The name Koh Tao in English is literally Turtle Island. It is an island off the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Although the island is small with an area of about 21km2, it is where several beautiful tropical beaches call home. Along with its mostly untouched nature, Koh Tao exclusively thrives on tourism and related activities, such as scuba diving and snorkeling.
I. What you need to know about Koh Tao island
International backpackers affectionately call the island "Thailand's diving paradise". Here you can get a bona fide scuba diving certification with instructions from professionals for a relatively inexpensive cost. But diving activities aside, Koh Tao beaches are also just as visually stunning as its underwater world is.
If this is the first time you have come here, you will find the guide and navigation to the most beautiful beaches Koh Tao has to offer. Or, if you have visited it many times, I’m sure you could find some hidden gems tucked in some unexplored corners of Koh Tao.
II. The Five Must-See Beaches of Koh Tao
1. Sairee Beach
Tourists walking down on a smooth stretch of coral sand of Sairee Beach under a clear blue sky.
Sairee Beach is unarguably the busiest place on the island on any given hour. Getting here is also the easiest as it is also the longest beach of Koh Tao and the two main roads all lead to here. As tourists arrive on ferries from the mainland, the 1.85 kilometer-long beach stretches out before their eyes with white sand and crystal clear water.
Acting as the unofficial center of activity of Koh Tao, the beach has the highest concentration of tourism services. Several restaurants, bars, and medium-priced resorts are strewn around Sairee Beach so the place may seem a bit crowded at times. The upside here is that no matter where you are, you will be never too far from a place that could offer a cool shade, a cold drink, and hot local seafood. The beach is on the west side of the island so it is not a bad idea watching some great sunsets with your loved ones from here.
When you are interested, you can join in a game of volleyball or beach football easily found here and there on the long beach. The shallow water and smooth seabed also make Sairee Beach the perfect spot for families with children. But if you are not a fan of a crowd or just tired of seeing too many people at once, this place may not be the ideal place for you.
2. AoChalok Baan Kao Beach
Chalok Baan Kao Bay is a quiet retreat from the main center
Located on the southern reach of the island, Chalok Baan Kao Bay is famous for having the third largest beach on Koh Tao. From the pier on Sairee, you should follow the main road south either by riding a motorbike or a taxi. You will find yourself in Chalok Baan Kao in no time.
The off-white sand, the typical tropical trees of an island, and aquamarine water complete the picture of AoChalok Baan Kao Beach. The beach has recently become more and more popular for those who want to escape the center bustled with people on Sairee. Just don’t expect the availability and service quality to be the same here as there are only a few shops and restaurants. Walking further inland, you will find Chalok Baan Kao Village. The locals have some eateries that could cook up some delicious Thai dishes if you want to grab a quick bite.
3. Freedom Beach
The small stone path leads down to the most secluded place on Koh Tao – Freedom Beach.
From the village, you could continue on your journey of finding your solitude by traveling south further following the main north-south road. You will see the signs for John Suwan Rock. Turn uphill from those signs, and find your way down the beaten path towards Freedom Beach. Or, you may choose the easiest solution of hiring a taxi for $7 per person round trip to there from Sairee.
4. AowLeuk Beach
The gated beauty of AowLeuk Beach
The place calls the southeast portion of Koh Tao its home. The name means “Deep Bay” because of the deep and concave shape of the beach. The water here is perfect for snorkeling as it is filled with coral reefs, anemone, and schools of brightly-colored fish.
Some hardcore globetrotters may say that AowLeuk Beach is the most beautiful beach on the island, but that beauty is flawed because of human actions. The resorts around the place have barred entry for any non-paying guests and built a gate to regulate the coming and going of those who pay. They even don’t allow guests to bring their own food and drinks onto the beach. It surely is an annoyance but with all things considered, it is not enough to deny yourself from entering such a wonderful beach like that. The fee is 100 baht (about $3) if you care to ask.
5. Koh Nang Yuan
The most photograph place in Southern Thailand and its iconic sand bar
Nang Yuan is a private property made up of three small islands just off the coast of Koh Tao to the northwest. A long boat trip from every pier on Koh Tao will readily get you here. Remember not to bring any water bottles as they are not allowed onto this place. The most prominent feature of Koh Nang Yuan is the sand bar built on the stretch of crushed coral sand connecting the three islands.
You should also spend your time hiking to the top of the southern viewpoint for some captivating photographs. It is rumored that this is the most photographed place in Southern Thailand. The panoramic view you will get there is just too breathtaking and beautiful to pass up.
Did I miss any of your favorites? Have you found the perfect place for your next vacation? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below!
Here is also the best map I could find to help you get your bearings around the island.