How To Choose the Best Dive School in Koh Tao

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People travel to this Koh Tao island with one common goal: leave with a PADI open water certification. But how do you choose among hundreds of dive schools? We’ll show you how to narrow it down, and which diving school we think is the best on the entire island!

How to Choose the Best Dive School in Koh Tao

I’ve been planning on getting my PADI open water certification for years. It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since middle school, when my dad would tell me stories about diving in frigid northern Minnesota lakes to explore shipwrecks.

I loved the idea of breathing underwater, but my fantasies had exotic fish and colorful coral instead of weedy lakes, and tropical water so warm I didn’t need a wetsuit. I don’t think either of those can be found in Minnesota.

Fast-forward to last year. It didn’t take much convincing to get Ben on board with this dream of mine, so we started doing a bit of research. While making rough itinerary for our round-the-world travels, we decided that Koh Tao, a small island in the gulf of Thailand, would be the place to become certified. So we put it on our map, and made it happen.

Why Koh Tao, Thailand?

Koh Tao Sairee Beach Palm Tree Choose Dive School

People flock to this tiny island with one common goal: leave Koh Tao with a PADI open water certification. In fact, these turquoise waters are the classroom for thousands of new divers each year – making Koh Tao the second most popular place in the world to get certified (second only to Cairns, Australia)!

So why is is Koh Tao such a popular place to get certified?

Well, for one it is cheap.

There are more than 50 dive schools on this island, making competition fierce. The quality of education you receive is top notch, and the price you pay is far less than you’d shell out most other places in the world. On average, an open water course will cost somewhere between 9,000 – 11,000 baht ($250 – $315 USD), which typically includes 4 nights of accommodation.

Want more info? For more information on diving in in this Southeast Asian hot spot, check out this complete and detailed guide to diving in Thailand.

Sairee Beach Koh Tao Flower Choose Dive School

In addition to the price of certifications being ridiculously reasonable (especially considering accommodation is included!), there are more reasons to choose Koh Tao to get your SCUBA schooling on!

The waters around this island are a perfect place for the novice diver. There are rarely currents, so new divers can learn in an environment that feels safe. And the underwater life is abundant – from nemo fish to colorful coral to whale sharks (though siting one of those is very rare!), you’ll have no shortage of things to look at underwater, making it one of the best spots for scuba diving in Thailand

Related: Heading to neighboring Koh Samui? Check out 15 Things to Do in Koh Samui.

Do I need to book my dive course before I get to Koh Tao?

The simple answer is: No. There are so many school on Koh Tao, that you can roll up to the island and find a spot in a dive course the next day. We showed up, talked to a few schools and made a booking in person.

That said, if you have a specific school in mind, are traveling during peak tourist season (December – April is high season in the Gulf), and have a limited about of time, it might make sense to book ahead. 

Be warned that on some neighboring islands and ports there are some dive school representatives who will try to convince you to book with them before arriving to Koh Tao.

In our experience, these representatives were very high pressure and made us uncomfortable. Once we arrived on the island and saw the school they represented compared to the plethora of other choices, we were glad we didn’t agree to dive with their school before seeing the other options.

If you want to have an really unique experience, try booking with a liveaboard scuba trip. You get multiple dives per day, meals and food are included and you get to dive where the water is the best. Check out these Thailand liveaboard trips and get excited. 

Bottom line: We would recommend either doing research online and booking that way, or waiting until you get to the island to see the schools for yourself.

How do I choose a dive school in Koh Tao?

We know the struggle of choosing a dive school in Koh Tao. There are just SO many to choose from. And even though Koh Tao is an inexpensive choice to get your certification, shelling out a few hundred dolla’s is still a big deal, and you want to be sure you’re choosing a great dive school. 

Below we’ve listed 6 points to consider that will help you choose the best dive school for you. At the bottom of this article, we share which dive school we chose based on this criteria. We highly recommend this school, but realize that every person has their own needs and you might prefer a different dive school.

We suggest considering all these points and comparing a few schools so you can make an informed decision that will suit you best.

1. Size of School

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Scuba Boat

The first thing you should decide is how big of a school you’d like to dive with. There is an array of small, medium and large schools on this island, and each have their own pros and cons. Let’s be honest – size does matter.

Big Schools

Koh Tao is home to some of biggest dive schools in the world. They are constantly stamping new certificates, which has both pros and cons.

One great thing about choosing a large school is that the course is taught in just about any language you could want. Plus, the big guys run rain or shine and stay open during the low-season (November) when some of the smaller companies close their doors. The bigger schools can also offer some of the more competitive prices on the island.

A negative to going with a larger school is that some operate similar to a factory, churning out new divers without much acknowledgement of names and individual needs. 

We knew from the get-go that big schools aren’t really our style, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad choice.

You might be wondering: Does going with a large school mean I’ll have a big class size? 

Not necessarily. We walked through one of the larger resorts on the island and saw heaps of classes taking place at the same time, but each class size was 6 or fewer students. So going with a large company doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a huge class – it just might mean there are several other classes going on around you at the same time. 

Small Schools

Then there are small schools. Lots of ‘em. Sometimes it is difficult to find much information about these schools online, and we have heard that if there aren’t enough people signed up for a course, dives can fall through.

Additionally, some of these schools don’t provide their own accommodation, so you may have to find it on your own with a stipend they provide. A plus side to going through a small school is that you’ll receive lots of individualized attention and can have your needs catered for. Plus, you’re supporting one of the little guys. Yay!

Medium Schools

But what if I want a dive school that is reputable AND where people know my name (cue “Cheers” theme song)?! Can a girl have both? I felt a bit like Goldilocks on my quest to find a dive school that wasn’t too big or too small… I wanted one that was juuuust right!

And you know what? We found one! (I’ll share our top recommendation for a dive school below. But continue reading to see exactly why we chose it.)

There are plenty of medium-sized dive schools in Koh Tao, so just determining size won’t necessarily leave you with an easy decision, but it will help you eliminate a good chunk.

Let’s move on to the next considerations when choosing a dive school in Koh Tao.

2. Price of Dive School

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Air Tanks

The cost of an open water course can range from 9,000 to 11,000 baht ($250 – $315 USD). You’ll probably even find a few schools advertising it a bit cheaper. But remember, you get what you pay for.

When buying a car, the cheapest one isn’t typically the best choice, as it will be uncomfortable and may require some extra maintenance. The most expensive isn’t always the right choice either though – I really don’t need that upgraded speaker system after all. Choosing a dive school is similar.

Getting your open water certification is a big deal and is an investment in yourself. Be prepared to pay a little more for better instruction and equipment and you’ll be happier with the overall experience.

And when you consider that the difference in price between the cheapest and most expensive schools on the island is roughly $65 USD, it isn’t all that much in the scheme of things. That extra money (in our opinion) is totally worth feeling more confident in the water.

Our advice would be to plan on choosing a school that is somewhere in the middle when it comes to price. But only you know your budget and what you’re comfortable with spending. Before choosing a school, be sure you know exactly what the price includes.

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Ask these questions before making a commitment:

How many nights accommodation does it include?

Although the average is 4 nights free accommodation, this varies and some companies don’t include it at all!

Does the price include all my gear and my own copy of the course book? 

It should!

Do all students get to use their own dive computer?

We didn’t know much about this before our course, but learning how to use a dive computer is essential for being a competent diver. Many of the cheaper schools on Koh Tao do not include this in their price, so be sure to inquire about this piece of equipment.

Is this price for a PADI certification or SSI?

Both certifications are recognized around the world and are relatively similar. Prices and course material may vary, with SSI typically being slightly less expensive. It is a good idea to do a little research and choose the certification that you deem right for yourself.

How big are the class sizes? 

Some of the smaller schools have class sizes with a maximum of 4. Medium school can range from 2 – 6 students per class, with multiple instructors. And many of the big schools aim to stick to the 6-students-to-1-instructor ratio. We have heard of some class sizes being a bit bigger though.

The optimal class size comes down to personal preference. 

Our thoughts on class size: We didn’t want something too big where we wouldn’t get any one-on-one attention, but we also like the social aspect of classes like this. For us, a 6-person group (with 3 instructional staff) felt perfect.

3. Accommodation on Koh Tao

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Bungalows Accommodation

The thing that caught my eye about the dive school we chose was the accommodation. It was well-located in Sairee Beach, had 2 beautiful infinity pools for guests, an onsite restaurant, and cute and clean bungalows for all dive students.

Plus, it is literally 30 steps to the beach, so we were able to watch a stunning sunset every night.

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Bungalows Accommodation

While accommodation shouldn’t be the only factor you consider, it is important, as you will most likely be staying there at least 4 nights of your trip.

Beware that not all accommodation is equal on this island. While in Koh Tao, we spent one night in a room that another medium sized school offers for its divers. 

While we aren’t super picky about hotels, we were not enthused about this place. The room was dirty, drunk people were constantly walking by at night which made it hard to sleep, and there was no pool. Whaaaat?!

Tip: Ask to see the accommodation before making any commitments.  

2018 Update: The place we recommend, no longer offers free accommodation along with a course. See below.

4. Location of Dive School

Your dive shop’s location will determine where you are based on the island. Most likely, you won’t venture too far away after your long days of classes, so you’ll want to be somewhere that you enjoy.

In our experience, the Sairee Beach area seemed to be the best place to be based on the island if you want to be in the middle of it all, since this is the main hub on the island. If you want to have a little more peace and quiet and not be bothered by the nightlife, the southern part of the island might be more appealing to you.

There’s plenty of accommodation and restaurants, and this is also where most of the nightlife takes place. Read about our favorite eats in Koh Tao, including a place where you can get super healthy veggie packed bowls, because we know you’re sick of rice dishes. 

Plus, the western facing beach means you’ll have some of the best sunset views on the island! And it just so happens that Sairee Beach has no shortage of dive shops to choose from, so you’ll have no problem finding one in this neighborhood.

Everyone has their own preferences though, so do a little research on the main areas and determine which one sound the most appealing to you.

5. Reviews of Dive School

We are suckers for Trip Advisor. Before making any big purchases while traveling, I check out what other people have to say. Bed bugs? Now way! Rude staff? I’ll find another company.

I know that reviews must be taken for what they are. Some people get really upset at a situation and take their rage out by venting on the Internet.

But if a school has mostly mediocre reviews, look elsewhere. There’s so much competition for dive schools on Koh Tao that you’ll have no problem finding a more reputable one.

After you get your diving certification, why not try a Liveaboard experience? Our detailed guide to scuba diving in Thailand has recommended Liveaboards for every budget.

6. What is this school doing for the environment?

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Clean Beach

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we have a passion for traveling in a way that is sustainable and ethical. Diving can have a huge impact on the environment if it’s not done properly or with care, so be sure that the dive school you choose is treating the ocean with respect.

The dive school we decided to go through has regular dive site cleanups, recycles 100% of the glass, plastic, paper, and aluminum waste from the resort, and donates a part of each student’s course fee to ProjectAWARE, an organization that fights for critical marine life conservation issues.

After considering all of the factors above, are you ready to know which dive school we chose?

Okay, I won’t make you wait any longer…

Sairee Cottage Diving School was a clear winner for us!

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Sairee Cottage

Note: This article was in NO way sponsored by Sairee Cottage. We had a great experience with them and know how difficult it is to decide on a dive school in Koh Tao.

We wanted to share our thoughts and experience in the hope that it helps other decide – whether they choose the same school or a different one. There are tons of great schools on the island of Koh Tao, and we hope that whichever school you pick provides as good of an experience as we had. 

Why did we choose Sairee Cottage Diving School?

1. SIZE: They are a medium-sized school, and if you remember my Goldilocks dilemma, this is just what we were looking for.

Class sizes are small – ranging from 2 people to a maximum of 6. Our class had six people and 3 leaders (1 head instructor, an assistant instructor, and a Dive Master in training).

I thought it was the perfect size because there was one leader to every 2 people. Plus, we were able to meet 4 other awesome travelers who were getting their certifications along with us.

2. PRICE: They were reasonably priced. At 9,800 baht (just over $300) per person, it was a little more expensive than some of the other schools.

But sometimes quality costs more, and we were happy to pay a little extra for what we received. 

3. ACCOMMODATION: The accommodation here is lovely! After staying in a few too many sketchy places, the cute bungalows at Sairee Cottage were a welcomed relief.

They also offer upgrades with air conditioning (not necessary, in my opinion). We made good use of the infinity pools and lounge chairs during our stay, and really felt like we were living in paradise.

2018 Update: The Sairee Cottage no longer offers free accommodation along with a course. But the course used to be 10,800 baht with a bungalow, so you could use that 1,000 baht on a room.

4. LOCATION: The location in Sairee Beach was central, but far enough away from the bars that our sleep was never disturbed by partiers. Plus, it’s so close to our favorite restaurants on island. And the ocean is steps away!

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Sairee Cottage Diving

5. REVIEWS: The rave reviews on Trip Advisor were the last little push that convinced us to book with Sairee. Have a look for yourself – people only have good things to say!

6. ECO FRIENDLY: Sairee Cottage Dive School is making a conscious effort to keep the ocean beautiful and healthy.

We witnessed this firsthand: During prior dives and snorkeling trips we’ve done, guides have picked up marine life to show us, but at this dive school, our instructors pointed out sea life without disturbing them – a true display of how all staff are conscious of the environment in which they work every day.

Read more about the ProjectAWARE initiative that they support (and you support too by diving with them!).

Final thoughts on choosing a dive school in Koh Tao…

How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Sairee Cottage Instructor
How To Choose A Dive School in Koh Tao Sairee Cottage Diving

Our instructors at Sairee Cottage (Felix, Daniel, & Mike) were both professional and fun, the gear was well taken care of, and the facilities were top notch.

We felt like we truly learned a lot and came away from our course with a love for diving. In fact, we had such a good time that we decided to do the Advanced Open Water Course through Sairee Cottage as well!

Having done two courses with them and staying in the provided accommodation for nearly two weeks, we are proof that Sairee Cottage is a great choice when it comes to getting your diving certification on Koh Tao! So make it over to this island and #GETSOME!

Tip: For tips on Where to Eat on Koh Tao, check out our delicious post here.

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Note: This article was in NO way sponsored by Sairee Cottage. We had a great experience with them and know how difficult it is to decide on a dive school in Koh Tao.

We wanted to share our thoughts and experience in the hope that it helps other decide – whether they choose the same school or a different one. There are tons of great schools on the island of Koh Tao, and we hope that whichever school you pick provides as good of an experience as we had. 

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Are you planning a trip to Thailand?

We have TONS of resources on travel in Thailand and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.

If you’re an avid diver, be sure to check out our round up of the best places for scuba diving around the world and other articles on our scuba diving page.

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Best Dive School in Koh Tao
Best Dive School in Koh Tao

We want to hear from you!

Is getting a SCUBA certification on your dream list? Where is the most beautiful place you’ve gone diving? Did you have a great experience with a dive school on Koh Tao? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Comments (18) on “How To Choose the Best Dive School in Koh Tao

  1. Florence.correnti@gmail.com says:

    My boyfriend and I chose sairee cottage for our Padi courses after reading your review. Thanks for all of these details which were very helpful! We had a great time there and were lucky enough to spot the amazing whalesharks!

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Oh that’s so good to hear it was helpful! There are so many great places to choose from on Koh Tao, and we know how overwhelming it was to decide, so I’m glad our insights can help others with the decision 🙂 Yay for getting certified!!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      That’s so great to hear Florence! We are so happy you went with Sairee Cottage Diving. And you saw a WHALESHARK!! (\/\/) I am eternally jealous! So grateful you found our article helpful. Let this be the first of many, many dives for you and your boyfriend!

  2. traveltheswissway@gmail.com says:

    I went around different dive schools as well, your article helped a lot to look out for the right stuff! As mentioned in other comments, Sairee Cottage don’t offer accommodation included anymore. I found a similar dive school in size and vibe and also located at Sairee Beach. Ended up going with Coral Grand Divers and had an amazing time there! I was lucky getting a room while walking in but it seems most people book ahead. Their website is pretty nice and seems easy enough to make a reservation.

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Nadine, thanks for the information. We have updated the article. Glad you found a dive school that fit with your style. What certification did you get?

  3. Miriam says:

    Hi, just to update the info. I was in touch with Sairee Cottage. Accommodation isn’t included anymore, but they dropped their price of the PADI Open Water to 9800 baht as result.

  4. tcrondeau@yahoo.com says:

    Hello, I have been looking at the Sairee Cottage website and it specifically says that accommodation is not included. The rooms are actually quite expensive (700 thb per night is the only option under 1200) when you consider how many nights you’ll be there. Do you know if they have changed their policy on accommodation or if maybe they give you a different deal when you book in person as opposed to in advance online? Thanks for the great article

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Tim, have you tried contacting Sairee Cottage? Their staff is really helpful and I’m sure they can answer your question. It has been two years since we stayed there, but I don’t think they would change that policy, since many other places around the island offer the same thing. Let me know what you find out.

  5. Adi says:

    Hello. How far in advance did you book the Sairee Cottage Diving? And how did you book the accommodation? Was it just included in the deal you got? Thanks.

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Hi Adi, we booked Sairee when we got on the island. We walked into the office I think one day ahead of our first class and booked our course. The accommodation is included in your dive course so you get 5 days worth of accommodation.

  6. freddie.jeanrenaud@gmail.com says:

    Fantastically thorough article! This helped a lot as a newbie thank you!

  7. chloe.kingstone@gmail.com says:

    I love scuba diving not only for the adventure, but also for the worderful and unique thing you get to see below the water surface. In the past years I’ve taken a lot of interesting and amazing pictures which I like to store in the https://dive.site logbook, along with all my diving logs.

    • twowanderingsoles@gmail.com says:

      Sounds like diving is a passion of yours! What’s your favorite place you’ve gone diving?

  8. info@saireecottagediving.com says:

    Sairee Cottage Diving is delighted we could provide great service. With regards to other dive schools or agencies any views or opinions presented are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Sairee Cottage Diving. Again many thanks for a wonderful review. The Sairee Cottage Diving Crew.

Comments are closed.