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While back in Koh Tao for one more week of island fun, I tagged along on a few dives with Lindsay and MM, who were both getting their Advanced Open Water certification. I did my own advanced certification back when I was living in Cayman in 2010, and I was so excited for them to do the same! Conditions on the island weren’t great and I was pretty disappointed with my resulting photos. Since I can’t give ya’ll any real eye candy in this post I thought instead I’d give you some useful information. I know, I know… there’s a first time for everything!

Diving on Koh Tao

The Advanced Open Water course is the next step in the PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) learning ladder after the introductory Open Water course. In my opinion, the Advanced Open Water is the most fun course out of all of them — there’s little theory involved, so it mostly consists of going on five fun dives.

The benefit of doing the course, apart from the pursuit of a good time, is that afterwards you’ll be able to go deeper (30 meters versus 18 at Open Water level) and do more challenging dives that are often reserved for those with advanced certification.

Typically, students are required to do an Underwater Navigation dive, and a Deep Water Dive, and then pick three other adventure dives of their own. These can range from Underwater Photography to Wreck Diving to Night Diving and beyond.

I didn’t tag along for all five dives but I did make time for three of them….

Night Diving

PADI Advanced Open Water Course

Even with all my diving experience doing everything from swimming with sharks in the Bahamas to dry suit diving in Iceland, I’ve never felt truly comfortable with night diving. I don’t really like the dark even on land, so as you can imagine it’s even more intimidating underwater.

Still, I like to challenge myself, so I tagged along on this dive. For the first time I tried to bring my camera along as well, but that was pretty much a big fat fail. Gives me something to work for in the future though! This adventure dive is all about testing a student’s comfort level underwater and showing them a new crop of nocturnal sealife.

PADI Advanced Open Water Course

PADI Advanced Open Water Night Dive

PADI Advanced Open Water Night Dive

Deep Diving

While night diving still gives me the shivers, I don’t think twice about descending down deep — occasionally even below recreational limits (don’t tell PADI!) In this adventure dive, students go below 18 meters for the first time, and an instructor uses props to show them how colors, volume and even mental agility are affected at depth.

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One semi-fun, semi-super dangerous side effect of deep diving is nitrogen narcosis, which can have a similar effect to laughing gas on divers. I’ve felt truly “narced” just once in my life, while wall diving in the Cayman Islands. Suddenly coral was hysterical and I desperately wanted to ride a turtle. Luckily my clear-headed dive buddy kept it together.

Diver at Koh Tao Sunrise

Advanced Open Water Deep Dive

Dive-Koh-Tao
Dive-Koh-Tao

A downside to deep diving is that light and color are scarce, so it really isn’t the most rewarding setting for underwater photography. Most deep dive specialties in Koh Tao are brought to Chumphon, which is one of my favorite dive sites for its massive swirls of schooling fish.

Anenome and Clownfish, Koh Tao

Chumphon Dive Site, Koh Tao

PADI Advanced Open Water Course

Roctopus Dive Boat

Wreck Diving

While I’m not a wreck diving addict like some, I think they are a fun shake-up from the usual reef setting. Wrecks can be both historically significant and crucial to the future as artificial reefs. In Koh Tao, divers can explore the HTMS Sattakut, which conditions can make into a beautiful dive (see photos in link) or a slightly frustrating one. Wrecks are typically reserved for Advanced Open Water divers, making this a fun addition to the course.

On this particular day conditions were pretty poor so I wasn’t happy with any of my photos. Still, it’s a recently sunk wreck and it was fun to see how the aquatic life is moving in and taking over.

PADI Advanced Open Water Wreck Dive

HMTS Sattukut

HMTS Sattukut

PADI Advanced Open Water Wreck Dive

PADI Advanced Open Water Course

With a wide variety of dive sites and great dive schools like my friends over at , Koh Tao is the perfect place to get your Advanced Open Water certification! It will open a whole new world of possibilities to divers looking to explore the underwater world.

Advanced Open Water Koh Tao

Do you have an Advanced Open Water certification? Which specialties did you do?

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33 Comments...
  • Olivia
    April 12 2013

    As always, you take the best pictures!!

    • Meihoukai
      April 12 2013

      Aw, thanks. Other than the jumping in shots and maybe one sea anemone one I actually don’t really like any of these. But I guess I’m spoiled now that I’ve been diving in the Philippines!

  • memographer
    April 12 2013

    Another great post with beautiful photos. I think you have the best collection of underwater pics on the travel web.

    Please do not say that you took “Night Diving” shot with your cellphone (again) 😉
    memographer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 12 2013

      What a compliment, thanks! And no, no iPhone was used here… it stays firmly on land 🙂

  • How exciting that you’re going to the next level! I’ve done a few night dives and really didn’t enjoy them. I would definitely love to go deeper!!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 12 2013

      Ah I actually did my own advanced back in 2010 in Cayman… just updated the post to clarify! It was fun to relive the course by tagging along with my buddies though!

  • Erika
    April 12 2013

    Wow, this is AMAZING!

    By the way, I just found your blog and I absolutely LOVE it! It’s so inspiring and you have done sooooooo many amazing things! I spent hours yesterday just reading through your round-ups and posts from the roundups! I love how honest you are in your posts, and consistent too! You definitely have gained a new fan! 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      April 12 2013

      Hi Erika! Thank you so much for your kind words, I so appreciate them! Hope the archives keep you entertained, but luckily I post pretty frequently as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • Sam
    April 12 2013

    I read the title and was like ‘wait WHAT’! I thought you meant you were doing your advanced only now and I needless to say I was confused. I also love the water jumping shot! Brian taught me my open water and advanced and I finished my advanced on my last day of being nineteen. (there may or may not have also been an incident with me seeing a see snake and screaming violently in to my reg) xx
    Sam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2013

      Ha yeah I didn’t think about how confusing that might be 🙂 You are lucky getting Brian as an instructor… you’d have to do a lot to get him in the water these days! Ha.

  • Preeti
    April 13 2013

    Hi Meihoukai, I’m a long time reader but I’ve never commented before.

    I remember a previous post saying you were always nervous in the water at first. How did you build your confidence? I’m not a strong swimmer but I’d love to go diving.
    Preeti recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2013

      Practice, practice, practice! It took me tons of dives to get confident in the water. There were no mental tricks, no exercises, nothing fancy. I just needed plenty of hours underwater to get used to it. Best of luck!

      • Tony
        June 29 2013

        When I first go under on each dive, I still have that small mental lapse of “GO UP! I can’t breathe underwater!”. One day, I hope this will pass also!

        • Meihoukai
          July 1 2013

          I’m sure it will! It takes a LOT of practice and experience to truly feel comfortable doing something so unnatural to the human body. Don’t give up 🙂

  • Jade
    April 13 2013

    Meihoukai, I actually LOVE these photos! Something about the lack of clarity make them look a little spooky (in a good way!) and atmospheric…

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2013

      Okay well I hate them so at least someone is enjoying them 🙂 Ha! Thanks though Jade.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    April 13 2013

    I agree with you. I think night diving would be my worst nightmare. Diving at daylight would be bad enough for me (oceans just freak me out), but when you can’t see anything that must be terrifying. You are brave for doing it.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2013

      Yeah, this was basically my last attempt at trying it for fun. It’s just not for me! I really, really dislike it 🙁

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    April 14 2013

    Now that we each have 25 dives under our weight belts, Tony & I would really like to get out Advanced OW certification. I just keep balking at the price everywhere, as getting our OW certs in the first place was quite pricey, and AOW always seems to be just a teensy bit cheaper. We’re actually thinking that we might do our AOW in Ko Tao, cheap diving capital of the world, when we’re back in Thailand, as we’d like to be able to take on some slightly more demanding dives! Can you do drift diving as a specialization in Ko Tao?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2013

      I can’t think of any sites that are drift diving sites in Koh Tao unfortunately! I know what you mean about the price but in the end it will be worth it because you won’t have to pay inflated fees for adventure dives. And of course you’ll have more bragging rights 🙂

  • Sally
    May 2 2013

    You really inspire me to try diving and it’s one of the fears I hope to overcome sometime soon. Again your pictures are amazing!
    Sally recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2013

      Thank you so much Sally… I hope you can conquer that one someday soon. It just might change your life 🙂

  • Casi @HeyNoobz
    June 3 2013

    I remember you telling me how much you loved Koh Tao, especially the diving. So I searched around your blog to see if you had any good tips for Greg and I. Found tons of great stuff! I can’t wait to get there tonight. Greg is going to get his Advanced Open Water cert at Roctopus, and I’m thinking the trapeze class you took sounds awesome for me!

    Great seeing you on Gili T! Maybe we’ll run into each other again somewhere in this world 🙂
    Casi @HeyNoobz recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 4 2013

      That’s amazing, Casi! I can also really recommend Grounded yoga studio for you… I think you’d love them! So glad that Greg loved it and is going for the advanced… tell him to say I sent him, I’m friends with everyone there! The Roctopus crew is amazing 🙂

  • Lily
    June 19 2013

    I’ve been following your blog for a while – and I absolutely love it! From you easy-to-read and engaging style of writing to your fantastic photos – it is all just so good 🙂 Plus you travel to many of the places I’ve either been to or wanna go to!

    There was something I was hoping to ask you, I am considering taking my advanced open water – and am thinking about either doing it on Koh Tao or on the Gilis. I did my open water on Gili Air (quite a few years ago) and really liked it there, I had a great father-like dive instructor who held my hand when needed… I’ve only ever snorkeled on Koh Tao, but was pretty impressed with what I saw. I’m not super confident with the whole diving thing, but I love, love, love seeing the underwater world (the reason I want to take my advance open water is because I want to dive with whale sharks in Indonesia and they only allow minimum advanced open water divers to do that).
    Both locations could be equally convenient for me as I live in Bangkok and could “just” pop down to Koh Tao, or if I choose the Gilis I can stop by Bali on my way out east in Indonesia (Bali might be the cheapest place to fly to from Bkk anyway).

    Okay – I’ll stop rambling; really I just wanted to your expert opinion: Koh Tao or the Gilis for an advanced open water? I like great visibility and a calm, patient dive instructor 🙂

    Thanks so much in advance Meihoukaiandra – and congrats on your new Danish boyfriend (I’m Danish myself too) 🙂
    Lily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 19 2013

      Hi Lily! Thank you so much for this sweet comment. I really appreciate it!

      So, both Koh Tao and Gili are great options for the AOW. Koh Tao is great for courses because there are always lots of people doing them and I think it’s nice to meet other people on your travels, there are great dive sites like Chumphon with the (rare) chance of seeing whale sharks! However considering you are going to see them anyway and it seems more convenient travel wise, I might go for Gili with my recommendation. The water is consistently more clear (though currents can sometimes be strong) and there are always, always turtles around. I highly recommend my school there, Big Bubble. In fact if you go sometime soon I can recommend a great Danish instructor 🙂 Email me if you want more info! And best of luck!

  • Richard
    June 20 2013

    Hello Meihoukai, I was just googling “advanced open water fun” and found your entry! I’m happy to read your enthusiastic description of the AOW course – you clearly love your diving.

    My wife and I are novices, about to complete our OW on a referral, doing the 4 OW dives out in the Maldives. We were planning to do another two or three more days diving there after qualifying, but the instructor just suggested we consider going straight onto AOW. After reading your description of the course, this is tempting. But is it wise to go straight from OW to AOW, or is it perhaps better to be more relaxed and take at least a few non-course dives before going on to AOW? This perhaps would build confidence and be safer? Also I’m not sure if I want to spend the majority of our holiday doing courses, but then again, your desctiption does sound exciting…! I’d be grateful for any thoughts.

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2013

      Hey Richard! Good question. In my opinion, if you have the time, why rush? You might even want to use the AOW course as an excuse to do another holiday somewhere new next summer! I personally prefer when there is some time between the courses, but plenty of people do them one after another. Hope that helps…

  • Lily
    June 20 2013

    Thank you so much for your reply!!! It goes straight into my travel reseach folder 🙂
    I’m looking forward to reading your blogs once you go back to Indonesia!!
    Lily recently posted..

  • CarlaZ
    August 9 2013

    Hi Meihoukai,
    I found your blog when I was doing the research for my last trip to Thailand, and then I stayed a long time without reading your posts. But now that I want to travel again to know other dive places, I remembered about that blog.

    I think the same thing about the AOW course, that is so much fun! I did the same: deep diving, navigation, night diving and wreck

    • Meihoukai
      August 9 2013

      Hey Carla! I’m glad your back 🙂 Hope you’ll keep following along!