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DIVING Thailand

Choosing the Best Dive School in Koh Tao

There are more than 50 diving schools in Koh Tao, How do you choose the best dive center for your Open water course? Here we discuss how to choose a training facility and review some of of the top dive schools on Koh Tao.

On my recent dive trip to Koh Tao I spent some time visiting a couple of popular dive centers, talking to owners and staff and looking at their dive equipment and facilities. I am a dive instructor myself and have worked and dived in many places around Asia. Koh Tao is a great place for dive training with excellent conditions and many dive schools, hopefully this article will help you to choose the dive school in Koh Tao best suited to you. With a serious addiction to being in the water my life changed the day I first put a diving mask on. For travelers this quote puts a nice justification for why travel addicts will love diving – ‘71% of planet earth is water. If you’re a scuba diver, get out there and dive it! If you’re not a diver, well, enjoy your 29%’. I have promised many of my open water students ‘diving will change the way you travel’. Seeing their photos from incredible dive sites over the world on Instagram showed me I was right.

Image Credit – PADI

Diving in Thailand

With about 350 named dive sites, great visibility and warm water all year round, the beautiful reefs and amazing marine life of Thailand create some of the best dive sites in the world. Thailand has two seas with very different conditions and seasons.

In the Gulf of Thailand the main islands to dive from is Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Chang.

The Andaman sea dive sites are located around Phi Phi islands, Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, Krabi, Phuket and the Similan Island/Khao Lak area.

The Gulf of Thailand  can be dived all year, but the best diving conditions are from May through September

In the Andaman Sea the best diving is from October through April

Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand is one of the most popular places in the world to do your open water dive course for a good reason and our pick in Thailand.

With more than 50 dive schools on the island there is a lot of competition and the courses are well priced without sacrificing quality of training.

There are an abundance of dive sites close to the island and boats from nearby islands drive all the way to Koh Tao to dive.

It is is a beautiful island with a relaxed lifestyle, I loved renting a scooter and driving around the island visiting the unreal beaches, truly paradise!

Koh Tao Diving Course – What’s the Course Like?

You are probably on holiday, just note there will be some theory, skills and tests involved. The course length is usually 3 or 4 days and consist of theory, confined sessions in the pool or shallow water to teach you how to use the equipment and your 4 open water dives, the awesome part. The open water course is fun and exiting, but will keep you busy most of the day, not a great way to spend 4 of your 6 days on honeymoon. You have to watch a couple of hours of videos, discuss it with your instructor, do quizzes and pass an exam. Don’t worry too much about the physics and physiology, it is not too complicated with 10 year olds mastering the course work, your instructor will make sure you understand everything. You can also complete the theory before you arrive online.

whale-shark koh tao
The site most divers hope for diving around Koh Tao – diving with a whale shark.

Getting to Koh Tao

The only way to get to Koh Tao from the mainland is by boat either from Chumphon, which is the closest departure point, or from Suratthani. You can also hop on a ferry to Koh Tao from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. I have traveled between Bangkok and Koh Tao several times using the Songserm boat/bus combo and never had problems and a comfortable trip, read TripAdvisor reviews if you have problems deciding on a company, personally I have no complaints.

Check out all options, reviews, ratings, how many tickets are left and buy your secure ticket directly HERE.

From Bangkok via Chumphon bus + ferry

The easiest (and fastest) way to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok via Chumphon is by bus and ferry joint travel. Lomprayah catamaran and Songserm speed boat both sell such package tickets which save your time and cost more or less the same amount of money if bought separately. With early morning and late evening bus departures from Bangkok you have a choice whether to travel by day or save some baht spending your night on board a bus instead of in a guesthouse. The ferry travel with Lomprayah (the fastest operator) takes around 1½ hours; if your are prone to seasickness, get the necessary medicine at hand. Note that in case of the evening departure your trip lasts longer (around 12 hrs) compared to 9 hrs (morning departure), but you do not waste your precious day-time.

You have only 20 kg baggage allowance for your ferry travel; the extra weight is 20 baht per kg (not included in your ticket price).

Getting back from Koh Tao to Bangkok you have only morning and afternoon departures, both returning to Bangkok after dark: at 9pm and 1am, so plan your stay accordingly (book ahead).

Choose the best dive school in Koh Tao

1. Reputation

Go to an established dive resort with good reviews. TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Facebook are great places to go and see what others experienced. See if you can find blog posts. (good job finding this one!)

2.The Vibe

You are going to spend a lot of your holiday/travel time at this dive center, make sure you like the atmosphere, the people and the location.

3.Location

Most of the dive schools are located in 2 main areas;  Mae haad and Sairee Beach, located only 2km apart (15 min walk). I stayed in both and preferred Sairee Beach. Mae Haad is the main town and ferry port where you will arrive on Koh Tao. There are a wide variety of shops and restaurants, it is a little village with many  accommodation options. Sairee Beach is the liveliest and most vibrant area on the island with many bars, restaurants, clubs and dive shops. I stayed in both and loved the vibe on Sairee, it was busy but never too crazy or noisy.

4. Size

There are schools of all sizes on the island, I feel class size is more important than the size of the school. Ask ‘how many students per instructor?’ I have heard many people refer to big schools as factories churning out certifications. So what? If a big school has small group sizes, good equipment and facilities and good instructors why would it be impersonal or hurried? not my experience at all. Be careful of really small schools, they are often ‘fly by night’ operations and lure students with low prices. Go for a well established school.

5. Open Water Dive Price

All dive centers in Koh Tao agreed to charge a minimum price of 11 000 THB ($336) not including extras such as accommodation in 2018.

This minimum price is for all certification agencies; PADI, SSI etc.

For as long as I remember Koh Tao has been known as a cheap place for high quality dive training. Diving here in September 2018 there were still many smaller/new dive schools competing on price and you could do an Open water dive course for THB 7500 ($230). Even though the price of an Open water course increased significantly it is still well priced compared to other popular training locations. There is a significant price difference between PADI and SSI courses in most of these locations.

clown fish thailand

Typical Open water dive course prices around the world:

  • Bali (Indonesia)                $275 – 395
  • Utila (Honduras)              $290 -370
  • Koh Tao (Thailand)          $360
  • Cozumel (Mexic0)            $375
  • Gili islands (Indonesia)   $400
  • Belize                                   $450
  • Bonair                                  $490

6. Training agency – Choose between PADI, SSI and the rest

The two most popular diving training agencies around the world are PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International), with people sometimes referring to doing their open water course as ‘getting my Padi’. Well known agencies are PADI, SSI, NAUI, RAID, CMAS, TDI or SDI. Every training agency will teach you how to be a competent diver by doing theory, confined sessions (swimming pool or pool-like conditions in shallow water) and open water dive training all  follow the general framework laid down by the World Recreational Scuba Diving Council.

There are no significant differences in the skills and requirements by these agencies.

  • Doing your course through any of these agencies will be accepted if you want to dive world wide.
  • You can always cross-over between associations, e.g. do a SSI open water and a PADI advanced.
  • If you are considering working as a dive professional I would recommend doing you divemaster/instructor training with PADI or SSI. As a PADI instructor I have been offered positions all over the world.
  • PADI courses tends to be more expensive than SSI (no longer on Koh Tao)

7. Facilities

  • Facilities are very important
  • The Pool – does the school have one? many smaller schools do not have a pool and do confined water training in shallow water according to standards, in ‘swimming pool like’ conditions. Tides, wind and swell conditions are not always as calm as in a pool not offering the best conditions to familiarize new students with gear. This is not a good option for students that are not very confident in the water.
  • The Classroom – you will spend a lot of time here watching training videos and in class discussions, is it comfortable, food and drinks available close by?

8. Gear

Is the equipment in good condition? As a new diver there is not much more to look for, but brand new or very well looked after kit from a reputable brand such as Mares, Scuba Pro or Aqualung is a good sign.

9. Accommodation

Some dive resorts own their own accommodation or has a partnership with a facility. Free accommodation obviously saves a lot of money and it is nice to stay in the same place as the people you are on course with. Just go and take look if you would like to stay at the offered accommodation for a couple of days or if you can upgrade.

10. Environment

Is the school environmentally conscious? I was very impressed with how environmentally friendly the whole island is. 7 Eleven gives no plastic bags, straws are not allowed on Koh Tao. All dive schools that I went to in Koh Tao made a definite effort, ranging from  rubbish collecting dives to having it’s own recycling plant!

11. Online training

Completing the theory online before you arrive is great if you are on holiday with limited time. The online theory is free with SSI schools, this is awesome for backpackers that do not want to pay for an expensive manual that they often end up leaving behind after the course.

Dive Insurance

Thinking of things that can go wrong too much can put a damper on your trip, but there are obvious risks. Many dive locations are remote with minimal medical facilities. Accidents do happen, be prepared. World Nomads travel insurance covers travelers from most countries around the world and cover can even be organised while you are traveling. They specialize in covering adventure activities like diving. Make sure you take out the appropriate cover. Get a online quote in seconds. Have your trip, your health and your gear covered, read the small print. World Nomads Diving Insurance

DIVE centers koh tao

Roctopus Dive

Roctopus Dive in Koh Tao is a vibrant dive center with friendly staff, passionate about diving that rubs off on you. It is a medium sized center with 15 instructors that was established in 2011. I loved the vibe here, the young staff members are experienced and live for diving, whether you want to learn, or just dive you will have a good time at Roctopus diving with this exciting, safe crew. If you walk into the shop you will see the center caters for people of all ages and demographics; solo travelers, couples and families.  I met a couple of Roctopus students and they raved about the course and instructors, most of them continuing with an advanced course.

TripAdvisor – 94% Excellent 2702 reviews

roctopus dive crew koh tao

Location

Sairee Beach

Accommodation

Roctopus has a relationship with Good Dream Hotel (Khun Ying House), this is a very nice, modern hotel with a great vibe, super friendly staff and a range of accommodation from dormitory to deluxe rooms with a balcony. Good facilities and they can help you organize anything around the island. Great place, good value for money. Many people staying here were diving with the closely located Roctopus dive center.

About their Open water course

  • Roctopus is a RAID training center primarily running courses  through RAID, but the option of SSI is offered and they can accommodate you if you want to do your training through PADI.
  • The Open water courses costs THB 11 100 ($338) Dec 2018.
  • Duration of Open water course is 4 days
  • Small classes, 4 students per instructor
  • They dive all sites during the course depending on conditions.

Facilities

  • Roctopus has a specially designed pool for confined training
  • Air conditioned class rooms

Friends of the Environment

Roctopus are very involved with conservation and recycling,  they are one of the most active centers when it comes to beach clean ups and clean-up dives working hard to get rubbish out of the water around Koh Tao! They go beyond this by offering conservation training with one, five, and two-week marine conservation programs as well as 8 week Eco trust marine conservation internships and 3 month Eco dive master internships. Involved with building and maintaining Koh Tao’s most popular artificial reef. One of the founding members of the very successful Get Involved Koh Tao group making a huge ecological impact on the island.

Courses offered

  • Open water, Advanced, Rescue Diver, Dive Master, Instructor and full range of specialty training courses.
  • Roctopus Dive can offer you an Open Water and Advanced course by PADI, SSI and RAID, they qualify mostly RAID divers.
  • Roctopus is a RAID instructor training center and this is a great center to work as a dive master trainee with a great vibe, facilities and experienced employees. In the Dive master Training Program  you participate in various classroom and in-water workshops. You also assist experienced instructors during courses and you get unlimited dives during your Divemaster Training Program!

Davy Jones Locker (DJL)

Davy Jones Locker (DJL) Diving is a medium sized 5 Star PADI CDC Resort with 22 years of experience at the time of writing! (established 1996). The staff is friendly, helpful, and professional. They do all levels of training, but with 2 full time Platinum rated Course Directors on staff this an excellent place to be if you want to become a PADI dive master or instructor. DJL caters people of all ages and demographics solo travelers, couples and families.

TripAdvisor – 92% Excellent out of 1093 reviews

davy-jones-locker-koh-tao-tech-dive-thailand

Location

Sairee Beach

Courses offered

  • Open Water courses right through to Instructor and Staff Instructor courses.  ‘zero to hero’ style.
  • Internships offered to go from your first dive to PADI instructor.
  • MSDT internships
  • They focus a lot on their dive master training program.
  • Offer PADI technical dive training
  • Variety of Technical, Boat Handling and Underwater Videography courses.

About their Open water course

  • PADI Open Water Diver Course [4 days]
  • The Open water courses costs THB 11 000 ($335) Dec 2018.
  • Duration: 4 Days
  • Small  classes 4 students per instructor

Friends of the Environment

DJL are very involved in conservation and recycling with a completely plastic free bar and restaurant. Drive project Aware ‘Dive against debris’, Big ocean rubbish collections. Active member of ‘Save Koh Tao’ movement.  They take part in regular beach and reef clean ups.

Facilities

DJL has a swimming pool, bar & restaurant along with a wide range of accommodation for all diving customers.

Crystal Dive

With more than 20 years experience Crystal dive is one of the most established dive centers on Koh Tao. Crystal offers a full range of PADI courses, from Open water to instructor. This experienced dive center with friendly, helpful staff located right on Mae Haad beach is also a great option for free diving,  technical or eco training. With at least one IDC per month a great place for instructor training.  People of all ages and demographics are welcome at Crystal Dive.

TripAdvisor – 94% Excellent out of 499 reviews

crystaldive-koh-tao

Location

Mae Haad

Accommodation

Crystal Dive partners with Koh Tao Regal Resort  on the beach 3 pools, spa and wellness center.

Courses offered

  • All PADI diving courses from beginner to professional level
  • Full range of PADI Specialty courses.
  • PADI Free diving courses, technical diving, Professional level Underwater Photography and Underwater Video Courses
  • With 4 course directors on staff and running at least one Instructor course per month, great place for instructor training
  • All professional courses Dive Master to PADI Staff instructor!
  • MSDT internship
  • Divemaster program perfect place to learn all aspects of being a dive master.

About their Open water course

  • PADI Open Water Diver Course
  • The Open water courses costs THB 11 000 ($335) Dec 2018.
  • Duration: 4 Days
  • Medium group size with max 6 students per instructor

Friends of the Environment

  • Very involved in Marine Conservation projects, building and maintaining Koh Tao’s most popular artificial reef helping to preserve the waters around Koh Tao.
  • Work environmental organisation Eco Koh Tao to protect the marine environment around Koh Tao.
  • Offer a wide range of Marine conservation Eco diving courses and programs.

Facilities

Located on Mae Haad beach with a variety of accommodation both Thai style bungalows and AC rooms with partnerships for more upper class accommodation. Nice swimming pool and bar to chill after the day’s diving.

Sairee Cottage Diving

Sairee Cottage Diving is a medium size 5 star PADI diving school, they really have beautiful facilities with fantastic accommodation at Sairee Cottage resort. Sairee caters for divers off all ages and demographics, with such gorgeous surroundings it is a great place for couples to do dive training. The staff is friendly and the people I spoke to raved about their courses from open water through to instructor. Want to go professional? check out their Dive master and Diving Instructor super-yacht training packages to land a job teaching diving on a yacht!

TripAdvisor – 92% Excellent out of 743 diving reviews

Sairee-Cottage-Diving

Location

Sairee Beach

Courses offered

  • Offers all PADI courses Open Water courses through to Instructor
  • Many extras offered on their dive master program will better equip you to become a good dive leader.
  • Want to work on a yacht? The  Dive master and Diving Instructor super-yacht training offers unique training with their yachting partners in Phuket to launch you towards this dream
  • Variety of specialty courses.

About their Open water course

  • PADI Open Water Diver Course
  • The Open water courses costs THB 11 000 ($335) Dec 2018.
  • Duration: 3 Days
  • Medium group size with max 6 students per instructor

Facilities

Very nice class rooms, beautiful swimming pool bar, variety of accommodation for different budgets, from basic bungalows (which will be a perfect change if you have been staying in dorms for months), to a variety of beautiful rooms at good prices, check out the rooms on the pool.

Friends of the Environment

An Eco friendly dive center that is big on recycling. One of the founding members of the very successful Get Involved Koh Tao group making a huge ecological impact on the island. As a 100% AWARE partner centre they organise eco days on a regular basis and donate to PADI ProjectAWARE with every certification.

Big Blue Diving

Established in 1981 Big Blue is one of Koh Tao’s longest established Dive Centers with 28 years experience at the time of writing! The center oozes professionalism and I loved the facilities here,  located right on the beach with a bar and restaurant for the ultimate island vibe. Highly rated for just about everything you can do with a mask on scuba diving – open water to instructor, free diving or technical training. The staff was friendly and helpful and students I spoke to loved Big Blue, they cater for all ages and demographics.

TripAdvisor – 88% Excellent out of 3311 reviews

Big Blue Diving Resort
Big Blue Diving Resort on Sairee Beach

Location

Sairee Beach

Courses offered

Full range of Scuba Diving Courses from Open Water to Scuba Instructor (SSI Diamond instructor training center). Also specialists in Freediving, Technical Diving, Instructor Training & professional Underwater Videography

About their Open water course

  • Big Blue is a SSI Diamond instructor training center primarily running courses  through SSI, but they offer the option  to do your training through BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) or PADI.
  • The Open water courses costs THB 11 000 ($335) Dec 2018.
  • Duration of Open water course is 4 days
  • Small to medium classes 4-6 students per instructor
  • Accommodation – THB 300 per night for dormitory bed during course, upgrade option available
  • They dive all sites during the course depending on conditions.

Facilities

  • Step on to the beach out of the dive center.
  • Specially designed pool for confined training
  • Air conditioned class rooms
  • Big Blue have a great restaurant on sight which has a good mix of Thai and western food available all day.

Friends of the Environment

Big Blue are very involved in conservation and recycling. DMT’s teach local children how to snorkel and conserve the reefs. They helped to set up the ‘Save Koh Tao‘ movement  to conserve natural resources.  They take part in regular beach and reef clean ups. Big Blue has a top 10 Green Fins rating for their environmental approach.

Bans Dive Resort

Owned and operated by a local family Ban’s is a professional Dive center and popular resort started in 1993 (25 years ago). The dive center is massive, claiming to be the biggest PADI dive center in the world. This resort caters for divers of all ages and demographics. When  refer to a large dive resort as a factory, Bans come to mind, in 2014 they passed the 150 000 students certified mark. I thought this is a pretty awesome factory! Amazing facilities and as a huge IDC center qualifying 20 instructors every month, of which many want to stay, they can pic the cream of the crop for new instructors and dive masters. When it comes to conservation and Eco friendly practices Bans definitely leads the way. Being so big can be a double edged sword; amazing resources and facilities, but by being a huge resort and dive center there are bound to be some problems as can be seen from reviews.

TripAdvisor – 71% Excellent out of 2131  reviews

bans-dive-resort

Location

Sairee Beach

Accommodation

Ban’s Diving Resort is a huge luxury resort with a variety of accommodation ranging from budget twin rooms to deluxe garden view suites.

Courses offered

  • All PADI courses Open Water courses right through to Instructor and Staff Instructor courses.
  • Internships offered to go from your first dive to PADI instructor.
  • With 4 course directors on staff and running at least on Instructor course per month, great place for instructor training
  • MSDT internships
  • Divemaster program perfect place to learn all aspects of being a dive master.

About their Open water course

  • PADI Open Water Diver Course
  • The Open water courses costs THB 11 000 ($335) Dec 2018.
  • Duration: 4 Days
  • Medium group size with max 6 students per instructor

Friends of the Environment

The Eco friendly side at Bans is truly amazing with a massive recycling center doing recycling for many other dive centers and facilities on the island. Bans manufacture many organic products through recycling that they sell over the island.

The resort uses only their own eco friendly detergents to clean the rooms and grow many of their own fruit and vegetables for the Bans retaurants, using organic pesticides.

Very involved in ocean conservation through project aware

They keep their clients involved with conservation through regular snorkel ocean clean ups and provide free gear on clean up dives.

Facilities

The resort has 4 amazing swimming pools, 2 restaurants on the beach and 250 rooms for accommodation

Handy things to pack when doing your dive course

MARES STAR |AEGEND FOLD AWAY| RASH VEST |ANTI-FOG |HAVAIANAS FLIP FLOPS|GO PRO HERO 7|COLUMBIA SHIRT|OSPREY TOILETRY BAG|BOARD SHORTS

  • We always have a mask in our backpacks and love the Mares Star liquid skin. Doesn’t take much space and important to have one that fits without leaking when going for a dive or snorkel. The liquid skin material is super soft and fits very comfortable for both of us. Our favorite mask for Scuba and snorkeling

    Silicone Snorkel

    This awesome, soft silicone snorkel folds away in your backpack, if we have a mask and snorkel the dive center we dive with often borrows us fins, so snorkeling costs us zero.   Aegend soft fold away snorkel

    Thermo Guard dive/swim vest

    0.5mm neoprene keeps you warm swimming and diving, protects you against the sun. Light to pack in your backpack.  Mares Men’s Thermo Guard 0.5mm

  • Very important to pack a nice towel that doesn’t take to much space in your luggage. We suggest a quality microfiber towel.

Check here for a complete packing list for a diving holiday

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5 Comments

  1. Pascal Valentine

    good, and beautiful writing
    much informative for the ones planning to go Kho Tao.
    keep up the good work guys.

  2. Jim Donaldson

    Hi guys, I’m one of the owners of Big Blue Diving in Koh Tao. I’ve just come across a review you made of Diving schools in Koh Tao & wanted to write to you both & thank you for such a positive reveiw on Koh Tao & of the dive centers you chose to write about it.
    I thought it was an excellent & very informative article encompassing everything one could possibly need to know about diving on Koh Tao.
    SO thank you for that & Keep up the great work.
    Cheers
    Jim Donaldson

    • Stingy Nomads

      Thanks Jim, loved Koh Tao, looking forward to coming back!

    • coming to koh tao this august ! we are searching for a dive school for our padi open water. very well written reviews!! might see us at Big Blue Diving Jim !!!

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