As much as we loved our time on the quiet Thai islands of Koh Mak and Koh Jum we needed a more developed island to base ourselves to work for a month. Somewhere with good WiFi, a comfortable apartment to rent, and a variety of vegetarian eating options. The problem is we didn’t want too developed – we like our beaches quiet and our islands laid back – so Phuket and Koh Samui didn’t sound like our kind of places. Luckily on Koh Lanta we found the perfect balance.
On Koh Lanta there are plenty of things to do, places to eat and a variety of accommodation options but it’s all quite spread out and doesn’t feel overcrowded. There are no Western chains or highrises, and there are many empty beaches. We loved the jungle covered mountains of the interior and the long golden beaches along the west coast. WiFi is common and we found some great apartments and villas that made comfortable home bases.
These are our tips for Koh Lanta.
Things To Do on Koh Lanta
Hire a Moped
We do love zipping around on a moped and Koh Lanta is a great place for it. It’s quite a large island (27 km long) so having your own transport makes it easy to explore. The roads are paved (with a few bumpy patches further south), there is no traffic, and it’s hard to get lost when there’s only one road that goes around the island and a couple that cut across it.
It costs around 250 baht ($8) a day to hire an automatic scooter, although we negotiated cheaper rates for longer stays. Many restaurants, hotels and travel agents rent them out so they are easy to find. They don’t ask for a licence or deposit but we did leave a copy of our passport.
There are a couple of petrol stations near the north of the island in Klong Dao and Saladaan and these have the cheapest rates so stock up here when you can. Elsewhere on the island you’ll find informal petrol stations by the side of the road where petrol is stored in whisky bottles at 40 baht ($1.30) each.
If you rent a moped you’ll be able to explore many of our suggestions below but it’s also just fun to drive around enjoying the views and stopping off at quiet beaches.
If you don’t want to hire a motorbike you could rent a bicycle or the local taxi – a tuktuk with a sidecar attached to a motorbike.
Koh Lanta’s beaches get quieter the further south you go along the west coast. Our favourites are at the very south – Kantiang Bay, Waterfall Bay (Ao Klong Jark) and Bamboo Bay (Ao Mai Pai). You can combine a trip to Waterfall Bay with a hike to the nearby waterfall.
For another beautiful empty beach keep driving even further south until you reach the end of the road at Koh Lanta’s National Park. There’s a 100 baht ($3.20) [Update May 2014: 200 baht] entrance fee but you can then hike trails, visit the lighthouse and relax on the beach.
Just watch out for the monkeys though – Simon got attacked by one which was trying to get into our bag in search of food. And please don’t feed the monkeys and encourage this kind of behaviour. If you do get scratched or bitten by a monkey (or dog) you’ll need to get a rabies vaccination straight away and then four more at intervals over the following month.
The west coast is where all the beaches are but we also enjoyed visiting the untouristy east coast over the lush green mountains. It’s quiet and peaceful here with a few small settlements of simple bamboo huts and the historic Old Town – a village of teak stilted houses overlooking the sea. There are only a few shops and restaurants so it won’t take long to explore but it makes a good break from the beaches.
Four Islands Boat Tour
One of our favourite activities on Koh Lanta was taking a day trip to visit the Trang Islands with Freedom Adventures. We spent the day snorkelling, kayaking and island hopping around the gorgeous limestone islands.
The highlight of the day was definitely visiting the Emerald Cave. Swimming through the cave the water really did glow emerald green before it became pitch black. When we reached the other end of the cave we emerged into the sunlight to find a hidden white sandy beach surrounded by limestone cliffs. We’ve never visited anywhere like it.
There are many boat trips to choose from but Freedom Adventures stood out because although their boat was large and comfortable (with a toilet), they limit groups to 10 people (there were only 4 of us) and they also bring kayaks which none of the other operators do. Our guide Ned was friendly and helpful and we had a hot Thai lunch cooked aboard the boat.
A full day boat trip with Freedom Adventures costs 1500 baht ($48) per person including pick up/drop off from your hotel, lunch, fruit, water, soft drinks, kayaks, snorkelling gear and national marine park fees.
Although Koh Lanta isn’t as well known a diving destination at Koh Phi Phi or Koh Tao it has some of the best dive sites in Thailand, and made the perfect place for us to get back underwater after four years without diving.
After our brief refresher course we did two dives at Koh Haa. The visibility was an incredible 30 metres and we were able to fully appreciate the thousands of colourful fish and vibrant corals. A highlight was swimming up through a narrow cavern known as The Chimney. It’s really a magical world underwater and we’d definitely recommend giving scuba diving a try.
Read more about our dive trip with Scubafish here.
Watch the Sunset
We saw some truly spectacular sunsets on Koh Lanta and made sunset walks along the beach a daily routine. Our favourite spot was Long Beach.
We didn’t take a cooking course on Koh Lanta as we’d already done one in Chiang Mai but we would definitely recommend you take a class at some point during your trip to Thailand. It’s a great opportunity to spend the day eating (a lot!) and learn more about Thai food.
Time For Lime are recommended on the island for their cooking classes and you can read more about it here from our friends Dani and Jess, the Globetrotter Girls: Koh Lanta cooking class.
Where To Eat on Koh Lanta
Honestly, after coming from the foodie paradise Chiang Mai we were disappointed with the food on Koh Lanta at first. The problem may have been that we are vegetarian and the island is nowhere near as vegetarian-friendly as Chiang Mai so often our only option was a rather bland vegetable stirfry or fried rice. We were also there in the low season and many of the places that were recommended to us were closed.
We did manage to find some good food on Koh Lanta though and these are our top picks.
Update May 2014: We’ve now found some great vegetarian-friendly restaurants on Koh Lanta. Read our updated Koh Lanta guide for more details. We still love the restaurants below.
Drunken Sailors, Kantiang Bay
We love Drunken Sailors and it’s one of those rare finds that manages to do both excellent Western and Thai food. The tom yum vegetable noodle soup, vegetable samosas, veggie burger, and passionfruit shakes are all delicious. We particularly appreciated that they don’t tone the spice down for tourists (although you can ask them to if you want), and that you can order everything vegetarian or vegan. All the Thai dishes are packed full of veggies and you can choose to add meat as an optional extra.
The service is great, the atmosphere relaxed with hammock chairs and beanbags, and there’s WiFi and books to browse or exchange.
Red Snapper, Long Beach
Red Snapper serves tasty fusion tapas in a lovely garden setting. They are one of the few restaurants we found that had a good vegetarian selection and we enjoyed everything we tried from the creative menu including cheese and jalapeño croquettes; roast vegetables in a sundried tomato sauce; chickpea, jalapeño and orange salad; and the tasty bread with garlic butter and olives.
Faim de Loup French Bakery, Long Beach
This is the place to go for bread and baked goods. We were regulars here for their wholemeal loaf and you can even put in an order and pick it up fresh from the oven the next day.
As we stayed in apartments and villas on Koh Lanta we always had access to a kitchen and made the most of it. For Western food (like cheese, muesli and pasta) we shopped at Lanta Mart in Saladaan, but everything else we bought from a large greengrocers in Saladaan – they have a big selection of vegetables, fruit, fresh noodles, tofu and rice.
There are also evening markets on various days around the island where you can pick up fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s in Saladaan on Saturdays, in Old Town on Sundays, and in Klong Dao on Mondays.
Where To Stay on Koh Lanta
We didn’t stay in budget accommodation on Koh Lanta as there are some great deals at nicer places in the low season.
The west coast is lined with beaches and this is where you are likely to stay. We liked Long Beach (Pra Ae) which isn’t as developed as Klong Dao further north but still has plenty of choice of hotels and restaurants. As the beach is 4km long everything is spread out and it’s easy to find a long stretch of sand to yourself. We stayed at the southern end which is particularly quiet.
On Long Beach we stayed in a few different places in the Malee Seaview residential complex where all the apartments and villas are no more than a few minutes walk from the beach (on the beach side of the road).
- An apartment at Sai Naam where you have access to the gorgeous pool straight from your balcony.
- A villa with Lanta Hideaways who have 45 villas to choose from.
- A stunning beachfront villa with private infinity pool and cinema room.
For an even quieter beach, although about 30 minutes drive from most of the shops and restaurants, we love Kantiang Bay. It’s very relaxed here and we had an amazing view from our villa at Baan KanTiang See. Read our full review and take a video tour here: Baan KanTiang See villa review.
To find cheaper accommodation on Koh Lanta, search on Booking.com, which has bungalows from just $6 a night!
How To Get to Koh Lanta
First get to Krabi which you can reach by overnight bus or short flight from Bangkok. From Krabi there are morning ferries or minibuses throughout the day to Koh Lanta. Both take about 2-3 hours. The minibuses drop you off at your hotel so they are convenient but cramped and hot if you sit at the back (the A/C didn’t reach us very well).
We’d also recommend a visit to the neighbouring, quiet island of Koh Jum which is an hour away on the ferry to Krabi.
When To Visit Koh Lanta
The high season on Koh Lanta is from November to April and this is when the weather is driest and most people visit. The rainy season (or green season as it’s known here) is from May to October and isn’t a bad time to visit as it’s very quiet and hotels reduce their rates by 50% or more.
We visited in April – May and although the weather was better in April it didn’t rain that much in May. Rain showers usually happened at night and although some days were cloudy there were plenty of gorgeous sunny days. You can get some amazing deals at this time of year so we do recommend it.
Koh Lanta Guide Update
We returned to Koh Lanta in April-May 2014, two years after we wrote this guide. We still love the island and the advice above holds true. Read about even more things to do and eat in our Koh Lanta guide update, which features the wonderful Oasis Yoga studio, a snorkelling trip to Koh Rok with Freedom Adventures, and a video of all our highlights.
If you are travelling to Koh Lanta on a budget you can track your expenses with our iOS app Trail Wallet which has helped thousands of travellers stay on budget.
Have you been to Koh Lanta? Or found your own perfect Thai island? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.