I’m dying to tell you about why Koh Tao has some of the best beaches in Thailand so here we go…
You know me. I’m a beach girl. I’ve been trying my damn hardest to live and work on (or as close as possible to) a beach for most of my life.
Read more about the Soi 55 beach lifestyle story here.
So when a very welcome opportunity to visit Thailand for six weeks showed up we naturally gravitated to the countries island and beaches. Widely regarded as one of Thailand’s best islands for beaches Koh Tao is a must stop experience for anyone island hopping in Thailand. Koh Tao is a well known gem that sits just off the east coast in the gulf of Thailand. It may be smaller in size than neighbouring Koh Phagnan and Koh Samui but for what Koh Tao lacks in size it makes up for in bountiful beaches. Koh Tao was once teeming with tourists but now that islands such as Bali are having their time in the spotlight the island doesn’t attract the same crowds it once did. In no means is Koh Tao deserted but it does mean that the island now offers a somewhat calmer feel and plenty of space on the sand to set up for the day.
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Before I delve into the beauty of Thailand’s beaches I want to focus on something more important than just where to lay your beach towel in Koh Tao. After my trip to the island I simply couldn’t write this blog without explaining this first.
Let’s be real for a minute – it’s rubbish!
I know we are all more aware of what plastic pollution is than ever before. In fact the evidence pf plastic pollution can be seen on beaches across the U.K and Europe. However, if you want to see the real extent of the damage caused by single use plastic go to Asia. Even in the 10 years since my last visit to this tiny Thai island the huge increase of plastic that is washing up on the beaches here is heartbreakingly obvious. For the majority of our time in Koh Tao we stayed on the stunning and somewhat secluded Aow Leuk.
This pretty little bay is easterly facing which means the wind is often onshore (blowing on to the beach from the sea) during the off season (nov-march) here. Sadly this means a massive amount of rubbish that is usually floating out at sea (a truth that is equally, if not more sad) rolls into the bay and onto the sand hourly. Nope that’s not a typo for daily. Rubbish washes onto the beaches here *HOURLY* or more accurately, with every wave or ripple. Every morning staff and tourists from the resorts either side of the beach pluck rubbish from the sand and sea only to be doing the exact same thing a matter of hours later.
Although I was very aware that our oceans are suffering from our single-use plastic addiction it was only when I walked down to this beautiful little beach that the reality hit me like a 10ft wave and knocked me off my feet.
It isn’t all doom and gloom – change *IS* happening. In the 11 days we stayed at Aow Leuk beach a mammoth amount of plastic and other rubbish was cleared from the ocean and the shoreline daily. In addition to the resort staff doing their bit to combat the rubbish, every single tourist staying or visiting the beach could be seen helping in some way. This wasn’t just true on this beach but all over the island. This means we are all aware of the impact we are having on our planet, we all know how to start making a difference and we are starting to implement change.
It may be too little too late for us to clean up the ocean in our lifetime but I hope that the realisation that has dawned on us over the past few years will force us to make it better for future generations to come. I hope that in 100 years time travellers are snorkeling in Koh Tao’s crystal clear waters and frolicking on the sand without rubbish. I hope the ocean has been replenished with sea turtles and colourful reef and I hope that people regard nature much higher than we did.
SO HOW CAN WE HELP KOH TAO?
We have a responsibility as tourists and humans to help reduce the amount of waste going into the ocean. When you look at the scale of the problem it seems like a huge task and it is. But making these little changes whilst you are traveling (and at home) will start to make a difference years down the line. Be the positive change. Here are a few ways in which you can help clean up the beaches of Koh Tao.
Pick up rubbish. Just do it. Every time you walk past rubbish/plastic pollution on the beach pick it up and put it in one of the many bins that line the beaches here. When you swim/ snorkel/ kayak/ SUP bring any plastic bags/bottles/waste you see floating back to shore and into the bin. Carry hand sanitiser with you and you’ll never be paranoid about the germs you could be pick up also.
Use reusable water bottles/ reduce you plastic bottle intake. – Let’s be honest, it is not easy to travel around Asia without buying plastic water bottles. I cringed every time I went into a 7/11 because very often there are no other options other than to buy plastic water bottles. As tap water is not drinkable on the island bottled water is an essential for living. Luckily Koh Tao is more aware of plastic pollution than some other places in Thailand and Asia and there are *some* water refillable options. Many of the dives schools on Koh Tao have been working together to create an initiative where you can buy a metal water bottle and fill up for free in several spots across the island. Unfortunately this isn’t widely spread *yet*. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to buy bottled water opt for larger 5lt bottles and refill your bottle using this rather than lots of smaller ones. If you are in a room with a kettle and a fridge you can boil tap water and keep it in a bottle in your fridge.
Say no to straws and plastic bags – Many of the restaurants and bars now offer metal straws. If they don’t just request for no straw. Positive changes are being made across the island including in some of the chain stores like 7/11 who no longer provide plastic bags. With that in mind pack a reusable bag or string shopper when you’re packing your luggage.
Recycle – There are a number of recycle points on the island. Save you plastic bottles etc and drop them off here.
Ask for change! – Leave reviews (be kind!!) for resorts, restaurants and bars requesting the eradicate single-use plastic.
Support local charities fighting for change on the island – Many think locals or natives are ignorant to the case but this simply isn’t true. There are lots of companies, charities and individuals doing all they can to combat the plastic and save Koh Tao’’s beaches and ocean. Support them by donating, volunteering or just by spreading the word.
Ok so now that we’ve got that lengthy but important piece of information out in the open lets get to the bit you’re all here for – A big old sunshine drenched list of Koh Tao’s best beaches.
It is no secret that Thailand is home to gorgeous swathes of sand and azure blue ocean; I mean they don’t call it Amazing Thailand for nothing. Thailand has been one of the world’s most popular tourist destination for many, many years. There certainly is no shortage of tropical, postcard perfect islands in Thailand; in fact there are 1430 to choose from…
So why Koh Tao?
Whether it is the world renowned diving, the delicious (and cheap) massaman curries or the the spectacular sunsets there are so many reasons to include Koh Tao on your Thai bucket list. Despite all of its attractive prospects there is one overwhelming reason you should visit Koh Tao and that is its wonderfully diverse range of beaches that are ripe to explore.
From sun-soaked, bustling bays to wild + rugged coves that can only be found at the end of a jungle dirt track to downright, (undeniably) beautiful beaches – there is a spot of sand to suit every mood.
What I really love about the island is the variety of beaches you can find within a small distance. Stay central at Sairee beach and you have almost 2km of sand on your doorstep. Yet with nothing more than a scooter, a sense of adventure (and a helmet!) you can track down hidden coves, secret beaches and empty bays.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of beaches on Koh Tao but after a solid month exploring I feel very comfortable sharing what I believe to be the best and most varied beaches on this beautiful little island.
The most popular and populated beach on Koh Tao. Even if you are not staying on the biggest and most lively beach on the island you will no doubt still visit for boat trips, afternoon beers and dreamy sunset.
Due to regular boat activity Sairee is not the best beach for swimming but there are still plenty of options for SUP or late afternoon dips. Home to one of the best sunset views on the island and
CHALOK BAN KO
Ok so I have to admit with exception to a small slither there is little actual beach on Chalok to which you may be thinking why are you including this on the best beaches guide. Well because is isn’t all about the sand, sometimes its about the swimming and this huge horseshoe bay has great swimming and kayaking potential. if you fancy a mini adventure set off across the calm
A heaven for hippies. This boho hangout spot provides plenty of shady spots, a large wooden bar overhanging the crystal clear ocean and some good snorkeling straight off the beach. This beach can get busy and the car park attendants will attempt to charge you to enter.
Probably my favourite beach on Koh Tao island. Why I hear you cry? Because, quite simply, I just felt all of the good vibes here. Its busy enough that there is an enjoyable atmosphere but quiet enough that you don’t start cursing people beneath your breath. There is excellent snorkeling (probably some of the best we experienced in Koh Tao) and an unassuming beach bar with good food, cheap beer and fresh (cold) coconuts a plenty – what more could you want?
Oh I know – rock jumping! Climb the huge boulder for tropical views and cheap thrills. Beware, the rope ladder is not for the faint hearted – i.e don’t climb up unless you are prepared to jump off.
Your very own Robinson Crusoe experience. Consistently voted the most beautiful beach on the island and with good reason. This small (impossibly) picturesque bay is located at the bottom of a very steep pass. Despite the improvement to the once dirt track Aow Leuk still avoids most of the crowds and if you choose to stay on one of the two resorts you’ll have the beach to yourself most mornings and evenings.
An exceptional sunset spot with laid back vibes. The snorkeling was also very good and the bay felt very safe thanks to the shallow reef. We particularly enjoyed afternoon beers at the Siam Cookies bar.
AO HING WONG
A hidden (somewhat) secret beacH that is worth searching for. This small pretty bay has a remote feel to it and is spectacularly pristine thanks to Mol who owns the cute wooden back bar shack. Mollie takes great pride in the beach and she and a few dedicated locals pick up every bit of trash that washes up so that the beach stays in top condition. If you want to use the beach do the right thing and buy a beer or coke from Mol’s.
A very beautiful resort beach accessible from the car park steps above. In addition to its beauty Sai Daeng has fabulous snorkeling; we saw more species of fish here than anywhere else on Koh Tao. We walked through the resort gardens on our way to the beach to have a nosy at the bungalows and… wow! Take a look for yourself
GETTING THERE + AWAY
There is no airport on Koh Tao but it is easy to reach from pretty much anywhere in Thailand. The closest airport is Koh Samui; from here you can get a transfer and ferry Koh Tao (usually via Koh Phagnan). There are also direct ferries from Koh Phagnan but avoid traveling on full moon party days unless you enjoy being treated like cattle.
Alternatively you can also travel to Koh Tao via ferry from one of several spots on the mainland, some of which are close to an airport connected with Bangkok. It is easy to find a combination of travel options from almost anywhere in Thailand and even Malaysia. Want to get to Penang? No problem! Kuala Lumpur? No problem! You can go from anywhere to anywhere (and usually very cheaply) if you are are prepared to endure a combination of buses and ferries.
You can book transport direct from offices on Koh Tao and elsewhere in Thailand. I found the Klook website particularly handy for booking ferries/transfers in advance with added peace of mind.
Transport if usually cheap with exception to some of the flights in Samui. If you need any help planning your itinerary send me an e-mail and I will be happy to help.
RENTING A SCOOTER ON KOH TAO
If you want to access most of the beaches on Koh Samui renting a scooter will give you the most freedom and is your best bet. There are dozens of scooter rental places on Koh Tao so shop around if you have the time. Always check their insurance policy. They should always provide you with a helmet, if they don’t go elsewhere.
ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. WEAR A HELMET. Far too many people in Asia, particularly Thailand and Indonesia, are killed in road accidents. The majority of these are bike accidents could potentially be avoided if helmets were worn. There really is no reason not to wear a helmet when you are hiring a bike in Koh Tao or anywhere!
Avoid riding in the rain or if you do ride in rain take it a notch slower. Do not be tempted to navigate dirt tracks during or after heavy rain.
Don’t drink and drive. Consequently also be extra cautious driving late at night or after a big event like the full moon party – this is when the majority of accidents happen.
Although much of the island now has concrete roads some areas are still treacherous for vehicles. If in doubt don’t go. You can often park up and walk the rest of the way. Always make sure you have fuel and plenty of water.
Finally if you are not experienced in riding a scooter Koh Tao isn’t really the best island the learn. If you get a chance to practice before your trip it would be beneficial. When you do drive take it easy and always be aware of other drivers. If you are not confident to ride don’t do it – there are 4×4 taxis available to use!
WHERE TO STAY ON KOH TAO
There is no shortage of accommodation options on Koh Tao. Stay in beachside bungalows, fancy resorts or cosy backpackers and hill resorts. You can find anything from beach shacks to luxury resorts to cosy backpacker’s and everything in-between. We stayed in two separate places during our time on the island both of which I booked through Booking. The reason I love using Booking is they have the largest variety of accommodation options on Koh Tao and most come with free cancellation so there is no pressure when you are planning.
The most popular place to stay is Sairee Beach. This area has the biggest concentration of rooms, restaurants and bars so great if you want to be in the middle of it all. Sairee beach is also super close to the main pier at Mae had. Many of the accommodation options on the main strip are backpackers and dive schools but there are also a few upscale resorts either end of the beach.
If you want a quieter getaway consider one of the smaller and more secluded beaches such as Aow Leuk, Sai Daeng or Mango Bay. These spots are usually less crowded and still only a short bike ride away from Sairee Beach. We stayed at Chabalay Resort at Aow Leuk for 10 days over Christmas and it was the perfect choice. The rooms are basic but the view from your balcony is unrivalled (see photo below)! To top it off the bar at Chabalay is possibly the best on the island for beers with a view! We also had a quick peek at Aow Leuk Grand Hill Resort which looked lovely!
If you want to be central to a number of different beaches check out The Ozo just a 5 minute scoot from the pier. We spent a week at this clean and comfy hotel and were able to zip off to a number of gorgeous beaches in 10minutes.
If you are traveling during peak season or holidays it is wise to book up in advance. There are plenty of rooms on Koh Tao but the best ones do get snapped up quite quickly.
SNORKELING ON KOH TAO
It is true what they say; the snorkelling and diving is not what it used to be on Koh Tao. Having said that it is still said to be one the best places to experience underwater life in Asia. There are a number of reputable dive schools on Koh Tao most offering the similar services and prices. I haven’t dived on the island for 10 years so consult the Thailand Lonely Planet or contact a dive school directly for an up to date guide.
As for snorkelling I always believe you can see as much or more than you can diving so if diving is not your thing there are plenty of opportunities to acquaint yourself with the sea life. There are a tonne of beautIful snorkelling spots, many of them just a pull, kick and splash off the beach. Our favourite spots were
Find out about some of the fish you can see on Koh Tao here. It goes without saying you should never deliberately touch of disturb the sea life. We need to be doing our very best to protect these species.
BEST BARS ON KOH TAO
While away the afternoon under the shade of a straw roof, sip fancy cocktails on beanbags on the beach or watch the sun disappear into the sea with your date and an ice cold beer; Koh Tao has is all.
BEST BEACH BARS SAIREE
Sairee beach has the most concentrated amount of bars on the island. Here you will find bars right on the sand that will take you from day into night effortlessly. The beauty of Sairee is that if you’re not feeling the current vibe of the current bar you can just stroll on to the next section of the beach and find what you are looking for.
Great beach bar with cold beers, snacks and a guaranteed holiday feeling.
FIZZ BEACH LOUNGE
The ultimate Sairee Beach sunset spot. Get here early, grab a front seat beanbag, order an espresso martini (or any number of cocktails, beers or spirits) and enjoy the light show.
This whitewashed bar offers up excellent cocktails (2 for 1 every afternoon), tasty nibbles and late chilled out Ibiza vibes.
BEST BEACH BAR AOW LEUK
CHABALAY RESORT BAR
Quite possibly. No, definitely – one of the best beach bars I have ever had the pleasure of drinking in (I’ve been in a considerable amount believe me). This huge but attractive wooden bar hangs out directly over the turquoise ocean. A must visit even if you are not staying on Aow Leuk beach. The bar is part of the Chabalay Resort. I’ll let the pictures do the talking….
BEST RESTAURANTS ON KOH TAO
I could declare my love for Thai food on here but it would take a while so I’ll save that for another post! All I will say is despite the fact that Koh Tao is firmly on the backpacking/traveler trail it still delivers mouthwatering local dishes in abundance. My best advice would be to take yourself on a little adventure away from the main strip and see what you can find. Don’t be afraid to try the foodcourts – we had some great feeds in these! It is also worth pointing out that it is very easy to find vegetarian/vegan food on Koh Tao. Most restaurants offer your favourite dishes with tofu instead of meat. Just check for fish sauce and egg if you are strict!
Here are a few of my favourite “restaurants” I found during my stint on Koh Tao
This ramshackle wooden structure could pass as someone’s back garden but it proved to be one of my favourite little spots for curry. The massaman curry here was the best I have ever had! .
Set high up in the hills but just a short ride from Sairee beach and the pier Lung Pae is a local restaurant with a view. Great food and a free taxi service (a service worth taking up!). The owners here are super friendly too.
Smack bang in the middle of Sairee beach and well worth a visit or three. This huge restaurant may look like a tourist trap but the food is fantastic and it is always bustling. Everything from traditional Thai to fresh fish to excellent pizza is on the menu.
Cheap, tasty grub right next to the most popular 7/11 on the island. The Pad Thai kept me coming back.
I couldn’t not mention this cafe. The best speciality coffee on the island (I tried a lot) and home to more brunch options than you can bare to imagine. Fresh ingredients and excellent value. Try the ‘diver’s wrap’ with extra chilli sauce. There is also a tonne of vegetarian and vegan options available.
CURRENCY: THAI BHAT (THB)
MONEY: Although some shops (7/11) do take card the majority of hotels and restaurants do not so it is wise to carry cash on you. There are plenty of ATM’s on the island but, like much of Thailand, most will charge you flat rate to withdraw. To combat this you should use a travel money card, choose THB as the currency and take larger amounts out at a time.
I‘ve been using Revolut since we moved to Portugal and I have saved hundreds of £’s compared to using my UK bank account. Revolut is a prepaid card and app that you can hold and transfer multiple currencies on. You can use the contactless Revolut card abroad and at home with no exchange fees whatsoever. Simply top up using the app and transfer between currencies whenever you like. You can also transfer money to friends with Revolut in one tap; super handy when you need to split the bill! is no set-up fee or running costs (it is completely free) and you will also receive a free card when you sign up below. I’ve also written up a post on the Best Travel Money Card if you want to read more about the benefits of Revolut.
If you’ve made it this far I am guessing you have a trip to Koh Tao coming up (or you are really bored!) so I can only hope I have helped you get a feel for what the island has to offer. Koh Tao offers some of the best beaches beaches in Thailand and you should definitely make it your mission to see at least some of them! Happy Travels!
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