When we started our travels, we hadn’t planned on getting our diving certification in the beginning of our trip. It all was decided last minute and now we’re really happy we changed our plans a bit. We realized that we’d like to be able to dive during our travels, so it would be smart to get the certification as soon as possible. After this was decided, the next thing to decide was where to get our certifications. That was not a hard decision to make.
After some research we realized that Koh Tao is one of the best places to get your Open Water Certification. This is partly due to the high competition and hence the low prices, partly due to great waters. If you want to know more about why you should get your certification on Koh Tao, you can read our article about that [coming soon].
How We Chose a Dive School
On Koh Tao there’s more than 75 dive centers/schools to choose from. If you’re new to the world of scuba-diving, like us, this might feel overwhelming. In the beginning we felt as is they were all the same and like we were lost in a huge jungle. After some research we understood that there are some important criteria from which you can make an informed decision.
From there it all became easier. We knew a few things that we wanted from the dive school we would choose in the end. We wanted small groups, included materials (books, videos, diving computer, all gear needed and so on) and a dive school with a personal touch. We also chose to go with a PADI certification instead of a SSI. This choice is totally up to you. It’s hard to say if any is better than the other. You’ll have to do your research and go with what fits you the best. After you’ve chosen between PADI and SSI, your potential choices are narrowed down a lot, which simplifies things a lot.
We did our research and we contacted some dive schools with our questions. Yes, it’s important to ask anything you might want to know, and you have a hard time finding the answers to. Usually, these dive schools are used to questions of all sorts. There are (almost) no stupid questions. After a few emails exchanged with a man named Stefan, the owner of Scuba Shack Koh Tao, we decided to go with Scuba Shack. They fulfilled more or less all of our desires and we got a really good feeling while emailing with Stefan.
About Scuba Shack
Scuba Shack is a business run by Stefan and his wife. They first opened in June 2014, so they’re relatively new. Despite this, they have achieved the PADI professional rating of 5 Star Instructor Development Center. This means that more than just being a PADI center, they haven’t violated any PADI-rules for the last year, they are constantly developing and they have a big variety of courses. More than this they are meeting several other PADI-requirements. Out of the 75+ dive schools at Koh Tao, only a handful is PADI 5 star centers.
The staff at Scuba Shack are all very experienced and between them all they’ve done more than 1000 dives on Koh Tao. The instructors have worked together for several years. During this time they have taught hundreds of students. It’s safe to say that they know what they’re doing and know the waters around Koh Tao very well.
The Booking Process
We decided which dive school to go with in advance, before we got to Koh Tao. This was so that we wouldn’t have to spend time on looking for a dive school when we arrived on Koh Tao. This is however, not necessary if you prefer to explore your choices while on Koh Tao. The majority of all diving schools are located around Sairee Beach. Therefore, it’s possible to walk along the beach and make a visit to the schools that seems interesting to you. This might make it easier to ask all you question and to get a good or bad feeling with the schools of your interest.
Since we didn’t know in advance the exact day we would arrive in Koh Tao, we didn’t book an exact date. Stefan was very flexible and told us that we were welcome whenever it fitted us. A couple of days before we were heading to Koh Tao we emailed again, as agreed. They were totally fine with us setting a date for the course just a couple of days in advance. The day we arrived on Koh Tao we had pickup-service waiting for us at the pier. This is a great service provided for those who book in advance. Usually, a taxi from the pier to Sairee Beach costs at least 300 baht.
Once we arrived at the dive school, Stefan welcomed us and explained what our days were gonna look like during the course. Afterwards he showed us some accommodation alternatives close to Scuba Shack and shortly thereafter we checked in.
We were supposed to start the course the day after. Unfortunately however, both Ophelia and I suddenly got sick, so we had to postpone. Luckily, Stefan and the staff at Scuba Shack were very flexible and we postponed multiple times until we felt ready to start, without any problems at all.
What Our Days Looked Like
The course is during four days in total. Two of these days are half-days. Here is a short summary about what our days looked like:
Day 1 started in the afternoon and lasts for 2-3 hours with some theory. We watched some videos and answered some questions. During this afternoon we went through chapter 1 and 2 of the PADI Open Water book.
Day 2 started at 8.00am and we continued going through some videos. This time our instructor held some “lessons” as well. He answered all our questions about the videos from the day before and from day 2. Together we went through all the study questions as well. Around 11.00am we finished and had about an hour lunch break.
After the lunch break we prepared our equipment and headed to the boat. Scuba Shack have their own boat and do net rent boat space to other divers, like several other dive schools do. This means they themsleves get to decide the best dive site depending on the weather and other conditions that day. Also, there’s no other than the staff from Scuba Shack and customers to Scuba Shack on the boat.
Once we reached our destination, we started in shallow water (1-3m deep). Here we practiced all the skills that are mandatory to go through and pass to get the certification. We were back around 5:30pm.
Day 3 also started at 8.00am and was similar to the previous day. In the morning we continued watching videos and answering a bunch of study questions. Once we were done, it was time for our final exams, which everyone needs to pass to get certified. After all the practice, it wasn’t too hard.
Afterwards we had a lunch break and then we headed to the boat. Once we reached the dive site it was time for dive 1 & 2. This meant that we were about to do our first proper dives ever. We were so excited! We went to 12 meters depth and got to see what it was like to dive for real. We mixed the diving with practicing some more skills. We had plenty of time to enjoy the underwater world and see the amazing corals and fishes!
Day 4 started at 5.30am (yes, 5.30 in the morning and no, it is not a typo). It was tough to get up in the morning, but it ended up being so worth it! If you’re getting your Open Water Certification with Scuba Shack, you will also have one super early morning dive on day 4. There’s a reasonable explanation though. Scuba Shack wants to head out before all the other dive schools does. This means that we were the only boat at the dive site for at least 30 minutes. This gave us the opportunity to discover the site before the place was filled with boats and people.
During day 4 we made our final dives, dive 3 & 4. We went down to 18m depth this time. We started by doing a few more exercises under water. The rest of the time we just explored the waters, the fishes and the corals. It was amazing. The feeling of being able to breath under water is indescribable.
During this morning dive, the likelihood of seeing a whale shark is the biggest. This chance increases due to Scuba Shack being the first boat on the spot. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see any whale sharks. However, we enjoyed the great aquatic life anyhow and we were super happy with our dives. Once we were back on the boat after the last dive, it hit us that we were now certified divers!
After the last dive, we headed back to Scuba Shack to make our certification official. This really means that we together with Radek registered everything with PADI so that our information is stored online.
Our Thoughts About Scuba Shack Koh Tao
As we have already hinted, choosing a dive school was not so easy. We had over 20 candidates that we thought looked interesting, had good reviews, and a good reputation. All we knew was that we wanted to go with a dive school that had few people per instructor, included gears and a personal touch. Due to the big competition and high demand for Open Water courses on Koh Tao, it’s easy for dive centers to turn into “diving factories”, where it’s all about making money and certify as many people as possible. We learned that it’s not always the most popular/famous option that is the best option.
It didn’t take long from when we first arrived at Scuba Shack until we confirmed our first impressions with this dive school; this was a really good dive school. Scuba Shack is a smaller dive school compared to many others, in a really good way. It’s easy to see that it’s not all about certifying as many people as possible. We quickly felt like home during our days at Scuba Shack. The atmosphere among the instructors, the dive masters and the owner Stefan is really chill and loving. It felt as if they all were a big family, and we were more than welcome to join them. In a couple of minutes after arrival we had found ourselves some new friends.
At the Scuba Shack office there’s someone at all time more or less. The instructors stay long after they’re back from the last dive to hang out, and Stefan and his wife comes to the office early every morning and stays until late. This was a big plus as well. It was very easy to find someone to talk to if any questions or issues (like when we got sick) arose. The owner, Stefan, is easily accessible. Even though he has a lot of work to do, he always finds time to help if needed. Whenever we needed help with anything, there was always someone to ask at the Scuba Shack office.
More than the awesome atmosphere among the people at Scuba Shack, we loved the fact that the maximum size of every group (that is the maximum number of divers per instructor) was 4 divers. This was really important to us. We wanted to do our certification at a school were we felt like we could get the help we needed and were the instructor had no issues with giving everyone enough attention. We were only 3 divers in our group (Ophelia, I and another girl) and this was perfect. We never felt as one (or two) of the crowd. We felt seen and appreciated at all times. I can’t even imagine learning how to dive in a group of more than 4 people.
Since the groups are small, it’s easy to get to know the people in your group, including your instructor. We loved the fact that we became friends with our instructor, Radek, (who, by the way, was simply amazing) on a personal level. After the course, we even talked about meeting up later during our travels once he’s also on the road. I doubt we would’ve gotten that close with an instructor at one of the bigger dive schools.
At dive schools were it’s not only about certifying as many as possible in the shortest amount of time possible, you’ll get the opportunity to do things in your own speed. Not once did we feel pressured or stressed about having to do something we felt uncomfortable with. If we reached any obstacles, Radek took the time to go through everything as many times as needed without any signs of impatience. He also constantly checked on us so that we were following and that everything was okay. I believe this proves the quality of the instructors at Scuba Shack. Sure, you can have a work permit and every permission needed to be an instructor (which, of course, every instructor at Scuba Shack has), but it takes more than that to be a really good one.
We really couldn’t be more happy with the choice of dive school. We had an amazing experience with Scuba Shack Koh Tao. They took very well care of us and our instructor was amazing! We can sincerely recommend Scuba Shack to anyone that wants to do any kind of diving activity on Koh Tao.
If there’s anything to be critical about with Scuba Shack (and this is me really trying hard to find something to be critical about) it’s that they don’t have their own accommodation. I believe it would be even easier to bond with divers and instructors if it was possible to live in dorms together (or something similar). However, Stefan helps anyone who’s interested with finding accommodation close to Scuba Shack. They are partners with Mama Ochit, located right next to Scuba Shack. Mama Ochit offers simple bungalows from 400 baht per night, which works just fine. These bungalows are separated from one another though, so it’s still hard to connect with other divers while staying there.However, compared to all the amazingly good things with Scuba Shack, this is a tiny little “issue” ( I wouldn’t even call it an issue).
We can’t emphasize enough how thankful we are for this experience and for the wonderful people we got to know during our days with Scuba Shack Koh Tao. As we’ve mentioned before, what fits you the best all depends on what you’re looking for. You’ll have to do some research and make an informed decision. If you’re looking for a loyal, experienced and eccentric dive school, Scuba Shack Koh Tao might be something for you.
* This experience was partly sponsored by Scuba Shack Koh Tao. Everything mentioned in this post is completely impartial and all opinions are our own.