Having just left Bangkok on a night bus with Kyle, we arrived in Koh Tao at 10am on 4th March, with plans to do our Open Water PADI.
Back in Warm White Hostel in Bangkok, we had seen a deal for scuba diving with Grand Coral Divers – 9,900 baht for open water PADI certification, four nights accommodation and bus/boat to Koh Tao – in hindsight, we would have gone with this deal.
When we arrived at Koh Tao pier, we were hounded by dive schools, taxi’s and everything in between. Having been here before, I knew we could just walk to Sairee Beach and find some accommodation there – we decided on a hostel for a night before we decided which dive school to go with.
We had done a bit of research into a few dive schools, including Simple Life, Big Blue, Coral Grand and others. It can be a bit daunting trying to choose, because everyone seems to recommend the place they have done it, and there’s a often cited perception that the cheaper ones are cutting corners.
We had spoken to Simple Life on the way to Sairee Beach, and after finding our accommodation we went to talk to Big Blue and Coral Grand.
We got the best impression from Coral Grand Divers – they appeared very professional, it seemed more learning focused rather than some other places that are pushing a ‘social’ experience, and the accommodation was nice.
Still with a night to spend before starting the course, we found ourselves at Lotus Bar that night on the beach for a bit of fire rope jumping.
Open Water PADI with Coral Grand Divers
Day 1: Today we moved to Coral Grand Resort from our hostel. At 4pm, we met in the dive school with the rest of the beginner divers. We went through some paperwork, an introductory video and were given tablet PC’s and homework for the night – to watch dive video episodes 1, 2 & 3, and complete the corresponding knowledge reviews (2-3 hours).
Day 2: This morning we met our dive instructor Yann around 8.30am, who would lead our group of four – Jeremy & Virginia from Canada, Kyle and myself. We started by going through the knowledge reviews to ensure we had all understood the video content. Next we geared up at the equipment room and moved down to the pool for a full day of training. .The day in the pool consisted of learning essential skills including:
- Setting up the equipment, checking and testing prior to use
- Entering the water with equipment on
- Practicing hand signals
- Regulator recovery (blowout and purge methods)
- Clearing mask of water, underwater
- Fitting mask underwater, after completely removing mask
- Changing to secondary air supply from buddy
- Hovering – maintaining neutral buoyancy and adjusting depth with breathing alone
- CESA – emergency ascent
- 10 minutes treading water
- 200m swimming
- Removing BCD underwater and putting it back on
- Removing and refitting weight belt
- Tired diver tow
After the pool session we were issued with homework to watch episodes 4 and 5 and complete the associated knowledge reviews.
Day 3: Again we started the day by running through the knowledge reviews from episodes 4 and 5. Before going for our first ocean dive, we had to complete the PADI written examination. We were given the option of learning to dive with a dive watch (500 baht extra for hire) or learning to use the dive planner, which would also require an additional 10 questions on the exam. Kyle and I decided on learning how to use the dive planner.
Having now passed the written exam, we prepared our equipment and boarded the boat for our first open water dives.
Our first ocean dive was at Twins, near Koh Nang Yuan and was to a maximum depth of 11 metres for 33 minutes. It was an unbeleivable feeling to be so deep underwater, and we practiced the skills that we had learnt in the pool the previous day.
Our second dive for the day was at Japanese Gardens to 10.3 metres for 34 minutes. Among other skills, we were to practice navigation here with a buddy. Above the surface and below. Due to some confusion on my part when an additional compass was introduced, I would have to do this again the next day.
Day 4: Today, with the possibility to see whale sharks on our first dive, we opted for a 6am start at Southwest Pinnacle. This time went to 17.3 metres deep for 32 minutes. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whale sharks, and visibility generally was quite poor.
Our final dive was at White Rock, and it was by far the best dive, to 15.2m for 37 minutes. It was also much better because I had shaved my moustache which gave me a perfect seal on the mask, previously a cause of water seeping in. I completed my navigation test with ease this time. Yann had us all kneel on a sandy bed on the bottom, where he knighted us as qualified Open Water divers – we had done it!
I spent a day snorkeling the next day and decided to move on from Koh Tao the day after. Kyle stayed on, completing his Advanced Open Water and now is currently doing his Dive Master course.