Koh Tao is well known among scuba diving circles as a paradise for marine exploration. But you don’t necessarily need to take diving courses or fun diving trips to see it all, as there are plenty of beautiful corals and tropical fish to be viewed from the surface. If you are a keen explorer and comfortable driving a motorbike, then accessing the best snorkeling spots on Koh Tao will be easier. However, some are only accessible by foot or by boat anyway, so if you are not keen on scooter rental, then fear not, there is no need to miss out!
Koh Tao is an island of gentle sloping sands and shallow coral reefs, so you’ll have fantastic opportunities to snorkel at any beach you go to. We recommend reading our other article about the best beaches on Koh Tao so that you can plan your time to make sure you fit in all of the beach visits you want to.
The most popular snorkeling spots on Koh Tao are usually those with calm waters and little/no current. These are our ultimate top five picks…
- Japanese Gardens
Located on the eastern side of Koh NangYuan Island, Japanese Gardens is one of the most stunning snorkeling spots on Koh Tao and is regularly visited by scuba divers too. The name of this popular site derives from the abundance of intricate coral gardens under the surface, many of which have multiple layers that some people think resemble Japanese banzai gardens.
Japanese Gardens is perfect for beginners and experienced snorkelers alike as there is so much coral and marine life to see. You can choose to start in the sandy shallows where there is a designated snorkeling area into which boats are not permitted, or alternatively explore further around the rocky coastline where you’ll see huge boulder formations as well as an expanse of corals and reef fishes.
You can read more about Japanese Gardens on our beginner dive sites page.
- Mango Bay
Another popular site for both scuba diving and snorkeling, Mango Bay is located at the very north of Koh Tao and is best reached by boat due to the steep and bumpy condition of the roads on the interior of the island that lead to it. Mango Bay is one of the safest snorkel spots on Koh Tao, thanks to its sheltered location and a permanent snorkel line that keeps boats out of the shallows.
Wherever you look in Mango Bay there is marine life to be found. From well-camouflaged critters in the shallow sand and rocky boulders, to vibrant colourful fish who have made their homes in the healthy coral reefs that flank the bay on each side, there is much to see.
- Laem Thien
Laem Thien Bay is one of the most remote snorkel spots on Koh Tao. Situated on the east coast of the island, it is only accessible by foot or by boat. Up until around 2011, there was a fully functioning resort here complete with hotel building and many wooden bungalows. These are now in a state of disrepair but are fun to explore, and the hotel building provides some shade and respite from your in-water activities.
Snorkeling in Laem Thien Bay is excellent, and the bay remains one of Koh Tao’s best-kept secrets. As it is not as regularly visited as other snorkel spots on Koh Tao, the shallow coral reef that runs along the coastline is in fantastic condition and home to a wide variety of tropical fish, including schools of butterflyfish and yellowtail barracuda.
- Shark Bay (Thian Og)
Any comprehensive list of the best snorkel spots on Koh Tao would be incomplete without mentioning Thian Og, which is more commonly known as Shark Bay due to the abundance of blacktip reef sharks that can be seen in the shallows here all year round. All you need to do is swim out into the bay a short distance, and wait for the sharks to appear!
The main drawcard here is snorkeling with sharks, and it’s probable that if you stay for a little while, you’ll lay eyes on one of the resident turtles too. There are also some smaller, tropical fish such as parrotfish, rabbitfish and butterflyfish, but the coral reef itself is not in great condition as it was badly damaged in the 1998 El Nino cycle and never fully recovered.
You can read more about Shark Bay (Thian Og) on our beaches and bays pages.
- Aow Leuk Bay
Escape the hustle and bustle of the west coast for a trip over to Aow Leuk Bay and you won’t be disappointed. Coral reefs extend out from each side of the wide, sandy, and sheltered bay. With a maximum depth of just a few metres, it is undoubtedly one of the best snorkel spots on Koh Tao for beginners and families.
With colourful corals and abundance of marine life within a very short distance of the shore, Aow Leuk is a snorkelers paradise. If you venture further up the coast or into the wide, sandy expanse in the middle of the bay, you may see even some blue-spotted stingrays feeding or swimming.
You can read more about Aow Leuk Bay on our beaches and bays pages and on our beginner dive sites page.