Taking A Diving Course In Thailand
Learning how to scuba dive is possible year round in Thailand and there are many places where you can gain PADI certification. NAUI and SSI certifications are also available but rare.
If you are just starting out, you might want to try the easier diving off the east coast of Thailand, at Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Pattaya, Koh Samet or Koh Chang. More experienced divers will want to go to the west coast and head for the Similan Islands, with jumping off points at Phuket and Khao Lak. Fortunately, high seasons for diving at each of the coasts is different, so you can come to Thailand and find good diving all year round.
Koh Tao is probably the most popular place among young backpackers to learn how to scuba dive. PADI Open Water classes are very affordable here, as are subsequent dives. In the past, the dive sites around Koh Tao were well known for whale shark sightings, but these have been fewer each year as the underwater environment has been very poorly monitored, over-fished and over-dived. More on Diving on Koh Tao
With the cheap diving come some issues that more experienced divers would not be willing to put up with. There is no restriction on the number of dive boats on a dive site, and it is not unusual to find several dive boats on the same site at the same time – some boats releasing as many as 50 Open Water divers into the water simultaneously.
The dive sites surrounding Koh Tao are mostly shallow and without currents, making them suitable for beginners. The low cost of dive courses extends into the higher levels, making this a good place to take PADI Advanced, Rescue Diver, Dive Master, Master Scuba Diver and Instructor courses as well. Some people arrive on Koh Tao to take an Open Water course and end up staying until they become instructors. There are dozens of dive shops on Koh Tao, offering you a range of choices.
It’s best to choose very carefully to suit your needs and what you can afford. Not all dive instructors are created equally, nor are all shops the same. Inquire about the background of the instructors, check out the quality and maintenance of the rental equipment and ask about the insurance policy of the shop should you have an accident and require treatment in the hyperbaric chamber on the island.
The most popular places to take PADI Open Water courses on the west coast of Thailand are Phuket and Khao Lak. Before the 2004 tsunami, Khao Lak was a concentrated dive community much like Koh Tao. These days, it has built up again and is full of dive shops. It is the closest point to the Similan Islands where you can take dive courses, and therefore quite convenient. Diving in Phuket
Along with plenty of accommodation options, shops, restaurants and entertainment, the selection of dive shops in Khao Lak makes it a great place to take an Open Water course. You can take a speedboat daytrip or a liveaboard of three days or more to get to the best dive sites. It takes a bit longer to get to the Similans from Phuket; however, there is more to see and do in Phuket and unless you are a hardcore diver, you might prefer to stay there. Phuket is also surrounded by many other dive sites for daytrips, although these are mediocre in comparison to the Similans.
Experienced divers will probably only want to dive at the Similan Islands, technically located in Phang Nga province. The nine islands are located within a marine national park and have retained a pristine appearance. Above the water, the islands have the finest, powdery white sands imaginable. Off the shores and into the deep are clear waters filled with amazing tropical marine life and bright corals. Even seasoned divers are impressed by the 40 to 50m visibility. The best way to enjoy the Similans is by liveaboard.
The most luxurious dive experience can be had on a boat like the Ocean Rover, operated by Fantasea Divers. You’ll barely have to move at all, with a professional crew tending to your dive gear and preparing gourmet meals and snacks. The company offers 8 to 10-day trips with private en-suite cabins to the Similans, Burma Banks and Mergui Archipelago.
If you’re on a tighter budget, it can be fun to try operators like Similan Diving Safaris and Sea Dragon Dive Centre, both located in Khao Lak. They both offer less expensive 4-day dive trips.
Most liveaboard dive operators will offer an Open Water dive course on board, with the paperwork done ahead of time; you should book early if you want this option. Keep in mind that many of the dive sites in the Similans are beyond the recreational limit of 40m and some have currents that are not suitable for new divers, so you should be aware of your abilities and dive with a qualified professional. Also note that the islands close during the green season (mid-June to August).
A really nice round up of diving options in Thailand.