Let’s go back to February 2016, in the (most likely) sunny Thai paradise that is Ao Nang, in the southern province of Krabi. I’m a PADI certified Open Water Diver, who has avoided diving for 10 years. Yep, that’s right, I am an environmentalist who is in love with the ocean but also mildly terrified of it. This fear obviously stems from some deep-set childhood emotional issues, probably to do with rip tides and being left alone on a raft by my siblings, but that’s a story for another time… On this little five day solo trip to the south of Thailand, I decided that it was time to use this amazing license that had been gathering dust for a decade.
Why Did I Choose The Dive Ao Nang?
I had been toying with doing my refresher course for over a year, since I had been living in the UAE where I got into free diving. Thailand is known for its diving, with thousands of different marine species living on the dive spots around the infamous islands, or Kohs. It is also renowned for being cheap, which is a positive sign for most, but also may mean that safety is not what you would like. It goes without saying that you should complete some thorough research into any dive company you go with, and make sure that they have a PADI license.
I had done some Google searching for dive centres in the area, and there are so many dive companies offering excursions over to the island spots. The Dive Ao Nang was one of the top ones I had found, and was conveniently located on the main road to the beach, where I had alighted my shuttle bus, covered in sweat.
The dive shop was small, clean, and welcoming. I was greeted by a Thai lady by the name of Pum, who did fantastically when it came to persuading me to buy the dive. To complete a PADI Open Water Refresher course it would cost me around 5000 baht, or £100, about $150. This included all of the equipment hire, and also dive insurance which is super important. She must have picked up on my slight nerves as I nattered away to her about pretty much nothing, and was naturally reassuring when it came to choosing my equipment – she obviously has an eye for sizing up a person.
The company itself is owned by two gents: one Thai and one Danish. This multi-cultural ownership was obvious in the hospitable atmosphere that I must admit, I found absent in some solely Thai-owned businesses in the area.
The Dive Excursion
I was collected from my hostel bright and early the next morning by a hooded pick-up truck, and my Thai diving instructor by the name oTuff. We drove down to the departure beach, where we loaded into the flimsy feeling canoes favoured around the islands, and then ferried out to the dive boat itself. From what I could gather, the boat was shared by several dive companies, but the group was still small enough for it not to be crowded.
We were given breakfast options of toast or cereal with coffee, and an endless supply of rehydration salts. I thought this was such a great move, as we were in the sun, and diving gives you a thirst like no other.
Tuff came and found me after I had demolished my breakfast, and we went and sat out on the deck. At this point I told him that I was a little nervous as it had been so long, and I swear to god he was the nicest guy EVER. He gave me a quiz that I had to pass, testing how much I remembered (which was surprisingly not too bad), and then he sat and went through the things that I had struggled with). He then went over the dive sites with me, listing what wildlife we might see and the conditions. It transpired that I had him on a one-on-one basis for the two dives that we were going to be completing that day, which made any reservations I had over the price immediately disappear.
Our original site was out of use, because there had actually been a dive accident there the day before. Don’t worry, it was nothing to do with The Dive Ao Nang, but a different company and boat.
He helped me suit up, he watched me descend, and we spent a few minutes floundering on the ocean floor for to practice my pivot, mask clear, and regulator replace – these are the three skills that you need to demonstrate on your refresher course.
The Koh Phi Phi Dive Sites
My diving experience is limited, so I don’t have a huge amount that I can compare this to. I did my Open Water certificate in Tobago, and I’ve done a lot of snorkeling all over the world, but this was fantastic. It was quite plant and fish centric, as we explored the vast cliff walls of the notorious Thai sea mountains at 18 meters. The most exciting thing for me was seeing lionfish, which I had not seen before. There were also black tip reef sharks, giant puffers, barracuda, peacock mantis shrimp, and a rare clown triggerfish.
Between the two dives, we were also given a delicious lunch. Now, I don’t know if it was because I was ravenous or what, but it tasted like one of my best meals in Thailand.
Following the second dive, I lay out on the foredeck as we raced a storm into shore. That night I had the best nights sleep that I had experienced in a long time.
So, if you are looking for a scuba dive experience in Ao Nang, Thailand, that relaxes you, impresses you, educates you, and gives you dedicated and attentive guides, then look no further than The Dive Ao Nang. Although, watch out for the sun…