Ko Tao is an easily accessible 21 KM island in Surat Thani, Thailand and an underwater heaven for scuba divers. Why is it an underwater heaven? Diving is inexpensive and beautiful with endless amount of green turtles and stunning neon coral. Dive courses here are cheap and is in fact the 2nd most popular place in the world for dive certifications.
When choosing what certification to get and where to go the whole process can be time consuming and overwhelming. I used Nomadic Matt’s guide (http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/the-complete-guide-to-diving-in-koh-tao/) to help me plan.
There are 50+ dive shops here all offering course and certifications so picking one can be very difficult!
Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) V.S. Scuba Schools International (SSI)
Both agencies teach you to become a skilled diver and follow the rules and regulations of the World Recreational Scuba Diving Council. Whichever certification you choose, PADI or SSI it will be recognized by scuba schools globally.
It is kind of like comparing Pepsi and Coca Cola.
However, being PADI certified only matters if you would like to become an instructors and or dive-master. The difference is that a PADI instructor can teach without being affiliated with a registered shop while an SSI instructor must be registered with a shop.
Here are some tips to enjoy the best dive of your life!
When comparing prices for the open water certification course ensure that you calculate the total price including certification fee, card and course material.
If you are seeking your open water certification in Koh Tao, when comparing the prices of PADI and SSI. SSI courses will be cheaper thus saving you money to order an extra plate of Pad Thai for later!
Make sure you are in Ko Tao for at least 4 days because a typical dive course takes 3 days to complete.
Pack granola/energy bars and energy drink powder for those early dive classes and dives. Most restaurants and shops open later and you do not want to pass out diving! I like to chug down a liter of Gatorade before diving because the oxygen gets me super dehydrated, and it also helps with sea sickness.
If you are asked to hop between the boats with scuba equipment and if you are little person don’t be shy to ask for help. I fell in between the boats *embarrassing* I wish I asked for help rather than lugging everything and hopping between the boats and it hurts if you fall with all that stuff!
Pack Iodex in case of any cuts, aches or bruises that often happen during, pre-, post- diving!
What does the Open Water Certification look like?
The 1st day is spent in class learning essential things about diving and the afternoon is spent in a pool or if the waves are still the beach nearby. After class don’t think you are done and can go party! No, no no..There is homework including reading and an assignment that’s due early the next morning. My strategy was to make good friends with my class mates so we would have dinner and study together and help each other with the assignments. The 2nd day starts early where we review the assignment and concepts learned the day before and actually go out diving where we practice skills under water. The most challenging one for me was to just dive with my snorkel and taking my whole equipment off under water and putting it back on. I always thought I would have to be a really strong swimmer to get my certification. But that’s not true! I just needed to be comfortable in the water, be able to float and do a few laps. I get nervous with people watching me in the pool so I asked if we could do it in the beach nearby with my mates and it became easier for me. After this exhausting day don’t think you are done, an assignment is due for the next day as well, so you need a few hours in the evening too. The 3rd day starts even earlier and is the most fun because we were being filmed and we are with a bunch of other cool divers. We return in the evening to complete our final exam and celebrate our certification by watching our video at a restaurant nearby with our dive squad.
YAY! After the certification I am able to dive 18 meters anywhere in the world with a dive buddy!
I paid 8,500 THB approx. $318 CAD for my Open Water course
I chose Rocktopus Dive school based on the price, rating on trip advisor and because it’s one of the smallest dive schools in Ko Tao. By being a small dive school the classes are small too thus ensuring each diver gets more focused and maximum amount of attention. And boy do I love attention! I loved the fact that it was just 4 of us in total in a group and the dive instructor was a patient and very enthusiastic female which made me feel very comfortable! She was absolutely amazing and very accommodating of my hijab and modesty. She gave me her dive suit because it was fully covered and helped me change on the boat ensuring no male was present and I had my own space.
Where to stay?
I stayed at Wind Beach Resort which is literally 2 footsteps from the scuba school. I pay $33 cad for a 2 people room and then downgraded to a cheaper room the next day with just a fan. The rooms are pretty average and no “real” resort but they are a few footsteps from the beach so very convenient and everything else was booked, ko tao is very popular!
Where to Eat?
Don’t order the Spicy Curry at Fizz Lounge because the Thai definition of spice is on the next level but order Pad Thai Here!
Re-Fuel and Power up with a green smoothie at Living Juices, Ko Tao
Have you tried Fire Limbo? No? Well here’s your chance! The Lounges on the Beach offer countless fire shows and fire games that you can get involved with. If I didn’t have a fear of my hijab lighting on fire I would have =P