One of the most popular and the cheapest places to learn to scuba dive in the entire Asia-Pacific region, Koh Tao has many advantages for those new to the underwater world
Koh Tao is an almost unparalleled place to learn to scuba dive thanks to the cheap costs of the courses, the convenient boat journey times to the dive sites from the island – on average half an hour – and the large amount of hugely experienced dive professionals available to teach students. There are literally scores of dive schools on the island, and they all cater to different needs. Some of the most well-established names are Buddha View, Ban’s, Big Blue and Crystal Dive.
My personal recommendation is learning to dive with my friends Ayesha and Wilco – they have lived on Koh Tao for years and are extremely experienced instructors – you can see their website Learn To Dive On Koh Tao for more info, and they also look after already qualified divers too. Through them you’ll meet other people while you’re doing your PADI Open Water course – the internationally recognised scuba diving certification – over 3 days.
If you want something more intimate, you can choose one of the much smaller schools and get one to one tuition from an instructor (or specifically request this when you make a booking). Make sure, though, that you have some idea about the dive operation you’re signing up with before you agree to do the course with them – some places can be a bit lax about safety. Simply wander round the shops – most of them are in the port of Mae Haad – and go with a school that makes you feel welcome and seem well-organised. Prices for courses are the same in all dive shops, so customer service, equipment and the size of their boat should be what you ask about.
If you are going to be visiting Koh Tao in July or August, you should seriously consider booking ahead, both for your accommodation and a place on a dive course. This is high season on the island, and accommodation is regularly, without exaggeration, completely sold out on Sairee Beach (the main beach area of Koh Tao).
Once you’ve decided on who you will do your course with, it’s easy. The dive school will lead you through the 3 day course which involves a morning in the pool learning how all the gear works, 4 real scuba dives in the ocean to build your confidence and get used to the amazing weightless sensation, and some theory stuff. Don’t worry about the last one – it sounds scary but it’s very easy to pick up and it’s interesting stuff too. Besides, it’s a fact your brain starts to seize up when you’re travelling, so a dive course is a good way to exercise the grey matter again. After that, you will be qualified to dive to 18 metres and you can start doing more fun dives immediately after your course is complete. The dive school will give you a temporary PADI card to show you’ve passed the course if you go diving with any other operator.
Learning to dive on Koh Tao fits in perfectly with what most backpackers want – low costs, sun, sea and sand, lots of other backpackers, a party atmosphere, plus great food and cheap booze. The apres-dive is the other key attraction of Koh Tao. There are numerous bars which cater to thirsty divers after a hard day underwater, whether they’re celebrating passing their dive course or arguing about who saw the biggest barracuda after the day’s fun diving. In short, if you like to party, Koh Tao has plenty of places to do it, but you can always repair somewhere quieter if you need it. And – do I need to say this? – you definitely shouldn’t drink and dive. Going underwater with a hangover is no fun and potentially dangerous. That caution aside, the mix of great diving in the day and great partying at night sums up Koh Tao’s enduring appeal.
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