A Guide to Diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

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Koh Tao (also often spelt ‘Ko Tao’) is a small island off the east coast of Thailand that for many is one of the best diving spots (and certainly one of the best places to learn how to scuba dive) in the world.

What makes it so great? There are tons of great diving sites, the courses are inexpensive (as are most things in Thailand) and there are countless qualified diving instructors all vying for your business.

Located near to Koh Phangan (where the infamous Full Moon Party is held), Koh Tao is known as ‘Turtle Island’ by the locals – partly due to its geographical shape and partly because it’s a major breeding ground for Green turtles.

During my time traveling around South-East Asia I had the pleasure of visiting Koh Tao and meeting lots of people who had been diving (and got their diving certification) there.

On this page we’ll take a look at the Koh Tao’s unmissable dive sites, how to get your scuba diving certification, how much a scuba course will cost you, what you can expect from them and whether you should choose SSI or PADI.

Clown Fish

The Unmissable Dive Sites

The Twins – Located just off the coast of Koh Nang Yuan (a small island north of Koh Tao), The Twins is commonly used for first and second dives during an Open Water course. It is shallow in depth and easy to navigate, making it great for beginners.

Shark Island – Aptly named due to its fin-like shape (and thankfully not because it’s shark-infested), Shark Island is located off the west cost of Koh Tao, and is rarely visited by divers (compared to the other diving spots), meaning you won’t feel like you’re constantly getting in the way of other divers.

Fortunately for those with a shark phobia, this dive site is named for its resemblance to a dorsal fin. This dive site is often less congested than the others listed above due to its location on the West side of Koh Tao.

Chumphon – Commonly used for the third dive of an Open Water course, Chumphon is home to many exciting and interesting sea creatures, such as barracuda, batfish and even whale sharks.

The Wreck of the Sattakut – A more difficult dive site (meaning you’ll need to be taking the Advanced Open Water Dive Course to go here with a dive school) but well worth visiting. The Sattakut is a sunken US Navy ship that has become home to families of stingrays and pufferfish.

Sail Rock – Located around two hours from Koh Tao (on the way to Koh Phangan), this dive site is ideal for your third and fourth dive on the Open Water Course. Unfortunately, most diving schools don’t travel to this location (unless you’re willing to pay an additional fee), so if you’ve got your heart set on going here make sure you choose a diving school that includes it in its weekly diving itinerary.

Southwest – A fun diving spot that is great for the third dive of the Open Water Diving Course. Southwest contains a whole manner of wildlife, from anemones to ‘Finding Nemo’-style clownfish.

White Rock – Perhaps the most visited dive site in Koh Tao, White Rock is regularly used as the fourth dive spot on the Open Water course. It’s an extremely large, open site with a wide range of sea life (such as sea turtles, angelfish and stingrays).

Getting Your Certification – SSI or PADI?

If you want to scuba dive without the aid of a scuba instructor, you’ll need to get your diving certification by taking an Open Water Diving Course.

Ko Tao has dozens of dive schools that offer such a course, although each school will either be SSI (Scuba Schools International) or PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).

SSI and PADI are the two most commonly recognized diving organizations on Ko Tao, and although each has a different set of standards and teaching materials, the differences between the two are actually fairly minimal.

In other words, no matter which one you decide to go with, once you’re certified you’ll be able to dive at any resort without any problems.

That being said, SSI courses are usually a bit cheaper than PADI. PADI is recognized as the ‘world’s leading scuba diving training organization’, so they naturally charge a little more than their competitors.

The major benefit of choosing PADI over SSI is that if you’re planning on becoming a scuba instructor yourself, doing your training with PADI will provide you with far more opportunities for these jobs down the road as PADI are associated with over 6,000 dive shops worldwide.

Ko Tao

What Are the Courses Like?

Most of the diving courses can be completed in three days, and will involve a whole range of things (in addition to diving), such as watching videos, learning the techniques and taking tests.

Here’s a rough guideline of what you can expect from the typical diving course:

  • Day 1 – Here you’ll spend the morning learning about the basics of diving, from the skills and techniques required to the equipment you’ll be using. In the afternoon you’ll put these skills into action in a pool/dive site.
  • Day 2 – The first half of the day will be spent in the classroom, brushing up on knowledge, reviewing the previous day and taking some quick quizzes. The second part of the day will see you doing your first and second dives.
  • Day 3 – In the morning you’ll head out to do your third and fourth dives, then the afternoon will see you taking your final exam (don’t worry, if you’ve made it this far you should pass with ease!)

After all of this hard work, you should receive your diving certification, which allows you to go scuba diving anywhere in the world down to a depth of 18 meters.

How Much Does a Diving Course Cost?

Most PADI courses will cost you between 9,000 and 10,000 baht (which also include 3 night’s accommodation in the price).

A typical SSI course should cost you no more than 9,000 baht (and will also include accommodation in the price).

If you already have accommodation sorted (and don’t need it included with the course), you should be able to cut around 1,000 to 1,500 baht off of the price.

Most diving schools will offer you the option of having a cameraman come along on your third or fourth dive to make a short 10-15 minute video of your time underwater. These videos can be a great souvenir to take home with you, although they are a little pricey at around 2,000 baht.


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