Learning to Scuba Dive in Thailand with PADI

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Last Updated on January 17, 2018 by Christine Kaaloa

padi scuba diving lessons, getting scuba diving certified in thailand ko tao
Getting a Scuba Diving certification in Thailand with PADI


Word on the street is that you’ll get the best scuba diving deals in Southeast Asia.

I spent two hours on Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand bouncing from agent to agent, searching for a diving package to ring in my first solo birthday on the road .  Finally, my four-day PADI open water diving certification program was booked at a jaw-dropping low price . Travel gossip didn’t lie.

What did my package include? Round trip transportation to the island of Ko Tao, a 4-night resort stay and 4 days of licensed training, confined water dives and 4 open water dives to a maximum of 18 meters. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?


Ko Tao is an island known mostly for diving and snorkeling.

A popular tourist destination for travelers and local Thai, Ko Tao is an island off the south eastern coast of Thailand and was a three hour ferry ride to the island. Known as Turtle Island for its shape and the fact it’s a breeding ground for turtles, the island is quite small.

There are only two main towns (Mae Haad and Sairee) and one main strip of road dotting the island’s western shoulder ( I rented a motorbike for a day and the ride takes about 2 hours to complete). It’s an enjoyable ride and you can stop off at small shops and markets along the way. Mae Haad is the capital and port town and it’s stocked with everything you’ll need. Sairee is the peaceful and romantic sister town with a chill vibe, beach side bars and resorts and warm nightlife .

Photo slideshow of the island & tourist conveniences

Getting a Scuba Diving certification in Thailand with PADI

My budget package was a “Welcome to 40” birthday prize !

My package said “resort accommodations”, but holy cow, for the price I paid, I didn’t honestly expect it!  Arriving at Sairee’s Coral Grand Resort, I was floored by the luxury before me. It sure looked grand.

coral grand resorts thailand ko tao, padi certification at coral grand divers

getting scuba certified in ko tao thailandA pool for diving lessons

IMG 6070Sairee Beach connects you with neighboring resorts, seaside bars and ultimately,

Sairee town, where there are restaurants, stores, nightlife and my favorite, 7-11. The walk to town by beach or road is approximately  8-10 minutes.

Rooms were booked full when I arrived. They didn’t have the non- air conditioned “cheapie” room I reserved, so the desk manager upgraded me to an A.C. room, while gesturing a secret “Shhh..” to me.  Score! Dang girl, my birthday present to myself was starting to look up.

My room came complete with a queen-sized bed, free wi-fi, air condition, full amenities and an outdoor balcony. It was purrr-fect pampering and rest from my road of solitude.


padi scuba diving lessons, getting scuba diving certified in thailand ko tao, coral grand divers resort hotel ko tao


PADI diving certification is the hub to meeting international travelers

By the time I unpacked and had lunch, it was 2PM.

I met my group at the resort’s dive center, Coral Grand Divers, for an in-class orientation, where we were given instruction manuals and shown a video. The center buzzed with training groups led by a crew of instructors. It was like a  U.N. factory for divers. Impressive!

Manuals were in most major languages and the dive instructors heralded from various parts of the world. If you spoke a language other than English, the program would find a dive instructor to help you. Initially, we had a French girl in our global group (of Spanish, German, Chinese and Burmese), but she eventually got her own private French-speaking instructor!

I even saw a Korean group led in Korean!

IMG 6120The dive center, where we have our in-classroom classes.

PADI certification in Thailand, getting a padi in thailand, padi in ko tao
Getting a Scuba Diving certification in Thailand with PADI


Day Two

8:00 am:

Suit up for dive lessons in the pool!

It’s the first day of our confined water dive, we familiarized ourselves with the scuba gear, took a 15 minute treading water test and learned how to deal with underwater emergencies, like recovering our mouthpiece, clearing our mask of water, learning hand signals and helping a buddy in emergency situations.

“The ocean is a foreign environment. It’s not our natural environment, even though we’ve spent the first stages of our life in water.”


From my first time traveling solo to living abroad or moving to different cities, I’ve experienced many types of “foreign”.  I’ve always adapted with enthusiasm. But cities and countries have limits. Could I adapt to being submerged below sea level, surviving off of an oxygen tank, in an endless ocean?

Afraid of Jaws (who wasn’t traumatized by that film?).

A Hawaiian who can’t swim well.

Perhaps I was meeting an upgraded challenge?

Foreign– Foreign.

You may start off feeling odd and scared by it, but it’s something you’ll learn to adapt to,” Kevin reassured us.

As our Irish instructor, he fell in love with diving, picked up and moved from Ireland to dive and teach. That was over 10 years ago.


Main points to remember about diving:

Some of them initially sound terrifying, if you’re an over-thinker like me. But once I got in the pool, my adapting began.

1. Never hold your breath while you’re diving.
I tried coughing and sneezing in my mask with the regulator in. Not a problem.

2. Equalize (swallow or pinch your nose and blow) a lot when you’re descending; so as to avoid water pressure from damaging your ears.

3. Don’t ascend too quickly

4. Beware of trigger fish. *They’re small but if you dive in their territory, they might attack you.

5. Rule of the sea: nothing will attack you unless it feels threatened.

Getting a PADI in Thailand, Getting a PADI in Ko Tao, Pressure Drop Divers
Getting a PADI in Ko Tao, Thailand

Day Three

7:30 am:  Our first two open water dives (aka in the ocean)! Maximum depth: 12 meters.

Driven to the port in Mae Haad, we board a boat which takes us out to two of the twelve dive sites around Ko Tao.



Scuba Diving in Ko Tao Thailand, Getting a PADI in Ko Tao, Getting a Padi in thailand
Scuba Diving in Ko Tao, Thailand

PADI in thailandGetting your PADI in Thailand

On the boat, Kevin prepped us to the game plan, with a string of last-minute reminders. He wanted to make sure we remembered safety.

But my big question: Sharks.

Kevin’s answer: They don’t like the taste of humans. If you were to be accidentally bitten, it’d probably spit you out!

Good enough answer for me.

I jump off the boat, swam out and grabbed hold of the anchor’s rope. Regulator in mouth, I was breathing like Darth Vadar and descending… Blub, blub, blub.


Clearing my mask was a problem. Water kept getting in my mask and despite my freakout, I survived.


I’ve had childhood dreams of swimming over watery worlds and breathing underwater.

This was a literal dream come true. Hovering  over palatial coral reefs or exploring it at eye level is a trip.  The coral reefs were like towers with brilliantly colored sea anemone, sitting like patches of grass. The ocean bed was a slow shifting desert. We saw fishes and eels. At one point, Kevin gave the signal “Shooter“, while pointing to the infamous trigger fish, we had learned to avoid. It  was hiding in a cave.

After our exploration dive, we went to a new spot, a cove where we ran our emergency drills again, while kneeling on the ocean floor. A bit boring in comparison to our earlier dive, but still thrilling to be out in the open waters.

Getting a Scuba Diving certification in Thailand with PADI

Scuba Diving in Ko Tao, ThailandScuba Diving in Ko Tao, Thailand

Day Four

7:30 am: Dives #3 and #4 at the maximum depth 18 meters.

Similar routine. We started with a fun dive of exploring the reef and waters. I practiced more of my hovering skills. Hovering is the ability to swim/float at a consistent level. Your lowering and rising in the water is controlled by the amount of breath in your lungs.

Then we moved dive locations to do emergency drill practice… again. But its part of the requirements for licensing. This time however, it was more fun. We had a videographer to shoot our dive. He wanted us to do crazy things underwater.  I got to walk on my hands, do funny dance moves with a pair of sunglasses, do sommersaults and blow smoke ring bubbles. It was a blast!


padi group certification in ko tao thailand
Getting a Scuba Diving certification in Thailand with PADI


I am a graduated and licensed scuba diver!

I did it! Spending my first birthday alone went off remarkably well!  I lived my dream of breathing underwater (in waking life) and though I celebrated my birthday on the solo road, it will go down in my history as one of my most memorable, profound and proud moments.

Not to mention, after experiencing the magic of scuba diving,  I’m now a fan!  Maybe, I’ll start booking travel according to dive locations. We’ll see!

Big Mahalos to my dive instructor, Kevin for a memorable stay and fantastic dive experience!


Recommended Ko Tao dive information:

Dive Instructor:
Kevin Mcloughlin
Website: Pressure Drop Divers

Coral Grand Divers

Asia Divers Resort (Sairee Koh Tao)

Ban’s Diving Resort
Haad Sairee, Koh Tao
Ph: +66 (0) 7745-6466

Note:  The abridged version of this article will be published in print at Daegu Compass, February 2012 issue and on the official PADI newsletter/blog.

mardcinterfinal 18
Getting a PADI Certification in Thailand

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  • This sounds awesome and is exactly what I want to do when I go to Thailand next year! How much did the program cost? Thanks a bunch!

  • How did you find the written test? I really want to take my PADI but actually I’m pretty terrible at theory tests.

  • “Main points to remember about diving:
    1. Never hold your breath while you’re diving…”
    5a. Rule of the sea: nothing will attack you unless it feels threatened.
    5b. Or Hungry, especially if there is already exposed blood on or near the diver. Fortunately, most divers will never become ‘fishbait’.

    To be inside a fishbowl is a treasured experience. Wishing everyone well.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Your information has been very helpful!!! Our tickets are from June 14th to the 23 so , according to you, it sounds like the AC will be shut down then. It might be Ko Tao then:) Look forward to more excellent articles!

  • I’m debating on getting certification where you did yours but trying to combine it with the Andaman coast where I’ll be visiting friends. I’ve heard the Andaman coast shuts down anywhere from April to November and that’s when the Gulf has better diving. Do you know anything about what the diving is on the Andaman is like then? I won’t have oodles of time so whatever is quickest and easiest is ideal, (but I really want to check out the Andaman coast:) Thank you!!

    • @Hayley: AC was an option initially, but I was there in late June and it had already shut down, so I was advised to Ko Tao. Koh Tao is okay diving, but the spots we went to wasn’t as heavy with marine life as I hoped. However, KT is convenient. It’s open year round, you can island hop, snorkel and dive. Although time-wise, I suspect it might take a day to get to the A.C.from KT (depending on where on the AC you’re looking at), you’ll still need to find a bus deal or have an agent hook you up with transportation to the other location. It might be a hassle to plan if you’re low on time.
      If you’ll be there between Oct-May, a straight shot to the Andaman Coast might be better, especially as I get the feeling it may be your ideal. I’m a big believer of always making the ideal work first. I’m betting the diving is better there too. If you have time afterwards, then followup with KT.
      Here’s a post I found on top dive sites in Thailand: http://divehappy.com/thailand/the-best-dive-sites-in-thailand/

  • i can’t wait to go their in Thailand.thanks for shearing this …beautiful beach

  • Laura in Cancun
    January 21, 2012 1:28 am

    Ok $250 for ALL THAT?!?! What a steal!

    • @Laura: Well, I mistake on that price. What I had initially listed was what I recorded in my expense list for some reason. I recently found my actual receipt and discovered I paid a bit more. Still worth the cost though!

  • Great info for those going diving or wanting to get that cert. Not a realllllllly big beach person myself, but underwater I do like them.

    Lot’s of opportunities in the Philippines for diving sans certs at really good rates too. Away from tourist zones.

    Glad to hear you had an international dive master too, I think that makes the world of difference!

    • @Dave: Yeah, everyone’s saying that the Philippines rocks for great diving. It’s on my list but I’m still not sure where to go… and how safe I’d be. Any recommends?

  • This is a great experience… I envy you. One day I will do it. But actually I would love to try in Egypt or Greece first. But your spot seems so amazing and it seems to be a great deal

  • Hey,

    I did my open water at Coral Grand too!! But I wasn’t so keen on doing it in Thailand. The benefits are that it is wonderfully organised and cheap, but I’d dived before in Sri Lanka and was actually kind of disappointed with the underwater scenery in Ko Tao, which I guess has been slightly ruined by mass tourism. I think they create a fantastic learning environment in Koh Tao though, and it was fun to be around so many other divers, all out partying and celebrating their various certifications each night, but I can’t help but feel that having so many foreigners working in the resorts there is only taking away jobs from the locals. I was also surprised to learn from my Sri Lankan friends that PADI actually makes it very difficult for locals to become diving instructors, as they charge high fees yearly to be a member, and they offer no discounts to developing countries, creating job opportunities only for those rich enough to swoop into a country and steal up all the jobs, so that the local people are left with all the mundane tasks such as filling tanks and organising the equipment for the tourists. It is a shame that a business as popular and widespread as PADI has absolutely no ethics whatsoever.

    Anyway, moral rant aside, looks like you had a really great time, and this is a really nice informative post for people who want to dive in Thailand. Where are you planning on diving next? Will you continue with your certifications?

  • Uhm, wow. All for $250. That was a major deal. Thanks for writing this up and sharing. I love how much detail and love you put into your posts. And you take your camera along with you everywhere you go. Excellent.

    Do you have any posts on how to budget SE Asia day by day. I’d love to see what you spent in a month’s time or even just a week or day.


    • @Feather: Thanks for the kind comments. I wish I had bought an underwater camera for the dive though! I almost kicked myself afterwards.

      A post on my SE Asia budget is in the tow, but I’ve just been back-blogged. All the countries differ budget-wise and I’m either scouring the internet, walking a lot or creating my own independent tour to get that bargain. Day tours (under $20) and treks, I’ll pay from $25-100 ($100– it really has to rock something like 4-5 days, all inclusive).

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