You could never, ever describe Khao Lak as pretty - it's a strip mall, happily strung out along dusty old N4 North to Takupua. There isn't even any sense of there being an "original" settlement here - if you're in Khao Lak, you're here for one reason - diving. Duffel dumped at the dive shop, I half heartedly looked at a couple of places before handing over my baht to the pleasant people at Banana Bungalow. Like everything else on the tourist trail it's overpriced for what you get, but very nice and a fine home for 2 nights. Downside? – Khao Lak was the first place in Thailand where I felt like a walking ATM - really glad to get out of there in the end as sick of being asked to spend baht in such as annoyingly pleasant way. Here's a quick Thai English/English dictionary for you: "Hello, how are you?", translates as: "would you like to buy something from me", "hello, where are you from?", translates as: "would you like to buy something from me" and the classic, "hello my friend", translates as: "would you like to buy something from me".
Next day was a bit different for holiday time - 4 hours in a classroom watching instruction DVDs, a couple of hours studying and a fairly intense session in the pool. All done, it was diveboat time. First surprise was when we got to the boat at Thaplamu Pier - our shoes were left on the dock - this was strictly a barefoot boat for the next 4 days.
The MV Dolphin Queen is a 24m long, 6m wide dive boat with 3 public decks above the engine space. As far as I can tell we have 21 guests, 7 divemasters/instructors, 1 trainee divemaster, 1 photographer, 3 boat boys, 3 kitchen girls/masseuses and the worst-tempered captain this side of the China Sea - the boat briefing on the first evening was 90% about how not to annoy the captain and 10% how to survive a fire on board.
Most of those on board were experienced divers here for the world-class diving, but myself, Davide and Giulia would be doing our PADI open water qualification on board, before finishing the trip with fun dives alongside the rest of the group.
Within a day or so, I would meet pretty much everyone on board, some of whom were on proper cool travel adventures. PADI buddies (hi 5!) Davide and Giulia had overlanded through Russia, Mongolia, India, China and Nepal, whilst the lovely Michiel and Marlene were just embarking on their global odyssey and looking forward to diving around the world with his and hers D4s (diver joke).
Finally, there were the kids - Sara and Nicklas, Swedish civil engineering students finishing up a study year in Australia, and a special mention must go to the awesome US contingent Alex and Cody, fresh from a semester of pretending to study Thai history and culture in Bangkok - Go Western!! (I think I have that right?).