Learning to Scuba Dive with Koh Tao Divers

Scuba diving has been right at the top of my bucket list for the majority of my life.

The idea of scuba diving has always equally fascinated and frightened me. While I loved the concept of exploring an underwater world, and I’ve always been very comfortable with swimming and snorkeling, the idea of being trapped underwater with a heavy tank on your back was kind of scary to me. Also, my failure with surfing in Taiwan didn’t make me too confident either.

But when I learned how ridiculously cheap it is to get a scuba certification in Thailand, I knew I had to give scuba diving a try.

Diving in Thailand with Koh Tao Divers

Get Certified in Koh Tao

There are a few different places you can dive in Southern Thailand. While the diving off of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta is incredible (trust me, I dove there too!), Koh Tao is by far the best place to get your scuba certification.

1. It’s super cheap

Firstly, the diving in Koh Tao is extremely cheap. An Open Water certification in Koh Tao during high season will run you about 9,800 baht ($300 USD). While that might sound expensive to many of you budget travelers backpacking southeast Asia, that is literally as cheap as it gets. This $300 gets you the diving course and certification (PADI, SSI or RAID), and also covers the fees for your instructors, the boat, and all of your equipment.

A half-day fun dive in Koh Tao should cost you roughly 1,800 baht ($55) for two dives. That same trip in Koh Lanta cost me double! 

Koh Lanta Beach

Yeah, you can dive here

2. The diving is right offshore

Unlike Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, where you’ll sometimes have to take a boat over two hours to the dive site, most of the diving in Koh Tao is right offshore. By the time I set up my tank and organized my gear, we were usually already there! For a first time diver, it really settled my nerves because it didn’t give me much time to psyche myself out or get too nervous.

Another awesome thing about Koh Tao is the amazing snorkeling and shallow water diving right off the main beach. While most first time divers learn to dive in a pool before heading out to the open ocean, I learned right off the beach! I even saw an octopus within minutes of my first dive. How crazy is that?!

Since the diving is right offshore, it costs dive companies less gas and less time to transport you to the dives. In Koh Lanta, we sailed for two hours to get to our dive site, meaning two dives took almost a full day, and the boat could only make one daily trip, rather than two. Close dive sites in Koh Tao= cheaper diving for you!

Koh Tao restaurant

THIS is where I studied for my dive test

3. It’s a divers paradise

Koh Tao is a mecca for divers. In the afternoon you’ll see hordes of people studying for their diving certification test over tropical smoothies. The phrase “I can’t drink too much, I’m diving tomorrow” is common, and at the end of the day everyone sits around and compares all the cool fish they spotted.

With a ridiculous amount of dive companies on Koh Tao, it was almost impossible for me to choose where to get my certification. I literally spent hours pouring over blogs and travel forums. My goal was to find a small company with very serious and experienced divers.

While diving is fun, I wanted to make sure I was learning from the best so that I’d be safe and feel comfortable diving anywhere after I got my certification.

Koh Tao Divers

My instructor John and I

Diving with Koh Tao Divers

After a ridiculous amount of research, I decided on Koh Tao Divers. Their 5-star Trip Advisor rating (out of 171 reviews!) first attracted me. I liked how people mentioned their professionalism, expertise in tech diving, and laid-back teaching style. Koh Tao Divers is actually one of the main advanced tech diving schools on the island, which made me feel much more comfortable getting my Open Water certification there. These guys don’t mess around!

I knew pretty much right away that I had made a good choice. Firstly, the classes were way more flexible than I could have ever imagined. I thought I would have to let them know at least a week in advance when I would be arriving, but when my travel plans changed and I had to push Koh Tao back a few days, it was absolutely no problem.

Once I arrived in Koh Tao I felt right at home. I was a bit worried about feeling lonely since I was literally the only solo traveler on the ferry to Koh Tao. It seemed like everyone was traveling with a partner or friends. But Koh Tao Divers made a huge effort to make sure I had a great time. They set me up at a really social hostel (shoutout to Taco Shack!), and I’d usually spend the afternoons chilling at the dive shop where I’d steal their internet and coffee.

Koh Tao Divers

Me and John living it up

I had heard from other divers that some of the dive schools on Koh Tao are a bit snobby towards newer divers. I definitely never felt that way at Koh Tao Divers, and I had a great time hanging out with the instructors. We even took a ton of photos together after I completed my course. Unfortunately, they were all on my phone which was stolen on Koh Lanta a few days later… I guess I’ll just have to go back?

Koh Tao Divers also does PADI, SSI and RAID certifications, giving you tons of options. While I had only ever heard of PADI, many dive schools are actually less than thrilled with PADI’s old-school methods and boring training videos. SSI and RAID are new competitors to PADI and offer the diving classes online so that you can complete most (or all) of your classroom training before you even arrive on the island. It made for great reading on those long train rides!

Update August 2017:

Koh Tao Divers now specializes in only SSI certifications. Having received my SSI Advanced Certification in Malapascua, I’m a huge fan. No matter which certification you do (SSI or PADI), it should be accepted at any dive shop. However, I would probably steer clear of RAID since most people haven’t heard of it. I didn’t have any issues, but I’m glad I switched to SSI even though the RAID course was really great. Apparently, they didn’t take off like many dive centers hoped they would. Oh well! 

Small school= private diving lessons

That’s right. I was the only person in my Open Water diving course. At first, the idea made me really nervous. I thought that having a few other divers around me (failing with me) would make me more comfortable. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Learning to dive one-on-one with the instructor is the best way to learn. I learned so much more quickly than I would have in a large group, giving me extra time to explore and look around at all the beautiful fish. I can’t even imagine trying to learn to dive in groups of six like some of the larger companies have. That’s so many people! Koh Tao Divers will only ever pair four divers to one instructor.

I also wasn’t the only one getting private time at Koh Tao Divers. I met another girl who had just completed a “Discover Dive” (you spend a day learning to dive without the certification) on her own. She also raved about her experience, saying she felt much more comfortable in a one-on-one environment.

I can’t say enough how important it is to ignore the lure of the huge popular schools and go with a smaller dive place. You get so much more individualized attention, and you’ll learn much faster.

Koh Tao Divers

I spent a lot of time chilling here because the Internet was good and there was coffee

Learning to Dive

Like I mentioned before, I was pretty nervous to learn to dive. But the sheer professionalism of both my teachers Ivan and John made me feel so much better. Both of them are extremely advanced divers who have been instructors for a long time. I always felt like I was in good hands, and I’m very glad I wasn’t taught by someone who had only gotten their instructor’s license a few months prior, like some of the other people I met who dove with different companies.

Not once was I ever worried about dying or running out of air because the Open Water course trains you exactly what to do in case of an emergency. All of the underwater drills and training made me feel much more comfortable diving, and I never panicked or became frustrated once. Who knew that you can take off and replace your mask underwater?!

Exploring an Underwater World

I’m happy to say that unlike surfing, I am completely in love with scuba diving. I’m already plotting my next trip to a place I can dive. I even passed up the opportunity to go rock climbing in Krabi so that I could try diving off the coast of Koh Lanta. I’m that obsessed!

Diving is like being a tourist in a bustling underwater city. Since divers aren’t natural predators, if you move slowly and observe quietly, none of the marine life mind your presence. You’re just like another big fish swimming around.

In my dives around Koh Tao, I saw an octopus, tons of puffer fish, a HUGE titan triggerfish, a moray eel and a spotted stingray so colorful it looked like a cartoon. I had never seen such fascinating fish in my life! My instructor John was always sure to grab his booklet and tell me about all the fish we saw afterward. It made me want to study up and learn all the fish myself.

Titan triggerfish Koh Tao

Titan Triggerfish: IT’S HUGE (photo by Fat Fish Movies)

Don’t make me leave!

After three full days of diving, I didn’t want to leave Koh Tao. I honestly don’t know why I just spent $20,000 on a master’s degree because I really just want to move to an island and become a dive instructor through indentured servitude.

Before learning to scuba dive, the only thing in the world that could instantly make me happy and carefree was dancing. Whether it was on a stage, at salsa night, or in a club, a good song can always put a smile on my face. For me, dancing brings me more joy than almost anything in the world.

At twenty-four years old I am now adding scuba diving to the list. After a day of diving, there’s nothing that can wipe a smile off my face. Under the water I’m so full of joy and wonder, any problems or worries I have completely go away.

sweetlips koh tao

photo by Fat Fish Movies

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, I would 100% recommend going to Koh Tao to get your scuba license.

Then, when you head south to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta or Krabi, try some diving there as well. The diving there is slightly better (and slightly more expensive) than Koh Tao, making it a great place to test out your new skills on a fun dive.

To keep you from being a lame-o with zero photos like me, consider hiring a professional photographer through Koh Tao Divers to take photos of you on one of your drives. A half-day with a professional photographer is only 1,300 baht ($40 USD)!!! If you’re new to diving, you definitely don’t want to be fumbling around with a camera underwater. It’s not safe and your pictures will be bad. For $40, I think the price is well worth it, and maybe you can split the cost among your group.

Koh Tao beach

Don’t forget to relax on the beach after a long day of diving ;)

Are any of you thinking about learning to scuba? Have you been before?

Thanks so much to Koh Tao Divers for hosting me! I had the time of my life and I can’t recommend this company highly enough. Trust me, this place is awesome. 



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

73 comments on “Learning to Scuba Dive with Koh Tao Divers

    • Thanks so much! Diving in Thailand, especially Koh Tao, is so much cheaper than almost anywhere else, and the diving is amazing. Thailand is definitely the way to go.

  1. I just recently went diving with a discover scuba course. I’m wishing I had spent more money and gone ahead and gotten my open water certification. I guess I’ll know for next time!

    • If you have the time you should definitely get your certification. It’s a small price to pay to be able to do fun dives anywhere. If you head to Thailand you should definitely get it done there to save yourself some money. Plus, the diving is amazing!

    • Hahaha I totally get that. I think having really experienced instructors made me feel much better. Also, the fact that it was one-on-one made me feel really comfortable because I knew nothing could go wrong. I’d definitely recommend trying it again if you can!

  2. Scuba diving is something on my bucket list, like you I feel pretty comfortable in the water and I think I pick it up fairly quickly. But my husband has absolutely no interest in it – none! If I ever get to try it I’ll either have to leave him at home (and there’s no way he’d not go to Thailand with me) or go somewhere near a nice beach and town with other things he can do. I never realized just how far you usually had to travel away from the beach to get to good diving, sounds like you picked the perfect place!

    • If your husband doesn’t want to go scuba diving, Koh Tao is the perfect place. The beaches are really nice, and you’ll only be gone for a few hours max every day, so he won’t miss you too much. Plus, there’s amazing snorkeling right offshore so he can always swim around while you’re diving. Koh Tao has plenty to do. You can rent a motorbike, explore the town, or go to Freedom beach on the other side of the island. He definitely won’t be bored!

  3. I’m heading to Koh Tao in the summer and learning to dive is top of the list! Thanks for sharing your experience, I’ll look into these guys for sure!

    • That’s so great! They’re actually having a summer promotion because it’s low season, so it’ll be even cheaper for you. Have a great trip, I’m so jealous!!!

  4. Scuba diving has always sounded fun but I’ve never considered being certified. This company sounds great though. Maybe I’ll do it next time we’re in Thailand. You only live once, right?

    • My thoughts exactly! Getting certified is great though, because then you know all the skills and you can dive anywhere. While you can do a discover dive day, it’s much more expensive than a normal fun dive and you’ll learn a few skills very quickly. If it’s something you think you’ll like, definitely get certified!

    • Hahaha! I actually saw some leopard sharks while diving in Koh Lanta. While they were huge, they definitely didn’t look like the type of shark that would take a bite out of you. You should definitely give diving a try if you have the time :)

    • I’m so glad I finally tried it. It was amazing! Also, I’m glad you agree about those Fat Fish Movies photos. They’re all so good it was impossible to choose which ones I wanted.

    • Hahaha! Knowing how into sustainable tourism and environmentalism you are, I think you’d really enjoy it. They teach you a lot about marine life, and how to take care of the oceans are coral reefs. It was super interesting.

  5. Amazing photos, Richelle! I’ve done a beginner’s course before on diving and it was absolutely amazing so I can imagine how exciting it must have been for you. Maybe next time I should really try to work on getting a certification :D I’ll keep this place in mind!

    • You should definitely get your certification if you can! Besides, the Philippines has amazing diving so you can do a quick dive trip whenever you go home :)

  6. This looks like such an incredible experience!! My boyfriend and I have been wanting to get certified but couldn’t figure out where. You’ve just convinced us to do it in Thailand with Koh Tao Divers!! Looks like an incredible location and great company to use. Thanks for the honest review and for sharing your experience!

  7. Koh Tao was one of those islands I visited back in the 90’s and has stayed with me as a most impressive destination. Everyone was friendly and the only other travelers there were backpackers and divers. It is a gorgeous spot, thanks for sharing it.

  8. Lots of nostalgy here! We also did our open-water dive course in Koh Tao, and had an amazing time just as you! We actually stayed in touch with our Spanish dive masters, hope to get back there one day!

    • That’s so cool! I’m friends on Facebook with my dive instructors. I can’t wait to eventually go back and visit. I’m glad you enjoyed Koh Tao too :D

    • You should go if you can! I definitely wished I hired the photographer. I would’ve loved to have photos of me underwater. Next time I guess.. hahaha

  9. haha- I just left Koh Tao. I never had any intention of learning how to dive and was actually legit terrified at the beginning but it was SO AMAZING. I pretty much blew off the rest of thailand to stay on the island because I couldn’t imagine anywhere else being better.

    • I was not ready to leave either! I’m so glad you loved scuba diving. I was definitely scared too, but it’s really so much easier than I thought it would be.

  10. Thanks for sharing! I think getting certified is going on my before I turn 30 list and I want to do it somewhere amazing and exciting. This is a great inspiration. I might end up in Bali but I will keep this spot in mind as well.

  11. Hi Richelle,

    This is a great post and I really enjoyed reading it. I also experienced the beautiful underwater world in Koh Tao for the first time back in 2010. It was not even my plan to get a PADI license but everything changed after I started reading the LP guidebook and my whole Thailand trip changed all of a sudden. I went to Koh Tao and stayed there more than I thought of.

    And what is more surprising for me to see my diving instructor here on your post hahaha :) World is small, you know. At that time, he was in Coral Grand divers but now I guess he is teaching in another school.

    Underwater world is so peaceful and I can easily say everyone should put this activity on their bucket list.

    Excitement, first worries and then once you let yourself to the peaceful life underwater, you dont even want to leave that amazing scenery.

    Even though, I had some breathing issues and using my air, I still enjoyed it and finally got my certificate.

    That course also led me to make lifelong friendships with some of my other course friends.

    Its been many years since 2010, I dont know how is Koh Tao atm but hopefully it will keep its beauty and continue to attract people from all over the world.

    Thanks for this nice post.

    I enojy reading your posts.

    Greetings from Istanbul

    • Wow that’s so great to hear Ergenekon! I can’t believe you also had John as an instructor, that’s crazy. While diving can be a bit scary at first, it really is incredible. I’m so glad you had a great time. Koh Tao is still an amazing place to visit, and I hope you have a chance to make it back in the future :)

  12. I’m so glad you enjoyed getting your Open Water. I did mine last summer in the Gilis. I loved it! That’s awesome you got one-to-one tuition! There were 4 of us in my class- it worked out ok because we had a divemaster and a newly qualified instructor helping us out too. But I have been diving for nearly a year now so I really want to have some kind of one-to-one refresher when I next go (hopefully soon!).

    • One-on-one really is such a great experience. I definitely recommend doing it if you can! I can’t wait to try diving in some other areas of the world. There’s so many different places to explore.

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  15. I’ll be on Koh Tao in a few weeks and I’m hoping to do my search and rescue there. I’ve also been searching for ages for a good school. I’ll definitely be checking this one out!

    • That’s great Arianwen! You should definitely do it with Koh Tao Divers. They’re really professional and experienced with advanced and technical diving. Be sure to tell them I said hi!

  16. Great Post! I learnt to dive on Belize which was amazing, but I#m planning on heading to Thailand with a friend who’s interested in learning. This sounds great as I can dive or snorkel for a cheap price while she does the course, and gets to see things during it which makes the first dives so much more interesting and fun!

    • That sounds like a great idea. Diving in Koh Tao is really nice, and super cheap. Once your friend gets her certification, you guys should definitely head to Koh Lanta and do some diving over there too. It’s absolutely stunning over there!

  17. i tried scuba in Malta…10 minutes into the water and i started having a panic attack…it was a windy day, the waves kept crashing on my head, the mask fogged and i couldn’t see almost anything…there were several people in the water and i had no idea which one the instructor was…it was horrible

    • Wow that sounds rough! I’d honestly suggest finding a place that will let you try it in a pool or right offshore first. That’s the good thing about getting your certification, is that you do a closed water training first so you get used to breathing underwater before you get out into the ocean

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