Inked Abroad: Getting A Sak Yant Tattoo from a Monk

For years I’ve wanted to get another tattoo, but I never committed to it, always unsure of what I wanted. When I got to Thailand, I knew that this experience would be life changing for me. It’s a country overflowing with mysticism and culture; it would be difficult not to be changed by it. Learning about Thai culture, I heard about the ancient practice of “sak yant”; a deeply meaningful blessing tattoo performed only by Buddhist monks. They either use a traditional bamboo stick or a long metal stick attached to a needle. No machines, no stencils. Living here has been all about saying “yes” to things I normally wouldn’t, and having a monk tattoo me fit that bill perfectly.

On January 16th, we had a random day off school; the perfect opportunity to go on an adventure. I decided the night before that I wanted to make this tattoo a reality. A few blogs provided some helpful information on the location of the tattoo temple and the process, but all I really knew was that the temple opens around 8 am, and to arrive early to get in line and wait your turn. My friend who I teach with agreed to come with me, and just to be safe we set off for a taxi at 5 am. The ride took about an hour. It was pitch black outside but my mind was already racing with scenarios of what was lying ahead.

We arrived as the sun rose over Wat Bang Phra, turning the sky orange. We had a lot of time to kill, so I indulged in a 7-11 breakfast of ramen while we waited to go inside. Around 7:30, we bought an offering of cigarettes and flowers to donate to the temple for 75 baht and entered a small building. There were only a few others waiting before us, mostly Thais. We waited anxiously for the monk to emerge, unsure of what was going to happen.

When the monk emerged from his quarters and took a seat at the front of the room, everyone gathered near him, bowing low to the floor. He was Luang Pi Nunn, who I would find out later to be the most famous tattoo master in all of Thailand. He mumbled a quick prayer and immediately one of the waiting men peeled off his shirt to be tattooed. The tattoos began in rapid succession, no one speaking a word the entire time. The young Thai men had done this before, judging by their tattoo covered backs. The monk added a line or two here and there, tap tap tapping his long inked needle into the skin of whomever was seated before him while two other men held the skin taut on either side.

Pretty soon the line dwindled down and it was my turn to go. I scrambled over to sit in front of the monk, leaned over a pillow and braced myself for the pain. Two patient men assisted the monk in pulling my shirt down to reveal my shoulder blade (monks aren’t allowed to touch women), and he went to work. It was surprisingly not that painful, and my anxiety soon subsided. As quickly as it had started, it was over. Luang Pi Nunn whispered a prayer over the completed sak yant and breathed it to life by blowing on it. His tattoos are believed to hold magical powers, which he fills with holy energy. I bowed before the monk once more and placed 100 baht into a jar beside him as my donation to the temple (about $5 in total).

I snuck off to the bathroom to take a peek at my shoulder, still not knowing what has been tattooed on my body.

On my left shoulder blade he had given me 5 sacred lines called Ha Taew. This is the most popular sak yant among females, but each one is unique. The best description of what Ha taew means is this:

1. First row prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favor when the area is gray, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.

2. Second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad luck.

3. Third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.

4. Fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.

5. Fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It is also is a boost to the fourth row.

In order for the Ha taew to be effective, the receiver must follow a set of rules similar to the 10 precepts of Buddhism. They are basic life rules such as; do not steal, do not kill, do not lie, do not partake in evil deeds, and so on. I think I can manage to follow these guidelines!

This experience was easily one of the most magical moments here in Thailand. It was pure cultural bliss, something that is unique to Thailand, and now I’ll carry the memory for the rest of my life. I’m so happy I chose to do it; it’s more than just a tattoo, it’s encapsulates my year in Thailand. I’m grateful that I now have a little protection constantly watching my back, literally.

Sak Yant FAQs

Where is Wat Bang Phra located and how do you get there?

Wat Bang Phra is located in Nakhon Pathom province, about 31 miles (50 km) west of Bangkok. You can find the exact address here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Bang_Phra . There are actually two Wat Bang Phras on the same road, about 5 minutes from each other. The tattoo temple is the one located just next to the river (closer to the east). When you arrive, you will see various statues of animals, Buddhas, etc. all clumped together near the parking area. The entrance to the tattoo building is behind that, you can ask anyone where to go by simply saying “sak” (tattoo); they will know what you are looking for.

There are minivans that leave from Victory Monument in Bangkok that will bring you to Nakhon Pathom province, although where they drop you off is unknown to me. We took a taxi from where we live, I copied the temple name and address (in Thai) from the article I posted above and showed it to the driver. Make sure they use the meter, so you won’t get ripped off. It took about 45 minutes to get there, without traffic. It will cost a few hundred baht, but it’s the most convenient way to get directly to the temple.

What time should you arrive?

The tattooing begins around 8 am, when the monks emerge and begin their work. I would recommend arriving between 7:00 and 7:30 am, so you can find a spot in line on the temple floor and wait. I have a friend who said she waited all day, because they arrived around 9 am and had many people in front of them, but we arrived around 7:00 and were done by 9:30 am!

How much does it cost?

There are two ways to get a tattoo here. You can be tattooed on the first floor by a monk who will choose your tattoo for you, which is the route I took. You must buy a temple offering, which are laid out on a table outside. It cost 75 baht (less than $3 USD) for one offering of flowers and cigarettes (Monks smoke too!) After your tattoo is complete, you can donate additional money to the temple in a jar beside the monk. I placed in 100 baht ($3.00).

If you don’t want to leave your tattoo fate up to a monk, you can head upstairs for one of your own choosing. They have a book to choose from and it will cost 3000 baht ($100) and up, depending on the size.

What should you wear?

Since you are visiting a temple, you should dress “temple appropriately”, meaning ladies should have their legs covered to the knees and shoulders covered. I wore a loose fitting top that covered my shoulders and was easy to pull down in the back and reveal my shoulder for the tattoo.

Did it hurt? How long did it take?

Yes, being poked with a needle over and over again hurts! I personally didn’t think it was that bad, but everyone is different with their pain tolerance. It was completely tolerable; I thought it would hurt much more! My tattoo only took about ten minutes, so it was all over pretty fast. The healing process was incredibly fast, as I don’t think the ink goes as deep as a machine tattoo. Mine was peeling by day four and after just one week it was smooth and beautiful!

 

Chiang Mai: The Anti-Bangkok

After celebrating Christmas Day at school with my students and fellow teachers, I packed up my backpack once again and headed out bai tiao (to go travel). I planted myself in a seat on an overnight bus, something that I've come to know too well in Southeast Asia, and headed north. 9 hours in and out of sleep later, and I had arrived in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand's most popular city. Riding on a bus all night isn't ideal, but it's cheap and easy and saves you on accommodation for the night.

The first thing I encountered stepping off the bus was the weather. It was COLD! Okay, it was cold-er than Phrapradaeng. It was only about 50F/10C, but this was the coldest air I've felt for more than 8 months! I immediately put on another layer of pants and a scarf and shivered dramatically. The second thing that struck me about Chiang Mai was how small it was. Growing up close to NYC and now living near Bangkok, for me, cities mean skyscrapers and masses of people. Chiang Mai was nothing of that. There were no tall buildings and definitely no mobs of people like I've often encountered in Bangkok. The buildings didn't raise more than ten stories here and there, this was a city that moved at a slower pace… and I was liking it.

Chiang Mai's style and atmosphere has been heavily influenced by the slower way of life in Northern Thailand, where village life still exists. Street markets sell goods in the style of villagers, very similar to what I saw in the northern villages of Vietnam. Gone is the mass produced trendy Western clothing that's for sale everywhere around Bangkok. I found Chiang Mai to be everything that the capital is not; clean, relaxed, walkable, friendly, cheap, and charming.

Over the next two days, I met up with some fellow teachers and spent most of my time wandering the streets and indulging in the Northern way of life. I was introduced to Khao Soi, a northern Thai curry dish that's main ingredient is curried perfection.
Photo by  Andrew Ho

Photo by Andrew Ho

Khao Soi consists of a coconut based curry served with egg noodles and topped with crunchy noodles, red onion, pickled cabbage, chilies and lime. I can confidently say that it is one of the best dishes I have eaten in Thailand. I'm a condiment queen and the toppings were a perfection addition to this warm and comforting curry. I'm used to eating hot curry in hot weather, and having a bowl of Khao Soi on a chilly Chiang Mai night with a Singha beer to wash it down was perfection. I feel quite cheated that I cannot have it every day in Phrapradaeng!

Chiang Mai is home to over 300 temples, which means you can probably never be done exploring them, if that's your thing. Besides indulging in new cuisine, I took an afternoon to explore Wat Phra Singh, a temple dating back to. 1345 and home to the city's most admired image of Buddha. The grounds consist of three temples, a large chedi, a reclining Buddha, gardens, and a temple library. The grounds were lavishly decorated for the New Year including a bustling market filled with tourists, both Thai and foreign.

After visiting each temple and seeing the creepy lifelike replicas of dead monks, I took refuge in the shady gardens that surround the wat. Temple grounds are the ideal place for monk spottings, always and exciting and unnerving experience as I try to steer clear of them so I won't accidentally touch them (Thai cultures forbids monks to touch women and vice verse, and it's respectful to move off a path to let them pass in front of you). I always have visions of my klutzy self tripping and falling on top of a monk to the horror of everyone watching, and then it ending up on random Thai Facebook pages…

Above: Lifelike replicas of monks. Below: real living monks.

One of my favorite attributes of temple interiors are the elaborate painted doors and walls that fill the space with life and color. I think literally every surface of a temple is decorated in some fashion, the bolder the better. The exteriors are just as beautiful and unique. Many temples are decorated with mosaic that is made from broken porcelain cups and teapots (china, as we Americans would call it). And the gold, there's always so much gold!

Wat Phra Singh consumed me for a few hours, as I snapped photo after photo trying to capture its beauty before leaving in search of my next coconut shake. That night in Chiang Mai led my friends and I to a popular backpacker bar area, Zoe, filled with travelers indulging in shisha and cheap drinks. My favorite part of that experience was discovering the 40 Baht Mexican food cart serving up black bean burritos well into the early morning. It was tasty and cheap, sometime Bangkok sorely lacks.

Somewhere along my city strolling I passed by an adorable Anuban school that made me stop and peer through the gate into a parallel Northern universe. Chiang Mai is a city that's cheap, relaxed, surrounded by mountains, and offered delicious food and a break from the sweat fest down South. It's basically Bangkok's polar opposite; I will definitely be returning.

 

A Merry Thai Christmas

Christmas at home!

Christmas at home!

As the holidays approached this year, I started getting pretty down in the dumps about being so far from home. Thanksgiving passed and I was feeling crappy, I wanted to be home with my family and friends gorging on food and wine like every other American. I felt the negativity increasing as Christmas approached, what is life like in a land where Christmas doesn’t exist? It wasn’t just the holiday I was missing, but the joy you feel buying that perfect gift for someone and singing like a fool to Christmas carols. Although the weather was cooling here in Thailand, it was still hot and felt nothing like December… I was starting to understand where the Grinch was coming from.
grinchI asked myself, what would I be doing if I were home right now? I’d be listening to Christmas music until it I couldn’t stand it anymore, watching classic holiday movies and wrapping presents for my family and friends. Why should it be any different over here? So, that’s exactly what I did. I downloaded the classics; Home Alone, Elf, Love Actually, Christmas Vacation, and stocked my iTunes with an array of annoyingly good holiday tunes. I handed out paper to my students and prompted them to draw their own Christmas trees and handed out Santa hats for everyone to wear while we colored and listened to Glee’s Christmas songs (they’re surprisingly good!), and we all made reindeer antler hats this week. I visited a nearby market and filled my arms with Thai gifts to send home for the big day.

Strangely enough, it worked. (Krista 1, Grinchiness, 0) I had pulled myself out of that red and green tinted puddle of pout. I watched Elf and laughed like I’ve never seen it before. It ignited the downloading of other movies set in my beloved New York City (Eddie Murphy in Coming to America, anyone?) and brought a smile to my face. I started playing Christmas music in class and found my students loved it too and even knew the chorus to “Jingle Bells”. I even taught them a Christmas song that spells out Santa to the tune of B-I-N-G-O.

Then, last week, I received boxes of gifts from my amazing family. They were filled with thoughtful gifts, and a LOT of candy. My stocking was even inside one box, filled with treats and tiny gifts just like it would be hanging from the fireplace on Christmas morning. I even got some candy canes and travel books from both sides of my family. Knowing my family supports and encourages my nomadic lifestyle is the best gift of all.

As it turns out, Thais love Christmas too.
IMG_4691

IMG_4740

so excited about making reindeer hats, success!

so excited about making reindeer hats, success!



I didn’t expect much regard of a Christian holiday in a Buddhist country, but I was wrong, very wrong. While they won’t wake up on December 25th to find that Santa had visited overnight, they embrace and celebrate most of the secular traditions of Christmas. New Years is a very big holiday here and people are giving gifts to one another…not that much different than home. Every classroom at school is decorated and our courtyard boasts not one, but two trees decorated to the nines (there’s even a set of flying reindeer above).
Check out those reindeer!

Check out those reindeer!

On Christmas Day we will be having a big party and handing out treats to students while I don a female version of a Santa suit. I was more excited to wear a beard and belly, but I guess the skirt will do. As I am writing this, I’m being asked to sing “Jingle Bells” to practice for tomorrow, when I’m apparently singing in front of a large group of people…
I was happily wrong in the idea that this year would be skipping the most wonderful time of year. While I won’t be drinking wine and playing inappropriate card games with my family, it’s sure to be entertaining in its own right. On Christmas night I will be in my way to Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand, for the first time and spending New Years there. And it’s actually going to be cold there. I’m talking a frostbite inducing 45F/7C at night!! (I’m sure you’re all giving my the middle finger at the moment) New experiences is what this adventure is all about. Sometimes they’re scary and uncomfortable, but always worthwhile. Happy Holidays to everyone near and far, I hope you all are surrounded by things and people that make you happy! I’ll be snacking on Sour Patch Kids while traveling to new places, two things that make me very happy.
Merry Christmas and Happy New year from Thailand!

Merry Christmas and Happy New year from Thailand!

Provincial Phrapradaeng

I realize that many of these posts have been focused on traveling around Thailand, but there’s a lot to be said about where I live in work when I’m not traveling. I consider myself very lucky to have been placed in Phrapradaeng, which is basically a suburb of Bangkok. There’s a definite small town feel walking the streets, and I am usually running into people I know from school or locals and we exchange a smile and a wai. I can buy anything I need or want in town, either from the little shops, Tesco (grocery store), or street stalls.The side streets are designated for either produce, fish, or meat stalls. It’s like a giant farmer’s market within the town, which is a common characteristic of Thailand found throughout the country. It’s interesting coming from America, a place that I thought was obsessed with shopping. Turns out, Americans got nothin’ on the Thais! Thai people find their little space on the street and will set up shop selling just about anything; everywhere. Checking out the market is one of my favorite things to do, there’s always something to buy or look at.

My apartment building is a non-descript four-story building that sits back on a quiet soi (side street). The building is home to all Thai people, except for us  five foreign teachers. There are some families that live in the small one room apartments, but you would never know it by the constant quietness in the hallways. My apartment reminds me of a college dorm complete with white cement walls, twin beds, a wardrobe, small fridge, and a vanity. To our shock, we found TVs in all of our apartments upon moving in. There’s an endless amount of Thai channels and luckily 2 English speaking channels. The Universal channel. We’ve become a little too familiar with the handful of shoes on this channel than we’d probably like to admit.

I have a small balcony that faces that loudest high school in the history of the world, where they love to use a megaphone as a means for everything. The alley between my building and the school is cluttered with some trash, but is mostly a thick mess of palms and mango trees. The other day I watched a large monitor lizard slyly slink his way through the alley, a subtle note that I am indeed living in a tropical country. We live about a 5 minutes walk from school and about 10 minutes from the main area in town. I pass the beautiful temple of Wat Songtham everyday and sometimes there are festivals going on in the yard. They range from religious to downright ridiculous, but there’s always good food and people watching.

night festival at Wat Songtham

outdoor sink

 

I wake for school a various times each days, depending on the rain that morning. If it’s sunny, the students are gathered in the school’s courtyard to pray to the Buddha statue, sing the National Anthem and a Thai “Happy Birthday to You” to whichever student is celebrating on that particular day. Next on the list is a funny song that everyone, myself included, is required to dance along to. I like to think of it as the Thai Macarena, with some simple moves that are hilarious at 8 am when executed by 500 kindergartners.

morning school line up

morning school line up

I share an office with three Thai teachers who are always bringing in treats, both Western and Thai, and sharing them with me. It’s usually a delicious exotic fruit like rambutan or mangosteen, sometimes it’s little cakes or candies. Today’s office treat is some sort of seed that pops out of an over sized green pod. My class schedule is spaced out, leaving me 2 hours for lunch everyday. I walk over to the primary school and eat their delicious soup for 20 baht, it’s the same everyday but I haven’t tired of it yet.

my school lunch for less than $1

my school lunch for less than $1

My students are bursting with energy every time I see them. If I don’t have a particular activity or game planned, it means 40 five year olds running around screaming and knocking each other over. My lessons are simple and always include a physical game, song, or drawing activity. I reinforce the English lessons they learn in their regular classes, attempting to inject a little creativity and fun into their day. This week we are learning animals, but the kids already know the names of many animals in English. That makes it easier on me, so I gave them an assignment to draw their favorite animal. They wrote the sentence, “My favorite animal is a….”. Their drawings are creative and some are really talented! Their handwriting is superb, I think it’s because Thai writing is so intricate and beautiful that when they write in English it comes with ease.

drawing our favorite animals

drawing our favorite animals

one of my K3 classes

I laugh a ton in my classes. Some days the kids don’t want to listen and then we end up sitting in silence with their hands over their mouths (a Thai method, not mine) until they are ready to learn. My students are still young and innocent for the most part, they love to run up and hug me, and five highs are their favorite. I recently started teaching an extra 2 hour class on Saturday mornings and it’s simply hilarious. It’s more of a summer camp feel than school. This past Saturday started with the teachers all wearing cardboard chicken hats and dancing to the chicken dance. I teach two 30 minute classes which are hardly enough time to play one game, so it’s not a lot of pressure for me to come up with a sixth day of lessons. I like to spend the extra time with the Thai teachers on this day, it makes me feel more like I’m part of the staff since they welcome me into all of their photo ops.

always a humbling experience at school

always a humbling experience at school

Amnuayvidhya School is a great place to work. Everyone is friendly and the kids are respectful and cute as hell. It definitely doesn’t feel like work most of the time. Our school has been run by a family for the past thirty years, and the adult grandchildren now hold positions as Director and Head of English Department. We were recently invited on a weekend trip with the family go to down to Hua Hin in September. It’s definitely going to be an interesting weekend; I’m looking forward to traveling with Thais and experiencing what they do on a holiday weekend. The fact that they invited the us foreign teachers means a lot to me.

1001007_48741586864_n

practicing our shapes

practicing our shapes

Pi Chompoo, my amazing and crazy co-teacher

Pi Chompoo, my amazing and crazy co-teacher

teacherslunch

The weeknights in Phrapradaeng are quiet and relaxing. I try to spend a few hours in my office after school doing work so I won’t go home and take a long nap (tough life, huh?) The rainy season has officially made its way to the Bangkok area, and the daily spurt of rain has turned into downpours that last hours. The rainy season will last until November. Here’s to hoping that our area won’t flood… that much. Bangkok is accessible by one of the city buses that parks just around the corner, and we go often for shopping, mainly, and Western food. However, we are still removed from the hectic life of the city and our town sees basically zero foreigners. I really couldn’t be happier with my little life here in Phrapradaeng.

Getting My Sea Legs

 

Tanote Bay from the boat

Tanote Bay from the boat

Our long awaited holiday on Koh Tao came and went in the blink of an eye. I was looking forward to the weekend more than I can say, five days off work on a new island and the best part of all; getting my SCUBA diving certification. I had never even snorkeled in my life, and swimming in the open ocean water has always freaked me out but I wanted and needed to conquer a new skill, hoping that I was going to love it immediately. Getting your open water dive certification here in Thailand is significantly cheaper than in the US, so it made sense just to go for the full certification with the expectation of enjoying it and then being able to dive anywhere in the world in the future.

I chose to travel to Koh Tao for the weekend of Buddhist Lent (two days off school plus another I requested) mainly to go diving at a place that a friend from home had worked at and highly recommended. We booked an overnight 8 hour bus ride plus a 2 hour boat that left Thursday evening. The trip was luckily uneventful except for the viewing of Jack and the Beanstalk twice over on the bus that kept me from sleeping as soundly as I would have liked. We arrived on Koh Tao Friday morning around 10 am, and were met by two of Taylor’s friends who have been teaching in China and also came to Koh Tao for to dive for the weekend. From the pier, we all squeezed into a songthaew in usual Thai fashion and were whisked down the island to our little corner of paradise.

Chalok Ban Kao

Chalok Ban Kao

Alvaro Diving and Babaloo Bar

Alvaro Diving and Babaloo Bar

DSC01667 DSC01679

funky hut wall drawings

funky hut wall drawings

Koh Tao (Thai for “turtle island”) is a small island that has been taken over by the world of SCUBA diving. It is the #2 location in the entire world for annual dive certifications (after Cairns, Australia). Dive shops line the shores and divers fills the water eager to experience their next underwater adventure. A large chunk of Koh Tao’s west coast is taken up by the most popular beach, Sairee, which is filled with overpriced restaurants and foreigners toting buckets overflowing with cheap liquor and various neon colored straws.

When we arrived at Alvaro Diving, we were happy to find that we were far away from all the madness that takes place around Sairee, the wildest thing happening on our beach was a game of beach football between various Europeans. Everything about this place was laidback. The dive shop and next door bar, Babaloo, were seemingly decorated by the same set designer as “Gilligan’s Island”, and it fit the scene perfectly.

DSC01692
After checking into our quaint bungalow (fitted with a mosquito net and a hammock on the porch), we got right into the nitty gritty of our diving certification. After deciding which path to take, PADI or SSI (the two schools of diving, think Pepsi vs. Coke), we immediately started a theory class where we got to know the equipment that would enable us to breathe underwater. A typical dive course takes about 3-4 days, and involves dive theory (all the scientific aspects and safety), a corny video, chapters to read and related questions to answer, a final exam, and obviously, the diving!

All this new information was a bit daunting at first. These people were serious about the safety of their sport, if anything at all is not perfect leading up to a dive, you don’t dive. After an hour or so lesson on dive depths, nitrogen levels, buoyancy compensators, hydrostatic tests, and safety protocol, we were dismissed to return bright and early the next morning for our very first confined water skill test and dive.

a very serious dive theory clas

a very serious dive theory class

The next morning we were shipped out to the dive boat. It was a rocky, anxious start waiting in the bay for the boat to fill up. The boat took us to a nearby beach and we were briefed by our lovely Spanish instructor, Judith, about what we were about to do. After a short pep talk, we were loading up our gear and checking with our buddies to make sure everything was in working order. One graceless step slash jump off the ladder and I was anxiously ready to begin. The next couple hours were spent in shallow water practicing underwater skills. They include things like, clearing water from your mask, removing and replacing the mask while underwater, sharing oxygen with your buddy in case an emergency arises, removing your equipment, emergency ascends, and learning all the communicative hand signals that exist between divers.

After we practiced the skills and I swallowed a couple mouthfuls of water, Judith told us we were ready for our first dive. I definitely didn’t feel ready, but I suppose I was because once we were gliding through the shallow reef checking out the underwater world, I felt at ease and confident in my new environment.

Seafarer packed with divers

Seafarer packed with divers

It’s funny how many pounds of equipment you can have on but still feel weightless under the water. The sea is silent except for the bubbles of your own exhalation and the sporadic clinking of your instructor trying to regain your attention. Once we ascended to the surface, we all laughed a lot and cheered at our success… My overall confidence level shot up a few notches and I was already in love with diving. Thank you, Jacques Cousteau!

Over the next three days, we underwent three more dives, going deeper with each one. Our final dive was at a depth of 18 meters (60 feet!), and it definitely had the grand finale feel. We dove for about 45 minutes in an exquisite reef that surrounds Shark Island. The name comes from the fact that the small island resembles a dorsal fin; no sharks are typically found here but instead a beautiful, lively reef encircles the island below the water.

The current was strong on the way down, and I felt like a fly in the wind as I grasped onto the boat’s line while descending. The minutes fly by when you’re diving, and before we knew it we had to ascend because 45 minutes had past and we were reaching our residual dive time and needed to get back to the surface. We saw so many things on the final dive, the life literally blooming from the reef 18 meters below sapphire blue seawater. Some of the things we saw were, large sea urchins, triggerfish, sailfish, a stingray, harlequin sweetlips fish, bat fish, butterfly fish, giant clams, and many, many kinds of coral. Diving injects you with the energy of what you just experienced, but it also kicks your ass physically. My legs were sore from kicking with the fins and my whole body was exhausted from the days on the boat and in the water, and obviously from wearing about 50 pounds of gear on my back. A dark storm started to roll in over the water as we loaded back onto the boat,making the ride back to shore a wet and windy one. It was the first time I had been really COLD in Thailand since being here almost three months. Regardless, we were now certified SSI Open Water Divers!!!!!!! I felt absolutely awesome. Not to mention, diving with one of your good friends is in itself amazing and lent to many underwater jokes that almost made us lose our regulators from laughing too much.

Certified, YEAH!

Certified, YEAH!

Our last night on Koh Tao was just as great as the rest of the trip. A large group of us went to nearby Buddha View Restaurant and gorged ourselves on a delicious BBQ dinner. I had a huge swordfish steak, grilled corn, and fresh juice, all for under 200 baht. Later, we spent time at the Babaloo Bar next to Alvaro, sharing beers and stories and a thoughtful game of questions with some of our fellow travelers. The next morning, our time on Koh Tao sadly had come to an end. We said our goodbyes to our new friends at Alvaro and to the beautiful beach.

Fun fact: Apparently when you spend substantial time on a boat one develops their sea legs. It’s defined as the ability to walk steadily on a boat as its rocking back and forth. It also refers to the sensation of STILL being on a rocky boat when you’re back on land and it can last for a few days. The next day during school lunch, we all laughingly admitted that we had sea legs to some degree. I felt fine when I was moving and teaching, but sitting at my desk led me to feel dizzy and out of control of the world around me. It took about 3 days to feel normal again, it’s a hilarious but really uncomfortable sensation to experience especially when you’re at work. (This is why people used to think pirates and sailors were always drunk because they were always seen swaying even when on land.)

Diving on Koh Tao got me incredibly excited for heading even further south and discovering the all islands and dive sights along the way. Koh Tao was gorgeous and full of life, both above and below the water. I highly recommend Alvaro Diving, a professional yet laid back establishment that caters to a ridiculous amount of languages and skill sets. It’s a more intimate feel than the larger dive shops and I received top notch instruction the entire time. So, thanks Collette for pointing me there! I would recommend heading to that area of the island even if you’re not diving at all, since it’s away from all the shitty tourist spots on Koh Tao and offers a true beach party vibe.

weirdos at Babaloo

weirdos at Babaloo

cha yens and French toast with a view

cha yens and French toast with a view

 

Kapow Koh Tao! getting pumped up

Chalok Ban Kao

Chalok Ban Kao

DSC01679

juice, eggs, fish, veggies!

juice, eggs, fish, veggies!

DSC01867 DSC01799

Chalok Ban Kao Panorama

Chalok Ban Kao Panorama

IMG_0111

Judith and her new divers!

Judith and her new divers!