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Although there is an abundance of group snorkeling tours available in Koh Tao along the main road and adjacent walking streets near the pier, there is another option for those who are more adventure-minded, hate the crowds, and are just plain cheap! For Koh Tao snorkeling, to explore what is in my opinion the most beautiful underwater views will cost you nothing but a fair bit of exercise (or a simple daily motorbike rental).
Disclaimer: This trip is not for weak swimmers! The entire trip in the water, one way, is about 45 minutes. Nearly all of it is 3 meters deep or more, with one long section dropping off to about 10 meters. The day I snorkeled was a relatively calm day during low season with no strong current – however, conditions could easily change at any time, so do watch the weather and only attempt this trek if you are a strong and confident swimmer!
The map I have made up is of the southeast section of Koh Tao.
It would be helpful if you pulled up another tab with Google maps of the island to better put into perspective where/how far everything is.
If you aren’t comfortable riding a motorbike or don’t care to rent one, I would advise staying somewhere in the Chalok Baan Khao area; not necessarily near or on the bay, but actually a little further inland. I stayed at Koh Tao Toscana and can recommend it. It’s a close enough walk from the pier and it’s a nice area if you’re not into heavy partying and want to relax. It also makes getting to the snorkeling spot easier.
To begin, have a look at Number 1 on the map, which is the crossroads for Sai Daeng Beach.
It is right around here that you will see a sign on the left for “Sai Daeng Beach.” Follow the signs later on to bring you all the way to Sai Daeng. For those that are walking, it’s about 1.75 kilometers from here – and it gets a bit more treacherous! One half is uphill, and the other downhill. The views here and there along the walk are quite nice; have your camera ready!
Number 2 is Sai Daeng Beach.
Apparently before, a fee was required to enter the beach. However, as of May 2016, entrance to this beach is free, despite what any local might try to get from you. Now mind you, although Sai Daeng is certainly a postcard-worthy beach, the majority of snorkeling just off the shore is pretty terrible. It is mostly shallow water with destroyed reef underneath. I imagine this was probably a launch point or port many years ago, though now it is pretty quiet. Bare with me though as this is not the main spot; it is only the jump-off point.
When you arrive to Sai Daeng, walk all the way to the left side of the beach (looking seaward).
VD Tip: If you have a dry bag, this is where it becomes incredibly handy: I used mine while on this trek, and although it was filled with two 1.5 liter water bottles, snacks, a few shirts, and 3 pairs of flip-flops, it floated in the water with no problem!
Prepare yourself on the beach and jump (well, possibly float) in. Even at low tide, it was possible to swim out deeper.
Looking at the map, find Number 3.
Follow the white arrow as a guide and swim until you get out to the furthest point of land, which is labeled as Number 3.
Inside the cluster of large boulders at the very end, you’ll find a very small, shallow lagoon. Swim into it, and looking up, you should spot a cement staircase made right into the rocks. Hop out of the water and climb over all the large boulders to get to it. Careful, they will likely be hot! Go up the stairs until you get to the bungalows, and enjoy the view – it’s beautiful.
When you re-enter the water and swim back out, it is there that the water drops off to its deepest point until you reach the other side. It’s also where the best views begin!
From Number 3 all the way to Ao Leuk Beach (Number 4) is some truly breathtaking underwater scenery.
Tons of fish, healthy coral, and even the occasional black-tip shark can be spotted in the water here. Take your time through here and really soak it all in. Even at its deepest parts, the water is very clear and easy to see all the life brewing beneath the surface.
Eventually, you will reach Number 4, Ao Leuk Beach.
This beach does charge an entrance fee, and they are quite strict about it. At 100 baht, it’s not much to cough up if you want to sit on the beach and relax awhile after the monumental swim you just had. However, if you’re not wanting to pay, you have 2 options, one of which is far more expensive than the other: 1. If you originally walked to Sai Daeng, you could get a taxi (if there is one waiting) back to main town. At 500-600 baht, I would absolutely skip that option and go with number 2: Swim back! If you hugged close to the shore on your way over, try going 10-20 meters further out for different views, at least until you reach the point again. You could even sneak back into the small lagoon and rest before making the final push back to Sai Daeng.
Originally, we took a taxi from the Toscana area and actually did this trip from Ao Leuk, and then walked back from Sai Daeng. You could do it that way, though if you have rented bikes, I think it would be most practical to either drive to Sai Daeng and jump in from there, or drive to Ao Leuk, pay the 100 baht fee, and simply swim from there.
However you get there, this little slice of heaven is a must-see for any avid snorkeler or free diver. If you have any other useful tips or information I have missed, please feel free to comment below!
That wraps up the best, free Koh Tao snorkeling trip! Heading to Phuket soon?
I also have a guide about another totally awesome, free snorkeling spot in Phuket. You should definitely have a look if you are planning on traveling there, too!
Headed to Koh Lipe as well in the future? Check out my related article about cheap food options on the island.
VD’s Snorkeling Gear Picks
I religiously use my GoPro Hero 5 for all my underwater filming and I highly recommend it. It’s now only $215 brand new as the Hero 7 just came out!
VD’s Hostel Recommendations in Koh Tao
On iPhone? Tip your phone to the side 😉
Craig is a 29 year-old, sun-loving, rum-drinking Floridian and Phuketan, and the face behind Vagabond Disposition. He has called the Land of Smiles his home for about 5 years on and off, coming and going between vagabonding journeys throughout East and Southeast Asia, as well as Western Mexico and Europe. He enjoys a competitive game of disc golf when he can find a course, as well as a laid-back match of Bocce with spirits in hand. Craig wouldn’t go anywhere without his beloved ukulele and will jump on a drum set any chance he gets. His odd sense of humor is fortunately often appreciated by his peers, as well as his students.
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