With its rich cultural heritage, spectacular beaches, diverse activities and world-renowned hospitality, Thailand is truly every travellers paradise. Arienne from Seeyousoon.ca shares her experience learning to scuba dive in Thailand, and what you should know before you go:
I never thought I would enjoy scuba diving. The thought of being meters below the surface, water pressing down from all sides, and the possibility of coming face to face with creatures larger than myself always made my pulse quicken. Scenes from the movie Jaws would play out in my mind and I worried about something going terribly wrong where I couldn’t swim to the surface fast enough. But there I was, 13 meters underwater, mesmerized by the scenery in front of me, and I was instantly hooked.
Located off the eastern coast of southern Thailand is a small island that attracts thousands of scuba divers and would-be divers every year. Koh Tao is the place to learn how to scuba dive in the country. With alluring prices averaging around 9,000 baht (approximately $300 CAD) for a 3-day course, it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI and SSI certified. The island operates almost entirely around scuba diving with diving schools mainly concentrated on the west side of the island on Sairee Beach.
What makes Koh Tao popular amongst the scuba diving crowd, aside from the cheap price, is the great visibility almost all year round (that is, how clear the water remains as you descend), warm water temperatures, and moderate to low currents. For those looking to get their scuba diving feet wet, Koh Tao is perfect. There are a variety of dive sites for beginners, including Chumpon Pinnacle where whale sharks have been known to roam, and great eateries and bars where you can swap stories from the day’s adventures.
Even if scuba diving isn’t your thing, the island offers excellent snorkeling, hiking, and rock climbing excursions as well as a chance to get away from the crowds of Koh Samui and the Full Moon partygoers of Koh Phangan.
What To Look For in a Diving School
There are dozens of diving schools on Koh Tao. When researching and shopping around for a school, there are a few things you should keep in mind before making a decision. Firstly, and most importantly, how big are the class sizes? The smaller the class the better as you’ll get more one-on-one time with the instructor and you’ll progress at your own pace.
Ask about the instructor’s experience. What’s their training? How long have they been diving for? And how familiar are they with the dive sites?
For those travelers who don’t speak English as a first language, many schools have instructors who can speak other languages including French, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. Ask if your preferred language is offered if you don’t feel comfortable learning how to scuba dive in English.
And lastly, find out how much it costs, what’s included and what’s not included. Many schools offer free accommodation and wifi during your training while teaching manuals and photography/videos of your dives are extra.
Scuba Diving For the First Time
I squeezed into my wetsuit, buckled myself into the rebreather and slipped on my fins. My heart was racing with nervous excitement. I plunged into the water and bobbed on the surface waiting for the rest of my team to enter the ocean. As I released the air from my rebreather, the weight of my equipment pulled me below the surface muffling out the daily noise of life. All I could hear now was the rhythm of my breathing and the bubbles being exhaled from the divers around me.
We slowly followed our anchor line down pausing often to equalize the air pressure in our ears and to make sure everyone was fine. Below me appeared to be an abyss of various shades of blue but as we neared the bottom, suddenly the scene before me materialized and I found myself in a whole other world filled with bright colours, oddly shaped corals, and schools of fish dancing around the reefs.
It was peaceful, serene, and the most relaxed I’ve ever felt away from a massage table. I was so intrigued by my surroundings, distracted by the life in front of me, that I completely forgot about my silly concerns earlier. My dive master pointed out various fish as they passed us by and at times I found myself gliding behind them, drawn to their effortless-like movements.
Time flies when you’re underwater and before I knew it, we were making our slow ascent back to the surface. The sounds of the boat engine and water crashing against the side of the boat brought me back to reality. Once again I found myself bobbing up and down with the current, but this time my nervous energy was replaced by shear elatedness.
You can reach Koh Tao by grabbing a boat connection from either Chumphon or Surat Thani. There are many travel operators that provide a bus/boat combination if you’re travelling in from other parts of the country as well. The most direct route is from Chumphon with the fastest boats taking about 90 minutes. If you’re coming in from Surat Thani, you will likely make stops at Koh Samui and Koh Phangan first before arriving at Koh Tao (travel time around 3 hours). A word of caution, the waters are rough and even the strongest of stomachs will have a hard time holding down their food. Don’t be a hero and take seasick medication (available at any Thai pharmacy) and sit above deck if possible.
Looking for more information on travelling to Thailand? Contact a Flight Centre Travel Consultant at 1-877-967-5302 or visit your closest store.