The Best Birthday Yet: Ko Tao

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White sand beaches and clear water lures us in anticipation and brings a smile to everyone’s face. It was a relief escaping the stuffy ferry. Ko Tao begins with walking along the old wooden pier towards the city. Hopefully we’ll be relaxing soon with feet in the sand and a piña colada in hand. First, though, is the challenge of either ignoring all the taxi divers or choosing one and bargaining for a fair price to your hotel.


When I say taxi, I mean …

It’s a breezy ride but you definitely need to negotiate or you’ll overpay! As beginner barterers we were lucky to learn the skill first hand from our friend Laura. We’ve been perfecting it for other purchases since then.

Our first hotel on Ko Tao had a beach front view, one I realized is not easy to find. Especially at such a cheap price! We were lucky enough to even have the perfect columns for James’ hammock.


We had a few lazy days as I mentally prepared myself to get my open water scuba diving certification.


Sairee beach, the most popular on the island is filled with beach shack restaurants, beautiful sunsets, and loud music with fire spinners at night.




Getting certified included taking my mask off underwater and responding to “running out of air”, among several other skill tests. It was an exhausting three and a half days.

The ladies at Sairee Cottage Diving are very convincing! Before I knew it I was signed up for two more dives to get certified to dive 30 meters deep and dive ship wrecks.

James came along but since he was already certified he was on a fun dive with another group. He saw a five foot Barracuda on the ship wreck dive, I unfortunately missed it.

I must add all the staff here are truly spectacular! I had the best instructors who made me unbelievably comfortable underwater. I would recommend them to anyone!!!


Day five I still wanted more! James and I signed up for three more dives. The highlight being the famous Sail Rock.  We were so excited to dive our first time together. Not to mention it was the day before my birthday! Although I really celebrated all week by diving.

I wish we had invested in a GoPro to really highlight the dives. The amount of fish we saw was unreal. Not so much the variety but the size of schools! Doing a 360 and being surrounded by colorful fish meters and meters up and down is incredible. I really don’t know how how to describe it.

We pop up from our first dive and the captain of our boat says “You missed the whale shark. 5 meter whale shark!” That’s a 15 foot fish for all you Americans! 😉

Our dive master was so upset. I got on the boat to start taking my gear off. Then I hear screams of excitement, gasps, splashing from people literally jumping off the boat in whatever they still had on. And James in the distance yelling, “Get back in the water!”

Chimes and chimes of “Whale shark”, “There it is”. I jumped in just in time to catch the fin of it swimming around the boat and my stomach dropped. James asked if I saw it and I only whimper with “I saw the fin.” I tiredly swam back to the boat.

Yet again, “There is is!” It was swimming around the boats, through the divers. There were probably five boats with a minimum of ten divers, so there were a lot of people in the water with it already. The whale shark never got startled and even seemed to love the attention.

I jumped in, again. Swimming around, determined, yet feeling I had missed it. Then I hear one of the instructors, “CRYSTAL, put your head in the water!” As I did it swam right by me! It wasn’t frightening but so majestic!

One of the instructors was kind enough to share her photos with us, so photo credits go to Elisha.



The next day, my birthday, we rented a scooter and drove around the island. Admiring the views and stopping at other beaches. We reminisced about the whale shark and contemplated our next dives. 27 feels so enticing!




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2 Replies to “The Best Birthday Yet: Ko Tao”

  1. virginia pettil says: Reply

    What a trooper you are. I can’t believe you weren’t afraid of the shark. Kudos to you for getting certified. How do you find these places to stay and what to do and see? Great pictures again. Did James get his camera fixed yet?

    1. Luckily for us there are hundreds of travel bloggers writing about the must-sees, especially in SE Asia. It gives me a good idea how to plan out our time. There’s also a lot of good websites for accommodations. It makes traveling so much easier! And yes! James fixed his camera in Bangkok, so we’re back in business!

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