Koh Tao beaches – Snorkeling with whale shark and turtles

Koh Tao beaches are one of the most beautiful ones in Thailand and offer not only perfect conditions for chilling out under palm trees but also for snorkeling and diving. The idyllic jungle atmosphere, lush vegetation, and rich underwater life including turtles and whale sharks make the island ideal for family holidays, solo and couple trips. This guide will help you to organize your vacation by featuring the best places to snorkel and giving useful travel tips.

12 awesome Koh Tao snorkeling beaches

Koh Tao is famous for its marine life and considered having the best snorkeling conditions in Thailand. It is an ideal place for people young and old to discover amazing underwater ecosystems in shallow, calm waters with vibrant coral reefs, observe diverse shoals of fish and sea creatures.

Koh Tao means Turtle Island, so if you are expecting seeing turtles, you are right! The island is an important breeding ground for Hawksbill and Green turtles. The development of tourism has negatively impacted the health of these grounds, but still, there is a big turtle population around the island (we mention below what are the best places to see turtles). Other famous sea creatures are the Black Tip Reef Sharks that are present almost all around the island. Moreover, if you are lucky, you might swim with whale sharks too!

Koh Tao is a very small island, some beaches are private and maintained by on-site hotels. They are open for the public against a small entrance fee ( usually 100-200 baht). To help you, we marked the entrance fees by those we have the correct information.

Tip: see our Thailand best snorkeling places guide to know where else you can find great coral reefs in the Gulf of Thailand and in the Andaman Sea!

Sai Daeng Beach

Sai Daeng Beach - Koh Tao

Sai Daeng Beach is a small sandy beach with great view of Shark Island. Snorkeling is the best on the west and east end of the bay where there are various kinds of coral combined with rocks. Big shoals of fish and incredible numbers of Christmas tree worms can be seen here! Blacktip reef sharks live on the left side of the bay. Turtles are often around, in the middle and on the right side of the bay. The Sai Daeng Beach is accessible on a good concrete road, but it is steep at the end. There is no entrance fee.

Shark Island

The Shark Island is a small isle 800 meters south of Koh Tao. It is named after its “shark fin” shape rather than the presence of sharks. Instead of blacktip sharks, this is the place where you have a high chance to swim with a whale shark! These gentle giants are often spotted around the island at specific places, and Shark Island is one of them!

Shark Island - Koh Tao

The right, shallow side of the island has a beautiful coral garden, with plenty of reef fish, sometimes turtles and blue-spotted ribbon tail rays around. Although this spot is accessible by boat or kayak only, it is worth the effort if you want to experience one of the best snorkeling in Koh Tao!

Hin Ngam Bay

The Hin Ngam Bay lies next to the Sai Daeng Beach on the left side. Shallow water, different hard corals, rare soft corals make this place one of the best Koh Tao snorkeling spots! Hin Ngam Bay has a rocky shore, so do not expect a sandy beach here, but the nearby Sai Daeng Beach is perfect for chilling out after snorkeling.

Hin Ngam Bay - Koh Tao

To access Hin Ngam Bay, walk through Sai Daeng Resort up to the swimming pool, then take the stairs on the left side. This part of the hotel is open for external visitors too not only for hotel guests. The bay is also accessible by boat and kayak.

Sharks Bay

Thian Og is the original name of this spot, but it is known as ‘Shark Bay’ due to the blacktip reef sharks that are frequent here. This area is a shark nursery where young sharks can be seen at certain times of the year. Adult sharks live here too, approx 250 meters from the shore where the water is a bit deeper (3-4 meters).

It can happen than you find yourself in the middle of a bigger shark group that happened to us! We were swimming surrounded by 8-10 smaller sharks sometimes! In this case, don’t panic, they will swim away quickly. Turtles are almost guaranteed here, also huge green turtles! Unfortunately, the corals here are not nice, the reef was vastly destroyed by El Nino.

You can reach Sharks Bay by boat or kayak, this is the easiest way. It is also accessible through the on-site hotel, but there might be an entrance fee. We went in through the Cape Shark Villa and weren’t asked to pay.

Koh Tao - Sharks bay

Freedom Beach

This is one of the most popular Koh Tao snorkeling beaches on the south side of the island. Great place to relax, sunbathe, swim and snorkel! There is shallow coral reef not too far from the shore, on the side of Buddha Rock. It’s a huge rock standing out on the cape. Swim around the cape where you will see many fish due to constant water movement.

Freedom Beach - Thailand Koh Tao

Don’t miss out on the amazing view from the viewpoint 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 (best to do it on low tide). To enter the beach there was an entry fee of 50 baht.

Aow Leuk

Aow Leuk Beach - Koh Tao

Aow Leuk Beach is a lovely, wide sandy beach. It is a great spot for snorkeling, swimming or just make a great day out while you are on Koh Tao. Both sides offer plenty of snorkeling opportunities around the boulders and reefs. You can see all sorts of colorful reef fish and maybe some baby sharks too. The bay is accessible from the main road leading to Tanote Bay, the entrance costs 100 baht. Usually, Aow Leuk is not too crowded.

Tanote Bay

Tanote Bay - Koh Tao

Located on the east coast of Koh Tao, it is a great sunrise point. Tanote Bay is surrounded by high hills, ideal for rock jumping too. It is a popular beach in Koh Tao beaches but still offers some privacy. Diving and snorkeling are very good in this wide bay, also a shipwreck can be found here. Great variety of corals, fairly large fish. Free entrance and easy approach on a good concrete road.

Hing Wong Bay

One of the most famous snorkeling spots on Koh Tao. Hing Wong Bay is a large bay surrounded by boulders. There are underwater pinnacles here covered with different types of corals. The water is usually clear, corals are in fair condition, marine life is abundant. You can see big shoals of fish (sometimes sardines too), anemones and blue-spotted rays.

Hing Wong Bay Thailand

A good quality concrete road leads to Hing Wong Bay, but very steep sometimes. You find a small bar on the left side and sandy area. When entering the beach, you need to pay 50 baht or buy drinks from the bar. If you stay in the right rocky corner, there is no fee.

Jansom Bay

Jansom Bay is famous for its excellent snorkeling. The sandy seafloor 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 and even octopus can be seen. Moreover, Jansom Bay is a great place to swim with turtles!

Jansom Bay - Tao

We’ve spotted 3 turtles in 40 minutes! They already got used to humans and don’t swim away so you can observe them. However, don’t forget to keep a safe distance and never touch them. The bay belongs to Charm Churee Villa, entrance fee is 200 baht. There is another bay just next to Jansom Bay, it’s free to enter.

Sai Nuan Beach

A lovely hideaway on the west of Koh Tao. Come here and explore 2 amazing Koh Tao beaches at one blow! Sai Nuan Beach actually consists of two beaches just next to each other. These unspoiled beaches with fine white sand, shallow water, and huge palm trees are perfect to spend the day relaxing in a hammock or playing on the swing.

Sai Nuan Beach

Since the bay is protected and the water is shallow, this is one of the safest snorkeling spots in Koh Tao. There is a lot to see, especially around the rocks. Turtles also often spotted here as well as many types of fish including orange spine unicorn-fish, batfish, harlequin sweetlips, giant grouper, schools of yellowtail barracuda and thread-fin butterflyfish. This is definitely a beach to visit. The sunsets are spectacular!

Mango Bay

Probably the most known beach in Koh Tao. The water is usually calm and clear in this large sandy bay with incredible colors on sunny days! Mango Bay must be in the TOP 3 if it comes to the best snorkeling in Koh Tao! The bay is fringed by corals along the coastline providing home to many varieties of wrasses, damselfish, barracudas, triggerfish, eels and crabs. Keep your eyes on the sandy bottom so you may spot a seahorse too.

Mango Bay Koh Tao

The land road to the bay is steep, you need to be careful when driving down. It ends at a resort located on the cliff, the entrance fee is 100 baht. A comfortable, easier way of visiting the beach if you arrive by boat.

Koh Nang Yuan Island

The small islet of Koh Nang Yuan is a few minutes away by boat from Koh Tao. The trip costs 150-200 baht per person from Sairee Beach, the entrance fee is extra 100 baht. These picturesque 3 small islands connected by a white sand natural bridge are definitely must-visit!

Koh Nang Yuan Island

You can snorkel between the biggest and middle island, this place is the Japanese Garden. It is a small bay with crystal-clear waters, clownfish, anemones, butterflyfish, parrotfish, sergeant major fish and many sea clams. You might need to snorkel without fins to protect the corals.

Tip: if you have time, consider visiting the nearby island, Koh Phangan as well! Read our recommendations on Koh Phangan best snorkel beaches!

Koh Tao guide – useful travel tips

The island of Koh Tao (also called “Turtle Island”) is part of the Chumphon Archipelago on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It forms a small archipelago with Koh Nang Yuan and has a total area of 19.2 square kilometers. The island is 3.4 km wide and 7.6 km long. It has a rocky shoreline that consists of 11 bays and 10 capes. The length os the coastline is 28.6 km with a surrounding coral reef spanning 8 km.

A large percentage of Koh Tao is mountainous, about 30% is flat land. Koh Tao consists of three areas. Mae Haad and Sairee on the west coast, Chalok Baan Kao in the south. Koh Tao’s eastern part is steep with cliffs. In contrast, the west slopes down gradually to the sea. The highest point is 374 meters above sea level. Koh Tao was formed through land subsidence of the surrounding area, which is now the seafloor, making the depth of the sea around Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan at the most 30–40 meters. Koh Tao beaches have a diurnal tide, meaning there is only one high and one low water each tidal day.

Getting to Koh Tao from Bangkok

It is an often asked question how to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok because there are so many options. There are many different companies offering combination tickets (bus+ferry, train+ferry, plane+ferry etc…) from Bangkok to everywhere in the country. Usually the public transport is good, safe and not too expensive in Thailand, so no matter what way of traveling you choose, you can expect a reliable service.

Songserm Koh Tao - Koh Phangan

How to get to Koh Tao

  • take bus/train/plane to Chumphon then a ferry to Koh Tao
  • take plane to Koh Samui then book a ferry ticket to Koh Tao

Best Koh Tao ferries

  • Lomprayah
  • Songserm
  • Seatran

We booked online the Bangkok-Koh Tao bus and ferry combo ticket with the Lomprayah high-speed catamaran and were really satisfied with the service. If you don’t like traveling by bus, take a plane to Koh Samui. This option will add to the costs since there are no low-budget airlines flying to Samui Airport. Bangkok Airways operates several flights per day, if you have a tight schedule, it’s worth paying a bit more for your comfort instead of the long bus or train journey.

Where to stay

Koh Tao offers a wide variety of accommodations from simple hostels to luxurious villas.

If you are on a budget, we recommend staying somewhere central (either close to the Mae Haad Pier or in the south) where one can find affordable hotels. We stayed a few nights in Aukotan Place that had simple but clean rooms. The on-site supermarket was very useful when we needed to buy small things, and there are many good restaurants within walking distance.

Should you prefer a relaxing resort vacation, we believe that the Sai Daeng Resort is one of the bests on the island. The wide sandy beach is perfect for families with kids too, while snorkeling is also excellent not mentioning the amazing view and surroundings!

Booking.com

Climate

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 up in the region like all over the world, but we give you a general best time to visit Koh Tao schedule.

The island can be visited all year round, although conditions are different depending on the season. Koh Tao is situated in a sub-tropical climate in Southern Thailand. Due to its location, it is one of the best islands in Thailand that offers a 10-month long high season for travelers to visit and enjoy the beauty as well as snorkeling in Koh Tao.

Koh Tao Thailand

The peak season is 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 offering perfect condition for enjoying Koh Tao beaches as their best!

The area is affected both by the NE- and SW-monsoons. The NE-monsoon dominates from the end of October to the beginning of December. In this period you can expect heavy rainfalls. The SW-monsoon from June to September is mild since the island is sheltered both by the mainland and the surrounding islets. Boat services usually continue even in monsoon season.

From October till March, high tide makes the conditions perfect for swimming and snorkeling in Koh Tao. From April till September when the tide is low, Koh Tao beaches are wider full of sand, therefore this time is the best for sunbathing and beach activities.

  • January,February – Tropical spring
    Plenty of sunshine, comfortable air temperatures. The average sea and air temperatures are between 28-30 degrees C. The high tide allows easy access to Koh Tao beaches and prime snorkeling sites. However, visibility can be limited in some places.
  • March, April – Dry season
    Temperatures go up, water becomes flat and calm. The best period to witness gorgeous sunsets! The air is humid that is ideal for tropical thunderstorms. The water clarity is the best during this time and also this is the main Koh Tao whale shark season!
  • June, July, August – Indian Summer
    The wind turns at this point of the year, the island gets a fresh cooling breeze. The sea can become rough with relatively big waves. It can rain at this time, afternoon storms are typical especially in August. Diving is best on the East side of the island where the sea is flat and calm. Best season to spot turtles.
  • September, October – Tropical autumn
    A beautiful season with warm sunny days and calm flat seas. Superb conditions for snorkeling. The water and air temperatures drop 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 are present.
  • November, December – Monsoon season
    The typical monsoon usually lasts for a couple of weeks with hard rain and quite a lot of wind. The water becomes murky with low visibility, swell can be 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 very few people around. If you don’t want to take the risk with the weather, visit the Andaman Sea coast where there is no monsoon during these months. There are nice snorkel spots around Phuket too!
Sunset on Thailand - Koh Tao

Getting around

Road network is quite good on the island, but still under construction. We recommend renting a scooter (we have a very good experience with Oli’s Motorbike Rental), the 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 joining snorkel tours. The boats normally leave from the Mae Haad pier and stop at 3-4 places around the island, depending on the weather and water conditions. This is a very comfortable and easy way to explore Koh Tao beaches and snorkel in the best bays! Snorkel trip package prices start from 800-1000 baht.

Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

2 thoughts on “Koh Tao beaches – Snorkeling with whale shark and turtles

  • 2019-04-01 at 21:40
    Permalink

    hey, very nice blog, do you have any good recommendations for snorkel tours in koh samui where we can see whale sharks? thanks!

    Reply
    • 2019-04-01 at 23:16
      Permalink

      Hi Melissa,

      Thank you! As far as I know, you can’t see whale sharks around Koh Samui (also you can’t really go snorkeling there because there is mainly just sand around the island) so you need to go to Koh Tao if you want to see whale sharks.
      BR, Anett

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *