If you are a diver or want to learn to dive, then the small island of Koh Tao in Thailand is a must-visit destination, especially for backpackers like us who are on a budget while travelling the world.
From the day we started planning our trip, we knew scuba diving was something we wanted to do, and we knew PADI was the best certificate to do the course with. A little bit of research told us that Koh Tao was the place to go, and now, after spending around 2 months on the small island, we can tell you it really is!
We have spoken to a lot of fellow backpackers on our trip, some of which wanted to dive but were scared. After a few conversations with them and reassuring them of how safe it is, they decided to also do the course themselves and every single person loved it. Scuba diving is an adventurous sport and can be quite scary, but the feeling you get underwater exploring the vast world below is just breathtaking, we would recommend anyone to try it.
Below we will explain everything that we went through, our experiences with the PADI course, the dive resort that we went with, and generally the island of Koh Tao to help you with your Southeast Asia planning.
- Why do the PADI Open Water Course in Koh Tao, Thailand?
- Getting to Koh Tao, Thailand
- Picking a Dive Resort
- The Dive Resort we Chose
- Where to Stay in Koh Tao
- Everywhere We Stayed in Koh Tao, Thailand
- Koh Tao Dive Sites – Our Favourite
Why do the PADI Open Water Course in Koh Tao, Thailand?
Thailand overall is an amazing place to dive, whether it be the Similan area or the Gulf, there are stunning dive sites that will truly blow you away. However, when it comes to Koh Tao, you can’t beat how cheap diving is compared to how magnificent the dive sites are. When you experience the dive sites, and see the turtles and whale sharks as we did, you will ask yourself “why is it so cheap here”. It quickly became a highlight of our whole time travelling.
Due to all of these reasons, Koh Tao is widely considered the best place to do your course, the island is easy to get to, the lifestyle on the island is amazing, and everywhere you look you will be in awe of what Koh Tao has to offer. It’s not just the diving, the whole island is stunning and just has a mesmerizing vibe about it, hence why we ended up extending our trip and spending 2 months there. 😂
If you want to read more about diving in Koh Tao, the dive sites, the marine life, then check out what PADI says about the island here. PADI on Koh Tao
Getting to Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Tao is incredibly easy to get to and depending on your budget, you can always find a smooth way to arrive to the island. Most journeys, not matter where you come from, will involve a mini-van over land to either Chumphon or Surat Thani. From there, you will get a ferry to Koh Tao. We personally came from Khao Sok National Park, this involved a mini-van from 6am to 1pm to Surat Thani, and then we got the ferry from Surat Thani Pier to Koh Tao with a 1-hour lay-over on Koh Phangan. We arrived at Koh Tao at about 3pm. We did all of this through our hostel in Khao Sok, they sorted the whole journey, and it was cheaper than 12go so always check your hostel before booking online.
There are a few other popular ways to get to Koh Tao depending on your budget if you’re coming from the main cities of Bangkok or Phuket. Firstly, the quickest and most expensive way is to fly to Koh Samui, from here you can then easily get a ferry straight to Koh Tao. It is quite expensive compared to the other ways as Samui is a smaller airport, but if time is an issue and you do not want to spend half a day or overnight on a bus, then this is the best way. The next way is to train/bus from Bangkok to Chumphon, then get a ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao, that’s quicker than Surat Thani but can be a bit more expensive.
Picking a Dive Resort
You will not be hard for choice when it comes to dive shops in Koh Tao, there are around 50 dive shops/resorts currently on the island even after Covid shut down the scene for over a year. There is PADI, SSI, RAID, and some un-certificated shops that you can choose from, although went with and highly recommend PADI.
Prices seem to be basically the same no matter who you dive with, each company seems to match each other to ensure no one is lowballing so it’s best to just go with a company with good reviews or recommendations. There is also so much choice that you don’t really need to book in advance, from our experience there will basically always be space to dive, however, there can be an advantage to pre-booking and signing up early like we did. If you pre-book you can choose to do all of the online theory work before you travel, not only does this give you more time to read, learn and take it all in, but it also means you won’t have to do the classroom sessions while in Thailand looking out to the gorgeous beach you wish you were sunbathing on.
This means you simply do half a day of training in the pool, then the next day 2 dives, and 2 final dives the day after. Whereas, if you chose not to do the theory online, you will have classroom sessions most days. While we were on the boat, heading back from our first 2 morning dives, we overheard another group discussing how they have to head straight back to the dive shop for 5 hours of classroom learning, and let us tell you, we couldn’t imagine anything worse. The freedom to know that all you need to do is dive and pass underwater skills made our whole experience so much more fun. Don’t worry if this is not the case for you though, you can show up a few days before, sign up for the course, and within 4 days be a fully qualified PADI Open Water Diver!!
The Dive Resort we Chose
As mentioned above, we booked quite a few months in advance, knowing that we wanted to do the theory online before leaving England for our trip. This meant that our choice came from online reviews and recommendations, and we started by going onto PADI’s website and seeing the dive resorts they recommended for Koh Tao. We found that basically every resort charged the same amount, so purely went on reviews and our experience when emailing each company.
After a bit of research, and experience talking to a few companies, we chose to go with Assava Dive Resort, not only did they have amazing reviews, but the pictures of their resort were stunning. The price we paid was 11000 baht/£260 each, with all accommodation being half price for the duration of the course. The main things we liked about Assava were the helpful responses to our questions over email, the gorgeous resort, and the fact that they were max 4 students per instructor. We saw while on Koh Tao that some other schools had like 8-10 students to 1 instructor which seems extremely horrible. As mentioned before, the course with Assava involved half a day in the pool, proving we could swim, float, set up the kit, and do a few underwater skill tasks in the kit. The next morning we did two dives at 12m and completed some more skills, then the second day we went to 18m and completed the final underwater skills, it was an extremely smooth process with an extremely helpful instructor.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
As we mentioned before, we stayed at Assava Dive Resort for our first week in Koh Tao, this was partly due to discounted rooms while on the course but also because of the resort itself. However, there are so many places to stay and almost all dive shops will pick you up for your course even if you don’t stay with them.
Koh Tao is basically split into 3 areas, Mae Haad, which is the area near the pier, Sairee, which is to the west of the island and has the longest beach and Chalok which is the south side of the island. Sairee is the busy area, with constant parties, tons of restaurants, bars, hostels, and where most backpackers stay. While Chalok is the more quiet area, with gorgeous resorts, private beaches, and for us a much nicer area to relax on the island around diving.
Koh Tao is incredibly small, you can explore the whole island by foot in a few hours and you can get from one side to the other on a scooter in about 15 minutes, so no matter where you stay, you can see everything Koh Tao has to offer. We personally found staying in Chalok Bay and then using a scooter to get to Sairee whenever we wanted a more lively vibe, more enjoyable than staying in the Sairee area (we did both during our time on Koh Tao).
Everywhere We Stayed in Koh Tao, Thailand
Assava Dive Resort – Located in Chalok Bay, a quieter part of Koh Tao, we loved the relaxed vibe, the pool, and the beachside location. The resort has its own cafe/restaurant which was so nice when getting back from dives.
Summer Guesthouse – Located in a quieter area of Sairee, but only a 5-minute walk to the beach. The staff were so nice, they do free scooter lessons for anyone who wants to explore the island and maybe doesn’t feel entirely confident. It is a lovely hostel that we really enjoyed.
Ban’s Dive Resort – Basically right on Sairee beach this is probably the biggest resort on the island, it has 4 pools, a gym, and a beachside restaurant called Fishbowl which gets packed every night. We enjoyed the pools here, however, didn’t enjoy our stay, noise was constant until about 3/4 am meaning our few nights there were not the best. However, if you are a big partier, then will love it.
Koh Tao Dive Sites – Our Favourite
We spent 2 months on Koh Tao and did over 30 dives, and yet that is nothing compared to most people who live and train on Koh Tao. However, we did try to see as many dive sites as we could (you don’t really have much choice and its just luck where dive shops go).
By far the most popular dive site and our favourite is Chumphon Pinnacle, with huge schools of barracuda, breathtaking coral, giant groupers, and if you’re lucky, the chance to see WHALE SHARKS! We dove at Chumphon 3 times, and even though one had pretty bad visibility, they were all stunning, we didn’t get lucky with a whale shark but we did see so much stunning marine life.
Another dive site, which we only dove once but a site where we did get so lucky to see a baby whale shark was Green Rock, with a ton of swim-throughs you can do and what seemed like hundreds of triggerfish that are nesting, it was a site we really enjoyed!
See the video below of the whale shark we saw at Green Rock.
A site that was our favourite on our first visit, was HTMS Sattakut. An amazing 50m long wreck of an old warship that has two cannons and so much marine life living in and around it. However the visibility was terrible for every dive we did here, and from what some dive masters told us, this is common for this site.
Another site we dove at a lot, was Twin Rocks, we have about 10 dives here so it became pretty dull and boring to us, especially with visibility being pretty terrible most times, however, if visibility is good, it can be stunning and luckily we got to witness this a few times. We saw moray eels, blue spotted rays, various pufferfish, yellow box fish and so much more here.
The final dive site we will mention is White Rock, we dove here quite a few times and really enjoyed it the first few times, but similar to Twins, it got a bit boring for us after already experience the site a few times, this may be because we knew what other sites like Chumphon have to offer or maybe because there were other sites we hadn’t experienced so wanted to be there instead. Either way, it was a very nice site on our first few experiences and still put us both in awe during our Open Water course.
Overall every site we visited we loved on our first few experiences, so much so that we ended up doing the PADI Advanced Open Water course and the PADI Aware Dive Against Debris course.
If diving is something you are interested in, Koh Tao is the place to go.
If you have any questions or if we didn’t cover something then comment below.
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