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