This is a fantastic guest post from Louise Benson, following her time on Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi island while undertaking a Divemaster course. An excellently written piece, Louise gives detailed information on all aspects of diving on the island, from course content and price to marine life, whilst integrating her personal triumphs and feelings throughout the trip.
As she now embarks on the next leg of her adventure in Australia, I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Louise the very best and hope she finds time in her new life to write some more in the future.
Some images have been gratefully contributed by Jade Lee, many thanks for these inspiring pictures.
Darling its better, down where its wetter, take it from me. Learning to dive in Ko Phi Phi Don.
So if you’ve ever met a scuba diver there is one thing you’ll notice, you can’t shut them up about diving. What starts out for many as a hobby or a one off experience whilst on holiday quickly turns into a life time obsession.
Imagine dropping below the surface of warm crystal clear water, doing something so unnatural as breathing underwater. You feel slightly uneasy, claustrophobic even and then you come face to face with all your favourite characters from Finding Nemo and suddenly everything you have ever been told about diving makes sense. It’s not an experience you’re likely to forget or one that can be done justice writing about on here. Once you do a try dive, chances are you won’t stop there.
This is what happened to me, I started diving 2 years ago doing my Open Watercourse in the cold murkywaters of a quarry in the UK. However even in these harsh conditions I fell in love with diving and somehow knew I had to make this my life. So I quit my office job of 10 years to travel the world and become a pro diver.
The next obvious decision was where; I had been recommended places all over the world from Florida to Australia. The world was full of opportunities, how did I know what was right for me. After lots of research I finally settled on a small island in Thailand just off Phuket, Ko Phi Phi Don. It is 1 of 6 small islands that make up The Phi Phi islands. The islands came to worldwide fame in 2000 when Ko Phi PhiLeh was used as a location for the film The Beach, today it is the most popular diving and snorkelling site of all the 6 islands.
So location set, I now needed to decide which dive shop I should complete my Divemaster course with. There are a number of options and dive shops on Phi Phi offering anything from paying up front, doing an internship or a combination of the both. One of the main reasons I choose Phi Phi Don was because all of the course prices are fixed and the same across the whole island. This eliminates the obvious price wars and the risk of ‘going cheap’. Dive shops sell courses based on good service, safety and quality of training rather than price. Standards are high here with each dive shop trying to offer the customer the best experience possible.
I finally decided on The Adventure Club, simply because the owner is heavily involved in reef conservation and had set up an artificial reef which is part funded by the profits from the business. However all dive shops here are very environmentally aware and teach divers to respect the reefs and wildlife so any would be a good choice.
I arrived on Phi Phi Don early October, high season starts around late October until early May meaning great diving conditions and plenty of people around to keep the party going. Phi Phi is a party island where the ethos is to dive all day and party all night. If you’re looking for a quiet holiday with the odd bit of diving this is not likely to be the place for you.
Within minutes of arriving the friendly local Thai people helped me to my room. After dumping all my gear I headed off to find my chosen dive shop, The Adventure Club. The manager, Tero, instantly put me at ease and introduced me to my instructor, Goose, also from the UK. Seeing as he had been on the island for 6 years he offered to help me find a place to stay and organised a local phone as well as a sim card. Between Tero and Goose, who both made me feel at home, I knew I had made the right choice.
I only booked one night in a hotel as I had been told that it was easier to find a place for the 4 months I intended to stay when I could talk face to face with the locals running the hotels. This turned out to be true. If you are staying for a short amount of time it’s advisable to book up in advance, if you intend to stay longer wait until you get there to barter for a good deal on monthly rates. You can also check out the rooms as not all the rooms are as good as others. Most of the affordable places are pretty basic with a bed and bathroom. Aircon, hot water, and a flushing toilet are added extras. Monthly rates range from about 10,000THB/£200 in low season (June to October) to 15,000THB/£300 in high season (Oct to May). Most places offering monthly rates also require you to pay for electric separately, done on a meter which can be quite expensive depending on how much you use the aircon, on average you’re looking at about a further 3,000THB (£60) a month.
Right back to the diving…
Courses offered by all the dive shops on Phi Phi are:
Try dive 3400thb (£70)
Fun Dive for qualified divers 2400thb (£46)
Open water 13800thb (£290)
Advance Open Water 11300thb (£237)
As mentioned, they all cost the same and you cannot barter at all on price but can expect discounts of around 10-20% if you book up more than one course, multi day dives or if you have your own gear.
Doing a Divemaster (or any other) course here is fun and exciting, you get great conditions everyday so dives are rarely cancelled. Most of the dive sites are only a 30min boat ride away so you can easily do half a day of diving either in the morning or afternoon. This means if you’re on a tight schedule you still get to experience a dive whilst having a good part of the day remaining to do whatever else you fancy. Black tip reef sharks, Hawksbill Sea Turtles, Moray Eels and Leopard Sharks are just some of the amazing things your very likely to see as well as all kinds of reef fish.
Training as a Divemaster, expect to be worked hard. You are the bottom of the pro-diving pecking order so if there’s gear to be cleaned or stock to be priced up you need to be willing to get stuck in. Most of the shops here want to teach you as much as they can,including how a dive shop works and what goes on behind the scenes. This is what makes the dive shops on Phi Phi special, they are not the ‘get you in and get out as quickly as possible’ bunch. If you want to work in this industry and are willing to work hard you will get a good base of knowledge here. Every instructor I met during my time on Phi Phi loved the job and were willing to put in the extra time as long as they were shown the same courtesy. I paid for my course purely because I didn’t know how long I was going to be able to stay on the island and if you decide to do a internship you don’t pay for your course but you do have to sign up to at least 3 months unpaid work following its completion.
Day to day life of a Divemastertrainee will involve going out on the dive boat (all dive shops here have their own boat) for a half day of diving with your instructor, helping out on courses or leading fun divers. You would then generally do a 4-6 hour shop shift where you would sell courses and gear etc. If you have paid for your course you are unlikely to be asked to do this but as in my case I was more than willing to get stuck in. One of the benefits of paying for your course means if you do work shop hours you can earn commission on everything you sell as well as gain valuable experience in the industry. The course generally takes about 4-6 weeks to complete, anything less than this you’re not getting a good deal and unlikely to get fully comprehensive training.
For me the course took 8 weeks to complete because I was also working for The Adventure Club as a Snorkel Guide. But this is what’s great about dive shops here, they are all pretty flexible within reason and if you do need longer they make sure you are happy and understand it rather than just teaching you what they ‘have’ to. The Adventure Club are the only dive shop on the island to offer a fully guided snorkelling tour, this alongside a shark watch trip they do, is a unique selling point for the shop. If you don’t fancy diving (you would be crazy not to) or even if you do, I would highly recommend these trips. The guides are extremely knowledgeable about local marine life and unlike some of the other snorkelling trips they are extremely safe as groups are no bigger than 6. However they do cost more than your average snorkelling trip at 800thb(£16) compared to 250thb (£5), trust me it’s worth paying extra!
So 10 weeks after I arrived in Phi Phi, a stone lighter and a lot frecklier, on Christmas Eve I passed my Divemasters. It is fair to say I felt a huge sense of achievement; I had never done anything that was so hard yet so rewarding. I did however have one more task to complete before I was crowned a ‘true’Divemaster. THE SNORKEL TEST! This is a tradition amongst divers, when you pass you have to drink a bucket containing a mixture of booze through a snorkel and mask! I had dreaded this moment since I started but being a pretty competent drinker I took the challenge head on by drinking a few dark rums beforehand. I finished the bucket without spilling any or being ill and was then rewarded with a nice pint of cider and numerous more shots, THANKS. This was all courtesy of Barry, the owner of The Sports Bar, a relaxed, friendly bar with a welcoming atmosphere and handily opposite The Adventure Club. That was it, I had somehow managed to pass, it was Christmas Eve and it was now time to relax and party.
I arrived on Ko Phi Phi Don alone, nervous and pasty white. I left with a family of friends, a confident diver with a nice shade of golden brown. I came home a different person thanks to the people I met, the training I had and an underwater world that continuously amazed me. I am now about to head to Australia to continue my adventure in the diving world and my advice to you… get out there live life and DIVE!!