Set in the Andaman Sea, the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand, is beautiful yet hardly developed. Hordes of island-bound tourists seem to skip over Koh Lanta on their way to neighboring Phuket or Koh Phi Phi and miss out on one of Thailand's best island destinations.
Once exclusively the secret love of backpackers in the 1980s, Koh Lanta only obtained reliable electricity in 1996. Today you'll find fast Wi-Fi and ATMs, however, development has largely been kept under control since the 2004 tsunami.
Koh Lanta actually refers to an archipelago of around 52 islands in Krabi province, however, most of the islands are undeveloped or exist as marine refuges. Tourism is pretty much limited to only the west coast of Koh Lanta Yai which at 18 miles long is the largest island.
Koh Lanta is just one of many great islands in Thailand to visit.
Koh Lanta Orientation
Boats arrive in Ban Saladan, the largest town on the northern tip of the island, but most tourists immediately head south to the beaches. Life becomes more isolated and quiet the farther south you move down the coast. Small bungalow operations in the southern part of Koh Lanta have lots of character and privacy, however, the shore is rockier and the swimming isn't as nice.
The east coast of Koh Lanta is nearly undeveloped save for an Old Town and a small sea gypsy village that you can visit. One main road runs 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 scattered around the west side of Koh Lanta, some with little to no development. Here are the three most popular choices:
- 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. 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 in Long Beach. 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. You won't find a convenient ATM or 7-Eleven on Long Beach, but you will enjoy some of the best swimming in Thailand.
- Klong Khong: South of Long Beach is Klong Khong. While the swimming isn't as nice as Long Beach, the small bungalow operations are quiet and friendly -- the perfect place to escape from other tourists for a while.
Koh Lanta Bungalows
Regardless of what beach you end up visiting on Koh Lanta, fortunately you will not find high-rise hotels. Even upscale resorts are usually a cluster of bungalows set around a pool or nice landscaping.
Koh Lanta has both rustic bamboo bungalows with mosquito nets and 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 often come with free, fast Wi-Fi.
Getting Around Koh Lanta
Sidecar motorcycle taxis will move you up and down the main road for around US $2 each way. If you're comfortable with doing so, rent a motorbike (US $10 high season / US $5 low season) to explore the island. Getting lost on the few roads is nearly impossible and the drive along the undeveloped east side of the island is both scenic and thrilling.
Getting to Koh Lanta, Thailand
Koh Lanta lacks an airport, however, two daily boats connect the island with the mainland at Krabi between November and April. Daily ferries also run between Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Ao Nang. During the low season you can still access the island via minivan and two car ferry hops.
- See detailed instructions for how to get to Koh Lanta.
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 and many businesses on the island close until the season begins again in November.
Regardless, you can still make your way to Koh Lanta via minivan and two car ferries.
Visiting Koh Lanta during the low season can be rewarding despite having limited options for eating and sleeping. You'll practically have beaches to yourself and will find great discounts for accommodation.
- Read more about Koh Lanta weather and what to expect from the seasons.
Koh Lanta Sea Gypsies
Koh Lanta is home to an ethnic group known as the Chao Ley or sea gypsies. The seafaring Chao Ley were the first settlers on the island over 500 years ago, but because they had no written language little is known about their origins.
With a motorbike, you can visit Sang Ga U -- the sea gypsy village -- in the southeast part of Koh Lanta. You can buy jewelery and handmade goods there, but remember that the people have largely been oppressed by other ethnic groups and are not a tourist attraction!