Learning to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao

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Today’s blog post is contributed by Bailey, whose biggest passion in life is traveling. Along with her boyfriend Daniel, the two have been to more than 40 countries together. They recently finished a 14-month backpacking trip in South and Central America and are now currently exploring New Zealand. They are always in search of their next adventure and love anything outdoors. You can follow them on their travel blog, Destinationless Travel or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

While on a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with my boyfriend, Daniel, I knew that there would come a time when I would have the opportunity to learn to scuba dive. I knew that learning to scuba dive in Koh Tao was on Daniel’s list of things to do, but I wasn’t sure if it was also on mine.

For me, the ocean seemed so big, mysterious, amazing, and scary all at the same time. Not to mention, I am not the strongest swimmer (Daniel is Australian and seems to have grown up part-fish!) I just didn’t have confidence in the water, let alone the ocean!

All ready to go scuba diving.

Learning to scuba dive or not was a challenging decision because deep down I truly wanted to scuba dive. I had always wanted to be a diver and explore the mysteries beneath the water’s surface, but I was scared. I had a huge fear of something going wrong!

Once arriving in Koh Tao, I knew that it was a “now or never” type situation and therefore I overcame my fears and partook in a PADI Open Water course in Koh Tao Thailand – this is how it went.

Arriving at Koh Tao

We arrived on a ferry from the neighboring island of Koh Samui and were greeted by what felt like hundreds of Thai salespeople. Some were shouting out names looking for people who had already booked with their hotel or dive center, and others were trying to gain new customers.

Stunning Koh Tao.

My “type-A personality” rarely ever lets me show up unprepared, especially since I was so nervous about scuba diving. I had already researched good dive centers with the best safety ratings and reviews. If I was going to learn to scuba dive I wanted it to be with the best teacher and gear!

Sure enough, after a couple of minutes, we were approached by a man from a place called Ban’s Diving Resort which was a company that I had in mind from all of my research. He explained that he would give us a free ride into the town center where the dive resort was located and we could speak to them there and check it out. They had deals on accommodation and dive packages and even offered refunds to people who didn’t complete the course! We jumped in the back of the pickup truck and were off.

Booking the Dive Course

It all happened so fast. One minute we were arriving on the island, and what felt like seconds later we were signing our lives away on a waiver for a scuba diving course.

Jumping off of the dive boat.

I was so nervous and expressed this to the lady at the sales counter. She assured me that the first day was only practicing with the equipment in the pool. She told me that if I didn’t like it at any point they would refund me a portion of my payment so there was no financial pressure. Of course, Daniel was in my ear, “you’ll be fine babe, it’ll be easy.” I couldn’t say no, I signed the waiver and paid for the course.

About Learning to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao

Before I get into my whole story about learning to scuba dive, here is a little bit of background info on scuba diving in Koh Tao. 

Koh Tao is an island in Southern Thailand that is world renowned for scuba diving. Literally, dozens of different dive shops operate on Koh Tao and due to the high competition, prices are really affordable. We paid around $1000 USD for both of us to complete our Open Water and Advanced PADI certifications including accommodation for the week at a nice hotel with a pool.

Fish scuba diving.

Around Koh Tao, there are several different dive sites. Since scuba diving has become so popular there it is said that a lot of the corals are getting ruined over time, but I still thought the diving was spectacular. Lots of fish, shipwrecks, cave systems, and crystal clear waters with little to no current. It makes for the perfect place for learning how to scuba dive.

Learning the ropes

The first part of learning to scuba dive is easy, it is just in the classroom! I had to watch a few different videos, listen to my instructor talk a bit, and fill in some workbooks. All of this information basically taught me the dangers of scuba diving, but also how simple the equipment really is to operate. To be honest, learning about how everything works helped to calm my nerves.

The second part was also easy as we stay in a swimming pool. I had to pass a swimming test which I was nervous about because I’m not a strong swimmer, but it was actually really easy. We only had to swim a couple of laps and then tread water for 5 minutes.

Day 1 – In the Pool

After we completed the swimming test we got to put on our gear and breathe underwater for the first time – which is a weird and incredible experience. When you first put your head underwater you automatically hold your breath, you actually have to tell yourself that it’s okay and to breathe through the regulator. When I finally took that breath underwater I was amazed. I knew I had to keep pushing myself to get into the ocean, I knew that being in the ocean was something I needed to experience for myself.

We spent the remainder of the day practicing swimming with our gear on in the pool. I was surprised at how challenging it was to swim in a straight line. When you breathe in, your lungs fill up with air making you rise and then when you breathe out the air releases and you fall. In scuba diving they call it “controlling your buoyancy” and the aim is to take shallow breaths to allow yourself to swim in a straight line.

Floating in the ocean with our dive gear on.

We also practiced setting up our gear, but our instructor assured us that he would still do it for us the first time and then check it every time after that.

Our Instructor

I truly believe that when learning to scuba dive, the instructor makes a huge difference. Our instructor, Jens, was a Dutch fellow with an incredible passion for scuba diving. He wasn’t some young guy who just started teaching, this was Jens’ career choice, passion, and really seemed to be his life.

Learning to scuba dive is amazing.

Jens consistently had a huge smile on his face and answered all of our questions before we could even ask them. I assume he had taught this course so many times before that he knew what we were always thinking before we even did!

Jens was such an experienced instructor within the company that while he was teaching us, he was also teaching another instructor. He was demonstrating how to teach a class. There was nothing Jens didn’t know and did everything with a smile and extreme confidence.

He always told us how great our group was and how much better we were than all of the other groups. I don’t necessarily know if this was true or not, but it gave me a false sense of confidence which I really needed.

The Group

Besides Jens, our actual group also was helpful for me during learning to scuba dive. The group was small and made up of a trio of Dutch friends along with Daniel and I. The others were about our age and equally as excited and nervous. We became great friends with them over the course of the week.

Scuba dive partners.

Having such an encouraging, supportive, and fun group made conquering my fears that much easier.

Real Nerves

The night before I had a mini-breakdown over how nervous I was. Daniel told me that I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to, but that was the thing, I did want to, I was just scared.

I went over in my head over and over again everything I needed to remember. Daniel and I practiced all the hand signals. I was determined I was going to do it!

The next morning I woke up after very little sleep and tried to keep cool. Still, just as determined, I met up with the group and prepared to get on the dive boat.

My First Scuba Dive in the Ocean

Once on the boat, Jens prepared all of our gear for us and checked our air levels. We had a little meeting where he told us about the dive site. He said that where we would be diving is very shallow. We would jump off the boat and swim a little bit first, and then go underwater where we would be on a nice sandy beach that was only as deep as the pool.

Exploring the ocean.

We went over the hand signals once more and then got ready to jump in.

One of my original fears about scuba diving was that I was not a strong swimmer. But what I didn’t know before is that the vest you wear which holds the tank (called a BCD) inflates with air. So every time you are on the surface of the water you just inflate your BCD and you float. There is actually zero swimming involved whatsoever!

We had to jump into the water from the edge of the boat while holding out regulator in our mouths and our mask on. Once you hit the water you push a small button that fills your BCD up with water and that’s it, you are just floating in the water no problem.

Once our whole group was in the water, we flipped over onto our backs and kicked our feet until we were in the spot Jens wanted us to dive at. At this point, we deflated our BCD’s and just calmly sunk under the ocean’s surface.

The First Breath Underwater

When I was finally under the water and breathing, seeing from my mask, and realizing that I was just fine I had one of those moments of relief and satisfaction. I could do this! I was so happy I pushed myself to do it! Breathing underwater is a feeling that can’t be explained, it just has to be experienced.

That first dive lasted about 30 minutes but felt like only 5. There was so much to look at! I had no problems and felt that I was doing well at controlling my buoyancy.

Becoming an Expert

Over the next few dives, it was baby steps. We learned to take off our mask as well as switch to an emergency regulator. While doing these things was scary, it also gave me confidence knowing that in an emergency situation I knew what to do and how to do it.

We slowly started going deeper on our dives and learned how to descend without the use of a rope. We also played around with the weightless feeling by doing flips on the bottom of the ocean floor. I learned to conserve the air in my tank better and by the end of our open water course (four ocean dives), we were diving for up to an hour!

Conquering My Fear

I am quite the adventurer normally, but for me, out of skydiving, bungee jumping, or anything else really, scuba diving was the scariest. But, I didn’t let my fear stop me. I proceeded with caution but continued to push forwards each step of the way.

|Over the course of the four days I listened very carefully to everything Jens had to say and I self-talked my way through the challenges. But what really helped me was knowing how proud I would be of myself at the end when I did conquer this fear.

What I Didn’t Expect

I knew I would be proud of myself for completing the open water course and the four scuba dives, but what I didn’t expect was that I would want to do it more! In fact, our whole group had such an awesome time that we weren’t ready for it to end!

Jens told us that we could continue and do another 5 dives over two days to complete our Advanced PADI certification. These dives would include a shipwreck dive, a night dive, and certify us to dive as deep as 30 meters! We couldn’t say no especially since Jens promised he would be our instructor again.

A True Scuba Diver

After completing my Advanced PADI in Koh Tao, I have done lots of scuba diving all over the world! I am no pro by any means, however, I feel confident diving and love doing it! Daniel and I went on a scuba dive trip to Bali shortly after Thailand where we dove a site recommended to us by Jens, a shipwreck called the USS Liberty Shipwreck.

Scuba diving in Koh Tao.

We have also dived at various dive sites around San Andres Island, Colombia and in Bocas del Toro, Panamá. My favorite dive experience though was in Tulum, Mexico where we scuba dived in the cenotes, which are freshwater swimming holes and cave systems! It was incredible and super different than the ocean. One of the cenotes was completely pitch black and all we had was a flashlight to see what was around us, and another involved us swimming underneath a ceiling made from roots of trees!

For me now, scuba diving is a hobby and something I do when I travel. If there is an opportunity to dive in a really great spot, I go for it! I love that conquering my fear has not only created a new hobby for me but has enhanced my traveling experiences by being able to explore the ocean as well as the land in a new place.

Is learning to Scuba Dive something on your bucket list? Where in the world would you want to scuba dive first?

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10 Comments

  • Good for you Bailey. Koh Tao is gorgeous. I recall living nextdoor to a farang dive instructor in Koh Lanta for a month. He did a pretty good job goading us to go into the pool for free but we did not get around to it. Perhaps on a return trip we will go down deep in the sea :)

    Ryan

  • Oh man, I haven’t scuba dive before but it sounds neat! I like that the opportunity was taken out in Koh Tao. There are so many gorgeous fishies out there! $1,000 is baller money right there! Glad they enjoyed their time out there! This is really helpful, especially since I’m totally new to the experience. Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

  • That’s the most adventurous thing, that one can do in life. Exploring the world that resides much below in the water is the most amazing experience. I would like to live it at fullest. Thanks for this brief guide.

  • Great job on overcoming your fear! I’ve tendered for divers yet I’m claustrophobic and I had a couple of unpleasant experiences when trying to learn. I would be up for trying again though! Have a great Sunday! :)

  • Oh wow I’d love to visit Koh Tao, we were meant to scuba dive in Mexico but unfortunately I wasn’t feeling too well the morning that we booked it for so they wouldn’t allow us to go ahead! It’s something I’d love to try though!

    Soph – https://sophhearts.com x

  • Life truly begins at the end of your comfort zone – besides, Koh Tao looks stunning indeed! By the way, I find skydiving and bungee jumping scarier, cause I´m more afraid of heights!

  • your article really makes me put Koh Tao in my top 3 destinations for next year! I have a friend who recently went diving there, she absolutely loved the Sail Rock and generally the whole island. I just got my PADI Open Water certification and I’m so eager to explore more of the wonders of this incredible planet and become a better diver <3 glad you included some other cool destinations as well

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