Getting my diving certificate was always a wish of mine. So when I decided to go backpacking in Asia I decided that was the moment to finally get it. But deciding to get one is much easier than finding out how. We all hear the stories of dive accidents, so I was determined to find a save and reliable dive school. But what do you look for? And equally important, what are nice places to get actually your licence?
There is a wide variety of different certifications but the two most widely used are ISS and PADI. For the diver the main difference is that with PADI you are required to buy your own book and with SSI not, saving you about 20 euros. Most big dive schools these days offer both methods, so you can choose when you arrive. Both options offer several courses (open water, advanced, rescue diver etc.)
The key issue is to find a diving school with a good reputation and quality equipment. There are two ways of doing this: either show up on a location and visit several dive schools yourself, or book already a dive school online beforehand. Especially in the high season I would recommend booking beforehand, since it comes with free accommodation frequently. When I have decided on a location where I want to dive, I usually check-out wikitravel or tripadvisor. Both websites consist of honest feedback of real travelers, so good reviews on all the dive schools around.
So, what are good places in the world to dive? The most popular place in the world to get your first diving certificate is Ko Tao Thailand. This entire island makes it living with diving, and dive schools are not hard to find. Due to the abundance of dive schools an open water PADI certificate costs about 200 euros, and includes basic accommodation for the time you are diving. On the wikitravel page of Ko Tao a list of dive schools is published. I have dived before with Big Blue Diving and Buddha View. Both are trustworthy diving schools offering classes in a variety of languages.
Many good places to dive are found around the Thai islands, Indonesia and Malaysia. One of my favorite dive locations is Sipadan. Sipadan is a small island between Borneo and the Philippines, and requires a permit to dive. From the beach the sea bed drops 2000m and turtles, sharks, and about any type of fish can be found there. If you want to dive here, make sure you contact a dive school in the area (I recommend Scuba Junkie) about 3 months before showing up to have a shot at getting a permit.
If you want to dive a bit closer to Europe, Egypt is by far the best option. Egypt is one of the nicest areas to dive in in the world (it beats Ko Tao in my opinion). Unfortunately the diving sports (Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab) are not really known for entertainment outside the water. But in both cities you can come by a diving certificate easy as well. The only thing is that you have to check the diving schools thoroughly, as safety measures are not always taken into account.
I only mentioned a very few places where you can dive, but there are of course places to dive in almost any part of the world. For me diving is a completely unique feeling, being able to be 20m under water with turtles, sharks, and multi-coloured fish around you, you feel you are in a completely different world!