snorkeling on Koh Tao
Koh Tao is backpackers/snorkelling/diving paradise. You can find great accommodation at reasonable prices. The snorkelling here is also incredible and extremely accessible as you can go right off shore from many of the beaches. Koh Tao was one of our favourite islands on our trip. Not so much for the living/food but mostly because of the beaches and marine life!
Many people come here for the diving. Koh Tao is known as one of the best and cheapest places in the world to get certified for scuba diving! There are so many reputable diving schools on the island. Sadly, we didn't try diving as it wasn't high on our to-do list. But I have spoken to many friends who have learned to dive on Koh Tao and they say it was one of the most incredible experiences in their life.
Our favourite place to snorkel was at Aow Luek beach. This is a "private beach" so you have to pay a fee of 100 Baht (even though all beaches are legally supposed to be free and public) the snorkelling here was unbeatable though, so it makes up for it. The amenities at Aow Luek aren't anything to rave about. There is a decent restaurant there serving food at mid price points. Included in your entry fee is 1 soft drink and use of the sun loungers and umbrellas. The beach isn't the cleanest and it was a little rocky but like I said before, the snorkelling makes up for it.
Aow Leuk was one of the best places I have snorkeled in my life. We saw so much incredible wildlife here. We saw a black tip shark, a spotted blue ray, numerous parrot fish, butterfly fish and barracuda... just to name a few. The water was so clear and calm, and there was a good amount of coral. It really made for an exceptional snorkeling experience.
Looking back now, I would say Aow Luek is probably the best place we snorkeled on our 3 month trip in South East Asia. The abundance and variety of marine life we saw was astounding. We stuck to the right side of the bay. That's where there seemed to be the most action.
I was also very impressed with myself not freaking out and shooting straight out of the water when we saw a shark! At first I felt shock and a bit of fear because it seemed to come from nowhere beside us, then I remembered everything I had been taught about sharks (my parents were scuba divers) and 99% of the time the sharks don't care for you, and are more scared of you then you are of them. This black tip was only about 4 feet long (which is still decent sized) and we came across it twice as we were snorkelling around the bay. My father always said "you only ever get a picture of a sharks tail, because that's all you see as they try to get away from you".
Another place we snorkelled was Freedom Beach. Freedom beach is on the south side of the island. Its more of a party scene in the afternoon/evening. When we went mid-day it was quiet chill and quiet. There aren't any loungers or chairs to use here, so you will want to bring a blanket or towel to lay under the trees that line the beach.
The snorkelling was pretty good here too. It wasn't anything incredible to write home about but it was a nice little swim. There were tonnes of rainbow parrot fish and some small patches of coral. Which was nice to see. It was a shallower snorkel so I wouldn't suggest going at low tide.
I had a fun encounter here with some angel fish, I was swimming along and two black angel fish start charging me from out of nowhere. It was the first time it had happened to me so I was caught off guard, then I realized I was probably close to their nest. I purposefully swam near them for a bit having a laugh at their defence tactics, but one of them got tired of my games and gave me a good warning to get going. So I moved on.
A third place I really enjoyed snorkelling was at Tanote bay. This was a bit sketchy to get to on a scooter. Koh Tao is known for its high rate of scooter accidents and this was the kind of road I could see motorists losing control on. It was about 100 degrees steep (maybe i'm exaggerating but that's what it felt like riding on the back of a scooter going downhill) and there were a few hairpins to add to the fun. We managed to make it down without a scratch which I was very thankful for! Be very careful on this road if you are taking a scooter.
The day we went to Tanote bay it was a bit windy, which made for rough waters that weren't ideal for snorkeling. There was still a lot of beautiful marine life here! it would have been much more enjoyable on a calmer day. There weren't a ton of options for hanging out at the beach. the sun loungers were wayyy at the back and the restaurants weren't calling our names. Make sure you bring a blanket or towel if you want to hangout on the beach a while!
One day, we decided to take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan island. Its a small privately owned island just off the shores of Koh Tao. There is a resort there if you feel like paying a pretty penny. Otherwise you can join the flocks of tourists who go there every day to see the view point and the snorkeling. We had really high hopes for this island, as all the pictures and reviews said it was amazing. But it turned into a wash of a day...
We hired a long tail boat driver from the beach on Koh Tao, they are everywhere and will find you. We paid 500 Baht round trip for the both of us. With an arranged pickup time of 3 pm. After a short 15 minute ride from Koh Tao we were dropped off at 10 am sharp, right when the island opens for tourists. The entry fee to get on the island is 100 Baht each, they say it helps fund maintenance and protection for the island and surrounding reefs, but I call bull on that.
We made a point to get there early since we heard it gets really packed. Plus we wanted to hike to the view point as early as possible so we didn't die in the heat. The view point was lovely but hard to get to if you aren't able-bodied. You need to climb up/over large boulders at the top to get to the actual ledge to see everything. The hike is 5 minutes from the bottom, and worth it for the shot of Koh Nang Yang.
Once we were done with the view point, we headed to the beach to go snorkelling. We put our stuff down on a lounger to claim our spot, then headed into the water. You're supposed to pay for the sun loungers, but greg told the guy collecting fees that he had to wait for me to come back, the ticket man never did... so we didn't ever actually pay for it. We started off at the Japanese garden and were instantly shocked. There was nothing there. The only thing to be seen were heard of parrot fish munching on all the dead coral. We tried to go further but there was a decently strong current present there and it was tiring us out trying to fight it. We didn't want to get too far out in case we wouldn't be able to get back to shore. Later we noticed a couple groups of people needed to be rescued because the current was taking them away.
Next we tried snorkelling off the west side of the island. We saw more of the same here. Heard's of parrot fish and TONNES of dead coral. I came across what I assumed was once a stunning reef, but now I turned into a shelf of white dead coral. As I was swimming around it was obvious to see who the culprits were in the murder of the coral. It was the hoards of tourists that come here very day, don't listen to the rules and stand on the coral. Number one rule of snorkelling, never stand on the coral because that kills it so quickly.
Around 12pm, a huge tropical storm rolled over the island. We had heard the thunder in the distance all day, but we had been hearing thunder everyday on Koh Tao for the last couple days and nothing ever came of it so we weren't worried. Until it started pouring buckets of water, and we watch lighting strikes hit the water less than a kilometer off shore from where we were. We thought we were going to be stranded on the island until 3pm when we arranged with our driver to pick us up again. But at about 1 pm, he came to our rescue and took us safely back to Koh Tao, through some questionable water, but we survived!
Over all I wouldn't recommend Koh Nang Yuan unless you are really keen on the view point. It is a beautiful island, but the snorkeling and hoards of tourists make it irritating to go. The only restaurant is also extremely pricey and they don't let you bring your own water onto the island. They check everyone's bag as they enter the island, confiscation anything that could turn into rubbish. Which is great, and what helps keep the beach and water so clean. But it also forces you to buy expensive food and drink from them.
Koh Tao is definitely high on our list of favorites because of the snorkeling. I'm going to be honest and say we didn't love the other things the island had to offer. I'll make another post about our stay on Koh Tao!
Thanks so much for reading about or snorkeling experience on Koh Tao!