Koh Tao has long been the most popular place in the world to learn how to scuba dive and ‘Get your PADI’. There are over 50 dive schools on a small tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand so competition is fierce with very high standards of diver training and low course prices.
The Island offers an unrivalled and diverse selection of dive sites that are suitable for training novice divers, all within a short journey by dive boat and all perfect for teaching people to dive.
Koh Tao has an abundance of idyllic shallow bays that are sheltered from the open sea and they all boast crystal clear water with superb diving conditions.
Your first open water training dives are focused on applying the skills practiced in the swimming pool and then applying these techniques whilst enjoying the stunning shallow reefs that surround Koh Tao.
Koh Tao is known as the cheapest place in the world to complete the PADI Open Water course. A small investment that is unlikely to leave you feeling disappointed and more than likely will turn into one of the best experiences of your life.
Breathing underwater and experiencing weightlessness for the first time is a surreal experience and exploring the unique life below the surface will take your breath away.
Becoming a scuba diver will allow you to get up close and personal with amazing marine life in a way you rarely can with land-based wildlife outside of visiting a zoo.
So before you take the plunge and sign up for a scuba diving course, here are some important tips for you to consider and remember before training to become an Open Water Diver on Koh Tao.
Try Snorkeling first
Try snorkeling first and become a comfortable and confident snorkeler before taking things further. It may initially seem like your just floating at the surface but you will soon discover there is a lot more to snorkeling than that.
You will practice breathing through your mouth and clear water from your snorkel while also knowing what to do if a little water gets into your mouth
When snorkeling you get used to wearing fins and using your breathing to control yourself while diving underwater. You can practice breathing out and emptying your lungs of all air so that you will sink and generally get used to being underwater.
As you descend underwater you will feel a little pressure on your ears so you can gently pinch your nose and blow against it to equalize the pressure in your ears – another diving skill
Buy your own mask and prepare it
Everybody is a little nervous before they take their first dive, it is only natural as we are not fish nor designed to breathe underwater. Even if you consider yourself the bravest person in the world, you will still feel some apprehension before descending.
If there is one thing that makes it even worse, it’s not being able to see through a fogged up mask.
Having your own well-fitting mask will give you extra confidence (and also something to use while snorkeling) as you take part in the confined water practice session then the Open water dives.
Once you get your own mask and you are happy that it is a good fit then prepare it by rubbing toothpaste onto it then leaving it overnight. This helps to remove residue that you can’t see with your naked eye and will help to stop the mask fogging up.
You will be taught skills and techniques on how to de-fog your mask whilst underwater but you will want to do this as little as possible so you can enjoy the dive and see the marine life.
Don’t drink too much alcohol during the course
Scuba diving and enjoying beer go hand in hand to some extent. There is nothing better than spending a day diving then relaxing and enjoying a few ice-cold beers in the bar once you return to shore whilst watching the sunset.
As we all know ‘a few beers’ can quickly escalate into a big night out and before you know it you wake up the next morning not feeling great.
Scuba diving is all about being calm and relaxed while you breathe slowly enjoying the dive. This is virtually impossible when you’re hungover so it really isn’t worth it. Believe me!! The last thing you need is to be feeling rough and being sick on the boat journey and underwater. On top of this you will become dehydrated and that is not recommended while diving
Remember that when you’re sick, you have a reflex to then take a huge breath and suck in as much air as possible. If you do this underwater you either have to be sick inside your regulator (the thing you breathe through) or risk sucking in a mouthful of water.
By all means have a few drinks and enjoy yourself but save yourself for the celebratory drinks and big night out.
One of the main reasons people come to tropical Koh Tao to ‘Get their PADI’ is to enjoy the warm sunny weather, which when lying on the beach will give you a lovely tan.
But when learning to scuba dive it can be easy to forget to apply the sunscreen and as your wearing scuba gear and masks it will give you a funny looking tan. Remember to apply your sunscreen about 30 mins before entering the water to ensure it stays applied and doesn’t damage any corals when under the water.
Focus on your breathing
While you are diving underwater you can hear the steady, rhythmic inhale and exhale of your own breaths. This has a calming effect and if you get a little flustered then you can use this to calm yourself down.
Once you have done your first couple of dives you begin to realise how you breathing has quite an effect underwater. The more you inhale then the more you will rise and if you fully exhale then you will gently sink. Try to think of your breathing and concentrate on slow steady breaths to help your buoyancy and air consumption.
Small Fin Kicks
Scuba diving is a nice slow relaxed sport, it is not a race!! You should not be trying to swim as fast as possible and taking big fin kicks. The slower you go the more you will see. It’s best to try and use small fin movements at first in a scissor kick motion to propel you through the water. If you watch your instructor then you will notice they will mainly use a frog or breaststroke kick, this helps to move a little slower and conserve air more.
Don’t worry too much about the exam
The course comes with some academic classroom sessions in which you will watch videos, complete knowledge reviews and finally a written exam. It may seem strange to “go back to school” and take an exam on your travels, but rest assured it is very easy.
All the key points that you need to know will be repeated multiple times throughout the course videos and you can also read them in your manual.
As long as you pay attention during the academics session – as most of it is regarding your safety — then you will pass the exam.
Consider the Advanced course
Its worth noting that some of the best reefs and wrecks in the world can be found deeper than the 18m Open Water depth certification limit, so they are only available to advanced open water divers.
Taking your advanced course on Koh Tao means you can visit the HTMS Sattakut, an old navy ship that served during World War 2. You can take other exciting adventure dives such as night dives that lets you see different marine life that stay hidden during the day.
Once you have the completed the advanced course you can dive up to 30m and enjoy the best dive sites around Koh Tao and the world. Most divers once they are certified as advanced divers stay at this level as all the dive sites are open and available to them.
People who wish to become professional divers will continue their training to gain more experience, skills and knowledge to help become a better diver and potentially work as a PADI Divemaster or Scuba Diving Instructor.
Keep scuba diving
When you are a certified scuba diver you can go Fun Diving and enjoy the amazing underwater scenery and incredible marine life.
The marine diversity around Koh Tao is beautiful and you can expect to see whalesharks, barracuda and you will likely encounter a sea turtle or two. You can easily make multiple dives here and see something different on every dive
The famous dive sites around Koh Tao include Chumphon Pinnacle, Southwest Pinnacle and White Rock. But if you are continuing to travel around South East Asia for truly spectacular dives you may wish to go to the Similan Islands on the west coast Thailand.
If you are looking to dive in other countries in Asia then Malaysia (particularly Sipadan Island in Borneo), the Philippines and Indonesia are also known for their incredible dive sites.
Author: Neil Davidson (PADI Staff Instructor #294100)