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backpacker guide to PADI diving on Koh Tao

Diving on Koh Tao: The Best Place in Asia for Beginner Divers

Learning to Dive for First Timers in Thailand’s Gem, Koh Tao

Koh Tao is a mecca for divers from around the world of all skill levels: first timers, beginners and experienced divers flock to Koh Tao for its beautiful depths. A tiny 13-mile square speck in the ocean, it punches above its weight both in terms of the choice of dive schools available and the quality of the dive sites in the surrounding area. Diving on Koh Tao is truly a sight to savor. 
You could take a trip to Koh Tao and do nothing but chill out and sunbathe all day, but you’d really be missing out on the best that this island has to offer. Yes, the beaches are stunning and the water clear and warm, but it’s what’s beneath the waves that has made this island a must-see destination for so many.

Koh Tao has some of the best diving that Asia has to offer, and all at (comparatively) bargain prices. If you’re a beginner then this is the number 1 spot to come and get your open water certification. If you’re an expert already then the island offers some stunning dives that will challenge and amaze you in equal measure.

diving on Koh Tao for backpackers

Choosing a Diving Course

When you arrive on Koh Tao you’ll probably be overawed by the different dive course options available to you, including the choice between a PADI and SSI course? Luckily it doesn’t really matter too much if all you want to do is go diving for fun. Both qualifications are recognised worldwide, the only difference is that it’s easier to get work as a PADI-qualified diver. If this is a consideration to you then well done, you’re already winning at life!

On Koh Tao there are plenty of operators offering both PADI and SSI courses so just pop in and chat to some of them to get a feel for the staff and their level of organisation, etc.

Choosing a Diving Company on Koh Tao

The size of the dive school you choose will dictate the experience you have. On Koh Tao the big operators are places like Big Blue, Bans and Crystal. They run big, fun courses and can be slightly cheaper per person but you do sometimes sacrifice personal attention in favor of the group dynamic.

Mid-sized operators include New Way, Scuba Junction and Simple Life. These companies tend to run slightly smaller groups but you can still make friends and meet people on their boats. If you’re looking for a small operator with more one-on-one tuition time then check out Roctopus or Sairee Hut. They can both put together tailor-made courses but you may pay ever so slightly more for the privilege.  

Choosing a Dive Site on Koh Tao

On to the good stuff- the best dive sites off Koh Tao! The most famous by far is Sail Rock. Not many courses will go there as part of a qualification course as it’s actually a good two-hour boat ride away, but if you can do a fun dive there then it’s well worth the money. It’s nicknamed ‘Whaleshark City’ so you can draw your own conclusions about what you might see a lot of!

Elsewhere, The Twins is a great place for beginners with its gentle currents and colorful clown fish, and Green Rock is recommended for its ‘obstacle course’ of features including caves you can swim through. For a riot of sea anemone and barracuda try out Chumphon, and for a taste of wreck diving head to the Sattakut, an old US navy vessel deliberately sunk a few years ago to create a new reef ecosystem.

diving on Koh Tao shirtless

Save Your Pennies Up

Nothing comes for free, and diving is a more expensive pastime than most when you’re traveling. Don’t worry though, Koh Tao is pretty much the cheapest place in the world to get certified! A 3-day PADI open water course will cost between 9,500 to 10,000 baht ($280-$300) including accommodation, reducing to 8,500 baht ($250) if you find somewhere to stay yourself.

If you’re already qualified then fun dives start at 700 baht ($20), and go all the way up to 2,000 ($60) for a full-day excursion to Sail Rock. As with everywhere in the world, if you have your own equipment with you then you can negotiate these prices down a little bit. It never hurts to ask for a discount as long as you do it with a smile on your face!

Diving on Koh Tao is a Breeze

You can’t really go wrong when you dive on Koh Tao. With great competition between companies keeping the prices low and so many high-quality sites in easy reach, it’s a no-brainer to come here and spend a few days dipping under the waves. The only problem is making yourself leave again!

PS: If Koh Tao isn’t your cup of tea, check out our guide to diving on Koh Phangan!

diving on Koh Tao in the coral reefs

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