If you’re looking for an escape from the Las Vegas lifestyle of Patong or the spring break atmosphere of Koh Phi Phi then you might want to spend some time on Koh Lanta, a family-friendly island escape 90 minutes south of Krabi by boat (several hours from Phuket). Sedate and still largely undeveloped, Koh Lanta is the place to become one with a hammock and watch the world go by.
Koh Lanta is a fairly large island, covered with lush green rainforests and dotted with traditional villages. The island is long and narrow, some 26kms long but only 6kms wide at its widest point. Boats from the mainland dock at the pier at Ban Saladan at the northern tip of Koh Lanta. This is the largest village on the island and the location of most of the restaurants and shops. The interior of the island consists of lush green fields and forests punctuated by small villages. The locals of Koh Lanta are extremely friendly and these villages are a great way to experience ‘real’ Thailand.
On the west coast of the island you will find Koh Lanta’s nine beaches; long stretches of golden sand perfect for strolling or horseback riding. The northern beaches (Kaw Kwang, Klong Dao, Phra Ae/Long Beach) tend to be longer and wider and more suited to swimming while those in the middle (Klong Kong and Klong Nin) and at the southern end of the island (Kantiang Bay, Klong Jak, Ao Nui and Bamboo Bay) are rockier and more rugged.
Take your time before choosing your accommodation on Koh Lanta; there are plenty of resorts and almost all of them are set right on the beach. With the laid back atmosphere of the island, chances are you’ll be spending most of your time at your resort so make sure it’s one you’re happy with. Koh Lanta resorts run the gamut from rustic bungalows with little more than four walls, a fan and a bed, all the way up to five star resorts with gorgeous suites, fine dining and full spa facilities. Take a stroll down the west coast and you’re sure to find something to suit your taste and budget.
Dining and shopping spots on Koh Lanta are fairly simple and basic. All resorts will have their own restaurant and there are a number of other places serving Thai and international cuisine, particularly along the road that runs parallel to the beaches. The island’s main village, Ban Saladan, is located at the northern end of the island. This is probably the first place you will see on Koh Lanta, as it is the landing point for almost all of the ferry boats to the island.
This small village is where you’ll find the biggest concentration of eateries on the island. Ban Saladan has several restaurants built right out over the water. The seafood at these places is excellent and the ambience is hard to beat. Ban Saladan also has a few shops selling souvenirs and there is a regular afternoon market.
Koh Lanta has plenty to offer in the way of activities, both on land and in the inviting waters of the Andaman Sea. Try renting a car or a motorbike and exploring the forests, caves and waterfalls of the island. The Tiger Cave, in particular is a popular place to visit. Nature lovers will also be delighted by the gorgeous national park located at the southern end of the island.
Horseback riding is another favourite activity and there are several places offering horse rentals and guides for the various trails. An elephant camp is located near the park, a place where you can get up close and personal with the majestic creatures and even ride one into the forest.
Many of the most unforgettable activities on Koh Lanta take place on or under the water. There are several smaller islands located not too far from Koh Lanta and there are plenty of boats to take you out on a tour. The Koh Rok islands have exceptional snorkelling and gorgeous beaches while the ‘four island tour’ which covers Koh Muk, Koh Ngai, Koh Waen and Koh Cheuak, is another great way to spend a day.
Diving and snorkelling opportunities are excellent on Koh Lanta and some of the best diving in Thailand is right at hand. Hin Deng and Hin Muang (Red Rock and Purple Rock, respectively) are fantastic dive sites located very close to Koh Lanta, while big animal enthusiasts should definitely visit Koh Ha, which has a large number of whale shark sightings. Most resorts will be able to set up dive trips to accommodate your taste and ability level.
Getting to Koh Lanta
To get to Koh Lanta from Phuket your best option is to get to Phi Phi first. Daily ferries travel between Koh Lanta and Phi Phi. The journey from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes and costs 300 baht per person for a one way ticket, with departures at 08:30 and 13:00. Ferries in the opposite direction leave at 08:00 and 13:00. From Phuket you can get the 08:30 ferry to Phi Phi and arrive in time to catch the 13:00 ferry to Koh Lanta.
There is also a 10:30 ferry from the terminal in Krabi (not Ao Nang), while the same service leaves Koh Lanta at 08:30. Another option is to hire a car or bike in Phuket and drive down the coast and hop over to the island via to two short pontoons that traverse to the narrow straits regularly. The entire journey will take about four to five hours.
Koh Lanta is a perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy peace and quiet amid picture postcard scenery. One day or overnight trips don’t do justice to this lovely island; if you plan to visit, give yourself a couple of days to relax and truly appreciate it.