Snorkeling Koh Toa, Thailand
Last summer, while I was traveling through Thailand from Lao to Malaysia, I made a spur of the moment decision to make a stop on the island of Koh Tao. While traveling the region I'd wanted to get in some good snorkeling and on Koh Tao, I would not be disappointed. As it turned out Koh Tao is a scuba diving and snorkeling hot spot. I'd done a little research before hand and Koh Tao sounded like an attractive place to go, if you want to check out the sea life, however you can never be too sure until you go yourself. Initially, I'd planned on only spending three days there but the atmosphere and snorkeling was so good I wound up staying a whole week.
To get to Koh Tao I took a high speed catamaran from Chumphon, which is directly west of the Koh Tao on the mainland. I bought tickets from a hostel in Chumphon that also arranged a bus to the pier but you can find info on the ferry company's website. The ferry ride was only about two hours and relatively comfortable.
When I landed, I'd already booked a hostel, so I quickly started to head that way and did my best to avoid all the tuk tuk drivers wanting to give me a ride. The hostel I chose was call Moov Bar and it was located near the number "2" on the map above. There are nice resorts all around the island but the hostels are mostly concentrated in areas "1" and "2". All the hostels seemed decent but the quality of resorts varied widely. A few were quite nice but a number of the resorts looked almost abandoned. The east side of the island seemed to have nicer resorts and in general a quieter place to be. The main tourist beach was Sairee Beach with a good number of hotels and night life up and down the beach. The party atmosphere on Koh Toa was rather relaxed, it's nothing like Patong Beach in Phuket. I did happen to be there in late October, which is the slow season, but I'm relatively confident the hard core party goers go else where. Families would probably do well here, I don't believe I noticed any adult entertainment anywhere on the island.
Alright, let's talk about the snorkeling. So the island, as far as I could tell, is surrounded by coral reefs. Some areas were better than others but it did seem like you could jump in the water at any spot and find active coral reefs. Here is my list of my favorite spots that I found (I'm sure there's more that I didn't' get to):
- Sai Deng Beach
- Shark Bay
- Hin Wong Bay
- Sai Nuan Beach
- Jansom Beach
Sai Deng Beach was probably my favorite. It was a short scooter ride to the other side of the island populated with a very nice resort. The beach was open and rather empty of other tourists. The corals stretched out for quite a ways but the most interesting part was swimming along the rocks shown above and around to the other side. The rocks provided a lot of interesting crevasses full of life worth exploring.
Shark Bay was another great spot. It deserves it's name because it is frequented by black tip reef sharks. While swimming I spotted two different sharks. My second encounter was the most exciting. I was snorkeling along and found my self converging on a 1.5m long shark swimming on a diagonal path to mine. I noticed it first but when it saw me the shark turned towards me and began to circle me. On it's second circle I became a little worried. It then turned and headed straight towards me. I had to kick with my fins to keep it from coming any closer. Fortunately that was enough to turn it away but there was a moment there where I thought I might be in big trouble. My biggest regret was I didn't have my GoPro.
Sea turtles are also not hard to find. Some time after my shark encounter, I heard a couple of other snorkelers getting excited for a turtle off in the distance. I raced over but it was gone, disappointed I headed back to where I was before. On my way back I stumbled on the turtle that I assume was causing the excitement. This turtle deserved the excitement because it was by a wide margin the largest sea turtle I've ever seen. The length of the shell was at least a meter and underwater it looked about the size of a VW Beetle. Again only if I had had my GoPro.
My other favorite spot was Jansom Bay and Sai Nuan Beach. These were walking distance from my hostel so I wound up frequenting them quite a bit. The beach was lined with large rocks that provided very interesting nooks and crannies for all sorts of sea life to make a living. I spent a lot of time here and would swim back and forth between the two beaches. Snorkeling is without a doubt a fantastic way to spend your time, especially if you're on a budget.
Here's a shot of Nang Yuan Islands. These two island sit off the north end of Koh Tao. They even feature a sand berm that connects the two. You can take a ferry out to them to spend the day or afternoon.
Overall I very much enjoyed Koh Tao. My time there wound up being one of the highlights of my 5 month around the world tour. I'm not sure when I'll go back but I do hope to some time in the future. If you're ever traveling through southern Thailand I highly recommend it!