SCUBA diving has been at the top of my activity bucket list for a long time, and I finally got certified at the beautiful waters of Koh Tao, Thailand. This island is famed for is large number of diving schools and known to be the cheapest place in the world to dive. It is one of the three islands on the east side next to Koh Phangan (famous for full moon parties). Before learning to dive in Koh Tao be warned that the days before and after a full moon are busiest and spots fill up for diving since a lot of travelers plan to dive just after or before their full moon party. I was one of them, and I hadn’t decided on a school to book with after the party. Many people at my hostel on Koh Phangan were going diving, too, and kept recommending Big Blue Diving Resort, one of the largest and most reputable companies on the island. I registered for my Open Water Diving Course for 9800 Baht and hopped on a ferry.
As a student, you are offered a free dorm room with a fan during your lessons. You can choose a dorm with AC for a bit extra and of course you can stay in a private bungalow on the beach or elsewhere. The maximum amount for each group is 6 students, so there is enough personal attention from the instructor to learn confidently. The first day begins at 5pm watching a safety video and assigned homework (make sure to catch a ferry early enough if you plan to start same day of arrival). You can choose to do SSI or PADI training, but they are practically the same. SSI is slightly cheaper because you are not paying for a book (you get online access), and is more flexible with the order of learning underwater skills. Everyone in my group chose SSI. I went back to my room and studied my book to answer the worksheets fill in the blank answers. Day two includes videos on each chapter and learning from your instructor in the classroom, and learning to use the equipment, buddy check, and underwater skills in the pool. Our instructor couldn’t believe that this was our first time because we excelled at our skills so quickly. We got through it so fast that we were able to end early, which is apparently very rare. Having a quick learning group made me confident that we would get the most our of dives. I’m glad we had such a great instructor and group.
On the third day, you meet in the classroom to finish the videos and worksheets and learned some more about safety and how to log dives. In the afternoon you get to experience your first open water dive! We visited two dive sites, and both were successful with great technique. It was so thrilling to see the underwater world at greater depths than snorkeling. We wrote in our log books about which skills we were tested on and what wildlife we saw. My instructor took me to the dive shop to get some underwater GoPro gear and booties at a discount. That night we studied for next morning’s exam. We all easily passed since it was designed for twelve year olds to be able to pass. After the test on day four, it is time to do the final two dives and finish checking skills. After everyone passes, the instructor pulls out a whiteboard that says “Congratulations! You are certified divers!” During the dives, a professional underwater videographer captures these special moments and puts together a film that you can choose to buy. That night around 7pm, they show the films from that day at the bar on the projector screen. It is fun to see what you look like in all your SCUBA gear! Everyone is laughing at themselves and smiling thinking about what an amazing experience it was.
Two days under the sea was not enough for me. I told my instructor about how I plan to dive at the Great Barrier Reef soon, and he recommended that I get my Advanced Certification so that I could see more of the reef when I visit, and it will be 1/5 the price to do it here for 8600 Baht, instead of Australia. I took his advice and signed up, even though it meant I couldn’t meet up with my friends on another island. I did not want to miss this opportunity! You get a discount when you sign up for additional courses. The Advanced Certification course only takes two days and includes five dives, one is a night dive and one is a wreck dive. During the Open Water course, cameras are not allowed as it can be distracting while learning, but they are allowed for other courses. First you learn on land how to use a dive computer and a compass, both worn on the wrists. On the first two dives, you get to practice using your compass and then tested on your navigation skills, your buoyancy skills by swimming through stacked cube frames, and inflating an orange safety marker buoy AKA safety sausage. As the sky darkens, you descend for the night dive, searching for nocturnal wildlife with a torch. For me, it was surprisingly a very relaxing dive. We saw an octopus, sting rays, and some other nocturnal fish. The final day is a fish identification dive, which is fun searching for exciting wildlife. We saw schools of trivali, chevron barracuda, pick handle barracuda, a great barracuda, a sea snake, a boxer shrimp, nudi branch, parrot fish, different species of groupers, angel fish, etc. Normally there is a wreck dive, but the weather wasn’t good for us to go unfortunately.
I would recommend this dive school because they have so much to offer to their students of all levels:
5 dive boats per day
Up to 20 dive sites
Tech Diving Cave & Wreck expeditions
Free Dorms with fan
Beachfront Bungalows with AC
Beachfront Restaurant & Bar
Discount at Outlet Retail Store
SSI and PADI