Two years ago we found the perfect balance on Koh Lanta—a Thai island that wasn’t too developed or crowded but had enough facilities for us to live comfortably. On our latest visit to Thailand we couldn’t resist returning to the island we’d loved so much, but we knew there was a danger that it wouldn’t be the same.
Thankfully Koh Lanta hasn’t changed much. There are a few new restaurants and hotels but development happens at a leisurely pace here and it has retained its laid-back atmosphere. There are still the long empty beaches, jungle covered mountains, and spectacular sunsets that we fell in love with.
We eased right back in to life here—mornings working, afternoons in the pool, and days off to explore the island. I returned to my happy place, riding down to the undeveloped south of the island on the back of our scooter, the cooling breeze in our faces, the jungle on one side and the sea on the other.
Koh Lanta Video
Take a video tour of some of Koh Lanta’s highlights to see why we love it. Featuring the national park, many beaches, Khlong Dao Monday market, and a boat trip to Koh Rok.
Things to Do on Koh Lanta
Our biggest recommendation is still to hire a scooter and head off to the southern end of the island where you’ll find a string of quiet beaches and the beautiful national park (200 baht entrance fee), and over to the eastern side to the stilted village of Old Town. See the first part of our Koh Lanta guide for more details of the beaches you can visit.
Learn to Ride a Scooter
Simon usually drives us in Thailand but this time I learned to drive an automatic scooter, something I’d been scared of for years. It’s actually really easy and as traffic is minimal on Koh Lanta (especially the further south you get) it’s a great place to learn.
Accidents are relatively common amongst inexperienced foreigners though so do be careful. I practiced for three 20 minute sessions around the quiet roads of our villa complex before heading out on the main road. Simon showed me what to do and made me practice emergency stops and various manoeuvres. If you drive slowly and carefully and wear a helmet you should be fine. It didn’t take long until I felt confident and really enjoyed scooting around.
Scooters can be rented for 250 baht ($7.66) a day or negotiate for longer stays—we paid 5000 baht ($153) for six weeks. You can rent them from many hotels, shops and restaurants. They don’t ask to see a licence and you can leave a passport or driving licence as a deposit.
Oasis Yoga is the perfect yoga studio. Classes take place in a stilted wooden treehouse in a lush tropical garden with the sea in front and the jungle covered mountains behind. The sounds of the waves, chirping birds, and rustling bamboo helped calm my mind and hold the most difficult poses, and I always came away ultra relaxed.
Farra and Kate opened the studio in 2013 and it’s the only proper yoga studio on Koh Lanta (you can find classes at hotels around the island). Farra is originally from Oklahoma and has a wonderful soothing voice and positive attitude. She’s down to earth and encouraging, giving you the option of more challenging poses but reminding you to listen to your body and takes breaks if you need to.
There are usually a couple of classes a day, more in the high season. Sunset Stretch is a gentle hatha class suitable for beginners; the Flow class is more energetic but Farra gives options for different ability levels; Mona’s power yoga class is a definite challenge but fun; and her Yin class is very gentle with deep stretches that you hold for 3-5 minutes—it’s as much about calming the mind and being still as it is about stretching. It was my first Yin class and I found it really helped my hips which were stiff from running.
The only downside is that as the classes are so good they are really popular, and in the high season you’ll need to reserve your place in advance (I didn’t need to in April).
Oasis Yoga is the best place I’ve practiced yoga. I went to a class almost every day for a month and suffered serious withdrawal when they closed. I highly recommend it whether you are completely new to yoga or an experienced yogi.
Classes cost 400 baht ($12) or there are various passes available. The studio is closed in May and June 2014 and reopens in July. See the Oasis Yoga website for the latest schedule.
Koh Rok Boat Trip
There are some gorgeous islands close to Koh Lanta and we definitely recommend taking a boat trip to explore some of them. Last time we did the Four Islands tour with Freedom Adventures and on this visit we went with them again on a trip to Koh Rok. Freedom Adventures don’t offer group trips to Koh Rok so we had to charter the entire boat but as there were six of us this worked out to be only slightly more expensive than taking one of the group speedboat trips. When we got to Koh Rok and saw how crowded the speedboats were, even at the end of the season, we were happy with our decision as we had plenty of space to spread out and we got to visit quieter spots.
The Koh Rok trips focus on snorkelling as it’s known to have some of the best snorkelling in the area. It took us about two hours to get to Koh Rok but as we had plenty of space to relax, either undercover or on the sunny roof deck, this wasn’t a problem. During the day we had plenty of time at three different snorkelling spots, lunch onboard the boat, and time to relax on a private beach away from the other tour groups.
It was a true beach paradise with soft white sand and crystal clear turquoise water. You can do camping trips to Koh Rok and it would be amazing to have this undeveloped island to yourself. The snorkelling was decent, but as you’d expect not as good as the dive trip we did from Koh Lanta. We still enjoyed exploring the underwater world and saw plenty of life including titan triggerfish, moorish idols, false clownfish, and parrotfish.
If you only have time for one boat trip I’d choose the Four Island trip to see the stunning Emerald Cave, but Koh Rok is also worth it. We recommend Freedom Adventures as we like the space on their bigger boat (and it has a toilet), they provide snorkelling equipment, kayaks, lots of fresh fruit throughout the day, and all food and soft drinks are included. Our only issue on this trip was that considering half of us were vegetarian or vegan there wasn’t quite enough vegetarian food.
See the Freedom Adventures website for more details on their trips.
Get a Massage
We aren’t massage fans so we didn’t get one on Koh Lanta but if you are then you’ll want to take advantage of Thailand’s excellent value massages. Our friends Jenny and Tom recommend Serenity Spa in the main village Saladaan. It’s not the cheapest place but it has a pleasant ambience and after your treatment they provide tea and fruit for you to enjoy on their deck overlooking the sea.
Where to Eat on Koh Lanta
Last time we visited we were a bit disappointed by the food on Koh Lanta compared to Chiang Mai, but thankfully that changed on this visit and we found some fantastic places to eat. We revisited our old favourites Drunken Sailors (Thai and Western) and Red Snapper (creative fusion tapas) which are still wonderful—see our previous guide for more details.
These are the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants we found. All are on the road on the western side of the island.
Kwan’s Cookery, Khlong Khong
Everything we ate at Kwan’s was wonderful and we returned many times to this friendly family-run restaurant. It’s fantastic for vegetarians as everything on the menu is available vegetarian (with or without tofu) and the dishes are packed with fresh veggies. You can customise the spice level from 1 to 5. Level 3 is a nicely spicy but if you want some real heat go higher.
Kwan’s is run by a Thai/Swiss couple who are very welcoming and happy to answer questions and explain dishes. They used to run a restaurant in Chiang Mai so they make northern Thai dishes like my favourite curry noodle soup khao soi that you won’t find elsewhere on Koh Lanta. They often have unusual specials using interesting herbs and spices that are always worth trying, and sometimes they’ll provide a free appetiser or dessert.
You can’t go wrong here but we particularly enjoyed the khao soi, Thai spicy salad with glass noodles, and the massaman curry which Simon ordered on almost every visit and declared the best massaman he’s eaten in Thailand.
Kwan also runs a cookery school where you can learn to make anything from the menu. You pay for the cost of the dish plus 300 baht for the tuition so if you only want to make a few dishes this works out great value compared to other courses. We didn’t take a class but I’m sure cooking with Kwan would be lots of fun.
Kwan’s stay open in the low season.
May’s Kitchen, Long Beach
When we weren’t at Kwan’s we were at May’s, another friendly restaurant with consistently good food. There aren’t many vegetarian dishes on the menu but they understand the concept and are happy to do vegetarian versions of everything so just ask. We loved the fried yellow curry with vegetables and the pad thai with penang curry. Our friends raved about the Thai grilled beef salad and they even asked for a vegan version made with mushrooms which they said was also fantastic.
Irie, Long Beach
At the north end of Long Beach, Irie is a good option for vegetarians as everything can be made with tofu and they have some creative vegan salads like banana flower, wing bean, and cashew. We also liked their western salad with sunflower seeds and feta, and their tasty spicy potato wedges.
Pizzeria Italia, Khlong Dao
If you are craving pizza then Pizzeria Italia is a good option with Italian-style thin crust pizzas.
Two Scoops Gelato & Desserts, Khlong Dao
Tasty creamy gelato in interesting flavours and delicious cakes. They change daily but we loved the banoffee pie, red velvet cake, and apple crumble—I’m a huge crumble fan and was amazed to find it so well done in Thailand. The owner is really friendly, and they have air conditioning so it’s a great place to cool off. They are closed in the low season.
Shanti Shanti, Khlong Nin
A cute French cafe with good coffee, crepes (the caramelised apple and cinnamon was so good) and homemade ice creams including interesting flavours like chai.
Where to Stay on Koh Lanta
We usually stay in the Malee Seaview villa complex at the quiet southern end of Long Beach. See our last guide for details of the apartments and villas we stayed in. On this visit we returned to our old favourites and also stayed at the ultra modern F5 pool villa—see our review and video tour here.
How to Get to Koh Lanta
Most people arrive in Koh Lanta from Krabi on the mainland which you can reach by bus or plane (see AirAsia for cheap flights from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and Tiger Air from Singapore). From Krabi you can take the ferry or minibus (350 baht) to Koh Lanta. We usually get the minibus as they run throughout the day and drop you off at your hotel.
You can also travel to/from Koh Lanta by ferry to other islands in the Andaman Sea. We took the ferry from Langkawi, Malaysia to Koh Lipe, Thailand (2 hours, 135 MYR/ $42), spent the night there (although it is possible to continue on), and then took the Tigerline ferry from Koh Lipe to Koh Lanta (5 hours, 1530 baht/ $47) which was an easy and comfortable, if expensive way to travel.
Koh Lanta was just as wonderful on our second visit and we know we won’t be able to resist returning next time we’re in Asia. If you are looking for a relaxing Thai island away from the party scene but not too remote then we highly recommend Koh Lanta.
For more information about Koh Lanta see part one of our Koh Lanta Guide.
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Thanks to Farra and Kate at Oasis Yoga who provided me with a complimentary yoga pass. I truly loved their classes and if they had been open in May would have without a doubt bought another pass.
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