Recently I wrote about my number one recommendation to travelers coming to Koh Tao: take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan! There is a close runner-up in that race though, and it’s taking a longtail trip around the island. My two recommendations have a lot in common- they both involve snorkeling, beach-bumming, and beautiful scenery. Yet despite dozens of attempts thwarted by poor weather, scheduling mishaps and plain-old bad luck, my first true longtail-island-circumnavigation was with Zoe and Olivia during my family and friends’ visit in January. (There was one mini-longtail trip a week earlier where we made it a quarter way around the island.)
A longtail trip around Koh Tao includes one non-negotiable element: the longtail boat. You can find tons of eager boat drivers along the length of Sairee Beach. The price of the outing will vary depending on your driver, your itinerary and your bargaining skills, but Koh Tao longtail trip enthusiasts tell me they pay an average of 2,000 baht ($60usd) per boat. Therefore, the more people you bring along for the day, the cheaper the per-person price.
Taking a longtail trip means you will get to see gorgeous vistas from your wooden bench seat. If you’re a cartography geek like me, bring along a map of the island and try to identify the various beaches, bays and mountain peaks you’re passing by.
You’ll see a side of the island that never would have during the typical tourist’s stay on Sairee Beach. Here’s my sister in front of Shark Island, so named for it’s supposed fin-like shape. Still, I let Olivia believe it was named for what swims in the surrounding waters, hence her grateful grin at being safely ensconced in a boat.
Simply riding in a beautiful traditional boat, cutting through the waves and soaking up the sun is a major part of the day’s enjoyment.
Some of Koh Tao’s most beautiful beaches dot the East and South coasts. However, the East coast beaches especially can be difficult to reach. The roads are rough and dangerous for motorbikes yet pickup taxis can be pricey. That makes these beaches the perfect destinations for a longtail trip!
On our trip we stopped at the beautiful Thian Og Bay, one of my favorite stretches of sand on the island. Other highlights to consider are Sai Nuan, Ao Leuk and Tanote Bay.
Koh Tao is famous in Southeast Asia as a diving mecca. But you don’t have to go all that deep to understand why- the snorkeling here is also fantastic. And anyone who has ever been on an over-crowded big-boat snorkel trip will understand the luxury of exploring the reefs in private via your own longtail.
On our trip I had one firm request- we had to stop and snorkel in Hin Wong Bay, where I earned my Open Water Diving certification years before. I remember this secluded, beach-free bay so fondly and wanted to share it with my sister and best friend.
The longtail driver brought us to a shallow corner of the bay and told us to jump in. The fish immediately swarmed beneath us and we shrieked with surprise.
I couldn’t believe the variety of fish and the health of the coral in such a shallow spot. I’ve been snorkeling in water all over Thailand and in countries all over the world but I will look back on this day as the best of them all.
The longtail drivers will usually supply you with snorkels and masks, but if you want to make sure you have something that fits you well and is of good quality, you should probably bring along your own. I was also happy to have brought along my underwater camera (a Canon PowerShot and the Canon Underwater Housing system). I had so much fun with our underwater photo shoot!
Hin Wong Bay is my favorite snorkel spot on the island, but other hot-spots include Shark Bay, Mango Bay, and Koh Nang Yuan (possible to visit as part of a longtail trip!)
The Refuel Stops
With all the exhaustion of the sightseeing, sunbathing, and snorkeling, you’ll need to stop to refuel along the way. We stopped for lunch in the newly constructed restaurant at Mango Bay. The views were unbelievable! This is also a popular bay for snorkeling and diving.
Other good places to stop for food and a few drinks are Freedom Beach, Tanote Bay, and Hin Wong Bay. All have good restaurants, decent prices, and stunning views.
If you time it right, you can get back to Sairee in time for sunset drinks on the beach! The perfect end to a perfect day in paradise.