It’s no secret that when travelling around the world there are certain things that you simply must do, things that need to be ticked off the bucket list. One of the main items to tick off the list for people traveling around Asia in particular is to ‘Get your PADI‘.
So you want to learn how to scuba dive. But where is the best place to get certified as a scuba diver? Look no further than Koh Tao, not just a beautiful tropical paradise in the gulf of Thailand, but also the world’s most popular place to get certified as a PADI Open Water Diver.
I first came to the island nearly 5 years ago to do my Open Water course and the question I had in my mind was “Where can I get my PADI” I knew little about diving or about the course at the time, nor which school I should dive with. I just knew that I wanted to learn how to scuba dive and heard that Koh Tao was the place to be!
There are many different diving schools offering similar courses and certifications. However, PADI is recognised as the world leader in developing scuba diving training courses and worldwide PADI is by far the most popular choice for scuba divers.
With PADI scuba diving centers in 183 countries and territories and increasing its no wonder that PADI is “the way the world learns to dive.”
Located an hour’s boat ride from the neighbouring island of Koh Phangan – famous for the Full Moon Party – Koh Tao – translated into English as “Turtle Island” – has become synonymous with scuba diving.
The first backpackers arrived on her beautiful shores in the late 1980’s and it wasn’t too long before the first dive centre opened. 27 years on Koh Tao has grown to be the number 1 dive destination in the world!
Also referred to by locals as ‘The Rock’ the island has become known as a diving mecca and getting certified here is on every travellers bucket list.
What makes Koh Tao so special? With so many locations in the world, why choose this little paradise in the Gulf of Thailand? A big factor for a lot of people is value for money. The price of the Open Water course on the island is one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified.
Many dive schools also include basic accommodation in the cost of the course increasing its appeal. But it’s not all about the money.
Koh Tao has continued to develop since the days of the first backpackers and with it dive centers too. The facilities of the most established, reputable and most popular dive schools are of a very high standard and offer the perfect environment for first time divers to train.
A lot of dive centres like Crystal Dive Koh Tao, have purpose built facilities to start your training in. Knowledge development (theory) sessions take place in air-conditioned classrooms making your learning experience more comfortable, helping you to stay focused while you watch the 5 videos of the Open Water course.
PADI Instructors use different tools, their expertise and knowledge to ensure that each student fully understands the academic portion of the course.
At Crystal Dive Koh Tao, we conduct Confined Water Sessions in one of our 3 training pools.
A swimming pool provides superb training conditions and is important when you are taking your first tentative breaths underwater. This is where you will participate in initial skill practice sessions and learn to master the basic skills necessary to become a certified scuba diver.
Many places in Thailand conduct this session in the ocean, not ideal if there is any wind, waves and of course you cannot guarantee clear visibility.
Another benefit to getting certified on Koh Tao is both the quality and location of the dive sites. All Koh Tao’s dive sites are within a 30 minute journey on one of our 3 dive boats, so no long boat journeys, nor full days at sea.
The number of dive sites, along with their diversity means there are lots of options when selecting dive sitesfor the training dives of the Open Water Course. Koh Tao has plenty of beautiful shallow bays, all boasting an abundance of marine life and coral.
Conditions for training dives and fun diving are good all year around. Over 300 days of sunshine a year means the water temperature ranges from 26-30 degrees – so it’s lovely and warm.
The good weather keeps the sea nice and calm so for most of the year underwater visibility is great. When Koh Tao does get occasional wind and rain during monsoon season, there is always somewhere sheltered to get out of the waves… great if you’re not the best on boats – no seasickness for us.
There is also a great selection of dive sites suitable for people wishing to continue with their diving education and take the PADI Advanced Open Water Course. These include the deeper outlying Pinnacles, a World War II US Navy Gunboat Wreck dive and a few dive sites with some great swim-throughs and caves to explore.
There is always a good chance to see the biggest fish in the sea, the majestic Whaleshark, a common visitor to Koh Tao with regular sightings all year round.
Other cool visitors to the island include Pilot Whales that migrate around the island in huge pods, chasing the boats and playing in the waves.
Most importantly and a huge advantage of learning to dive in Koh Tao is the quality of Instruction. The PADI Divemasters & Instructors on Koh Tao are FULL TIME diving Professionals and are amongst the best in the world.
They are teaching and diving every day and competition for jobs is intense. This means as a dive centre manager you are able to pick the very best applicants when looking for new dive staff. This is great for you, the customer, and another important consideration when choosing where to “Get your PADI”.
The PADI training modality has evolved over 50 years and has strict standards in relation to diver training. I initially came to Koh Tao and to Crystal Dive Koh Tao with no diving experience at all and now work here as a full time instructor.
This has given me the opportunity to learn from the best and I’m now able to pass that knowledge on to the next generation of divers.
Aside from diving there are many other aspects that make Koh Tao my favourite island. The natural beauty and charm of the island paired with a relaxed and chilled out atmosphere are the top reasons why Koh Tao is consistently voted as one of the world’s top island destinations.
There is something for everyone on Koh Tao, including a hike up to one of the stunning viewpoints the island has to offer, or chilling out on one of our relaxing beach bays on all sides of the island. You can find vibrant and busy areas and just as easily find somewhere quiet and remote if you want to ‘get away’.
There is an abundance of other activities available on the island, not just diving! We have Muay -Thai and fitness gyms, Rock Climbing and Abseiling, many other watersports and a flying trapeze to name but a few. Yoga is also very popular on Koh Tao for those who prefer something a little more relaxing.
Koh Tao is a foodie’s paradise. The islands dynamic restaurant scene offers a vast array of delicious food from all over the world, and there is something to suit every budget too! If you prefer to spice it up with some authentic Thai or treat yourself to Italian or Seafood there is something for every occasion.
Then when the sun goes down you can enjoy the vibrant beach bars, with resident DJs playing the latest tunes, allowing you to enjoy the laid back island atmosphere, sip a cocktail and settle yourself into island life.
All in all, Koh Tao must be doing something right. Easily the most popular place to “Get your PADI”. The island certifies more Open Water divers each year than anywhere else in the world.
At Crystal Dive Koh Tao, we have recently celebrated our 100,000th diver certification and more and more people each day are choosing to get their PADI with us here on beautiful Turtle Island.
Author: Nina Horne (PADI MSDT #355693)