable, try breathing (with your face in the water) through a regulator or snorkel without the mask at all, to get used to the feeling of water in and around your nostrils

Ultimately, a flooded mask is a common occurrence underwater, and dealing with it shouldn’t be perceived as an emergency, but rather as a normal part of scuba diving for the competent, confident diver.

 

 equip

  1. Setting up the Dive Equipment

I remember very well indeed the first time I was shown all of the fancy new equipment needed for diving – ‘there’s quite a lot of it’ was my initial reaction, then suddenly I was bombarded with terms like first stage, buoyancy control device (!), second stage, low pressure inflator, primary and alternate…and my confidence dropped to an all-time low. There was no way I’d remember all those names and which was which!

Of course (being the No. 1 Divemaster in Thailand now) I did in fact get to grips with the equipment after all, and before long it was almost second-nature to go through the set-up efficiently in a matter of minutes. So what was it that helped me conquer this fear of long-winded technical terms and unknown equipment?

Repetition was absolutely the key.  Again and again we set up the dive equipment, took it apart, set it up, swapped with our buddy’s equipment…. repeat ad nauseam! It didn’t take many dives before we could do it with our eyes closed, had worked out the exact knack of getting that LPI connected in one easy movement, and had become at one with the equipment.

The trick is to keep at it, and when diving after the completion of your Open Water insist on always setting up your own equipment to ensure you don’t forget how – after all who better to trust with your stuff than yourself!

 

 giant stride

  1. Deep Water Entry

This is a strange one, as the deep water entry is basically hold the belt, hold the mask and step in. So why do we always have a bit of bother with this one?

It all really comes down to two emotions – excitement and fear.

The first time out on the boat, with everyone putting on their equipment for the first training dive of the SSI or PADI Open Water, is a great place to get excited. There’s always a wonderful buzz going around the boat as we head to the dive site, and when the captain honks his horn to give the all-clear to jump you can see the visible change in our divers demeanour, usually an even split of the nervous and the bloody excited!

Herein lies the problem with the deep water entry. Our divers head to the back of the boat, instructions are repeated for the final time, the diver hold the belt and mask and steps into the unknown…

It’s at this point when at least one person from every group of divers will let go of whatever they were holding and either flap their hands around nervously like they’re a chicken whilst stepping into the ocean, or does some super-excited hands-in-the-air star-jump thingamabob, usually accompanied by a few laughs from the other students. No matter how cool and collected the diver may have seemed before their giant leap for mankind, you can be assured that’s there will always be, from now until the end of time, at least one who royally screws it up and forgets everything they were told a matter of seconds before.

How to beat this? Vulcan emotion-suppressing aside, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself should be enough to enough, but there will always be at least one remember…

 

 

  1. Getting up at 5am for the last day

Staying up all night is not the way to succeed on this one, partygoers.

 

 

 

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What was the best job -  Divemaster or sex-shop worker?

 

 

It’s a little known fact round these parts, but in my previous incarnation in the real world I was lucky enough to experience one of the greatest jobs I could imagine, running a sex shop called ‘Pleasure Chest’ in the heart of Sydney, Australia. It was easily the funniest and most disgusting job I’ve had (which I can’t really describe in full here due to censorship and vulgarity laws) and more often than not it was just plain weird, but as the boss has asked me to compare it with the 2nd best job in the world – Koh Tao Divemaster – I’ll be delving deep into the repressed memories and trying to see what similarities we have between the two, other than the lingering smell of tuna and cat-piss.

 

Sexshop

Potential for growth within the company

The office role of the Divemaster in a dive centre like Big Blue is essentially organizing all of the dive boats and divers to the most suitable places, and ensure that there’s sufficient equipment for the divers. Being responsible for the day-to-day running of the dive centre obviously leaves you very nicely placed if looking to progress through the ranks at Big Blue, and with the diving role meaning you get to master every dive site on the island who better to consider when looking for the right dive instructor?

Running a sex shop generally involved tidying up the porno magazines, making lovely displays to help promote the various sex toys, helping old men find a nice young man to slobber over and buzz people into the different rooms/booths/cruising lounge areas. I answered only to the sweaty, creepy cross-eyed cocaine-fuelled owner, so the only chance of getting promoted would be to buy him out, or marry him then throttle him to death with a 15 inch dong.

Divemaster 1 Sex Shop 0

 

Employee Benefits

Diving for free for the rest of your life is one hell of a perk for us PADI and SSI Divemasters, Koh Tao really does have some very beautiful divesites and with whalesharks being seen regularly by our fundivers now there’s no better time to take advantage of this excellent bonus. In fact, when you think about it pretty much all of the diving part of the Divemaster job is a great – find cool stuff, then point at it!

The benefits in spending you day in a sex shop are very…different. The place I worked at had private one-man booths, private rooms for couples, and the wonderfully named ‘Suckatorium’, where $10 got you an all-day pass to be entertained by men (customers themselves, actually, but more generous ones) in ways that can easily imagined from the room’s name. As well as these we sold all manner of toys, dolls, movies, lubricants and my personal favourite for quiet days, bottles of amyl nitrate or ‘poppers’ as they are usually called.

As we always had a variety of different bottles of poppers open for people to sample, inevitably whenever I got a bit bored I’d crack open a bottle and enjoy that intensely warm, fuzzy, hilarious hit they produce. Combined with the amazing perks of catching men pleasuring themselves in dark corners all night long (not that amazing, actually), receiving numerous gifts from infatuated pensioners looking to convert yours truly to a life of gaydom, AND being able to monitor all the different movies that were being chosen by our customers (i.e watching leather-bound lactating midget-porn for about 6 hours a day, every day) it’s easy to see how the pure, innocent boy that first arrived there left the place as a fully-fledged deviant, with daily flashbacks of bad acting, terrible soundtracks and intimate knowledge of just how lucky plumbers and pizza delivery men are.

Divemaster 2 Sex Shop 0

 

Chance of meeting your significant other there

It’s a well-known fact that the chance of meeting your future husband or wife at your workplace is very high indeed, after all it’s much easier to drop a few rohypnol into a workmates glass rather than a total stranger’s. So how do the two workplaces in question match up?

At Big Blue, a LOT of people working together end up hooking up. As an unmarried Catholic virgin this is very troublesome indeed to my delicate innocent mind, but it does appear that spending every day with the same dive professionals eventually leads to sexy times being had by all, despite what The Lord teaches us in his bibles. To have semi-naked, like-minded people out on the oceans as the sun rises and falls every day is rather romantic, to be fair – but was it more romantic than the Pleasure Chest?

You’re damn right it was. Romance is NOT a word associated with a dark sex shop that smells like poppers and gentlemen’s relish. The most romantic thing in the whole bloody place was probably the glory-holes in the walls of the beating-off booths, and to be honest you don’t really get much decent conversation through a glory-hole and you certainly don’t want to hold your ear up to one…

I’m not saying that there weren’t some lovely people there, I made a lot of friends with the lonely old men who used to hang out (literally) there every day, but meeting a life partner in a place where people aim to spend no more than ten minutes before running off in a sticky mess is not something that happens very often, I can assure you dear reader.

Divemaster 3 Sex Shop 0

 

suit

 

Opportunities to smell Fish

No explanation necessary.

Divemaster 3 Sex Shop 1

 

Does it leave you fulfilled at the end of the work day?

Returning from a beautiful long dive with happy customers excitedly going over the different things that they’d spotted underwater is a wonderful feeling for the Divemaster, after all it’s the job of the DM to find things the diver wouldn’t normally be able to find themselves. It’s also pretty hard to find the most elusive of marine life, and it takes a special kind of person (and a keenly trained eye) to find the weirdest things that lurk on our Koh Tao divesites – so when you do manage to locate that extra special shrimp or super-rare nudibranch even the most cold-hearted DM will get a buzz of excitement!

The sex-shop has a very different type of buzz. Double-headed, multi-directional, battery powered or hand-driven, the type of buzz available is often just as wet, twice as fishy but with the same amount of tight rubber suits, in my own personal experience. It’s was never that fulfilling either, as watching 6 hours of porn every night would usually leave me a little…tense. Some parts were more tense than others, obviously, and it wasn’t like I could go and try out the moves I’d been staring at non-stop for most of the shift…it’s a little off-putting to pull off an ‘Erotic Accordion’ on your sleeping partner when you get home in the wee hours of the morning, she told me.

Final Score : Divemaster 4 Sex Shop 1

 

toy

 

So as predicted it’s a thrashing for the sex shop (insert whip joke here) with the work of the lowly Divemaster once again being hailed as the best damn job that anyone could ever conceive, in the history of the universe.

 

Sign up for your chance to here in the Big Blue office, with DM training starting every single day of the year!

 

NB No lactating midgets were harmed in the writing of this blog.

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Trip Advisor has forsaken us, Long Live Google and Facebook Reviews!

Trip Advisor Rankings– So What Really Happened?

It’s now been a few weeks since the world’s most popular review site Trip Advisor went a little crazy, and changed the top secret algorithm they use to rank the listed businesses on their site to much wailing and gnashing of teeth to the poor unfortunate businesses that have been utilizing it for a while. The result of this change appeared to be that those with the most reviews had dropped quite dramatically in the rankings, and those businesses with a lot less reviews had shot up the ‘table’. We went from 4th position (our approximate position for a number of years in fact) to a disgusting 35th!

 At first, we were told there was a bug in the system, a glitch that was affecting everyone’s ranking and all would be fixed in a few days – annoying, but hey we know that things like this can happen…

Business owners affected the most immediately tried to get in touch with Trip Advisor to find out what is being done to rectify this problem, and they were fed a lot of very different information regarding the changes (mentioned in a previous blog) and patience seemed to be the order of the day, despite the negative effects of this sudden change. Surely all would return to normal soon, right?

Wrong!

In their infinite wisdom Trip Advisor, after days and days of angry calls, emails and messages from suffering businesses all around the world released this statement privately to the owners:

 

“Hi everyone,

I wanted to address the confusion around the ranking changes you may have seen recently. As part of our continual efforts to provide users with meaningful, relevant information when making travel decisions, we’re fine-tuning the way we calculate the Popularity Ranking for businesses on TripAdvisor.

As always, the rankings still take into account the quality, quantity and recency of reviews, but we have refined our algorithm in order to account for and better measure the consistency of a business’s performance over time. This will help to ensure that all businesses, large or small, have the same opportunities for exposure on TripAdvisor. These refinements were not undertaken lightly and were carefully designed and tested in order to improve our rankings algorithm.

These changes took effect for attractions on February 28th, 2018. They will go live for restaurants and accommodations on March 13th, 2018, and many of you may see your ranking in the Popularity Index change because of these updates.

We're very sorry for any frustration over the past couple of weeks, and I hope this helps explain some of the rationale behind the changes you may notice or have noticed in the ranking for your property.

-Mollie

TripAdvisor Staff”

So it was all in the grand plan after all, and the explanation seems quite reasonable too. So why are so many business managers up in arms about these changes?

Quite simply, the changes have punished those well-established businesses who have been listed the longest  and collected the most amount of reviews, and the businesses with less reviews (or older reviews) have risen like a phoenix from the flames, even though a lot of them have actually gone out of business – precisely what happened here on Koh Tao, with ‘Planet Scuba’ (closed their doors 2 years ago) and ‘Pimp My Dive’ (shut down last year) suddenly rising towards the top of the recommended list!  The algorithm is clearly now favouring new operators or those who have failed to collect many reviews over time, making a mockery of the rankings.

It’s clear to anyone with an ounce of sense that a shut-down business with no reviews for over a year shouldn’t really be receiving the hallowed Trip Advisor recommendation, but that’s exactly what’s happening. The public of course are kept completely in the dark about this, so of course many will no doubt be planning their free time based on these false rankings – it’s almost amusing to think of how this will all play out for Trip Advisor in the long-run, if it wasn’t affecting people’s livelihoods.

These changes will surely lead to people losing confidence in Trip Advisor, and with their share price already dropping it may not be too long before they go the same way as MySpace and Yahoo with their customers relying on other reviewing mediums like Facebook and Google – I know that we’re now pointing people that way since this ‘algorithm update’ by the Lords of the Advisor.

Is there anything else we can do other than tearing out our hair and despairing over how hard done by we’ve been after all these years of supporting Trip Advisor?

Waiting seems like the only option unfortunately, over time the reviewers will cotton on to the goings on, and our rightful place at the top of the pile will be ours once more – after all no matter where we find ourselves you can all be assured that we will continue to offer the same top quality diving here on Koh Tao for many years to come.

Long live the revolution!

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