Dec 07 2012
If I had 100 baht for each time someone asked me which is the best beach on Ko Tao then I wouldn’t need to work again. The answer isn’t that simple and like anything in life it depends on your definition of best. The simplest thing to do then would be to work our way around the island on a little tour to give you the facts to decide for yourselves.
Sairee beach is the one most people have heard of; it’s the most popular and where you’ll find the largest concentration of resorts, restaurants and bars. The beach itself is long and sandy and there’s always plenty of space. No matter where you are you’ll find yourself with easy access to a shady beachside restaurant for a cold drink and food. You’ll find reasonable snorkelling here too. The rocks at either end offer the best opportunities and you’ll be safer from boat traffic tucked in there too. It’s a sociable spot where a game of beach football or volleyball often springs up with the beach dogs invariably joining in the fun.
Mae Haad is where the ferries come in. There is beach area to both the north and south and while it’s certainly not as idyllic as Sairee the more southern end has some great snorkelling and a small shipwreck to explore too. You wouldn’t stay here for the beach though, you would choose it for location. Being the centre and main town it makes transport to anywhere on the island easy. It’s close enough to Sairee to walk for a night out but not close enough for the music and partying to keep you awake at night.
Ao Jan Som is a tiny beach surrounded by a large resort and is free to guests but a day visit will cost. The swimming and snorkelling are great but due to its size relative to the number of rooms it gets quite busy.
If you walk further around the coast you will come across Haad Sai Nual, Ao Kul Jeual and Laem Je Ta Klang. This is old-style Thai coastline, dotted with rustic huts for lazy days and quiet nights. You’d choose to stay here for its remoteness; it’s not easy to get in and out so bear this in mind if you like to be out and about and exploring.
Chalok Ban Kao is a scenic beach and the hub of the south. It’s where you find the greatest concentration of amenities this end of the island.
The beach itself is picture perfect for lazing on but the bay is very shallow and rarely clear which don’t make it the best for swimming and snorkelling. However it’s a perfect location to give you easy access to Freedom Beach, Ao Taa Chaa and Ao Taa Toh.
Ao Thian Ok is the perfect splurge retreat, ideal for honeymooners and those that like both polish and relative seclusion on holiday. The bay is essentially home to one quality resort and is a good place to snorkel with sharks too.
Haad Sai Daeng and Ao Leuk are the two bays I visit to snorkel, and make great days out. Each has places to stay and would be ideal if your budget doesn’t stretch to Ao Thian Ok prices.
Ao Leuk is a wider beach and offers the prettier snorkelling but you can see sharks at Haad Sai Daeng. Haad Sai Daeng is smaller and more remote than Ao Leuk which gets busier with day visitors as the access is easier.
Ao Tanote is the busiest beach on the sleepy east coast but you could hardly call it hectic. It probably offers a happy medium between being remote and having a few choices of places to eat. The beach is wide and sandy and offers swimming and snorkelling too.
Ao Hin Wong has just a couple of resort options and actually only a very small beach. It’s more of a rocky bay which is quiet, remote and great for swimming and snorkelling, particularly when the west coast waters are wavy. Staying at a hillside bungalow here will ensure you relax in a hammock, enjoy the view and let the outside world slip into memory.
Similar to Ao Hin Wong, Mango Bay has a tiny beach and is again a rocky bay, making it an excellent snorkelling spot. The two resorts here offer a high standard of accommodation but staying at either leaves you secluded. Stay here for peace and quiet and days spent in the water snorkelling. The bay is a very popular spot for dive training and snorkel trips and does get quite busy.
Ko Nang Yuan is the small island just off the northwest of Ko Tao itself. There is just one resort here and while the island is picturesque, ferries snorkel and day trips all visit the island which can mean that the narrow beaches get crowded. The bays around the island are similarly very popular for diving and snorkelling so while staying on a small island is remote it’s not going to feel quiet and peaceful until the day crowd have left.
Many visitors simply can’t decide and what I often suggest is to pick a couple of places and stay a few nights in one and a few nights in another. This can make you feel like you had travelled to a completely different island yet in reality you’ve only had a 20-minute taxi ride rather than a two-hour boat journey. Some visitors choose to stay somewhere central and then visit the more remote bays as day trips, which is also a great way to explore and get a flavour of each beach, maybe for your next visit.
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