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Just south of Mae Haad ,the southwest coastline of Ko Tao encompasses some terrific, tucked-away beaches and bays with a wide variety of lodgings for those travellers more interested in peace and serenity than bright lights and pub crawls. Be it a threadbare bamboo shack or a comfortable chalet with WiFi access, you'll find something suitable along this stretch of Turtle Island.
A rough and ready trail ranging from tailored footpaths to true jungle trekking leads from Mae Haad to Ao Kul Jeua, but this is not an advisable route with anything more than a light pack. In calm seas the easiest and cheapest way around to the beaches in this area is by longtail taxi. The road over to them is not concrete all the way and can be accessed by songthaew too, however due to the distance you are still better to take a water taxi. If you are renting a bike the road is safe and not particularly challenging.
After leaving the southern reach of Mae Haad the first spot you'll find is privately owned Ao Jan Som, followed by Haad Sai Nual, Laem Je Ta Klang and eventually Ao Kul Jeua. After that you're but a hop, skip and a jump from Chalok Ban Kao via the lovely Haad Saal Chao.
As a privately owned beach, entrance to Jan Som Bay costs 200 baht unless you're staying at the luxurious Charm Churee Resort. While there is certainly sand enough to lay out on a prime piece of comfortable real estate, a plethora of sharp shells and discarded pieces of coral make this bay less sandcastle friendly than its counterparts. The resort provides comfortable day beds and tables, as well as a modern bar that is not as overpriced as one might suspect.
A well-kept, scenic footpath leads visitors through the luscious green trees that line a mostly boulder-ridden coast. Twenty minutes and 800 metres later the path winds down to Sai Nual beach. Sai Nual One, which is a little bit longer than Jan Som, has visitors lying on towels instead of loungers, and two wooden swings sway gently in the coastal winds. The garden just behind the sand is idyllic – with a weathered, wooden bridge leading to a propped up horizontal stick that might be used for games of limbo or other sports. The bungalows on this beach are part of Sai Thong Resort, but the other places to stay nearby have equal access. A short walk from the resort rests Sai Nual Two, a small stretch of sand and shells that plays host to Banana Rock Bar, Siam Cookie Bungalows and Char Bungalows.
Though the road connecting Sai Nual Two and Laem Je Ta Kang is short, it is inland and far from scenic, so decide beforehand whether you'd like to visit the first stretch of beaches (Jan Som, Sai Nual One, Sai Nual Two) or the second stretch (Laem Je Ta Kang, Ao Jkul eua) and plan transport accordingly. While the further bays are accessible from Mae Haad by foot, reaching the very start of Laem Je Ta Kang will take about half an hour at a brisk pace and is not for the faint of heart. A longtail to the further bays may be a more pleasant option.
Laem Je Ta Kang is the smallest and most secluded of all the beaches. The beach is comprised of a miniature stretch of sand and one lonely hammock. Being so secluded, however, it also tends to be less crowded and you may find that the hammock and beach are exclusively your own at times. The 10-minute trek from Laem Je Ta Kang to Ao Kul Jeua is along a long overgrown and rarely used footpath. While the way is safe and the jungle is beautiful, it is sometimes challenging to distinguish where the path continues as certain sections are so overgrown as to be unrecognisable. An evening jaunt is not recommended as there are no lights.
Ao Kul Jeua is a picturesque beach with options for renting kayaks, lovely snorkelling and a small, rustic beach bar. An array of accommodation provides options for all types of travellers. This far down the coastline is just a short distance from Ban Chalok and it's thus a good option for people wanting the peace and quiet of an off-the-beaten-track beach without missing out on the bustle and nightlife of town.
The southwest coast of Ko Tao has both advantages and disadvantages -- what you gain in tranquility you lose in ease of access. If you're a bit of a night owl, this part of Ko Tao may not be the best choice. The roads are paved but songthaews end up being pricey due to the distance, and even though the road is good for the most part, it is winding and not advisable to use at night on a motorbike.
On the other hand, if you're after a bit of serenity, a lot of hammock swinging and a fair dose of gazing out to sea, then you're in the right place.
By Erin Wildermuth.