Koh Lanta is as close to a home away from home that I’m likely to get. I first came here eleven years ago and have been back six or seven times since. Although I can’t claim to know the island inside out I’d like to think I’ve accumulated some useful information and great memories over the years.
The closest airport is on the mainland in Krabi (destinations include Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai and Singapore) and from here you need to book a shared aircon minivan from the tour desks in the arrivals hall. Try and ensure that you book yourself on one that goes directly to Koh Lanta, rather than via Krabi Town as you’ll then probably have to change vans and wait around in Krabi. The cost of the 2 – 2 1/2 hour minivan ride should be around 400 baht per person. The journey time has reduced slightly over the years as in the past your minivan would have to board a barge, first from the mainland at Ban Hua Hin to Koh Lanta Noi (north) and then again from Koh Lanta Noi to Koh Lanta Yai (south). The new Siri Lanta Bridge (completed in 2016) now connects Koh Lanta Noi and Yai. Plans have also been passed (completion expected in 2023) to construct a bridge from Ban Hua Hin to Koh Lanta Noi. Whilst this will undoubtably make the transit a lot quicker and smoother it is also likely to increase the number of tourists visiting Koh Lanta quite dramatically.
Koh Lanta may not be the most strikingly beautiful island or the most relaxing and remote but it certainly has many things going for it. First off, it is an excellent base to explore the many Southern Anderman islands. With islands such as Koh Jum, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket all within an easy 2 hour ferry ride to the north and Koh Ngai, Koh Muk, Koh Bulon and Koh Lipe within a 3 hour speedboat ride to the south it’s a great place to start and/or end your trip exploring the region.
Whenever I’ve visited Koh Lanta I’ve always stayed at the southern end of Hat Phra Ae (Long Beach), which is about 6km from the town of Ban Saladan on the northern tip of the island. I like the area. The beach is about 3km long and has a lovely long sandy strip which gets a little rocky as you reach the southern end but it has a fairly peaceful feel to it even during high season. Although there are countless bungalows, varying in quality and price from backpacker places like Hutyee Boat at 500 baht to Layana Resort at 28,700 baht, the beach is wide enough to not feel crowded.
Like most beaches along the west coast of Lanta it’s a great place to enjoy a cocktail or two, whilst watching the sunset, at one of the many beach bars. My favourites have to be Korner Bar and Moonshine at Good Days Resort.
Some of the places that I’ve stayed at over the years:
Good Days Resort – At the northern end of the southern stretch of Long Beach (if that makes sense!) is a large sprawling resort with bungalows varying from simple and cheap concrete fan rooms for 600 baht (low season prices, double for high season), to a large 6 person beach house for 2,300 baht (again double the price for high season). The well established resort is on the beachfront and also has a pool and sun loungers. There are several other bungalow operators and bars close by. Good Days seems to have a slightly bad reputation among online reviewers as well as expats. In my experience the food in the restaurant has never been as good as the numerous others within a 10 minute walk and it’s also more expensive. There is also a slightly unloved or uncared for feel to it. Maybe it’s because they’ve been around for so long that they may have got a little complacent. With a little bit of time and money spent on it it could be great. As it is, it’s a good option for a family or a couple looking to stay in relative comfort on a budget. The independently run Moonshine Bar, run by a lovely Thai lady called Fon, overlooking the beach is the friendliest and most relaxing place to stop for a cocktail. She just so happens to make the best pina coladas in Thailand!
Nautilus Resort – Right at the southern end of Long Beach. The beach here is a little rocky at low tide but its only a 5 minute stroll to the sandier stretch of beach. The small and relaxed resort has 13 fairly large concrete bungalows (all with aircon, fridge and coffee/tea making facilities) with open roof bathrooms, so that you can shower under the stars, set in a horse shoe shape in a lovely garden right next to the beach. The staff are very friendly and helpful and there is a nice little restaurant, bar and massage parlour onsite for those lazy days where you don’t want to move very far! From between 1,200 – 1,400 baht a night during low season these bungalows are a great option but at 3,300 – 4,800 baht during peak season I feel that they’ve been overpriced.
Angel Lanta Bungalow – Set in a pretty garden just behind Nautilus and Mook Lanta the 13 fan and aircon bungalows at Angel Lanta are just a 2 minute walk from the southern end of Long Beach. Although the property is surrounded by other accommodation it is set back from the main road and is therefore pretty peaceful. Sitting in the hammock on the balcony overlooking the garden, listening to the sounds of the wildlife whist reading a book is one of my favourite pastimes here! Although made of wood in a traditional Thai style these bungalows are panelled, rather than woven bamboo, and therefore help to keep out any bugs passing by. There is no bar or restaurant attached to the resort but due to it being only a two minute walk to either the road or the beach and all the different bars and restaurants on offer this isn’t an issue. Who wants to sit at the resort and eat every night anyway? I’d much rather get out and explore all the options available. With aircon and a fridge these bungalows make a great option for a couple wanting a quiet (but not to quiet) stay close to the beach without paying beachfront prices. At 900 baht per night during low season (we added a basic breakfast of toast or croissant with jam and either tea/coffee/juice for 50 baht per person) I feel that this friendly, relaxed place run by Ae is a great option. As with the majority of the bungalow operators you can hire a scooter directly from Ae. Expect to pay 150 baht per day during the low season and 200 – 250 per day in high season depending on the length of time that you hire it for. Bearing in mind that a 1 way moped tuk tuk for 2 people to Saladan will cost you around 150 baht the moped soon pays for itself.
Things to See and Do (in no particular order)
The main thing here is to hire your own transport. Whilst we always use a cheap automatic moped there are a selection of bigger bikes, 4×4’s and bicycles available on the island.
Ban Saladan – At the northern tip of the island is the town known as just Saladan where tourists arrive on boats from Krabi, Phi Phi, Phuket etc etc. It’s fairly tourist orientated and has many clothes shops selling the usual Thai fair, along with bars, restaurants, dive shops, banks and the island’s largest shop/supermarket. It’s an interesting place to have a wander if you need a break from the sun on the beach. Shop here for any Thai souvenirs or rip off clothes as they’re likely to be cheaper than elsewhere on the island. Make sure you stop for a cheap bite to eat at Mama Cooking. It’s a small street food stall with a few tables and chairs for you to eat at. If you’re here in the evening for dinner you could do a lot worse than choose from one of the many seafood restaurants, serving the local catch of the day, sat on a veranda overlooking the sea and Koh Lanta Noi. My favourites would be Lanta Seafood and Star Restaurant.
Ban Si Raya or Lanta Old Town – Situated half way down the east coast of the island is the often ignored but wonderfully charming Lanta Old Town. With a selection of bohemian shops and guesthouses which have been beautifully converted from old stilt houses and shops it offers a calmer, more cultural side to Koh Lanta. Spend an hour or two browsing the shops and stop for a drink or a bite to eat at one the restaurants overhanging the sea, with the views of Koh Por in the distance.
Laem Tanod – Mu Ko Lanta National Park – At the southern tip of the island, after following the road on the west coast, is the beautiful and secluded beach of Laem Tanod. Surrounded by jungle and craggy outcrops, it has great views from the lighthouse on top of the hill across to Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai in the distance. With monkeys patrolling the tree line where the jungle meets the sand and the sound of waves gently breaking on a nearly deserted beach this wild and natural area is a world away from the built up and dusty Saladan! The cost to enter the National Park is a fairly steep 200/100 baht adult/child so plan to stay for a few hours exploring the short walking tracks, taking photos from the lighthouse and relaxing on the stunning beach. At least the national park fees seem to keep visitor numbers to a minimum and a special secluded feel to the place!
Day Trips – From October to April there are two trips that every tour agency on Lanta will be able to offer you. These are the snorkelling tours to Koh Rok and the 4 Islands.
The 4 Islands trip stops at Koh Chueak, Koh Mook (home of the Emerald Cave), Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai. Snorkelling equipment is provided, along with a Thai buffet lunch on Koh Kradan. The beautiful white sand beaches and the good snorkelling stop offs make this a great day out but the highlight of the day is undoubtably the Emerald Cave. From the open sea you swim through a dark and narrow 80m tunnel that opens out into a secret lagoon hidden within the island of Koh Mook. With a beautiful small beach, backed by tropical plants and stunning limestone cliffs soaring high above you on all sides it gives you the feeling of being on a tiny tropical paradise inside the cone of a volcano! Unfortunately the Emerald Cave is no longer the secret pirate hide away it was hundreds of years ago. During peak season it can get ridiculously busy as every tour boat in the area will be stopping to visit.
The Koh Rok day trip is all about the amazing snorkelling and stunning beaches of Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai. Just like the 4 Island tour snorkelling equipment and a Thai buffet lunch are included in the price. There are 3 snorkelling stop offs throughout the day and you see a huge selection of brightly coloured fish as well as both hard and soft coral. I’d put the snorkelling here on a par with trips that I’ve done to the Great Barrier Reef and the Yasawa Islands in Fiji.
Both trips cost around 1,200 – 1,700 baht per person (kids half price) depending on the tour operator and the time of year.
Beaches – If you’ve hired a moped, spend your days slowly exploring the beaches on Koh Lanta’s west coast. There are around ten in total ranging from the longer and more developed stretches of sand in the northern half of the island (Klong Dao, Long Beach and Klong Khong) to the smaller, more secluded bays and beaches of the southern half (Nui Bay, Klong Jark Beach and Bamboo Bay). With a little development, but still feeling peaceful and relaxed, is Kantiang Bay. It is a stunning crescent of golden sand nearly 2km long and home to Lanta’s first luxury resort – Pimalai. There are several other resorts on Kantiang Bay now but it still has a much quieter and secluded feel to it than the beaches in the north.
Beach Party – Although Koh Lanta is a million miles away from the hedonistic party scenes of Koh Phi Phi and Phuket it still has a party scene if you know where to look. Koh Lanta is known for being a family or couples orientated island but there is a party every night of the week during high season. Many bars hold their own special party night once a week on a designated night. For example on Long Beach, Pangea is a chilled out beach bar by day but holds a lively beach party on a Tuesday night. A little further north along the beach, Ozone holds it’s weekly party on a Thursday night. However my favourite bar has to be Korner Bar, situated right at the southern end of Long Beach. During the week it’s great to spend a few relaxing hours drinking delicious cocktails, whist listening to chilled out music and watching the sun set over Phi Phi in the distance. On Saturday nights however the amazingly friendly and welcoming staff of Korner Bar turn it into a progressive house and techno party, with local and guest dj’s from around the world. The music and dancing goes on until about 4am if you’re still able to stand by then!
Time For Lime – This Thai cookery school on Klong Dao beach opened back in 2003 and from the profits the Lanta Animal Welfare Centre was built in 2010. It’s nice to know that a percentage of the money that you spend here is going to a worthy local cause. There are several different menus on offer during the week so if you have the time choose a day where the menu sounds perfect for you. The class starts with a relaxed and friendly introduction into the various flavours and ingredients used in Thai cooking. The cooking presentation is very informative and it’s great fun trying to recreate some of your favourite and also completely new dishes. The best bit obviously is getting to devour everything you’ve made!
There are literally hundreds of different places to eat in Koh Lanta and there is no way that I could try and review them all but the following are some of my favourite places:
Mama Cooking – Saladan street food stall selling cheap and tasty Thai favourites. With a selection of noodle, rice and stir fry dishes for 50 baht per plate or 3 chicken saty skewers with a stunning peanut sauce for 40 baht, along with a range of deep fried chicken, crab, prawn etc on a stick, it’s the perfect place to sample Thai street food at a fraction of the price of food in regular restaurants.
Lanta Seafood – This long standing seafood restaurant with a veranda on stilts looking over the water is consistently one of the best places for BBQ seafood on the island.
May’s Kitchen – On the road at the northern end of the southern section of Long Beach, it’s a restaurant with a very good reputation and is usually pretty busy. May’s serves some delicious Thai food, including one of my favourites crispy pork stir fried with red curry paste. They also serve a mean BBQ – chicken, ribs or prawns served with a jacket potato and culslaw, for anyone looking for an alternative to the Thai food. There is also a nice lively bar area for pre or post meal drinks that most places do not have.
Fisherman’s House – My current favourite, this is a beautifully decorated, quaint Thai restaurant on the road just north of the 7-Eleven at the southern end of Long Beach. This small husband and wife run restaurant serves excellent fresh and fragrant Thai favourites. The Larb Gai (Thai chicken salad) and Yam Nuea (Thai beef salad) along with the curries are among the best I’ve ever taste.
Kantiang Bay View Resort – The food here is good, although like most ‘resorts’ is a little bit more expensive than other restaurants. However, for me, it’s all about enjoying good food whilst looking out over the stunning Kantiang Bay.
As you can see from this fairly lengthy blog Koh Lanta has many things to offer and much more. Add to that the many friendly local Thai’s and return travellers who I have met over the years and I hope you can understand why I seem to keep heading back to this wonderful place!