Koh Tao is best known for its underwater attractions, but there are also some very nice beaches to enjoy around the island. In recent years the island has become an overflow party place for those escaping Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan, and not exclusively for divers. The pedestrianised village lane along Sairee beach offers one of the more down-to-earth atmospheres among popular island beaches, while other small bays offer a quiet, exclusive experience.
Note! Ao means bay in Thai, Haad means beach.
Haad Sai Ree (beach)
Sai Ree (Sairee) is the longest, most popular beach on the island and is located on the west coast, north of capital Mae Haad. It is a lively place, by Koh Tao standards, and can get very busy during high season. This is the place to head for if you are looking for fun and entertainment. The beach itself is a lovely swath of soft white sand backed by a choice of chilled out bars and restaurants. Along with Mae Haad town, this is also where most of the dive schools and resorts are based. The north end of the beach is good for snorkelling but it can get busy with dive boats and tours so choose your time carefully. See our comprehensive Koh Tao beaches guide.
At high tide, the beach tends to shrink considerably, but it’s very swimmable, and comes alive by night with bars and beachside restaurants that are quite casual. The best part of this beach is the quaint pedestrian beach set 20m back behind the restaurants and bars. It keeps the traffic out and creates a nice village atmosphere.
You also get a selection of internet cafes, travel agents, boutiques and more, while the rest of the island has far fewer services. Towards the northern end of the beach, where the lane has run out, there are larger resorts with spacious grounds beneath coconut trees. A few resorts are perched on the boulders and rocks at the northern end, where views are the selling point, but the beach is a short walk away. See our comprehensive Haad Sairee travel guide.
This is the section of beach fronted by the small town on the island and some of the resorts at each end of the beach enjoy nice bits of sand. However, the middle section is spoilt by boat jetties and anchored boats. There are numerous restaurants lining this bit, though, where the beach is best enjoyed by gazing at it over a lunch of fresh fish. Some of the cheaper places to stay on the island are found in Mae Haad, where you’ll be a few minutes walk to the water. You can follow the beach all the way to Haad Sairee around a rocky outcrop at low tide, otherwise it’s a 20-minute walk to the action along a quiet road (not the main road). More on Koh Tao ferries.
Ao Chalok Baan Kao
This is the third largest beach on the island, situated on the south coast. The beach is mainly coral, so the sand isn’t as fine as it is on Sairee, but is still very pretty. There are a few nice resorts behind the beach and it is easily accessible from the main road. The sea can be shallow for swimming at certain times of the year when the tides are low. If you’re here strictly for the diving and would rather avoid any hint of a party, this is perhaps a more sensible choice, with some upmarket resorts perched on the steep bay side, offering great views. See our comprehensive Chalok Baan Kao travel guide.
Aou Leuk is a beautiful little secluded bay situated on the southeast coast. This horseshoe stretch of beach is very sheltered, and the water clear and great for swimming. It’s a perfect spot for lazing in the sun in among the boulders and there are also some great snorkelling spots around the rocks. The snorkelling is safe and easy, so it can get quite busy mid-morning with tours and dive boats arriving, but they don’t usually stay too long. Ao leuk is accessible by road, but the last couple of kilometres are on a dirt track so only four-wheel drive taxis will take you. It is actually walkable from Mae Haad in about 40 minutes, but best to take a water taxi.
Ao Thian Og
Ao Thian Og is situated on the southernmost tip of Koh Tao, around 2.5kms from Mae Haad. It is accessible from the main road and, therefore, is an easy beach to visit for the day. This area is commonly known as Shark Bay because it includes the famous dive site, Shark Island. The land behind the beach is government property and, to date, nothing has been built so it is a particularly unspoilt and peaceful bay to hang out on. The sand is soft and white and there are bushes and trees lining the beach for shade. The snorkelling is wonderful straight out from the beach, and there are even signs of coral regenerating as well as lots of great tropical fish to see. It includes Haad Sai Daeng, the exclusive domain of the posh resorts nearby. See our Ao Thian Og guide.
This rather downmarket beach is quite out of the way, reached via a steep road, but has a number of neglected bungalow choices on it, with a few better resorts. All the same, this short, granite boulder-enclosed beach – complete with offshore rocks to swim to – isn’t bad if you’re not fussy and prefer a quieter spot. The choice of bars or restaurants is limited and it’s not quite as nice as other beaches on the island. So much more could be done with this nice spot if the accommodation was gentrified, though. See our Ao Tanot guide.
Koh Nang Yuan
This gorgeous stretch of beach is the made-for-camera shot seen on all Koh Tao brochures and is a popular trip by boat. There is one resort on the island for the lucky few, though it’s rather isolated. You could even swim across to this island, which actually comprises two islands joined by a spit of sand that makes up its beach. Daytrippers follow a boardwalk around the rocks to the beach and hang around for a few hours. It can be well viewed from the resorts at the northern tip of Koh Tao, while longtail boats in Mae Haad or Sairee ferry people across there. See our Koh Nang Yuan guide.