On the recommendation of some friends we decided to spend some time in Koh Tao, Thailand to learn to dive! Apparently it’s meant to be one of the cheapest places to learn and with the possibility of seeing a whale shark, I was totally sold!
We caught a sleeper train from Bangkok to Chumphon which was fun. Tickets are easily bought from Hua Lumphong station in Bangkok- I think the staff are used to western tourists and they give you all the same ticket, 2nd class air con sleeper… The train is pretty fun. You get a large seat each to start off with which gets converted into upper and lower bunks when you’re ready to sleep. Food is available in the dining car which is reasonable in price and quality as well as a great place to meet fellow travellers (if you can hear each other over the blaring 80s pop music!). If you don’t fancy making the trip to the dining cart, people selling drinks and snacks roam the corridors usually making their presence known by shouting out their wares often to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’…
From Chumphon we got a ferry to Koh Tao (the ferry company run a shuttle bus between the train and ferry) and arrived to a mass of people shouting out names, advertising diving schools, hotels and the like. We’d already booked onto a PADI course a few days previously with New Way diving school so we had to search for someone with that sign before hopping onto the back of a pick up truck/ taxi and driving to the dive shop. Here we had a quick briefing before heading to our accommodation. Normally accommodation is included in the course price but they were out of a/c rooms so we chose to pay less and find our own hotel elsewhere. Air con got very important to us after 4 days on the sailboat…
That first afternoon was spent watching old school PADI videos and answering questions. Very tedious as you can imagine. The following days were much better! Two mornings of book work and tests followed by our confined dive and then our first and second open water dives with our instructor Yann (he’s French!). Me and Cat both got 100% in our final tests despite not really understanding a word our instructor said… I just liked the way he said ‘bubbles’ with his accent. It was very distracting! Reminds me of the prawn in Finding Nemo! Our last morning with them for our final two dives meant a crazy early start. This school has made its name as the first dive school on the reef so we were off on the boats by 6am. The dives to Southwest Pinnacles and Shark Island were our best chances of seeing a whale shark but unfortunately luck was not on our side!
Diving was kinda fun. But also kinda really stressful… It didn’t help that we didn’t see anything super spectacular and the water’s clear enough here that snorkelling would probably be just as good! I’m determined to try again though and hey, my PADI certification is for life. Plenty of time to grow to love it!
Koh Tao is a nice island. Beaches are quiet, though Thai beaches are never really clean. It’s a real tourist hub though so expect tourist prices for food and such.
If you’re interested in learning to dive, I’d definitely recommend doing it here! The water’s perfectly warm and clear and plenty of fish to see!