Beaches of Ko Tao
As you might expect of an island paradise in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao has many wonderful beaches spread right around its coastline. Some of them have long wide stretches of glorious white sand, suitable for sunbathing and swimming, while others have fine beaches, as well as rocky areas, suitable for snorkelling. The third category of beaches will not be great for sunbathing, but are havens for divers and snorkelers. In a few places, you can even do a spot of kayaking and Stand Up Paddling. The interior of the island is still relatively undeveloped, and the road networks often leave much to be desired, which means that while some beaches, particularly on the western coast, are easy to get to, others are more problematic. You can decide between the well-populated beaches with all the usual facilities, or opt for something more isolated. Here is our round-up of the major beaches - and a few not so major - found on Koh Tao. We start at the most popular beach on the west coast and then move in a southerly, anti-clockwise direction around the island. Sairee Beach Koh Tao's most famous beach is located at the mid-distant point down the west coast. The beach is a little north of the island's port at Mae Haad pier and is well within walking distance. Sairee is also the first beach that visitors will see as they approach the island, and this long sandy beach is the most accessible, and by far the most popular. It is the main centre of activity on Koh Tao, with plenty of resorts, bars, and at least 20 beachfront restaurants, but there is still plenty of room on the long 1.7km beach to sunbathe in comfort. Apart from sunbathing and swimming, activities here include SUP, (stand up paddling), snorkelling near the rocks at either end of the beach, and at low tide, there is ample space for beach football and volleyball. The seabed is smooth and free of sharp rocks until you reach the coral barrier reef some 20 metres offshore, which means it is also safe from boat traffic. Sairee Beach and the surrounding areas are always busy with the hectic coming and goings of holiday-makers, but because of its considerable size, there is plenty of room for everyone. To get here from the pier, it's a 5-minute drive in a northerly direction along the north-south road. To walk, take the north-south "walking beach" road (which is limited to foot and motorbike traffic), and is a turning off the main 'down road' in Mae Haad, by Cafe del Sol. Pass a small shrine to King Rama V, and after a steep descent, the beach begins on your left. It takes about 15mins. Mae Haad Going south down the west coast, the next beach is Mae Head Bay, where the ferries arrive. The built-up area around the pier serves as the island's capital and is the most developed place on the island. Here, there is an abundance of shops, bars, hotels, restaurants, banks, internet shops and so on. It's the central transport hub that will take you to anywhere on the island, and is the best place to stock up on provisions, do your banking and send your emails. Both north and south of the pier there are some nice sandy beaches, and at the southern end of Mae Haad, there are some excellent areas for snorkelling, including a small shipwreck offshore. Ao Jan Som (Jan Som Bay) Continuing south there is a tiny but beautiful beach, which is surrounded by the Jansom Resort. It will cost you 200B to access the beach through the resort unless you are staying there. Haad Sai Nuan, Ao Kul Jeual and Laem Je Ta Klang Continuing south down the coast, there are three small beaches which are quite isolated, with just a few budget huts dotted around for those who want to get away from it all. It's quite a challenge to get in and out, so think carefully before opting to go or stay in this area. The beaches are bordered at either end by tall boulders, with dense jungle beyond. They do provide some of the best snorkelling on the island. You can explore a huge array of underwater life, and if you are lucky, maybe see a reef shark or two. There's also a slackline to test your balance, swings and plenty of shade under coconut palms. One of the beaches also has a couple of bars which serve cold beers and snacks. To get there, you either take a genuinely hair-raising ride in a taxi down the steepest road of the island, or you can hike. Walk south from Mae Head along the beach road until you reach a turning to the left. Head uphill, and turn right past a bar called Moov. Continue to the end of this road and walk through the Charm Churee Resort, and follow the signs for Jansom Bay and Sai Nuan. Chalok Ban Kao Continuing south and then east along the southern edge of the western peninsular, you will come to the scenic beach of Chalok Ban Kao, which is the main centre in the south, and has some tourist facilities. The beach itself has beautiful sand and is very scenic, but isn't a great location for swimming or snorkelling as the sea is very shallow. Freedom Beach, Ao Taa Chaa and Ao Taa Toh These are probably the most secluded beaches on the island. From Chalok Ban Kao, you can gain access to these three southern beaches at the very end of the main north-south road on Koh Tao. The area is so isolated that there are no dive shops and there is only one resort and a restaurant nearby. The best of the three is probably Freedom Beach, where the sand is so pure and is particularly pretty along with the unusual sight of palm trees growing a few metres off the shoreline. Ao Thian Og You will need to cross the peninsula to reach Ao Thian Og, arguably the most beautiful beach on the island, with its glorious white sands and crystal clear water. Unfortunately, Tao's best beach belongs to the Haad Thien Resort, so if you are not a guest, getting in may be a problem. Also known as Shark Bay, if you do make it here and are a good swimmer, you may catch sight of some harmless reef sharks by swimming offshore and waiting a while. Haad Sai Daeng If you're feeling adventurous and are reasonably fit, you can try walking from Ao Thian Og to the John Suwan Viewpoint, at the end of the headland. This viewpoint provides a spectacular view of Ao Chalok Ban Kao to the west and Ao Thian Og to the east. But be warned, the trail to get here is quite rough. A little to the east of this viewpoint is Haad Sai Daeng, a lovely beach which is one of the island's most popular dive spots. This bay offers good opportunities for snorkelling, and you may also see a few sharks. Just offshore, is Shark Island, and if you experience problems getting into Ao Thian Og beach, then Haad Sai Daeng makes a great alternative. Ao Leuk Moving up the east coast, you will come to Ao Leuk Beach in the southeastern corner which again gives Ao Thian Og a run its money in terms of being the best overall beach. The sheer beauty of this little bay will overwhelm you, with its wide, fine white sand beach that stretches the length of a protected cove. This beach is popular with both locals and tourists, and it is much quieter than Sairee Beach on the west coast. You will have large areas of beach for you, your friends or family to spread out as far as you want. There is also good snorkelling just 20 metres offshore. You can't really access this beach from the south of the island, so to get here, you have to follow the main road south toward Chalok and then take the first left turn after Mae Haad. The Ao Leuk turnoff will be on your right after about 1.5 km. Au Tanote Moving northwards up the eastern side of Tao, the next beach is Au Tanote, which is probably the most popular beach on the eastern coast. But that's not saying much as it's still a bit remote, with only a few places to stay and eat. The beach is nice enough, with the high-quality white sand, and it is suitable for both swimming and snorkelling. Ao Hin Wong This is another fairly isolated spot with a small rocky bay that is excellent for swimming and snorkelling, but not much white sand here for the sunbathers. There are only a couple of resorts in the area, but if you feel like getting away from it all, do a bit of swimming and snorkelling and take in the amazing view from your hillside hammock, then this may be just the place for you. Although directly up the coast from Au Tanote, to get to this beach in the northeast corner of the island, you will need to retrace your steps to the locale of Sairee beach and then drive across the centre of the island to pick up the left fork that will take you to Hin Wong Bay. Mango Bay Although quite isolated on the northern coast, there are two up-market resorts close to this bay, and it is a great area for snorkelling, swimming and even for a bit of kayaking. The two resorts tend to be self-contained and the only way between them is by sea (long tail boat or kayak), and both have splendid views of the bay and the sea beyond. We say isolated, which Mango Bay is, but it does get quite crowded during the daytime when parties of day-trippers come by to enjoy a day of snorkelling or to learn how to scuba dive. For the very fit and adventurous, you can try the trek to Mango viewpoint, which is an extremely arduous and very steep climb. If you make it in one piece, the entrance fee is 50B, but it is well worth the view. The road to the north starts at a fork off the road across the island from Sairee to Au Hing Wong, so once you have figured out your way to Hin Wong Bay, the journey to Mango Bay will be a piece of cake. Koh Nang Yuan Finally, just of the north-west corner of Koh Tao, we have the unique island of Nang Yuan. The island is privately owned and has strict rules about what you can take there; in particular, no food no drinks are allowed - including drinking water! This ensures that the owners of the exclusive Nang Yuan Resort, who run the island, have a total monopoly on your spending money while you are on this tiny island. The best time to go for a half day trip is after breakfast or after lunch, when you can explore the crushed coral beach that connects the three land masses - said to be the only three-legged sand bar in the world. If you decide to stay at Nang Yuan Resort, the main activities are diving and snorkelling but be prepared for crowded beaches until all the day-trippers have left for the day at 5:00pm. To get to the island, you can hire a long tail boat from Sairee beach, or from the pier at Mae Haad for 200B return. There are always boat drivers hanging around looking for a fare. If it's quite busy, head to Lotus Bar where there's usually boat-taxis around. If your phone works on the Thai network, you can swap numbers to call them to confirm the return time. If not you will need to agree a time for them to come pick you up. Even though you pay the 200B up front they do come back, so don't worry!