Deciding how to get to Koh Lanta largely depends on where you originate and whether you prioritize time, comfort, or budget the most.
For the size and location, Koh Lanta pleasantly remains one of Thailand's most serene and gently developed islands—surprising, given the close proximity to Phuket, one of the country's most popular holiday islands.
Thailand's tourism infrastructure chugs along well enough, and Koh Lanta is a popular destination between November and April. There are several easy options for reaching the island.
Getting to Koh Lanta
Getting to Koh Lanta became a little easier in April 2016 when the long-awaited bridge to connect Lanta Yai and Lanta Noi was finally finished. One of the two ferries crossings required to reach the island was eliminated, saving time in the queue and long delays during bad weather that slams the island part of the year. The remaining ferry crossing provides a welcome bit of resistance to hopefully slow those who want to overdevelop Koh Lanta at the cost of its charm.
The quickest and perhaps most expensive way to get to Koh Lanta is to take a boat from Chao Fa Pier in Krabi Town. Due to low volume after peak season, the boat from Krabi stops service to Koh Lanta around the end of April. During this time, you'll have to take a minivan and cross via ferry.
The cheapest way to reach Koh Lanta, and often the only way during the "off" season from May to October, is by taking a minivan that drops you at whichever beach or accommodation that you request. The minivan will take a ferry from the mainland to Koh Lanta Noi, then use the new bridge to cross onto Koh Lanta Yai (the most developed of the two). The ferry ride is short; it's up to you whether or not you want to get out of the van while on the ferry.
Although the distance isn't very far, your minivan will make several stops to pick up and drop off passengers. Inevitably, not all parties are ready; the delays accumulate and add time to the trip. Before getting started, you'll have to wait at the main travel office as passengers are consolidated. Although the distance isn't far, the entire journey can take around 3-4 hours, depending on the efficiency of the agency.
Occasionally, strong storms will shut down the ferry from the mainland, causing a backlog of traffic to the island. Inclement weather is more of a problem between June and August, then again during September and October.
You can arrange passage to Koh Lanta through travel offices or at the reception desk in your accommodation. For a small commission, they will package the connections and ferry/boat tickets into a single combination ticket to Koh Lanta that gets you all the way to your hotel on the island. You won't really save much at all by trying to make all the connections yourself. In this instance, it's better to let someone organize the trip.
If you fly into Krabi's small-but-busy airport, several transportation companies will sell you a packaged ticket (minivan or chartered car) directly to Koh Lanta. Just approach one of the counters in the arrivals area.
From Bangkok to Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta is a full day's (or an overnight) journey from Bangkok either by bus or rail. If you only have a few days away from Bangkok, consider going to one of the beaches close to Bangkok or another pleasant destination near Bangkok. Better to save Koh Lanta for when you have more time.
By Bus: Although not the most enjoyable option, taking a night bus from Bangkok to Koh Lanta is the cheapest. Full passage to the island can be booked on Khao San Road in Bangkok for around 750 baht. Agencies are able to offer such cheap tickets because they pool travelers together and consolidate. Your bus will take the long way south, passing through the town of Surat Thani to drop some passengers who are bound for the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, or Koh Tao. Expect your Redbull-fueled driver to make only one or two quick stops along the 12- or 14-hour journey; there is a tiny squat toilet on board.
By Train: The night train makes many stops along the way, but at least you get your own sleeping space—albeit cramped—with privacy curtain and the ability to walk around. Trains are obviously a more social choice, and you can stretch when needed. One of the conductors should wake you when the train arrives in Trang, the closest station to Koh Lanta. The boat from Trang to Koh Lanta arrives in Old Town on the less developed east coast in the southern part of Koh Lanta. You'll need to grab a taxi from Old Town to the other side of the island to your accommodation.
Alternatively, some travel companies may arrange for you to take the train to Surat Thani, depart there, then cross the narrow part of Thailand by minibus to Krabi Town. If you've got the time and money, in Thailand there is always a way.
By Plane: Koh Lanta doesn't have an airport; that's a good thing. You must fly into either Krabi Town (airport code: KBV), Trang (airport code: TST), or Phuket (airport code: HKT). Air Asia and Nok Air typically have very reasonable fares from Bangkok to Krabi. Express transfer services directly to Koh Lanta are available during all seasons from the airports in Phuket and Krabi.
From Krabi to Koh Lanta
Boats run from Chao Fa Pier in Krabi Town twice daily (times vary, but usually morning and early afternoon). If traveling during the low season or if you miss the boat and do not wish to stay in Krabi, you'll have to ask in a travel agency about taking the minivan to the island via ferry.
The minivan driver will do his best to bring you directly to your accommodation. It's a good idea to have the name of a place or beach in mind ahead of time. If you aren't sure, give the name of the beach where you want to stay then you can walk from there to look for accommodation. Asking the driver for a recommendation will often result in being taken to an isolated place where he receives a commission.
If you are let out at the pier, you can catch a 60-baht motorcycle-sidecar taxi from the town of Ban Saladan (northern end of the island) to other places. Again, don't ask the driver for a hotel recommendation! In a pinch, ask for the "Funky Fish"—that will put you in the middle of Long Beach, a popular beach with a wide variety of accommodation options.
If arriving in Krabi Airport, you can approach one of the several travel counters to book passage directly from the airport to your hotel on the island. The most basic of shared-transportation options costs around US $12.
From Phuket to Koh Lanta
During high season ferries leave Ratchada Pier on Phuket at 8 a.m. The routes are not always direct; you may need to change boats at the pier on Koh Phi Phi.
A more luxurious-yet-expensive option is to grab a speedboat from Phuket to Koh Lanta. Speedboats take around 1.5 hours.
Making Your Own Way to Koh Lanta
As always, you can forgo help from travel agents and figure out how to get to Koh Lanta yourself. Unfortunately, doing so won't save much money, if any at all. What's worse is that poor timing could cause you to miss the last boat or ferry, resulting in an overnight stay in Krabi Town. You'll have to continue your journey to the island the following day.
In Bangkok, take a taxi to the South Bus Terminal (around 100 baht) and purchase a ticket to Krabi Town. The ticket sellers all speak English and can help you find the right ticket window. There are five daily buses from Bangkok to Krabi; the last overnight bus departs at 8:40 p.m. and arrives in Krabi at 7:50 a.m.
Your night bus will arrive in the bus station outside of Krabi Town. From there you have two options: either book a minivan and ferry ticket together that will take you overland onto Koh Lanta (around three hours), or catch one of the many small trucks or taxis into Krabi Town to Chao Fa Pier. Once at the pier, you can book a boat ticket to Ban Saladan—the main town and pier in the north of the island.