Set in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand, the island of Koh Lanta is idyllic.
In addition to offering great beaches, it's pleasantly less developed than one would expect for an island so easy to reach from the mainland. Unlike nearby Phuket, you won't find any signs for familiar fast-food or coffee chains on Koh Lanta.
Once exclusively the secret love of backpackers in the 80s and 90s, Koh Lanta only obtained reliable electricity in 1996.
Today, you'll find decent Wi-Fi and ATMs, however, development has largely been kept under control since the 2004 tsunami. Malls and high-rise hotels aren't a thing on Koh Lanta.
Of all the beautiful islands in Thailand, each with their own personalities and draws, Koh Lanta finds favor among a diverse range of travelers. The sizable island seems to have a way of pleasing backpackers, couples, families, and expats all at the same time.
Getting to Koh Lanta, Thailand
Koh Lanta lacks an airport, but that's a good thing. The most economical and "usual" way to get to Koh Lanta is by minivan from Krabi. These run daily no matter the season.
You can book connections directly to your choice of hotel from Krabi Airport (airport code: KBV) after arrival. Your minivan will take a ferry to Koh Lanta Noi, then cross the new bridge to Koh Lanta Yai. Time from Krabi Airport to Koh Lanta should be around four hours, but it always manages to take longer.
Daily boats connect the island with the mainland at Krabi during high season between November and April. Daily ferries also run between Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Ao Nang.
Koh Lanta Orientation
Koh Lanta is actually the name of the district. It refers to an archipelago of around 52 islands in Krabi Province spread over 131 square miles.
Most of the islands are undeveloped or exist as marine refuges in the national park.
When travelers say "Koh Lanta," they are nearly always referring to the 18-mile-long Koh Lanta Yai, largest and most populated of the three major islands. Tourism is mostly focused along the west coast that faces Koh Phi Phi island.
Boats arrive in Ban Saladan, the largest town, located on the northern tip of the island. Most tourists immediately head south to the various beaches. The island becomes quieter the farther south you move down the coast.
Small bungalow operations set in bays along the southern part of Koh Lanta have lots of character and charm, however, the shore is rockier and the swimming isn't as nice.
The east coast of Koh Lanta is far less developed save for Lanta Old Town (usually just called "Old Town") in the south. One main road runs along the entire west coast and two interior roads offer shortcuts to the east side of the island.
Koh Lanta Beaches
There are plenty of beaches spread along the west side of Koh Lanta, but many are plagued with sharp volcanic rocks only visible during low tide. They can take away some of the joy of swimming. Long Beach offers some of the best, safest swimming on the island.
- Klong Dao: Klong Dao is the busiest beach on Koh Lanta. The close proximity to Ban Saladan provides a wider range of places to eat, and three 7-Eleven minimarts with ATMs are within easy walking distance. Better for families, Klong Dao has a long stretch of sand with shallow water. Amenities abound. Most accommodation in Klong Dao caters to midrange and higher budget travelers.
- Long Beach: Officially known as Phra Ae, Long Beach is the next major beach south of Klong Dao. Backpackers and budget travelers prefer the quieter atmosphere and cheaper accommodation along the northern part of Long Beach. The southern half of Long Beach is home to several resorts. Just as the name implies, Long Beach has the longest stretch of clean sand on the island and slopes gently into deep water with little surf. The swimming is excellent.
- Klong Khong: South of Long Beach is Klong Khong, the rockiest beach on the island. Klong Khong makes up for the poor swimming in other ways. Charming cafes, good places to eat, and cute bungalows help.
- Klong Nin: Below Klong Khong is Klong Nin, a beautiful beach strip with some decent swimming between sections of rocks. The pristine sand attracted a concentration of three-star resorts. Eateries and such are more spread out in this section.
- Kantiang Bay: At only a kilometer long, Kantiang Bay in the south has only a handful of options, but it's easily one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.
Places to Stay
Regardless of which beach you choose on Koh Lanta, fortunately you will not find high-rise hotels towering to obnoxious heights. Even upscale resorts are usually a cluster of bungalows or a villa-shape property set around a pool and nice landscaping.
Koh Lanta still has some rustic bamboo bungalows with mosquito nets as well as modern, concrete bungalows with TV and air conditioning. Most places will offer you a better price — provided that you negotiate — if you agree to stay at least a week or more.
Even the simplest of bungalows usually have Wi-Fi, but speed varies. If working online is a necessary consideration, consider visiting one of Koh Lanta's two co-working spaces with high-speed access.
Tip: Photos on booking sites are most often taken at high tide when water hides rocks. People who book online without due research sometimes end up disappointed to find out that the beach in front of the resort is too rocky for swimming. They have to drive to another beach to swim.
Getting Around Koh Lanta
Sidecar motorcycle taxis will move you up and down the main road for around US $2 – 3 each way.
If you're comfortable with doing so, rent a motorbike (US $10 high season / US $5 low season) to explore the island on two wheels. Getting lost on the few roads is nearly impossible, and driving along the coast is scenic and thrilling.
Tip: Koh Lanta is serene, however, driving on the main road is a different story. It stays relatively hectic, and sizable potholes are a persistent hazard for people on scooters.
When to Go
Rain or no rain, the regular boat service from Krabi to Koh Lanta shuts down around the end of April each year. Many businesses on the island begin to close up in late May. They reopen when the season begins again in November.
Visiting Koh Lanta during the low season between June and November is still possible, however, you'll have far fewer options. Rain isn't the only problem. Storms batter the west side of the island, making a mess of the beaches and actually destroying bamboo huts.
Koh Lanta Old Town
The only major draw on the east side of the island is Lanta Old Town; there aren't any decent beaches nearby.
Old Town is home to Koh Lanta's hospital and post office, but more interestingly, it offers an interesting sight away from the usual beach scene. The handful of shops, galleries, and restaurants can be enjoyed on an easy afternoon as a respite after too much sun.
Old Town is also the base for an ethnic group known as the Chao Ley, often called "sea gypsies." The seafaring Chao Ley were the first settlers on the island over 500 years ago. Because they had no written language, little is known about their origins. Today, they mostly work as fishermen and live in stilted houses along the coast. The Chao Ley have their own language, customs, and religious ceremonies.