Attending Scuba School in Ko Tao

Published on 29 September 2023 at 01:03

I went back to Scuba School to get re-certified so I could spend time in the famous underwater playground around Ko Tao.

As a child I was always nervous when swimming in the sea. I have never been a strong swimmer, sink like a stone, and have an overactive imagination about the ill intentions of creatures lurking in the shallows below.  If you can relate, then you should seriously consider scuba diving, as it turns out that I was simply designed to be more comfortable under the water looking those creatures in the eye.  You should also seriously consider learning in Ko Tao....

It had been nearly a decade since I had done any serious diving, so felt that a refresher of the safety activities was the smart move to ensure my ongoing survival.  Our hosts at Woodlawn Villas recommended Ocean Sound Dive and Yoga, located only 10 minutes’ walk from our apartment in Chalok, so I headed down and met with the manager, Sam, for a chat.  Originally from Brazil, she has been teaching diving in Ko Tao for the past 6 years.  Her local experience sealed the deal for me so, rather than a one-day refresher course, I opted to join her for a full 3-day Open Water class that was starting the next morning. 

We had a class of only four people including myself and, after a short meet and greet at the shop, we climbed into the back of Ocean Sound’s vehicle and drove to a purpose-built dive pool.  It’s located next door to a cannabis farm, which provided plenty of greenery and a slight aroma for the day.  After a poolside whiteboard session covering the basic concepts on how to setup and test our equipment, we were into the water.  Like a duck riding a bike to water, it came back to me quickly, and with Sam’s guidance I was able to improve on where I had left off many years ago. The sun was shining, everyone was breathing underwater, and a fun day was had by all. 

The next morning, we met at the classroom in the shop and reviewed the advanced concepts of Scuba diving, especially how the gases in our bodies respond to the changes in pressure when we descend and ascend.  Fun fact: The change in air pressure that exists between sea level and the edge of space is replicated by diving only 10 meters underwater, so preparing to dive down to 18 meters requires knowledge and skills to deal with the unexpected as you can’t just “pop back” to the surface to fix a problem because you will literally “pop” in a bad way.  After everyone achieved 100% in the (multichoice) exam, we were back in the truck and off to Mae Haad Pier to board our dive boat and our first dive in the open water.

Our first dive sites were Mango Bay, then the Japanese Garden.  These are the perfect dive spots for beginners as they are close to shore near stunning beaches, the water is warm (30 degrees!), and there is an abundance of sea life on the reef that starts only meters below the surface.  In the Japanese Garden they have placed sculptures of animals on the seafloor as part of an important research project into growing coral on man-made reefs.  The team at Ocean Sound were happy to have Sandra join us on the boat for the afternoon to snorkel while we went diving, and as our private photographer above the water, whilst I was able to get some shots with the GoPro from below. 

The next day was an early start as our next dives were to the maximum depth for open water certification of 18 meters, and so we were heading out to Chumphon Pinnacle.  This site is world renowned because it is a popular hangout for Whale Sharks.  Unfortunately, they did not visit us on that day, but the visibility for our dive was terrific and the pinnacle was teeming with sea life.  From there we moved on to White Rock for a shallower “fun dive”, where Sam took us on a tour between the nooks and crannies of the reef including a short “swim-through” of a tunnel in the reef, and through schools of hundreds (if not thousands) of fish.  We saw many giant groupers, large triggerfish, stingray, and barrel-sized corals that are covered in wiggling sea worms and look like an egg from the film "Aliens". 

Usually on a dive we would all follow Sam closely, but as this was the final dive of our class, she urged us to spread out a little more to really enjoy ourselves.  This day provided the best dive experience I have enjoyed to date, hands down.  We topped it all off by heading back to our favourite watering hole in Chalok, Koppee Espresso Bar & Restaurant, where we celebrated qualifying as Open Water Divers under Scuba School International with cocktails in their pool overlooking over the bay.

I had enjoyed diving Ko Tao so much that Sandra and I decided to extend our stay by a few days to give me the chance to dive new sites and to attempt to tick off two of my bucket list items: To dive a shipwreck and try again see an elusive Whale Shark.  The HTMS Sattakut wreck was sunk in 2011 and lies on the seabed off Ko Tao starting at a depth of 18 meters and continues down to 30 meters, so to be able to dive it I had to gain an extra certificate for a deep dive.  I was a bit nervous and didn’t sleep well the night before.  For this trip I was guided by another instructor from Ocean Sound, AJ, who learned to dive in the ice-cold waters of the Baltic Sea, so is loving her time as an instructor in warm Thai waters.  Even at a depth of 30 meters, the temperature only drops slightly to around 28 degrees.  I’ve had hot baths colder than that!  I completed the deep dive at Southwest Pinnacle (whoop, whoop!), and then enjoyed another fun dive with AJ at White Rock, where we spotted barracuda, a moray eel winding its way through the reef, and much more.

Friday morning came around, and I was excited to be diving the wreck.  However, once we boarded the vessel our captain advised a change of plans.  Whale Sharks had been spotted out at Chumphon Pinnacle and the opportunity to see them takes precedence over the wreck, so we were diverted.  We excitedly donned our gear and entered the water to circle the pinnacle but unfortunately the whale sharks had just moved on, which I felt was quite rude. We headed back for another fun dive at White Rock, and by this third visit I was starting to feel like a local.

It was an epic week with eight dives in total, made more enjoyable by the people we met through Ocean Sound, and I can’t recommend them highly enough for anyone visiting Ko Tao.  Many thanks to my wonderful classmates Jani, Simon, Diego, and Supercoach Sam.  Both a wreck dive and whale shark experience are still on my bucket list, which simply means that we have a reason to return to Ko Tao again in the future to tick them off. I heard there are plans to scuttle another one or two ships around the island in the future to give divers even more options for a memorable day.  I hope to see you down there!

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8 months ago

Thanks for sharing Tony sounds like a real great expetience.

8 months ago

Wow what a great experience Tony, i certainly can relate two a wild imagination that can hold you back. Those alien eggs look like that held rather large creatures..... I'd be hightailing out of there....πŸŠβ€β™‚οΈ

8 months ago

Wow, so awesome to see that you have continued to follow your passion and are now re certified. Enjoy the beautiful underwater world.

Princess Peanut McGee
8 months ago

How did I not see that you can comment on these posts πŸ˜‚ Sounds like you’re having an awesome time!

8 months ago

Love the post and be part of the experience!