Required: 3 days & more
Not only is Koh Tao a backpacker’s paradise, it is also a diving mecca. It boasts a pretty good variety of diving spots and is known for providing an insane amount of diving certificates a year because of the low cost of getting diving-certified here. In this guide, I will attempt to break down the different diving certificates, dive schools, and some dive sites that Koh Tao offers. I read somewhere that Koh Tao boasts more than 90 dive schools and I am really not all that surprised, as I went on a dive-school hunt on one of my days here.
Dive Prices and Pictures of individual dive schools are included below.
The best time to dive in Koh Tao is approximately from January to April (whale shark season is from March to April) & July to September. Monsoon season is from early November to late December (3rd week), I went during December and the visibility was not that great, but it was still a great experience nonetheless. The only regret I had was not doing my Nitrox Course while I was there, will definitely remember to complete it during my next visit.
Prices (average, more shown in detail below)
Explorer Dive: THB 2000
PADI Open Water: (3-4 days): THB 9000-10000 / (THB 7000 with E-learning if available)
PADI Advanced Open Water (2 days): THB 8500
Fun Dive (each): THB 1000 / 900 / 800 / 700
(1 / 2-5 / 6-9 / 10+ dives booked) price gets cheaper with more dives booked
Specialty Courses (Nitrox, Wreck etc.): THB 3800
Rescue Diver (3-4 days): THB 12000
Divemaster Internship (2 months): THB 30000-35000
Please note that all prices are estimates and may vary from shop to shop.
Best Dive Sites: Sail Rock (whale sharks!), Chumpon Pinnacle, SouthWest Pinnacle
Reporting / Ending Times (varies)
Morning Dives: 0730 – 1100
Afternoon Dives: 1100 – 1530
I had to meet at the Rocktopus shop at around 6.30 in the morning…so your day is off to a good fresh start. I recommend getting some breakfast from the supermarket the night before, and taking a seasickness pill straight after as it requires 30 minutes to take action.
You get onto their transport truck and you’re off to the pier! Do try to help the team with loading the heavy diving equipment, they will be grateful for it!
Boats are loaded and ready to go. You’re now headed to your first morning dive site. Make banter with your dive mates for the day (they will probably change each day unless you are taking a course.)
Relax till your first dive site. Remember to put your belongings at the back of the dive boat where it is least likely to get wet. Well, they have a container for your footwear so don’t worry about that.
Have a great dive! Oh wow look at my (fake) valgus knees below.
Correct me if I’m wrong but there are a few basic certificates that you can obtain for diving.
1) The first is to choose between PADI and SSI, these are the 2 biggest recognised diving qualifications in the world. For me, PADI appealed more as it seemed like they had a more structured course time, and more certified divers worldwide. However, down to the basics, these 2 certificates are very similar in terms of content and from what I gathered, they are interchangeable and both highly respected in the diving world. It’s honestly up to you. Generally, an SSI course is a little cheaper than the PADI course.
2) The next thing is to familiarise yourself with the various levels of certificates available. For PADI, you go from Basic Open Water (the starting certificate) -> Advanced Open Water -> Rescue Diver -> Dive Master -> Dive Instructor. For SSI, you go through another complicated route which is better explained here, it also starts from a Basic Open Water Certification.
Most Basic Open Water Courses on Koh Tao are 3 days long and you have to complete 5 dives, excluding a pool training session and a simple theory test.
Advanced Open Water Courses are 2 days long and you have to complete 4 dives (2 of them being a deep dive, and a buoyancy dive.) Most people end up doing both their Basic and Advanced Open Water after being hooked onto the thrill of diving. Hopefully, you will too!
The Rescue Diver course is 2 days long. And DiveMaster internships’ durations varies according to the different dive shops, mostly around a month or more.
In fact, I wrote an in-depth guide about dive certificates in my Diving in Komodo Islands Guide here.
Schedule of the Basic Open Water Dive
Day 1: Theory Day! : You sit down for a few hours absorbing some really important information from videos, and then take a quick MCQ test to clear this component.
Day 2: Pool session, Dives 1 & 2. Get into the pool to try out your new funky equipment and complete the first 2 dives while practising the drills you have learnt (Mask emptying, simple navigation etc.)
Day 3: Dives 3, 4, and 5 are done today! Dive 5 will more or less be a fun dive as you will be more experienced in the water. Do practise controlling your buoyancy!
Schedule of Advanced Open Water Dive
Day 1: Either the Deep Dive / Navigator dive will be completed today. You must complete the rest of the 4 dives within these 2 days.
Day 2: Do more fun dives while improving your skills!
With the numerous dive schools in Koh Tao, you get a variety of differences in teaching styles & methods. There are small, medium, and large dive schools. You obtain cheaper prices and larger crowds with larger dive schools at the expense of a smaller dive crew and more attention given personally. Most of the time, the schools have relevant affiliated accommodation near them that you can choose to stay in for a lower cost, if you are purchasing a dive package / doing a dive course from them. Do look into them if you prefer staying near the dive school (as morning dives usually require you to wake up really early.)
Do note that the dives do not include lunch, if you do a morning dive, you eat your lunch after. If you do an afternoon dive, you eat before. If you are doing both morning and afternoon dives, they will not cater lunch for you as well.
I really felt the difference in personalisation between the small and bigger dive shops. I dived at Rocktopus and Scuba Junction, but also enquired at the other dive shops. The amount of attention they pay to you at the smaller dive shops is a stark contrast from the bigger ones. Although I must say that Big Blue has really good customer service as well. 🙂
Of course, some people might prefer the security and assumed better safety they get at the larger schools. Not to be biased, but I feel that safety ratings are consistent across all 3 categories of dive schools. Tripadvisor always helps with that aspect anyway 🙂
Examples (at least to those whose shops I physically visited)
Large dive schools: Ban’s, Big Blue, Crystal Dive
Medium dive schools: New Way Diving, Rocktopus, Scuba Shack, Siam Diving,
Small dive schools: Scuba Junction, French Kiss Divers, U&I Place, Mojo Divers, Davy Jones Locker Diving (DJL), Seashell Divers, Hydronauts Diving
A few things to consider when choosing a good dive school that I always ask when I’m scouting for a suitable dive school.
1. Is this school safe & reptutable?
2. Does it have a good recently 1 month track record on TripAdvisor?
3. What are the prices?
4. What is the diver : instructor ratio? (The max ratio I would take is 4 students to 1 instructor.)
5. What are the dive sites for the next day (really important if I am aiming for certain spots, I’ll ask this question first if that’s the case.)
6. Does the dive boat look good? Ask for pictures.
7. It’s also good to talk to your would-be instructor for your dive, if possible. After you, you two will be diving together.
I also take a look at the general cleanliness of their dive shop (it plays a part in the overall look, I remember Mojo Divers having one of the cleanest and well-maintained shops), and whether there are recent divers that are still congregating at the shop. It is also good to ask the diver’s about their experiences with this particular dive shop.
I can’t list all the dive sites on Koh Tao but these are main ones that are the best, and some other ones that I actually dived in.
Chumpon Pinnacle: One of the best sites in Koh Tao, this pinnacle is an underwater rock that northeast of Koh Tao. Large pelagic fish like Chevron Barracuda and Giant Groupers roam this site with enthusiasm. This site also boasts rich coral diversity, which attracts many other smaller fish like the curious Batfish and Rainbow Runners. One dive master that I talked to remarked that the dive at Chumpon never gets boring because of the fantastic marine life you encounter underwater every single week.
South West: This is regarded as one of Koh Tao’s other great dive site. With 7 pinnacles, pelagic fish like solitary Giant Barracuda, Trevelly, King Mackerel and Tuna hang out in the mid-range. The coral gardens boast cute creatures like Scorpion Fish , Glass Shrimps and other small groupers and crabs.
Shark Point: Also known as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, this is a huge pinnacle that arises 30m underwater and goes till around 10m above water. This is the best site to view seasonal Whale Sharks +/- Bull Sharks. There is also a vertical cave in the middle of the pinnacle called “the Chimney” , only accessible through a descent through the side. You can make an easier journey to Shark Point coming from Koh Phangan instead of Koh Tao.
HTMS Sattakut: Sunk artificially, this wreck dive has 2 guns on it and it would have been nice to dive inside however when I dived, the visibility was too poor to warrant a safe journey into the wreck. I saw giant groupers in the wreck though, they looked pretty scary in the darkness.
White Rock: Often used for Open Water Divers as one of their later dive sites, the abundance of coral rocks and small pinnacles allows the chance to view Sea Turtles and plenty of Blue-spotted Rays (at least when I was there). Easily one of the more accessible, but nonetheless still spectacular dive site.
Green Rock: Known for its swimthroughs, this dive test is a good practice ground for your buoyancy and boasts the “Trigger Pit”, where Titan triggerfish nest and mate. Just take care not to go too close to them!
Japanese Gardens: This is an easy dive site used by Basic Open Water divers, and mostly dived in the afternoon. The coral gardens here are fantastic and you will get to see plate coral, hard coral, staghorn sponges, barrel sponges and plenty of fragile table coral. For the macro-lovers, this will be a paradise, lots of Christmas tree worms, Nudibranches as well as the Koh Tao Regulars (Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, and Bannerfish). This site has great visibility all year round, and minimal currents, making it a good site for Discover Scuba diving / Basic Open Water Training. Often visited in the afternoons.
Twins: Having two rock formations that look almost identical, this is what gave Twins its name. Besides the Koh Tao regulars, you can also view a cute saddleback anemone family which has made their home south east of the main pinnacle. Divers have made an exclusion zone out of rocks to keep viewing from a distance. One can also view the shy Moray Eels and Blue-spotted stingrays as well!
JunkYard: The junkyard boasts a variety of common items which have been deliberately sunk to produce artificial reefs. Good examples would be toilet bowls and treadmills. There are also other sculptures which host Angelfish, and cute curious Batfish. Overall a really easy dive, and the main learning point for me was to view all the daily objects that can be used to create artificial reefs!
Diving Tips for beginners
1) Control your buoyancy using your lungs. Every dive is a good practice. Learn to hover above the coral. It will improve your diving experience by millions without having to worry about sinking or floating up randomly.
2) Do not panic. Always use your buddy’s / instructor’s octopus (spare regulator) if something goes wrong with your air. That’s what I learnt…
3) Always keep a good view of the rest of your friends. When diving, you are most probably going to be on different levels. Look all around you (even above, we tend not to look above when we dive).
Visiting Koh Tao has been a trip of a lifetime. What friends I made! I will definitely return, if not for my friends, for the unbeatable prices of the rest of the dive courses (Nitrox, Rescue & Divemaster). I hope that this guide has been useful, at least a little. I really can’t wait to get back to this little slice of backpackers’ paradise 🙂
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