Ko Tao is surrounding by beaches and bays and picking where to go snorkelling can be difficult; what you choose to do will depend a little on how much time you have and what you want to both see and experience.
You can take the decision away by simply booking an around-the-island snorkelling trip. Your resort or any travel agent will be able to do this for you and you will be able to see a bit of everything and meet some new friends too. This is great if you are limited on time and simply want a tour to see a bit of everything. You will be on a big boat which is great for offering shade and stability but not so good if you want to take things at your own pace and have a bit more of a personalised experience. The trip should cost around 800 to 1,200 baht (depending on the boat and operator) and include some food and everything you need for the day.
Longtail boats can be hired anywhere at the water’s edge and indeed their drivers will come looking for you. A full-day tour will cost around 3,000 baht but you can then choose where to go and how long to stay so this is a great idea if there are a few of you. However if it’s a bit choppy you might not be able to access all the spots that a larger boat can. So where should you choose to go?
Ao Leuk be accessed relatively easily by road (either taxi or scooter). The bay is wide and sandy and the beach restaurants offer shade, somewhere to laze and of course food. The beach is quite strict on bringing in food and drink (and charges an admission fee!) but the restaurants are ok. Be careful when entering the water as rocks line where the waves lap, but once in the water you'll find some great snorkelling at each edge of the bay. Hover over the sand and you might see rays too. This spot is great for day out or stop during your longtail trip.
Haad Sai Daeng is postcard-perfect and an idyllic get away from the hustle and bustle of the island. While the snorkelling in the centre of the bay is in no way as rewarding as Ao Leuk, Haad Sai Daeng does have sharks. Don’t worry — they are not toe nibblers and are in fact quite shy. Follow the coastline in the water on the north side and swim out to the rocks which jut out on the corner and wait. The corner is quite pretty and has lots of activity and patience will bring you sharks.
Ao Thian Ok is locally called Shark Bay as traditionally this is where you would see the most sharks. While you can still see them there, it’s only really possible by boat as there are now restrictions to non-guests of The Haad Tien using the beach. You can walk through OK II Resort which you will find by following Chalok Ban Khao all the way to the end to a bay called Ao Taa Chaa. You then have to scramble over the rocks and swim out into the bay. Remember though that the sharks are shy and patience is required.
Mango Bay is another popular snorkelling spot. Similar to Ao Leuk, it’s sandy in the middle with the best snorkelling at the edges. The road to here is not to be trifled with, so hire a longtail or grab a kayak to get here. Mango Bay has a huge school of fish which throb and pulse in a large vortex which can usually be seen from the surface and is most often near the Mango Bay Resort.
Japanese Gardens is one of the bays off Koh Nangyuan and only accessible by water too. It’s popular for both diving and snorkelling and has a marked no boat zone too. Lomprayah offer a ferry service day trip here but our advice would be to go by longtail which will leave you more flexible. If you step foot on land here you will be charged to use the beach by the inept and greedy resort based here.
In Mae Haad there’s a small shallow shipwreck which you can just about see jutting out of the water in front of Sensi Paradise Resort. This is great fun for a quick dip and explore.
Remember too that when the west coast is choppy the east coast of the island will be still and flat calm, in this instance check out Hin Wong Bay. There is only a tiny beach here and access to the water is via the small pier in the centre of the bay.
Clearly these are just the highlights and there is much water and coastline to explore. Please do so carefully. Remember to keep yourself protected from the sun, listen out for boat traffic and take a life vest if you are not a confident swimmer.
Take care to protect the reef too. Some bays have now banned the use of fins in order to protect the coral, so do observe the rules. Remember coral is a living organism that grows very slowly — treat it carefully and never stand on it.
Observe the fish but do not feed them, as this upsets their diet, makes them familiar and most importantly stops them grazing on the algae, which then upsets the natural balance of the reef and its survival. Otherwise jump in and have fun!
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 5th November, 2016.