I was one month into my travels around the world. I had spent the first month trekking through snow, standing on trains for hours and trying to learn how to write Mandarin (only because no one spoke English!) China was an amazing experience but I was getting ready to hit the beach and get some sun. On one of my last stops in China, I met a few awesome guys and one of them was called Jon. (Editor’s Note: Two years later, Jon is now our Creative Director) Jon mentioned that a few of them were flying from Hong Kong to Bangkok and heading straight for Koh Tao. I happened to be on a flight to Thailand that exact day from Hong Kong as well so I decided to join them. Little did I know, this decision would lead me to explore the underwater world for the first time.
Koh Tao (aka. Turtle Island) might be the smallest island out of the trio of islands there, but it has plenty to offer. Beaches that will blow you away, parties that you won’t forget (depends on how much you drank) and diving that will make you wish you had started exploring the underwater world a lot sooner. The first time I went, I spent almost 2 weeks diving and partying. The second time I went was for my birthday and I spent my time diving and partying. The third time…well, are you starting to understand what there is to do there?
- 1 How to Get to Koh Tao Island
- 2 Koh Tao to Bangkok
- 3 Koh Tao to Phuket
- 4 Which Dive School in Koh Tao Should you Dive With?
- 5 Koh Tao Diving Prices (2016)
- 6 Getting Certified in Koh Tao: PADI or SSI?
- 7 Open Water Diving Course Outline
- 8 Koh Tao Dive Spots: My Top Favorites
- 9 Overall Diving Experience on Koh Tao
- 10 Where to Stay in Koh Tao
How to Get to Koh Tao Island
Let’s face it, Thailand is a central hub for travelers as it is very accessible. From Bangkok, the islands are just a few train and ferry rides away. Listed below are a few of the most common routes that backpackers follow.
Koh Tao to Bangkok
Train: From Bangkok, head on over to Hualamphong Station and book a sleeper train to Chumphon. We recommend getting the train + ferry combos to avoid missing the ferry. You can check the train schedule online here.
Bus: If you’re not big on trains, you can also take an overnight bus from Bangkok to Chumphon. Lomprayah is a popular company which sells bus and ferry combo tickets.
Fly: Fly from Bangkok Don Muang Airport to Chumphon with Nok Air or Suratthani with Air Asia then take a ferry to Koh Tao. Both of these airlines have joined forces with a ferry companies enabling you to purchase a joint flight/ferry ticket on their website.
Koh Tao to Phuket
Some of my friends went to Koh Tao from Phuket. Flights into Thailand are cheap so often people fly into Phuket and then get a mini bus to take them to Surat Thani. You will find a night ferry, which leaves there straight to Koh Tao. There are ferries in the day but check the schedule ahead of time. If you are heading to Phuket you can also check out Koh Pi Pi which is know for its popular day trips and heavy partying.
Which Dive School in Koh Tao Should you Dive With?
Competition for dive schools in Koh Tao is intense! Wherever you look, there is a dive school. You will even get approached when you are on the ferry heading there. Koh Tao is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand to get certified because not only is it very convenient, it is also one of the most affordable places in Asia. I chose to do my open water dive course with Easy Divers. They had new equipment, prices were reasonable and the team seemed great. Plus, my friend who is an avid diver recommended we dive with them after checking out most of the competition.
Related: Best Similan Islands Liveaboard
How to Pick a Dive School in Koh Tao?
- Does the team seem friendly and qualified?
- Do they have an instructor who speaks the same language as you?
- How many students per group? You do not want more than 4 to a group.
- Is the equipment new? In good condition?
- Are the prices competitive?
- Are their reviews good? Take the time to look it up online!
- Do they offer PADI or SSI? – If you know what organization you want to be certified by, make sure they offer that. If you don’t know don’t worry, just keep reading.
Koh Tao Diving Prices (2016)
The rates of diving in Koh Tao can vary greatly! Some offer awesome accommodation packages, some offer discounts during the Winter season. While the prices are all rather similar, we’ve gathered the rough prices of the dive schools to give you an overall view of how much open water dive certifications cost. You want to pick a school which is offering competitive prices. If they are massively cheaper compared to others, there is a reason!
Please note that the prices quotes are as of December 2016 and are quoted in Thai Baht
Getting Certified in Koh Tao: PADI or SSI?
No matter which organization you get certified by, you will dive using the same equipment and see the same underwater life. Each however set their own standards and develop their own teach methods/materials.
PADI: Known as the world’s leading scuba diver training organization, PADI is a popular pick amongst beginner divers. PADI courses are student-centered and provide maximum practice and realistic application. No matter where you choose to dive, your PADI certification card will be recognized and accepted.
SSI: Scuba Schools International grew out of passion of a few avid divers who were intent on making it possible for anyone to learn how to dive. Whilst still being world recognized, generally speaking, SSI courses are cheaper than PADI.
I decided to go with PADI because my friend recommended them. They are also the leading scuba diving training organization and I was told if I ever wanted to get a job as a diving instructor, it would easier. What you choose is up to you. There are perks for both.
Open Water Diving Course Outline
The length of your courses will vary greatly to you. Some schools can give you a crash course in 2.5 days and others stretch it out to four. My opinion is don’t rush it! Take your time, make the most out of your lessons, and take it all in! Some schools also provide you with discounted dives right after you’ve completed your course so make sure to make the most out of that too. I think I spent anther week or so hitting up all the dive spots…as you can tell, I was addicted! Listed below is a sample outline on what your open water dive certification would look like.
- Introduction and training orientation with video, in the morning.
- A very shallow (2/4 meters) dive, going over basic skills. Note: Some schools do this in a pool.
- 1st Open water dive (12 meters)
- Classroom session with video, in the morning.
- Shallow dive going through more skills (4/6 meters). Again some schools do this in a pool. For me, this was the point when I started to feel comfortable diving.
- 2nd Open water dive.
- 3rd and 4th Open water dive (18 meters).
- Multiple choice test.
Boom… Certification card.
It is worth saying that I had an instructor all to myself. Every dive I went on, I got 1 to 1 training. Having this one on one instruction was amazing for me. This is also why you have to make sure that the group sizes are small and manageable. Always inquire about the dive school’s maximum group size.
Koh Tao Dive Spots: My Top Favorites
By far, my favorite dive site in Koh Tao is the Chumphon pinnacles. The pinnacle itself is colorful and as soon as you get underwater, you will find yourself surrounded by large schools of batfish, barracuda and trevally. Sometimes Whale Sharks are even spotted slowly swimming around.
A very common dive site, Twins is easy to dive, shallow and everybody spends some time checking out the clown fish. You can’t miss them. Trust me.
Ladies and gentlemen, shark island has….sorry to say, no sharks! Ironically, it was named shark island because of its shape. Despite the fact that the name is a bit of a let down, it has amazing soft corals and large boulders. Sometimes, depending on the season, Shark Island has some currents.
When it comes to Green Rock it’s all about the swim throughs. This is where I really learned how to control my buoyancy. A fun dive with plenty of marine life that like to shy away in the crevices. They also have a spot there which they call the Trigger Pit which you have to be weary of as trigger fish can get quite aggressive. To paint a better picture, my partner was chased down by one as she was swimming above their mating grounds.
Arguably one of the best sites in Thailand, Sail Rock is located 50 minutes away by speedboat. It is a pinnacle shaped iceberg that rises out of the water, creating an out of this world wall dive. Famous for its vertical chimney which is super fun to ascend. In Sail Rock, you can see whale sharks, giant morrays, groupers, and bat fish. The trip out here is definitely worth it and highly recommended.
Overall Diving Experience on Koh Tao
I came a dive virgin and left a dive addict. On my first dive I thought, “Holy s**t, I’m going to die”. However, on my last dive I didn’t want to get out of the water. Since then, I have gone diving all over Asia and have seen some pretty amazing things (think: whale sharks, giant manta rays and a variety of reef sharks) Is it worth it to get your open water certificate in Koh Tao? 100% yes! It is by far one of the most affordable places in Asia, making the experience totally worth it.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
First of all, if you haven’t checked out our complete guide to Koh Tao…you should! Next up, to make things easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of Where to Stay in Koh Tao . This list has choices for every type of accommodation budget from budget stays to big splurges.