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Holidays with a single agenda – hobby vacations are on the rise. One woman on vacation shares her experiences of diving in Thailand.
By Divya Morparia
With the privilege of an approved vacation and manic impatience to be scuba diving, any country with a coastline was an option to visit. Unfortunately, I was travelling mid-August and because of the monsoons, diving in Vietnam, Andamans, Lakshadweep or Sri Lanka were all out of the question. With Maldives and Europe being too expensive, I zeroed onto Jomtien, which is close to Pattaya, Thailand. Diving in Jomtien is difficult because of poor visibility and the water can be rather choppy but I did my research and figured that it is more than compensated by the variety of marine life and abundant coral formations. Jomtien, it was!
We were a good hour and half into the Gulf of Thailand and with 18 kilos on my weight belt, an oxygen tank with 250 bar air, the buoyancy control device, the wet suit, huge fins slipped on my feet and masks and a regulator to breathe from, I was a far cry away from being comfortable. Yet, I know that the excitement on the boat was more infectious than anything I ever will experience.
I know that the excitement on the boat was more infectious than anything I ever will experience.
The good thing with every PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified school is that there is one instructor assigned for every one doing the beginners ‘Open Water Course’. My most fun, beer guzzling, fed up of his job with the Canadian media, instructor Thomas had trained me for 2 days in the pool – how to assemble the gear, what to do in case air runs out, how to ensure the volume and pressure changes do not cause your lungs to burst (thanks Thomas, that really boosted my confidence!), that cramps can be rid of under water, to equalize ear pressure, to read a whole lot of complicated charts which tell you what the nitrogen levels in your body are depending on the depth and the duration of your dive.
But that was all in the pool. And here we were floating at a diving site, Koh Pak, with the ocean in her full crazy, cold glory, sending a shiver down my spine. This was it! I had left everything back in Mumbai – crazy shoot schedules, insane artwork deadlines, bad copy editing, budgets and media plans and come here. And this really was it!
One signal from Thomas and I deflated my buoyancy control gear. I couldn’t control my buoyancy levels (that helps you either float or sink) and I went sinking and hit the sand at the bottom. Overwhelmed and trying desperately not to stop breathing in air from the tank, I was still scratching my knees when Thomas tapped me and asked me to turn around.
I look behind to see a thousand transparent fish. Transparent fish I know that exist only because I can see their eyes. The first colour your eyes stop comprehending under water is red. And yet there existed the most vivid red coral that I could see through the thousand fish in front of me. You know what they say about all that glitters not being gold. That is so true. Sometimes it is just a far cry better!!
The ocean in all its majesty holds a parallel world around us that we explore so little of. I saw fish that emitted neon orange and blue light, fish that react in the most synchronized form on seeing human figures, sea eels that would peep sneakily out of their abodes, shells with patterns so intricate one could only attribute to absolute miracles.
I went in with naïve hopes of conquering the waters but came out with a humbling realization that all we can do is be an audience and marvel at the majesty that is.
We came out of the first dive -18 metres and a good 34 minutes later. Was it a sense of achievement? A sense of seeing a parallel world that exists? I don’t know. We were on the surface and all I could do was grin and smile and make wasted attempts at throwing out words that could describe it. I went in with naïve hopes of conquering the waters but came out with a humbling realization that all we can do is be an audience and marvel at the majesty that is.
Over the next day and a half I had 3 more dives scheduled. A normal dive would get one to see turtles, blue spotted rays, groupers and moray eels at Jomtien and diving sites around this area. While the first day we had the reference point of a rope tied to the boat for directions, the next dives we were given a compass to navigate our way through. Can you spell F-U-N!
I was most impressed when Sheena, the General Manager at Mermaids Dive Centre told me that they have a conservation drive every year where divers come together and clean up the water.
Going on a hobby vacation with a planned agenda is very different. As a traveller vacationing alone, the scuba experience of spending close to 8-10 hours on the water was exhausting enough for me to have much time to do anything else. But the pride of having lived through a most magical and colourful world was unmatched!
– Please dive only with a PADI certified institute which lives upto standards. Diving is dangerous if you don’t take good precautions.
– You will need to finish online training before you go for the physical training. PADI has one of the best e-learning modules I have come across – filled with videos, quizzes and graphic explanations.
– There will be pool training for a day which prepares you for all you need to know before you dive. Mermaids was really flexible and seeing my discomfort, they readily agreed to train me for 2 days in the pool.
– Yes, you can dive with contact lenses on.
– I had four dives scheduled over 2 days. Depending on the water current, temperatures and the visibility levels, your instructor will know what the best place to dive is! Try not to be rigid!
– Most schools have an option for you to rent underwater cameras.
– Most important – do you need to know how to swim? No. All you need is a sense of adventure, but I would definitely think anyone who plans to dive should do a basic swimming course. The school will ask you to do a float test on water and will not be too happy if you can’t swim 12 metre laps.
I can’t urge people enough to try scuba diving. It is an experience that is sincere, that is crazy, that is calming and overpowering. I don’t know if I should call it a psycho fancy or a crazy addiction, but I can’t wait to be gone into the waters again!
*Photo credit: Divya Morparia.
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