Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

So you’re looking for Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches? Black tip reef sharks, blue spotted rays, puffer fish, chevron barracuda, all within a lazy snorkel from a beautiful beach? The island of Koh Tao, well known as the number one place to become PADI SCUBA dive certified in the world, does not disappoint snorkelers. Even Chris and I grab our snorkel gear on days off from teaching SCUBA to visit our favorite snorkel spots on Koh Tao, and I’m about to divulge our favorites to you. Be sure to copy and paste this list onto your travel notes to help you choose where you want to base yourself on Koh Tao. Read on for the list of Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches and all you need to know before you go.

Koh Tao's 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Long tail boat on Sairee Beach. Image by © Alexander Ozerov. via Adobe stock.

What criteria have we used to determine this list?

  • First, we’ve snorkeled (or SCUBA dived) them ourselves. Not every beach or bay we’ve snorkeled on Koh Tao has made this list. Some have either limited aquatic life, the swim is too far from the beach, or they don’t have a coral reef at all.
  • Second, each site on the list has a gorgeous beach that will take all of your stress away. You can relax in a hammock, kick back and listen to the waves, drink a beer, and forget that anything else exists except you and paradise. All but one of these beaches has budget-friendly, local accommodations, so you can even stay indefinitely just within a few meters of the beach.
  • Third, beautiful aquatic life, including lush corals, sergeant major fish, butterfly fish, and in some places black tipped reef sharks, or barracuda may be seen within an easy swim of the beach. We know you want to see a living reef, so our emphasis here is on a combination of beauty in and out of the water.
Take Snorkeling gear:

Chris and I normally take our snorkel gear (mask, snorkel, and fins) along with us to these remote beaches. If you’re a SCUBA diver, consider purchasing your personal snorkel set as part of your dive gear. You can get by with a mask and snorkel, as well, which is easier to carry. Aqua Master on the Mae Haad down road has a good supply (ask for Chris Burke’s 10% discount). Otherwise, check with local dive operations to rent snorkel gear or to buy a set for keeps. Unless the location details below specify that you can rent snorkel gear there, it’s best to rent needed gear prior to going to remote locations. Simply ask around on the main roads before you head off on your scooter to one of these beaches.

Be Prepared:
  • Your fully charged cell phone with Koh Tao Rescue (+66 87-979-0191) saved in your contacts. (Koh Tao Rescue is a volunteer organization with some Thai staff, so speak clearly if you call.)
  • Portable battery charger
  • Water, water, and more water. The salt water and sun will dehydrate you fast, so take plenty of water for each person.
  • Reef-safe sun protection. Rash guards, hats, and bandanas are best to preserve the coral reef. If you must use lotions or sprays, opt for reef-safe products. Apply them at least 30 minutes to an hour prior to going into the water.
  • Pack a lunch (except to Aow Leuk, where no outside food is allowed).
A Word About Coral Conservation:

Koh Tao’s coral reefs will amaze and delight you. With your underwater camera, you will forget about everything but your amazing experience. Please, help us keep the reefs healthy by remembering to keeping fins, feet, and hands off of the coral and other marine life at all times. Try to keep your feet off the coral and rocks, which will protect you from cuts and the reef from damage. Use reef-safe sun protection rather than lotions or sprays that kill the corals. Please take out all trash to a recycling station or trash bin.

Ready? Here’s our list of Koh Tao’s top 5 best snorkeling beaches.

Koh Tao's 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Snorkeling on Koh Tao delights travelers seeking a remote island experience. By Anake. Adobe Stock.

#1 Aow Leuk, Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling beaches

White sand beaches, crystal blue waters, two gorgeous reefs on either side of the bay make Aow Leuk a fantastic beach to visit for snorkeling. Standing from the soft-sand beach, you’ll have a hard time believing that what you’re seeing really exists. Between the two reefs on either side of the bay, you’ll see a gently sloping, white sand shelf that’s perfect for a relaxing swim or just playing with friends. Just before noon, the water takes on the most incredible blue color that you may have thought only existed in super-saturated photography. But it’s real. For its amazing beauty and abundant life, Aow Leuk easily takes #1 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 best snorkeling beaches.

Walk out into the water, slip on your mask and fins, and head to either side of the bay for a beautiful snorkel. On the right side (south), you can snorkel quite far, even to the next little cove “Hing Nom,” where the snorkeling will mesmerize you. Be sure not to go too far if your swimming skills aren’t up to par. It’s possible to tire yourself out by going too far.

What will you see snorkeling Aow Leuk?

In addition to my favorite snorkel fish, the sergeant major fish, you can also see butterfly fish, puffer fish, crocodile needle fish, pink anemone fish on lush anemones, and more. Chris and I have seen black tipped reef sharks here, both juvenile and an adult. Don’t worry. Black tips are shy, so you’re very lucky to see them. Just relax and take in their majestic beauty.

What you need to know:

You can access Aow Leuk easily by scooter via a paved road on a steep hill that ends in a dirt parking lot just off of the beach. You’ll see a shack at the entrance to the beach, where a Thai local may ask you to pay 100 TBT per person to visit Aow Leuk. A few local, Thai families have claimed ownership of the land on the beach, and one particular old man has a reputation for occasionally being rude or demanding. These families also require that you not bring any outside food or drink to Aow Leuk, which really isn’t necessary considering that a few affordable restaurants exist for you to visit. It’s worth paying the baht for a half day in this paradise on Koh Tao. And if you’re really tight, read on for our favorite spots that require no fees. Read on for #2 of Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches. Want to SCUBA Dive instead? Choose your SCUBA Adventure here.

Koh Tao's 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Tanote Bay’s coral reef thrives with abundant marine life right from the shore.

#2 Tanote Bay, Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling beaches

Chris and I occasionally teach PADI SCUBA courses from Montalay Dive Resort, conducting confined sessions in the pool and shore dives on the thriving reef, so we’re very familiar with the local vibe and the reef. For its gorgeous reef, beautiful beach setting, and sunrise view, Tanote earns #2 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 best snorkeling beaches.

What will you see in Tanote?

Life, life, and more life well within a few meters of the surface and perfect for snorkeling. You’ll discover beautiful snorkeling from either side and in the middle of the long beach, but be prepared to walk gingerly if you don’t have booties. Like Au Leuk, you’ll see tons of sergeant major fish, butterfly fish, wrasse, parrot fish and much more. Venturing out just past the boulders, it’s possible to see schooling barracuda, but you don’t need to go very deep. The calm water of Tanote invites marine life very close and well within an easy swim. Honestly, you never know what you’ll see on this reef.

Want more excitement? Take a plunge from the boulder into the crystal waters below! Quite often, you’ll see people climbing to the top of the boulders just off shore with the line rigged to the beach-facing wall. Once on top, they walk straight towards the sea to the points farthest from the beach and make the plunge into the crystal waters below. Chris and I have not done this, and we think you’d be nuts to do it unless you snorkel and check out the site first.

What you need to know about Tanote Bay:

Transportation

Only two years ago, the long, winding, downhill road to Tanote was unpaved and treacherous. It took quite a bit of skill to ride a scooter or motorcycle down the hill, and uphill was no better. Nevertheless, the this quiet (family-oriented) resort beach developed by way of pickup trucks who transported (and continue to transport) visitors to and from the pier on the other side of the island. In the last year, locals paved the long road, making it much easier to reach Tanote bay (still not so easy for those who’ve never driven a scooter).

Because taxis charge at least 300 TBT to get to Tanote from Mae Haad, you’ll need a scooter to get here. The resorts do not charge any fees to access the beach, but you’ll need to park your scooter in a resort lot. We prefer the Montalay Resort lot because it’s easy and directly visible from the road. Once parked, you’ll walk through the resort down to the beach. No one pays attention, and you may even like the looks of the restaurant and pool for a bite and a swim (again, no one seems to pay attention, especially if you grab a bite or drink).

Renting Gear & Entering the Water

You can rent snorkel gear from Montalay Dive Resort, which is right next to the swimming pool. You’ll find another, more  laid back option to eat a bit down the beach on the right (south). Just don’t order their iced coffee: stick with beer, fresh coconut, or fruit juice.

Unlike Au Leuk, Tanote’s beach is coarser, not as white, and it doesn’t extend into the bay. Instead, the reef comes very close to the shore, so you’ll need to look for sandy areas to wade in, put on your mask and fins, and swim carefully over shallow corals. This becomes much more difficult if the tide is out, but it is still possible. Note, be careful of long tail taxis come and going from the bay, as they are not very careful, and their long props are incredibly dangerous. Read on for #3 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches. Want to SCUBA Dive instead? Choose your SCUBA Adventure here.

Koh Tao's 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Mango Bay’s stunning blue water and gorgeous white sand beach make for a relaxing a memorable day of snorkeling. By Igor Tichonow, Adobe Stock.

#3 Mango Bay, Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling beaches

Mango Bay makes our list of Koh Tao’s Top 5 Snorkeling Beaches for its sheer beauty. At the northernmost point of the island, this white-sand beach and crystal bay provide swimming-pool-like conditions when other bays may face into heavy winds. Another gorgeous beach with blue waters, it’s one of my favorite places to take new SCUBA divers. Coral reefs line both sides of the bay, with a pristine beach and a sloping shelf of white sand extending well into the bay, making a beautiful place for swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving. In fact, it’s so popular that you may prefer either of the next two locations on our list. But for its beauty and aquatic life, Mango Bay takes #3 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 best snorkeling beaches.

What will you see snorkeling Mango Bay?

Life on Mango Bay’s coral reefs continues to thrive with areas of the reef suffering from layers of sedimentation that appear to be smothering some coral. Nevertheless, life finds a way, and divers will see an abundance of reef life, including butterfly fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, eels, blue spotted sting rays and more. You will also see SCUBA divers who use the shallow water to train new divers. If you prefer an isolated beach, see Sai Nuan or Laem Thian.

What you need to know about Mango Bay:

No fees are charged to visit Mango Bay, but forget trying to drive a scooter. The best ways to get to Mango Bay is by long tail taxi. The road to Mango Bay has not been finished, and treacherous driving is an understatement. A couple of years ago, I took my Kawasaki dirt bike to Mango Bay and recall riding through what must have been a creek bed, over palm fronds and broken coconut husks. I wouldn’t advise it for the average traveler. For the adventure hearted (and physically fit), you can try trekking to Mango Bay, but it’s so much easier (and prettier) to take a long tail taxi. If you plan to stay in Mango Bay, the resorts may run trucks back and forth to Mae Haad. If you try to hike there, take plenty of water and snacks.

You may also be surprised that Mango Bay has limited food available, with only one restaurant and prices that are higher than average on the island. Avoid disappointment by taking your own lunch and plenty of water. Then, splurge on beers at the resort. Read on for #4 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches. Want to SCUBA Dive instead? Choose your SCUBA Adventure here.

Koh Tao's 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Snorkel Sai Nuan beach then settle in for an amazing sunset. By Madison, Adobe Stock.

#4 Sai Nuan, Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling beaches

Sai Nuan beach rests facing west into the sunset, and although the reef has suffered and does not present the healthiest snorkeling spot on the island, the location itself is gorgeous, and the swimming is excellent. Walk out into the water and head to the right side and around the corner to find the healthiest reef life. Head towards the three rocks jutting out of the water if you have the swimming skills. If you head to the left from Sai Nuan, go around the rocks and explore along the boulders if the water is calm. Although the reef is not as healthy as the other locations on this list, the beauty of this location and its amazing sunset views earn it a solid #4 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 best snorkeling beaches.

Nearby Sai Nuan, you’ll find another small beach, June Juea Beach, which is even quainter and still beautiful. Explore the coral reef between the two beaches to see parrot fish, wrasse, and lots of interesting marine life clinging to the corals and rocks.

What you need to know about Sai Nuan:

Recently, the resort owners at Sai Nuan have put up a sign notifying visitors of a fee to visit the beach. Arriving by long tail may get you out of the fee, but you’ll pay for the long tail. The journey by land to Sai Nuan can also be tricky, as the Thai locals have not yet paved the worst part of the downhill road. The easiest way to get to Sai Nuan is by scooter (for a somewhat experienced driver) and then to park at the top of the hill where the paved road ends. Once parked, walk down the dirt road, through the June Jeau resort and north towards Sai Nuan resort and beach. Read on for #5 on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches. Want to SCUBA Dive instead? Choose your SCUBA Adventure here.

Koh Tao's 5 Best Snorkeling Beaches

Escape the crowds; snorkel Laem Thian on Koh Tao. Copyright Halie Rebeccaschild, 2018.

#5 Laem Thian, Koh Tao’s 5 Best Snorkeling beaches

Laem Tian beach will delight travelers looking for a private beach experience. Accessible only by boat or an hour hike through the Koh Tao jungle, the small, white sand beach slopes out gently onto a coral garden. From the beach, an easy swim to the right or left leads to healthy corals with an abundance of life, including sergeant major fish, butterfly fish, puffer fish, and more.

The remoteness of this location means very few visitors to share the space with you, so you can delight in the privacy and beauty of this coral reef. For its healthy and abundant coral reef, and its location which allows visitors a private beach experience, #5 earns its place on our list of Koh Tao’s 5 best snorkeling beaches.

If you enjoy exploring and a bit of climbing adventure, wander behind the resort and up the peak to a gorgeous overlook with a beautiful stand of firs that overlook the sea. Take your hammock and eat your lunch up top for a truly private experience in paradise. Just remember to give yourself at least an hour (in decent weather) to hike out.

What you need to know about Laem Thian:

The hike in to Laem Thian requires some sturdy shoes (or cautious foot placement). You should also pack in water and a meal just in case you want to stay a while. It takes about an hour to hike from the trail head at Sairee to Laem Thian at a steady pace. You’ll need the Koh Tao guide and a basic map to get you there. Chris and I believe figuring out how to get to Laem Thian is part of the journey to this unique backpacker’s destination. We also hope that people who visit Koh Tao actually stay long enough to catch the vibe, which is just about long enough for you to figure out how to make it to Laem Thian. And if you still can’t figure it out, have a long tail drop you off and hike out on the dirt path when you’re ready.

Check out our video “Hike to Laem Thian” for a glimpse of our recent visit to this remote destination before you go.

Laem Thian beach was once a private beach resort, and the remains of the resort still stand in a state of decline. People from around the world have come and left their mark on the resort walls with spray paint, which isn’t the prettiest sight. Laem Thian does, however, make the perfect spot for a beach fire pit or a drum circle with friends. Be sure to pack in everything you need and take out everything you brought. Please leave behind everything else but photos.

Coming to Koh Tao to SCUBA dive? Want to SCUBA Dive instead? Choose your SCUBA Adventure here, or check out Koh Tao’s Top 5 Deep Dive Sites. a list of our favorite dive sites for spotting whale sharks, turtles, thriving coral, and teeming marine life.