The Beginning of my South-East Asian Adventure


On the 17th of October 2016, my travels from South Africa to South-East Asia began. It was my first time travelling abroad and I can still remember the feeling of frantic butterflies in my stomach when the plane left the ground. I had done a fair amount of research on my destination but ultimately I still knew very little. After 2 full days of travelling and navigating through airports, I finally arrived in Koh Phangan, Thailand. The beauty of the island and the island lifestyle had me in awe. The small roads twisting through the tropical landscape and the endless amount of wallpaper-like beaches blew my mind and only then did I realize that I would be living in pristine paradise.

Tori Ireland

Haad Yao Beach

I was welcomed warmly into my new diving company and I was already bubbling with questions. It was quiet season at that time which meant that it would be a few days before I was given a course to teach and this allowed me to settle in and absorb my new surroundings. I was living in an area called Haad Yao, which is translates from Thai into ‘Long Beach’, and as soon as I could I was exploring the 600 metres of white sand and flat turquoise water that was a 2 minute walk from where I was living. I saw a few snorkelers off the beach and decided that I would grab my mask and go see what was out there. To my amazement, there was a long stretch of reef just 20 metres off of the beach. I spent hours swimming along this reef, seeing huge schools of parrotfish, bannerfish, all kinds of butterflyfish and angelsfish, needlefish and the list goes on. When the setting sun eventually dragged me away from my snorkeling adventure, I arrived back to great news at the dive shop. There were a group of fun divers going to Sail Rock, the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, the next day and I would be allowed to tag along to learn a bit about the site. My excitement was indescribable and I spent the night studying the map of the site, having no idea that I was about to experience a whole new underwater world.

The next morning was a haze of packing gear and tanks and then suddenly we were on the boat on our way to Sail Rock. It was an hour and 10 minute boat ride to the site, so I had a great time sharing my excitement with the guests and my new colleagues. Sail Rock is basically a huge rock pinnacle in the middle of the ocean, between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. It rises from the sea bed to up and above the surface and has depths ranging from 1 to 40 metres. When we arrived, I was bubbling with excitement and was ready to dive in the water head first. Once all of the guests were ready to dive, we did giant-stride entries into the flat ocean and immediately I was amazed by the temperature of the water. 29 degrees, compared to the 20 degree water of South Africa, meant that I did not require a wetsuit. We slowly swam on our backs closer to the Pinnacle and then began to descend.  As we descended, the beauty that lay before me made me feel like I was doing my first dive all over again. I was looking at a vertical wall full of moving colours. We were immediately greeted by a giant school of Batfish and another giant school of Barracuda and Trevally. If I had been able to speak I would have been truly and utterly speechless. We slowly made our way around the vertical wall full of anenomes, butterflyfish and countless other species and I was amazed by the lack of surge. I felt a sense of absolute peace and comfort in my new diving environment. As we made our way towards a section of the reef called Batfish Pinnacle, I was completely unaware that my first experience at Sail Rock was about to become one of the greatest encounters of my life.

Tori Ireland

Me swimming happily with the Whalshark.

I was busy studying a small nudibranch clinging to the rock when I heard an urgent banging noise coming from the Divemaster hitting his tank with a metal rod. I looked up to see him gesturing frantically towards the open ocean. I followed his gesture to see something that I can still see vividly in my mind. A WHALE SHARK! It was peacefully gliding past us, going up towards the surface with its mouth open wide. I could suddenly hear my heart beating loudly and I felt absolute and utter joy. As a group, we all swam away from the wall of the pinnacle and settled near to the huge fish. It was not at all bothered by our presence and continued to swim up and around us, opening its mouth up to the surface and then coming back down and circling us. The beauty and size of such a creature was mind blowing. It was about 6 metres of smooth, spotty perfection and it glided through the water with such grace. The respect and amazement that I felt almost brought me to tears. We spent about 45 minutes with the Whaleshark, all signaling each other with child-like excitement. Sadly Enough, our air supply forced us back to the surface which immediately became filled with cheers of elation. It took a good 20 minutes for my heart rate to go back to normal after that but nothing could stop the repetition in my mind of seeing the Whaleshark for the first time.

Tori Ireland

Me admiring the Whaleshark.

We spent an hour on the surface, conversations full of what we had just experienced, and then we changed our tanks and hopped into the water again. Hopes that the Whaleshark was still there were high and we began the dive searching the open ocean next to the Pinnacle. After 20 minutes of diving there was no sign of the giant fish and we turned our full attention back to the amazing life of the reef. Then I experienced something that can only be described as Déjà vu. I was looking inside a tiny cave at a few ghost shrimp, when I heard the urgent banging again. I turned my attention toward the open ocean and there it was. I don’t think I could ever get used to the feeling. We all grouped up again and spent another 30 minutes of being circled and watching the creature in amazement. I grew somewhat of an attachment to the amazing fish and when the end of our dive eventually came it felt as if I was saying goodbye to a good friend. Once we were all back on the boat and everything had been packed up, we were on route back to the island. The sun was shining, the sea was calm and the boat was full of smiling faces. I felt truly content and I was full of excitement and intrigue to see what else my South-East Asian adventure had in store for me.




About Author

My name is Tori Ireland, I am 19 years old and I have been bitten by the scuba bug. I was fortunate enough to grow up on the South Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa, which allowed my passion for the ocean to bloom and blossom at such a young age. I did my PADI Open Water course at the age of 12 in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, one of the top 3 diving spots in the World, and from the moment that I took my first breaths underwater I knew that this would be my future. My Open Water instructor was a God in my eyes and I decided that I wanted to be like him one day. The thought of teaching people how to dive and exploring the ocean on a daily basis as a career amazed me and I knew that it was my true calling. As time went by, I found myself counting down the years until I would be finished with school and old enough to begin my career in scuba diving. I was fortunate enough to have a Mother and older sister who shared my passion of scuba diving, so we did consistent yearly trips to Sodwana Bay for a week or two of diving. When graduation from High School came near, my friends frantically spoke of University plans and applying to different institutions, and I was so settled in my career decision that the end of my schooling career was stress free. When the time finally came for me to travel to Coral Divers, Sodwana Bay to complete my Divemaster course, it was quite surreal. I worked as a Divemaster at Coral Divers for 3 months and then went on to complete the Instructor Development Course and Instructor Examination in July 2016. Becoming a PADI Instructor was the truest honour I have ever experienced. I was lucky enough to gain priceless experience working as an instructor at Coral Divers, which allowed me to grow into becoming a certified Master Scuba Diver Trainer. My ultimate dream was to get a job abroad and travel with my career, and thousands of emails later, my dream came true. On the 17th of October 2016, I travelled to South East Asia to further live my dreams and it seems now that I have been bitten by the travel bug too. I have decided to share my travel and dive experiences with as many people around the World as possible.

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