Koh Tao is a gorgeous island off the coast of Thailand. It’s much smaller in comparison to it’s neighbours Koh Samui and Koh Panang, and is rated one of the best and cheapest places to get PADI certified in the world. Hence, it is very popular amongst the backpacker crowd.
Although getting to Koh Tao can be a journey, once you make it to Koh Tao most people fall in love with the island vibes, the cheap food, accomodation and the amazing diving opportunities. Although more expensive than mainland Thailand, and considered expensive by comparison to South East Asia, it is still very cheap and affordable by western standards.
You have lots of choice when it comes to booking your dive certification. Its easy enough to book your course once your arrive, especially with the bigger dive schools such as Bans or Big blue diving school, but if you don’t have very long on the island, need a particular date or want a specific smaller school then its best to book in advance.
Personally i went with New Heaven Dive School due to a recommendation from a good friend of mine and i was more than happy with the decision.
Our group was small with 4 of us and you’ll find this to be the biggest difference between a smaller school such as, New Heaven, and a bigger school like bans. The prices for smaller schools may be slightly more expensive but often the class sizes are smaller which helps things feel alot safer and you don’t have to wait around as much.
Open Water Dive certification
Duration: 3-4 days
- Day one: 2 x theory sessions and 2 x shallow water dives in the pool
- Day two: 2 x open water dives (depth between 10-15m), and theory
- Day three: 2 x open water dives, (max depth 18m) and theory test
Class size: 4
Who’s it for? Beginners who want to be able to dive with a buddy anywhere in the world
What does it get you? This certification will allow you to dive anywhere in the world with a buddy up to 18m depth.
Total cost: 9800 baht (~$385 AUD)
* A its such a small island you’ll find most of the dive schools on Koh Tao will follow a similar schedule and have a very similar if not the same price tag, but this specific schedule and price was adapted from New Heaven Dive School.
Once you complete you Open Water certificate you can move onto your Advanced open water certification is you choose. Personally I chose to do this and so did the rest of the group, so the day after we had finished, we all started our Advanced course which would allow us to go deeper, dive on wrecks, go night diving and learn how to navigate under water.
Advanced Open Water Certification:
Duration: 2-3 days
- You must complete two core dives: Deep dive (+20m) and a navigation dive
- You then get to choose your other 3 dives from:
- Aware Fish Identification: Learn the basics of fish identification.
- Diver propulsion Vehicle: Use underwater scooters to get around faster and see more.
- Night Diving: See the underwater world in a whole new light.
- Peak Performance Buoyancy: Learn to float effortlessly and protect the environment.
- Search and Recovery: Find whatever you lost underwater.
- Underwater Naturalist: Explore the marine ecosystem.
- Underwater Photography: The only thing you should take from the water is a picture.
- Wreck diving*: Explore an underwater wreck
- Personally as a group we chose Night Diving, Underwater photography and Wreck diving* (only an option if there is a wreck,
Who’s if for? Those who have already completed an open water certification
What does it get you? Allow you to dive up to a depth of ~30m with a buddy anywhere in the world and also gives you an opportunity to explore the different areas of diving.
Price: 8500 baht (~$334 AUD)
The advanced course was amazing and i would highly, highly recommend doing it. The night dive was the scariest and best dive experience I’ve ever had and it was awesome to experience nitrogen narcosis for the first time at depth.
So where should you do your certification?
Personally I’ve been to Koh Tao twice and while i did my certification with New heaven i have also been diving with Bans and Phoenix divers Koh Tao.
Of the three, I preferred New Heaven. This was in part due to its close proximity to alot of the reefs, therefore eliminating alot of long boat rides to get to a new location, and favoured its small intimate nature. Its also not on the main strip of town, which was nice, although sometimes inconvenient because you would either have to walk half an hour into town or go by scooter, which really wasn’t that bad.
On my return to Koh Tao i stayed at, and went diving with Bans, while my friend did their certification. I would not recommend this school. I found their class sizes and fun dive numbers way to high, the boat was way too full and for the price, the accommodation was not up to standard. Upon checking in and opening my door, the room was a pig stye having not yet been cleaned. The receptionist were rude and unhelpful and you were treated like a number. They also didn’t tell us that we could’ve had free accommodation with the dive certification, which added to the disappointment.
After not being satisfied with Bans, I dove with Phoenix Divers Koh Tao and they were really good. Group sizers were smaller and the instructors were really nice people.
Price difference between schools really isn’t significant. You can often strike up a discount if you do your certification with a school and then go on to do further training or just want to go on some fun dives. You also get discounts by buying fun dives in bulk (e.g. 10 dives) and you can also get discounted or sometimes free accommodation with the school your doing your certification with. With that in mind make sure you ask questions about what is included when shopping around for prices, as one place might be more expensive but might also include a free room, so make sure you ask!
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