Every year, thousands upon thousands of tourists descend on the tiny island of Koh Tao (Turtle Island – sadly named for the shape of the island rather than due to a resident population of endangered critters). The main draw? Diving. Kat and I were no different.
Koh Tao is Thailand’s dive Mecca. In fact, it’s one of the top three most common places to get PADI certified in all of Asia. Why? It’s cheap; you can dive all year round; and it’s bloody brilliant. The water is crystal clear. We had up to 50m of visibility and the corals are stunning – a real step up from where we’d done our Open Water course on Koh Mak, which is just a few hundred kilometres away on the other side of the Gulf of Thailand.
Our slightly last minute decision to come here was made with the Philippines firmly in our minds, where, fingers crossed, some WW2 wrecks awaited us. To explore these properly, we needed a lot more diving experience and primarily the Advanced Open Water certificate. For those of you that don’t know (we certainly didn’t a few months ago!), the PADI Advanced Open Water course is all about improving your skills underwater, and exposing you to new and slightly more challenging situations, whilst having an instructor on hand to guide you through it. It consists of 5 dives, some of which are compulsory (underwater navigation and a ‘deep’ dive to 30m), and three optional dives, where you can choose from quite a wide range of different scenarios such as underwater photography, fish identification or diver propulsion vehicle (James Bond eat your heart out). The idea is that you pick whichever 3 interest you the most, or will be most relevant to the diving you want to do. In reality, you get a bit less choice, as some dive centres (including Coral Grand where we were staying) insist you do the ‘Peak Performance Buoyancy’ dive as an additional compulsory. It was actually really useful, and we both felt that our control underwater improved significantly – I guess that’s kind of the point! Our two other choices chose themselves – a night dive, and a wreck dive.
The torch lit night dive was incredible and a real experience. The ocean is a totally different place at night, with different species being active, especially stingrays. I think the clear highlight was spotting a turtle sleeping under a rock!
The wreck dive was the other main highlight of the course. An old US (and later Thai) navy destroyer was donated to the marine reserve and sunk in 2011 as an artificial reef, and it makes a fantastic dive site. There are big schools of fish; grouper who have made themselves at home in the wheelhouse; and coral that is just starting to grow on the hull. We also saw a big barracuda on patrol – watch those fingers!
All told. we were really pleased with our dive course. Yes, the centre had a bit of a feeling of a factory that just churns out newly qualified divers, but to be honest that was perfect for us and exactly what we needed. There is after all. A reason why it’s so popular – the diving is really, really good.