Diving off Koh Tao is a popular activity for travellers to Thailand. This 19 square kilometre island certifies more divers each year than any other location in the world! When you consider that this rock in the Gulf of Thailand is home to over 50 dive centres, it’s not surprising.
The thing is, not all of these dive centres are created equal, and the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming. Here are my tips for where to start if you’re considering diving Koh Tao.
Choosing a Dive School
In all honesty, it comes down to research, research, research. Plan ahead, and read as many reviews as possible for any dive centre you’re thinking of certifying with. (Remember: Trip Advisor is your friend!)
You should also consider which organisation you would like to certify with. PADI is by far the most popular, but SSI tends to be slightly cheaper. Knowing what you want before you get there means you can make the most of your stay.
The variety of places to dive can also mean a variety of teaching methods – would you prefer smaller groups (no more than four students per instructor) or are you comfortable with classes with 10 or more students?
Many of the bigger dive centres on Koh Tao are accused of “factory diving” where they push you through big classes without much one-on-one instruction. This isn’t a bad thing, unless student safety is compromised in the process.
You should also consider if you’d be more comfortable doing confined-water work in a pool, or in a sheltered bay.
Many of the dive centres sweeten the deal and offer free or cheap accommodation for those diving with them. While this can help the budget traveller, don’t turn up expecting too much.
My room was a private, fan-cooled bungalow with an ensuite. The toilet was manually flushed by pouring in water from a bucket, and the shower was cold only (although the warm climate meant it was never “properly” cold).
As a place to secure my gear during the day, and sleep after a day of diving it was great. And considering it was free every day I was diving (and 400 baht per non-diving night) it didn’t break the bank.
If you want air conditioned accommodation you’ll be paying a minimum of 900 baht per night (and that’s a very good price). This is due to the limited electricity production capabilities of the island’s wind turbine.
Even though you’ll be paying a premium for accommodation and services on the island due to it’s relatively isolated location, learning to dive on Koh Tao generally works out cheaper than elsewhere in the world.
For example, if I had wanted to get my PADI Open Water certification back home, it would have cost me NZ$450, whereas on Koh Tao I paid the equivalent of NZ$390. (And I wouldn’t have been able to finish the day with a mango shake on a tropical beach if I certified in New Zealand!)
Be warned that diving on Koh Tao can still take a big dent out of your travel fund, and if you intend to visit the Gulf of Thailand you should adjust your daily budget accordingly.
So, in order of priority, you should look at:
- Safety record for dive centre.
- What certification you want (PADI, SSI, BSAC, etc)
- Class size
- Teaching environment
Have you scuba dived in Thailand, or been one of the millions to certify on Koh Tao? What were your experiences, and where do you recommend for others to stay and train?