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November 29th 2013

Diving with Nitrox
Nitrox300x181Ever heard of Nitrox? Strange sounding name for a pretty simple product. When you go recreational diving, the cylinder you take with you contains the same air that you breathe on the surface; comprised of 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen, well, if you're a geek you'll know it's actually 78.08% nitrogen, 0.93% argon, 0.03% carbon dioxide, 0.0018% neon, 0.0005% helium, 0.0001% krypton 0.00005% hydrogen and 8.7 x 10-6 xenon, but in such low proportions they are considered inert, and bunched together with nitrogen. God you're weird for knowing that!
Nitrox is a gas that you can dive on that contains a higher percentage of oxygen- up to 40%. Why bother? Well, i'm glad you asked. Nitrox can have a number of benefits compared with using old fashioned air. It has the potential to provide longer no-decompression limits, shorter surface intervals, and enable longer repetitive dives. We can only dive for a certain amount of time at a given depth due to the nitrogen we are breathing under pressure. By increasing the oxygen content and reducing the amount of nitrogen we breathe, it allows us to stay longer at that depth. The fact that we will have breathed less nitrogen on our dive also means that there is less to come out of our system, hence the shorter surface interval- that's the time you have to spend on the boat between dives twiddling your thumbs and sunning yourself. The more diving we do, the more nitrogen we absorb cumulatively, so if you're diving more than one dive a day for a number of days, it will give you longer at depth than if you were doing the same dives on standard air- good if you're going on a Big Blue liveaboard trip on the West coast of Thailand. Some people also say that they feel less tired after diving on nitrox. There's no evidence to prove that, but hey, if it feels good, why not!
In order to be able to dive using Nitrox, you will have to do a speciality course.. guess what, we can teach you! For the SSI nitrox speciality, we can teach you in half a day, and you will have the option of just doing the course without going on any dives on it. As long as you understand the requirements for diving on it, you can use it on your dives to your heart's content. But you can also do the classroom session and then go for two dives with your instructor if you'd rather. Then you'll be a qualified nitrox diver for the rest of your life- another string to your diving bow. If you're interested in expanding your diving skills and are really switched on, you can combine the nitrox course with the deep and wreck specialities, which also works out much cheaper than doing each speciality on its own. We can also teach the nitrox course through PADI, TDI and BSAC.
If you're already a qualified diver you will hopefully have understood at least half of all this! If you're coming to Big Blue to do your open water course, don't worry, by the end of it you'll have a much better idea about why nitrox is useful to a diver.

Gaps in the market
Have you been to Koh Tao and noticed that there is a niche in the market for a certain product or service that would have made your time a little better or easier? Or have you been anywhere else in the world where a quirky extra something made a difference. Personally, I think if there was a shop or street vendor that sold pizza by the slice they would make an absolute killing. There's lots of different types of street food available already, be it Thai or western, but there's nothing quite like a slice of pizza after a few beers in the wee small hours of the morning. How about some of those bicycle taxis that 2 or more people can get in, like a tuk tuk but human powered? Or maybe an oxygen bar... nah!! Let us know anything that you think might be useful for long term residents or holiday makers. Maybe something diving resorts are missing a trick on in terms of their service to customers. Some things don't have to cost money but tweaking the way a business does this thing or that can work wonders for their customer's levels of satisfaction, and sometimes you can't see what's in front of your face and you need fresh eyes to show it to you. We are all ears. You can email us on our facebook page or just write a comment on the post for this blog. Just one thing, we won't be giving complimentary shoe shines!

November 28th 2013

Short back and sides
mv-porponawaThe first of our dive boats came back from Chumphon yesterday after it's annual service, and it looks brand new. Porponawa is our exclusive fun diver only boat, and we're really glad to have her back in service. We have a fun diver only boat because we want to be able to take our fun divers out to the best dive sites- sites that are out of reach of open water students on their first couple of dives in the ocean, or try divers, because they are too deep. The reason Porponawa was chosen as the fun diver boat is because it is probably the fastest dive boat in Thailand. It can get from Big Blue on Sairee beach to Chumphon pinnacle (11km offshore) in 23 minutes! It takes any normal dive boat between 45 and 55 minutes to get there! Hence it's unofficial nickname- the millenium falcon.
That kind of speed gives us incredible freedom. It's been known that after having two dives at Sail rock on the full day trip, if a whaleshark had been spotted at Chumphon, Porponawa would head there for the third dive of the day; a journey unthinkable on any other dive boat. So we're looking forward to getting her back in action to show our fun divers the best that the Gulf of Thailand has to offer, and once Monsoon is over (it feels like we're not really having one this year anyway) we will be running regular day trips on Porponawa to Sail rock, Ang Thong marine park and Chumphon marine park- the only dive resort to go there. Our Tech and freediving boat Big Blue went to Chumphon yeserday, Banzai has yet to depart, and Ao Meung went earlier this year and has been back for a couple of months. But we're hotly anticipating the return of waverunner, which is having a major refurbishment. We can't wait to see what it looks like when it comes back!

Things to do on a rainy day
Given that we are supposed to be in Monsoon season on Koh Tao, apart from a storm lasting a few days last week, the weather has been pretty good. However, writing this in the middle of a thunder storm has me wondering what you can do here when it rains and you're having a day off diving. People doing their open water course ask surprisingly often whether we they will be going diving when it rains.. the simple answer is yes, you will be getting wet anyway! But once your course is finished, if you don't fancy diving in the rain, then sitting in the room of your resort watching Thai tv is not an experience that is going to hold your attention for very long. One thing Koh Tao has in abundabce is cafes, lots of cafes. They are a great way to just sit and watch the world go by, and unlike in the West, they have two or three walls instead of four, so you can watch the rain and lightning up close and personal- effectively sitting outside, but stay nice and dry.
There are of course also plenty of bars in Koh Tao, so you may decide to start your evening's fun in the afternoon instead. Or you could be a little more productive and go to the gym, there are now two in Sairee alone, and an MMA centre has just opened up on the main road between Mae Hadd and Sairee. Apart from that, there's a bowling alley, and lots of massage parlours. Or, just get your wellies on and go and have a play in the puddles!

November 27th 2013

New t-shirts!
bb-tshirtWe're getting closer every day now to the grand opening of the Big Blue retail shop, and to whet your appetite we're showing off our new range of Big Blue t-shirts. These little beauties are available to purchase in our office or from our website for the cost of a round of drinks- that's a Thai round of drinks, not London prices! What better memento of your time at Big Blue could there be than to be sporting one of these down at your local pub/supermarket/domnioes club? You can be pretty much 100% guarrantee that no-one else will be wearing one! We are always open to suggestions for our t-shirt designs, so if you can think of anything funny and/or clever, and of course diving related, then let us know on our facebook page in the comments section for this blog. We may like it so much that we get some printed off- you'll get bugger all money for it but you'll be able to say that it was your work! You can view the entire t-shirt range on our facebook page in the photos section.
Yet don't be mistaken that this is all we will be selling in the new retail shop. They will of course be on display, but that's not even scratching the surface of what else will be available to buy, there will be all manner of different items of clothing, including our own range of designer beach wear. In terms of diving equipment, you'll be able to buy pretty much whatever you require. But more of that in the next few days when we open our doors properly. Until then, get your thinking caps on and get in touch with your genius t-shirt ideas.

What to expect with travelling to Koh Tao
I wrote in a recent blog about all the different ways you can get to Koh Tao from Bangkok- bus then ferry, night train then ferry, or flying to Koh Samui or Chumphon then ferry. But how do they compare in terms of service, comfort, cost etc?
The bus from Bangkok is the cheapest option. They call them VIP buses, but they're just normal coaches that you'd get back home. Surprisingly they have decent leg room, a toilet, air con, and tinted windows or a curtain to block out the sun. But the journey does take around 7-8 hours, and if they put on a Thai DVD you'll be cursing yourself for forgetting your ipod headphones! They do stop halfway for you to get some food at motorway services and stretch your legs though. Good for those on a budget. The night train is my favourite way to travel around Thailand. If you choose 2nd class (around £20) you'll get a seat that they turn into a bed, which is surprisingly comfortable. If you choose air con, have a jumper as it gets arctic cold! You can eat at your seat and order from a waiter, or you can go to the restaurant car and meet lots of random people over a beer or two. If you're lucky the staff will wheel out the kareoke machine! Then it's off to bed, and you'll be woken up shortly before arriving at Chumphon at a ridiculous hour in the morning. Try and avoid third class unless you're on a serious budget. You have been warned! The ticket you buy will include the ferry, so at the train station just ask where to go to get the bus transfer to the pier, then go to the ticket office to get your ferry ticket. You'll need to book ahead though, the night train gets full, fast.
Flying is pretty quick but very expensive, around £110 one-way. I've only ever done it once and that was a while ago, but I remember it being pretty painless. Good for getting from Bangkok to koh Tao in the same day. There are cheaper deals to be had if you fly into Chumphon, so shop around.
You will have to get a ferry to get to koh Tao and there are three options. The Lomprayah will be the busiest, but it's also the fastest. There's an VIP section that you can sit in air con for 200 baht, but the rest of the boat is fine if you can find a seat. It takes around 2 hours to get to Koh Tao from Koh Samui or Chumphon, so it's probably a good idea to bring some snacks and drinks- prices on the ferry are expensive. The Seatran is similar to the Lomprayah, but it takes a little longer, and the Songserm is for those on a budget.. takes a lot longer and can be uncomfortable. Whichever way you choose, if it's your first time in Thailand it'll be a bit of an adventure!

November 25th 2013

How's my diving?
dive-positionHow long can you stay underwater on a dive, 30, 40 minutes, or even an hour? Of course it depends on a number of factors such as how deep you go, how fit you are, how big you are and how bad the current is to name but a few. But the way you move in the water and the position you dive in also influence how long you can stay down for. Following on from yesterday's blog about buoyancy, there a few things you'll learn on the open water course to help you dive in the most efficient way.

When you walk, do you lean heavily forward and let your body's inertia propel you along so your legs have to catch up? Not unless you work for the ministry of funny walks. Diving is the same. When you first let go of the buoyline on dive one of the open water course, you need to be thinking about your position in the water. The aim is to be as horizontal as possible (tech divers call it good trim) for two reasons. The first is that you will be much more streamlined, so you won't have to kick as hard to move yourself through the water- water is dense. The second, is that if you're a little bit upright, as you kick it will make you move upwards slightly. Not the end of the world you'd think, but remember on dive one you're also getting to grips with your buoyancy, so kicking yourself upwards combined with having a little air in your BC that will expand as you ascend and make you go up quicker will ensure you are surface-bound before you've even realised what's going on.
Streamlining your equipment is also important. Having your air gauge hanging out whilst you're diving along will create drag, and if it's dragging on the dive site it may damage coral and cause wear and tear to your equipment, both big no nos. Another good tip is to never try and compare diving to swimming. You may be tempted to do the breast stroke with your arms whilst diving, but if you think about the weight of all that equipment, and compare the surface area of your hand to the fin you are wearing, it's doing pretty much nothing apart from make you look a bit crazy and wasting your energy. Put your arms away and let your fins do the work.
Finally, how should you kick when diving? Simple, flutter kicking as if you're doing the front crawl, or frog kicking as if you're doing the breast stroke are both good, as long as they are nice and slow, and the power is coming from your hips and thighs. Slow, slow, slow is the key. The worst thing you can do is to bicycle kick. It's extremely inefficient, you look stupid, and you are again helping to propel yourself upwards slightly and making it harder to keep nice and horizontal. You may find frog kicks a little hard initially, so always best to start with the flutter kick, but as you progress as a diver you will eventually frog kick- if you're able to do it by the end of your open water course, you'll be well on your way as a diver.
You will learn all of the above on the open water course, and listening to your instructor and trying to follow what he or she is telling you underwater will help to minimise exertion during your dive, so that you go through your air slower, and therefore have more time to enjoy the underwater world. Once you get more experience, for example by doing the advanced course, you can move on to more advanced techniques such as the modified frog and modified flutter kicks, and the DMT's nemesis- back finning. For now, enjoy the learning new things, go with the flow, listen to your instructor and have fun!
 
Whaleshark saved by text
How's this for a bit of good news. Fishermen in Karimunjawa National Park in Indonesia got a bit of a surprise when they realised they had accidentally caught a 4 metre juvenile whaleshark in their nets. But luckily they had a back up plan; they sent a text message to the World Conservation Society (WCS), who then, in conjunction with officers from the National Park sent a boat out to help free it. The fishermen didn't just happen to have the phone number to the offices of the WCS though. In a brilliant bit of forward thinking, the WCS set up a helpline for people to report fishing violations and marine animal strandings, which involves sending out a simple text. The fishermen didn't want to get into trouble for accidentally catching the whaleshark, and weren't able to free it by themselves, so they asked the WCS for help, and it all worked out marvellously.
Since the helpline has been set up, illegal fishing has been markedly reduced and compliance with fishery closures within the national park have increased. This is thought to have increased the number of fish, which in turn may be bringing more whalesharks back into the area. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had such a system in the Gulf of Thailand, so that illegal fishing could actually be enforced properly.

november 24th 2013

Beginners guide to Buoyancy
giant-strideLearning how to Scuba dive is a process of getting to grips with a number of different elements- physical dexterity and spatial awareness (i.e. not banging into other divers or coral), physics (buoyancy), engineering (fixing your own equipment), and differing levels of OCD (washing your own equipment properly). To get you to understand these, the open water course is a combination of theory lessons in the restaurant or classroom, and practical sessions, starting in the pool and ending in the ocean. At Big Blue we completely understand that the last thing anyone would want to do is to go on holiday and end up being bored to death about physics in a classroom. So we're very good at teaching you the information that you need to digest and understand in order to improve your diving, but without waffling on forever. One of the most important elements of diving is buoyancy. It's pretty easy to get your head around, people have an instinctive understanding of it, even though they don't know it at first. The key to improving buoyancy is by practising it whilst diving. Remember your first driving lesson and how you probably stalled the car a few times before you were able to actually get going? Buoyancy is no different, but instead of having dual controls, we get you to feel and practice the feeling of changing buoyancy in the safe confines of a pool.
Here's the basic principle. When you jump in the water off a dive boat, you need to be what we call positively buoyant. This means that you will float along without having to kick like crazy to keep your head out of the water with all your equipment on. You achieve positive buoyancy by putting air into the jacket that you wear, called a BC, that also holds your cylinder of air. Now, when you want to go underwater you need to let all that air out so you will sink as you head down the descent line- this is called negative buoyancy. To stop you sinking all the way to the sea bed, you need to put little bits of air in your BC so that you will float along at the same level. This is called neutral buoyancy and it's neutral buoyancy that we want to achieve when we are swimming along underwater. If you kick up just a little bit, the air in your BC will expand slightly, and make you want to go up to the surface. You want to stay down underwater so you need to let a little bit of that air out of your BC to remain at the same depth. If you can get your head around that, you will be a good diver very quickly.
The most counter-intuitive thing about diving is when you want to go to the surface and end your dive. Most people think that you add air into your BC to go up, after all that's going to make you float up. The problem is if you do add air, you'll go to the surface way too quickly, and we always want to ascend nice and slowly and controlled. So to end the dive we periodically let air out of the BC as we swim up. That way, we are in control instead of our BC full of air taking us up. You don't have to let all the air out straight away, but instead vent air as you feel your BC taking charge of your ascent. As soon as your head is out of the water, then you can fill your BC with air and be a positively buoyant cork again. Easy eh?
Your instructor will take as long as you need to help you get to grips with it all, and the good news is that once you understand it, it becomes automatic so you can concentrate on enjoying what you see underwater.

How to behave in Thailand
Every country in the world has their own set of rules regarding social etiquette that all natives will grow up learning. When travelling to other countries it's a good idea to do some research on how these rules differ from place to place, so you can save yourself and others embarrassment, or, at worst, offence. Here's a few basic tips to help you blend in a little easier, and maybe stop you getting arrested!:

funny-thai-sign1- Don't get angry or raise your voice. Thai's are not confrontational, and if you shout you will embarrass them, which will quickly stop them from helping you out in any way. Keep calm and smile just as they do.
2- Don't touch anyone! Touching a Thai person is considered very rude, and an invasion of their personal space. The head is also the most revered part of the body for Thais, so don't be patting anyone on the head. If you accidentally touch someone on the head, apologise immediately.
3- Don't point your feet to indicate the direction of something, or touch anyone with your feet, they are considered unholy and it will be seen as an insult.
4- Never ever talk disrespectfully of the Royal family in Thailand, you can be arrested for it, seriously. Don't even step on a coin in the street if it is heads side up. Don't even have a laugh under your breath.
5- Wear appropriate dress when entering a buddhist temple. That means covering up your arms and legs. Some places may provide a skirt to wear, or deny you entry. Always take your shoes off too. Women are not allowed to touch Monks.
6- It's good manners to take your shoes off when entering a shop or restaurant, but especially when entering someone's house.
7- Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances take or possess any kind of drugs in Thailand. The penalties are very harsh and the police don't care about personal use or dealng, or whether it's class A's or softer drugs. If you're caught with any amount of any drugs on you, you could either be made to pay a very hefty fine to stop you going to prison, or get 25 years in jail. There are lots of westerners in Bangkwang prison in Bangkok-one of the worst prisons in the world. Don't be joining them.
8- Don't drink and drive- You could kill yourself or someone else, or if you're lucky, just have to pay a hell of a lot of money for damage to vehicles. Taxis are way cheaper and safer.
9- Please don't wear speedos!!!!!
10- There isn't a number 10... please just be really nice to dive instructors and divemasters and tell the boss how brilliant we are :-)

November 23rd 2013

How to get underwater
dive-girlsIf you were to ask anyone what equipment scuba divers use, in the same way that everyone knows a skydiver needs a parachute, most people would say a tank to breathe from, and also mention flippers and goggles. There is obviously a little more to it than that, but really not much more. People doing their open water courses with us are often surprised that once they become familiar with their equipment, and have been shown what each piece does and how it's all assembled and disassembled, it's not very complicated and by the end of the course they know exactly how to put it all together and check that it's working properly themselves before going for a dive- which is exactly why you become certified to dive; you have demonstrated to an instructor that you are competent at using your equipment, and understand how you need to behave underwater, on the surface and on the boat, in order to be able to dive safely. Luckily at Big Blue you will also have had a lot of fun in the process and seen some really cool underwater life!
Recreatonal divers require a full cylinder of air of course, and they don't carry it in their arm on their dive, they wear it on their back. So the cylinder is attached to the back of a jacket that they wear called a Buoyancy Compensator, or BC- sometimes called a BCD. Fins (not flippers!) enable a diver to move through the water much more efficiently than without, and a mask (not goggles!) allows a diver to see underwater. You also need to wear a weightbelt with varying amounts of weights on it to compensate for your body's own buoyancy, and some kind of rashvest or wetsuit- no drysuits in Thailand! The only other primary piece of equipment required is a regulator, which allows the diver to breathe from the cylinder, enables two people to breathe from one cylinder if they absolutely have to, has an air gauge that tells you what's left in the tank, and connects your cylinder of air to your BC to enable you to manipulate your buoyancy. Understanding buoyancy is key to becoming a good diver, and is probably best left for another blog post, but you'll learn all about it on the open water course too.
There are of course other peripheral items used in diving, cutting devices, compasses, computers, surface markers, frying pans and sturdy boots- no, that's underwater camping.. But that kind of thing is introduced to you on the advanced course, where you'll be given a compass, computer and surface marker, and be shown how to use them.
If you're a geek you'll find equipment fascinating, if you're not, you'll still appreciate learning to assemble and maintain your equipment so you can get underwater and enjoy it all safely. Regardless, your instructor will guide you through the learning process every step of the way with the patience of a saint, so don't worry if you initially find it all a bit confusing- you'll get it. Just remember that your instructor was in your position once!

Cable cars for Koh Tao?
cable-carAlthough Koh Tao is getting busier, it's still pretty traditional in terms of what's on offer for tourists- diving, snorkeling, off-road biking, crazy golf and bowling etc, and getting around is very basic too. How about some of the things you get in other parts of the world that are a little more extravagant, or just completely impractical for this lovely little Island of ours? The most basic example I can think of is glass-bottomed boats. I recall someone telling me there used to be one here, but they're very common in the carribean and Mediterranean. Or pedallos or whatever their called? I'm sure if Koh Tao was a playground for billionaires there would be submarine tours available, and probably hotels on the sea front with bedrooms underwater and glass walls to see the marine life. What about getting around on the Island itself, what hair-brained schemes would be possible? A cable car taking you to the top of the jungle? Trams on the main road? Zip lines from the centre of the Island to the beach.. actually that would be pretty awesome! How about a travelator from Sairee to Mae Hadd? Just be thankful that SNUBA diving and booze cruises have yet to arrive here! Let us know some of the more outlandish things you've seen on your travels on our facebook page.

November 22nd 2013

So much for quiet season
Big-Blue-Diving-ResortAs predicted a few days ago, we've been inundated by full moon revellers wishing to detox from all the boozing and do something productive with their holiday by learning to dive with us. Consequently, our instructors are busy teaching open water courses, and our divemasters are busy taking out already qualified divers to show them the best marine life Koh Tao has to offer. Likewise, the tech boys are hard at work teaching interns Aleksandra and Maksim TDI advanced nitrox and decompression procedures. Once they've finished they will be teaching our divemaster trainees their deep, wreck and nitrox specialities. On the virtual diving front, our g+ page is getting more popular, and we are fast approaching 6,000 likes on the Big Blue facebook page. Who's going to be number 6,000? Similarly, on trip advisor we have almost 1,000 overwhelmingly glowing reviews, not that we're boasting or anything!
Big Blue video is filming some amazing underwater shots on a daily basis and wowing our customers in the bar where they sit down to watch themselves on their open water course dives 3 and 4. Very wise decision deciding to start filming in-house; someone has an idea to film something or other and it'll probably done the next day, which is exactly the kind of creativity and flexibility we were aiming for. The retail shop grand opening is imminent, and there will soon be a load of staff walking around like Derek Zoolander showing off Big Blue's own clothing range. Lets just hope they still remember how to turn left, especially underwater. If you want the latest information on what is happening at Big Blue, have a look on the website and the blog, and like our facebook and G+ pages.

Survival guide to arriving on Koh Tao
mae-hadd-pierSo you just arrived in koh Tao and are about to step off the ferry, what the hell do you do and where do you go? Firstly, you can't help avoid all the touts that will be shouting at you to try and get you to come to their dive resort. Don't feel pressured, just walk on through and take your time to decide. Hopefully you will already have done your research and decided where you want to go anyway. If you're really clever you will have booked online also. If you do talk to a tout on the ferry or at the pier, be weary of very cheap prices for open water courses, there will either be hidden charges or just a pretty shoddy course. Also be weary of touts telling you bad things about other dive resorts other than their own. Any good dive school should be able to sell themselves without resorting to underhand tactics. A common myth is that if you go to a school that teaches SSI, any future PADI dive resort will refuse to take you diving with your SSI certification card. This is utter rubbish- your SSI card is as valid as your PADI card anywhere in the world.
Some dive schools offer free accommodation for people learning to dive, and that's their main selling point, but you have to consider the bigger picture. At Big Blue our focus is on teaching a good course and you enjoying your time with us. Do you want to save a few hundred baht every night, but be staying in a bungalow that's so close to all the parties that you can't sleep, or would you rather pay a little for a nicer room away from the action so you can relax? At the moment we have free dormitory accommodation for the days that you're diving, but we also have some great private rooms that are still reasonably priced. I would rather go to a reputable dive resort and pay something for accommodation than find myself in a horrible room right next door to a nightclub on the south end of Sairee beach. If in doubt, do your research and look on trip adviser!
If you're not diving then there will be plenty of taxis to take you to one of the many resorts on the Island, and you're on your own as to deciding what you want price-wise and how near the action you want to be. If you are diving then each dive school will have a taxi that will give you a free lift. Big Blue has a taxi waiting for each ferry that comes in, whether it's Seatran, Lomprayah or Songserm, so don't panic if you don't see it immediately, it will be there, just keep an eye out for the driver wearing a Big Blue t-shirt. You'll probably have seen the Big Blue tout on the ferry anyway so let them take you to the taxi. the pier is in Mae Hadd and Big Blue is in Sairee, which is a 5 minute taxi drive away. Then once you've checked in for the accommodation and diving you will be doing, you can finally relax!  

November 21st 2013

Fairwell Ugly
uglySad news for Blue staff, old and new. A few days ago Ugly, one of the resident dogs and our unofficial mascot sadly died. He passed away in his sleep on the morning of the 19th completely out of the blue, though he was probably one of the oldest dogs on the Island so it wasn't completely unexpected. He'd had a damn good innings though and lived a happy life, utterly spoilt by dive and restaurant staff alike. All the Instructors and divemasters periodically chip in to pay for all the resident dog's veternarian care, and they're all well fed and given a lot of fuss, but "uggers" was everyone's favourite and definitely the boss. He didn't do a lot, and set the bar for how much one dog could scratch itself over the course of a day. If you've been to Big Blue you'll probably have witnessed what you initially thought was doggy abuse, as someone or other appeared to be hitting him with a shoe on his hind legs, but he loved it, wagged his tail and came back for more and more- very weird trait of all Thai dogs it seems. We already lost big black dog or BBD earlier this year, and now only Moo-moo, piglet, Ernie and sausage are left. Moo moo is probably the oldest dog that ever lived, sausage made even ugly look hyperactive, Ernie is half an IQ point short of being able to appear on the Jeremy Kyle show, and piglet is the dog equivalent of Norman Wisdom, with a pelican-like chin. Anyway, hopefully ugly and BBD are now lying on the big beach in the sky getting loads of attention, and continuing their war of attrition against any fly that dares to land on them.. let's just hope that flies don't go to heaven.

Whaleshark facts
whalesharkHere's a few amazing and wonderful facts about the largest fish in the ocean, that is common to the waters around Koh Tao.

- It's latin name is Rhincodon typus.
- The largest confirmed specimin was 12.65 metres long and weighed more than 21.5 metric tons!
- It's believed that they can live to be 70 years old.
- They mainly eat plankton via vacuum and filter feeding, but have also been filmed by the good old BBC eating a school of small fish.
- It's capable of diving to depths up to  1,286 metres!
- No-one has ever seen a whale shark getting down and dirty to mate, but they are thought to give birth to live young, around 40-60cm long.
- In Vietnam they are worshipped as a diety and called Ca Ong, which translates as "Sir fish".
- They are a huge draw for divers and snorkelers, and bring a lot of tourism revenue.. way more than if they are killed for their fins.
- They are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
- We get them on Koh Tao and see them pretty regularly. The juveniles are very curios of divers. 

November 18th 2013

Instructor meeting
scuba-meetingIt's that time of the month again at Big Blue.. no, I talked about the full moon party yesterday. I'm talking about the instructor meeting that will be held tonight in one of the classrooms... next to the bar. It's a monthly competition to see how many people can physically fit into a room the size of a bureau de change, that has also been temporarily turned into a sauna. See, we'll endure anything to improve what we do. The meeting is a good opportunity to keep everyone singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak, despite no-one, except maybe mini Ant actually resembling a choirboy. All the different dive agencies have standards that must be adhered to in order to ensure a diver's safety, and at Big Blue we take that very seriously. So ensuring that everyone is doing their job exactly as the standards dictate is integral to what we do. Anyone who is found to have been lacking in any aspect of their role as it relates to standards and customers' safety will not work for Big Blue much longer.
We are constantly trying to improve everything that we do so that our customers have the best experience possible, so we also regularly discuss everything and anything that may help things to run more smoothly. This includes how we check people in, the order and running of all our courses, the logistics of the boats, and even what kind of biscuits we have on board! If something isn't working, we look for ways to improve it. In some ways it's almost a shame that people don't have to undertake three separate open water courses at three different dive resorts before they become a qualified diver, because then they'll have a point of reference in the quality of teaching between schools, and realise that we are as professional is it gets.
The meeting is also the perfect forum for taking the mickey out of some instructors, and in all my years of endless, dull, soulless staff meetings this is the only time i've had a good laugh whilst actually doing something productive. It also helps that we all get a free beer! Incidentally, mini Ant recently posited the grand idea of having a HR department at Big Blue, to which instructors Rick, Donny and divemaster Nick quickly voted instructor Neil to be the director, as he's amazingly empathetic in matters of staff wellbeing. In fact we'll probably put it to a vote this evening. Now, mini Ant, why do choirboys have a centre parting?

Dive boats- what to expect
old-dive-boatI've spent the last couple of days trying to find out why Thai fishing boats and some of the more traditional dive boats have curved hulls, but google said no. I even asked a few of the Big Blue land staff, but it was too difficult to get the point across. I'll keep trying, but in the meantime I realised that anyone who's never been diving before will have no idea what to expect on a dive boat... apart from diving of course. A dive boat is usually laid out to maximise the amount of people that can dive from it at any one time, so on climbing aboard, the first thing you'll notice on the main deck is the row of diving cylinders on either side, sitting in grooves so they don't fall over in rolling waves. There should also be enough space in the middle of the deck to put all that dive gear- usually in bags. But space is always at a premium. Dive boats on Koh Tao can be anything from 10 metres to 45 metres long; Big Blue has the biggest boat- MV Waverunner. This means more space and therefore more comfort.
Also on the main deck you'll notice a bit of noise, as the boat will usually have one or more compressors to fill the dive cylinders in between dives. But once you've set your equipment up, unless you're going straight into the water, there's no reason to hang around downstairs. In fact you'll just be in everyone elses way, so get the hell upstairs! It'll be quieter, more spacious, and should hopefully have some sort of furniture to sit on and a canopy to get out of the fierce midday Sun or occassional rain shower. This is where you'll be briefed and de-briefed on your dives, and relax. It's also probably where the hot and cold water, tea, coffee, fruit and biscuits will reside. If a dive boat doesn't have a toilet, or "head", to use the correct naval parlence, then you were lured in by a dodgy company who's diving prices were way below every other company's.. and now you see why! A few things not to do on any Thai boat- Don't go into the captain's cabin- it's his house and this is where he sleeps.. and you weren't invited. Don't do a titanic at the front of the boat. It will usually have ribbons and that's where the spirit of the boat lives; you will offend the captain. Likewise don't wear flip flops- or thongs depending on whether you're antipodean, as this also offends the captain. Regarding your safety, don't get into the water until you're told it's safe to do so by your instructor or divemaster, and don't smoke anywhere near the compressor intake- you'll be told where that is. Apart from that, enjoy yourself, and either congratulate yourself on choosing to dive with Big Blue, or flagellate yourself as to why you're on a decrepit cramped boat going to the least appealing dive sites.. But hey, you saved yourself 2,000 baht for the open water course... apart from those hidden charges of course.

November 17th 2013

Day-glow invasion
Full-moon-partyIt's that time of the month again where we get the lull before the storm. Pretty much every traveller in Thailand is currently descending on Koh Phangan to buy cheap and cheerful day-glow singlets and shorts in preparation for the full moon party. Personally I can't think of anything worse than being trapped on a beach with 30,000 young beautiful people, whilst we all get plied with booze.. no wait, i'm thinking of that film Battle Royale, with the booze being replaced with weaponry. Ramblings aside, what this all means for Koh Tao and Big Blue is that the Island is currently pretty quiet, but in a couple of days it's going to be very busy, even though it's supposedly Monsoon.
So in a couple of days, at around 9am in the morning we'll start to get the drip drip of people coming into the resort who don't know where they are, why they are here, or what their names are. All they will know is that they want to learn to dive, which is also a good opportunity to detox. It's pretty safe to say that the drip drip will quickly turn into a torrent of people. When you arrive we'll sit you down with a free drink and give you your options; do you want to learn how to dive, which will take 3 days, starting with a two hour orientation on the evening that you arrive, or do you just want to experience being underwater? If it's the latter you can do a try dive, which will take one day and give you two full dives with an instrutor watching over you the entire time. If you're already qualified to dive there are loads of options available to you, from fun diving, to taking your diving further and undertaking some speciality courses like deep, wreck and nitrox, or even technical diving. Once you've decided what you want to do we can set you up with accommodation with us, which, in Monsoon may be free whilst you're diving if you want a dorm room.
But if you can, before you party the night and day away, please please please go on our website and book your diving and accommodation, as when it gets really busy we can't guarantee that we will have any availability for rooms, and bear in mind we have a lot more rooms available than most other dive resorts on the Island. Of course, we can still quarrantee being able to dive with us though. For any pre-full moon queries, send us an email (at the top of our homepage).

Longtail taxi boats
longtail-boatWhen you think of Thailand, there are certain things that spring immediately to mind; Muay Thai, ladyboys, land of smiles.. but what about longtails? You can't miss them, they're everywhere in the Gulf of Thailand (on the water rather than land.. obviously). Longtails are known as Ruea Hang Yao in Thai, and have been around for hundreds of years. They are basically a lightweight long wooden canoe, with a canopy of some kind if you're lucky and a huge exposed rocket engine at the back. The engines don't have a reverse gear, but the driver is able to maneuver them pretty adeptly by rotating them by more than 180 degrees. If you come to Koh Tao and do a bit of sight seeing, getting around by boat is a great way to see the Island, and the easiest way to get to the adjoining Islands of Koh Nang Yuan. If you're getting on one for the first time, here are a few tips to make your experience a little more enjoyable.
Firstly, expect to get wet. They are fairly easy to get on and off from the beach, but you may have to wade in up to your waist, so make sure your phone is in a dry bag. You will also be sprayed by seawater as they travel pretty fast! It can also be a pretty bumpy affair whilst riding the waves so if you're taking pictures hold on tight to your camera! When you climb aboard, get comfy, as the last thing you want to do is think you can stand up and move around- they are very narrow and many a longtail has capsized because it's suddenly listed heavily and taken on too much water. The captain will tell you where to sit so make sure you listen and stay put. Finally, longtail drivers are usually very experienced, but they'll also often feel that no storm is too great for them to navigate through. If you're on a longtail with 1 metre swells, and heading into a storm, do you really think it's a good idea? Don't wait for the captain to tell you it's not safe! Of course that would be very rare indeed on Koh Tao, but still good to have in the back of your mind. If you're mindful of the above you'll have a great time... and probably a sore arse!

November 15th 2013

Whaleshark central
whaleshark-koh-taoGreat news yesterday, we had another sighting of a whaleshark. Well, I say sighting, it stayed for the whole morning at Chumphon pinnacle, so it was more of a meeting than a sighting! Our fun divers, advanced students and open water students all got the chance to swim along with it, and, as they were all properly briefed beforehand and told not to chase it and stay together, they probably had a lot more time with it than some of the other divers on the dive site, who would have used up their air much quicker by trying to keep up with it. Whalesharks are curious of divers. Occassionally, they will swim straight past the dive site and just keep going into the blue. But 9 times out of 10 they will circle around and around the divers, so instead of wasting their air, divers can just stay in one place and watch it as it comes back for another look. This also enables our divemasters and instructors to easily watch over their group and maintain a good dive profile; whalesharks swim up and down, up and down like the teeth on a saw, not surpringly known as a saw-toothed profile. As divers we don't want to do this, so staying in one place whilst mainaining the same depth, either holding on to the ascent line or using the rocks as a visual reference makes for a much better dive. Chill out, watch the big fish swim around you, done. There were some very happy people on the fun diver boat and same same on the course boat. Imagine on your third ever dive you get to swim with a whaleshark.. pretty unforgettable eh. Especially as we had our videographers out filming the open water divers. They'll be taking video evidence of their encounter back home to show the family. The bar was a little busier than normal last night!

Buying and selling on Koh Tao
If you're thinking of spending quite a lot of time on Koh Tao, maybe doing your divemaster training, or already working here as an instructor, you'll probably need some kind of, stuff.. whether that's dive equipment, a motorbike, or you're looking for accommodation. There are plenty of ways to go about this. Word of mouth is good for accommodation in any of the dive schools. There are also posters all over the place in cafes and outside the supermarkets- Aukotan in Shalock, 4p in Sairee or Pen Wholsale on the road to Mae Hadd from Sairee. There are a number of shops that sell dive equipment in Mae Hadd, and Big Blue is opening our own retail shop in the next couple of weeks, where you'll be able to get any kind of dive equipment you can think of. If you need to buy pots and pans, don't bother with the supermarkets, go to the Burmese market in Mae Hadd, it's near the top of the hill on a lane connecting the up road with the down road. You can buy all sorts of weird and wonderful things there, fishing equipment, frying pans, barbeques, deadly weapons, kareoke machines.. yes, I really did say kareoke machines! In terms of diving equipment, if you're really on a budget, there is a market for 2nd hand stuff on facebook- Koh Tao trader, and also a 2nd hand shop in Mae Hadd. Buying 2nd hand equipment is not ideal, and you could end up with a broken product with no comeback, but it may be your only option if you're on a serious budget.  

November 14th 2013

Big Blue bar
big-blue-bar-tomEveryone has a local pub, even people that live 1,000 miles away from civilisation will have a local pub, even if it's 1,000 miles away. Considering Koh Tao is only 21 square kilometres in size, we have a lot of places to choose from for ours. Luckily, it's on the premises, as Big Blue has it's own bar... hurrah! The bar is the eipcentre of life at Big Blue, at the end of the diving day it's were we'll have a beer with our students and fun divers whilst we log their dives and debrief them on how they were underwater. Then, when they all go back to their accommodation to have a shower, it's where the instructors and divemasters congregate to have a good old chinwag and discuss their oh so hard day at the office.
At the end of the open water course we have videographers filming the students on their final two dives, then that evening in the bar, the big screen comes down and we play the video on the projector, which is a great way to end the course and nice to see the students enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. Similarly, when our divemaster trainees (DMTS) have finished their internship to become dive professionals, we also hold a challenge at the bar, which has to be seen to be believed. It's just some good natured ribbing at their expense involving copious amounts of alcohol, but it's always good fun and they are the most game out of everyone to partake.
So who works at such a fine establishment I hear you ask? A lovely Irishman called Thelma, and three Burmese guys with better English than Thelma; Sea, Zor, and Tom. Sea is new and hasn't learnt as many English swear words as his predecessor Sin, but i'm sure he'll pick them up pretty soon with Neil and Luke's help. Zor is what can only be described as a one man party; when he's finished in the bar he can be seen wandering around all the other bars on Koh Tao with a bucket of some kind of whisky that's designed to strip the paint off cars, enabling him to dance the night away. Thelma is the manager, and only works part time as she's also an SSI instructor. When she's working in the bar you can't miss her, as she'll be on the same side of the bar as you pretending to read a book so people think she's clever, but the book will be upside down. Tom (pictured) has worked in the bar since the beginning of time, and is the Burmese equivalent of Sam out of cheers. Also, seeing as his English is better than most English speaking natives, he is the master of keeping rowdy drunken people in line with only a look.. .
When you come to Big Blue, you'll notice straight away once the sun is setting how the bar really sets the atmosphere for the place, it's way better than anywhere else on Koh Tao, and pretty much the only place all of our staff like to have a beer, which says a lot.

Red Breasted Wrasse
red-breasted-wrasseIf you've done any kind of diving course on Koh Tao that requires you to sit in the sand practicing some skills, you'll more than likely be very familiar with the red breasted wrasse. It's like a miniature cow that looks dopey, but is clever enough to realise that your movements will disturb the sand and allow it to forage. They are certainly not shy about swimming  between your legs whilst displaying their buck-teeth. You'll see them on every dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, and considering their abundance, it's surprisingly difficult to find out more about them, but here's a few facts that you may not know about them:

- They like to hang around coral reefs, and forage for prey by taking pieces of rubble in their mouth in the hope of exposing their poor victim, that was previously using it as shelter.
- They grow up to 40cm in size.
- They live at depths ranging from 4 to 60 metres, though it's rare to see one below 40m- they don't have their SSI deep speciality.
- They feed on crustaceans, sea urchins, hard-shelled invertebrates and molluscs, and probably biscuits thrown overboard, which is not very good for them!
- Mating begins with the male circling the female, then they will partake in a bit of mutual head-bobbing for a while, then eventually they spawn whilst swimming alongside each other and rising in the water column.. weirdos.
- They seem to hypnotise all new divers when they see them for the first time whilst kneeling in the sand. What you're probably not aware of is that all red breasted wrasse are trained divemasters, and as long as they watch over the group, we'll keep buying them comics.

November 12th 2013

Movember time
MovemberIt's that time of the year again when every male divemaster, instructor and divemaster trainee (DMT) slowly, over the course of the month look ever more ridiculous. Of course, it's Movember. It's still early days yet and the majority of participants have yet to reveal the look they are going to go for this year. As they look for inspiration, the beards will keep on growing. It's always difficult to commit to a particular style in case your face can't quite pull it off, or you just completely mess it up, but it would be great to see some proper pork chops, a few Clark Gables, and a full-on handlebar would be rather spectacular! The winner thus far has to be SSI instructor Rod (pictured), who has been sporting a very fetching Magnum P.I. lip tash. But that wasn't enough for Rod, oh no, he also had to shave his head to look like a grandad. I think it makes him look younger- how old do you think he looks? I reckon about 39. He does look a bit like Alf Stewart from Home & Away now, and he is Australian.. you never see them in the same room together i suppose.
Of course, Movember does have a serious side to it, the whole point is to raise awareness of testicular cancer, and generate some cash for testicular cancer charities, so that they can get the message out and commit funding for further research into this horrible disease.
Maybe it would be a good idea to hold a tash-off competition, or have a divemaster challenge where we humiliate for fun the people voted to have the best face fur. So far the most elligible contenders for the award of best hairy head are instructors Rod, Rich and Simo, and divemasters Phil and Nick. Though I reckon if Carly put her mind to it she would give them all a run for their money.. she must be sick of shaving her face by now.  As for me... roll on Fanuary.

You can make a donation to Movember here for the UK, here for Canada, and here for Australia.

Getting mobile on Koh Tao
Can't help but notice recently a big increase in the amount of push bikes available for rent on Koh Tao recently, which is great news for the environment, and people's health, but also reduces the amount of motorbikes and quad bikes on the Island. It's not as if we get traffic jams here, far from it, it's solely an issue of safety. The single best way you can ruin your holiday would be to rent a motobike, even though you've never ridden one before, and find yourself in a crash because of an overzealous throttle, bad balance, complete panic resulting in forgetting where the brakes are, or sandy concrete. God forbid, if this ever were to happen, hopefully you would come out of it with only a few minor scrapes, but the damage to your wallet would be severe when you take the scratched bike back to the rental company. They just love adding to your bill for new fairings, and they always seem to be way more expensive than you could ever imagine.. funny that.
By renting a push bike you will be safer. You will be travelling slower, so if you did come off, the damage would be less severe- especially if you're wearing a helmet. You will also be reducing the amount of motorbikes on the road, which in turn will reduce the likelyhood of crashing into one. You'll still need to ride defensively and watch out for cars, motorbikes and quad bikes, but you'll enjoy getting around much more.
So in summary, don't even think of renting a motorbike, and especially not a quad bike- they are even more dangerous as they instill a false sense of security into people and they tend to ride them faster- and they are very prone to flipping over on corners. Get on your bike instead. If you do completely ignore the above and rent a bike, please wear a helmet. Don't follow the lead of all the idiot locals. You can't retrospectively buy a new head, even if you kept the receipt.

November 11th 2013

Longtail drivers
Yesterday I talked about the boys that work in the equipment room to keep everything running smoothly. Today why not give a mention to the three musketeers.. kind of, that drive our luxurious (compared with other dive schools) taxi boats; Win, Bang, and Sea.

longtailThey probably work the weirdest hours out of anyone else at Big Blue. They have to be up early to wade out to sea and untether the taxi boats from their moorings, then sit around waiting for the instructors and divemasters to get organised and ready to head off for their dives. Then they spring into action like some kind of, er, taxi boat driver, and occassionally wait for everyone to get on board before heading off like the stig to one of our five dive boats. Win has been at Big Blue for years. In fact, rumour has it he was sitting on Sairee beach for a long time waiting for Big Blue Diving to be formed as a company. Bang has played Burma-Koh Tao tennis more than most of our staff, and has held a number of jobs with us between going home. Now he's back he drives the biggest and newest of our taxi boats.. lets call her Shirley. Our third driver, Sea, is possibly the most helpful human being on the planet, and if we could clone him we would probably be bigger than Apple right now. It also runs in the family, his brother doesn't speak a word of English but will fill your tank on Ao Meung before you even knew you'd used it up.
Once the morning boats have gone out, you'll not see any of them for dust until 11am when the boats come back and everyone needs to come back to land. Then again they mill around waiting for the afternoon divers to ready themselves to be taken out to the dive boats. 5pm and it's back out to pick them up on their return from the dive sites, then Bang and Win moor up Shirley and, er.. Ermentrude, whilst Sea usually gets the short straw to take the divers out on their night dive.  For the instructors and divemasters at Big Blue, it can be pretty easy to take them for granted, but just when that's in danger of happening, the weather turns bad and these guy's skills come out to play. In choppy weather (which is never really that bad on koh Tao), they know exactly how to handle their boats safely to negotiate the coral near the beach, ride over the waves, and pull up alongside the dive boats and hold them in place whilst people are loaded on and off.  They also know how to have a bit of fun, adding just the right amount of throttle to make an instructor blocking their view almost fall over, or let a big enough wave soak them and wake them up properly in the morning! Next time you're on board on our of longtails, say Mingalabar and give them a smile.

We didn't come up with a name for Sea's taxi boat... post your suggestions on our facebook page, and the best one will receive a Big Blue keychain. I vote to call it Baxter. Steven wants to call it Bertha, lovely Bertha (sometimes I think you're a dream). You had to be there...
 
Non-diving things to do on Koh Tao
What if you come to Koh Tao with the intention of diving, but for whatever reason you can't, or maybe your other half is obsessed with the idea of learning how to dive, but you have absolutely no intention of putting on those flippers and goggles? Well there are other things you can do. Lets ignore the bars on the Island, anyone can get drunk anywhere at anytime nowadays. I'm talking about productive, educational and fun things to while away the day. How about a bit of 10-pin bowling and mini golf? In Mae Hadd we have the weirest bowling alley in the world, with the aim being (depending on your point of view) to throw the ball at the man behind the pins, or avoid hitting the man behind the pins. Whatever you knock over, they put them all back neat and tidy ready for the next shot. You don't get that back home. It's also open in the evening so you don't get heat exhaustion whilst trying to negotiate the crazy golf range. You can learn Muay Thai. A lot of the people that live here do it, mainly for the exercise- they've never hit anyone in their lives. They can tailor the classes to suit your level of fitness and comfort with sparring. I've done martial arts for 20 years and the only reason I never did it was a fear of getting too into it and breaking my leg. Not good for a diver.. then I went and broke my knee anyway! There are a few classes all over the Island, one in Mae Hadd, one in Sairee up towards Jitson. There are also occassional Muay Thai fights that you can go and watch, with men handing out flyers all over the place so you can't really miss them.
Thai cooking classes are available in quite a few different places, and you can learn to cook a few authentic Thai dishes so you can wow your friends back home when you have them over for dinner. Should be high on the list of things to do here.
Yoga seems to be pretty popular at the moment, with classes being held at all times of the day anywhere and everywhere. There's also a pilates class, whatever that is!
You just missed the best time of year to learn this when the winds are high, but wakeboarding if quite popular in September and October on Sairee beach. It's getting to the point where the idea must be to stay on the board and avoid other wakeboarders! The beach dogs will hate you and chase you up and down the beach barking their heads off for no apparent reason, but luckily they all hate water.
Rock climbing- It's not going to be like scaling El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, but there are some good spots to learn how to rock climb, and there's a company that will teach you and provide all the equiment you'll need. What else.. oh yeah, snorkeling- loads of nice beaches around the South and East of the Island, Ao Leuk, Shark Bay, Tanote Bay, Freedom beach. For any of the above activities ask any of our staff and we'll be able to point you in the right direction.

November 10th 2013

Equipment room boys
equipment-boysAny dive resort is only as good as the people that work there. Big Blue is no different, and there are a lot more people involved in the smooth day to day running of the place than the divemasters and instructors that you'll see the most during your time with us. The land-based staff play a vital role in keeping things tickety boo. Headed up by Mae, the team keep the equipment room clean and tidy, wash all the regulators at the end of each morning or afternoon of diving, fix broken regulators, BCs and tanks, fill any tanks needed for the pool, and make sure everything is packed away properly at the end of each day. Dive equipment is very reliable these days, and when it does break, it's only minor things like small bubbles coming out of an air gauge, or a slowly filling BC. Mae ensures that these problems are fixed quickly, so we have that piece of equipment back up and running and working as it should for the next diving day.  
At 5pm each day you'll see a few of the boys playing hackey sack (pictured), or whatever it's called, and at other times of the year they'll be guaranteed to be playing a game of football on the beach.. I think it's fair to say the Burmese love their football. Mae also manages the best Korean barbeque restaurant on the Island in Mae Hadd (no relation). When he's not working, I'd love to tell you that he enjoys knitting cardigans with huge pictures of wolves on them, and that he was once a stars in their eyes Regional finalist, singing as Neil Diamond.. maybe it's true, but I can't prove it... yet. When the rest of the staff aren't working or playing football, they seem to enjoy kareoke.. a lot!
The boys work long hours but are always smiling. If you come diving with us you'll have to wash your fins and BC when you get back to land. When you hand in your BC to Mae or one of the other boys, fully inflate it so it has a chance to dry inside and out. If you want to make Mae laugh, ask him why it doesn't inflate when you press the button!

Getting to Koh Tao
Back in the days before Koh Tao was on the backpacker's map, it was a real adventure trying to get here. Now it couldn't be any easier, there are so many options to choose and you don't have to come from one particular place anymore. If you are in Bangkok, you can get a VIP bus with aircon and legroom that will take you to Chumphon (takes around 7 hours), then hop on a ferry- all in one ticket. Or you could take the night train, which has first, second and third class- again, all in one ticket. Don't bother with 3rd class, it's just a seat you'll sit in for 12 hours, trust me you will regret it! Go 2nd or 1st class (for around £20!) and have your own bed so you arrive in Chumphon fresh as a daisy the next morning after a good nights sleep- but be sure to book ahead. If you're feeling really fancy, you could fly from Bangkok to Chumphon or Bangkok to Koh Samui, then get a ferry from there. It's way more expensive than travelling over land but saves you a lot of time. Just be mindful of your return trip back; if you've been diving you cannot fly on a plane for at least 24 hours. Once you're in Suratthani or Chumphon you will get to Koh Tao by catching one of the ferrys. The Lomprayah is the fastest but also the busiest. It takes around two hours from Chumphon and Koh Samui. You can also get the Seatran, which is slower but not as crowded. If you're really on a budget you can get the Songserm, which takes even longer, and isn't the most modern boat the world has ever seen but it's super cheap. I wonder if anyone ever took a taxi from Bangkok to Chumphon, and how much it cost, and whether they were still sane after listening to the taxi driver's Thai muzak for 7 hours!

November 9th 2013

Cobweb cleaning brainstorming retail shop opening season
big-blue-shopAs I mentioned a few days ago, this is the time of year when we take advantage of it not being as crazily busy as the rest of the year, so we can do a bit of spring cleaning. The first of our five boats has gone to Chumphon for it's annual facelift.. actually waverunner is having a little more than just a splash of paint. But other stuff is going on too. We're having all our tanks visually and hydrostatically tested to make sure they're in good working order. James and Ian at Big Blue Tech are servicing all our regulators and tank valves for the same reason. We did a full stock take a couple of days ago to see what we might need to replace to keep our fins, wetsuits, masks and weightbelts in tip top condition, and our Divemaster trainee (DMT) mentors are looking over all our training materials with a fine toothe comb to see what needs tweaking, so we can offer the most effective dive professional training possible. But the biggest thing that's about to happen will be the highly anticipated opening of our new retail shop. We'll be selling all sorts of dive equipment, and have our own range of Big Blue branded clothing, such as bikinis, board shorts, t-shirts, singlets and speedos.. ok no speedos, just mankinis. We will also be selling some exciting underwater photography equipment, and the list of what else is growing by the day. All you need to do is watch this space as there will be a dedicated blog post to mark the official opening... soon! This all equates to a diving resort that is constantly looking at itself in order to improve and evolve, so that we can offer you the best diving experience possible, by a looooong way.

Koh Tao animal clinic
koh-tao-animal-clinicVisitors to Thailand are often struck by the amount of stray dogs and cats wandering around, pretty much everywhere. Koh Tao is no different; some of them were born in the jungle off the main roads, whilst some were adopted by westerners who then abandoned them when they decided to move on- a sadly common occurance. A lot of the dogs suffer from, skin infections, fleas, or mange, and all are trying and stay alive by scavenging wherever they can. The koh Tao animal clinic was set up in 2002 on a temporary basis to try and do something about it. 11 years later it's still going strong, and now has a resident Thai vet, Dr Jae Intaraksa and a clinic assistant, Nai. The clinic has a number of aims. These are:

1- To establish a permanent vet clinic on the island of Koh Tao.
2- To introduce a neutering programme to bring the animal population under control.
3- To introduce a vaccination programme including mange and flea control to maintain a healthy animal population.
4- To introduce an education programme for visitors to the island to reduce casual feeding of the animals by tourists, and encourage support of a properly managed programme through the vet clinic.
5- To introduce an education programme for the islanders in good animal management.

They are working really hard to achieve these aims, and are making a lot of progress, but the clinic is funded solely by donations made by members of the public from all over the world. If you're in koh Tao, please consider making a donation, even if it's just the cost of a beer. It all adds up. If you are a vet spending some time travelling and find your way to Koh Tao, you may be able to offer your services to the clinic, but you'll need to have at least two years experience and be able to provide two references (one from your current employer). You'll also need to present a copy of your graduation certificate. If you really want to donate money and get something in return, you can pop into the clinic monday to friday and buy one of their snazzy t-shirts- you can guarantee that no-one back home will be wearing the same clothes as you! All money donated goes directly to the upkeep of the clinic and helps pays for medication, which is notoriously expensive. They are based opposite the Save Koh Tao office in Mae Hadd, easy to find if you ask someone. For more information, visit their website by clicking here.

 

November 8th 2013

Hard life becoming a dive professional!
similans-sunsetIt's been a lot quieter on Koh Tao over the last few days, and for good reason- SSI instructor trainer Simon Garrity, and his sidekick- divemaster trainee (DMT) mentor Nick Bufton, somehow managed to escape Big Blue and head for the Similan Islands on the East coast of Thailand to go on a 4 day and night jolly, I mean diving liveaboard. To top it all off they managed to pursuade 8 or so DMTs to go with them! Four dives a day and the option to go night diving, all topped off with great food. Alright for some eh! All that diving makes you tired and they'll probably want to have a holiday from their holiday when they return. But something tells me Nick and Simon will be pretty busy, as we have a record number of DMTs training with us at the moment. This is great for the DMTs as it means they'll make lots of new friends, and can help each other out during their training. It also makes the bar that little bit livelier! Every dive they do makes them that much more confident in their own diving abilities, and hones the skills that they will need to be signed off as dive professionals. Once they've graduated they can work as a divemaster, leading fun divers around dive sites, and assist instructors on training courses. They will also have the option to take their training further and become dive instructors themselves.. something no doubt Simon will have been chatting to the captive audience of DMTs on the liveaboard about! If you would like more information on dive professional training, click on the email at the top of our homepage.

Whale deaths blamed on discarded plastic
grey-whale-deadI was only talking the day before yesterday about how bad plastic is when it gets into the ocean, and this is all the proof you need. The dead grey whale pictured that washed ashore, was found to have 59 pieces of plastic in its stomach, which was ultimately what killed it. But sadly this was far from being an isolated incident. Over the last 20 years, stories of whales suffering the same fate have become more and more common, and include Sperm, Balleen, Grey and Beaked whales (that have been documented). There may be many more cases that simply never washed up, and no species of whale is immune to suffering the same fate. The whales eat the plastic due to a variety of different factors that depend on what and how they eat in the first place, but once the plastic enters their system it cannot be digested, so it just sits in the intestine. Over time it clogs up the intestine until the whale can no longer process the food it needs to survive. This leads to a slow, agonising death through starvation. Much of the plastic is sheeting used to build greenhouses on an industrial scale, for the purpose of growing tomatoes. But other items such as discarded fishing nets and rope, plastic bags, hosepipes, flower pots and plastic spray canisters have been found inside whale's stomachs.
It's all infuriating, and it's often the usual suspects that are to blame. But you can still do a lot to help directly. Much of the debris that floats around is plastic bags from your local supermarket or mini mart. If you start to reduce the amount of straws, carrier bags, party balloons, and plastic bottles, this will make a big difference in how much of it ends up in the oceans. Indirectly you can lobby your local politician to focus their mind on the scale of the problem. The more people that do it, the more they'll have to listen and respond. If you want to find out more about what you can do, contact Lizzie May at Big Blue Conservation here.

November 7th 2013

Try dives with Big Blue
rabbitfishThe vast majority of people that come to Koh Tao do so with the intention of either learning how to dive, or exploring the dive sites as a qualified diver. But there are a growing number of people that just come here to experience the unique relaxed atmosphere that turtle Island is renowned for. But you only have to spend one or two days here to realise that this Island is all about diving. You may well go snorkeling in Mango bay and see divers around and below you, which will hopefully spur you into thinking that you have to try it for yourself. If that's you, then good news! You don't have do a diving course to experience the underwater world; there is such a thing as a try dive that can be done over the course of one afternoon (after a little bit of theory before lunch), 
At Big Blue we run try dives every day and we want you to get the most out of it. You would meet your instructor at 10:30 in the morning to get the paperwork out of the way. The instructor will then teach you everything you need to know to be safe underwater, which really isn't as in-depth as it sounds. Then you'll be kitted out with the dive gear you'll need- all provided at no extra cost, then you'll break for lunch. At 12:30 you'll get in a taxi boat that will take you onto one of our 5 dive boats, there will be a boat especially for you and open water students doing their first ever two dives. The boat will go to one of the sheltered bays of Koh Tao, and you can relax while your instructor sets up your equipment for you. Once we've got you into your dive gear and checked everything is good to go, you'll get in the water and swim together to the beach. The instructor will teach you a few skills, but only in water that's waist deep. Then, when you're ready you'll follow the sea bed from the beach until you get progressively deeper, so you can experience the marine world for the first time. The instructor will be right next to you the whole time and pointing out all the fish that you see, and after what will feel like 10 minutes (but will probably be 35-45), you'll make your way to the surface and reluctantly get back on the boat. 
We have tea and coffee, fruit and biscuits on the boat and you can relax and sunbathe for an hour, then the boat will move on to another dive site and it'll be time for your second dive. You'll probably be dying to get back into your gear by this point! The second dive will probably seem like it lasts a bit longer, as you'll be more attuned to the underwater world compared with the first dive. Then you can explore again with the instructor right beside you the whole way, before again heading to the surface and getting back on board the boat. One more thing we offer with try dives is to have photos of you taken underwater, so you have a memento of your experience; a videographer will tag along on both dives snapping away in the background. Then, back on land at around 5pm, you'll have done something productive, had an amazing experience, and hopefully be taking home photographic evidence to show your family and friends. That sounds pretty damn good to me, but I guess you could always not go diving, and just get hammered and not remember anything.. tough choice eh!? For more information, have a look at the rest of the website. If you have any more questions, send us an email.

Food food food
You know that feeling when you just ate half of your weekly food intake in one sitting? Then you'll know exactly how i'm feeling right now. Koh Tao is all about eating out. It's a social gathering, a treat, and a way of lazily watching the world go by. All in the knowledge that it's costing a hell of a lot less than doing the same thing back home. Sairee is full of restaurants that offer amazing food. There is an Italian, Mexican, French, Japanese, and German restaurant, all within about a quarter of a mile radius. That's not even mentioning all the Thai restaurants ranging from swish and fancy, to simple and super cheap, and I haven't even mentioned one of the best things Thailand has- street food! It's amazing and ridiculously cheap; there's nothing quite like walking down the road and smelling the incredible flavours and seeing the variety of food available. One thing all the restaurants and street vendors have in common on Koh Tao is that the food is very very very good! Now, if you expand that and add Shalock and Mae Hadd into the mix, you'll realise just how spoilt for choice you really are! ok everything is getting a little hazy, I must be in the midst of a food coma!

November 5th 2013

What-soon?
chumphon-pinnacleWell, so much for Monsoon, the weather here has been amazing in the last week, just when we were expecting full on rain and windy conditions. The sea couldn't be any flatter than it is now, and the visibility when diving has been incredible in the last couple of days. Holiday makers being the sun-seekers that they are have inevitably clicked onto this, as we are unseasonably busy for this time of year. Lots of other dive schools close for November, thinking it will be absolutely dead here- that's not how it's looking so far. More fool them, we are bustling, our instructors are busy teaching people how to dive, our divemasters are still showing customers the best marine life that Koh Tao has to offer on our exclusive fun diver only boat, and the bar and restaurant still have the same vibrant feel as they usually do. Big Blue tech is gearing up to teach a new influx of interns, and Big Blue conservation is organising beach clean ups, and running an eco-internship. Just as well, as the boss just had his birthday and needs all the good news he can get! November is looking good for Big Blue. If you want to come diving in koh Tao and are pathalogically unsociable, then check out any other dive school on the Island. If you want to meet like-minded people, be taught or led underwater by the best dive professionals in the industry, and have a jolly old time in the bar afterwards... come to Big Blue!

Things to avoid on Koh Tao
If you're coming to Koh Tao on holiday, or thinking of spending a little longer here as part of your travels, there are probably lots of little tips that could help make life a little easier for you. To be honest you can find out about most of those by googling them; Thai customs, restaurant rules on tipping, generic cost of taxis etc etc. Beyond these kind of things, we would like to help you get the most out of your Thai experience by suggesting things that you can do that will also help to preserve this beautiful Island, now and in the future. First and foremost is plastic plastic plastic. this hydrocarbon by-product is evil, full stop. It kills turtles and all manner of marine life if it makes its way into the ocean. If you go to a shop or restaurant anywhere on Koh Tao, please please please refuse a plastic bag and straw with your purchase. If you're getting takeaway food, you should now be getting a container that is not polystyrene, but if it is, please ask for something else and let us know at Big Blue Conservation. Even better, it would help the turtles out if you could just eat at the restaurant instead. At the very least don't take any plastic cutlery home with you, most hotels should have some kind of cutlery you can use.
Secondly, do you really need to rent a motorbike whilst here? Apart from potentially being ripped off left right and centre, you are putting yourself at a high risk of having your holiday ruined by being involved in a crash, sadly all too common. Even if you don't get injured (god forbid), you may end up with a massive repair bill. Rent a push bike instead, or even walk; Sairee to Mae Hadd is a 15-20 minute walk away, which you wouldn't even think twice about doing back home.
Finally, if you do decide to sample the nightlife that is offered on Sairee beach, and fancy a midnight dip followed by a few beers on the beach, enjoy it obviously! But also no matter how sozzled you get, please grab your empty beer bottles, carrier bags, crisp packets and whatever else and dispose of them properly- at Big Blue we have recycling bins for bottles. After all, you came here to walk down sandy white beaches and experience the beauty of a tropical Island, so you're kind of defeating the object of you being here if you just leave everything on the beach.. common sense really.

November 4th 2013

Waverunner refurbishment
boatyard-chumphonAs our five boats start to set sail for Chumphon on the mainland for their annual service (not all at the same time), our newest aquisition, MV Waverunner has already gone, and it's getting a bit more than a lick of paint. We've been renting waverunner on a long term basis, but recently the opportunity arose to buy it, so we snapped it up. Now we have full license to get it exactly as we want it.
The whole main deck is going to be completely stripped out, so instead of having a dry room that's not really very dry, or used as a dry room, we can utilise that space for tanks. We're also going to let more daylight in so it's nice and airy. Feng shui is just as important as actual space you know! It's already the biggest dive boat in Koh Tao, so these factors will make it feel really spacious when divers are setting their equipment up.
Some nice little touches will also be going on behind the scenes, such as installing compressor whips the whole length of the main deck. This means that tanks can be re-filled where they are instead of having to lug them to the compressors and back. It also means that a large area of the rear of the deck will be freed up, instead of being allocated for empty tanks waiting to be filled. Upstairs, there has always been good cover from the extreme sun and occassional downpours, but part of it will be enclosed to prevent any above average wetsuit tan lines. The sun deck above the captain's cabin will remain as it is, and unfortunately we couldn't stretch the budget to have some massage chairs installed. But the fluffy dice for the rear view mirror in the captain's cabin has already been ordered, and I hear that the captain may even purchase a new singlet to wear on board once the boat is back in service again. When she comes back from Chumphon with a Big Blue paint job, there will be one very proud and happy captain, and some even happier scuba instructors and divemasters, we can't wait to see how it looks.

Buddhist festival
It was really busy all over Mae Hadd yesterday as local Thai and Burmese buddhists celebrated Kattai. It's a Burmese word and doesn't really have an English translation, but it's a day when buddhists give respect to monks, and donate money to them so they may continue their vocation. Preperation began a few weeks ago, with ornately decorated paper  trees being built to hang money on. These were then taken to the temple as offerings for the monks. Around 200 people walked in a precession all the way from Shalock to the Buddhist temple off the main road to Sairee, with many of them wearing tradtitional costume, dancing and singing along to music. Driving past the temple at 7pm it still seemed to be in full swing, and that was from 9am in the morning! Buddhist festivals don't involve alcohol, but it looked like they were having a wail of a time. Fascinating to watch. 

November 2nd 2013

Clash of the (not quite) titans
football-matchWhilst everyone was preoccupied with Halloween preparations the day before yesterday, a football match of epic proportions was quietly played out early on Halloween morn. A ragtag bunch of Big Blue instructors, divemasters and DMTs pitted themselves against some of our fittest and finest Burmese restaurant and bar staff. Captained by SSI instructor trainer Simon Garrity, instructors big Ant, mini Ant, Rich, Pal, Iain, Tupac and Alex, divemasters Phil and Stitch, and DMTs Ryu, Bjorn, Carolina, Gretl, Laars, Dwain and Saul redefined the phrase "being run rings around". Rich in goal saved some epic shots and has the cuts and bruises to show for it, Alex ran around like Forrest Gump in no particular direction, seemingly reacting to the rhythms of a completely different game, Simo suddenly remembered the rules in the final 5 minutes, mini Ant spent most of the match trying to memorise people's names so he knew who to pass to, and Iain thought he was playing netball. Shame it wasn't netball, he would have got man of the match. The game ended with the inevitable victory for the restaurant boys, with a final score of 5-1. The diving team's defeat was roundly blamed on the lack of anyone being available to provide oranges at half time, which may or may not be true, but overall the boys were very stoic about their drubbing. After some transfer deals have taken place, another good natured rematch will take place- they're even talking about getting shirts printed!  Good effort team Burma, I mean everyone! Something tells me we're going to need a bigger capacity stadium for round 2!

Halloween done, next stop Christmas!
I think it's fair to say there were a few sore heads on Koh Tao yesterday morning after Halloween, especially considering pretty much the entire Island seemed to dress up for it. Walking along the yellow brick road in Sairee should have been like a who's who of horror movies, but some people never got that memo; I saw Hunter S Thompson and his attourney, some oddly afflicted pregnant brides, quite a few man-babies, a zombie full moon party goer, witches galore, and, I think, a dead transvestite tennis player- apologies if you were actually a lady (Iain)! The only thing missing was Elvis. He must have been working the night shift in Tesco-Lotus in Koh Samui. Shame. All good fun and really good to see so many people make the effort. The whole atmosphere of the Island seemed quite festive. Speaking of which, I guess the next big night on Koh Tao will be Christmas eve... is it nearly christmas already, why did I have to remind you of that? Well just to make you even more annoyed, here in Thailand we don't get bombarded with Christmas music when we visit the supermarket from September until December, and there is actually food in the aisles instead of christmas crackers. Still.. counting down the days!

November 3rd 2013

Big Blue videography
Big-blue-videographyWe're really happy to be able to officially announce the opening of Big Blue videography! It's been bothering us for a while why we always used another company to film our students and the underwater world for us when we could do it bigger and better ourselves.. so we've decided to go ahead and do exactly that! I'd like to introduce you to Wayne, he's the one in the photo most likely to get a sunburnt head. Wayne is heading up the video and photography team, comprised of David (left), Jolande (the female one) and Barney (you can probably figure out which one he is). Wayne was especially shipped in by air freight to get things moving and head up the team of dive professional videographers. This is an exciting new start for Big Blue diving, and we can't wait to see some weird and wonderful new intro shots of our instructors, divemasters and shop staff. Barney, Jolande and David are raring to go, so lets get started!
If you've previously been to Big Blue, you'll know what we do in terms of filming our open water courses. If you haven't, let me explain. The open water course has four open water dives. Dives three and four have an early start and the boat leaves from Sairee at 7am in order to take advantage of some of the best dive sites we have- weather permitting Chumphon pinnacle, and twins or white rock. The students are accompanied by a videographer, who just hangs back and films them on the taxi boat, getting into their equipment, during their dive briefings, and on their actual dives. Then when the students get back to land, they can relax and sunbathe with their new certification cards, but David, jolande and Barney's work has only just begun. They edit the footage and put it to some modern music that is apparently very in, and then the instructor and videographer meet the students in the Big Blue bar in the evening to celebrate them becoming qualified divers, and they all watch the video together. It's a fantastic end to the open water course, and if the students choose to buy the video, which is very reasonably priced, it's the perfect way to explain to their families what they've been up to in South East Asia.
In addition to filming open water courses, we will be on hand to record try dives. For those people that really want to go diving but either don't have the time or don't really want to commit to undertaking a full open water course, they can do one or two try dives with an instructor over one afternoon. Seeing the underwater world for the first time is awe inspiring and something you'll remember for the rest of your life. Having photographic evidence of that is even better. Underwater shots of you in your scuba gear is a vital ingredient to proving to your friends and family that you actually did it!
We will also have our own youtube channel, which will be regularly updated with short videos highlighting the best of the weeks marine life caught on film, so look out for links to it from our facebook, G+ and twitter pages. In the meantime get you best frock on, slap that make up on and sign up to do your open water course to get your 30 minutes of infamy!

Shark Finning in Western Thailand
Ranong-fish-marketHere's a photo of a fish market in Thailand, in Ranong specifically, on the border with Myanmar. Absolutely disgusting I hope you'll agree. Shark finning gets lots of press nowadays and rightly so, Hong Kong, the Phillipines and Malaysia are always being highlighted as places were this barbaric practice continues unabated. But to see it on our own doorstep in Thailand is really sad. This photo was taken by Joanna Durakiewicz and Brett Fairhurst, who are undertaking a conservation internship at Big Blue Conservation. Save Koh Tao marine branch will be discussing this with the Thai Government at the earliest opportunity, but in the meantime, why don't you get involved and write an email to one of the director generals of the Thai Department of Fisheries? You can contact them here. They need to know that this is bad for Thailand's image, and ultimately terrible for their tourism industry; who wants to go snorkeling and diving in a dead ocean? These incredible animals are vital to the ocean eco system and play an important role in regulating other fish populations. If they dissapear from our oceans, so does everything else. There are lots of other ways you can get involved too. For more information, contact Lizzie May at Big Blue Conservation.

 

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