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When visiting the Thai Islands, it is a major bucket list check to do the whole Koh Tao Scuba diving certification to get your Open Water. As most people say and I would agree, Koh Tao is the best island to do it! The smallest and northernmost major island on Thailand’s east coast, Koh Tao is a lovely little paradise in itself.
We took a risk and didn’t book any accommodation before arriving in Koh Tao. After doing the same thing in Phi Phi and ending up in a gorgeous little bungalow for much less than anything we could find online, we figured this was actually the right travel move. It ended up being a good thing we didn’t book anything, because we quickly found that many scuba courses come with accommodation included.
As soon as we got off our god-awful night ferry and fought our way through all the people trying to offer us a taxi, we were greeted by a little Thai man showing us a scuba brochure. We had heard of a few companies that were good, and the place this guy was from – Ban’s – was one of them. He quoted us at a price we had confirmed was pretty much the going price – 9,000 baht – which also included accommodation at Ban’s super nice dive resort for the four days we would do the course. We were sold!
We got into his tuk tuk and jetted off down the beach to this resort. We got a private room with a HUGE bed – such an incredible change from the 14 bed dorms which were quickly getting old for us. It had a cold shower and a fan for aircon, but this was a price I was willing to pay to have some privacy and less noise! We were both so excited for the adventure of scuba diving – being from California (and being a self-proclaimed mermaid 😉 it was about time for us to really swim with the fishes.
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The first day was just a few hours of classroom in the evening. We had a group of 8 people (Three couples and Zoe and I… classic) and we met our amazing, charismatic instructor Sorn. Since we were getting our PADI certification, we got PADI worksheets and text books, and had three instructional chapters to watch on video. And to think I was done with homework and books! Sorn informed us that ten year old boys complete this training (the minimum age to get your PADI) so we could all basically suck it up – and we did 🙂
The next day we met at 9am for more classroom sessions. We had some quizzes to take – which sounded daunting until Sorn told us we could work on them together. It felt like I was back in school! It was all quite straightforward and explained well by Sorn and/or the videos. We finished our quiz pretty quickly and headed off to a lunch break before our pool skill session. I went back to take a nap in our king bed – I was so exhausted from traveling so fast and not getting enough sleep – I think the past 2 months were finally catching up with me (and still are!) We vowed to get sleep and go to bed early during our whole scuba course so we could recuperate our energy and be focused and present for the experience.
This is one of the pools at Ban’s Resort. How incredible is that?!
At 1:30 it was time for our pool session. We got out all our equipment that we had been learning about for the past two classroom sessions – our BCD’s (buoyancy control device – the lifejacket-like thing that you can inflate and deflate to control buoyancy), our regulators (the tubes that connect to our tanks that we breathe out of – with a main one, an alternate one for emergencies, a connector to our BCD to inflate it, and a pressure gauge to tell you how much air you have left in the tank), wetsuits, masks, snorkels, and fins. We headed up to one of our resort’s at least 4 pools (spoiled), and suited up.
We went over the basics – all the hand signals and signs (there are a ton), never to hold our breath, how to clear our mask if we got water in them, and how to assemble everything. Then – we did it under the water! We did everything in the shallow end and were tested before moving to the deep end – for big kids only 😉 We got to swim around and try to maintain our buoyancy, floating up and down both with our BCD and through just breathing in and out. It’s harder than it looks!
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Our other older instructor, Santee, was cracking inappropriate-yet-hilarious jokes the whole time. For instance, when you are removing your regulator from your tank, you have to blow all the water out of the cover, and then screw it back onto the regulator. So Santee was telling us, “Blow and screw baby! Make sure it’s in that order!” Haha… thanks for that Santee. At least it helped us remember I suppose!
The next morning we got up bright and early for our first two real dives to 12 meters. Now well versed at getting all our equipment, we grabbed it all, put it in our bags, and jumped on a little speed boat that took us to our larger scuba boat. We got going straight away! We all grabbed a tank and set all our equipment right up, checked our air, put our fins on, and stepped into the water with one hand on our mask and one on our weight belt, just like we were taught!
THIS is where I went scuba diving in Koh Tao. Spoiled much?!
After getting all set up we slowly descended down a rope that connected the boat to the ocean floor, ‘equalizing’ (popping our ears) every few seconds to relive the increasing pressure from the water. Immediately in front of us was a massive rock covered in all sorts of coral in tons of bright colors, with all different kinds of fish hovering above it and darting around.
I knew immediately that this was… my place. I knew that I was going to be in love with scuba diving. I’ve been called a mermaid by my family and friends for all my life, and now I was a real one actually swimming with the fish! It was hard for me to contain my excitement and desire to wander around and check out the coral, but first, it was time to practice our skills. We circled up on the sand of the ocean floor and practiced one at a time – taking our regulator (breather) out and putting it back in, filling our mask with water and clearing it, trying to maintain buoyancy, and showing Santee all our different hand signals – ‘Okay,’ ‘out of air,’ ‘share air,’ giving directions, and more.
It’s such a crazily different environment interacting with humans at the bottom of the sea. We’re so used to being able to communicate with each other at all times. Down here, it’s just you, the ocean, and the sound of your breath in and out, like darth vader. You can’t call out to people or talk to them. You have to share moments through smiles and eye contact, and really take in each moment in the calming silence that it occurs. Its meditative, almost. It’s really honestly incredible.
The hour of our first dive flew by, playing with these incredible little neon-colored mini anemone type things that look like the trees do in Dr Suess books, that would pop into their hole when you swam by and slowly emerge back out like a quickly blooming flower. We swam around and explored, throwing a big stick back and forth to Santee like a javelin, and checking out some beautiful coral. I was sad when it was time to go back up, but so content with our progress so far. We did another dive close by about 45 minutes later after snacking on the free biscuits, fruit, and coffee provided by Ban’s! It was just as amazing of course, and a lovely morning spent hanging out on the boat and swimming with the fish. I truly felt in my element!
That afternoon was filled with one last study session, a quiz, and our (gasp) final exam. Still salty from the sea and staring out at the blue horizon from our balcony ‘classroom,’ we agreed there were worse circumstances to have an exam! We aced it of course and set out to have dinner with our group after a long day of activities.
The next day we had our two final 18 meter dives! We woke up suuuuper bright and early – about 7 – and got all our equipment together and a quick much-needed coffee. Today we had an actual videographer come with us who was going to video our whole experience! My second thought was how cool it was to have a video made, but my first thought was ‘DREAM JOB!!!” I talked to our videographer, who was from England, about how he was loving this lifestyle. Although it is just commission-based and he has to make videos almost every single day, I could’t help but think how much I want to come back and try and land that job too.
After arriving at the big scuba boat, we got ready for out first deeper dive! This time we dove with dive computers that were given to us. Sorn and Santee taught us how to log our dives and figure out how much air we use/how long we can remain underwater at what depth (there is tons of math involved in diving – the nitrogen content in your blood changes when breathing out of a tank, so to remain at a healthy level you must monitor your depth and the amount of time you remain diving. You retain way more nitrogen the deeper you are, and can’t stay as long!), but if you wear a dive computer everything is done for you! They measure your depth and tell you how many minutes you can be underwater for on each consecutive dive.
Feeling badass with my fancy dive computer and compass.
Santee was on point with his inappropriate jokes all day today. We informed him that he would probably be in jail by now if he was in America… but since literally anything goes in Asia, there would be nothing we could even do besides embrace his low-key creepiness. After practicing the different types of “emergency ascents” – what you do if you run out of air underwater – and getting the go-ahead from Sorn and Santee – we descended yet again down into the depths.
We went over some skills again, with the videographer at our side this time. Santee brought his toy gun and aviator glasses down for us to put on and pretend to shoot when practicing our ‘mask removal’ skill. We took our masks off, put on the glasses, and shot the gun at the camera, before putting our masks back on and expertly clearing them. It was hilarious to watch! To make the video more interesting we did all sorts of spinning and flips, even taking our fins off to pretend-surf on them at one point. It was great.
After a quick break and more biscuits, we moved to our other dive location. In Koh Tao all the scuba companies generally use the same areas, which are basically just for scuba diving. In the second dive site there were all sorts of submerged sculptures and metal shapes, creating reefs full of aquatic life that looked pretty amazing underwater. There was a huge octopus, some cages, lots of circles and squares to swim through, a big shark, and even more. I wish we were allowed to bring cameras to get some shots swimming through the arms of an octopus!
Santee took us around the coral and we explored all sorts of different places. At one point I saw my dive computer reach 19 meters and decided to be a little rebel and go a little deeper and made it to 20.6! Santee was pretty unhappy with me – but my adventurous soul just couldn’t resist!
On this dive we actually saw all sorts of sea life. Right when we got to the bottom we saw a little sea turtle swimming by and kicked over to join it. It was incredible! We also ended up seeing a sea snake, which looked exactly like a real snake but just… underwater. It was fascinating to watch it twist around and slither through the water. Santee also pointed under a big rock where we saw a small manta-ray hiding in the darkness – so cool!! I didn’t want to stop exploring the reefs and coral, but it was sadly time to head back up to the boat for the first time as real PADI certified divers!
The whole experience scuba diving in Koh Tao was so incredibly fulfilling and amazing – I would recommend it to anyone! It really is like experiencing a different world. We took some group photos back on the boat, filled out some paperwork, and just like that we were done and certified! I was sad that we couldn’t stay and do our advanced course – which would have taken another day and a half – but we had to get moving.
This just means I’ll have to get my advanced certification somewhere else – Bali, Australia, who knows?! That’s the beauty of life. For now, I am so thankful for my experience scuba diving in Koh Tao and stoked for whenever I will dive again – potentially even coming back here to get my Dive Master’s eventually and work in the island. The possibilities are endless!
Happy little SCUBA CERTIFIED clams!
Sorn, Santee, Zoe, and I after completing our course!
Group photo after our last dive
Another photo from this amazing resort pool!