The 21 Best Places to Snorkel in Thailand

The warm turquoise waters of Thailand are a snorkellers paradise
The warm turquoise waters of Thailand are a snorkeller's paradise | © swissmediavision / Getty Images
Kelly Iverson

Travellers to Thailand don’t need to compromise their savings to explore below the surface of the sea. While diving gear, the price of a guide and the other purchases make carrying out a proper dive a pricey venture, the Kingdom is fortunately also home to a number of snorkelling sites just off its spectacular islands like Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi. Here are the best places to snorkel off Thailand’s coastline.

1. Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi

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Aerial view of Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Humphrey Muleba / Unsplash
Leonardo DiCaprio put Maya Bay on the maps of tourists all over the world after the premier of the film, The Beach. The movie was filmed on the islands in 1999, and since then tourists have flocked to this particular bay to relive some of their favourite scenes. The bay is a great place to snorkel, as it is made up almost entirely of coral reef. The main stretch of beach is about 200m (655ft) long, and it is surrounded by towering cliffs on three sides covered with foliage and greenery.

2. Ao Mae Yai Bay, Koh Surin Nuea

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Underwater in Mu Ko Surin National Park, Phang-nga, Thailand
Notto Suthipat / Unsplash

The five spectacular islands that make up the well-known Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea are home to some of the best dive sites in the world. Under the protection of the Mu Koh Surin Marine National Park, the beaches and surrounding coastlines remain pristine, with an abundance of wildlife both in and out of the water found throughout. Though many of the bays found on the Surin Islands are perfect for snorkelling, one of the most revered of them all is Ao Mae Yai Bay, found on the island of Koh Surin Nuea. The striking coral is the home to an abundance of marine life, including the now-iconic clownfish (otherwise known as Nemo).

3. Ao Niang Bay, Koh Kradan

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Koh Kradan, a small island southeast of Koh Lanta, is spectacular both in and out of the water. The island is part of the 89sqmi (230sqm) Hat Chao Mai National Park, making the reef here almost untouched by visitors. This is one of the quietest islands in Thailand, with very few tourists and an abundance of vegetation that will provide you with complete seclusion. The best bay for snorkellers to get their feet wet is Ao Niang, located on the southeast part of the island. It is here you will find some excellent off-beach snorkelling to see marine life and coral galore.

4. Kata Beach, Phuket

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The golden sunset on Kata Beach, Karon, Thailand
Andre Mouton / Unsplash

Though Patong Beach takes the prize for the most popular of beaches in Phuket, Kata Beach provides snorkellers with some of the best underwater views on the island without having to break the bank for a dive certificate. Its white sand beach is hugged by sloping palm trees, offering beach-goers ultimate seclusion. The beach is about 1.5km (1mi) long, but regardless of its size, Kata Beach remains uncrowded and serene.

Koh Ngam Yai

Located off the quiet town of Chumphon is Koh Ngam Yai, the larger of the two Koh Ngam islands. Many travellers make their way to Chumphon only to head elsewhere upon arriving – either the popular island of Koh Tao or Koh Samui. Because of this, Koh Ngam Yai is both quiet and secluded, offering shallow and colourful coral found in many places a mere 2m (6ft) below its clear surface. It takes little over an hour to get to Koh Ngam Yai by boat from Thung Wua Laen Beach in Chumpon.

The Best Places to Snorkel and Dive in Koh Tao

5. Koh Nang Yuan

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Marloes van der Veer / Unsplash
Koh Nang Yuan consists of three different islands found just off the northeast tip of Koh Tao. The islands are connected to the popular island by a gleaming white sandbar. The coral reef here, made up of both soft and hard coral, is protected and relatively shallow, making it a great location for snorkelling. There is an entrance fee to the island since it is privately owned, but it is a small price to pay to explore and snorkel in some of the most stunning, sparkling water in the Gulf of Thailand.

6. Sail Rock

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Regularly referred to as the “best site in the Gulf of Thailand,” Sail Rock is the open-ocean home to some of the greatest biodiversity of marine life around Koh Tao. The rock is visible as the dive boat approaches and extends down dozens of metres, making it appropriate for all levels of scuba diver. The site is so expansive, with a “secret pinnacle” to boot, that most operators will stay for two dives to make sure divers get a chance to take it all in. Due to waves, wind, and low visibility, most centres will not make the journey between the months of November – March. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

7. Ao Leuk Beach

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Another great snorkelling spot on Koh Tao, otherwise known as Turtle island, is Ao Leuk. It is located on the southeast coast, and snorkellers can grab their gear and explore the area right off the beach. The coral reef is relatively shallow, so swimmers do not have to venture far to get an amazing view of what lies just beneath its crystal clear surface.

8. Chumphon Pinnacle

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A closer alternative to Sail Rock, Chumphon Pinnacle is just a quick journey to the northwest of the island and packed with the same kind of activity and energy as its big brother to the south. The pinnacle isn’t visible from the surface, making it ideal for divers comfortable with deeper descents. Your resolve will be rewarded, however! Chumphon Pinnacle is the most popular local site to have a chance encounter with the very elusive whale shark. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

9. Shark Bay

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This bay to the south of the island was hardest hit by the global 2011 coral-bleaching event. While much of the natural reef is still in recovery, the site has become a magnet for the island’s population of green sea turtles and blacktip reef sharks. Snorkelers can swim right off the beach or access the bay by boat to have the chance to swim with these magnificent creatures, and during certain times of the year the bay is flush with baby sharks! Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

10. Japanese Gardens

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One of the several beautiful bays enclosed by Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Tao’s sister island, this site is named for its incredible hard coral reminiscent of Japan’s famous royal gardens. Reportedly, the site has more biodiversity of coral species than anywhere in the world for an area of its size, which itself attracts a wealth of interesting marine life. Snorkelers can enjoy a huge shallow area that extends along both coastlines, while divers can continue deeper, checking out the site’s enormous artificial reef and two cave-like swim-throughs. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

11. White Rock

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The largest dive site on Koh Tao, White Rock’s expansive reef extends out from its signature rock, dropping off towards deep canyons to the south and scattered coral bommies to the north. Its location and changing topography earns it some of the best biodiversity around the island – divers have the potential to see almost anything the island’s marine world has to offer. Its large population of nocturnal sting rays make it one of the most popular night dive locations as well. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

Southwest Pinnacle

Jutting up through the water column about 15 kilometres south of the island, this stunning pinnacle is alive with activity nearly year-round. The main part of the site is accessible to all levels of scuba diver, while advanced divers rated to dive to 30 metres can explore its nearby “secret pinnacle,” encountering huge schools of fish and the occasional hidden surprise. Like Sail Rock, this site’s accessibility is seasonal. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

Shark Island

Named for its jutting appearance, like a shark fin breaching the water’s surface, Shark Island is one of the more unique underwater areas of Koh Tao. While most sites enjoy near swimming pool like conditions, Shark Island is the one spot divers can experience a bit of current, which creates an entirely different underwater environment brimming with swaying soft corals and hungry reef-feeders. The island also has a beautiful protected cove, perfect for snorkeling without worrying about any current. While only accessible by boat, more intrepid snorkelers can also kayak from the nearby Koh Tao shoreline. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

Tanote Bay

Tanote Bay is one of Koh Tao’s most beautiful beaches, easily accessible by either land or boat. The sheltered bay leads out onto a beautiful reef almost immediately off the shoreline, gaining depth more swiftly than other areas of the island. Between snorkeling, turn up your adrenaline by climbing up the bay’s signature rock and leap into the deep waters below from jumps of about nine or 12 metres. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

Liam Thien

Tucked in the rugged eastern shore of Koh Tao, Liam Thien is like an underwater playground for scuba divers, with ancient volcanic boulders strewn underwater creating some impressive and entertaining swim-throughs for much exploration. Snorkelers can access the site by boat or by hiking across the island through the jungle along a worn down road that once accessed a now abandoned resort. The site also features some great cliff-jumping, starting with a more modest three-metre jump before graduating to nine and 12-metre leaps. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

HTMS Sattakut

This de-commissioned World War II US Navy vessel was gifted to the Thai government several years ago to intentionally sink as an artificial reef and dive-training site. Sat in the muck at 30 metres, in its seven years underwater, the ship has already become a bustling ocean city of its own. Coral has encrusted over much of the exposed metal, and divers can peer inside the barred windows to see massive groupers and trout moseying between cabins. Its depth restricts this site to advanced divers only, and training is available island-wide to learn to safely venture inside the sunken wreck. Recommended by Leslie Finlay.

The Best Places to Snorkel in Koh Rok

The following are all recommendations from Sarah Williams.

12. Bermuda Ridge

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The eastern channel of Koh Rok Nai (the inner island) is sometimes referred to as Bermuda Ridge. There’s a line of coral reef that has held some of its colour, despite much bleaching in the area, and many sea creatures inhabit the reef. Large schools of fish swim past snorkellers and you can normally get pretty close to the colourful clownfish for terrific underwater photography.

Laemson Bay

Laemson Bay is another of Koh Rok’s attractive beaches where you can enjoy great snorkelling close to the shore. The clear blue waters usually have excellent visibility, providing awesome views of diverse marine life. While pufferfish and angelfish are common sights, snorkellers might also see barracudas, pipefish, scorpionfish, and others. People into macro-photography should keep their eyes open for nudibranchs, harlequin shrimps, and crabs.

Seafan Garden

Seafan Garden takes its nickname from a type of coral that is particularly abundant in the area. Seafan corals have a horny fan-shape appearance and can come in different colours. As with all corals, snorkellers should be careful not to touch or damage the coral and you should definitely not remove any pieces, either living or dead. Various species of fish swim around the corals.

Pakrong Bay

Providing easy access to the stunning reef, Pakrong Bay is another top snorkelling spot in Koh Rok. In addition to the smaller, colourful fish, lucky visitors might see moray eels, sea turtles, and sea snakes. It’s also sometimes possible to see whale sharks and black tip reef sharks in the waters around Koh Rok.

Getting to Koh Rok

There is no public transportation to the islands of Koh Rok. Independent travellers can arrange a private boat transfer from Krabi, Trang, and Phuket, or there are several operators that run snorkelling day trips to Koh Rok.
Day trips may also include some of the Trang Islands or Koh Haa and time for sunbathing and swimming is also often included in the itinerary. Basic accommodations are available close to the ranger station during the high season, with tents the best option for budget explorers.

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