Learn To Scuba Dive On Koh Tao

For years I’ve wanted to do this – learn how to scuba dive. It just seemed so amazing to me, to be able to breathe underwater and see all those cool fish.. So when I decided to embark on this trip around the world, scuba diving was one of the first things I added to my bucket list. And now I’ve ticked it off, here on Koh Tao, Thailand!

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is one of the many beautiful tropical islands in the south of Thailand, just as Koh Phangan (famous for the full moon parties) and Koh Samui. It is also referred to as Turtle Island and the most famous dive place in South East Asia. Why? Because this island lives and breathes scuba diving, because it’s the cheapest place in the world to get your certifications and because the underwater world is simply beautiful. If you consider getting your certifications – get them here! The island is small and filled with dive shops. I guess that 90% of the travelers who go to Koh Tao go there for scuba diving (or free diving, or snorkeling). The atmosphere is super relaxed. Tons and tons of backpackers, many walking around barefoot, great beaches, bars and parties. A few 7-11ens, but other than that no big chains or anything. Just travelers who started a bar here, or locals running their businesses.

Quality

Whenever I mentioned to people back home that I was planning on getting my diving certifications in Thailand, they told me not to. The quality of the training would be poor, some half English speaking Thai person would just dump me in the ocean with an air tank hoping I would survive, etc. I’ve also encountered fellow travelers who were considering getting their certificates and thought the same. One who wanted to get it in Australia said it would take too much time as she (mistakenly) though the open water would take a week. When I said it didn’t as I had done mine in 4 days, she said “yes.. but.. you know, that was in Thailand…”.

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

Uhm, no. Wrong. I’m not going to vouch for all diving schools in Thailand or even on Koh Tao, but all of these ‘horror’ stories are fundamentally false. First of all, every dive shop on Koh Tao is very international and basically all the dive staff (dive masters and instructors) are international, mostly British. You’ll often even be able to find an instructor or dive shop on the island that provides the course in your own language. Next to that, you’ll get trained through an international certification program (PADI or SSI). These training programs are to be followed very strictly by certified instructors so it’s not like there’s some hobby recreational diver who gives you some tips and tricks and off you go. Also, these programs follow international global standards, which assures you will basically learn the same things everywhere on the planet. Furthermore, it is important to realize that the dive shops on Koh Tao certify 1/3 off all divers on earth. So the quality is good. The only thing I can recommend to check is the amount of people in the course group, as more personal attention can be given to smaller groups obviously. The dive shop I got my certificates at didn’t put more than 6 in a group which is perfect.

PADI or SSI?

So when I arrived here, I was planning to get my PADI certifications. PADI is one of the 2 biggest scuba type of certifications in the world, and very well known. Most people who’ve looked into scuba diving have heard of PADI. However, my dive shop also offered SSI certifications, and kind of recommended that. First I was a bit in doubt.. ‘SSI? Never heard of… I’ll just stick to PADI’. But after listening to their explanations and doing a bit of digging on the web, I decided to go for SSI.

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

The biggest difference is their amounts of money spent on marketing. And that’s why you’ve probably heard of PADI, but not of SSI. Now there may be a few more differences down the line if you want to become an instructor etc, but essentially they are the same. With both open waters you can go down to 18 meters, both are recognized all over the world, you can go to a PADI shop with SSI certifications and the other way around. You can even mix certifications.. get your SSI open water, PADI advanced open water, etc. So what are the differences? SSI’s theory video’s are shorter, there’s less homework, you’ll get your card right away (instead of PADI shipping it to your home address after a few weeks), and you don’t have to buy the book. Whereas with PADI every student needs to buy the book (so you cannot even share with your travel buddy), which costs money and you’ll have to carry it around during your travels. So, I went for SSI! However, as the courses are so similar, the descriptions below basically accounts for both.

Getting your Open Water Certification

Theory…

The Open Water Certification is basically the first real scuba certification. It will allow you to dive down till 18 meters, all over the world, for the rest of your life. A course consists of a theoretical part and a practical part (1 pool dive, 4 ocean dives) and takes about 4 days. Your first day won’t start until the late afternoon, and you’ll just go over some theory. The same counts for the next morning. Topics discussed include safety procedures, some eco and wildlife stuff, some more technical stuff about breathing underwater, oxygen, pressure changes etc, and planning your dives. Probably not the most exciting part of the course, but important. You’ll learn these things through some videos, a course manual and the lessons of your instructor. Eventually you’ll have to take a 50 multiple choice questions exam, which is easy. Even 12 years olds can pass it. No need to worry!

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

…Pool…

In the afternoon of your second day, the real fun begins. You’ll get your equipment, learn how to set it up, and go into the pool and do a quick swimming test. You don’t need to be a good swimmer, but you do need to be able to swim. After that, the first thing you learn is how to breathe underwater. This may sound stupid, but its really something to get used to at first. Usually you’re not focused on your breathing as it comes naturally, but now you will. You’ll have to breathe through your mouth, both in and out. Your nose is out of the game. After that, you’ll start practicing skills. Lots and lots of skills, mostly safety. How to go up, how to go down, how to use your equipment in the water, how to stay at the same place in the water and how to save your buddy or yourself, if necessary. This can become a pretty lengthy session as there’s simply just lots to learn. I think my group spent about 3 or 4 hours in the pool.

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

…Ocean!

The next day, you’ll go out on the ocean for your first real dive. Yes, it’s a bit scary. Where I first never really understood why some considered scuba to be scary, I then started to get a bit nervous myself. There’s just lots to think about, take into account, many skills to apply that you only just learned and at that moment the pool really just seemed a lot more comfortable than ‘the great big ocean’. But you just have to do it. Get on that boat, get your gear on, and literally take the jump. You’ll float around for a bit, and swim to a buoy line: a line from the front of the boat all the way down to the bottom of the ocean. You’ll go down underwater while holding on to the line, going bit by bit, very slow, until your instructor tells you to let go and follow him/her. You’ll have equalized your ears tons of times by then and they shouldn’t hurt. All 4 dives than basically include lots of skill practicing. You’ll repeat the things you did in the pool, ones or twice. And you’ll learn a few new ones, like ways of jumping off the boat. The most scary skill to me was taking off your mask, putting it back on, and clearing the water out of it, while underwater. But eventually even that gets a little better and its important to know so you won’t freak out if some water accidentally ends up in your mask. After being in the water for like 10 minutes, my fears were gone and it was just so amazing to see the underwater world. It really felt incredible. You’ll do another dive that same day, and another 2 the next day. After finishing the 4 dives and so be capable of doing all the skills, you’ll officially have proven yourself to be an open water diver and get certified!

learning scuba diving on koh tao

Getting your Advanced Open Water Certification

The Advanced Open Water certification is the next step up. You’ll learn more and be allowed to dive deeper, down till 30 meters from then on. 30 meters is the limit for recreational diving. Why you would want to go down that deep? Isn’t 18 meters enough? Yes and no. There’s often just simply more to see down there, such as ship wrecks etc. Next to that, you’ll just be more qualified, learn some more skills and have a better understanding of what you’re doing.

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The course only takes 2 days and includes 4 dives, which is actually just a lot of fun. No more homework (for SSI that is), and only very few skills left to practice on the bottom. Mostly just swimming around and having fun! There are 2 types of dives you must take (the deep dive down till 30 meters and the navigation dive). The other 2 dives are introductions to specialty dives and you can choose which ones you want to do. I did a wreck dive and a night dive. I would totally recommend doing the Advanced course. You’re a diver by now because you’ve the open water, so you know what you’re doing (kind of..) and you can just go out and explore some more than the basics. I really think it enriches your diving experience.

After that…

After that, there are still many more courses to follow! Such as specialty courses, rescue diver or continue to become a dive master or even instructor! Its all up to you. You can also just stick to this and participate in fun dives, which is diving for fun! Together with some others you’ll go for a dive. The dive will be guided by a dive master, who’s kind of a underwater tour guide and will point out all the nice fishies in the sea :) Go out, and enjoy!

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

Where? How? How Much?

I booked both my courses through Epic Gap Year booking service. Good service, great price, totally recommend them! They sort it all out for you, help you with anything, give you additional info about Thailand and Koh Tao, etc. And you can reconfirm the dates when you get closer. The open water course will cost you 9000THB (around €260) and the advanced open water course 8.500thb (€240) which includes free accommodation and just everything you need for the course. Their partner on Koh Tao is Big Blue Diving which is a great dive shop and apparently the biggest SSI dive shop in the world. Still it is very personal, groups are no bigger than 6 and instructors really care about you. Great service, lovely people, it has a nice bar and restaurant, all together its just a great place on Koh Tao! If you happen to go diving here, ask for Molly to be your instructor. She was my instructor and absolutely amazing. Happy diving!

Learning Scuba Diving on Koh Tao

Please note: as a blog ambassador for Epic Gap Year, I received a discount on the courses, but the opinions voiced here are honest and my own!

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3 Responses to Learn To Scuba Dive On Koh Tao

  1. Katie says:

    This is great information! I’ve been planning to get my certification on Koh Tao next fall, so this is very helpful :) Definitely bookmarking this!

  2. Outdoorswim says:

    Being a Scuba diver for the past 5 years, I never heard of SSI. After going through your article I came to know there is an SSI certification apart from PADI. Also, I should appreciate you in explaining the difference in SSI and PADI.
    Good Work! Thanks for the info!

  3. A scuba diving certification course costs around $300 USD, and it’s an investment that is very unlikely to leave you disappointed! As a diver you can get up close and personal with marine life in a way that you rarely can with wildlife on land. There is also nothing like experiencing weightlessness or the sheer miracle of breathing underwater.