17/18 Moo 1, Koh Tao Suratthani, 84360 Thailand         Info @ Big Blue Diving        +66 (0) 77 456 050

Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - Steven Develter

Tuesday, 17 April 2018 08:56

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!

Friday, 13 April 2018 03:44

How to Have an Eco-Friendly Songkran

1. Worried about the evil ingredients in your sunscreen being washed off and damaging the coral? Follow the advice of our uber-fashionable Chinese tourists by simply wearing a skin-tight bodysuit, not only will it protect you from sunburn but you’ll also look like an extra from the Power Rangers, which I believe attracts girls.

 

body

2. Don’t want to spend money on cheap plastic water-guns that’ll inevitably break after 5 frigging minutes? Use a real gun instead, and be a big hit with all the revelers on the beach. Also comes in handy when waiting at the bar for drinks.

 

3. If buying a real gun isn’t an option, why not use a coconut shell to toss water at each other? God will love you more for fully utilizing all of His gifts to us.

 

4. Worried about the amount of water being wasted? Throw sand instead and bring tears of joy to all in your path.

SAND

 

5. Smokers can ensure their cigarette ends don’t get BLASTED out of their mouths by hilarious aresholes by simply wearing a motorbike helmet back to front when having a cheeky one. You’ll have to have a very small cigarette, obviously, and keep your eyes closed the whole time.

 

6. Save on paper this Songkran when pooping by simply jumping straight into the nearest pool, and inviting partygoers to shoot off any brown remains that are lurking. May not attract girls as much as these other tips.

 

7. Make sure the local foliage of Koh Tao is also reaping the benefits of this fun-filled day by carrying around a selection of thirsty potted plants with you.

 

8. As everyone knows Songkran is not a nice day for our pets, so ensure they don’t miss out on their own little pet version of today by locking them in the bathroom with the shower on, and playing house music from 25 years ago. DISCLAIMER: May not be very water-friendly.

dog

 

 

9. It’s really hard writing ten of these

Tuesday, 10 April 2018 08:47

The Best Rooftop Bars in Bangkok

Touching down in Bangkok, dragging your weary bones through passport control and having the heat and smells of the city immediately hitting you like a slap to the face as you step out of the airport is an introduction to Thailand that so many of us have experienced, and it never seems to get any more normal.

To escape the madness and noises of the city that never sleeps there are small refuges, little oases high above street level, free of the hubbub and madness of this incredible city – the world famous Rooftop bars of Bangkok, and in this blog I’ll talk about a few of what I consider to be the best the city has to offer.

 

 

SKYBAR LEBUA

Sky Bar, Lebua Hotel

Made even more popular since 'The Hangover 2' was unleashed on unsuspecting idiots with money to waste, Sky Bar at Lebua Hotel (Silom area) is the one featured in the movie and is certainly not one for those on a budget - expect to pay about 400 baht for a beer! The dress code is pretty strict too, as is often the case in these types of bars - no t-shirts, flip-flops, backpacks or shorts - but you'd really look out of place wearing that sort of clobber there; everyone else usually dresses very smartly indeed!

Thank God we bought all those frigging suits on the Khao San Road eh?

It gets really busy at Lebua Sky Bar, so it’s a nice place to watch the wealthier Thai business types at play, but unfortunately the staff can be a bit dickish herding you around into certain areas to take photos. The view is spectacular of course, and makes it worth the visit as long as you leave a few baht for your diving!

http://www.lebua.com/sky-bar

 

 

 

above eleven

Above 11, Sukhumvit Soi 11

A little cheaper, but with views almost as spectacular is Above Eleven, on the massive snaking street that straddles the city called ‘Sukhumvit’, Soi 11. With cocktails starting at around 300 baht and a small beer about 160 baht it's usually possible to have a great time without blowing a week’s salary, but if you want to eat or get the best seats right on the edge you need to make a reservation - a bribe didn't work for me, though I do look like a homeless crack-addict so the waitress probably thought I was begging for change. The atmosphere is a hell of a lot more chilled than Sky Bar, and to watch the sunset over the huge shopping malls on Siam is really breathtaking – remember that it doesn't open till 6pm however so don't get there too late if you want to get the day and night shots of the city.

A shout out to the staff as well who are surprisingly attentive for Thailand, just don't let them talk you into that weird Peruvian beer special with the ice, salt and pepper - I can still taste it years later, and in comparison makes even a Chang beer seem delicious.

Dress-code is smart casual, shorts are okay but absolutely no open shoes or sandals – they can provide men with simple black trainers for a 160 baht rental fee.

https://aboveeleven.com/

 

 

 

360 rooftop bar bangkok

360 Bar, Millenium Hilton, 123 Charoen Nakhon Rd.

360 bar at Millennium Hilton could well be the best of all the rooftop bars in Bangkok but is often missed out on lists like these, possible due to it being a mere 31 floors high - compared to a lot of the other rooftop bars in Bankgkok this isn't exactly the tallest, but the views are a LOT better than the competition in my opinion. The bar consists of two distinct areas: One is a large rectangular open air space covering the entire middle part of this tall riverside building, and the other part, as the name suggests, is an amazing 360 degrees cupola balanced one floor above. It looks like a gigantic flying saucer has landed on the edge of the Millennium Hilton tower and the views from this indoor panoramic bar are fantastic and well worth a visit!

360 Bar is laid back, the jazz played is always to a very high standard, and the easiest way to enjoy the early evening is to first sit at one of the sofas on the open rooftop and contemplate the views on each side of the tower. Unfortunately the sunset is obscured by the building, but the light show in the sky all around you easily makes up for it.

If price appears high, don’t worry, the servings are generous, meaning you’ll only need one or two plates to enjoy an evening here!

Dress-code is smart casual, no sandals or sportswear allowed.

http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/thailand/millennium-hilton-bangkok-BKKHITW/dining/threesixty.html

 

 

 

char rooftop bar pink sky

Char Rooftop Bar, Indigo Hotel, 81 Wireless Road

On the 25th and 26th floor of the Indigo Hotel in Ploenchit is a relatively new addition to the Bangkok Rooftop bar phenomenon, and it’s showing itself to be quite the star! It’s smaller than a lot of the more famous competitors, and they’ve used the space wonderfully with cute little alcoves giving you a bit of privacy as you wash down the reasonably priced cocktails and beers on offer – expect to pay around 350 baht for a cocktail and 180 baht for a small Singha beer. The bar snacks are very good at Char, and not too expensive if you’re on a budget.

The loungers are some of the most comfortable your dear writer had ever sat in, and it makes a great place to fire off a few emails and snaps to loved ones back home without all the crowds usually found at the larger sky bars.

Dress-code is pretty strict, with no sandals, t-shirts or ‘torn clothing’ allowed.

http://www.charbangkok.com/

 

Whichever sky bar you choose, to really get the most out of the experience (and also to really take advantage of the amount of incredible cityscape photos that can be had) there’s no better time to arrive than late afternoon, just before the sun drops to reveal a stunning show of colour that’s worth the higher prices these bars always charge.

Mine’s a large one thanks!

Friday, 06 April 2018 06:01

The Best Night Dives in the World

 

 

Black Water Diving – Tahiti and Moorea Islands, French Polynesia

Not for the faint-hearted (and probably the most nerve wracking dive on this list), even the name ‘black-water diving’ sounds a little intimidating to a lot of divers, but take the plunge here and you’ll never forget what happens next! The night dive involves tying scuba divers to the bottom of a boat (there are often strong currents) and suspending them in pitch black water, in the deep channel between Tahiti and the Moorea Islands where depths can reach hundreds of metres. In this black water, strange bioluminescent creatures such as siphonophores and comb jellies rise to the surface to feed, creating an incredible light show that really has to be seen to be believed.

black water night scuba diving teaser

How to Get There

French Polynesia can be reached in a number of ways. If you’re flying, you’ll arrive in to the capital Papeete, the only international airport, which is on the island of Tahiti. From the USA you can fly direct from Los Angeles, or from New Zealand you can fly direct from Auckland. The best time to visit is between March and November.

 

 

 

Nudi Falls’, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia                                      flamboyant

 

The so-called ‘muck diving capital of the world’ the Lembeh Strait is world famous among the dive community for its incredible diversity of weird and wonderful critters. In fact, the Strait is only a long and narrow strip that separates the mainland from the Lembeh Island, but when you take a closer look you start to notice that it is home to thousands of nudibranchs, blue-ringed octopus, wonderpus and mimic octopus, cuttlefish, pygmy seahorses and a whole of small marine life. As most of these creatures are incredibly active during the night, it only follows that night diving in the Lembeh Strait is even better than diving during the day!

In particular Nudi Falls makes for one of (if not the) best night dive in the world. You’ll follow a wall on the mainland side of the Strait down to rocky corals and finally along the sandy bottom to a soft coral field. In the process, you might find active cuttlefish, squid, rare yet colorful nudibranchs, soft coral cowries and so much more.

Dive sites here go to a depth of between 15 to 25 metres, there are hardly any currents, and throughout the year the waters remain a warm 24 to 30 degrees. Its best visited between March and November.

How to Get There

From Manado, capital of the province of North Sulawesi there are public buses (or rental cars) available to Bitung. Upon arrival at Bitung continue to Ruko Pateten pier in Lembeh subdistrict, and cross by boat to the island of Lembeh – only around a 15 minute journey by boat.

 

 

Manta Night Dive, Kona, Hawaii.                                                  img 4979

It was a toss-up between this and Lembeh Strait for the coveted No. 1 spot on this list, as to experience descending into darkness to observe the nightly performance of the manta ballet just of the Kona coast is something that you’ll never forget.

Each night, dive operators shine massive spotlights into the water which attracts light-seeking plankton. The mantas, eager for an easy feed, then glide in to feed on the plankton whilst you relax on the sandy bottom with the best seat in the place!

Samuel Beckett from ‘Planet Dive’ puts it very eloquently –

“Diving with mantas is one of the most satisfying things a person can do in the water. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of watching a massive fish the size of a stealth bomber coming into vision. It’s akin to watching your child ride a bike for the first time or finding a winning lottery ticket”

How to Get There

Traveling to the area is easy, as Kona has a large international airport served by numerous airlines from North America as well as inter-island airlines. The best time to visit is between April and October.

 

 

 

Bonaire, Southern Caribbean                                                                         bonaire

For years, high-tech photographers have documented the neon fluorescence displayed by corals, nudibranch and other marine life that occurs when UV light reflects off them viewed through a special filter.

Biofluorescent diving is a relatively new concept in the scuba world, where special UV lights and mask filters are used to bring out this natural fluorescence underwater. The result is an underwater party best experienced in Bonaire, where about 25% of the marine life species are fluorescent with shrimps, eels and all manner of creatures reflecting the UV rays in shocking pink, purple and green. These dives also can’t fail to give you a new found respect for the reefs and the coral, revealing things that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye in a stunning display of fabulous colours.

How to Get There

Direct flights from the USA are available with United Airlines from Newark and Houston, with Europe being served by KLM or TUI from Amsterdam.

 

 

Navy Pier, Exmouth, Western Australia                                              

One of the best sites in the Ningaloo Reef, Navy Pier is a 300-metre structure extending out from shore and is a world famous dive site home to some of the biggest marine life in the Pacific with huge rays, moray eels, lobsters, sea snakes and massive Queensland grouper commonly seen. Diving here during the day is something very special, but the area really comes into its own at night where you’re likely to encounter flatworms, nudibranchs, eels, wobbegong sharks, whitetip reef sharks, octopus and scorpion fish among the active, nocturnal hunters. It’s also a great place to see whalesharks in season, so there’s always a chance of bumping into one of these on this phenomenal night dive.

 octo

How to Get There

Learmonth Airport is located 36km from Exmouth and ‘Exmouth Bus Charters’ provide a shuttle bus service from the airport to your accommodation in Exmouth for a per person fee. The best time to visit is between March and November.

Monday, 02 April 2018 09:21

What's the Best Dive Computer?

Once you start diving, it becomes very hard to stop – ask any dive pro here on Koh Tao and they’ll usually tell you the same story, they came for a few days and before they knew it they’d signed up for professional training and waved goodbye to the grind of the real world and the 9-5.

As you start buying equipment and learn more about diving through PADI/SSI courses, you’ll find that doing some proper research on what you’re intending to buy will help get you ready for years of diving enjoyment. One key component in your gear is your dive computer, and in this blog we’ll be looking at my 3 favourite computers on the market right now:

 

Shearwater Research Petrel 2 SA Dive Computer

Shearwater Research Petrel 2

The largest dive computer to make my top three, the Shearwater Petrel 2 is one hell of a dive computer and my undoubted number one choice for those with a bit of cash to splash on a proper dive computer!

It features a large full size 2.4 inch screen that allows you to see all the important functions (depth, temperature etc.) without having to scroll through several screens – making it a lot easier for those diving in cold waters and wearing gloves, which is always a struggle with the small-buttoned models. It supports both normal regulators and rebreathers, as well as Trimix diving making it an excellent choice for recreational and technical divers alike – purchasers can be sure that they’ll never need to buy another dive computer again with this beauty, and even if you are a beginner diver this will be a good investment as you will never outgrow it, no matter what your future diving tastes.

The backlight on the Shearwater Petrel 2 is adjustable and on medium brightness with a single AA alkaline battery you will get about 35 hours of life, and if you use a SAFT LS14500 lithium you can get over 100 hours! I love the fact a normal AA battery can be used with this, it really cuts the chance of having a dive trip ruined by a flat battery. It also features an incredibly clear screen, with a lovely bright LCD display rather than the older crystal displays that so many of the other popular dive computers feature.

shearspecs

You can also customize the layout of all the essential info to suit your dive style and I’m a huge fan of the ‘time to surface’ feature, which actually calculates how many minutes it will take you to surface if you started your ascent at that very moment, including decompression and safety stops.

The digital compass included in the Shearwater Petrel 2 is one of the best I on the market. It is tilt compensated so reads properly at any angle, has a degree wheel displayed which you can toggle between 60, 90 and 120 degree display modes, and best of all you can easily mark a heading and it automatically marks the reciprocal heading for finding your way back - perfect for stupid DMTs!

Like most of the good computers available these days, the Petrel 2 can link via Bluetooth easily to communicate with your PC, Mac, iPod or iPad.

So, don’t let the size or price put you off - it retails at around $850 US – as you can be certain that this surprisingly easy to use dive computer will have other divers drooling over it on the boat and underwater. For anyone thinking about getting into technical diving then there’s really no better computer on the market that the Petrel 2, and with its sturdy design you can tell immediately that it’s a dive computer made to last for a very long time indeed.

The best dive computer I’ve ever seen, hands down.

Specifications

Air/Nitrox/Trimix capable

Screen Resolution 320×240 QVGA

Full colour LED LCD

Battery Type – Single AA

3 axis, tilt compensated, digital compass

Dive Log 1000 Hours

Smart Ready Bluetooth Interface

 

OceanicGeo2.0

Oceanic Geo 2.0 

A great example of a mid-range dive computer, the Geo 2 is one I’ve been wanting for a long time now. With its nicely designed screen and easy to read numerical displays, its small ‘watch’ size doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features at all.

The Oceanic Geo 2 Supports both air and 2 programmable nitrox gas mixes, one up to 100% O2 which is pretty unusual in similar computers. The audio alarms are loud enough but not annoyingly so, and they’re also accompanied by a very handy small flashing LED for the hard of hearing out there.

The Oceanic Geo 2 dive computer features four operating modes: Watch, Norm (for air and nitrox), Gauge (with run timer) and a free diving mode, which is nice. Despite the instruction manual being a little confusing the computer is really easy to get the hang of after a few minutes messing around with it, and the pretty powerful backlight (with adjustable duration) works great. Like many of its competitors it too comes with a safety stop countdown timer.

geee

 

I really like that it has an easy access ‘last dive’ function for quick reference, and of course you can see it is a cool design which doesn’t look out of place at all out of the diving environment. Another great bonus is that you’re able to change the battery yourself in a matter of minutes, saving a lot of time and money when it does get a little low on power.

 Finally, and one of the most important features for a lot of experienced divers is that it’s possible to change the algorithm used to calculate your NDLs!  They offer dual algorithms allowing to switch between them when necessary, which is particularly handy if you dive with a buddy that has his own computer which calculates based on a specific model. You at least will be able to somewhat get the calculations in sync!

The algorithm you can select is either the Buhlmann ZHL-16c based PZ or a DSAT based model. The DSAT variant is better suited when you want to pick a liberal recreational dive algorithm, whereas the Buhlmann algorithm is more conservative. It’s also possible to adjust the conservatism of either of the calculation models by yourself to achieve a more conservative dive profile.

Overall this is one of the best dive computers in the intermediate price range on the market today, and if it featured a digital compass it could well be sitting pretty in my number one spot. It retails at around $350 US.

Specifications

Easy to navigate with 4 buttons

Four operational modes for Watch, Air/Nitrox, Gauge and Free Diving

Two gas mixes between 21% and 100%

PO2 limits adjustable from 1.2 to 1.6 bars

Two different algorithms with additional conservatism settings

Max. operating depth 100 meters for Air/Nitrox and 120 meters for Gauge

Automatic altitude adjustments up to 4,270 m (14,000 ft)

Dive log with capacity for 24 dives

Log sampling rates selectable at 2, 15, 30 and 60 seconds

User switchable battery

Limited warranty of 2 years

 

suunto d4i

Suunto D4i

 

The Suunto dive computer is a very popular brand, and the D4i is easily the most commonly seen dive computer in my recreational diving experiences around the world – meaning there’s almost always someone who can help you with it if you didn’t read the instruction booklet properly!

It’s a sleek, compact and lightweight dive computer that can easily be worn everyday as a watch, and has four dive modes: Air, Nitrox, Freedive and Gauge. The Suunto D4i also comes with the ability to connect to an (optional) wireless air transmitter which makes it great for mid-level divers who want the ability to expand their gear later on.

The freediving mode stands out and you can see why this a very popular computer with our freediving team, mainly due to its ease of use, small size and also the ‘3 times a second’ sample rate, giving you highly accurate data on the true depths reached on your dives.

The Suunto D4i comes with an 80 hour internal dive log that can be easily exported to your PC for digital dive log enthusiasts, and the dot matrix display is super easy to read and has a strong backlight that keeps all essential dive information available at a quick glance – an essential characteristic for those looking to buy a compact watch-style computer.

 

Suunto D4i Novo Black action1

 

There is a nice safety stop countdown feature, and the nitrox settings can be adjusted between 21% and 50% without much trouble at all. The optional wireless air integration on the D4i allows you to easily track current tank pressure and remaining air time with a quick glance at your wrist, along with other critical information, giving you more time to truly enjoy your dive.

I highly recommend this to scuba diving enthusiasts looking for a high quality mid-range Suunto dive computer. The free diving mode is great, and the optional wireless air integration feature is a nice touch for those looking to invest in a transmitter.

The Suunto D4i retails at around $450 US.

 

Specifications

Adjustable alarms for ascent rates and maximum depth and time

Free diving mode sampling depth information 3 times per second

Clear and precise dot matrix display with backlighting

Four dive mode settings including Air, Nitrox, free dive and gauge

Adjustable Nitrox settings between 21% and 50% with PO2 limits between 0.5 and1.6 bars

Maximum depth display to 100 meters

Adjustable Altitude

Built-in dive log up to 140 hours

Lithium battery (CR2450)

RGBM (Reduced Gradient Bubble Model) algorithm

Built-in dive planner

Optional wireless air integration

2 year limited warranty

 

Happy shopping!

 

Thursday, 29 March 2018 11:09

How Long Does a Dive Last?

 

 

A question that we’re asked often here at Big Blue by those of you looking to do their first ever dives is how long will be spent underwater? In this blog I will try my best to answer that question, but of course there are many different factors that will influence the length of time that you will be diving for which we will look at in more detail now.

 

Rate of Breathing

Obviously the faster you breathe, the shorter your dive will be – after all the time underwater is dictated by the amount of air in the diving cylinder, or ‘tank’ as I’ll be calling it here. So how can I extend this ‘bottom time’? Don’t bloody breathe so fast, that’s how. Slow, relaxed breaths are the way forward here - exactly how you’re breathing right now.

fatty

Size of the diver

Are you a big fatty wobbler, a 2 metre giant or a muscle-bound hero like me? Then you’re going to breathe more than smaller humans, as you’re carrying a lot of extra weight compared to those damn slim people. It takes more energy and effort to move this mass around you see, which takes a lot of oxygen – it’s like they’re working out every time they move. I don’t recommend chopping of a limb before diving of course, but I imagine it would help.

Conditions underwater

We all dream of diving in crystal clear waters, gliding effortlessly through the water free of currents without a care in the world, but in reality it isn’t always like that. There’s always a chance that the visibility may drop, which may make the diver a little nervous which often results in faster breathing. Tidal movement may also introduce an ocean current, which will put the diver in a situation where they need to kick harder, thus increasing the rate the diver is breathing – both of which will shorten the amount of time the diver gets underwater.

string current

Excitement of diver

A number of situations will make your heart beat faster, including how excited you are. The faster your heart beats, the faster it can get more blood and oxygen to your muscles, leading to…you guessed it – shorter dive times due to the increased rate of breathing that goes hand in hand with heart rate. So we shouldn’t get excited?? That may be difficult especially when diving for the first time ever, but with practice a diver is able to control this more, and thus have a longer dive. Calm and collected is what we aim for when diving!

Depth of dive

Simply put, the length of your dive directly depends on the depth of the dive. The deeper you dive, the denser gases become (the more molecules are required to fill a given flexible space). Double the pressure (at 10m seawater) and it takes twice as much gas to fill your lungs with each breath. Triple the pressure (at 20m seawater) and it takes three times as much. Thus, the deeper you dive, the faster you consume air from your scuba tanks no matter how much air it holds to start with.

 too many tanks

The size of the tank

There are varying sizes of tanks used for diving, and the size you’re given will affect how much air it can contain and how long the tank will last at a given depth. The most common you’ll encounter especially here in Thailand are 12 litre, 200 bar scuba tanks (or thereabouts).  In Europe it’s also common to have the larger 15 litre tanks, which should add about 10 minutes to your dive time from the standard 12 litre cylinders.

So how long does a scuba tank last? The average beginner diver’s air consumption in calm waters runs a tank close to empty in around 1 hour at 10m depth (compared to just a few minutes at 40m). Professional and very experienced divers can usually double this time through breathing/buoyancy control and by minimizing the amount of movement underwater.

out of air

Quality of instruction

I’ll never forget my first ever diving experience, where my bitter old instructor shouted at us poor students repeatedly, got really angry when we messed up and generally just acted like an arse the whole time. He didn’t exactly inspire any of us new divers, or calm us when we faced a challenging part of the course – to be honest it seemed to us that we were wasting his ‘valuable’ time and he’d rather be anywhere else but in the classroom with us.

When we were descending on the first ever ocean dive we were (no doubt due to the poor quality instruction we’d received) pretty bloody nervous, and felt ill-prepared for what we were about to encounter. Nervous divers, like the excited diver we talked about earlier, breathe a lot more hence have shorter dives – we lasted about 30 minutes only.

Would a better instructor have been able to allay our fears, resulting in calmer divers? You’re damn right they would have!

badd diver

Diving technique

Anyone with a bit of diving experience can tell you that there are a lot of divers out there with poor technique. Divers will bump into you, constantly adjust their buoyancy, flap their hands around, kick as hard and fast as they can and often ruin the dive for everyone else in their group by getting low on air very quickly indeed due to all this excessive movement. The solution can often be quite simple; take the ‘Perfect Buoyancy’ dive offered at your local dive centre, or go for the SSI or PADI Advanced Diver course where the instructor will really work on taking your diving technique to the next level, often leading to a large increase in bottom time for the newly competent diver.

 

Speed of the Diver

When you’re active, your breathing can increase up to about 40-60 times a minute to cope with the extra demand on your body. The delivery of oxygen to your muscles also speeds up, so they can do their job efficiently. This is all well and good if you’re a professional athlete, but whilst diving we want to try to maximize the time spent underwater by breathing slowly and calmly as much as is possible!

The key to this is to dive really slowwwwwwwwwwwwly. Less movement as we know leads to less oxygen being pumped to the muscles by the heart, so the breathing rate will also slow right down in turn. We don’t want to be kicking constantly or darting around the dive site, aim to slowly glide around underwater as much as possible and you’ll be amazed just how much longer your dives become!

Taking all of these things into account, what can we conclude?

 The short answer is about 45 minutes!

 

Monday, 26 March 2018 07:49

Where not to miss on your trip to Thailand: Part Three - Koh Kood

 

 

 

kohkoodmap

The last in a series of blogs aimed at those of you out there looking to discover a breathtaking island paradise free of tourists and the hordes of Thailand backpackers that wash up on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, Koh Kood is a gem of an island that is worth a trip with your significant other if you’re looking for peace and quiet, beautiful palm-fringed beaches and a whole lot of doing not very much at all!

At 105 square kilometres, Ko Kood (also known as Koh Kut) is a large, mountainous island close to Koh Chang and about 50 kilometres west of both Thai and Cambodian mainland. Its size and beauty make it pretty unique among the Thai islands in that it’s still relatively unheard of by all but a handful of Thai and Russian tourists who’ve been enjoying this stunning place for many years now – don’t let that put you off however, they tend to stay limited to a particular resort or two in some of the more far-flung parts of the island, and rarely venture out or to the cheaper places on the island that the more budget-conscious traveler like myself usually ends up in.

 

 

Vast swathes of the north, east and south coasts are accessible only by boat, and even on the slightly more tourist-oriented west coast a lot of the beaches back into nothing but coconut groves and the hills that surround so many of Koh Kood’s fabulous coastline. It has reasonably good ‘roads’ so it’s quite easy to explore the 10 or so beaches accessible on a rental scooter or bicycle, or there is also the option of renting one of the few ‘songthaew’ taxi trucks to get around – this tends to be pretty expensive however! My last count revealed around 20 beaches to be found via kayak, scooter and longtail boat, so it’s easy to spend a few weeks getting to know the island if laying around all day long in a hammock isn’t quite your cup of tea.

My Top 3 Beaches on Koh Kood

 

Khlong Hin Beach koh kood

Khlong Hin Beach

My own personal favourite in the off season, this beautiful white sand beach is also a favourite of the Russian tourists in busier months but come a month or so either side of the busy periods and you’ll find a long, sandy beach almost empty of anyone else, palm lined with nice clear seas and kept reasonably clean by the two resorts separated by an estuary that share this beach - Khlong Hin Beach Resort and Montana Hut were the only two on my last visit.

 

 

Ao Noi Beach koh kood

Ao Noi Beach

An incredibly beautiful beach in an isolated part of the island, it’s possible to reach by road or by kayak from one of its neighbouring beaches. With its strategically placed wooden piers and crystal clear waters, it’s one of those beaches where you can easily spend the whole day taking pictures, laying around on hammocks, frolicking on the wooden jetty and enjoying a nice cold beer or two.

 

Bang Bao Koh Kood

Bang Bao Bay

Bang Bao Bay is often called the best beach on the island, and is located in the southwest of Koh Kood.  Easy to reach by motorbike it’s a real-life paradise, the fine sand and calm turquoise waters make it ideal for swimming and lounging around, plus the palm trees lining the beach make for some incredible sunset photos. Expect to want to come back here again and again!

This is one of the few places on the island that offers lower budget accommodation, and is also a pretty good place to try a bit of snorkeling. I usually stay in ‘Siam Hut’, which is famous on the island for having rude staff, boring food but bloody cheap rooms!

 

ferry

How To Get To Koh Kood

There are regular buses to Trat from Bangkok, all ofm which can be organised at the many travel agents around the capital, or you can always do it yourself and take the public bus, which is surprisingly good and quite fast too. From Trat I usually head to the nearest travel agent, and then book all my onward travel to Koh Kood.

Speedboats from Laem Sok Pier on the mainland (close to Trat) currently offer daily transfers to the island, departing from Laem Sok at approximately 9am every morning and taking you directly to the resort of your choice. For afternoon transfers, there are many fast ferry services that you can opt for which depart from Laem Sok at 12pm. The ferries usually drop you in Ao Salad in the north of the island, and you transfer to your beach of choice via the songthaew taxi trucks that operate pretty much all day and night if the price is right.

Expect to pay around 400 baht for the slower ferries, and around 600 baht for the speedboats.

 

See you there!

Saturday, 17 March 2018 10:05

Where not to miss on your trip to Thailand: Part Two - Koh Libong and dugongs!

 

 

 

LibongMAP

 

Trang’s largest island is just 30 minutes by long-tail from mainland Hat Yao, and is one of those islands that most Thailand backpackers miss out on completely, for reasons unknown to myself. It’s a captivating, mountainous place wrapped in rubber trees, thick with mangroves and known for its flora and fauna (especially the resident dugongs and migrating birds) more than its thin golden brown beaches. Beach lovers may actually be a little disappointed on first inspection, as the neighbouring islands of Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai do offer nicer beaches with more turquoise waters, but for me the real charm of the Libong beaches is the fact that they’re usually completely empty!

 

LibongBEACH

 

The majority of the island is actually completely untouched, leaving an incredible area to trek completely alone (I’ve never encountered a single tourist on my treks through the mangroves and jungles of Libong) and a lot of the island’s more remote areas can be (almost) reached on a scooter, cutting out large swathes of your exploration and saving your energy for dugong and birdspotting, which Libong is also well-known for. Migratory birds stop off here on their way south from Siberia, drawn by the island’s mud flats in the eastern part of the island. For those serious about their birding the best time to come is during March and April, when you can expect to see brown-winged kingfishers, masked finfoots and even the rare black-necked stork, not seen elsewhere on the peninsula.

 

A1111

 

The island is home to a small Muslim fishing community and has a few west-coast resorts, and that’s pretty much it – tourism is only a secondary resource for the Koh Libong residents, who have no experience of the mass tourism that so many of the other Thai islands have been ruined with. There are no ATMs or any other way of getting any money so remember to bring plenty with you, and there’s just the one small convenience store by one of the resorts. You should expect to pay at least 1000 baht per night at the resorts here, and it’s a good idea to check they’re open before heading over there! I usually stay at Libong Beach Resort, where the service is friendly, the food delicious and the rooms around 800 baht per night with fan.

 

 

libongVILLAGE

 

When you get out of the resorts it’s easy to find lovely small beaches with not a soul on them (expect the ubiquitous dog, of course), hiking trails piercing the slopes of the rolling hills, limestone caves and a few small fishing villages hidden from plain sight – there’s an interesting one on the south-east coast called Batu Bute, where the locals are living on stilted houses over the bay and there’s a long walkway and observation tower for some great sunset photos and a bit of dugong spotting.  Any locals you may encounter have a wonderful charm about them, and a smile/candy bar will often be enough to get an impromptu tour of the villages from the local kids, but remember with the island being mainly Muslim you shouldn’t wear anything too revealing when exploring the villages.

The real draw of Koh Libong is of course the 130 or so dugongs, an endangered marine mammal which looks a lot like a dolphin with an eating problem, and feeds on sea grass in the south-east of the island. Also known as a sea cow, it is actually not so easy to encounter if you go by yourself (but still possible from a viewpoint or observation tower), so a boat or kayak will give you a greater chance to bump into one in their feeding areas – be careful of the strong currents if you try to get in the water with them!

 

 

With just a bunch of resorts on the western beaches and no bars or clubs, the nightlife is completely non-existent on Koh Libong. Ideal for families, couples and people who like early nights (most places try to close around 9pm), the island can also be an attractive destination for backpackers searching for a tranquil spot to get away from the mass tourism, while party people will most probably remain disappointed and should consider one of the many other nearby options like Koh Phi Phi - not on my recommended list, due to its high amount of dickheads.

 

How to get to Koh Libong

 

There’s a regular ferry service that connects Koh Libong with Hat Yao pier in Trang province, they run multiple times a day all year round with the last departure of the day at 4pm. It costs around 400 baht, and the trip takes about 30 minutes. During the low season expect the ferries travel less frequently and with occasional cancellations due to the sea conditions or the lack of passengers.

From Trang there are minibuses leaving every hour from the bus station to Hat Yao and the ticket costs about 100 baht, depending on your haggling skills.

 

Thursday, 15 March 2018 04:12

Where not to miss on your trip to Thailand: Part One - Koh Phayam

I’ve been living and loving Thailand for quite a few years now, and like to think I know a thing or two about places to visit if you’re looking for some time to really unwind and forget the stresses of the real world. Personally I think the real beauty of Koh Tao is underwater, so when I want to really take advantage of the peace and tranquility that this wonderful country has to offer it’s time to grab that backpack and head to the other side of Thailand to explore some of the lesser-known gems that still manage to hide away from the masses of tourists now visiting this country.

In these next three blogs I’d like to look in detail at my all-time favourite islands for those wanting something other than partying every night!

 

KPmap

Koh Phayam

My absolute number one choice due to its easy accessibility from Koh Tao, Koh Phayam is like taking a step back in time to the days when Thai beaches were filled only with palm trees, crabs, a few simple bungalows and the odd skinny beach dog.

This gorgeous little island is around 35 kilometres square, and is the second most northern Thai island found on the Andaman Sea. It’s just 20km from Ranong and has long white sandy beaches, warm seas, beautiful views of neighbouring Burmese islands, fascinating wildlife and no ATMs, 7-11s or cars– although there is a weird tractor-type thing that you see on occasion carting large groups of Thai tourists to their plush resorts! It's the perfect place to really get away from it all, with great treks through the jungle or on the beaches revealing playful monkeys, the weirdly wonderful great hornbills, sea eagles, many types of butterfly and hordes of crabs going about their business. The interior of the island is home to large rubber and cashew nut farms which line the narrow ‘roads’ that link the main beaches and villages of Phayam – the smell of the cashew trees in bloom in March is amazing!

Great Hornbill 1

 

It’s not a place for those wishing to enjoy the clear, coral filled waters that so many Andaman-side islands can boast, but one thing that I’ll never get bored of is the 1 metre-plus breaking waves on the busiest beach of Long Beach, making it possible to surf and boogie board– one of only a two places in Thailand that can offer this I believe, the other being Phuket, which as we all know is a sh1thole.

There are a few really nice beaches around this island  - most of the accommodation is on Aow Yai  (Long Beach) and Aow Khao Kwai  (Buffalo Bay). Ao Yai is the largest bay on the west-coast with a lovely 3 km long beach perfect for sunset strolls and watching the bioluminescence, and there’s the occasional party in high season and cheap simple bungalows on the far north and south of the beach – expect to pay a minimum of 300 baht per night for the most basic. The amount of resorts and bungalow operations on Long beach has risen dramatically the last few years, but it’s still a great place to hang out during the day and eat at night – most of the best restaurants are located on Long Beach.

 

kpsunset

Buffalo Bay is a quieter beach, especially the south-east part of the bay where you’ll find me lazing around in a cloud of smoke and Chang bottles in my time off from Koh Tao. More upscale and better quality resorts dedicated to families, couples and Thai tour groups are found here, but there are still a few low-budget places on the beach and overlooking the bay – prices start at around 300 baht per night for the most basic wooden bungalow.

At the south end of Buffalo Bay is a small sea gypsy settlement which is worth exploring, especially when the locals return with their daily catch – just remember to ask before taking pictures of them, they’re gyspy/pirates so I imagine they’re pretty tough guys!

 

KPsurf

When you feel like snorkelling or a spot of scuba diving it’s possible to sign up for a day trip to sublime Ko Surin or the islands in Laem Son Marine Park to the south, plus on the odd occasion I’ve seen adverts for Liveaboard trips north into Burma’s Mergui Archipelago. Those of you thinking of doing your PADI Open Water course here should expect to pay around 15,000 baht for the 4 day course, which is 50% more than what you pay here on Koh Tao.

Koh Phayam’s tourism season lasts from November to May, with the high season kicking in around late December through to February. It’s not necessary to book in advance for budget travelers, and discounts are often given when dealing face-to face with the resort of your choice.

 A ‘cashew festival’ is held every year in March to mark the harvest with music and sports on Long Beach for all you nut fans!

 

KPsign

How to get there:

In Ranong, take a taxi motorcycle or ‘songthaew’ to the Koh Phayam pier. This will cost between 50 and 100 baht, depending on the mood of the driver.

The slow ferries and speedboats leave every hour or so nowadays, so it’s easy to arrive and book on to the next available boat out most times of the year – though in the peak of high season it may be a good idea to book in advance at least the day before. The slow boats cost about 200 baht and takes 2-3 hours depending on the waves, and the speedboats cost around 400 baht and take just 40 minutes.

The last boats to Phayam are at 14.30 in low season, and 17.30 in high season – again subject to change depending on the mood of the drivers and the weather of course!

Friday, 09 March 2018 11:31

Trip Advisor has a bug!

 

For many years now all of us here at Big Blue have been very proud of our Trip Advisor status here on Koh Tao. With more reviews than any other business on the island, and more 5 star reviews than the nearest competitor has total reviews, we’ve always been ranked very near the top of the ladder in rankings since the first reviews started trickling in in 2010, when we were still all wearing short pants and had not a single white hair between us!


Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Trip Advisor/Yelp/Facebook reviews have a lot of value for any business in the service industry. Getting first hand feedback from those who have already experienced the business you’re thinking of frequenting is very handy for the potential customer, and from our own research we have seen that about one quarter of our divers have checked our review before making up their mind to dive with the best dive centre on the whole of Koh Tao – and for this we are very grateful.

 

 11

 

Of course, there can be flaws. One of the negative aspects of any site that relies on customer reviews is that anyone can write the review, even if they have never actually experienced any part of the business they are reviewing. This is also always open to abuse from those trying to smear a competitor, or simply by writing praising reviews for their own business to get one over the opposition. We’ve heard many stories of businesses pressuring their divers to leave a 5 star review before they finish their course, offering incentives to those willing to leave a review or simply paying for reviews from one of the many sites online that offer this way of cheating to the top. Famously this year was the story of the chap in London who managed to get his garden shed to rise to No. 1 on the rankings for restaurants in the area, despite it not even existing – it’s worth googling if you didn’t already hear the story, it's incredible how they did it!

 

Anyhow, I’m digressing a little here. The reason we’re all a little upset at the moment is to do with the ranking system employed by Trip Advisor, in which they use some fancy algorithms to determine which are the top scuba diving centres on our lovely tropical island of Koh Tao.
For year now we’ve been in the top 10, where we belong – after all we have the nicest big boats, a great sunset facing dive centre/bar/restaurant and the best damn instructors and divemasters in the whole of Thailand. Then, one night last week everything changed. Dive centres that had been rated in the top ten with us for years, dropped by 10-20 places...we somehow went from (slightly disappointing) 4th place down to 40th! A bad review? Nope. Other dive centres getting more reviews than us? Well, two of the ones that rose above us actually went out of business over a year ago, one of which hasn’t had any reviews for almost 2 years!


After trawling through the Trip Advisor owners forums, it’s turned that this wasn’t an isolated incident, and had in fact happened all over the world.

 

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So what exactly is going on at Trip Advisor HQ?

We found this post from someone who’d noticed in February of this year that a whole chunk of their positive reviews had disappeared, with a lot of other businesses suffering the same fate. An email they received from Trip Advisor regarding this said:


"Hi everyone! Thank you for reporting an issue affecting the reviews of some attraction listings. Unfortunately we have a bug in the system and our engineers are working to solve it as soon as possible.”

 

And then another post from a business in Hawaii just last week regarding the sudden rank changes:

 

“"Hey all - I finally got through to TA about the sudden drop in our property (Sail Maui). It's a known issue and they are looking to resolve it. Fingers crossed!"

 

So it’s all good? Soon to be fixed, after all without the businesses cooperation Trip Advisor will become moot, right?

Well, not if this is to be believed:

" TA representative…assured me there is a glitch in the system and they will work on it, however; the technical support team does not work weekends”

Of course they don’t!

 

And finally, another diving business in Krabi, Thailand received this earlier this week to add that a lovely bit of confusion to the whole affair –

 

“We already got a feedback from our network engineers and was told that there is no bug affecting the popularity index and the current ranking of your property on TripAdvisor is accurate and correct"

 

So where does that leave us, the humble business that relies on our excellent customer feedback on sites like Trip Advisor?


Advising our divers to look at the reviews and not the rankings, and we hope this is all fixed soon please TA team - we miss out top 5 status and want it back!

 

 

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