Thailand is renowned for fantastic underwater wildlife and coral reefs. It’s a diver’s paradise with sea life so vast that even a simple snorkel and mask will afford you the most memorable adventures. If you’re looking to become scuba certified, then Thailand is the place to do it. It’s affordable, it’s incredibly beautiful and you can get straight into the ocean with a myriad of magnificent sea creatures once you’re qualified.
PADI Or SSI Diving Course In Thailand
If you’re going to get scuba certified, you’ll no doubt be faced with a choice between a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) or SSI (Scuba Schools International) certification. Both are highly reputable and trusted worldwide. PADI is the world’s largest and most recognised dive training organisation, but SSI, although less widespread, will come with a price tag at least 10% cheaper.
You’ll find a lot of dive schools in Thailand carry the PADI and SSI badges of honour, so you won’t need to look very far for one that suits your chosen location, budget, and specifications.
Our highlight to our Thailand experience? Getting to properly scuba dive for the first time and falling head over heels for this sport. Koh Tao island has been recommended to death and during the season you could find it a bit overcrowded but still, it is one of our favorite spots in Thailand for getting open water certified and enjoying scuba diving! – Inma and Jose, A World to Travel
See Also: We Rank 11 of Thailand’s Islands
Scuba Diving Certification In Koh Tao
There’s no doubt about the fact that Koh Tao is one of the most popular Thailand destinations to get your scuba diving certification as it carries all the essential elements for scuba diving heaven: affordability, accessibility, and awe-inspiring underwater life. PADI and SSI dive centres are located throughout the island, with approximately 50 in total on the tiny, quiet island.
The perks of doing your scuba certification in Koh Tao are being able to complete your open water dives in absolute paradise with the chance of seeing manta rays, turtles, black tipped reef sharks and perhaps even whale sharks (from about March to April every year).
We got our open water certification at Big Blue Diving on Koh Tao and we cannot recommend them and that whole island area enough for prime scuba experiences! We got lucky that during our course there was a group heading to Sail Rock off of Koh Tao. We jumped on and were able to see schools of barracuda, reefs like we’ve never seen before, and just entire ecosystems that were so vibrant and alive. Truly something we’ll never forget and are trying to plan to get back and see again! – Steph & Brandon, We Must Dash
The highlight of my trip to Thailand was learning to scuba dive. Previously I had been a bit afraid of the ocean. I always loved swimming, but rarely in the sea. Initially I didn’t do very well on my open water diving course. But in the end I overcame my fear and fell head over heels in love with diving. It felt like I had discovered a new planet; the colours and all the gorgeous creatures.
I got my open water certificate in Koh Tao, which was cheap and cheerful, but the groups can be a bit big sometimes. Despite that, the reefs are beautiful and it’s a fine place to learn. However, I did my advanced open water certificate on a live-aboard in the Similan Islands and that was phenomenal. Most of the time it was just me and my instructor. We stopped in a black-tip reef shark nursery, we saw manta rays, turtles and even cuttlefish getting romantic. There were so many different dive sites with such variety and life, it was incredible. I would definitely recommend a live aboard in the Similan Islands. – Tara, Where is Tara?
Koh Tao facts:
- Literal translation: Turtle Island
- Size: 21km2
- Population: 1,382
- Location: Gulf of Thailand, Surat Thani Province
The highlights of my time in Thailand were free diving in Koh Tao and surfing on Koh Phayam. Koh Tao is not my favorite island, but I loved learning the breathing and focus techniques used in freediving. I didn’t believe the instructor when he told us we be able to dive to 20 meters after only two days, but we did make it. It was incredible. Meanwhile, the surf break on Koh Phayam is uncrowded and beautifully shaped — perfect for an intermediate surfer like me who loves nice waves and likes to avoid crowds.I’d strongly recommend looking at the islands in the Andaman Sea north of Phuket, such as Koh Phayam. These islands are less crowded, more laid-back, and just as beautiful as the tourist hotspots like Koh Samui and Phuket. Prices are lower as well. I strongly recommend finding a beachside bungalow on Koh Phayam and hopping on the daily excursions taking divers to explore this rich and diverse area. – Matt, XpatMatt
Get Scuba Certified In Koh Lanta
While Koh Lanta is not home to sought after dive sites, it is a central location that affords easy travel to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, which are two of Thailand’s best-kept secrets when it comes to underwater paradise. Professional scuba certification courses are highly accessible in Koh Lanta and also come well recommended. Both PADI and SSI are also represented here.
Once completed, dives in the two above mentioned places could even result in you seeing whale sharks, leopard sharks and manta rays. Koh Lanta is a truly beautiful piece of the Thailand ocean extravaganza!
Scuba Diving for the first time in Thailand was like visiting another planet! Even just the boat ride out to the islands were beautiful, but the second you jump into the warm, clear, tropical waters and realize that you are surrounded by thousands of tropical fish, you know this will be a memory of a lifetime! I loved it so much that I’ve been back every year since 2008 since!
The best place to dive in Thailand depends on the month you’re there, as you can go to the absolutely best dive spot, but if the weather is terrible that month as it’s the middle of monsoon season, you’re going to be met with murky waters, and a terrible day. But in general the best place to dive in Thailand is Hin Daeng off of Koh Lanta, and Richelieu Rock in the Similan islands. Koh Tao is popular for beginners and a great place to do your open water certification, but in general the diving on the west coast is far more amazing. – Johnny, JohnnyFD
Koh Lanta facts:
- Literal translation: Comes from the name of grill for fish: “Lantas”
- Size: 81.4km2
- Population: 30,500
- Location: Andaman Sea, Krabi Province
Get Your Scuba Diving Certification In The Similan Islands
The Similan Islands are also in the Andaman Sea and are touted as one of the best places to dive in Thailand, offering the most unique and vast ranges of sea life. Scuba divers can choose from liveaboard diving options (meaning you stay on a boat for the duration of the course) anchored in the optimal diving spots, or staying on land and driving by boat for day trips to the Similan Island coral reefs.
You can also stay on the islands in the accommodation run by the national park. Expect to see turtles, parrot fish, clown fish and plenty of other exotic underwater life, such as whale sharks, manta rays, and even seahorses.
Many people recommend the Similan Islands but these can only be reached by going on a multi-day liveaboard cruise. If you’re looking for amazing scuba diving that’s still within easily reach from a holiday location, then you can’t go wrong with the Shark Point reef, Anemone Reef and the King Cruiser Wreck. All of these three dives sites can easily be reached as part of a day-trip from popular places like Phuket, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta. You’ll head out by speedboat in the morning, go for some spectacular world-class dives, and you’ll still be back for cocktails on the beach by late afternoon.
There are so many things I love about Thailand like the food, the beaches, and the temples. But since I’m really an adventure traveler at heart, I think the highlight for me was a caving expedition in northern Thailand. We ventured into multiple hidden cave systems with tunnels that were sometimes so narrow that you could barely fit through. Some river caves had only a tiny bit of space between the water and ceiling! In the big cavernous Tham Lod cave I saw thousands upon thousands of birds fly in at sunset in a scene that felt taken right from a BBC nature documentary. Thailand is simply filled with amazing nature and adventure experiences like these. – Marek, Indie Traveller
Similan Island facts:
- Literal translation: from the Malay “Sembilan” meaning “nine”. Each island is named by a number.
- Size: 11 islands, together 140km2 with a land area of 26km2
- Availability to public: 15 October -15 May every year, though dates may vary
- Location: Andaman Sea, Phang Nga Province
I would advise divers going to Thailand for the first time to do a live aboard trip. I loved diving the Andaman Sea, and those dive sites included a few in Myanmar waters as well as Thai Waters. Thailand was my first Asian diving experience, and I was in absolute wonder on every dive! I met so many new creatures, and even saw a banded sea snake! Diving the Andaman Sea was exciting, and I was on the Andaman Queen. It is not a luxury liner, but it is a nice boat with great staff, and good food, and I can happily recommend it. – Tam, Travels with Tam