I heard the inviting splash from the bed. The scuba diving trainees were adjusting their air-tanks below in the water. I emerged from my slumber and had a cup of tea on the veranda as I watched them swim like little black seals with neon masks below in the pool.
I’d recently myself learned to dive. I knew what they were about to do: practice taking water in their masks while breathing underwater. It is a standard training technique that gets water out of your mask safely while one is submerged. Once this is down, you can practice swimming and breathing with the tank in the pool. And from there onto the large boats in the harbor and into the sea.
The scuba training scene below was at the Koh Tao Regal , an upmarket resort in Koh Tao Island in the Gulf of Thailand. Located along the white sand Sairee Beach, the resort was a far cry from the Spartan bungalow—it’s plush.
I first came to Koh Tao in 2000 as a backpacker. Back then, the stays were thatched bungalows with giant lizards. There was a smaller population on the island—mostly local Thais and dive instructor bohemians. I was too nervous to learn how to dive then, but I spent time snorkeling on the dive boats. The water was divine and it only cost US$2 dollars to join the dive ships.
Since then, the island has continued to mature with world-class divers coming to instruct in Koh Tao. When I visited here again, in 2011, I stayed with a friend who was doing an intensive dive course, including open water and rescue certification. I had not come to dive as I still feared going deep. I should not have.
After all, for beginners and budget dive learners, Koh Tao has a rich pool of instructors of international caliber. They make the experience convivial and fraternal. Other dive spots in the world also offer exceptional dive training for beginners: Cayman Islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Philippines. Personally, I had an exceptional beginning class in Anilao, Philippines.
But there’s something about Koh Tao—and that is the communal spirit of the diving travelers. There’s a strong buzz here. It’s gaining more momentum too. This once distant bohemian island is transforming into a more mature destination like its sister islands of Koh Panang and Koh Samui to the south.
More young families are flocking here. So are Chinese mainland tourists. Many are taking up diving, with Koh Tao becoming a Chinese first choice for beginner diving courses of other Thai destinations like Phuket.
Still, it is a special stripe of traveler that make their way to Koh Tao—and they make learning diving almost a natural feeling here. Whether it is just taking a simple course to get your head wet, or more serious ambitions like wreck diving or night diving, Koh Tao has it all for tip-top training.
There are now scores of dive operators. Below are just a few of the many you can check out to wet your appetite for this tiny Thai isle.