NEHA PATNAIK / THAILAND, TRAVEL GUIDES / UPDATED DECEMBER 2019
Looking for a tropical island paradise within a reasonable budget ? Look no further than Koh Lanta. Beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets and minimal crowds make this old world Thai island an absolute winner. In this Koh Lanta travel guide, i will cover all the information you need to know to plan a visit. Keep reading to plan your dream island holiday.
This blog is an expression of my love for travelling and writing.This post is not sponsored in any way. All opinions and recommendations are my own.
First of all let me state it at the outset : if you love party crowds and commercial tourism steer clear of this place. But if you are done with the partying and want to explore an idyllic relaxing island getaway, keep reading.
I first stumbled across Koh Lanta while planning our Thai island hopping trip. Most of the people i knew had visited Phuket, krabi or Koh samui and i had Zero first hand knowledge about the place. So i started researching in earnest and got to read a ton of glowing reviews about the island. Which meant that i had to include it in our itinerary!
One of our top travel tips for Thailand is to find places far from the crowds and Koh Lanta is one such place. We absolutely fell in love with the island and it has become our favourite Thai island till date!
Watching the spectacular sunsets in Koh Lanta has been one our travel highlights along with watching the sunrise at Angkor wat, Cruising through Halong Bay and experiencing the incredible landscapes of Iceland.
THE KOH LANTA TRAVEL GUIDE
ALL THE ESSENTIALS
WHY KOH LANTA?
Thailand abounds with islands and it can get very difficult to choose from them. The overall image of the Thai islands is one of booming tourist destinations like Phuket or Samui, filled with pretty beaches and crowds.
To experience the Maldives or Fiji like environment in these places is only by booking a luxury resort with its own private beaches AKA burning a big hole in your wallet! What if I say that you can experience beautiful beaches without crowds and more importantly without spending a bomb…Amazing right!
Koh Lanta is that place (or that island). If you want a feel of an old world Thai island, this is the place. If you want to know how Phuket or Phi Phi might have been 25 years back before “Leonardo” and before the masses descended on them, Lanta is the place to get your answer.
Koh Lanta is basically a Muslim fishing island, still relatively untouched by the trappings of commercial tourism. The island boasts of a long coastline with some of the most gorgeous sunsets in Thailand. There are many mid range resorts where you can relax right on the beach, without crowds or noise to spoil your mood. Also, a number of beach shacks are lined up serving mouth watering sea food barbeque and local Thai dishes.
We reached Lanta after checking out the crazy tourist scene and parties in Phuket and Phi Phi (I will be writing a detailed island hopping guide and itinerary later so wait for that!) I had deliberately planned the itinerary like this to regain our senses in Lanta. In short, the perfect place to recover from your Thai adventures and feel rejuvenated.
Another big reason to visit Lanta is to take a day trip to the nearby Trang Islands. Lonely Planet’s biggest recommendation for Thailand is this group of islands, which boasts of sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and Zero crowds.
WHEN TO GO:
There are 2 seasons: a Dry season/ also the High season (Nov-April) and a Wet/Green season (May-Dec). While the dry season is the time to visit for obvious reasons, many people now choose to visit during the wet season when prices fall, tourists decrease and the island becomes quiet.
The wet season experiences a couple hours of afternoon showers so it’s not really a problem. But do keep in mind that most establishments on the island will be closed, diving activities may be hampered and ferry transfer will be lesser than usual.
We visited during the peakest of peak seasons, during New years and still found the crowds minimal !
HOW TO REACH:
Once you have decided to go, you need to sort your transport arrangements. And depending on where you are coming from, these are your options.
- Public ferry rides (approx 3 hours/Run only during Oct-May/ includes a stop at Phi phi island
- Private Speed Boats via travel agencies(very expensive)
- Public Minibus (4-5 hours/ via Krabi)
- Private Minivan/Taxi (4 hours/ via Krabi)
- Public ferry rides(approx 3 hours/Run only during Oct-May)
- Private Speed Boats via travel agencies(very expensive)
- Private Minivan/Taxi (2 hours)
- Public Minibus (3 hours)
FROM PHI PHI
- Public ferry rides (approx 1.5 hours)
- Private Speed Boats
Koh Lanta comprises of 2 islands, Lanta Yai and Lanta Noi. While Lanta Yai is the main Island, Lanta Noi is smaller and home to mangrove forests. The main island is flat. It is 25 km long and 3 km wide. It is very easy to rent a bike or hire a car and travel across the entire length.
The port of entry is Ban Saladan, located at the northwestern end and the village has markets, shops and a medical centre. From here, begins the long coastline which includes at least 7 beaches. All the beaches are situated along the West coast, facing the Andaman sea.
The northern beaches include Khlong Dao, Long beach/phrae Ae beach and Khlong Khlong beach. Khlong Nin beach is located kind of mid way. And then, there is Kantiang Bay in the south. As you journey towards the south, the scenery changes and the terrain becomes hilly, the vegetation lush and green making for a scenic drive.
While the beaches in the North are more family friendly, the ones in the south are rocky with cliffs, desolate with dramatic views. And at the southernmost end lies the Mooh Koh Lanta National park.
A lush mountainous range separates the two coasts. While the west coast is filled with beaches, the east coast is home to mangrove forests. The east coast is also home to the charming Lanta Old Town (Sri Lanta), which was the original village and town centre before the development of Saladan as the port of entry.
POINT TO NOTE: There is some development activity going on which you will come across while traveling from Saladan pier to your chosen beach. But don’t be put off. Your beach destination will not be like that !
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BEACH
Before choosing your accomodation, it is very important to decide which beach to choose as your base. All the beaches have their own character, with pros and cons and you need to choose one based on your requirements, travel style ad preferences. I have compiled a list of points that can help you out in this.
- Ferry entry point
- Lots of shops, markets and restaurants
- No beach of its own, though the nearest one is not too far
- Not very pretty
KHLONG DAO BEACH
- Closest to the pier with access to shops and eating places
- Family friendly with lots of hotels and resorts
- Long stretch of sandy beach without rocky bottom, thus making it swim friendly for children
- Highest concentration of tourists on the island with mostly the package tourist crowd
PHRAE AE/LONG BEACH
- Balanced beach with a good mix of resorts and budget options
- Lively ambience for the younger crowd
- Long, sandy beach for swimming
- Tends to get crowded though its possible to find lonely stretches
KHLONG KHLONG BEACH
- Backpacker friendly with a chilled out vibe
- Party beach with beach bars
- Lot of budget accomodation options available
- Rocky ocean floor making swimming possible only at high tide
KHLONG NIN BEACH
- Individual ambience with a relaxed and laid back vibe
- Mostly mid range beach front options
- Most beautiful sunsets on the island with viewing bars
- Cluster of beach shacks
- Swim friendly though some stretches may have rocks
- Natural forest rolling down onto the beach
- Dramatic, rugged and attractive backdrop
- Isolated which is both a pro as well as a con
- Not too many accommodation options especially budget ones
- Few shops and restaurants
LANTA OLD TOWN
- Located across the island on the east coast
- Original, Historical town centre
- Plenty of shops and restaurants
- No beaches
As for us, we choose Khlong Nin beach primarily for 2 reasons:
- Spectacular Sunsets
- Presence of lively beach shacks.
After selecting the beach, we scanned tripadvisor and decided on Lanta Ilmare Beach Resort. This little resort is situated right on the beach with a private stretch of sand. The pretty grounds, wonderful staff and facilities won my heart. And the best part: it is very reasonably priced at 60-80 USD/night.
NOTE: These islands are part of Hat Chao Mai National Park and the park fees are 400 THB/adult and 200 THB/child. You may be asked to pay the fees at any of the islands. But, sometimes nobody collects the fees. We didn’t have to pay the park fees as no one was there to collect.
THINGS TO DO
1. GO BEACH HOPPING
Rent a bike or hire a taxi and hit all the beaches along the west coast. Each beach has it’s own charm. So swim at Long beach, have a few hippie shakes at Khlong Khlong beach (especially at the” infamous” mushroom bar) and experience the rugged wild attraction of Kantiag Bay.
2. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE TRANG ISLANDS
This group of undiscovered islands is one of the reasons you should visit Koh Lanta in the first place. The main islands are Koh Ngai, Koh Kradan and Koh Mook with a number of smaller islets. Sandy white beaches, pristine emerald waters and no one in sight: Heaven!
Hire a longtail boat or choose one of the many group tours (longtail/speedboat; popularly called as 4 island tour) to check out the main islands. Most tours include lunch at Koh Ngai (the largest island of these) along with snorkeling at a few specific sites. Trust me, these are some of the best sights in Thailand!
If this place sounds interesting, we have written a separate post on The Trang Islands for you to check out!
3. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO KOH ROK
This is one of the best snorkeling sites in Thailand with beautiful corals and an abundance of marine life. Super fine coral sand and monitor lizards will await you on the island. Longtail or speed boat tours are available from Lanta but there are no public ferries to Koh Rok. Camping tours are also available.
NOTE: There are no tours/ camps during May-November due to rains.y season.
4. HAVE A DIVE
Koh Lanta boasts of two of the best dive sites in Thailand: Hin Muang and Hin Daeng and these sites are suitable both for beginners as well as experienced divers. If you are lucky, you will get to see Manta Rays and whale sharks. There are plenty of dive shops that you can choose from. Most day trips do 2 dives a day(3 on request). You can choose a comfortable slow boat (2 hours to the site) or a speedboat (45 mins).
KNOW YOUR DIVE SEASON
Oct-Nov: Experience empty dive sites as the tourist season has just begun but there may be some showers.
Dec-Jan: Peak season. So, book your trips in advance.
Feb-may: Best time for a dive as the weather is good, sea is flat and dive conditions perfect. In April, the tourist season slows down with quieter dive sites with May being almost empty.
June-Sep: Unpredictable weather because of which most dive shops avoid tours
5. WATCH BEAUTIFUL SUNSETS AT KHLONG NIN
This was our reason for choosing Khlong Nin beach as our base and the serene spectacular sunsets made us forget everything. Watched the changing colors and fiddled around with the cam during Golden Hour! There are sunset viewing bars. So hop onto one and sip a cocktail or just sit on the sand and watch your worries float away.
6. CHECK OUT LANTA OLD TOWN
Get a taste of traditional island life and check out the Sea Gypsy village with their stilt houses. Also, choose a local sea food restaurant for a delicious lunch.
CULTURAL MELTING POT:
Lanta Old Town is one of the region’s most culturally diverse villages with Chinese merchants, original Thai fishing families and an ancient Sea Gypsy community. Many years ago, Koh Lanta’s Old Town acted as the port and commercial center for the island and provided a safe harbor for Arabic and Chinese trading vessels sailing between the larger ports of Phuket, Penang and Singapore. While the Sea Gypsies (Chao Lay) were amongst the earliest settlers in the Eastern coast, the Thai muslims migrated from Malaysia.
7. MOO KOH LANTA NATIONAL PARK
This large nature reserve in the Southern tip of the island is a mix of jungles, hills and beaches with plenty of hiking trails as well as an old lighthouse with an amaZing view of the blue waters surrounding the island.
There is also the Khlong Jark waterfall (waterfall bay) but check it out only if there has been rainfall.
8. KAYAKING AROUND KOH TALABENG
If you cant dive, Kayak! This small island lies near Lanta Noi (the small uninhabited one) home to mangrove forests and rocks. A number of companies offer kayaking tours, with some rock climbing ones as well.
9. TAKE A COOKING/YOGA CLASS
Plenty of options for enthusiasts. I am not even an amateur cook and had no interest in contorting my body on a holiday so did not try these activities!
10. EAT, DRINK, GET MASSAGES AND RELAX
Check out a different beach shack each night and sample the local fare. We gorged on all varieties of seafood, barbeques and all the must have Thai dishes till our seams burst and drunk Mai Tai till we puked. Got daily massages and fell asleep listening to the waves and relaxed like anything!
Even though we are back, we still have not gotten over Lanta and we will definitely be going back again some day. I hope that this Koh Lanta travel guide inspired you to plan a trip to the island. It is a beautiful place and deserves to be visited at least once. Do go before it gets inundated with tourists.