Wednesday, December 30, 2015

DIVING IN THAILAND: REVIEW OF PHOENIX DIVERS, KOH TAO

I've just returned from Koh Tao, a tiny island in Thailand famous for being a diver's paradise. I've been wanting to accomplish being a certified diver for some time now and I'm glad to inform that I've completed my SSI Open water certification at Phoenix Divers this Christmas. 


Here's my review on Koh Tao island as well as my experience on doing my SSI Open Water course with Phoenix Divers.

***

Why Koh Tao
Everyone I've met while backpacking Southeast Asia enthusiastically gushes 
   " Dive certification? You HAVE to go to Koh Tao! "

Curiousity piqued, I looked up this tiny 15km/sq island and was mesmerized by the white sandy beaches and aquamarine blue waters. I spent 6 days on Koh Tao and could have stayed longer.

Getting to Koh Tao
Honestly if I had known how long and how much effort it would take to get there, I may have written it off altogether. 


Step 1
Flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Surat Thani International Airport (2hrs)


Step 2
Bus from Surat Thani International Airport to Don Sak pier (1.5hrs)

Step 3
Speedboat / ferry from Don Sak pier to Koh Tao (3.5hrs by speedboat, 6-7hrs by ferry)

I flew in to Surat Thani airport from KLIA, then took a bus to the pier. On the day I flew in, the weather was very bad so there were no speedboats or ferries going to Koh Tao. I opted instead to head to Koh Samui (rather than the party island of Koh Phangan) first and stayed there for a night before catching a speedboat to Koh Tao the next day.

My impression of Koh Tao 
Bars, cafes, restaurants, surf and souvenir shops line the main stretch of Sairee beach. Every other building is a dive centre. Scooters can be rented for 150bht for 24hours. Accommodation is plentiful with backpacker hostels, guesthouses, bungalows, and villas catering to every budget. I stayed free of charge for the first 4 nights at AC Resort as part of my dive package, then stayed at Nat Resort for 300bht per night for a private room (fan) with double bed and shared bath for the remaining time.



I only stayed on Sairee while I was there. I had planned on getting a scooter and exploring more of the island, but bad weather prevented me from doing so. 

Why I chose Phoenix Divers
Being the thrifty backpacker that I am, I wanted to do things cheaply as possible. I googled
   " Koh Tao diving free accommodation " 

Phoenix was one of the first results which surfaced.

Price
For 8500bht / 1015MYR, your package entails
  • SSI Open Water course - all theory materials provided (they loan you the studybook and also provide a diver's logbook for free)
  • 2 pool dives and 4 open water dives in the ocean (refreshments provided on the boat as well ; pineapple and watermelon slices, biscuits, coffee and tea, drinking water)
  • Equipment rental (wetsuit, an oxygen tank for every dive, BC vest, fins, and dive mask)
  • Accommodation (your choice of 4 nights in an air-conditioned dorm / 4 nights in a single fan room)
  • Breakfast (4 days of breakfast with a 100bht coupon for every morning)

Accommodation and FnB
I'm guessing that Phoenix actually has some sort of arrangement with AC Resort and AC Cafe (the resort and cafe next door to the dive center) to throw in breakfast and accommodation together with the your course. Real value for money if you ask me!

Accommodation review: Room was clean, cool, and spacious. It was a huge 16-bed dorm with air-conditioning, but while I was there I never saw more than 5 beds occupied at a time (on my last night, I was the only occupant). Shared showers and only cold water available - which was alright for what you're paying but it would have been great to have a hot shower especially it tends to get really cool in the later months of the year. 


Front entrance of AC Resort


My dorm


On site pool for new divers to practise before going to open water

Breakfast review: " You can't expect much for free. " I always say. However, AC Cafe definitely surpassed my expectations. For 100bht, you could choose anything from their menu from toast with butter and jam (40bht), ham and cheese omelettes (80bht), muesli with milk (50bht), coffee shakes (50bht), Pad Thai (80bht for the best Pad Thai I've had in my life!), fried rice (50bht plain, but price goes up with chicken, seafood, or pork)


Muesli with yogurt and fruit by the beach

Quality:
I'll say again that for the price I paid, I probably wouldn't even have complained if I'd had to bail water out the boat from a leak (kidding). 



However, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that Phoenix never cut any corners and delivered solid value for money. 






There were no hidden costs, instructors (mine was Alex) were friendly, knowledgeable, and professional, equipment was all in good order. Would definitely go back and highly recommend them to anyone looking to do some fun dives or a dive course on Koh Tao (they also provide Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Divemaster, Wreck Diving, and more).



What else is there to do on Koh Tao?
Diving, paddleboarding, snorkelling, sunbathing, swimming are the main activities to do on the island. However if you want to do something non-water related you can go exploring on a scooter and there is also a a CrossFit gym (I walked past late at night and they were closed) and rock climbing wall.

Lots of people take a 10 minute boat (250-300bht for a return trip) to the nearby Koh Nangyuan for its gorgeous beaches and incredible lookout point. I did this on my last day there was was definitely glad!








Conclusion:

Koh Tao was awesome and I'm looking forward to heading there again!

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