Sandy beaches, palm trees, water as blue as the sky, and serenity: who doesn’t love this? Every year I spend a few months on Koh Tao, which is Thailand’s little slice of paradise, and now let me tell you about it!
At 21 square kilometres, Koh Tao is a relatively small island, a quiet slice of tropical paradise on the east side of Thailand. It is accessible only by boat, which helped preserve its charm and avoided the mega-commercialization found on other Thai islands. But despite its remoteness, the journey here is not arduous by any stretch: bus/boat combo tickets can be purchased in Bangkok, or one can fly to the nearby island of Koh Samui and then take a ferry. Upon arrival, visitors find that they are on a quiet yet surprisingly fun island which seems far removed from south-east Asia’s chaos, yet still provides the full spectrum of exotic attractions as well as standard comforts people seek while traveling. Once settled into their choice of budget bungalows or luxury villas, people hit the sandy beaches, hiking trails, coconut groves, rent out kayaks, put on their snorkelling gear, or park themselves at a comfy coffee shop and watch the island life slowly float by while enjoying a mango shake or a cold beer.
In the backpacking world, “Koh Tao” is synonymous with “diving”, and many soon-to-be divers arrive on ‘The Rock’ every year. Luckily, you dont feel like you are at a busy Chinese market, because everyone is absorbed by the 40-something dive resorts dotting the island. Originally a penal island and subsequently a coconut farm, Koh Tao was only discovered by scuba divers in the 1990’s. Since the first dive school opened here, the island has become a diver training Mecca, and today a multitude of dive resorts offer a wide array of courses to the keen adventure seekers vacationing in Thailand. Some only come for their initial diver training, while others come here for their Divemaster Internship and walk away with professional certifications and heaps of free dives! Yet others become Diving Instructors, and either get jobs right on Koh Tao, or make a career of scuba diving while traveling the world’s best tropical destinations. Now for the cherry on the cake: all graduates of the Davy Jones Locker Diving Ltd. professional programs get UNLIMITED FREE SCUBA for LIFE! Imagine that: UNLIMITED FREE scuba diving on a tropical island! For life!
Why all the hype about diving? Here are several good reasons:
1) Ideal environment and conditions: Koh Tao’s waters are as flat as the prairie, and are not known for strong currents. If the occasional bad weather rolls in, all you have to do is wait a day or two, and before you know it the waves will smooth out and the grey skies will be quickly replaced by the usual blue. Beyond the calm seas, the stuff under the water is spectacular: located in one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, you are guaranteed to have your mental fuzes blown out on every dive. Turtles, whalesharks, occasional whale, not to mention the multitude of other stuff like puffer fish, crabs, tuna, barracuda, and an enormous variety of corals. Some places offer easy, shallow diving ideal for introduction to the sport, others take you down to a whopping 40 metres, or deeper, if you wish to train for it, or into wrecks, of which there are several.
2) Safety, Experience, and Care: The Island has been introducing people to the great sport of scuba diving since the 90’s, and as such, there is a lot of expertise and know-how. Diving is a lifestyle here, and seemingly every other person you meet is either a divemaster or an instructor. In a place such as this, shoddy service just doesn’t fly. The divesites are well monitored and taken care of, and no one will zip over your head in a sea-doo or a speedboat.
3) Comforts: Being located on the South-East Asian “Pancake Trail” for a long time, the island has achieved a level of infrastructural maturity making it a very comfortable place to visit, whether for a few days or for a year. If you wish to keep things quaint and simple, you have dinky hole-in-a-wall eateries and simple bamboo bungalows. If you wish to live it up, you can move into air-conditioned villas with satellite TV and WiFi, and munch on Italian or Indian every night of the week. Or pad thai. It’s up to you.
4) Social life: This one is a no-brainer. You are on an adventure of a lifetime, you want to have a blast. Well, if you are not under water, or on the water, then you can at least keep NEAR the water as the beaches are lined with bars, restaurants, cafes, eateries, fancy places, simple places, fun places, cheap places, expensive places. If you feel dehydrated, all these offer a full range of beverages, from juice through vodka-n-juice, to just vodka. In the evening, the music comes on, and you hang out with your friends, or meet new ones, either bouncing on the dancefloor, or laying down on it (if the ratio of juice vs. vodka was not proper). In any case, it’s a fun place.
5) Cost: The prices are low. Incredibly so, may I add. Not only are you diving in essentially what feels like bathwater, but you pay between half and a third of what this would cost you back home (I guess this depends on the location of your “home”). Backpackers who are doing their ‘Round the World’ trip choose to do all their training here before heading to just as beautiful but significantly more expensive places like Australia (I have worked as a diving instructor in Cairns, and there the cost of your basic scuba course is double that of Koh Tao’s!)
Why such good price? It really is simple, competition drives the prices down. While in other parts of Thailand the cost of an Open Water Diver course has increased significantly in the last few years, on Tao it seems to be more than less frozen in time, and only sweetened with things like free accommodation and equipment, as well as complimentary dives after your course. Returning divers enjoy amazingly discounted diving, which really makes it hard to stay away.
There is a whole lineup of diving courses available for people wanting to get wet, starting with basic, first-timer scuba experiences, all the way through to Divemaster or Instructor training. Have a look at the following list of dive training options offered by Davy Jones Locker Diving:
Discover Scuba Diving – a one-time, non-certification ‘Try-a-Dive’ experience
Open Water Diver Course – the most popular initial-level diver training certification in the world
Advanced Open Water Diver Course – take your fun to a deeper level and increase your proficiency
Rescue Diver / EFR Course – train as a rescuer, take charge, and help others in need
PADI Divemaster Course – be a pro in the marine world: handle logistics, lead dives, and spread the fun
PADI Instructor Development Course – train other divers, introduce people to fish, educate about our reefs
All these courses are taught under the auspices of PADI: Professional Association of Diving Instructors which is the world’s largest recreational diving membership and diver training organization, ensuring maximum standard of training, quality of equipment, as well as unsurpassed safety.
Not surprisingly, many people become addicted to the island life, and dread having to leave. Most do, but a good chunk of people pursue a career in diving. Becoming a divemaster or an instructor offers a remarkable opportunity to stay on this island (or another one, if you wish), and actually get paid for doing what you love to do. Once the introductory courses are completed, you have the option of pursuing it further. The progression looks something like this:
Open Water Diver course –> Advanced Open Water –> Rescue Diver –> Divemaster –> Instructor
Naturally, the paths are numerous, and you just need to choose one. Or two! Some people stick with divemastering, taking people on guided tours, taking care of excursion logistics, etc. Others instruct basic level divers, while others specialize in advanced instruction. Yet others train divemasters, and a select few, after years of experience, train new instructors. Have a look at this map of career development opportunities.
Why do all this on Koh Tao? Excellent question, and there is an excellent answer: Because Koh Tao is AWESOME for it!
For those pursuing a career in diving, a busy place is exactly what you want: you gain plenty of experience in a much shorter time than the poor souls trying to become divemasters in Vancouver, in cold water, with one customer every 3 weeks. Not ideal at all.
On Koh Tao, you live and breathe diving. You talk about it in the morning, you talk about it in the afternoon, hell, you even talk about it in the evening, of course by that time things were deeper, bigger, and more scary, but everyone does it, so it’s ok.
The best part are the internships. Whether you are doing a divemaster or an instructor internship, you will be doing it with several other like-minded people, under the supervision of a team of well trained and able instructors, and the learning opportunities will be amazing. It’s not all books and tests, it is hands-on experience, it is diving 4 times a day, meeting the wildlife, developing new skills, learning from everyone around you, picking up interesting tid-bits along the way, and every day getting better and better. A divemaster course can be done in as little as 3 weeks, or, more ideally, it can take 3 or even 6 months. You walk away with a humongous amount of experience, and a heap of dives in your logbook. And you don’t just walk away, because usually you are offered a job, because the busy island always needs people to help out with diving. It is the ultimate backpacking experience that never has to end!
CLICK THIS LINK FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE DIVEMASTER INTERNSHIP or alternately if you already are a certified PADI Divemaster, click THIS LINK FOR INFO ABOUT BECOMING A SCUBA INSTRUCTOR
Don’t miss out: Courses fill up quickly, so avoid disappointment and book online. Here you will find a BOOKING REQUEST FORM
If you don’t want to stop at the divemaster level and want to pursue it further, an Instructor Development Course is what you are after. Once you have the pre-requisite experience to start the course, this takes approximately a month (including the prep and the examinations) and at the end of it you will train new divers. Here, an internship option is also invaluable as you can shadow, or team-teach with an experienced instructor and pick up all the neat little tricks of conducting a safe, efficient, and fun scuba course. Since I became an instructor, I made it work for me in many beautiful places, most notably the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Sipidan Island near Borneo, as well as Koh Tao. Many graduates stick around for a few months developing experience, and then move on to other places such as the Maldives, Sulawesi, Egypt, or the Caribbean.