Koh Tao is the low cost diving mecca of Thailand
– I finally made it to the island of Koh tao to do my Open Water SSi and Advanced Open Water diving courses. After a bit of initial research and some great feedback from people in Bangkok, I decided to book with Big Blue Diving and they organised a taxi from the Thong Sala pier to take me straight to the Big Blue resort. They have two resorts and I was at “Big Blue One” which is where most of the diving starts from and this is where the cheaper rooms can be found. Big Blue two has a pool and is a little more plush with the higher end rooms which you can also rent with a discount if you are diving.
The diving courses were spread out over 4 + 2 days and the level of teaching from the dive instructors is fantastic for the relatively cheap price of the diving certifications and my instructors were Guy & Petra who were both extremely comprehensive and great communicators. They made our group feel safe and commanded great authority at every stage of the diving. At first it may seem quite daunting but they really did give us great information and turned us all into diving pro’s over night.
Just a quick note – I have spoken to 3 different people who have been to big blue now and there seems to be some sort of hidden agenda / incentive to get all divers to opt for SSI certification instead of Padi here. They really give it the hard sell and essentially bad mouth the Padi course as if they do not want to sell it or do it because it either brings in less profit or is just too much of a hassle to go through. I was totally happy with SSI but if you have your heart set on Padi and you are the only one in your group – be prepared for some pressure to be applied to make you conform to SSI and the rest of the group.
We got to see turtles, barracuda and trigger fish and there were whale sharks at the dive sites while we were there but I did not see any 🙁
I opted for the double fan room with en-suite accommodation and this was perfect for what I needed although a locker in the room rather than outside the dive shop would have been the icing on the cake.
The Big Blue restaurant was ok and the service was average. Coming from Bangkok, I found the prices a little expensive but if you wander off into the towns away from the beach you get alot better value.
The communication between the dive tutors, reception and service staff was very inconsistent and one night I found myself having to steal a lightbulb from the dormrooms as mine had blown and the receptionist was unwilling to find me another (even though my room was pitch black) and they said I would have to go and buy one and I might get it reimbursed.
I also lost my key for the room which was very silly because I had it in my pocket for a dive and now its probably at the bottom of the ocean and this cost me an extra 500 baht. £10 for a key to be cut is a little expensive in my opinion but hey this was my fault.
The housekeeping was awful – everyday they just pulled my bed sheets tight instead of actually changing them and when you have a boiling hot fan room that makes you sweat all night for ten days then a sheet change would have been really handy.
We rented quad bikes to go explore the island one day and we made sure we got them from a recommended dealer in the main town as there was 100’s of stories of scams going on from people whilst we were there. We had no problem – sorry I cannot remember the name of the place but it was 200 for a scooter 300 for a 125 trials 400 for a 250 trials and 600 for a quad and 1000 for a big army quad. 200 Baht fuel lasted us all day and we covered a lot of ground. Having to pay 20 baht for a makeshift toll station set up by a local family to get to the viewpoint in the hills also sucked but the view was worth it and for some reason in this remote view point we met the cutest nicest dog on the island who was all on his own.
After I had finished diving I stayed for an extra 4 nights and wanted to change my room for a dorm that all my friends were staying in and the reception staff were not really willing to help me downgrade my room – but full moon party had just been on Koh Pha-nang so perhaps they were preoccupied with the post full moon rush.
When I checked out and paid they charged me an extra 150 baht even though I had booked the whole course online and had been assured by our dive instructors that we would get a discount for booking the advanced course. Adding insult to injury they told me the taxi would wait for me (it was about 2 minuted after 9.00) and I got round the corner and it had already left even though they had radioed across to it to tell them to wait. Not wanting to miss the 9.30 ferry I had to pay for a big truck taxi which cost 300 baht (I was really not very happy about this) and the unhelpfulness of the reception staff tarnished what was all-in-all a really great experience. Last thing when I paid, the lady did not give me my 20 baht change and also I did not get my free tshirt which would have been handy as I I am running out of clothes alot faster than I thought I would.
Koh Tao is an amazing place. If you want some luxury here I highly recommend Koh Tao Cabana resort which is at the end of Sairee Beach and it is really lovely with great views. The best places to eat were Happy Bar and Sunflower bar and Cafe Zest. The all-you-can-eat pizza is shit – don’t bother.
Big Blue is great as it is right on the beach and if you want thorough teaching then I cannot recommend Guy and Petra enough. Just don’t expect much from the resort staff as they seem to not have an understanding about the prices which should be charged (same as what the website states).
Off to Koh Pha-nang now to enjoy the low season before the next half moon / black moon / money making moon.