Koh Lanta Travel Guide

Travel Thailand with a Relaxing Beach Holiday



Emerald Island in Krabi Province

Nestled comfortably in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Southern Thailand, Koh Lanta has transformed from what was once a niche backpacker’s haven to a laid-back island destination that is blossoming at an ever so slow pace. Its exclusion from the “primary tropical hotspots” list has allowed the island to develop at a sustainable pace, and the island is somewhat conservative compared to other islands scattered off the coasts of Thailand. Tourists seeking a quiet island escape now join the island community tapestry alongside local fishermen, Chinese immigrants, and the nomadic sea gypsies.

Part of Krabi province, Koh Lanta comprises several islands, the two largest of which are Koh Lanta Noi and Koh Lanta Yai, the latter of which where the majority of the tourist development is centered. The local economy has grown up around the fishing and agriculture industries, with tourism being relatively new on the scene.

The sunset as viewed from your seaside accommodations on the beach

Laid Back and Low Key

Koh Lanta is celebrated as one of Thailand’s most exotic locations, and its remote location, charming beaches and balmy climate have helped cement its reputation as site of stunning natural beauty. The island’s east coast is strewn with small riverine inlets and thick mangrove forests, while the hilly south is blanketed by verdant forests. With shores fringed by long sandy crescents and a vibrant Old Town, Koh Lanta is nothing short of a picture perfect holiday destination.

The island’s low-key reputation means that it is more of a family destination than a party den, especially when compared to more vibrant neighbors such as Koh Phi Phi – (think: more babies, less party-fuel buckets). That's not to say the island is a sleepy backwater – plenty of options exist for visitors that want to let their hair down, or older couples looking for an extended evening in town.

As word of Koh Lanta’s natural beauty spreads, the island has seen substantial development in recent years, with slightly more upmarket resorts now peppered along the coast, and sitting comfortably alongside budget bamboo shacks. Despite this, and perhaps thanks to the multi-leg journey required to get there, the island still retains its rustic tropical charm.

On Koh Lanta Yai, accommodations your sure to enjoy


Exploring Old Town and Local Islands

While the majority of Koh Lanta’s population is comprised of Muslims, the archipelago is a true melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese and sea gypsies. Visitors interested in immersing themselves in the local culture always enjoy the chance to learn more about the lifestyle of the Chao-Le (sea gypsy), which has remained unaffected by the island’s ballooning tourism industry. The Chao-Le have occupied the area for hundreds of years, inhabiting stilt-built houses peppered along the coast of the island. Lanta Old Town, a small village on the eastern side of Koh Lanta Yai, is home to an ancient sea-gypsy community. The town is widely acknowledged as the most culturally diverse spot on Koh Lanta, and once upon a time provided a safe harbour traders criss-crossing the seas between Phuket, Penang and Singapore. Nowadays, Old Lanta Town is also a good base for travellers interested in exploring the nearby islands of Koh Babu, Koh Talenbeng and Koh Por.

Stilted house in Old Lanta town

Ecosystem and Caves

Visitors that want to get away from the beach for the day may also enjoy a trip to the island’s Koh Mai Kaew caves. Positioned at the centre of Koh Lanta Yai, the caves provide visitors the chance to explore a hidden network of rocks and caverns that house some dramatic stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors that opt to explore the caves, one of which contains a pool, will need to hire their own guide. It is also possible to take an elephant ride near the caves for a cost of THB600 (~US$19) per person.

Nature lovers often gravitate to Koh Lanta’s Orchid Nursery Farm to marvel at the stunning shapes and colours of the island’s flowers. Situated on Long Beach (Pra Ae Beach), the farm is easily accessible by bicycle or motorbike and only costs THB30 (~US$0.95) to get in. Visitors can also book onto a mangrove tour to explore the lush ecosystem in a long tail boat.

Diving

The main activities on offer in Koh Lanta revolve around the splendid natural scenery of the islands, both on and off shore.

While Koh Lanta may not have established a name for itself as a diving destination to the extent that nearby islands like Koh Phi Phi have, there is no doubt that the rich marine life in the waters surrounding the island are worth exploring. Colorful reefs lie directly off some of Koh Lanta’s beaches, and dive trips will also transport divers to many other islands in the archipelago to explore Thailand’s underwater treasures.

Beaches

Many visitors flock to Koh Lanta in search of perfect Thai beaches. The 3km stretch of fine white sand known as Khlong Dao is perhaps the most popular beache on the island, but because of its large size, it never seems quite busy. Khlong Dao is home to multiple restaurants, bars and accommodation choices. Crescent-shaped Phrae Ae Beach is situated on the northern shore of Koh Lanta, and is also home to many accommodation choices, while Khlong Khlong is popular with visitors who want to catch stunning views of the sunset.

A Koh Lanta beach sunset

Boating

Visitors with some cash to splash may enjoy exploring the web of islands surrounding Koh Lanta by chartering a sail boat or motor yacht. It is also possible to organize traditional boat tours and fishing trips through Boat Charter Thailand. It is also possible to hire out one of the longtail boats commonly used by locals as a means of transportation for private charters, beach camping or fishing trips. Eco-conscious travellers may prefer to explore the hidden gems of Koh Lanta’s archipelago by kayak, whether you are planning on a leisurely kayak down the beach or booking onto an organized trip. Kayaking tours will give visitors a particularly interesting perspective of the mangroves on Koh Lanta’s east coast, and a guide will help visitors get the most out of a trip. Full-day tours usually cost in the region of THB1,200 (~US$38) per person.

Trekking

Treks across Koh Lanta allow visitors to explore the Tiger Temple Caves, hot springs and Tham Maikaeo (Maikeao Cave), in addition to other refreshing natural pools in the jungle. There are many different trekking tours that will provide visitors with an experienced guide to help them find their way though Koh Lanta’s lush jungle. It is often possible to add elephant trekking to foot treks for an additional fee.

A peaceful elephant trek through the lush island interior


Where to Shop

Travellers that have visited Koh Lanta will agree that the principal charm of the island lies in the natural beauty of its picturesque coastline, mangrove forests, and lush jungle scenery. Koh Lanta’s unspoilt vibe also means that it is certainly not known as a shopper’s paradise. Ban Saladan in the north of the island is the best place on the island if you find yourself in need of basic supplies or souvenirs. The village comprises a mini concentration of shops, banks, dive schools, travel agencies, tailor shops and massage parlors.

With only one road leading into the town, it is very easy to find your way around. Upon entering the village, turn left or right at the end of the main road to find a smattering of shops and restaurants that have been constructed on stilts over the sea. In the evening, Ban Saladan is also home to a small night market which provides a great opportunity for tourists to pick up paintings, clothes and handicrafts as holiday souvenirs. Bartering is expected, so don’t be afraid to haggle over the price once the vendor has made their opening offer. Just remember to keep smiling.

Handicrafts, Souvenirs & Creative

Aside from the shops in Ban Saladan, there is a sprinkling of other shops on Koh Lanta Yai. Situated in Kantiang Bay, Drunken Tailors offers an eclectic range of men’s and women’s clothing, and is a great spot to pick up ladies’ evening wear, or a hand-made souvenir to take back home. Located on the same strip, A Little Handmade Shop is an ideal destination if you are looking to kit our your home with some unique handmade decorations. Customers can also browse the boutique’s interesting collection of clothes, toys, ceramics and jewelry.

For a more unconventional souvenir, head to the Hammock House in Lanta Old Town, where you can find a range of unique hammocks hand woven in Thailand by the Mlarbi tribe. Lanta Leather features a gallery with kaleidoscopic collection of signed original watercolors and colorful batik goods for sale, from wall paintings to prayer flags. The old town is small enough to easily cover on foot, so take some time strolling around the quaint center.

Hand woven hammocks are a must have for a Thai beach holiday


Beach Style Dinning

Koh Lanta is home to a plentiful selection of restaurants thanks to the growth of the archipelago’s tourism industry in recent years. Local Thai restaurants selling the tradition spicy cuisine of Southern Thailand abound, alongside pizzerias, bistros and seafood restaurants situated in the islands’ main beach areas. Southern Thai cuisine is influenced heavily by Indian and Malay cuisine, and visitors should make time to sample the local Indian-style massaman curry, khanom jeen (rice noodles drenched in fish curry sauce) and chicken biryani.

Like other destinations in Krabi province, Koh Lanta is famed for its selection of seafood. The beach areas in Koh Lanta are a great place to go if you are craving a seafood feast; a good place to start is in Old Town. Many of the restaurants along the beach display “catch of the day signs”, that often feature delicacies including crabs and langoustines, shellfish, giant oysters, squid, lobster and many other kinds of ocean bounty. The vast majority of other eateries are also peppered in front of Koh Lanta’s beachside bungalows.

Baan Lanta Bay View Restaurant in Kantiang Bay is famous for its mouth-watering seafood barbecue, where diners chow down on freshly caught tiger prawns, squid and snappers cooked in any style they like. The Time for Lime restaurant and bar is also popular with visitors, and has its own cooking school attached where visitors can learn the secret to preparing delectable Thai cuisine.

The ubiquitous Rotee in Thailand but they do vary and they are very good on Lanta

Fine Dinning and Nightlife

Due to Koh Lanta’s largely conservative vibe, the nightlife is more low key than other island destinations in the Andaman Sea. However, there are a range of opportunities for visitors to entertain themselves at the local bars, singing karaoke or going to see a local Muay Thai (Thai boxing) match.

The atmosphere in Saladan is fairly lively from around 7 p.m. onwards, as many people head to the area after the sunset to enjoy the selection of restaurants. A small number of restaurants and bars are sprinkled across Koh Lanta, and if you ask around it is usually possible to find out if there are any special events going on that evening.

If you are in the mood for a little live music performed by locals, Irie Bar, situated near northern Phrae Ae Beach, is the place to go. For a classier evening, the Layana Resort and Spa Tides Restaurant provides a chic environment in which guests can relax with a cocktail while enjoying exquisite ocean views.

Khanom Jeen, a popular rice noodle dish


Around the Island

When it comes to exploring the island, which is approximately 30 kilometers long, many visitors choose to follow the example of the locals and hire a motorbike to get around. Motorbikes can be rented from several places across the island for approximatelyTHB200 (~US$7) per day. While a network of roads do traverse the island, many of the routes are little more than dirt paths, so if you have rented a motorbike, make sure to wear a helmet, long trousers and proper shoes (no flip flops!) especially during rainy season.

If you do not feel comfortable riding a motorbike yourself, there are plenty of motorbike taxis on the island that are happy to take you where you want to go for a relatively small fare. For example, a typical fare from Saladan pier to nearby Klong Dao Beach is around THB40 (~US$1.30), although it is always best to negotiate your fare with the driver before setting off.

If you prefer to stay well away from two-wheeled means of transportation, it is also possible to hire a jeep for around THB1,200 (US$38) per day. Hiring a jeep can be particularly fun during the rainy season when many of the island’s roads disintegrate into little more than mud grooves in the land.

Boat

Ferry services to Koh Lanta run from Krabi, Ao Nang and Phuket, tickets for which can be booked online. The ferries often make a stop at Koh Phi Phi on the way; however, if you are travelling to Koh Lanta during peak season it is often possible to get a direct ferry.

During high season, the calmer waters also allow for additional connections including from other islands in the region, albeit some indirect and taking many hours, including from Malaysia's Langkawi.


Getting In and Out

Air

Many visitors begin with a flight to Krabi, Trang or Phuket, as Koh Lanta does not have its own airport. If flying directly from abroad, Phuket is probably the most convenient as it is served by a higher number of international flights. If arriving from another domestic destination, Krabi would be the closest.

Air Asia offers an inclusive flight+van+ferry ticket (flying into Krabi from Bangkok), while Nok Air offers the same, but from Trang airport.

From Krabi Airport

If arriving independently at Krabi Airport, transfers can be booked at arrivals. Alternately, this can be pre-arranged by contacting your Koh Lanta accommodation provider, which will shave some time off as you needn't make a pit stop in Krabi Town.

In a nutshell, from the airport visitors would have to make their way to the pier, approximately an hour away. During high season (November to April), there is a passenger speedboat option that drops passengers off at Saladan pier on Koh Lanta some 15 minutes later. During other months, or if coming with a car or motorcycle, there is also a ferry service which takes approximately two hours. The car ferry consists of two legs – with a stop at Koh Lanta Noi.

From the airport, you can also take a private “taxi” all the way your hotel on Koh Lanta (via the car ferry), which will set you back in the region of THB2,500 (~US$80) per car.

Upon arrival at Koh Lanta, it is likely that if you have booked your accommodation in advance the resort will send a large pickup truck to collect you from the pier and take you to your hotel or bungalow.

Train

For travelers conscious of their carbon footprint, a train and boat journey to Koh Lanta may be preferable. The nearest train station to Koh Lanta is located in Trang province, just south of Krabi. Trang train station is served by fairly regular services to and from Bangkok, which is about 12 hours from the capital. The overnight sleeper train makes a number of stops along the journey, but offers travelers their own comfortable sleeping space before they complete the last leg of the journey by van and boat.


"A True Oasis! Spent 3 weeks in Koh Lanta enjoying the beaches, diving and hiking. I can't recommend this enough, laid back local and first rate beaches made for a trip I hope to take again next winter."

Elias, St, Paul, MN