3 days in Krabi and that sentiment might just characterise the Travel Companion’s (TC) and my dive experience.

The TC had too many questions (mostly unanswered) about buoyancy – an issue that sorted itself out by the second dive day. The poor thing somehow figured it out all on her own after the numerous explanations given by several dive instructors. That, and a rather ‘deaf’ Norwegian man who went ‘Haarh?’ loudly at everything people said to him, before answering in an unintelligible accent. Coupled with a Divemaster in training (from Sweden) who was made the errand boy for all things and still didn’t quite know what to do.


We sailed on the Lavadee – the boat belonging to Scuba Addicts – on both days; the first to the local islands in Ao Nang, and the second to Phi Phi. The heavy rains on the day we arrived had made visibility 1-2 m, which was a challenge to dive in, but Phi Phi offered somewhat better conditions at least.

Scandinavians and Russians are aplenty in this small resort town littered with rows of shops and food touts who come alarmingly close to you. On the boat, the Norwegians were surprisingly chatty, speaking about everything under their fjords, the failing oil & petroleum industry and the long way back from South-east Asia. The Russians pretended to be cocky Americans. ‘Nuff said. Throw in a Brit or 2 and the mix becomes weird.

I can only hope TC feels better prepared for the Maldives trip we’re taking next year.

Bruised, battered, victorious

The travel companion (TC) finally tells me – on the way to the airport – that Bali has been, on hindsight, quite an enjoyable experience. It helps that we’ve both passed the different dive courses we’ve signed up for, even though we’ve been bruised, battered and badly cut in the process.

For that I’m thankful, even if we’ve spent most of our time shopping at Guardian pharmacy (TC simply bought more and more bottles of shower gel and muscle ache packs for god knows what reason) and eating at the same Italian place more times than I can count.

We’ve finally trudged along Sanur’s beachfront walk, done the obligatory shopping and rub-downs at spas and eaten more Balinese and Indonesian food than we should. But I’m astounded that TC finds it hard to admit that Bali is really quite civilised and sort of tourist-friendly, but I’m also grateful to learn that I’ve managed to spin several tentative thoughts that planning for the next dive trip isn’t too bad an idea as well.

We’re cosied up in a corner of the departure lounge and TC’s gone off to take photos of the very modern Bali airport to prove to some friends that we haven’t visited a dump in some corner in the world.


Sometimes, TC needs a little nudging in the right direction.

Oh, such luck

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you never always get what you wish for.

Translated into diving terms: I didn’t see a damn Mola Sunfish in sight.

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But at least a manta ray or 2 graced us with its presence at Manta Point in Nusa Penida. Crystal Bay was supposed to be dive stop 2, but the extremely choppy sea meant that the captain of the speed boat took us to S.D Point instead where I actually had my first drift dive experience over a coral plateau. 7 kg heavier with a 5 mm wet suit in colder waters, I felt like a complete beginner struggling with buoyancy in the gentle drift over the amazing reef.

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A page over the intercom turned the afternoon a little sour when theory became reality: 2 missing divers – an instructor and a beginner – in the waters around Nusa Penida. The boat I was in powered through the choppy sea and found the stragglers on another speedboat. “We” took them in – the poor beginner looked stressed and exhausted while the instructor was chirpy but grateful – and handed them back to their proper boat whose inhabitants were crying with relief.

That made me wonder about the rescue training that I was taught just yesterday. Just how useful can I really be in that situation except to commiserate and comfort?

Bali Redux


“I’d sooner be eaten by a shark than be rescued by her.”

So says a person who’s actually related to me when asked to volunteer as my unresponsive dive ‘victim’.

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As much as I’m able to ignore that particular lack of confidence in my rescuing skills, I’ve found the PADI rescue diver course to be the most challenging that I’ve ever done in my very…short diving experience these past few years. But everyone speaks highly of it (most shop owners/instructors I’ve met say the same thing) and someone had even gone so far as to say that it should be a necessity for all divers – at all levels – all except my instructor who was dubious from the start of my ability to actually save people.

To expect the unexpected and to be prepared for it is probably the underpinning principle of the course, but isn’t that true of life in general? Well-said and taught…up until the point I nearly drowned my own instructor when using a pocket mask to tow him back to the boat in a relatively strong current. He gleefully brought up that incident time and again, making me wonder if he not so secretly enjoyed Schadenfreude.

It has been a tough 2 days of a full classroom session followed by a pool session and finally acting out those rescue scenarios in the open sea. I’m sort of familiar with the environment (both hotel and dive shop to minimise the unfamiliar) at least; being back in Bali in 2015 isn’t very much different from being in Bali in 2014, and going back to Padang Bai and the Blue Lagoon is like visiting a friend whom I’ve not seen for a while.

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Essentially, I’m treading old ground – except for the dive course – with a belligerent and very sullen travel companion who is determined to think the worst of everything, sometimes comically so. What most Europeans consider ‘exotic’ and ‘ambient-rich’, my TC calls it ‘deluded’, ‘run-down’, ‘dirty’ and ‘incomprehensibly stupid’. The only draw for TC, is that prices are staggering low and the spas heavenly…by TC’s own standards. To be fair, TC hasn’t seen the nicer side of Sanur and its seaside stuff; the only places we’ve been back and forth are the street the hotel’s on and to the dive school.

But I’m glad that TC’s open water course is going fairly smoothly, despite all the complaints, fears I’ve been privy to and the numerous scrapes, cuts and bruises we’ve all miraculously acquired in the pool.

TC and I head to different dive sites tomorrow, of my own making really, because I really need to see a Sunfish.

Phuket and its surrounds

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The slow boat to Phi Phi – a good 48 kilometres away from Phuket’s Chalong Bay – was close to the equivalent of a slow ride to hell. Nothing to do with the weather really, but I slowly went out of my mind trying to find things to do on the boat, other than pace the narrow corridors like a convict. Denis was the only other recognisable person on the boat; the others came from yet another dive company and we soon found ourselves talking to Katie of San Diego, another lone diver who seemed content to sit in a corner of the slow boat to hell.

Denis spoke fondly of months where there wasn’t a single drop of rain. I was horrified.

Thankfully, he went on to talk about his past as a Mountie, his gym training, his para-motoring hobby and the sheer number of eggs he consumes a day. Katie on the other hand, spoke repetitively about her job, the wonders of California and her trepidation of diving.

I tried not to make inappropriate remarks.


At Phi Phi and Shark point, the dives were good though not as spectacular as I’d hoped they would be with rather poor visibility and moderate currents, but then again I’d never had schools of fish swimming around me before. That mild euphoria evaporated when I returned to the mainland late and was reminded immediately just how expensive things are over here when I paid an exorbitant amount for my laundry load – which I suspected was weighed using a scale tipped in the shop’s favour.

Why am I bloody not surprised?

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If there’s anything I’m going to remember of Phuket, it would unfortunately be the relentless heat and humidity, the never-ending touts and the costs I’ve racked up in the past few days, even in a quieter place like Karon. I’ve spent an extortionate amount on transportation, an unwelcome hotel deposit fee, underwater photos and driver tips that have come up to a staggering amount.

The only place of relative normalcy is Phuket (Old) Town, which has a surprisingly eclectic vibe of the old and the modern with the sheer number of cafes stubborn holding their own in the presence of traditional shops. But I’d only wandered those charming streets for 40 minutes, having been given a strict curfew by the driver who was adamant about my punctuality like an army sergeant.

And then it was back again to Karon, with the sounds of ‘taxi, hello taxi?’ dogging my every step.

Mass Dive


“I love pink,” Andy declares as he parades around the boat in a bright pink towel, then drops it conveniently in front of most of the people in the boat waiting to take their turn at the step-off platform as he points to Denis, my Nitrox instructor for the day. A mild-mannered French Canadian, Denis is built like a wrestler and strangely apologetic for the coarse things that slip out sometimes.

But he is overshadowed by Andy (most people are anyway), who struts around like a peacock with an extra long tail. Yobbish, full of showmanship and bravado, bluntly hilarious and attention deficit, Andy—the owner of Andy Scuba Diving—makes himself the life of the party. In fact, he’s 50 shades of pink: the towel, his mobile, diving socks, laptop cover and bag are proud advertisements for breast awareness day, a cause he’s obliviously championing. A lot of it is faux affection; the rest of it is what I suspect, wish-fulfilment.

“Because real men love pink. And stop perving me.”

Denis shakes his head in denial and points at me instead. I nod and point at myself and Andy brightens immediately, moving to throw his arm around me. Thereafter, I’m referred to as his ‘little beauty’ or ‘the beautiful one’, probably used when he’s forgotten my name. Throughout the day, I’m regaled with tales of his broken camera casing, a 16km marathon he’s going to undertake with his wife, ‘Scubaman’ the new superhero (done by puffing up his scuba suit) and his pride of having freed a manta ray from a fishing net.

The first day of scuba to Racha Noi and Yai is a tiring and bewildering (but fun) one, filled with yobbish, male ‘jokes’ about cock rings, flirtatious come-ons and lots of touches (all voluntarily given by Andy and Denis). I told them I liked big things, innocently in reference to sea creatures, which they all promptly misconstrued with many winks and grins. The dives themselves aren’t as stressful as I thought they’d be, burdened with course expectations and theory. Denis was encouraging and quick to praise which I naturally found suspicious because of my own paranoid nature. Yet the boat, packed with several dive groups from different dive companies, was a little too crowded for my liking, an experience which I hope, wouldn’t be repeated on Wednesday’s dive to Phi Phi.

Andy ended the trip by kissing my hand almost reverently. I laughed at that extravagant display and told him what he wanted to hear—that I had a brilliant day.

Facing fears


On a recent abseiling course, there was a moment of awkwardness when we were all asked to introduce ourselves and why we wanted to learn how to abseil. When it came to my turn, I couldn’t even plead insanity, only that I was interested in adventure and that I was tentatively taking baby steps to wade into doing things that I’d only recently begun to crave.

Then people started talking, and it amazed me how many of them actually signed up to abseil to conquer their fear of heights. In essence, it was to do the very thing they were afraid of, in a controlled environment where there was a smaller chance of screwing up. And then I realised I was, in effect, doing the same thing, if not for abseiling, at least for the impulsively-planned scuba dive trip to Thailand at the end of next month.

I hadn’t forgotten the first instance of utter panic that overwhelmed me when the water enveloped my head during a Bali dive trip in the last quarter of last year. Momentary loss of self-control, coupled with a fear of sinking and drowning even with the regulator bitten down hard between my teeth–they’re all nasty feelings I’d rather not experience again, except I think I must, just so that this particular demon gets exorcised by its very own watery sword.

In the meantime, I’ve surreptitiously googled ‘panic attacks’ a few times as soon as I’d confirmed my flights and hotel, even though cerebral knowledge helps little when push comes to shove under water. This time, I’ve signed up to do the Nitrox course and pray that I’ll get a patient, hand-holding instructor.