As the ferry cruised down the West coast of Koh Tao towards the pier at Mae Haad, I was chatting to a commercial diver returning “home” to the island after working in the Caspian Sea, who helpfully pointed out the various dive operations as we passed them. It turned out to be a long conversation – top to bottom Koh Tao is just 6km, and perhaps 2.5km across at most, but forty-plus dive schools have made their home here. So, take your pick. Up in Sairee and out at the resorts you have the vast “factory” dive schools with huge boats and all-inclusive accommodation, firmly focussed on the Gap Year market. Then, dotted about are the the smaller shops zeroing in on particular market niches: Russian? Go say hello to Jolly Roger Divers; Want to try the free diving thing – walk up Sairee way to Apnea Total and you’ll be sorted.
My choice was Master Divers, on the basis of a quick visit to the Holy Church of Trip Advisor, and a frequently updated blog on their site which, now I’ve dived with them, I know is both reliable and refreshingly free of the over-the-top hyperbole some operators insist on. Oh, and they have a nice logo, which sealed the deal.
[slickr-flickr tag="md1" type="gallery" size="large" sort="date"]
Master Divers sits towards the Southern edge of Mae Haad village between the Songserm and Lomprayah Piers. Their niche is definitely small-scale, old-school, high-standards territory, – I witnessed one diver being politely reminded/informed that “we do buddy checks here”. There’s a longtail roll call on the way out to the boat, a boat safety brief as you steam out to the site, comprehensive divesite briefings, post dive roll call and a suitably pedantic in/out tank pressure check – this is no dodgy SE Asian Dive shop far from the eyes of a PADI inspector.
The flip slide of the deal is that small dive school means one boat, and one boat means taking into account the needs of both an open water student as well as experienced divers - a constant juggling process which more or less worked in my time with them.
The rental kit
Just 40 dives in, so I’m still no expert, but Master Divers are clearly on the money here. Pre-dive, kit was laid out with military tidiness, my BCD part-inflated and releases arranged "just so", ready for me to check, before being bagged up and lugged over to the longtail, where a strict boat plan reunites you with it.
Post-dive, kit cleaning (they even give you homework!) was very much a supervised activity – one divemaster trainee (the closest thing to a slave in modern society) behind the rinse tanks to make sure the first stage O-rings stay out of the water, another standing watch at the kit room door, folding the Regs correctly before logging them back in.
The kit was high quality, and stored each evening with real pride by the shop’s kit specialists – every BCD hung the same way, with clasps connected – the end result by about 5pm is an obsessive compulsive’s dream - a full kit room, perfectly organised – you get a clear understanding that Wilco and Ayesha are PROUD of their standards and I look back with horror now at the kit quality/management at Uncle Chang’s in Mabul where I did my first DSD “try-dive” back in the day.
On the boat
Trips start from the beach behind the shop with a longtail ride taxi out to the main boat. Master Divers have their “own” boat, ably captained by Pi Dong - by far the friendliest dive boat captain I’ve met on my travels, assisted by deckhand/engineer/switched on cookie Wintae - having someone to grab hold of you when the boat is pitching and there’s a 15L tank on your back was very useful.
A lot of Koh Tao diving takes place within site of Mae Haad on the West coast, which means relatively short boat trips, so no need for lunch on board, just the usual tea/coffee/iced water and, forget whale sharks or ghost pipefish, as far as the instructors and crew were concerned the biggest news on the boat that week was the return of the Choco Stick biscuits – you really need to eat 5 or 6 of them (per dive) to appreciate the quality.
There’s more about the Master Divers’ diving experience in my Koh Tao Dive sites blogpost coming soon.
Overall I’d definitely recommend Master Divers and, next time I’m on Ko Tao, I’ll be turning right off the Lomprayah Pier, past the lovely lady selling mango shakes, and into their shop once more. So, thanks and best wishes to Wilco, Ayesha, Phil, Rachel, Charlotte, Paul, Yuri, Instructor Sarah, Adam, Johanna, DMT Sarah, and Elaine.
- High standards, great service, nice people to deal with
- Good quality rental kit
- Awesome T-shirts - the Jedi Master Divers design is a must buy
- Nice little cafe for breakfast and lunch, with good coffee and the perfect pre-dive breakfast – banana honey porridge
- English humour and plenty of Dutch around to mock
- I personally didn’t like the late starts - unlike every dive centre i’d been with, Master Divers go out LATE - think noon or after. The plan is to miss the crowds, but I do prefer going out early and having the afternoon to do other stuff.
- They inventory all their kit EVERY day, which meant for the first time I didn’t have my “own” box for the week I was with them. So, every day, it’s a small hassle to make sure you have a weight belt you like etc. No problem, but I’m trying to fill a “Cons” list here, so give me this one.
- I didn’t like the cat – bit of wimp, and lazy to boot...
More from this trip
[catlist name=thailand-2011 numberposts=-1 order=asc date=yes]