So I moved to Koh Tao several months ago, and have since trained as a divemaster in the mildly-polluted oceans of the island notorious for backpacker murders (which we don’t talk about). A busy day looks something like this-
5:20am: Wake up. Gah. Gaaah.
5:40am: Arrive at the shop, begin packing bags and filling in the boat list.
7:30am – 10:30am: Morning Dives
11:20am: Back at the shop, wash gear and fill in log books.
11:30am – 11:45am: lunch break!
12:00am – 4:30pm: Afternoon dives
6:30pm: Finish up, go home, have dinner and do my utmost not to end up naked and dead on the beach.
Life on Koh Tao has been mostly interesting. A fat Burmese woman threatened to have me followed and beaten after I reported a theft, I learned to ride a semi-manual bike and rode it to the top of a mountain without injury, I got attacked by triggerfish twice, I made and lost a dozen close friends and picked up crochet and the ukelele.
A divemaster on Koh Tao can earn somewhere between 12k and 30k baht per month ($350/£225 – $890/£560), which is more than enough to sustain you (and enough to save if you are thrifty).
Here is a completely frank and open breakdown of what it cost me, and how I managed to skimp:
Divemaster Training: 25,000 baht
Bringing customers to the dive school earned you a commission of 10%. I convinced 5 people to dive with my school and earned 5,400 baht.
Divemaster Crew Pack: 7,500 baht
Someone quit their DM course without finishing, and I obtained their crew pack for 1,000 baht.
Essential equipment (dive computer and compass): 8,500 baht
Buy secondhand! Unless you’re a professional, in which case you should really buy new.. which I will do when I have some money.
TOTAL FOR THE COURSE: 29,100 baht // £545 // $865
Accommodation: 4,000 baht per month
Shared bathroom, cold shower, manual toilet, no wifi, no overnight guests, and a room measuring just 3x4m. Ticks all of the boxes.
Food: 1,800 baht – 4,500 baht per month
I ate rice and bananas a lot, and I rarely ate western food. a budget of 60 baht per day is doable (especially when the street vendors start recognising you and give you extra portions). Food costs a lot more on the island as everything has to be brought in daily by ferry. A meal costs between 30 and 80 baht for Thai food, and 120 – 800 baht for western food.
Entertainment costs: Well..
I don’t drink, I rarely went out and there is nothing to do on Koh Tao except drink and party. Hiking is free, swimming and snorkelling are all free!
Motorcycle rental from a friend: 1,500 baht per month.
Petrol adds another 350 baht per month.
TOTAL LIVING COSTS: 9000 baht (average) // $267 // £168
My course took me 3 months to complete. Some people do it in 2, but the longer it takes the better prepared you’ll be.
FINAL TOTAL: 56,100 Baht // £1050 // $1667
To actually find a job, you need to be proactive. Put CVs out to all of the dive shops (and put ‘updated’ ones in every few weeks) and hang around often enough that they recognise you. They will keep calling you back if you are cheerful and professional.
Life on Koh Tao has its downsides though. Tourists are disrespectful toward Thai Culture, most foreigners working here know virtually no Thai, and you really start to notice the lack of interesting things to do after several months here.
In Australia, you can train for free in exchange for a month’s work. This might be a better option for some people.
Other Koh Tao divemaster pointers:
– The PADI Divemaster course is more rigorous and allows you to do more once qualified (Scuba Reviews / Scuba Tune-ups / Discover Scuba Diving Leadership / certifying skin divers). SSI DM course fees are higher too (35,000 baht).
– Don’t adopt a dog. Do not trick a living and loyal creature into relying on you when you will abandon it after 5 months.
– Enjoy being able to do whatever you want (like skip the morning dives due to a hangover), because it won’t last. As soon as you start working, you need to be where you’ve promised to be. It’s perfectly possible to vomit through a regulator; tell your customers it’s food poisoning if you want to maintain that veneer of professionalism. I personally have- hand on heart– never dived with a hangover.. because I’ve never had a hangover.. because I don’t drink… which is how I manage to keep my food budget so low.