Koh Tao is one of the most beautiful island in Thailand and so are Koh Tao beaches! Whatever you need for perfect tropical holiday, you’ll find on this lovely small island – hidden beaches, excellent snorkeling/diving with interesting marine life. We visited „Turtle Island” so now we tell you which places do not miss if you are around!
Best time to visit Koh Tao beaches
Thailand’s weather became quite unpredictable in the last few years, so there is no 100% reliable forecast anymore. Due to climate changes, seasons are mixing in this area as well as all over the world, but let’s see what the main weather features are. Koh Tao can be visited all year round, although conditions are changeable throughout the year. It situated in sub-tropical climate in Southern Thailand. The island is unique since it offers 10 month high season for travellers to visit and enjoy the beauty of the Island. Peak seasons are from February to April and from July to September. During these months the weather is generally hot (up to 40 degrees C) with little rain, perfect time to visit Koh Tao beaches!
It is affected both by NE- and SW- Monsoons. NE- Monsoon dominates from end of October to beginning of December, you can expect heavy rainfall. The SW- Monsoon (June to Sept.) is mild since Koh Tao is sheltered both by the mainland and the surrounding islets. Boat services usually continues even in monsoon season. From October till March, tide is high, best time for swimming and snorkelling, bays are full of water. From April till September, tide is low, Koh Tao beaches are wider, this time is better for sunbathing/beach activities.
JANUARY, FEBRUARY: TROPICAL SPRING TIME
Sunshine, comfortable air temperature (average sea / air temp 28-30 degrees) High tide allowing easy access to Koh Tao beaches and prime snorkeling sites. Visibility can be little temperamental.
MARCH, APRIL: DRY SEASON
Temperature warms up, water flat and calm, sunshine and gorgeous sunsets! The days are dry and humid, leading to tropical thunderstorms. Water clarity is best during this time and your chances of seeing whale sharks are much higher than at any other time of year.
JUNE, JULY, AUGUST: INDIAN SUMMER
The wind turns at this point of year, the island gets a fresh cooling breeze, occasional days of relatively big waves. It can rain at this time, afternoon storms can be very typical especially in August. Diving is best on the East side of the island where the sea is flat and calm. Good season for turtles too.
SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER: TROPICAL AUTUMN
Very beautiful warm sunny days, calm flat seas and superb snorkeling conditions. Water/Air temperature drops a little as we enter the ‘winter’ months but it’s still tropical. Good visibility, low humidity and of course sunsets to die for. Abundant marine life, famous whale sharks often come.
NOVEMBER, DECEMBER: MONSOON SEASON
Typical monsoon usually consists of a couple of weeks, hard rain, quite a lot of wind. The visibility gets stirred up, swell can be rather unpleasant. The journey to Koh Tao at this time of the year is mostly going to be bouncy, it is very quiet at this time and you can experience the Koh Tao of old, with few people on Koh Tao beaches, uncrowded boats.
Location and characteristic of Koh Tao
Koh Tao (also called “Turtle Island”) is part of the Chumphon Archipelago on the western shore of Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao plus Koh Nang Yuan form a small archipelago with a total area of 19.2 square kilometers ( 3.4 km wide, 7.6 km long) It has rocky shoreline, consists of 11 bays and 10 capes and is 28.6 km long with a surrounding coral reef spanning 8 km. A large percentage of Koh Tao is mountainous, about 30% flat land.
Koh Tao is divided up into three villages, Mae Haad and Sairee on the west coast, Chalok Baan Kao in the south. Koh Tao’ eastern part is steep with cliffs. In contrast, the west slopes down gradually to the sea. Highest point is 374 meters above sea level. Koh Tao was formed through land subsidence of the surrounding area, which is now the sea floor, making the depth of the sea around Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan at the most 30–40 meters. Koh Tao has a diurnal tide, meaning there is only one high and one low water each tidal day.
Best way to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok
Frequently asked question is how to travel to Koh Tao from Bangkok. Well, public transport is generally good, safe, not too expensive in Thailand. There are many different companies offering combination tickets (bus+ferry, train+ferry, plane+ferry etc…) to everywhere in the country.
Basically, if you want to travel to Koh Tao, and explore Koh Tao beaches, you have two options:
- take bus/train/plane to Chumphon then ferry to Koh Tao
- take plane to Koh Samui then ferry to Koh Tao
Biggest companies operating ferry service: Lomprayah, Songserm, Seatran. Lomprayah uses modern high speed catamarans, this is the fastest way of transport, but bit more expensive than the others. Most comfortable is of course taking plane to Koh Samui. Notice: there are no low budget airlines flying to Samui Airport, only Bangkok Airways, but it’s worth to pay a bit more for comfort.
Koh Tao beaches – best places for snorkeling / sunbathing
Koh Tao has diverse landscape so you’ll find perfect beaches for lazy days and for active holidays too. There are sandy beaches for sun seekers, but rocky ones too for snorkel fanatics. Koh Tao is world renowned for its underwater marine life, most people coming to visit the island spend their holidays enjoying the coral reefs. The island is surrounded by vibrant corals, colourful clams, and diverse schools of fish. Koh Tao beaches are ideal place for people young and old to enjoy amazing underwater ecosystems. Koh Tao means Turtle Island, if you are expecting seeing turtles, you are right!
The island is important breeding ground for hawksbill and green turtles. The development of tourism has negatively impacted the health of these grounds, but still there are bigger turtle population around the island (marked by the beaches which are the best spots to see turtles). Other famous sea creatures to see are Black Tip Reef Sharks (can be spotted on many beaches), lucky ones might meet whale sharks too! (Read where we went snorkeling with whale shark on Koh Tao!)
Note: Koh Tao is a very small island, some beaches are private beaches maintained by on-site hotels. But they are open for public against entrance fee (100-200 baht). We marked the fees by beaches (prices from April 2017) Locals living mainly from tourism only. Most of them built their own guesthouses, bar including the roads on main view points. Therefore you need to calculate with a small entrance fee (usually 50-100 baht) when visiting viewpoints / or you have to buy drinks from them.
Let’s see the TOP Koh Tao beaches:
Sai Daeng Beach (Turtle + Reef Shark spot)
Sai Daeng Beach is a small sized sandy beach with great view of Shark Island. Good snorkelling spots are on the west and east end of the bay where there are various kinds of coral combined with rocks. Big shoals of fish, incredible numbers of Christmas tree worms! Black tip reef sharks on the left side of the bay, turtles on the middle and on the right. Beach is accessible on good condition concrete road, but steep at the end. There is no entrance fee.
Shark Island is a joker amongst Koh Tao beaches, since this is not a beach, a small isle 800 meters south of Koh Tao. Great snorkeling spot so I think I have to recommend it for you. It is named after its “shark fin” shape rather than presence of sharks. Ohh wait, that’s not true – you might see here sharks, we also did! This is the place where you have high chance to see whale shark! These gentle giants are often spotted around Koh Tao on different places, Shark Island is one of them! The right, shallow side of the island has beautiful coral garden, with plenty of reef fish, sometimes turtles, blue spotted ribbon tail rays. Accessible by boat or kayak. Check our previous post for the whale shark photos!
Hin Ngam Bay
Located next to Sai Daeng Beach on the left. Shallow water, different hard corals, rare soft corals, a real snorkeling paradise amongst Koh Tao beaches! It’s not a real beach, rather rocky coast, so do not expect lying on the sand (that you can do on Sai Daeng Beach just next). Easy access through Sai Daeng Resort, walk up to the swimming pool, then take the stairs (left side). This is a non used area of the hotel, open for external visitors as well not only for hotel guests (or at least was open for external guests too in April 2017 when we were there) Bay also accessible by boat and kayak.
Sharks Bay (Reef sharks + turtles) 100 baht
Thian Og is the original name of this spot, but it is known as ‘Shark Bay’ due to the black tip reef sharks that frequent here. This area is a shark nursery where young sharks can be seen at certain times of the year. There are larger sharks too, they can be found approx 250 metres from the beach where the water is a bit deeper (3-4 meters). It could happen than you find yourself in the middle of a bigger shark group that happened to us too! We were swimming surrounded by 8-10 smaller sharks sometimes! If this happen, don’t panic, they will swim away quickly. Turtles are almost guaranteed here, also huge green turtles! Unfortunately corals were vastly destroyed by El Nino. Easy way to come to Sharks Bay by boat or kayak. Beach also accessible through on-site hotel, but you might pay entrance fee. We went in though Cape Shark Villas, there was no fee to pay.
Freedom Beach (50 baht)
This is the most popular small but quiet bay amongst Koh Tao beaches on the south. Great place to relax, sunbathe, swim and snorkel! There is shallow coral reef not too far out close on the side of Buddha Rock. It’s a huge rock standing out on the cape. Swim around the cape, many fish can be found here due to constant water movement. Don’t miss amazing view from the view point on the mountain (John-Suwan viewpoint)! It’s only 15 mins to climb the hill. From Freedom Beach you can visit nearby Taa Toh Yai Beach, as well as Chalok Baan Kao Bay (on low tide).
Aow Leuk (100 baht)
Aow Leuk Beach is lovely, wide sandy beach, great spot for snorkeling, swimming or just make a great day out while you are on Koh Tao. Both side offer plenty of snorkeling opportunities around the boulders and reefs. You can see all sorts of colourful reef fish and maybe some baby sharks too. The bay is sign-posted off the road to Tanote Bay, entrance costs 100 baht. Usually beach is not too crowded.
Located on east coast of Koh Tao (great sunrise point), surrounded by high hills, ideal for rock jumping and for snorkeling too. It’s one of Koh Tao beaches which offers privacy as well as easy approach on good concrete road. Diving and snorkeling is very good in this wide bay, also a shipwreck can be found here. Great variety of corals, fairly large fish. Free entrance!
Hing Wong Bay (50 baht left side)
One of the most famous snorkeling spot on Koh Tao. Hing Wong Bay is a large bay surrounded by boulders. There are underwater pinnacles here covered with different type of corals. Water usually clear, corals in fair condition, marine life is abundant. Big shoals of fish (sometimes sardines too), anemones, blue spotted rays can be spotted here. Good quality concrete road, but very steep sometimes. You find a small bar on left side and sandy area, if you want to go there you need to pay 50 baht or buy drinks from the bar. If you go right to the rocky side, there is no fee.
Jansom Bay (Turtle spot – 200 baht)
Jansom Bay is known for its excellent snorkelling. Sandy sea floor makes water entry safe even at low tide. Swimming/snorkeling is comfortable, water is deep enough (3-4 meters), currents are rare. Marine life is diverse, yellow boxfish, sweetlips, titan triggerfish, blue spotted stingray, porcupine pufferfish, even octopus. Great place to swim with turtles! We’ve spotted 3 turtles in 40 minutes! They already got used to humans, don’t swim away, let you observe them. (Don’t forget to keep distance from them, never touch) The bay belongs to Charm Churee Villa, entrance fee is 200 baht. There is an other bay just next to Jansom Bay, it’s free.
Sai Nuan Beach (Turtle spot)
Lovely hideaway on west of Koh Tao. Come here and explore 2 of Koh Tao beaches at one blow! Sai Nuan Beach actually consists of two beaches just next to each other. Unspoilt beach with fine white sand, shallow water, huge palm trees – days can easily be spent relaxing in the hammock or playing on the swing. As the bay is protected, water is shallow, snorkeling is safe and easy here. There is a lot to see, especially around the rocks. Turtles also often spotted as well as many type of fish: including orange spine unicorn-fish, batfish, harlequin sweetlips, giant grouper, schools of yellowtail barracuda, thread-fin butterflyfish etc… If you are on Koh Tao, this is definitely a beach to visit. Sunsets are spectacular!
Probably one of the most known beach on Koh Tao! Water is usually calm and clear in this large sandy bay, colors are incredible on sunny days! Most be in the TOP 3 if it comes to best snorkeling by Koh Tao beaches! Bay is fringed by reef along its coastlines, home to many varieties of wrasses, damselfish, barracudas, triggerfish, eels and crabs. Lucky ones also find seahorse on the sandy bottom. Land road to the bay was just opened few years ago, it’s steep, and you need to be careful driving down. It ends at resort located on the cliff, entrance fee is 100 baht. Comfortable, easier way is to get here by boat.
Koh Nang Yuan Island
Koh Nang Yuan is a few minutes away by boat from Koh Tao. Cost 150-200 baht per person from Sairee Beach, entrance fee 100 baht. These picturesque 3 small islands connected by white sand natural bridge are definitely not to miss! Snorkel between the biggest and middle island, spot is called Japanese Garden. It’s a small bay with crystal-clear waters, clownfish, anemones, butterflyfish, parrotfish, sergeant major fish, many sea clams. You might be asked snorkel without fins to protect corals!
Snorkeling trips around Koh Tao
Road network is quite good on the island, but still under construction. We recommend to rent a scooter (we have very good experience with Oli’s Motorbike Rental), normal price is 250 baht per day. Some roads are steep, and there are dirt tracks, so drive slowly! If you are not confident with motorbikes, you find taxis everywhere, they will take you to the beaches at fair prices. For those who spend only a few days on Koh Tao, but want to explore as many beaches as possible, we recommend join snorkel tours. The boats normally leave from Mae Haad pier and have 3-4 stops (depends on the weather/water conditions) around the island. Very comfortable, easy way to explore Koh Tao beaches and snorkel in the best bays! Snorkel tip package prices start from 800-1000 baht.