PADI Open Water Diving Course in Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is well known for it's many diving schools, stunning beaches, bars and restaurants and is one of the diving capitals of the world. It was a fairly last minute decision to come here to learn diving but we just couldn't let up the chance to learn such a great skill that would open up the undiscovered underwater world to us.

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Getting to Koh Tao was straight forward but long. There are several different ways to get here, but I'll do a separate post about that as It warrants its own!

Why PADI?

Making the decision to do a diving course was a bit last minute. We had been thinking about it but weren’t sure whether we wanted to spend that much time in Thailand as we’d already been for three weeks in January. Our next destination after Bangkok was going to be Indonesia, but with the uncertainly about the volcano in Bali we thought it might be better to give it an extra week to see where we were then. 

We took the course as we wanted to be able to use our newly learned skills to be able to dive in any of the destinations we go to next. There are different certifications you can do - two of the most popular being SSI and PADI. They are interchangeable but different dive centres will be specialised around specific ones.

The PADI Open Water course itself is 4 days long consisting of quite a bit of theory work initially, a practical learning day in swimming pool to learn initial diving skills and then the actual diving!

Who to go with?

There are so many dive schools in Koh Tao, it seems as if you can’t walk ten metres without seeing a new offer for an open water course. This made making the initial decision for who to go with very difficult because although Trip Advisor is good to get an idea about a school there are many other considerations to think about too. Don’t forget to also visit their website. We decided to go with a school which would have small courses of around 4 people and narrowed it down to two schools. One of the schools didn’t have any information about the course, prices or anything like that and it was difficult to find any information about them other than the Trip Advisor reviews. The other, Davy Jones’ Locker (DJL) had a great website giving a good overview of everything we needed to know, so we decided to go with them.

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I started emailing them to find out about how far in advance we needed to book and about whether Kieron would actually be able to dive as he can’t see without his glasses. DJL were fantastic with communication and got back to me right away letting me know that you can buy masks where you can change the lenses in them to fit your required prescription. We ended up doing this on the day we arrived with Scuba Revolution and it only took 5 minutes!

The PADI open water course at DJL is 9800 baht - which is definitely more expensive than some of the other dive schools, but honestly it’s completely worth it. Everyone is really friendly and welcoming and there’s a huge social aspect involved. They have their own bar and training pool right next to the shop.

PADI Open Water Course

Day 1

We turned up at DJL at 4pm on the first day of the course. Here we met our instructor aptly named Fish and another student on the course Asi. The plan for the first day is to watch 3 videos about different areas of diving, however the electricity was out for most of the island so our initial training involved old school reading through text books and answering multiple choice knowledge review questions. Some of it was a bit tedious but it’s not all bad. We were all coming from a non-diving backgrounds so it was good to start from the beginning and know we were learning information that would help us in the actual dives.

Once the knowledge review was completed we checked our answers and were free for the rest of the evening. 

Around DJL there are loads of bars and restaurants and it’s right on the beach so you can wander down and catch the sunset. 

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Day 2

Today we started a bit earlier, but still had time for a lie in! At 10am we arrived at DJL and got ready for some practical learning. 

Fish had already got together our equipment and started explaining how we put it all together:

  • Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) & Low-Pressure Inflator (LPI) - Does as it says! It gives you control over how buoyant you are in the water. It also attaches to your air tank.
  • Diving cylinder & Regulator- The diving cylinders store high compressed gas containing 21% oxygen. The regulator attaches to the cylinders and delivers the air at a pressure that is safe for the diver.
  • Pressure gauge - tells you how much gas you’ve got left!

Fish explained why each of the pieces of equipment was needed and how they all fit together. We then started to put it all together ourselves quite a few times so that we’d start remembering! The order was difficult at first but later on in the course it had definitely become habit. We also learnt how to do our buddy checks - your buddy is another person you dive with who is looking out for you and you for them. You are both aware of the situations around you and help each other to avoid or respond in times of emergency.

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We spent so much time in the pool that we had super wrinkly hands by the end!

Diving is no joke, and when done wrongly you can risk decompression sickness (DCS) and death so forming good habits early and being aware of the risks can help you dive safely and ensure you have fun.

Once our equipment was sorted we jumped in the pool to try it all out! We started off slow, putting on our BCD, mask and then trying our regulator out by putting our face in the water. Our first underwater breaths!

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The rest of the morning was spent learning various skills such as removing and replacing your mask underwater, clearing water out of a fully flooded and partially flooded mask, what to do when you’re out of air with your buddy and removing and replacing your BCD underwater and on the surface.

Today was so fun. Learning the skills made me feel a lot more confident about the fact that the next time we’d be wearing the equipment we’d be in the actual sea!!

We had a lunch break after the skills during which time I went to the medical centre for a diving medical checkup. On the first day we answered a whole load of questions about our health and quite a while ago now I had sinus surgery so I was asked to get checked out. It only cost 200baht and took about 5 minutes but fortunately the doctor found me in good health to dive!

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In the afternoon we went back to the classroom and finished the last 2 sections of our theory review and also did our final exam! I got one question wrong so finished with 98% (gutted) and Kieron finished with 100% (whatever!).

Days 3 & 4

The real life dives!!!! We had to be up at 5am to get to DJL for 6am (ouch). We grabbed our equipment and walked down to the beach where a long boat was waiting for us and our stuff. We loaded everything in and set off out towards the big boat just as the sun was making its ascent.

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We moved everything onto the big boat and met Mama and Papa who look after and drive the boat and also fill up empty diving cylinders.

We set up our equipment and the boat sailed towards the Twins which is just off the beach on the West side of Koh Nang Yang. It’s so named because of two very similar looking rock formations that sit next to each other surrounded by sand.

We were briefed by Fish about the site and the skills he’d be testing, donned our equipment, did our buddy buddy checks and jumped in! 

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I was so excited to start doing some real diving, but honestly I was a little apprehensive too. I was worried about not being able to equalise (allows high pressure air from your throat to enter your ears to stop misbalanced pressure).

Fortunately my fears were unfounded as after some surface skills, we found our way to the mooring line and prepared to descend. In order to equalise I pinched my nose and gently blew air through my throat towards my ears. You have to do this quite regularly as you’re going down. The trick is to do it before it gets to the point where it’s too much - little and often! Quite quickly I realised sometimes you don’t even need to pinch your nose, I found I could do it by starting a yawn.

On our first dive we went to 12 metres for 40 minutes. It felt like 10 minutes! It was amazing! We saw so many fish, coral and even a blue spotted ribbon tail ray!

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We had some surface time before going for our second dive in a different area of the Twins. 

After both our dives we headed back to DJL. We washed our equipment on arrival and put everything away. We were still buzzing from our dive and with the prospect of only one more day of the course looming we went and signed up for the Advanced Open Water course! 

You’re not supposed to fly for at least 18 hours after multiple dives and we already had flights booked but the 2 day course meant we just had enough time!

Our last day was very similar to the 3rd day, we went diving again at White Rock and the Japanese Garden. The last dive was a fun dive which was nice because there were no skills to be tested, we just followed Fish and had an awesome dive!

Finally we finished off with some paperwork and we had our PADI Open Water certification!

We filled in our dive log books and were now up to 4 dives!

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Before we finished for the day Fish gave us a textbook each and some knowledge review questions for the Advanced Open Water course that we needed to finish for the next day.

Kieron had already bought his diving mask but I thought I'd do the same (and a snorkel). Fish showed us what we needed to consider when buying a mask and I decided to go for a clear one. I spent over an hour that night rubbing toothpaste on the inside lenses until my finger hurt. Leaving it overnight I then washed it out in the morning. This process helps to reduce/prevent your mask from fogging up as you dive.

PADI Advanced Open Water Course

This course is designed to advance your diving, but you don’t have to be advanced. Which was fortunate for us as we only had 4 dives under our belt. It’s all about exploration and building confidence under your instructor. 

There are 5 core areas that we focussed on:

  • Peak performance buoyancy (PPB)
  • Navigation
  • Night diving
  • Deep diving
  • Wreck diving

On the first day we went on three of the dives, the first was for PPB and Navigation and on the third we went for a night dive.

Night Dive

We boarded the boat just before sunset so that we could get to the dive site just as the sun was setting in the sky.

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The night dive was awesome. I thought I’d be a bit more freaked out with it being so dark but actually it was fine. We got to the dive point just as the sun was setting and prepped our stuff. We had a torch each and descended to about 13.5m. Unfortunately visibility wasn’t very good but we still saw quite a few fish and got to explore the area. 

A couple of times we stopped and turned our torches to our chests to block out the light to see if we could see some bioluminescence. Unfortunately we only really saw a couple of specks, but maybe in the future!

We also tried doing some navigating. This is definitely an area we need to work on more. It’s more difficult that it seems underwater. It made me have a lot more respect for Fish’s ability to navigate, he always knew where we were - we never got lost under his watch and always finished right next to the boat!

Fish told us to get him back to the boat using our navigation skills at one point. I was supposed to go first and really thought I had this… I think we started off well but there was a gap between the coral that I must have forgotten so I ended up taking everyone round in a circle. On the second revolution Fish just sat where we’d started and waited for us again because he’d realised! It was quite funny, but also taught us a lesson that it isn’t easy. Visibility was very poor which didn’t help, but I’d like to point out that Asi and Kieron also followed me round in the circle so it wasn’t just me!

Deep Dive

I really enjoyed the deep dive. The visibility was really good so we could see how far down we were. Fish had brought an empty plastic bottle down with us and he showed us what it looked like at the bottom. It was completely distorted and when he opened it upside down you could see the air had compressed to only a small portion of the bottle. He filled the rest of it with air and sealed it so we could see what it was like at the surface.

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After we ascended he showed us the bottle again. Touching it it felt rock solid. When he opened the bottle the cap flew off and the air looked like it was steam! It was crazy! It was basically demonstrating what happens to the air in your lungs at different pressures. When the bottle had been refilled with air at depth the air particles will have been compressed and so more could fit in. Rising to the surface the air particles could now all spread out due to the reduced pressure. This is why you have to be so careful when you’re equalising and make sure you don't ascend too quickly!

While we were deep diving we also saw two rays that seemed to be mating. One minute there was one and the next one of them moved off the top and there were two!

Wreck Dive

This was my favourite dive by far! Visibility was incredible, the best we’d had the during either of the courses. We got down to almost 30metres and explored the outside of the HTMS Sattakut. This is a former US World War II Navy vessel that was commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy in 1947. Once decommissioned in 2007 it was purposely sank to become an artificial diving wreck. When it was initially sunk it actually landed on its side, so it had to be corrected post-sinking!

The wreck was really cool, there is a mounted gun at the front and you can see into part of the ship. We weren’t allowed to explore the inside as you need a PADI Wreck Penetration (hehe) certification first. Through one of the doors we saw the biggest fish I’ve ever seen! It was huge! There are so many fish near the wreck. 

We had to point out a few hazards to Fish and then we started making our way back to the boat. 

Before we got to the boat we managed to see a sea snake which is really venomous!

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And with that it was over! We’d done our PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses over five days and were certified divers! It was such an incredible experience, so much fun and we learnt loads. 

If you’re thinking about taking either of the above PADI courses then you should go for it. I would 100% recommend Davy Jones' Locker, they were brilliant, well located right next to Sairee beach and they were great at communicating. People in the office were friendly and welcoming and made everything easy to sort out. The fact that they also have their own bar is nice too as you can go for a drink or food during course breaks or afterwards. It's a really sociable atmosphere and the people are great.

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We were also extremely lucky to have such an amazing teacher who didn’t just want to get the course material and tests ticked off but wanted us to genuinely feel confident and cared about us really understanding what/why/how we were doing things and forming good habits from the start. He's moved to a different DJL in Indonesia now, but if you ever get a chance to learn from him then do it! Although just be careful because if you make silly mistakes you'll end up owing him a lot of beer!

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Sometimes you spend so much time on the land you forget that there’s a completely different world underwater. I feel like my world has expanded and I want to dive everywhere I can. It’s definitely my new favourite hobby. 

Our Dive Video

On the last day of the Advanced Open Water course we had Jake from Koh Tao ProVideo join us to film us underwater. It was really cool, he filmed us putting our equipment together, and taking it apart and all sorts of other fun stuff. 

You can watch our video below, Jake did an amazing job, it’s so great to have these memories captured on film. 

Don't forget to watch it in HD!!

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