Dive Certifications and Whale Shark Spottings – Thailand

Chad spent a month traveling Thailand from Central to Northern to Southern and back. He spent that time exploring, learning the culture and taking photos. From bathing elephants to swimming with whale sharks even getting bit by a monkey, Chad has had some close encounters with the wildlife in Thailand. He shares his experience with becoming a diver and the sea life he encountered...

This is a story about falling in love.  Not with the fun-loving Swedish angel I met in Thailand.  Not with the beautiful blue-eyed dark-haired Austrian I ran into either.  This is a story about falling in love with a passion that made me feel more alive than I have in years.  It’s a love so deep, it took me 30 meters below sea-level.  I’m talking about a love for scuba diving.

This story primarily takes place on the island of Koh Tao but it begins on a minibus and ferry ride to the island of Koh Lanta.  It was on this minibus that I met a couple from the Netherlands who influenced the rest of my travels in Thailand.  Rasmus and Sabine were warm, welcoming and downright fun to be around.  We talked for most of the ride from Krabi to Koh Lanta, getting to know each other and sharing our different travels.  It was during these conversations I learned that they had spent some time at a dive centre called Big Blue on the island of Koh Tao, getting their open water and advanced diving certifications.  They gushed about how amazing of a time they had, how incredible their dive instructor was and how much they loved the dive centre.

Diving is something that I’ve wanted to do since childhood so I held onto every saltwater splashed word they said, asking questions, gathering information and devising my own plans to give Koh Tao some of my time.  By the end of the conversation, I knew I was going to go for some diving certifications as well.  I decided if I could get my advanced diving certification before I left Thailand, I would be a very happy guy.

After spending a few days relaxing in a bamboo beach bungalow in Koh Lanta and a few days of partying on the beaches of Koh Phangan, I set off for Koh Tao to achieve my diving goals.

Koh Tao and Big Blue

Koh Tao is a diving mecca, with dive centres on every block and multiple dive sites within a 40-minute boat ride radius.  There are even dive centres that only teach courses in German or Spanish. Diving is a way of life for many on the island.

When I arrived in Koh Tao, I already had a reservation with Big Blue Diving. (I highly suggest booking a reservation beforehand.)  The reservation included their open water course as well as a free dorm for four nights (the length of the course – money saver).  When I arrived at Big Blue, I went straight to the office to check in.  While standing there, I gazed through the glass walls of the office and out to the beachside bar and restaurant that was attached.  I watched as people everywhere enjoyed their conversations, engaged in lessons, came in from boats and enjoyed their food and beverages.  All of them looked as though they were embracing the beach lifestyle, one of my favorite lifestyles.  As I watched them, I realized I was home.

If I didn’t love Koh Tao for the diving (which I do) I would love it for the community of people that live and pass through this place.  What I didn’t realize is that I was about to become part of the community too.  Enter Luke.  Luke was one of the first staff members that I met at Big Blue.  He was to be my dive instructor.  Now, I was sent there with strict instructions to request a specific instructor who, I was told, is an amazing lady.  I’ve heard she’s very experienced and really cares about her students.

However, when I met Luke, I knew that he was the instructor I wanted.  He held himself with the kind of confidence that could only come with years of experience and a lot of know-how.  You know the kind of confidence I’m talking about, the kind that says “I’m wealthy in experience and knowledge but I’m modest and won’t boast about my achievements.”  I trusted him from the moment I shook his hand.  Isn’t that what you want from the person who’s about to take you deep into the ocean to teach you how to breathe underwater?  Luke instantly made my classmates and I feel welcome, like we were already part of the diving community before even entering the water.

Commence diving

Our first day in class, started with informational videos, teaching us about safety precautions and issues that could occur when diving.  After watching those, we hit the pool.  In the pool we learned about our equipment, how to use it properly and how to perform certain skills we would need underwater.  We practiced them again and again in the pool, a safer and more shallow environment.  Did you know that passing an open water course certifies you to dive as deep as 18 meters?

Day two, we ventured into the ocean.  In the ocean, we were able to really grasp the importance of all of the skills we had learned the previous day.  We realized the importance of constant communication. We realized the dangers of being in the open water but that as long as we had a plan and we abided by that plan, we weren’t really in much danger at all.  Plus, we got to see some really awesome sea life.

Not Chumphon

Day three is where it got really magical.  I’m pretty sure before jumping into the water on each dive, every diver is thinking somewhere in their head, “I hope I see a whale shark on this one.”  Well, we would hit the jackpot on both dives that day.  Now, experienced divers know that a whale shark sighting can happen anywhere as long as the conditions are right.  But everyone in Koh Tao knows that the place you’ll most likely see them is at Chumphon Pinnacle.  The first site we visited on day three was not Chumphon, it was White Rock.  As we swam around, sharpening our skills and looking at all of the beautiful coral and other sea life, there it was.  It was gorgeous and majestic, the infamous whale shark.  The creature swam by and around us, boasting remora from front to back.  It passed by us on one side, turned and as if to give us a show, swam past us again the other direction.  Once it swam into the distance, we celebrated and assumed it had left us behind.  But to our fortunate surprise, it showed itself at least three more times during that dive.

Once we were all back on the boat, we celebrated and laughed and talked about how incredible it was to be able to see such a magnificent creature in its natural habitat.  The mood on the deck was very high spirited.  So, with huge smiles on our faces, we continued to the next dive site.  Our next destination was Twins, a dive site that back home we would call a “twofer.”  In other words, Twins is like two dives sites in one (hence the name).

Another dance with an elusive creature

Once we arrived, we donned our gear, did our gear and buddy checks and jumped in.  As we were descending, we were elated to be surprised once more.  There it was, the beautiful whale shark, this time even closer than the first.  We danced, fist pumped, clapped and straight up celebrated underwater.  And once the whale shark decided to go on without us, we dove deeper and saw even more.  From the blue spotted ribbon tailed ray to the moray eel to the tiny yellow boxfish, we saw so incredible much sea life that day.  We even found Nemo!  But everyone agreed, the highlight of the day was seeing the whale shark, two dives in a row!  Did you know that whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet, measuring up to 12 meters?

I knew that I had already become addicted to diving before these two dives but afterwards, I had fallen in love with it.  Spotting a whale shark two dives in a row, as I would find out, is extremely rare.  Even Luke who has been a dive instructor for 9 years and has been on somewhere around 3,000+ dives had never had it occur before.  Call it luck, call it fortune, call it a blessing.  Whatever it was, I was happy to be a part of it!

We finished out our open water course, passing our written tests and performing the required diving skills underwater.  Some of us even went on to get our advanced certification, learning how to navigate underwater, use a dive computer, dive at night, deep dive and polishing our buoyancy skills as well.  All of these skills are highly useful to have for future dives and gaining the advanced certification allows us to dive deeper than the open water course does.  For this, I am happy and very thankful.  But my favorite dive day still remains as the “twofer” whale shark sighting.

Did you know passing an advanced dive course not only teaches you how to truly organize your own dive but also certifies you to dive as deep as 30 meters?

Speaking of favorites

Koh Tao proved to be my favorite part of Thailand.  The beaches are beautiful, there’s enough to explore by motorbike and the people are wonderful.  Because of Koh Tao and its diving community I left with a new passion, amazing new friends and the knowledge that if I ever decided to move to Thailand, I know a place for me.

If you’re interested in getting your open water, advanced, masterclass or any other dive certifications or are just looking to do a fun dive to try it out, I highly recommend looking into Big Blue Diving in Koh Tao.  You can find their website HERE.

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