I’d like to introduce you to my love/hate relationship with Scuba diving. I love the thought of scuba diving – as a child I always wanted to be a mermaid so the whole breathing underwater thing really ticks that box, as well as the fact that there is as much to see below the water as there is above: the amazing sea life, beautiful coral, shipwrecks from bygone time and even sunken cities – why wouldn’t I love scuba diving?
Well, the problem is, I’m not very good at it. It never crossed my mind when I booked our PADI Open Water diving course on Koh Tao (Thailand) that Scuba Diving was something I couldn’t immediately and effortlessly do. I mean, I love the water and have always been a strong swimmer. It never occurred to me that I would struggle to equalize or need a different number of weights each time I dive, or that I actually get really bad seasickness on rough seas. Something, however minor, goes wrong each and every time. It is for that reason that I also hate scuba diving (just a little bit). It shouldn’t really be a reason to hate it, but I’m a perfectionist and I’ve always told myself that if I want to do something, I can do it – and be good at it. (Remember my ‘jump of the day’ when Bungee Jumping?!) But I persevere. And it is always worth it.
Scuba Diving with Bull Sharks in Koh Phangan
After getting our Open Water certification in Koh Tao, we moved down to Koh Phangan. We stayed on the North side of the Island at Salad Beach Resort – a beautiful hotel on the beach with the most spectacular sunsets and approximately 20-30 minutes drive away from Haad Rin where the Full Moon Party is held (we did attend the FMP, but got driven down the island on the back of a pick up truck (typical island transport) and collected again in the early hours of the morning… but that’s a different story.
So on this day, we were walking along the very quiet, almost private beach when we were approached by a woman who simply asked if we would like to swim with sharks. My eyes lit up (remember the whole adrenaline junkie thing?!), Gavin looked a little concerned, but we went with it as she explained that she worked for Sail Rock Divers Resort who specialized in taking dive groups out to Sail Rock (as their name would suggest). This was touted as one of the best dive sites on the Gulf of Thailand. Let me tell you, It did not disappoint.
The Cost of Scuba Diving with Sail Rock Divers Resort
The cost varies dependent on how many dives you do over how many days and if your PADI open water certification is included, but for a standard 1 day, 2 dive outing it is 2500 THB. (as of 2015) Contact Sail Rock Divers for up to date pricing.
1 day – 2 dives includes:
- Collection and drop off from Northern Koh Phangan resorts
- Breakfast of sandwiches on the boat
- Clean and modern equipment (not including dive computers)
- Professional dive master/instructor on a 1:4 ratio
- Lunch on the boat with a choice of western and Asian dishes (rice/salads/noodles etc)
- Unlimited drinking water on board the boat
What to Bring when Scuba Diving at Sail Rock
- Your PADI (or equivalent) certification & log book
- Your own equipment if you prefer to use that (regular divers tend to travel with mask, snorkel as a minimum)
- Yourself, a smile & an adventurous attitude
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The Scuba Diving Experience
We were picked up at 7.30am and driven a short distance to their base to be fitted with equipment and then drove on to the marina. We were provided with sandwiches on the boat for breakfast and cruised for about an hour to get out to Sail Rock, which appeared like a mirage on the water after we had been staring at the flat, open ocean for so long!
As we were cruising we were given the usual run down of the dive site and safety procedures etc – and taught the hand signal for shark. You may or may not be surprised that it is putting your hand on your head like a fin. The staff explained that Sail Rock was the only landmass between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, therefore supported the breeding cycle of many species. We were told that we may see a large whale shark that frequented the area, but if not, we would definitely see some Bull sharks. They advised us that we might have to swim a little out from the rock as they often didn’t come too close, but I was ok with that – I just wanted to see one (or two or three!).
On arriving at the site we suited up, checked the equipment and jumped into the water. On that day Sail Rock divers had a ratio of 1-4: 1 instructor/master and 4 divers. I liked this ratio. I felt safe. Even if our dive master had pointed out that he carried a rather large knife strapped to his thigh – because you never know what will happen in open water with sharks.
Sail Rock sits 15m above the water and descends to 40m below and is also home to a natural water swim through tunnel which starts at 6m and exits at 18m. Making our way down to about 12-15m was just incredible. There were so many different types of exotic fish, colourful coral and my eyes were firmly peeled and on the lookout for a shark.
About halfway around the rock, the other girl in our group was struggling a bit with her equipment and just diving in general. I think the only reason it wasn’t me on this occasion was because I had only got my Open Water Certificate 2 days before!
The Moment of Truth: Coming Face to Face with Bull Sharks!
And then I saw it. A large shadow gliding beneath me and I think I gave a squeal of excitement. Let me tell you a squeal does not sound anything like a squeal underwater (more of of bubbling noise) which was probably for the best as I could have scared the shark away! I stayed very still and sunk down a little lower to get a closer look and I was right, there was this majestic bull shark, about 2.5m long, apex predator of the ocean, just gliding around and playfully flashing her belly. I later learned that this was natural breeding behaviour, but oh my, what a sight. I was absolutely transfixed by this glorious creature, with only a slight feeling of “oh sh*t i’m in open water with a shark that nobody else has seen.”
This was a time when I forgot to breath for a few of seconds, which is really not ideal when your 12m underwater. When I remembered I took a deep breath (which is what you shouldn’t do as you go through your air faster) and looked up to find the dive master. I gave his fin a gentle tug (how you get people’s attention for those non scuba divers) and frantically threw my hand onto my head in the style of a fin and then spread my arms wide to try and show the size of the shark. If you have ever tried to talk to someone underwater with had gestures you will know that everything is slower as your limbs fight the resistance of the water, but I continued this for a few repetitions- shark fin, arms spread, shark fin arms spread “shark big, shark big” before pointing down into the abyss.
The dive master signaled OK but the moment had gone by the time he managed to get everyone to where I was pointing. But I knew I had seen the bull shark. A-maze-ing.
We continued to swim around the rock and were lucky enough to see two more bull sharks. No whale shark unfortunately, but I’m not greedy and was absolutely over the moon with the three sharks I saw. To be in the water with these amazing creatures was mind-blowing and I didn’t feel scared at any point. Well, maybe I felt that adrenaline fueled fear that just makes you grin (or that might be something that just what happens to me?!) but other than that – what an adventure. And it is totally true that if you don’t bother the sharks they won’t bother you.
Looking for more articles about Koh Pha Ngan? Check out these other articles
- Best Places to Stay in Koh Pha Ngan
- The Crazy Challenge Phangan
- 10 Awesome Things to Do in Koh Pha Ngan