Getting scuba certified allows you entry to an elite club of humans scattered around the globe who have the privilege of breathing underwater. Earth is roughly 70% ocean, meaning you haven’t travelled until you’ve explored below the water’s surface. PADI has issued over 28 million diving certifications in the last 55 years. While that may seem like a high number, that’s only 0.35% of the world’s population.
Scuba diving has been increasing in popularity thanks to underwater technologies that have allowed photos and videos to be taken of this secret world.
Thailand is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each island hones its own vibes making them all worth a visit. Koh Tao is a small island sitting just north of Koh Pha Ngan (famous for its full moon parties and yoga retreats) and is most famous for its affordable scuba diving certification. Not only is it one of the cheapest places to get PADI Scuba Dive Certified in the world, but it also has some of the best diving.
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What To Expect In Koh Tao?
No matter where you come from, you will be arriving on the island by ferry. As you approach the island you will be met by pristine waters washing up on white sandy beaches with a lush jungle on top. Koh Tao is the smallest of the three islands clustered together in this area. The closest to Koh Tao is the neighbouring island, Koh Pha Ngan, while the biggest is Koh Samui.
Koh Tao is a tropical paradise swimming with natural beauty. Despite its boom in tourism, Koh Tao has a very rustic feel, having as many dirt roads as paved. A good portion of the island is lush, undeveloped jungle that is great for hiking. The calm and clear turquoise waters surround this island with multiple pristine beaches to visit.
Filling your time on the island is easy. One of the most popular things to do in Koh Tao is actually located just a couple hundred meters from the island. A three-island series that are connected together with thin strips of white sandy beaches make up Koh Nang Yuan. This famous Instagram spot is a must-visit while here.
This is a great island to rent a scooter to drive around and explore the small island – just be careful on dirt roads (especially where they transition to paved roads) because there are some pretty large potholes.
A scooter will allow you access to the island’s many pristine beaches. While many of these beaches have a small entry fee (normally around 25THB or $1CAD), they are worth the visit as most offer great snorkelling right from the beach. Having snorkel gear with you is invaluable when visiting Thailand.
How To Get To Koh Tao?
Thailand is a very easy country to travel around. With trains, buses and multiple airports, getting from place to place is a breeze. As Koh Tao is an island, you will need to take a ferry to get here no matter where you are coming from.
There are three ways to get to Koh Tao:
Plane – Ferry: The closest airport to Koh Tao is Samui International Airport located on Koh Samui (an island just south of Koh Tao). If coming from the airport you will have to get from the airport to the ferry terminal. You will then need to buy a ticket through Lomprayah High-Speed Ferries to Koh Tao. While this is undoubtedly the most expensive way to get to the island, it will save you a lot of time and stress.
Heading to Thailand? Read about the best ways to get around in Thailand
Bus – Ferry: Another great way to travel is to take the bus/ferry combo. Taking a bus from Bangkok is incredibly popular and budget-friendly. If you head to a local travel agent you can easily book a bus ticket to get to Koh Tao. You can either book a day bus or a night bus.
I prefer the night buses as I have no problem sleeping anywhere and hate losing days to travel. A roughly 7-hour bus drive will take you from Bangkok to Chumphon where you will be dropped off at a ferry terminal. You will then take a stunning 2.5-hour ferry ride to the tropical island of Koh Tao.
Train – Ferry: A luxurious form of travel, Thailand has a great train system that can be very comfortable. A mid-range way of getting to Koh Tao, sleeper trains offer comfort and efficiency. You can choose between their first-class or second-class sleeping options.
Where To Get Scuba Certified In Thailand?
The island of Koh Tao is able to offer such affordable open water diving certification due to the huge supply and ongoing demand. Almost every hotel has its own dive center meaning you don’t have to leave your hotel. This is the ideal way to go about getting your diving certification as they will often package dive prices with hotel stays leaving you with free, or reduced-priced, accommodations.
When deciding where to get dive certified, make sure you ask a lot of questions. The most important question is to ask what ratio of divers to instructors can you expect. We always ensure this number is 4 or under. In order to feel the most confident below water, you want to make sure your guide is focused on you. For maximum comfort, numbers should not exceed a 4:1 ratio for open water certifications.
There are many different scuba diving courses and companies that you can choose from. The ferry ride to the island will have salespeople from many different companies trying to get you to choose theirs. It’s best to compare a few different salespeople to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.
PADI Scuba Certification Requirements
When deciding on the right dive center for you, make sure to check that they are a PADI certified facility. It means the certificate is recognized all over the world and is a requirement for further diving.
PADI = Professional Association of Diving Instructors
In order to scuba dive, the first course that is required is the Open Water Diving Certification. This is a fairly simple certification program that only has a few basic requirements. You must be over 10 years old, be able to swim (there will be a treading water test) and be medically fit to dive.
Similar to gaining altitude in an airplane, sinking below the water’s surface will change the pressure around, and on, you. This is why you have to do safety stops to properly equalize when ascending from the depths on a dive. It’s important that you are able to properly equalize your ears at this time. Those with ear problems should consult their dive centers before signing up.
Steps To Getting PADI Open Water Certified
Plan for the open water diving certification to consume about 4-7 days, depending on where and how you choose to go about training.
1. In class/online training: 5-10 hours of classroom work with an instructor. You will first learn the skills through a knowledge-based program that reviews terminology, goes over what to expect and equips you with the knowledge you will need to successfully dive below the water’s surface. For those short on time, you can often do this training online at a reduced price. This means you can complete the training before you go to maximize your time.
2. Written test: Your classroom knowledge will then get confirmed in a basic test.
3. Practice skills in the pool: Once the theory is behind you, you will move to pool training to get comfortable with the dive equipment. During this time you will practise key skills like removing your mask and regulator underwater and then retrieving them. You will also dive to the bottom in an effort to get comfortable breathing under the water. You’ll learn how to purge your mask (which involves taking it off underwater – it sounds scarier than it is), and inflate and deflate your buoyancy control device (BCD).
4. Ocean dives: Once you have the tools you need, it is time to get into the ocean. 4 dives in the ocean complete this course and give you a great introduction to the world of scuba diving.
During the first ocean dive, you can expect to again practice your main diving skills like dropping your respirator and retrieving it, taking your mask off and on, purging your mask and performing necessary safety stops.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Scuba Dive Certified In Thailand?
The price to get PADI Scuba Dive certified ranges depending on where you choose. We chose Koh Tao because of the low cost and the amazing diving. The scuba shop resort we chose included 5 nights of accommodation at their resort along with shuttles to and from the Koh Tao pier, all the course material, diving gear and refreshments on the boat.
All of this worked out to around 10, 000 Baht a person (~$360 CAD). If you are planning on completing the PADI Open Water dive certificate in a group of people you may be able to get it for a bit of a discount.
The resort was right on the beach and had an amazing property. We were upgraded for free to an airconditioned queen room. It also had a restaurant offering stunning ocean views while you eat.
Is Scuba Diving Dangerous Or Scary?
You may be wondering if scuba diving is a safe sport. While it is important to have the skills and a knowledgeable guide to the area, you should not be scared to get scuba certified. If you are diving with a PADI accredited facility, checking over your gear (you’ll be taught how to do this) and are confident in your training, there is nothing to worry about.
As with anything unknown in life, a little bit of fear is natural in something you’ve never done before. You should embrace the butterflies in your stomach and jump in anyways to explore a unique world, unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Trust me, scuba diving is addictive and one of the best ways to explore our big beautiful world.
There are typically 3 big fears with scuba diving:
1. Claustrophobia: Many people worry about feelings of being trapped or claustrophobic underwater. The great thing about getting certified in a tropical climate like Koh Tao is that ocean temperatures sit around 28℃ (83℉), even in the winter months. This climate means you’re able to wear thin wetsuits or short skin guards that are a lot more comfortable than bulky wet suits.
The underwater visibility in Koh Tao sits around 30 meters or more. This means that you can see far underwater and helps to reduce any claustrophobia you may anticipate.
2. Breathing underwater: This can feel really unnatural and take a while to get used to. Everyone you are getting trained with will have the same nerves around this one. Be patient with yourself as you’ve never done this before. Similar to flying, it’s a fantasy of many but one we aren’t expecting to be able to do.
Really use the time in the pool to calm your heart rate down and relax your breathing. I go into a meditative state below water repeating a mantra to keep myself comfortable and happy. The calmer your breathing underwater, the less air you will use, meaning a longer dive. This is why it is so important to calm your breathing.
When I jump into the water on any dive, I immediately put my face below the water while we wait for the team to get ready. Before we begin the descent, I like to spend a couple of seconds breathing underwater while still on the surface to acclimatize myself.
3. Animal encounters: If your fear comes from animals you may see below the water, thank Hollywood for that one! The most common fear for diving is simple: SHARKS. While these majestic creatures are villainized so heavily in our world, they are so misunderstood.
Most sharks are very gentle creatures that offer absolutely no risk to human life. In fact, of the hundreds of species of sharks that roam our oceans, only 3 actually pose any threat to humans. Great White Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks are deemed a dangerous species only resulting in about 10 combined human deaths worldwide a year. You are more than 15 times more likely to die from a falling coconut than a shark.
What Can I Expect In Open Water Dives?
Your Open Water Certification allows you to dive 18 meters, 60 feet, below the water’s surface. There are two main ways to enter the water on your dives: by boat or from the shore. Having done both types of dive, we greatly prefer boat dives as you don’t waste time and energy getting to the site. Most of the dive centers in Koh Tao offer boat dives for PADI Open Water certification.
We recommend packing light for your trips. Refreshments (water and light snacks) are typically provided but bringing a water bottle along is never a bad idea. You will want to wear a bathing suit, have your hair tied back and bring some flip-flops along.
You will go on 2 dives for 2 days totalling 4 tank dives to complete your PADI Open Water certification. These dives will take up a good portion of your day. You can expect to spend roughly 45-55 minutes underwater per dive, depending on your air consumption.
Diving takes a lot out of you, physically. Spending an hour or so above the water on the boat drinking water, resting and enjoying some light snacks will be a welcomed break between the two scuba dive sessions. This combined with the time it takes to get to and from dive sites, you can expect your dives to consume about 4-5 hours of your day.
To protect the underwater reefs you swim through, we recommend skipping the sunscreen altogether and instead bringing light clothing to provide some coverage. Keep in mind you will have a fair amount of above-water time as you will be needing to get to the dive site.
Waiting for you onboard you will find your tanks, BCD, wetsuit and the rest of your gear. As these are your first ocean dives, expect to be nervous. We were most nervous about equalizing underwater. Your body, especially your ears, builds up pressure the further you dive. To release the pressure you plug your nose and gently blow air through it. Of course, you will be told a number of scary precautionary stories during your classroom sessions, but trust the process.
First Dive Of PADI Open Water Certification
Your first dive site will look like nothing more than a random spot in the middle of the ocean. With barely any landmarks visible, trust that you are about to be shocked at all that is going on underwater. You will go over with your instructor how to check over all your equipment and go over some basics on board. Your instructor will then guide you on how to get in the water. There are a number of different methods to this, most places will try different entry styles on different dives to get you comfortable with getting into the water.
Jumping in the water you will be met by warm 30-degree Celcius temperatures. If you were doing a shore dive, you would follow the shoreline in a gradual descent. In boat dives, you follow a buoy line in a straight descent to the ocean floor.
Descending to the bottom is scary as there are so many unknowns. Visibility at the surface is also disorienting as you don’t have any notable reference points to show how far things are. You will likely not even notice the descent on your first dive as you will be focused on all the skills you just learned, most importantly equalizing and breathing.
Once you reach the bottom, your instructor will go over the same skills already practiced in the pool the day before. Don’t overthink this, removing and retrieving your goggles and air supply is an easy skill that goes exactly the same in the ocean as it did in the pool.
One thing I didn’t expect is all the sound underwater. I thought this was going to be a completely silent experience. My breathing was loud and for the first couple of minutes, it was all I heard. This noise quickly turned to a white noise that actually was useful for calming down and getting into a meditative state. You can at times hear ships soaring above.
Once we got down to our desired depth I forgot about everything going on in the world above me.
I didn’t know (or care) about time, any stresses, or the skills I had learned. None of it mattered. I don’t think I had a regular thought the whole time I was down there. All the colours, the schools of fish, the hiding stingray – that was all that I cared about.
Your dive instructor will consistently check what PSI you have left in your tank. Once the first person has reached their limit, you will begin to ascend as a group. When your whole team groups together, your instructor will put a line up to the surface which will have a buoy on top letting boats know divers are on the surface. You will then begin to float towards the water’s surface. At about 5 meters deep you will stop for 3-5 minutes in an important safety stop. This allows your body to properly acclimatize to the pressure changes.
Following this, you will continue to swim to the surface and meet with your group. The boat you took will come to pick you up and you can climb back above water with guaranteed smiles and a ton to talk about. Time to relax a bit before your next dive.
On The Boat Between Dive 1 and Dive 2
Between your first and second Open Water certificate dive, you will relax on the boat for around 1 hour. There will be some fresh water and snacks that you should eat and drink. Use this time to take some photos and take in the scenery.
You can also ask your instructor any questions you had about the first dive.
Second Dive of PADI Open Water Certification
The second dive of the day will be used to go over more of the skills you learned in the pool. You will feel more comfortable getting in the water and diving below the surface. Your breathing will be more steady and you won’t feel as nervous as on the first dive.
Getting scuba dive certified was probably one of the most life-changing things I have ever done. Now all I want to do, all I want to spend my money on, is underwater diving. I am more hooked than I ever thought I would be.
Upgrading Your PADI Scuba Dive Training
Once you start your dive training, you may want to keep advancing your skills. There are many different courses and certificates you can work your way through. Once you get your Open Water Diver scuba diving license the specialty courses allow you to do advanced dives like digital underwater photography, wreck diver, night diver, underwater navigation to name a few.
Check out all the cool things you can do with your PADI certification below:
Have you tried to scuba dive? Let us know how getting certified was for you!
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