Koh Tao is located approximately 120 Kilometers from Surat Thani, in the gulf waters off Thailand’s most famous southern province. Together with Koh Nang Yuan, it is acclaimed as the best diving islands in Thailand, occupying close to 18 square kilometers. Seventy percent of the island is mountainous, and its coasts are characterized by rocky cliffs. Offshore, there are coral reefs in plenty, stretching for eight kilometers around the island’s coast.
Most of the beaches in Koh Tao island are found on the western side, where the coast is shaped liked a half-moon. Around the island there are ten headlands and eleven bays, with numerous beautiful beaches that vary in size, shape and nature. Some of the beaches like Had Sai Ree, Had Mai Had, Chaloke Ban Kao Bay are long and sandy while others are smaller and rocky.
Many of the tourists who flock to Koh Tao island appear to have diving as their number one priority. The island is famed all over the Gulf of Thailand for its offshore waters. Every year, Tao’s diving school churns out many skillful divers from across the globe who yearn to master the diving magic on this island.
But there is more to the island than diving. Travelers can enjoy a range of activities on this beautiful island, from exploring the beautiful mountains inland, hill climbing, swimming and kayaking from any of the numerous beaches, to visiting the various panoramas that the island’s headlands afford. Another option is to take the fifteen-minute boat ride to the dive resort at neighboring Nang Yuan island.
Accommodation on the island is plentiful, strategically located at the various beaches, which are not far distant from each other. Food is in abundance as well, both local foods and foreign delicacies. Koh Tao can offer wild fun among a multitude of holidaymakers at one beach, while just a few miles away lies pure tranquillity.
Thiang Og Bay
Known to some locals as Shark bay, and to others as Rocky bay, everyone agrees that Thiang Og bay is the best place in the region to go snorkeling with the white tip reef sharks. This is a gorgeous bay characterized by soft white sand beaches lined with coconut palm trees, flourishing grass and stunning flowering plants. Many guests don’t take long before plunging into the sea for a swim in the clear clean waters. In fact, many divers in Koh Tao and neighboring areas come here for a plunge into the clean waters of the sea as it is regarded as one of the most favored diving spots.
There is an abundance of beautiful aquatic life. Other than the sharks, you can see green turtles, titan triggerfish, barracuda, or skunk anemone fish. You are also likely to spot more common reef inhabitants like gobies, rabbit fish, parrot fish, and wrasse. The bay’s coral reefs are extensive, but fragile—you need to be careful in the water lest you damage it. In fact, most of the coral here has been damaged over the years and it is still recovering, although you can spot the speeding sharks deep in the water more easily as a result. They are harmless as long as they are left alone.
Snorkeling in Thian Og Bay is all the more interesting because of the rocks on both sides. This is no doubt one of the most beautiful destinations in the whole of Koh Tao; the idyllic arc of downy pearl white sand fringing indigo waters is just breathtaking. Most of the time, the beach appears deserted and calm, unlike the neighboring Chalok Baan Kao; it is perfect for chilling out in a hot afternoon, reading your favorite book or plunging into the waters for a swim with the sharks.
On the eastern end of the peninsula that separates Thian Og Bay from Chalok Baan Jai there is the secluded beach of Ao Taa Chaa, which is also loved by snorkelers and divers. Accommodation is plentiful, ranging from beach resorts and bungalows to high class hotels.
Located on the east coast of Koh Tao, Tanote bay is a remote beach destination that most Koh Tao visitors shun as they dash off to the better known Sairee – which is a party haven – or tranquil Chalok Baan Kao. This is partly because Tanote bay is difficult to access in its secluded location.
As a result, Tanote bay is the least developed spot not only in Koh Tao, but in the whole of Samui Arhipelago, including Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. There is an electricity supply, but the road network is barely more than dirt track. Other than being steep, it is only paved in a few parts. Unless you are an experienced rider with a very good bike, you shouldn’t attempt using the road.
The moment you set foot on Tanote bay, however, you will realize what a treasure it is. The beach is crescent shaped and fringed with flourishing palm trees. The picturesque location is perfect for a relaxing vacation. Unlike other beaches, it is very quiet and you are likely to feel like you are the only human being the whole universe. An afternoon nap under the comforting shades of the palm trees is unlikely to be interrupted by other holidaymakers; here you can finish your dream in peace.
The beach front accommodation is reasonably priced and fitted with modern facilities. The bungalow rooms have hot water, cable TV and fridges. Some resorts have private swimming pools. Montalay beach has some of the most expensive beach resorts in Tanote bay. Tanote beach is separated by rocks towards the northern end, with the smaller northern beach usually very quiet. Its sand is however a bit coarse, and visitors are advised to wear flip flops when walking around.
The sea water is perfect for diving and snorkeling. Snorkeling equipment is available from the hotels and resorts on the beach at reasonable rates. The blue and green corals house a variety of exotic species, such as rabbit fish, sergeant fish and triple tail wrasse. You can also get diving equipment from dive shops on the beach. The diving experience in Tanote bay is ideally suited for beginners.
Sairee Beach is a nearly two-kilometer stretch of pearl white sand on the south coast of Koh Tao island. It is the most popular beach in Koh Tao, neighboring Mae Haad which is only a ten minute walk away. The water on this beach is comparatively shallow—about waist high—a fact that might discourage some snorkelers and divers.
There are plenty of attractions at the beach that should keep one busy. You might want to drop in at the Fishery museum, or visit the King Rama V Rock. There is also a temple, a public school and a police station that can be found on the way to Mae Haad. Other than the commotion caused by the longtail boats, it is fairly peaceful—but it can get really noisy in the evening with music blaring from the restaurants and bars: a factor that might appeal to night owls, while light sleepers are advised to stick to the northern end, which is quiet at night.
Nothing beats the stunning sunset views that gradually give way to clear blue star-encrusted skies. One of the best ways to appreciate this vista is facing almost due west from one of Sairee beach’s many bars and restaurants. Most of the bars are magnificently decorated with palm fronds and lanterns. As the sun sets, the atmosphere is relaxing and the music that is generally played is designed to blend in with the comforting feel that the onset of the night brings. Exotic cocktails are served over mellow tones as many people want to take in the setting sun and night sky; you might think they are hoping to see heaven.
Due to its popularity and the high number of visitors it receives, the Sairee beach has plentiful accommodation options, diving shops and centers, travel agents, restaurants and bars. This is a well facilitated beach, with almost everything is in abundance—the waters, the pearl white sand, the wonderful restaurants, lovely music: everything is lined up for you!
Sai Daeng Beach
Sai Daeng is a quiet, crescent shaped beach in the southern tip of Koh Tao, sandwiched between Aow Leuk and Shark Bay. It is considered to be part of Rocky Bay, and you can catch a glimpse of the two neighboring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan from the beach on a clear day. It mainly attracts tourists who seek their pristine white sand in locations that are free from excessive commercialism and noise that is common at some of Thailand’s better known beaches.
It is a relatively small beach with only two resorts. Coral View resort, which is managed by an American-Thai family, and New Heaven Huts, which boasts a campus of 14 bungalows to let. The bungalows have attached restaurants; a quiet place for a hammock, maybe a good book and a couple of bottles of beer (or tanning cream). No noise, no disturbance, just you and whatever you decide to do and watch time pass by and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Sai Daeng beach is an ideal destination for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. But there is more to diving here than just getting under water and feeling your way around the world underneath. It is a place where you can explore nature at its best, because the water around Sai Daeng beach is home to a plethora of lively fish, some of which are hard to come by—butterfly fish, damsel fish, raccoon fish, clown fish, to name but a few. Black tip reef sharks and Leopard sharks also make regular appearances in these waters.
The New Heaven Huts’ owner also operates a diving school that has been in operation from the 1990s. You can also get yoga lessons here. Sai Daeng and Shark Island are ideal snorkeling spots on Koh Tao and you wouldn’t want to miss a dive on your trip, while Sai Daeng beach is a rejuvenation paradise due to its serenity all year round.
Mango Bay, also known as Ao Mamuang to the locals is a secluded though recently developed bay, found on the far northern tip of Koh Tao Island. Its landscape is characterized by high, rocky cliffs and flourishing green hillsides that rise up from the edge of the waters, offering amazing views of the gulf.
Many visitors prefer to arrive by longtail boat, as opposed to relying on road transport, which has to use generally poorly maintained roads. However, plans are underway to construct a concrete road to Mango bay. All the same, taking a boat ride is still the perfect way to visit, since the view of the bay from the water is amazing.
Mango Bay’s seclusion does not mean that it is quiet—not with so many people streaming in for diving and snorkeling trips in some of the clearest, cleanest blue-green waters in the region. Perfect for all kinds of water sports, with the center of the bay being one of the best diving spots on the island, visitors to Mango Bay focus on a range of pursuits, from snorkeling and diving to swimming or beach-hopping by kayak.
If the listed water sports are not your cup of tea, then you might want to consider tanning, or reading a book, or just keep yourself busy doing absolutely nothing. The size of the beach is large enough to accommodate the many boats that moor here without disturbing the water.
If you are on a budget and require affordable accommodation, you will probably find better deals elsewhere, because the resorts constructed at Mango bay are a bit more expensive than other places in Koh Tao. However, the tranquility and comfort is guaranteed, ensuring that you get value for your money.
Mae Haad Beach
Sun bathers will love Mae Haad Beach, since it is home to some of the most beautiful sunbathing spots in Koh Tao. You can experience a luxurious getaway here, with some of Thailand’s most gorgeous and luxurious beach resorts, hotels and bungalows. Mae Haad is Koh Tao’s key town, and the beach runs to its north and south to the points where the ferry piers are located.
The beach’s western side is most active, because that is where most of the incoming boats moor, while the view of the setting sun from here is just overwhelming. Since it is one of the most visited beaches in Koh Tao, you will find clusters of diving shops, money exchange kiosks, internet cafes, travel agents and a variety of restaurants and bars. During the day, it is a bit dusty, and becomes chaotic on the arrival and departure of ferries but at other times it can appear really sleepy and deserted.
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The area around the piers is not the most attractive in the vicinity, being a little grubby and littered. However, the northern and southern ends of Mae Haad Beach are clean and exceedingly pleasant places to relax at. Some of the best beach resorts in are found at the southern end, which is also idyllic for snorkeling. There is also a huge wooden shipwreck offshore where a vessel got stranded on the reef many years ago.
Although the beach is rapidly developing and getting modernized, it still retains a large percentage of its traditional features, with the old fishing village still magnificent and charming as ever. The fish village supplies some of the freshest and best fish in the island, which are prepared and served in various restaurants. With tropical fish being so plentiful, there are opportunities, too, for visitors to take a fishing trip.
The beach might not be the best place for those after sheer unspoiled tranquility; for that kind of experience you are advised to search elsewhere on the island, because Mae Haad Beach can be chaotic at times.
Laem Thian is a tiny bay, or rather a cape, neighboring Sai Ree village. It mainly features pebble, rock and sandy beach. The eastern wind makes the sea roll noisily, with massive, crashing waves that spray water onto the shore; watching this alone can be deeply engrossing.
Laem Thian is usually quiet, other than the mighty noise of the sea. Many people love this bay because of the magical connection it has with nature, which makes it ideal for rejuvenating relaxation. At the south of the bay in particular, you can bask in the sun the whole day, because the sunlight there is unobstructed.
Snorkelers and scuba divers also love this place because they have to deal with the rocks, which can be a challenging, really thrilling experience—especially for novices. You can rent kayaks, snorkeling and diving equipment from the restaurants or water sport shops that line the bay. Local scuba divers usually refer Laem Thian as Swimthrough City. The name is as a result of the numerous caverns, tunnels and swim-throughs that divers encounter under the waters. On a lucky dive, you can spot the rare Unicorn fish that can’t be found elsewhere on the island.
The road heading to Laem Thian is a bit untidy, especially the first part from Sai Ree village. Don’t let that put you off: accommodation is available at reasonable rates in the eye-catching bungalows that sit firmly on the overlooking rocks. There are also restaurants in most parts of the bay, where you can drop in for a bite of some of the best prepared Thai delicacies, and also some refreshing drink.
It is an ideal spot is you prefer the soothing music of nature and tranquility. If the pulse of techno among crowds of people dancing their troubles away is what you prefer, then Laem Thian beach is not the place for you. You’d better search elsewhere on the island.
Jansom Bay is a relatively small beach that is situated on Koh Tao island’s south-western end, and looks like a large creek. It is a relatively calm spot, perfect for relaxation and snorkeling; its gentle, shallow waters make it ideal for kids. Furthermore, there is an abundance of marine life offshore, with many colorful an exotic fish to be seen—and you stand a good chance of seeing the rare Green Sea Turtle.
Visitors seeking relaxation will appreciate the beds and deckchairs where you can just lie and let your mind wonder freely. If you are a competent swimmer, you won’t have any problem navigating through the coastal rocks. These can, though, pose a challenge to less confident swimmers. The harmless Leopard shark sometimes comes out to enjoy an afternoon nap and if luck is on your side, you will be able to spot one.
The sides of the Bay are also ideal for snorkeling—but you need to ready yourself for the stubborn, hungry fish who will chase you for some quick free food. Jansom Bay neighbors Rocks dive site, and in the afternoon there are diving boats moored close by. In what is said to be a move to protect the corals from the human traffic, flippers are banned from Jansom Bay.
Jansom Bay can be visited at almost any time of the year, suitable for those who want to vacation with their families. It is usually busier over the weekends but you can find you can check in any day of the week if all you are after is tranquility. Since it is a privately owned beach, you might be required to pay an entrance fee, which is reasonably priced, but sometimes the fee is not charged at all and the public is allowed free entry. There is a single restaurant on this beach that serves a variety of local seafoods and foreign delicacies. Be warned, though, that the prices are by no means cheap.
Chalok Baan Kao Beach
Chalok Baan Kao beach is the second most popular beach in Koh Tao. The bustling main road just to the back of the beach is characterized by a plenitude of diving shops, restaurants and bars, travel agents and guesthouses. The beach itself is a pretty spot, especially at low tide, when the receding waters leave behind a swathe of pearl white sand that is ideal for sunbathing. However, sunbathers will find some better spots on Koh Tao, particularly in Ao Thian Og which has plenty of sand for sunbathers even at high tides.
Chalok Baan Kao beach is however known best for its diving suitability. The many shops selling diving equipment and paraphinalia make a good clue: there is a lot of boat traffic coming in and out all through the day servicing various water sports; divers, snorkeling trips, boat trips round the island, deep sea fishing expeditions, among other things.
The water in Chalok Baan Kao beach, especially towards the western end of the bay is a bit shadowy because of the large number of boats that come in and out. If you wish to spend some time in the waters, consider the eastern stretch, where the boat traffic is light. Alternatively, wonder off to any of the nearby beaches where plenty of sand and clear water awaits. There are several beaches and bays in Chalok Baan Kao which can be found on both the eastern and western side, you can be sure to find somewhere pretty without wandering too far.
Just at the start of the trail around to Mae Haad, on the western lip, there is the beautiful Haad Saal Chao, which is a great spot to hang out even though sometimes its waters can be cloudy. If you head east, you will find Ao Taa Toh, which runs along the peninsula that separates Chalok Baan Kao from Ao Thian Og. Further east again you will find Freedom beach, which is a little isolated but ideal for great relaxation. You will never run short of things to do and see at Chalok Baan Kao beach.