I went touring for over 7 weeks, travelled 4 countries, ate amazing food, met fantastic people and left with a thousand fantastic memories and getting my diving qualifications was one of the best things I did.
Koh Tao, Thailand is hailed as one of the best and cheapest places in the world to get your PADI Open Water (this tiny island is home to over 50 dive shops in 13 square miles!). Competition is therefore fierce between dive centers, driving the prices down and encouraging even more exciting trips out around the island to the prime dive sites such as Chumphon to the north west and Sail Rock in the south. It does depend on the time of year but generally the marine wildlife is abundant, the visibility is fantastic, the dive shops are thriving and yet Koh Tao manages to remain small, sleepy and beautiful, with crystal waters and clean beaches. The nightlife scene is vibrant, especially on the bar crawl nights and the food, shopping and hotels are cheap compared to the islands of the western coastline of Thailand.
Learning to dive with PADI
PADI 5* Dive Centers and IDCs tend to be the most popular as the most world-known and international training organisation but the real benefits to PADI are found at the professional level, allowing far more independent employment opportunities for dive masters and instructors. So if you fall in love with Thailand, carry on training and pay your way by teaching!
With regards to cost an Open Water course will generally cost around 9,500-10,500 baht depending on the school,group size, equipment, and course speed. Most packages will include accommodation in dorms.
I went for the PADI Open Water Course first. This is an entry level course which anyone can start so long as they are over 12 years old and fulfill the medical requirements; no previous diving experience needed. Typically you’ll finish in 3.5 days depending on your desired pace of training. I learned with Davy Jones Locker toward the north of Sairee Beach (BEST DIVE SCHOOOOOL!!). This is a great medium-sized dive school, friendly, enthusiastic and welcoming. Here is their training outline:
Day 1 [Afternoon 4pm start]: Scuba Diving Theory
- We’ll start with an academics session covering scuba diving basics. We’ll cover
topics such as: How a set of scuba gear works, relationship between depth, pressure and volume, how water pressure affects your body
- We’ll watch some videos, discuss the content & complete some simple quizzes to test your understanding.
Day 2: Planning and Confined Water [Shallow] Skills Practice
- Scuba dives must be planned – depth, bottom time etc. – we’ll teach you to do this by using PADI’s recreational dive planner..
- Get your scuba diving gear on & head into shallow water for your first dive in our swimming pool.We’ll start by learning lots of scuba skills in the pool. This will include equipment assembly & buddy checks, mask & regulator clearing, alternate air source exercises, buoyancy skills & ascent procedures.
Day 3 [Afternoon]: Open Water Koh Tao Dives 1 & 2
- Your first two ‘proper dives’ will be to a maximum depth of 12 metres.
- Each dive will be approximately 40 minutes long – we’ll repeat some of your shallow skills a little deeper plus explore the Koh Tao dive sites.
Day 4 [Morning]: Open Water Koh Tao Dives 3 & 4
- For the last two dives of the course, we’ll get right down to 18 metres. By now, you should be controlled & comfortable in the water so we can visit the more distant dive sites, such as Chumphon Pinnacles.
- We’ll celebrate you completing your PADI Open Water Koh Tao Course by watching your diving movie [enjoyed over a couple of cold beers!]. Signing of books.
Further qualifications and dive sites
I then decided to go for my Advanced Open Water certification for a discounted rpice when staying with the same dive shop. This allowed me to dive to 30m with a diver master present; so so worth it!!! Here are a couple of my favourite dive sites around Koh Tao which I may have not properly appreciated without my advanced:
Koh Tao is home to the wreck of HTMS Sattakut, an ex Thai Navy boat now resting south of the dive site Hin Pee Wee after a controlled sinking in 2011. At a depth of 26-31 meters she is in the perfect position to be properly explored by Advanced Divers! Spying through the many portholes you see Giant Grouper fish, Snappers, Butterfly fish and Sweetlips peering back at you. My favourite had to be a little Butterfly fish who lived in the barrel of the main gun. He was very protective and any small stones left in his house would be pushed out using his nose!
Chumphon Pinnacles is beautiful. With great visibility year round, the central huge granite pinnacles rise from the deep from 36-14 meters, covered with corals, anenomes, crab, shrimp and always the chance to spot clouds of bat fish, Trevelly, Big Eyed Jacks or even Chevron and Giant Barracuda. I was a little early but in the middle months of the year many people look out for Whale Sharks to majestically drift into the site.
So there you go. If you are ever near Koh Tao and have considered exploring the oceans, go for it. You won’t find anywhere friendlier, cheaper or happier than Koh Tao, I can’t wait to go again one day. Here’s a video of my brother and I enjoying the start of a shallower dive around White Rock in March 2016: