PADI Open Water Dive Course – Koh Phangan, Thailand

by | Last updated Jun 11, 2017 | Published on Jun 11, 2017 | 0 comments

One of the bucket list items for our around the world travels was to get our PADI Open Water Dive certification. What better place to do this than amidst the island-dotted turquoise blue and whale shark frequented waters of southeast Asia? After a bit of research, we chose to do our PADI Open Water Dive Certification course with Sail Rock Divers in Koh Phagnan, Thailand. Read on for all the details!
padi open water dive thailand sail rock divers

What’s the benefit of the PADI Open Water Dive Course?

While it is possible to join a recreational group dive tour without a scuba certification, these beginner dives are typically pretty shallow and really mostly offer a tease of what you could be viewing further below! If you are interested in exploring the underwater world further, the key benefits to obtaining your scuba certification are:

  1. Depth: With a PADI Open Water Diving certification, for example, you are certified to dive up to 18 meters (60 feet). Additional certifications can be obtained to descend to further depths.
  2. Safety: Scuba certification will include coursework, pool sessions, and open water dives that include learning and practicing safe diving rules, etiquette, and skills. All of this work will make you a safer and more confident little Nemo.
  3. Freedom: Obtaining your open water dive certification gives you the freedom to dive on your own (meaning with another certified dive buddy… you should NEVER dive alone!).
  4. Air/Rentals: Most dive centers won’t rent you any gear without proof of your certification. No dive centers will issue you air tanks or fill your own tank unless you have a scuba certification. While you may buy your own gear, you’re still going to need someone to fill your tank with approved air.

While there are several scuba certification agencies, PADI is by far the most recognized worldwide, and more people get their open water dive certification through PADI than all other agencies combined. The PADI Open Water Diver certification certifies you to dive up to 18 meters (60 feet), a pretty fantastic depth for many dive sites. Additional courses can be completed to progress to further depths and learn other skills.

How long does the PADI Open Water Dive Course Take?

The standard course takes four days, including two days of classroom work and confined water (pool) sessions and two days of open water dives, with two open water dives each day for a total of four open water dives.

The classroom work includes teacher and/or DVD lead instruction (I believe this portion may also be completed online), with comprehension worksheets, quizzes, and a final exam. After demonstrating that you can swim 200 meters and tread water for ten minutes, there are five confined water (pool) skill sessions that cover all of the skills you will need to hit the open water, which must be accomplished successfully before you will be able to do your open water dives. The open water sessions include a mixture of skill demonstration and fun dive time. All of these sessions are led by a trained PADI instructor.

For those moving swiftly through the classroom and confined water pool sessions, your program may offer the option to complete the course in three days, with all of the classroom and pool work on day one.

Are there any pre-requisites for taking the course?

Yes. In short, you must be in good health, not have a cold or a list of other medical maladies, and able to swim 200 meters and tread water for ten minutes. You don’t need to have any prior diving experience, that’s what you’re there to learn!

Sounds expensive though, how much does this cost?

The short answer is that it depends. It depends on what dive center you choose, and more importantly where they conduct their open water test dives.  At Sail Rock Divers where we did our instruction the 4 day PADI Open Water Diver course cost 9,800THB ($287) performing your open water dives at a local spot off the island or 12,500THB ($367) to do your dives at Sail Rock. In our opinion if you’re going to do it, you might as well pay the little extra if an amazing dive site is offered.

How long does the PADI Open Water Dive Course Take?

The standard course takes four days, including two days of classroom work and confined water (pool) sessions and two days of open water dives, with two open water dives each day for a total of four open water dives.

The classroom work includes teacher and/or DVD lead instruction (I believe this portion may also be completed online), with comprehension worksheets, quizzes, and a final exam. After demonstrating that you can swim 200 meters and tread water for ten minutes, there are five confined water (pool) skill sessions that cover all of the skills you will need to hit the open water, which must be accomplished successfully before you will be able to do your open water dives. The open water sessions include a mixture of skill demonstration and fun dive time. All of these sessions are led by a trained PADI instructor.

For those moving swiftly through the classroom and confined water pool sessions, your program may offer the option to complete the course in three days, with all of the classroom and pool work on day one.

I’m somewhat scared about the idea of scuba diving… is it a bad idea to try the course?

Absolutely not. While Shawn was very comfortable with the underwater environment, I was very apprehensive, and this is actually one of the reasons it was on my bucket list, as much of a fear-conquering goal as a new experience. While Shawn breezed through the skill checks, many of the skills took me two or three times to accomplish. I hated the idea of removing the regulator from my mouth for any reason, or removing or purposely filling my mask with water to learn how to clear it while underwater. However, these and the many other skills we learned and practiced ultimately made me a far more comfortable in the water and over the duration of the short course I became a much more confident diver.

When it came time to hit the open water, I was actually far less anxious than I ever was during the pool sessions and I absolutely loved every minute of diving. I thought I would be terrified with how far below the surface we were, but I never actually felt like we were that far from the surface (though our dives went up to 18 meters / 60 feet depth) and I was so fascinated with all there was to see around me, I never had time to even think about being scared.

In short, if you are the least bit interested, I would definitely go for it! You’ll find that the more time you spend under water the more comfortable you will become. Learning all of the skills also helps you to become a far more educated and confident diver, ready to calmly tackle basic issues as they arise.

Awesome, I’m in. Where can I take the course?

When it comes to learning how to dive and obtaining your open water dive certification, the world is your oyster, as there are PADI Dive Centers with instructional courses around the globe! This said, make sure you do your research when selecting a dive center, ensuring that they have good recent reviews.

Because we are traveling around the world, we decided to do it while we were abroad and chose the beautiful turquoise blue waters of Thailand!

Thailand you say? Tell me more! Where can I dive in Thailand?

When you hear people talk about diving in Thailand, the most frequent location you will hear come up is Koh Tao, which is the most popular island for diving and has the most diving outfits. The popularity and competition here may help to keep the dive center course and lodging prices competitive. However, there are several nearby islands that also have dive centers and most of these operations visit many of the same dive locations, so it really just depends where you want to base yourself. As mentioned above, do your research and don’t hesitate to contact the dive centers with any questions about the course, equipment, safety, and dive sites.

Because we were already on the island of Koh Phangan for waterfall and beach hopping and the world famous Full Moon Party, we opted to go with a dive center on Koh Phangan. While the southern end of Koh Phangan is a bit more touristed, especially during the days surrounding the Full Moon Party, the north end of the island is a quiet, laid-back fishing and diving hub with amazing little open-air seafood restaurants and stalls.

Ko Phangan sounds amazing! How do I get there?

Well this depends on where you are coming from and how much money you want to spend! (As well as how long you want to spend in transit!)

I want to get there quick!
If you’re in Bangkok, the quickest way to get to Koh Phangan is to first fly to the Koh Samui airport and then take a ferry to Koh Phangan. Direct flights to Koh Samui are also available from Phuket and Singapore, among other locations.

Once you’ve touched down in Koh Samui, you can arrange a ferry ticket right from the airport arrival hall, no need to book anything in advance. They have the ferries down to a science and are ready for your arrival J Ferries run to two different piers on Koh Phangan: Thong Sala and Haad Rin. Both of these piers are located on the south end of the island, though Thong Sala is a bit closer to Chaloklum, where the dive centers are located on the north end of the island. However, even if the timing of the Haad Rin ferry works out better, you can get a pick-up cab from either pier to Chaloklum. They are also readily waiting for your arrival J You may also be able to arrange a pick up from your dive center.

I want to get there cheap!
The cheapest option is to grab a bus from Bangkok to the coast (Surathani), and then ferry from there. While this option is cheaper, it takes 8+ hours and there are wide reports of theft on the buses. There is one, I repeat – ONE – exception and that is Lomprayah. If you go the bus/ferry route, do yourself a favor and use them. At the time of writing, one way using this service was about $40 USD. It’s also possible to get trains from Bangkok to Surathani, and do a train/ferry trip.

Where are the dive centers in Koh Phangan?

The dive centers in Koh Phangan are all located on the north end of the island in Chaloklum. While the south end of the island sees all the crazy Full Moon Party-goers, the north end is quiet, relaxed, and the perfect place for diving and a little R&R. As a fishing hub, it’s also the perfect place for delicious fresh seafood! In addition to the pick-up truck cabs, water taxis can also transport you from Chaloklum to other beaches on the island.

Is there a specific dive center you would recommend?

Yes!! We took our PADI Open Water Diver course at Sail Rock Divers, and they were awesome! The facilities, staff, and instruction were top notch, and we absolutely loved our instructor, Lea. She was very fun and enthusiastic, and also patient and calming when I was working on new skills that gave me a bit of anxiety. We also stayed at Sail Rock Divers, which has bungalows onsite. The dive center is conveniently located near plenty of tasty seafood restaurants and the awesome crepe cart man who parks right outside the 7-11.

Sail Rock Divers is aptly named after one of the most popular dive spots in the region, Sail Rock, which is known to be a whale shark magnet (more on this below). Dive centers from Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui all arrange dives to this site, the only difference will be the length of the trip to get there.

The PADI Open Water Diver course at Sail Rock Divers includes the option to do your four open water dive sessions at sights near the island, or pay a tad bit extra to do all of your dives at the famed Sail Rock, which is about an hour boat ride from Koh Phangan. Trust us when we say that paying the extra to do your dives at Sail Rock is beyond worth it.

Sail Rock sounds dope! What can I see on the open water dives there?

WHALE SHARKS!! The popularity of the Sail Rock dive site comes mostly from the fact that it seems to be a natural whale shark magnet. While there are several places in the world where you can dive (or even snorkel) with whale sharks, some of them are known to chum the waters, an appalling tactic that lures large marine life off their natural migratory patterns and really deteriorates the dive experience – do your research if you’re looking for places to see whale sharks. We can tell you for certain that none of these shenanigans are happening at Sail Rock, which for whatever reason is just naturally frequented by these gentle giants.

While Sail Rock has seen runs of over 2+ weeks of daily whale shark sightings, there is, of course, always a chance that it won’t be your day. Even without a whale shark sighting, Sail Rock is still an amazing dive site, with plenty of fish, corals and other unique creatures and features, including a very cool rock chimney.

We were fortunate enough to see a whale shark on our very first day of open water dives! Though we were working on course skills at the time, our instructor took an obvious break so we could enjoy watching the large, calm gentle creature swim over and around us, its community of fish in tow. You might think that it would be unnerving to be in the water next to such a large creature, but whale sharks swim so languid and peacefully, it’s not at all unnerving and actually a very serene experience. We were so lucky to have had the sighting on our very first day in the underwater world!

What else is there to do in Koh Phangan?

WELL, since you asked…!!! Koh Phangan is home to the world famous original Full Moon Party, all the specifics of which you can read about here. The party is located at Haad Rin Beach on the south end of the island, the more tourist/beach/resort-geared area of the island, a short water or pick-up taxi ride from the quiet diving and fishing-oriented Chaloklum, on the north side of the island.

In addition to the Full Moon Party spectacle, and the many other parties hosted on the island, you can spend a day or more exploring the many beautiful waterfalls and beaches that dot the islands by motorbike, easily rented from most accommodation. Some of the beaches are also accessible by water taxi from other beaches and piers on the island.

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