Images not created by us have been credited to the photographer
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be a mermaid or merman? To swim where they got no troubles and life is the bubbles? You know, UNDER THE SEA!
One of the things we looked forward to the most while planning our travels was diving. It wasn’t exactly what we expected…. It was EVEN BETTER! Learning to scuba dive wasn’t just a quick swim class before suiting up in the gear, we put in WORK but it was so worth it.
Koh Tao is a small, yet stunning island off the southeastern coast of Thailand. It is known worldwide for diving (and its cheap prices) and is full of dive shops lining the streets. There’s so much to do on this little island and it’s full of super friendly locals and expats. We spent some time researching and chose our dive shop because of their conservation program, small class sizes, and instructors. If you’re heading out that way, send us a message and we are happy to recommend them!
Arriving to Koh Tao
We arrived at 6:30 am after a 10-hour night boat to the island of Koh Tao. We slept in bunk beds with Hello Kitty sheets before arriving on the island, realizing we didn’t think it all through. It was 6:30 am, what were we supposed to do??
We took a cab to our hotel only to find the front desk closed, along with everything else around… We carried our backpacks (2 each) looking for a place for breakfast but nothing opened for a while. After walking along the beach, we found a cafe opening at 7 am with delicious vegan sandwiches and COFFEE. After taking our time, we tried our hotel again and thankfully they let us check in early!
We spent the first two days exploring the island and fell in love with this little place. We are working on a post all about Koh Tao, outside of diving, to share other things we did on the island. However, scuba diving is what we are most excited to talk about so let’s get to it.
Open Water Dive Course
Falling in love with the island, we were ready to take it in from a new perspective. Our course officially started with a 2 hour orientation where we met our dive instructor and our two dive classmates. Then, we headed to dinner with 2-3 hours of homework to prep for our skills day in the pool.
By completing this course, we will be certified to dive with a buddy up to 20 meters (65ft). The next 3 days of our Open Water Course looked a little something like this:
Morning: In the pool, gear and skills. Afternoon: In the Classroom. Evening: Study
Morning: Study and Exam. Afternoon: Dives 1 and 2 (described below!)
Morning: Dives 3 and 4 (described below). Afternoon: Rest. Evening: Celebrate!
Learning to Dive
We spent our first full day diving in a pool and studying in the classroom. We learned about our gear and practiced skills in the pool (buoyancy, clearing masks, and helping another diver with air supply if needed). Ty was ready to commit to a 6 month course after five minutes in the pool, it came so natural to him!
Our gear included a short wetsuit, weight belts for buoyancy, a mask, a Buoyancy Control Device (which is similar to an adjustable life jacket in a way), and a personal dive computer that we used to monitor depth, time, etc.
Then, we spent some time in the classroom learning about physics and physiology. Besides the gear and how to use it, we didn’t realize how much learning we would be doing to become certified divers.
Our course instructor did a great job teaching us about the science behind it all (which had Sam geeking out a bit thinking about how this could be used in a classroom haha). We learned about the changing gas pressures, environment, and how diving affects your body which is super important information.
We spent the night studying again, having 3 more chapters to read before our exam in the morning!
Our First Dives
To answer your question, yes, we were a bit nervous about this. Although we spent time learning the equipment in the pool, we were still a bit anxious to put our VERY new skills to the test. BUT, our dive instructor made us feel confident in our ability and well…we made it!
After studying and taking the exam, we were finally on the boat, out to our first dive spot. The dive boat was filled with other divers either completing a dive course or just out for a fun dive. The edge of the boat was lined with tanks for each diver to set up their gear. We also had fresh fruit, water, tea, and coffee available. Following the steps we learned in class, we set up our gear, did our buddy checks, and jumped in!
Buddy checks and jumping in! 📸 Amy @Dente.amy for @kohtaoprovideo
During our first and second dive, we practiced skills we learned in the pool, including regulatory recovery (our air supply) and mask removal and clearing. We worked on our buoyancy and staying in the correct position (a lot more difficult at first than you would think). After each dive, we debriefed and logged our dives, discussing things we saw and what we did.
Dives Three and Four
These dives were where things got even more exciting. Although it was so cool to be underwater the day before, it was hard to pay attention to all the things around us while monitoring our air pressure and depth, and remembering to keep breathing!
Our first dive of the morning was mainly a fun exploratory dive where we followed our instructor looking for marine life around the coral reef. Some of the marine life we saw on this dive included: a Great Barracuda, White-Eyed Moray Eel, Giant Grouper, Angelfish, Butterfly fish, Trigger Fish, and a Lion Fish. This dive was so much fun and really set our mind to continuing our dive training!
During dive four we did some more skills practice while maintaining trim (which is the correct diving position) and emergency procedures. After each dive, we debriefed, discussing what went well and what we needed to work on. Once our dives for the morning were complete, we headed back to the shop and washed our gear. That night, we went out as a group for dinner to celebrate our completion of the course! Hooray, we were officially certified divers!
Right after this course, we headed back to the states for a bit, but diving never left our minds. If you talked to us at all during that time, you know that it really had an impact on us and we couldn’t wait to get back out there.
So, when the time finally came to travel again, that’s exactly what we did! We messaged our dive instructor and checked his availability to set up our Advanced Dive Course with him where we would become certified to dive up to 30 meters or 98 feet underwater.
Back at it: Explorer 30
We headed back to Koh Tao shortly after arriving back in Thailand and it felt like coming home in a way. As mentioned before, we really fell in love with this little island and were so happy to be back. We met up with our instructor again and met our two new “divemates” for the course (who we ended up spending a lot of time with). During the next two days of our course, titled Explorer 30, we would learn some new skills and complete FIVE more dives.
Day One: Putting our Skills to the Test
In the days before our course, we spent some time reviewing the material from our Open Water 20 course since it had been months since we were in the water. We also had another chapter of homework to complete before the day of our first dive.
The first day of the course consisted of a short review, and two dives. Getting back into the water felt great but was also a little intimidating. Our first dive focused on navigation, which is pretty difficult underwater while you’re distracted by all the pretty things. Our second dive was focused on buoyancy and we learned (or tried to learn) how to turn, spin, and move backwards (the last one we have not even remotely mastered yet haha).
Day Two: Deep, Dark, and Sharky
On Day Two we completed the coolest dives so far, a Deep Dive, a Wreck Dive, and a Night Dive.
Dive 1: Deep Dive
During this dive, we dove all the way down to about 28.5 Meters or 93 ft and drank some Coke. Yes, Ty actually drank Coca-cola out of a straw 93 feet below the surface, isn’t that WILD? The point of that exercise was to show how pressure changes at this depth. We also looked at the color differences since red was not visible that far below the surface (you would never recognize Ariel this deep under the sea haha).
At 30 meters you can also get something called Nitrogen Narcosis, this is due to the amount of nitrogen you are inhaling at this depth. Nitrogen Narcosis can make you feel…a little drunk. To test this, our instructor had us play a math game, but we didn’t feel the narcosis so it was easy.
We headed back up to shallower water to explore the coral reef and see what we could find. Well, we got incredibly lucky and saw not one but two WHALE SHARKS! The first one swam directly over us and it was such an overwhelming experience. Whale Sharks are not dangerous to humans but are rare to see. A diver at the shop had only seen one once before in 1.5 years of diving in Koh Tao. We watched the majestic animal swim over us and disappear back into the deep blue. Towards the end of our dive, we spotted another for a short time before ascending and getting back on the boat.
This dive was incredible!
Dive 2: Wreck Dive
Now, after the whale sharks, it seems like nothing could compare. Our second dive was pretty cool but not as memorable as the first. We got to swim around the outside of a shipwreck. The wreck, HTMS Sattakut, is a purposefully sunk ship that was once part of the US Navy during World War II and also used by the Royal Thai Navy as well, before being decommissioned. It is now a popular dive location off the coast of Koh Tao.
During this dive was saw some interesting marine life including a puffer fish, a flatworm, and many other fishes.
Dive 3: Night Dive
Our third dive of the day and final dive of the course was the Night Dive. Ty was ready to go and excited for this experience but Sam was pretty nervous not knowing what it’d be like in the dark. Each diver was given a flashlight and we were organized into a formation to stay in throughout the dive. There were 6 divers plus the instructor and a dive master to assist, which was different from the normal group of 4 plus the instructor.
The water was a bit choppier this evening which made the ride out a bit rougher for those who get seasick…cough cough Sam. But, luckily this didn’t really affect the conditions underwater.
A Whole New World
We descended just after sunset while there was still a bit of light above the surface and made our way down below. Before diving our instructor showed us how to signal various things underwater, including any cool sightings. He said that if we see an octopus we need to show him but if we don’t, to not tell him it happened or he’d be cranky haha. Well, in the first 5 minutes of the dive, Sam saw one scurrying across the ocean floor and vigorously circled it with her light but no one looked. NO ONE LOOKED (She swears she tried to show us but I don’t believe her -Ty).
This dive ended up being so much more exciting than we thought. We watched large grouper search for prey, a blue spotted ray float along the bottom of the reef beneath us, and saw so many different fish swimming amongst the reef. Our instructor called us all over to circle up and turn off our torches. He waved his hand fast in front of his face and little specs in the water began to glow. We all started waving our hands to light up the water…Bioluminescent Phytoplankton!
Final Thoughts on Scuba Diving
It doesn’t seem real, yet we know we lived through these experiences. It’s wild to think we have seen a whole other world under the sea. Honestly, scuba diving is almost a form of meditation once you get the hang of all the gear. Since you to focus on your breathing and be so present, the rest of the world seems so far away even if you’re only 40 feet below the surface.
We are so happy that we chose to scuba dive on Koh Tao and can’t wait to continue diving around the world. However, it’s definitely in our plans to come back one day and continue our training where it all started.
Until next time,
Sam and Ty