Pretty much every Thailand island have their individual claim to fame: Koh Phi-Phi: amazing beaches, Koh Phangan: full moon party, Koh Tao: diving. The island is known as THE place to get your dive certification in Thailand as it is a. cheap and b. easy waters for beginners c. a beautiful island with a relaxed atmosphere.
If you head over to Koh Tao to obtain your certification you’re spoiled for choice with dozens and dozens of different operators and even dive sites to chose from. So, what do you need to look out for when choosing your diveschool?
What certification to get?
When it comes to dive certificates there are two main ones to chose from: PADI and SSI. Both of them are internationally recognized and pretty much interchangeable. Both certification bodies follow the same safety standards set, and still allow you to dive in exactly the same locations.
How is an average course structured?
Regardless of which certification type you go for, both courses will involve a theoretical and practical component. Generally an open water course either takes 3 or 4 days to complete. With most dive schools these days you can do the theory part online before you leave, making the course feasible in 3 days, as you only have the practical component left. If you take this approach you can roughly expect the following program:
Day 1: review of theory and learning the effects of diving on the body and getting familiar with the equipment. The afternoon is generally spent in the pool, where you will get familiar with the equipment, and breathing underwater.
Day 2: Another review of theory and evaluation and lessons learnt from the pool dives yesterday. In the afternoon generally the first open sea dives take place, to a maximum depth of 12 meters. As part of your certification several skills need to be completed successfully, such as taking your mask off and back on, removing your BCD etc.
Day 3: Probably an early morning as you need to complete open water dive 3 and 4, with the final set of skills to complete. The afternoon is spent making the exam, and if successful you can call yourself an open water diver!
What to look out for?
At the moment there are over 50 dive schools on Koh Tao, so how to decide which is one is for you? There are a few things to think about when deciding, such as:
- Does the dive school offer your language? Dive instructors that speak several languages are in demand for a high reason: dive schools aim to offer a variety of languages to ensure they can cater for a large audience. For example, when I went for my open water I on purpose selected a dive school that offers the course in Dutch, as I figured the classes would probably be smaller than if I’d gone for English
- What is the average size of the classes? When it comes to the skills that have to be completed you spend a fair amount of time underwater whilst the rest of the group needs to complete their skills as well. Therefore, the smaller the classes, the more likely it is that you can actually spend more time enjoying the dive then waiting on the sandy bottom for the group to complete their skills.
- How are the reviews of the dive school? Especially check the reviews of equipment and dive instructors. Nothing takes the fun out of diving as quickly as faulty and old equipment!
- What is the departure time of the morning dives? Leaving really early is great if you want to have a dive site to yourself, if you’re more a night owl the 6am departure of some schools most likely won’t appeal to you.
What dive sites not to miss?
So, you decided you want to head out to Koh Tao to get either your certification or to enjoy some fun dives. What dive sites shouldn’t you miss around Koh Tao?
- Chumpon pinnacle: this place is considered the best dive spot around Koh Tao. If the weather is good there is great visibility. This place is also great for more experienced divers, as it goes up to 30 meters depth. If you’re going to spot a whale shark diving around Koh Tao, chances are it will be here.
- Southwest pinnacle: another deep dive site (up to 28 meters) and as the name suggests it is made up out of several pinnacles. The site is known for large schools of fish.
- Green rock: this dive site is known for lots of swim throughs, and therefore popular with dive schools for students to train buoyancy skills.
One of the main reasons why Koh Tao is so popular is the fact that it is one of the cheapest places to obtain your dive certificate. It certainly pays off to shop around, as competition is fierce, and especially out of season deals can be made.
The average price seems to be 9800 baht (approximately 270 euros) for the open water course at the moment. However, many dive schools offer package deals that also include accommodation for a discounted price. For example, Big Blue dive school offers a free fan dorm bed for each diving day.
Once you have your open water certificate the world is your oyster and you can dive with any dive school around the world as a fun diver. Most dive schools will make you take an introduction dive if you haven’t been diving for more than a year, to ensure you still have the skills required to join a fun dive.
If you want to add additional certification I can recommend the advanced open water certification. This course allows you to dive up to 30 meters, whereas the open water will only allow a depth up to 18 meters. By being able to go up to 30 meters you might get to see the “big stuff” that tends to hang around deeper.