Our destinations,  South East Asia

Scuba Diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

Scuba diving is one of life’s activities that is just utterly amazing; who would’ve ever thought humans would be in a position to swim side by side with creatures of the deep blue sea?! As a result, it is something you absolutely MUST try and there is no better place to learn than in Koh Tao, Thailand

This article will tell you everything you need to know about learning to scuba dive; why you should learn; and why Koh Tao is THE place to learn! 

Disclaimer: Some of the links included on our website may contain affiliate links. We may receive some commission from purchases made via these but it will NOT affect the price you pay. This is to allow this site to stay online and ensure that readers use, what we believe, are the best products possible whilst travelling.

Why should you go Scuba diving? 

In a nutshell, you get to see so much more than you would snorkelling; you get to go deeper into the sea/ocean which allows you to see more; you can see underneath the coral that you’d otherwise be looking at from above; there are vastly more places for you to visit which will allow you to see so much more wildlife! Don’t get me wrong, snorkelling is still tremendous fun but once you go diving, it will never be the same. 

I could easily go on and on but you get the picture; if you’re a fan of wildlife, snorkelling or exploring then you’ll LOVE scuba diving! 

Why learn scuba diving in Koh Tao? 

One of the main reasons why Koh Tao is THE place to learn is due to its beautiful diving spots and abundance of marine life. As there are over 10 different diving locations, you are hardly ever going to get bored of scuba diving as each one has so much to offer! Whilst attempting to achieve your open water certification, you’ll complete just four different dives. As such, you won’t even scratch the surface of Koh Tao’s diving locations so definitely try and complete some fun dives if you have time.

Moreover, the wildlife around Koh Tao is absolutely amazing; on my dives, I was lucky enough to see a huge green turtle and a blue spotted ray. However, divers have been lucky enough to see whale sharks (most common at Chumphon) and octopuses’; how incredible is that! 

How expensive is diving in Koh Tao?

The main reason why you should learn to scuba dive at Koh Tao is due to the price. Whilst there are multiple different diving companies offering courses, the average price on Koh Tao is roughly £250 or $310. Having said that, if you spend the time researching, you’ll undoubtedly get a cheaper price; for example, an open water certification and three nights stay at DPM diving cost just 9,900 baht (£233/$290)! Putting it in comparison to the rest of the world, it costs roughly £430/$530 in the Caribbean or £350/$440 in Cape Town; and that’s to do the exact same course you’d complete in Koh Tao! 

Remember, once you’ve completed your Open Water Padi Diving course you can use it anywhere in the world; plus, you will never have to redo the course again, just a few refresh sessions.

Taking into account the price and location, there really is no beating Koh Tao!!

What equipment will you use? 

  • Wetsuit 
  • Weight Belt (to keep you buoyant)
  • Regulator (connects to your tank to allow you to breathe and to check air supply)
  • BCD or Buoyancy Control Device (allows you to control how much air is in your jacket) 
  • Oxygen Tank
  • Dive Watch
  • Flippers

The PADI Open Water course explained

The following section is based on my own experience at the Assava Dive Resort on Koh Tao. My open water course was already over three days which included four dives and a full theory test. Whilst every resort/school teaches or schedules it differently, you will all learn the same skills and sit the same exam. 

Day 1: AM

Much to my surprise, the first activity in my course was to get kitted up; specifically, this was sizing up my wetsuit, weight belt and flippers. It was then by the poolside to set up and dismantle (four times over) my diving equipment to ensure I was able to set it up on my own. 

Top tip: Everyone learns differently but it helped me to memorise each step by speaking it out loud/in my head; the constant physical practice also helped! 

Once I had cracked this, we put our equipment on for real and jumped into the pool. 

Whilst in the pool, we went through all the skills below; being the first session, it was a bit of information overload but I personally wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Skills:

  • Hand signals
  • Water entry
  • Snorkel to regulator exchange
  • Controlled descent
  • Clear partially flooded mask, fully flooded mask and fully remove and replace mask
  • Regulator recovery and clear
  • Emergency weight drop and replace
  • Cramp release
  • Tired diver toe
  • Emergency air source use
  • Inflatable signal tube deployment
  • Oral BCD inflation
  • Weight system and scuba kit removal and replacement at the surface
  • Underwater compass navigation
  • Controlled emergency swimming ascent
  • Snorkel/regulator exchange 
  • Safety stop
  • Equipment dissemble and care
  • Debriefing and log-book

Most notably, I learned about how to “buddy check” to ensure your buddy has everything working to complete a safe dive. The acronym for this is BWRAF which stands for Buoyancy; Weight Belt; Releases; Air and Final Check. All of this is pretty self-explanatory but the procedure is an absolute must as you don’t want to have to cancel your dive!

After we finished and mastered all of the above, we got out, disassembled our equipment and took a break for lunch. 

Day 1: PM

After lunch, it was into the classroom for some written theory. This was easily the most boring part of the entire course; I basically felt like I was back at school watching the DVD recording. Unfortunately, everyone has to pass this part of the course in order to become a certified diver.

However, the theory test itself involves three different parts. Firstly, there are five different knowledge review sections that you have to complete; all of which are multiple-choice and three of the sections are double-sided. The sections are really easy to complete as the DVD you watch literally outlines all of the answers for you; the annoying bit is you’ve got to pay attention to the 20/30 minute long video. Having said that, if you use common sense, you can answer quite a few of them by yourself. At the end of each video, the instructor and I would go through my answers and chat about the ones I got wrong; another boring bit. As you can imagine, I was very happy to have completed all five sections and quickly fled the classroom. 

Day 2: AM

The next day was another early start and (unfortunately) straight back into the classroom again. This time it was to complete four separate quizzes from a booklet. Similarly to the above, a lot of it is pretty common sense and it helps to have completed the knowledge review sections beforehand as it’s the same material. Again, if I got any questions wrong, we just chatted about why the right answer was the right answer. 

Once the multiple quizzes were completed, it was time for the final exam. Unlike the previous tests, this was out of 50 questions and I was only allowed to get a maximum of 12 wrong; you can complete it in your own time but weren’t allowed any help. The questions were basically a selection of everything you’ve learned in your theory so far. Thankfully I only got 6 wrong, which was a massive sigh of relief, and that was that. All I needed to do now was complete my four dives and I’d be officially qualified!! 

Day 2: PM

Finally, I was off on the boat for my first dive. Despite having completed all the necessary training in the pool, I was still quite anxious about getting in for real. Nonetheless, we got kitted up and did our safety checks (BWRAF) and reiterated some key signals before jumping in. Once we were in, we inflated our BCD and pottered about on the surface. We then swam on our backs against the current, as it’s easier to do so, to the dive site. 

Having descended a couple of meters from the, we then practised two skills; regulator recovery and clear, and clearing a partially flooded mask. On the regulator recovery, you’ll be taught how to get it back as quickly as possible but make sure to relax during the whole process and keep breathing out. It was then (thankfully) on with the rest of the dive where we were able to explore the beautiful coral reef and hundreds of fishies! 

As it was my first dive, I absolutely chewed through my air and we only spent 30 minutes underwater. However, it was so cool to see such beautiful marine life up close. We made our safety stop at five meters for three minutes before slowly heading to the surface. The last skill before getting out was an emergency weight drop where I realised my weight belt and handed it to my instructor; a skill you will need in order to get to the surface quickly. 

As I’m sure you’ll know already, once you’ve finished a dive, you have to spend a certain amount of time out of the water to let your body decompress before reentering; this time depends on the length and depth of your dive. 

When the time eventually passed and I ate enough cookies for the whole boat, we got ready for our second dive of the day. Like our first dive, we jumped in and stopped a couple of meters below the surface to practice some more skills. This time it was to clear a fully flooded mask; practice cramp release; tired diver toe and use an alternative air source. For the latter, we simulated both myself and the instructor being out of air and requesting the use of each other’s emergency regulator. 

Again, once we’ve finished practising these skills, we descended down to the dive site to explore and it was as equally as beautiful as the first dive. Thankfully, I managed to spend a bit longer underneath, around 45 minutes, and I was a lot more confident after this dive; it was actually starting to feel like fun. It was then time for a debrief, complete our logbook and back to the resort for such much-needed relaxation!! 

Day 3: AM

For some reason, the boat left at 7:30am this morning so I made sure to get a coffee and eat a cheese toastie beforehand to give me some energy. As always, we set and assembled up our equipment before jumping in. Having completed the BWRAF routine a few times now, everything becomes second nature to you. 

Again, we jumped in and descended a couple of meters below the surface for some more skills; this time it was a controlled emergency swimming ascent and mask removal and replacement. Personally, I absolutely hated the mask removal and replacement as I hate my eyes getting wet. I would definitely recommend focusing on slowing your breathing as you naturally panic when your mask is taken off; remember, you can still breathe as normal whilst practising this skill. 

Thankfully, we completed these skills quite quickly so we were able to get on with the rest of the dive and explore some more. Time-wise, this ended up being my best dive as we stayed underwater for 50 minutes; utterly crazy when you think about it and it definitely didn’t feel that long at the time.

The last dive of my course was pretty much a fun dive; the only skill we had to do was underwater compass navigation which was really easy. Unfortunately, this dive only lasted about 30 minutes as we went deeper than the last dive meaning I’d use up my oxygen quickly; it’s all to do with air pressure and volume and you’ll learn it in your theory. Basically, the deeper you go, the more oxygen you use. 

We came back to the surface after our safety stop, climbed onto the boat and just like that, I was a qualified diver!!!

My experience diving in Koh Tao

I personally found that learning in the swimming pool was really beneficial and quite comforting as it allowed me to relax whilst learning everything. It also allowed me to get used to the BCD and how to control my buoyancy which would help massively in the open ocean. 

I was also very lucky in the fact that I was the only one taking the open water course at that time. This meant that I was 1-on-1 with my instructor the whole time which probably helped me to learn skills and techniques quicker as all the attention was on me. 

It must be reiterated that every diving school in Koh Tao teaches the open water differently; for example, other schools will get you to do most of your theory first of all before learning your diving skills in the shallow water of the actual ocean/sea. Once your four dives and theory are completed they would then get you to take the final test. It all depends on their schedules and how they think is the best way of teaching. 

Whilst this is admittedly extremely biased, I couldn’t recommend Assava Diving Resort and Brett anymore; it was the perfect location to learn, the facilities and equipment were really good and it was reassuring to learn in the swimming pool first. If you’re thinking of diving on Koh Tao, definitely get in contact with Assava because you will absolutely not regret it!! 

Top tips for scuba diving: 

Breathing 

Understandably for any first-time diver, your breathing is going to be deep and heavy as you adjust to breathing underwater. My personal problem was (and is) that I go through a lot of air whilst underwater. Again, this is understandable and totally normal but it does give you less time underwater which means you see fewer cool things. 

However, in order to control the amount of air you’re breathing in each time when you breathe in through your regulator, push your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Whilst you’re still breathing and allowing your lungs to inflate as normal, it still restricts some air coming from your oxygen tank. Consequently, this leaves more air in your tank which will allow you to stay underwater for longer. 

Another tip regarding your breathing is to control your exhales. The aim is to exhale for four or five counts before breathing in again i.e. count the number 1,2,3,4 in your head, whilst exhaling, before breathing in again. This method allows you to control your breathing by inhaling and exhaling the same amount of air, so you can stay underwater as much as possible. 

Despite the above, the number one rule of diving is to never hold your breath and to always keep breathing; it takes people many many dives in order to perfect their breathing so keep practising. 

Buoyancy

This is the other difficult aspect you may experience as a beginner diver. Ensuring you have neutral buoyancy, I.e. consistently staying at the same level underwater, makes your diving experience so much better and you’ll lose less oxygen if you’re in a trim position. The best advice I can give is to fully deflate your BCD (as you would normally at the surface) before giving yourself one small inflate once you’ve reached the bottom. This obviously puts a small amount of air into your BCD which I found really helped my buoyancy. Having said that, everyone is different so just fiddle and find what is best for you. 

Equalising

You’ll learn all about this in your theory but you won’t appreciate how important it is until you actually get into the water. It is incredibly important to equalise your ears and your mask on your descent; for me, the best way to relieve the pressure in my ears is to swallow but others find it easier to move their jaw or hold their nose whilst attempting to blow through it. With regards to your mask, this is incredibly easy to relieve the pressure and don’t be worried about getting water in it as you’ll learn how to clear it underwater.

Dive Watch

From my personal experience, I will always recommend having or requesting a dive watch whilst diving as it is incredibly informative. Understandably, your senses will be dramatically reduced underwater so having a watch to tell you your depth is very informative and gives you a great sense of perspective. Moreover, the dive watch I had also helped me to complete my safety stop where I had to stay at five meters for three minutes. 

Good Habits and Routine

This will undoubtedly be drilled into you by your diving instructor but it will really help your memory and experience if you get into a good routine both before and after your dives. Before diving, make sure to always do your “buddy check” and double-check your BCD and both your primary and emergency regulator’s work. After your dive, you’ll need to detach your BCD and regulator from the oxygen tank; either to switch it to a new one for a dive later or to pack up. No matter which, always make sure to dry your regulator cap with a quick blast from your tank. 

Little things like this make life so much easier and quicker! 

To conclude, the island of Koh Tao is the absolute best place to learn how to scuba dive; it has both beautiful wildlife and a very affordable course so there really isn’t any better place in the world or South East Asia to dive. Moreover, Koh Tao island itself is utterly beautiful and a great place to relax, hike, and party… you name it! 

There you have it; our guide to scuba diving on Koh Tao, outlining everything you need to know about scuba diving on this beautiful island BEFORE you visit. Make sure to check out Assava Diving Resort and look out for our upcoming travel guide for Koh Tao!! 

Feel free to add any of your own recommendations in the comments!

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Disclaimer: Some of the links included on our website may contain affiliate links. We may receive some commission from purchases made via these but it will NOT affect the price you pay. This is to allow this site to stay online and ensure that readers use, what we believe, are the best products possible whilst travelling.

27 Comments

  • Alaina Thomas

    This sounds AMAZING. 10 different diving spots?! I went scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands, but have not done it again since then. It sounds like this should be the next spot on my list!

    • leahtierney14

      Now that does sound amazing, I bet the marine life was amazing? You really should visit, Koh Tao was beautiful!

  • Lasma

    Scuba diving is one of the experiences I would love to do! And I think there is no better place than Thailand! I can’t wait to visit it! and saving this for inspiration! Great job!

  • Emma

    I’ve done scuba diving before not for years but this sounds an incredible place to dive and learn! Added to our list thank you!

  • Trea

    Wow! Such a detailed post. Thank you. I really want to learn how to scuba dive. I’m in the UK and there are spots here that are three times the price as what you quoted above! Plus, the water is so much more clear and.. well not to mention warmer. I like how you also talk about learning in a pool first. This really sounds like something I would be comfortable with. Thank you again for sharing!

    • leahtierney14

      Thank you so much; we’re so glad you liked our guide! You should definitely do it, it’s easily been the best thing we’ve done whilst travelling.

  • Michelle

    Wow, this looks amazing. I am not dive certified but I have always dreamed of doing it. What advise would you give to a newbie?

    • leahtierney14

      It is everything and more Michelle! My best advice would be to get used to breathing underwater as this is the biggest thing to get used to; you just need to stay calm and relax. once you’ve cracked this, it’s super easy!

  • Lenore

    Scuba diving looks like an amazing time. Thailand is such a beautiful country and the water is absolutely stunning. I can only imagine how it looks in person from your photos. I’ll save this for later when I revisit.

    • leahtierney14

      It really was; Thailand is definitely the best place to do it but we’re biased! So pleased you enjoyed our guide.

  • Michele

    What an amazing place to learn to scuba dive. I didn’t realize how much time in the classroom it took to get certified. I am sure you will have many more amazing adventures now.

    • leahtierney14

      Thank you so much Michele! There definitely is a lot more than you think; worth it even though its tedious.

  • Mayi Macalou

    Scuba diving sounds fun. I am not an experienced swimmer, so I don’t think I can do that yet but maybe one day. Thailand is high on my bucket list, would love to visit.

  • Faith Hansen

    We have thought about getting scuba certified, but always as something we would do at home and then travel. I really like this idea of getting certified while traveling. And you really can’t be the price in Thailand.

    • leahtierney14

      Getting certified whilst travelling is the best and cheapest way to learn. So pleased our guides been helpful!

  • Laura

    I love the scuba tips you added. I’ve definitely struggled with breathing and buoyancy as a beginner. Sounds like an incredible place to explore.

  • Ildiko

    Wow, that looks so interesting. While I have snorkeled, I have never had the courage to snorkel. Undoubtedly it must be spectacular to swim beneath the coral and see all the amazing sea creatures!

    • leahtierney14

      Scuba Diving is 100% worth it and once you get comfortable with breathing underwater, you get to see so much more!

  • Chelsea Messina

    When we were in Koh Tao a few of the group members went scuba diving and they said it was just so amazing. I wish I wasn’t claustrophobic and could go diving because I know I’m missing out haha

    • leahtierney14

      Ahah you definitely are missing out! I personally didn’t feel claustrophobic at all.. you can see so far!

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