Open Water course Koh Tao

Scuba diving was not something I always dreamed of doing. In fact, it was something I would have been content to avoid for all the rest of my days, had I not ended up on Koh Tao. I’ve seen Jaws. I’ve seen Open Water. In fact, open water has long been my greatest fear. Which makes it so ironic that I ended up willingly handing over my hard earned money for a course known as Open Water Diver, the certification by dive center PADI that will allow me to dive down to 30 meters anywhere in the world.

Open Water course Koh TaoNo wonder the fish swim away from us

The open water course consists of a combination of classroom learning, four confined water dives, and four open water dives. The emphasis is really on safety and learning by repetition so I spent a fair amount of time tapping my foot, wanting to get out and swim around with the fish. As far as classrooms go, however, you can’t get much more idyllic. I took my course at a small dive school on the far side of the island in Hin Wong Bay, a beautiful place where we did our classroom learning on open air pavilions over the cliffs and our confined water dives in the shallow bay.

Throughout the required skills, which included practicing emergency ascents and removing the breathing regulator, I really only had trouble with removing my mask. I must be more reliant on my sight than I expected, because as soon as I pulled my mask back to let it fill with water, I completely panicked and felt like I couldn’t breathe, and water was going in my nose, and I was in general dying. I tried to calm myself down before I attempted to put it back on and clear it, but still when I finally reopened my eyes my instructor, Neil, was looking at me with grave concern. I had a little pity party and underwater pout for myself while my two fellow water babies had their go at it, and later on after I calmed down I was able to redo the whole thing with ease.

Open Water course Koh TaoBeing choked by my wetsuit

As we took the longtail out for the first open water boat dive, I was a little seasick so they put me in the water first. When I say that, I literally mean they “put me” in the water… held onto my air tank over the edge of the boat and dropped me in backwards. In that moment right before I dropped backwards into the abyss, I had the same sensation I always do at the top of a roller coaster before it drops… “What in the world have I gotten myself into?!”

Open Water course Koh TaoLet’s go!

View Rock resortHin Wong Bay- Home of View Rock resort

Once I was in the water, my sea sickness dissipated, along with my nerves. As we swam around the coral reefs, I felt like I was in The Life Aquatic, a whole little world I had never seen up close underwater. On that first dive I saw two eels and a little blue spotted ray, and I would go on to see pufferfish, scribble fish and more. Even more than the creatures, though, I was impressed by the coral. When I looked around it seemed like huge mountains pushed up all around me, creating an eerie and beautiful landscape. I often found myself staring a little too long at baby fish or pieces of soft coral blowing about, only to look up and kick like a madwoman to get back to our own little school of people-fish.

View Rock resort

My favorite part of my entire underwater experience were the schools of big gray fish that hung out under the pier. There seemed to be hundreds, thousands of them, and there wasn’t really ever one fish. They moved as a unit, and swimming through them was like parting the sea. I’ve never felt anything like it.

Longtail dive boatFancy longtail dive boat

Overall, I couldn’t be happier that I decided to get certified. I learned something new, I expanded my opportunities for future travel, and I conquered one of my biggest fears. Now all thats left is spiders and empty parking garages at nighttime. I think I can live with those two.

Open Water course Koh TaoInstructor Mark and me

Note to future travelers: Choosing to learn to dive at View Rock was an unusual choice. Most tourists go with a larger dive school on the more populous west side of the island. I’m so glad I strayed from the norm on this one. I got to dive off a longtail, rather than a large boat, do my confined water dives in a bay, rather than a pool, and do my book work on a pavilion overlooking the sea, rather than a classroom.

Not to mention I learned in a group of three, a small number compared to what most people learn with on Koh Tao, and paid the bargain price of 8,000 baht, about $240USD. And I lost out on nothing! Your only “roadblock” is literally a roadblock: a bumpy unpaved pickup truck ride to the other side of the island (included in your course) and then walking down what I would estimate is 2.4 million steps down to the dive shop. Well worth it!

  • Amelie
    November 29 2015

    Hi Alex!
    I recently discovered your website and I am in love with it. Since you posted pretty much everyday it is easy to follow you and enjoy all your travels experiences. Keep doing your great job 🙂
    I am very fond of your blog partly because I love diving. I used to dream to get my certification and in 2014, I tried for the first time a demonstration in pool. Well, not very adventurous but enough to lead me to get the real thing a couple weeks ago.
    I am not certified PADI – I did it in lake, in province of Québec, Canada when the water was 4-6 degrees Celsius! I wore a 14mm wetsuit, gloves, hood…well it was kind of cold. But great. I love it. Now I just need to keep swimming to new adventures 🙂

    • Alex
      November 30 2015

      Hey Amelie! Thank you so much for the kind words, and for reading Alex in Wanderland. It’s always fun to see these old posts getting some love 🙂 Congrats on getting started diving! I’m sure you have many fun adventures ahead!

      • Amelie
        November 30 2015

        Hahaha just realized I wrote NOT and NOW. Anyway thanks for your encouraging words. I will keep reading you for sure 🙂

  • neeraj
    July 15 2016

    Hi Alex,

    Enjoyed reading ur xperiences with diving.

    i fell in love with diving when i did four dives under discover scuba diving programme of PADI in 2012. I have been thinking of taking up Dive Master Cert, but a little apprehensive bcos of two factors – my not so young age of 45 yrs and high blood pressure due to primary hypertension. I could do with some advice

    • Alex
      July 21 2016

      Hey Neeraj, you’ll have to talk to a doctor about the hypertension but the age I wouldn’t worry about — I’ve met divemasters of all ages! Check out my divemaster series for more tips and information 🙂

  • Sandy
    May 11 2017

    I was hoping there was a post on when you first got your certification and I found it! The more I read about it on your blog and over on fearful adventurer the more I want to do it. Years ago I actually signed up for the online “book” portion but I actually never completed it (over $100US wasted) but I’m seriously considering giving it another try.

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Aw, glad you found it! Definitely give diving another try… you won’t regret it. And if you do, I’d love to hear about it 🙂

  • Marissa
    June 12 2019

    Hi Alex. Can I ask you how you got over taking off the mask and clearing it? The way you described your experience taking off the mask is EXACTLY how I feel but I’m struggling to move past this in my pool sessions. Did something just click?

    • Alex
      June 12 2019

      Hey Marissa! That’s tough girl — but if you look through my diving archives today you’ll see that I’ve now done hundreds of dives all over the world! You CAN get through this! I think having a super supportive instructor and maybe asking for some one on one time could really help — if you feel the pressure of the group waiting for you, that isn’t going to help anything. Good luck — let me know how it goes.

      • Marissa
        June 12 2019

        Yes I saw that you are a super avid diver so when I saw this post it’s comforting to know someone else struggled with this too and moved past it! No one else in my class seemed to struggle with it besides me haha. I will let you know how it goes! I am switching instructors because my last one tried to rush me through everything and I think that added to the anxiety. Hopefully this goes better! Thanks for the advice!

        • Alex
          June 20 2019

          DEFINITELY swap to someone more patient. That saddens me to hear that they aren’t giving you the nurturing environment you deserve. It’s their job to help you move past those barriers! I believe in you!

          • Marissa
            August 23 2019

            Hi! I just want to say, thank you so much for the encouragement! My new instructor was AMAZING and I got through the mask no problem!! I’m sooo happy I stuck with it. I used my cert for a few wreck dives in Anguilla and I am planning a trip to Koh Tao next spring.

          • Alex
            August 26 2019

            That is incredible Marissa! I’m truly proud 🙂 You should consider joining us in Thailand for my next Wander Women Retreat in March of 2020!

  • Marissa
    June 13 2019

    Sorry I thought of one more question – has your mask ever actually come off on a dive? Just wondering how common it is given how many dives you’ve gone on.

    • Alex
      June 20 2019

      Hm, I think it has happened once when I was working — and it got kicked off by a student! It’s definitely rare, but you’ll feel more confident as a diver when it’s something you KNOW you can handle, even if it’s super unlikely to happen!

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