Learning to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao, Thailand
Scuba Diving was never on our radar or something we’d ever seriously considered doing. During our time in Barcelona, we met fellow RTW Travelers, Angelo and Johanna, who told us about their time diving and how they fell in love with it during their trip. Minh and I voiced our concerns about how it seemed kind of scary and didn’t seem like it would be something we would enjoy. Johanna told us she felt the same exact way prior to diving, and she completely loves it now. They encouraged us to check it out if we were headed to Thailand.
Koh Tao is unofficially known as the Diving capital of the world, for its all-year diving season, great conditions, and various dive sites. Travelfish cleverly refers to Koh Tao as a drinking island with a diving problem! Because of this, it’s also one of the most affordable places to get certified due to so many diving schools on the island. We decided to take the plunge (haha, pun intended :P), and see for ourselves if diving was for us.
There are plenty of schools that offer PADI and SSI certification for beginners and it can get kind of overwhelming to decide which school to go with, since there are so many! After doing a lot of research, there were some basic criteria we used to narrow down which school we wanted to go with. The first requirement was they needed to have a good student to instructor ratio. Having a small group was important to us, as we wanted as much undivided attention on us – because we’re scared and need lots of guidance! The second was being able to perform the first session Scuba lesson in a controlled pool setting. Again, derived from us being scared – being able to learn in a controlled setting where we wouldn’t be distracted from waves, sand, swimming creatures – was something that appealed to us vs. going straight into the ocean.
We decided to get our PADI Open Water Certification with Davy Jones Locker, which met our criteria, and they also had really great reviews on TripAdvisor. Davy Jones Locker is located in the heart of the Sairee Beach area of Koh Tao, where there’s lots of guesthouses, hotels, bars, and restaurants nearby too.
Upon our arrival, the school actually had a driver pick us up from the port and drop us off at our hotel after settling some paperwork at their main office. We decided to wait a day until starting our 4 day course, but if you’re short on time, you could actually start the day you arrive.
Day 1 – Classroom Day
You don’t actually get into the water on the first day, as you need to be introduced to the types of things to expect, and what we’d be learning in the water. It’s a series of videos that cover all the important things you need to know in terms of equipment, things to do, etc. Nothing really too exciting, but all very important and informative!
Day 2 – Practice in the Pool and Written Exam
The second day started in the morning where we got to go over everything we learned in the videos from the previous day. Prior to actually doing any Scuba related training, we had to tread water/float for 10 minutes and then swim around the pool without touching the sides for 4 laps. This is just to ensure to the instructor that in the event you’d need to actually swim on your own without any floatation devices, that you have the ability to. Minh and I aren’t really strong swimmers, (which is probably why we were both a little scared about diving in the first place), but it wasn’t too bad and we managed!
It was just me and Minh with our instructor Dani (short for Danielle) for this day. She walked us through everything we learned the day before. Introducing us to the equipment, how to set it up, and then taking us into the pool to test everything out.
Her instructions were always very clear, as she would go over everything first, show us on her own equipment, and then go over it with each of us individually. It was great that it was just us and Dani, as we were basically getting a private lesson! Minh and I also really enjoyed having Dani as our instructor because she has a really cute English accent! We aren’t exposed to other accents much, especially English accents, so it was like getting fancy yet charming dive lessons from Mary Poppins!
Practice in the pool involves a lot of the basic skills you’ll need to know when you get in the water such as the signals to communicate with each other, how to clear your mask if it gets flooded, how to find your regulator, etc. I’m glad that our first session in the water was in the pool, as there was a lot to take in, and having all the elements of the ocean and everything else may have made it feel more distracting and stressful. It was a lot to learn, and Minh and I were pretty exhausted by the end of our pool session.
After a lunch break, we were back in the classroom to watch the rest of the videos and then took our final exam. There were some tricky questions that Minh and I missed (Dani went over each answer with us at the end of the exam), but we passed!
Day 3 – Our first dive day!
By the end of our 2nd day, Minh wasn’t feeling too confident about whether or not he would enjoy diving. I didn’t think it was too bad, but he seemed to have more trouble than I did. It might just be going over uncomfortable survival skills one after another that can be deterring.
We met Natasha the morning of our dive, who was training to be a Dive Master (first level of Professional Diving). She told us she hated the pool session and was really upset as she really wanted to love it. However, the next day in the ocean, it was so much better (so much so that she decided to pursue becoming a Dive Master!). This made us both feel a lot more confident about going into the ocean for the first time, as we weren’t sure what to expect.
We were also joined by a third diver, Alexandra, getting her Open Water certification, who is from France.
We loaded all our equipment into duffel bags, and walked straight out to the beach.
We hopped onto a longtail boat and transferred over to a small boat that took us to our first dive site.
Happy to say Natasha was right! The ocean was so much better! The water is clear, there’s pretty coral and fish to look at, it’s amazing!
The only difficult part was learning to equalize our ears before feeling pressure as we made our descent. It took me and Minh a while to get our ears adjusted to the pressure, but Dani was really patient with us and guided us through it.
At our first dive site, we were tested on some of the skills we learned in the pool the previous day. Kind of nerve-wracking to perform them on the ocean floor instead of the bottom of a pool (where you could just stand up and easily get out of the water if you needed to), but we were well prepared and passed with flying colors! After performing those small skill tests, we swam around and actually saw a baby sea turtle!
We went to a second location where we were tested on more skills and saw lots of cool fish including a puffer fish! At this point I was really loving diving and any worries were long gone, especially knowing we had Dani as our instructor to guide us through everything.
Day 4 – Officially Certified!
Our last day was an early start at 6AM. Although it was an early wake-up time, it was really beautiful to see the sun coming up as we made our way out to the water.
We stopped at our first dive site and Dani did a first skill test with Alexandra. The currents were so strong that Minh and I were trying to keep hold of the ladder of the boat without being swept away. We were both exhausted trying to hold on, and we didn’t even go underwater yet! Dani made an executive decision to move dive sites, as the currents were too strong and it was not a good place to dive or test our skills.
We found a much better site and performed the last of our tests, including how to navigate underwater using a compass. As we were peacefully swimming around, observing stingrays and other colorful fish, Minh and I saw a fairly large fish with big teeth start nipping at Alexandra’s fins. At first, it was kind of funny to see this fish nibbling at Alexandra’s fins, but then it kept aggressively attacking her fins! She tapped Dani on the shoulder to ask for help, and Dani managed to redirect the attention away from Alexandra. However, now the fish was attacking Dani!
The fish caused so much havoc on our peaceful swim that we all ended up surfacing 10 minutes early from our dive and far away from our boat because we were trying to get away from it. In Dani’s cute English accent, the first thing she exclaimed when we got out of the water was, “A trigger fish bit my bum!”
We learned that the relentless fish was a trigger fish, which is highly territorial and will keep attacking until you are out of their territory. Most people’s natural reaction is to swim up, but what you are supposed to do is swim forward and out of their territory zone, where they will eventually get bored of you and leave you alone.
We were officially done with all our testing, and our last dive was just an exploratory dive. As we made our descent we saw a few barracuda. Barracuda are so still in the water, that they look like fake plastic fish! It really is so amazing to see all the different species of underwater wildlife in their natural habitat.
Although we are only certified to dive to 18 Meters, Dani took us over to view a shipwreck that we were able to view from a distance. The shipwreck was super cool to see, since it was a WWII shipwreck with a giant cannon at the front. It definitely made us want to get our advanced diving certification so we could dive deeper to do more advanced dives like shipwrecks and night dives.
Being able to breathe underwater and explore a whole underwater world is such a unique and amazing experience. If you enjoy snorkeling, you’ll definitely love diving. If you’re still on the fence about it like we were, going with a school like Davy Jones Locker is a great choice, as their instructors are very patient and guide you every step of the way.
Here’s a quick video of our PADI Open Water Certification experience! Unfortunately, no underwater photos are allowed during testing, so it’s mainly a showcase of the beautiful beaches and conditions we had to work with in Koh Tao!
If interested in booking a course with Davy Jones Locker, shoot an email over to Liam (who was always very responsive to any questions we had!) at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thank you to our wonderful instructor Dani, and the team at Davy Jones Locker for hosting us at a media rate in exchange for this review. All posts and opinions are our own.