Tuesday, 21 June 2016

So, you want to learn to dive on Koh Tao? Read on!

There are many things to think about when deciding you want to learn to dive on Koh Tao. From price to location of school to how many people are in your group. I chose to go with Alvaro Dive School for the simple matter of price – they had an off-season deal on and so an SSI open dive qualification was 8000 baht (£154). Big Blue Dive School by comparison priced theirs at 9800 baht (£189). I did go look round Big Blue when I first got to Koh Tao, and yes the centre was lovely, and the staff were great, and it was in a perfect location - but for me it was too expensive. 

Another thing to note is that many fret about the differences between SSI (Scuba School International) and PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). SSI is about 800 baht cheaper, and there’s really no difference. It just seems that with PADI, you’re paying for the name as it’s more recognised, but there’s actually little difference from what I could tell other than the fact PADI had a slightly more complicated dive table as they’d spent more on research so didn’t use the same one as the US marines (which SSI does).

I was actually really fortunate at Alvaro in the end, and I’m glad I chose it. To start with, the positives:
  • Price: As I mentioned earlier, definitely one of the cheaper dive schools. Also, if I had chosen to do my advanced diving qualification with them too, I got a discount for having gotten my Open Water with them, and it would have only been 6800 baht (£131), amazing deal!
  • Size: Unlike many of the other dive schools, there was only one other girl with me, and I was unlucky to have that honestly, it would have been 1-on-1 any other day that I had joined as nobody new was joining. My friends at Big Blue Diving had 6 of them learning, and another school had as many as 8! I can’t imagine that at all, I really needed all the attention that was provided; it would have been mayhem with so many/ such lack of attention.
  • Teaching: The instructor was great – honestly, my instructor (Olivier) was a little abrupt at time, but I think this was more about the language barrier. He didn’t seem too happy to be there which was a shame, but he taught me well. The other instructor, Marius, was great fun and really friendly. He kept calling me ‘little girl’ in a cheeky Slovakian accent, which I oddly found super attractive!
  • Accommodation: It was pretty basic but good going compared to other places. Others simply provided dorm rooms in their price, but I was given my own little bungalow on stilts, with a double bed and bathroom then a porch area that had a hammock overlooking the ocean. Very beautiful.

The not so good:

  • Location: It was far away from everything! It was located on freedom beach – this is a nice beach, dead empty and super shallow, but not much to do. Especially as a solo traveller I found myself rather bored. Some will charge as much as 400 baht to get you there from the main pier, you’d be best off renting a scooter to get to the location (150 baht a day – be sure to take photos of your bike as they’re notorious for charging extortionate amounts for ‘damage’ esps in off-peak season to help them cover rent!), and to keep you occupied of an evening. I ended up talking to someone in a travel agency just about travel in general and wanting to go to Southern Burma, and then mentioned I was thinking of going to Alvaro, and managed to convince him to do it for 100 baht as he had nothing to do at that moment in time anyway.  But had it been in the center, it may have been busier!
  • Facilities: It didn’t have a swimming pool – This concerned me more than it should have because in reality it didn’t actually matter – but, it just felt a bit daunting going straight into the ocean without having learnt the basics in the swimming pool first. Also, the salt water and learning how to take mask on and off stung my eyes so badly/ really confused me first off. But I heard some of the schools don’t have fresh water swimming pools anyway so wouldn’t’ have made a difference.
  • Dive Sites: As it’s one of the smaller dive schools, the dive sites they take you to can be a bit repetitive. I would have loved to have gone to Twin Peaks or Shark Island but with only 3 of us in total, it didn’t make sense for them to venture out that far.

Alvaro Dive School.
Overall, if you've got the cash, really think about what you want from a school. There's tons of options on Koh Tao - don't be fooled into going with the first dive school you see, or the first to harass you when you get off the boat. A man told me there was nowhere on the island that would do it for 8000 baht and I was joking if I thought I could get it for that price - turns out there were actually a few of them! Many have websites so you can check them out beforehand, but really, I wouldn't book in advance as it's better to see what the school is actually like in person. Often photos can be deceiving!

If you have any questions drop them below - look forward to hearing from you :).

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