Our intrepid travel writer went to Thailand to pass his Open Water PADI with Master Divers: huge groupers, whale sharks and cleaner wrasse included.
Arguably the most unique sport in the world: Scuba Diving. The feeling of being metres deep under the water, flying through a completely different, frankly alien world, is akin to nothing else. What do you think of when someone says scuba diving? Exotic places, warm sun, white beaches, incredible sights and beautiful wildlife. Master Scuba Divers on Koh Tao offer all of this and more.
Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, is situated in the western part of the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a small, more underdeveloped island than many of Thailand’s famous tourist haunts. However, it is world-renowned to be one of the best places in the world for scuba diving. From its multitude of dive spots, and extensive range of stunning wildlife, to its perfect weather, calm sea, and crystal clear visibility, Koh Tao is utterly perfect for beginner divers.
Now, you might think scuba diving is difficult to get into. All the complex equipment, the signs, signals and the whole breathing underwater for hours at a time bit. It can be quite a daunting thought. The best way to start is to gain your entry-level scuba qualification. The PADI open water diver course, run by Master Scuba Divers, spans over four days, and their experienced, friendly instructors take you step by step through everything you need to know, from theory and physics to taking you into the water for your first dives. An experience that will stay with you forever. By the end of the four days, you will be a confident, and officially recognised diver, now able to rent dive equipment and dive anywhere in the world with a buddy, up to 18 metres.
We started day number one by heading down to the dive centre, which is a lovely place right on Mae Haad beach. We were introduced to our friendly and helpful instructor, Katie, who was going to be taking us through our course, and assisting with our every need over the four days. She took us up to the classroom, where we watched the mandatory PADI safety videos, before going over the videos with Katie and being taught about basic diving manoeuvres and techniques, the physics and theory side of diving, plus the equipment we’d be using. It’s a great start if you’ve never dived before, as it outlines everything you need to know before you get in the water for the first time. If you have dived before, it’s always good to have a bit of a refresher!
For day number two, we were out of the classroom learning how to set up the equipment. Focusing on assembling the BCD with the tank and the regulator, as well as picking out our mask, flippers, wetsuit and weight belt for the coming days. After a little lunch break, we all jumped on the boat, off for our first experience in the water! We went to Mango Bay, a lovely secluded beach that you can only get to by boat, or a very long climb, making it quiet and peaceful, perfect for diving.
Don’t worry, it’s only a few metres deep for this first one, as we were practising getting used to being underwater, so only just under the surface. A few of the basic techniques important to diving are mask cleaning, removing and replacing the regulator, using a buddies regulator, ascending and descending, towing a buddy, and buoyancy control. It was a really fun and interesting start to our diving adventures in Koh Tao and it helps newer divers to feel safe and comfortable before they go deeper on their next dive.
Back in the classroom for our third day, this time we learnt about the complications and potential issues that accompany greater depths under the water. Decompression sickness, gas narcosis and pressurising air spaces. Katie helped us understand precautions and safety measures so these never turn into issues. We also learnt about recreational dive planners, and safety stops, to further help us be aware of these issues, and to be confident underwater. Now we were fully prepped so we got back on the boat and took a trip across the beautiful turquoise waters to the Japanese Garden. Our first dive site, sitting at about 10 metres under the surface.
Before going down we practised some new techniques, as well as going over the previous ones, to further drill in these fundamental diving skills. Finally, it was then time for the first dive. Deflating our BCDs, blowing bubbles out as we descended slowly, to a depth of around 10 metres. We swam along the reef, around to Red Rock, while Katie was checking everyone was ok, reminding us to keep an eye on our tank pressure, and also pointing out any particularly special fish!
My favourite sight that dive was the yellow and blue sting rays we saw, gliding along the sand beneath us. It was a beautiful dive, and it was so nice to get back in the water diving again; I had not been since I dived in the Dominican Republic with International Excellence, 4 years prior.
Eventually, our air was used up so it was time to head back to the real world. We ascended and had to carry out a short float test for the PADI safety checks, then we sailed back to the dive shop, cleaned up our equipment, and were done for the day.
Our fourth and final day. An early start - a diving staple. We were straight on the boat that day at the crack of dawn, ready for the big dives, our first 18-metre dive of the course. The two dive sites awaiting us were Chumphon Pinnacle and White Rock. Chumphon pinnacle was first, and what an entrance. Huge groupers, whale sharks and massive schools of fish. A big school, comprised of at least a thousand fish swam together in a huge sphere, floating in the depths. It was absolutely incredible. The pinnacle itself was covered in exotic corals, the likes of which you’d expect to see on some alien planet. In all our excitement, we’d used our air up in no time, so we circled back to the boat, switched tanks and were off to the next site - White Rock.
Again, we flew along the seabed, gawping at the miraculous sights of the unfamiliar wildlife. One fish in particular that caught our attention was the cleaner wrasse, which you will know if you’ve ever seen the movie "Shark Tale". So-called due to its tendency to clean other fishes' mouths, who will come up to it, mouths open wide, ready for their appointment. Being very friendly fish, they came up to me, and kindly cleaned my tank, my mask and my legs. An unexpected, yet welcome spa day in the middle of the ocean. What other activity in the world is going to give you a memory like that?
As per usual, the dive sadly had to come to an end, so we ascended, conducted another PADI safety essential swim test, and then plodded back to the dive shop, as we knew this was the end. However, we were now officially recognised as PADI Open Water Divers! We thanked and said our goodbyes to the wonderful instructor Katie, and travelled on to look for our next adventure. Now, we could dive anywhere in the world.