When we speak of Koh Lanta, we are actually referring to an archipelago made up of 52 islands. Some of the islands are small and uninhabited, and some have only one, or very few accommodation options for tourists. (The word Lanta is believed to derive from the Thai words ‘koh lan daa’ or ‘island of a million eyes’.)
The main islands are Koh Lanta Yai (big island) and Koh Lanta Noi (small island) which are connected to each other by a bridge. To travel to the mainland, you will have to get a 20-minute car ferry.
Koh Lanta Yai is where the majority of tourism is based and of which the majority of this guide is written about. Koh Lanta Noi is a land forgotten by tourists, with rubber plantations, palm trees, deserted castaway beaches and local Muslim fishing villages. Exploring the empty roads by motorbike (some of which are being overtaken by vegetation!) we didn’t spot one Western restaurant or hotel along the way.
Although we would recommend that you base yourself in Koh Lanta Yai for convenience, the smaller island is wonderful to explore and will give you a totally different impression to Southern Thai life.
Koh Lanta as a whole is a predominantly Muslim island where you’ll hear the melancholy call to prayer whilst lying on your sun-lounger on the beach. The faith seems to be followed in a laid-back manner here in Lanta (‘Thai-style’ Islam) and you do not have to cover up or refrain from drinking alcohol. However, we do suggest you don’t ride around topless on your scooter!
This guide will concentrate on Koh Lanta Yai.
Places to stay in Koh Lanta:
Koh Lanta Yai itself is also split in terms of tourism, with the West coast being where you will find most of the hotels, Italian restaurants, pubs, an Irish bar and yes, even Full Moon and ‘mushroom parties’. The Western side of the island definitely has the beach beaches and is where most backpackers decide to stay. As you drive further south from the northern-most tip of Saladan, where the pier is located, the density of touristy shops and restaurants thins and becomes decidedly more ‘hippie’ until you reach the national park at the southern tip of the island.
The eastern side of the island, due to the fact that its coastline is mostly covered in dense mangrove forests, has been blessed in the way that it has managed to retain a very local way of life. Apart from the gentrified Lanta Old Town and a few rustic and/or high-end resorts, there is little tourism on this side of the island, and, if you’re willing to drive 20 minutes to a sandy beach on the other side of the island, is a great place to stay in our opinion. Here’s a lowdown on Lanta’s accommodation hotspots:
WEST COAST (From north to south):
Saladan: The northern port area of ‘Saladan’ is the most densely packed with shops and restaurants catering to tourists. There are a few quirky coffee shops and interesting looking hostels, such as the arty ‘Peacock Hostel’ offering dorm beds at 200 THB / night.
Khlong Dao: A 3km stretch of sand that’s the busiest beach on the island. A huge selection of bars, hotels and resorts, although for backpackers, accommodation does tend to be on the pricier side, so budget conscious backpackers better look elsewhere.
Long Beach: True to its name Long Beach (Phrae Ae) is the longest beach on the island and is said to have the best swimming opportunities, with no coral or stones underfoot and few urchins. There are many backpacker hostels and cheap restaurants around the popular hostel ‘Funky Fish’. Ask the minivan to drop you off here and hunt around for the best price.
Khlong Khong: Just south of Long Beach you’ll find Klong Khong, another 2-3km sweeping sandy beach with much more backpacker friendly accommodation. This is the place for late night beach parties and candlelit evening beers. (There’s also a very good massage place called Scorpion Massage right on the beach!)
Khlong Nin: Halfway down the island, you’ll find the lovely bay of Khlong Nin which has a few bars, restaurants and hotels. (A must try is Yang Garden Restaurant, which although does not serve Thai delicacies, would be an excellent Western restaurant in any European city.) The beach is beautiful and the sea is calm for swimming. There are a few Reggae bars dotted around which tend to attract the backpackers. I wonder why?
Kantiang Bay: An absolutely gorgeous beach with cliffs and jungle all around, Kantiang Bay is a lovely place to stay that has accommodation to suit all budgets, from small family-run guesthouses to more expensive flashy resorts.
Nui, Waterfall & Bamboo Bay: These are Koh Lanta’s most undeveloped beaches where you’ll find some quirky accommodation and a few local restaurants.
Lanta Old Town: In the centre of the east coast, Lanta Old Town was originally a Chinese local fishing village that’s developed a lively tourism scene over the past 10 years. With wooden houses on stilts going out into the sea, the old town is charming, picturesque and an alternative scene to the West coast. We recommend Sweet Life Community Guesthouse ran by the lovely Mon and Maayan.
If you’re looking for something a bit fancy, try the Other Side Villas, or at least stop by for their fish and prawn tacos whilst exploring the East coast! And for lunch, stop by and have a delicious street food meal at the little stall next to 7-11 in Old Town. For 50 THB, try the tom-yum fried rice or basil fried rice – you won’t regret it!
Things to do in Koh Lanta:
Hire a scooter – Hiring a motorbike on Koh Lanta will cost you around 200 THB / day and can be easily done at any of the beaches on the West coast or in Lanta Old Town. For getting around the island (it’s a pretty big place) and to experience the most of the activities below, we’d highly recommend getting yourself some wheels! (First – get insured here!)
Koh Mu Lanta National Park – At the southern tip of the island lies Koh Mu Lanta National Park which is home to a lighthouse, a gorgeous sandy beach, an hour-long jungle trek and lots of pesky monkeys (don’t take any food with you into the park)! Like all Thai national parks, entry is 200 THB and you can spend all day there if you like, there’s a bathroom and a canteen where you can grab lunch. When swimming, watch out for jellyfish as there are a few warning signs around.
Lanta Animal Welfare – If you love animals you’ll love this opportunity to volunteer with Koh Lanta’s dogs and cats. Volunteers receive free accommodation at beautiful Long Beach. Check out our article to find out more – Volunteering with Lanta Animal Welfare in Koh Lanta, Thailand.
Trash Hero Lanta – Every Sunday, Trash Hero Lanta head to Long Beach to clean up the plastic waste and other garbage. If you want to join them, all you have to do is meet them in Long Beach Car Park at 4pm on Sunday. Check out their Facebook page here.
The Four Island Tour – This tour is the most popular boat trip for travellers to Koh Lanta and from what we’ve heard it’s well worth it! The tour is organised by the many travel agencies on the island and companies vary only slightly in what they offer day-trippers. In general, you’ll get to visit Koh Kradan, Koh Ma, Koh Chuek and Koh Mook. Many people say that the visit to the Emerald Cave on Koh Cheuk is the highlight of the whole trip as you get to swim through aan underwater tunnel of 80 metres and emerge into an incredible secret lagoon with a sandy beach and cliffs all around. Not to be missed! (Buffet lunch included).
Take a Cooking Class – There are many cooking classes on the island, the most famous being Time for Lime and Cooking with Mon. We can personally recommend ‘Cooking with Mon’ in Lanta Old Town where you’ll learn to cook three dishes over a period of 4-5 hours. Mon is great fun and he’ll teach you how to do everything from scratch, like making your own Penang curry paste or making your own spring rolls. It’s little wonder why he hasn’t yet been given a review on Trip Advisor that isn’t 5 stars!
Go Diving – There are many reputable dive schools on Koh Lanta with which you can take a day’s ‘fun dive’ or get certified with a three-day course where you’ll learn to dive up to 18 metres. The seas around Koh Lanta are clean and beautiful with plenty of underwater life and the diving is less crowded than on the more popular island of Koh Tao.
Yoga – There are many great yoga options on the island, most of which are located on the East coast. Try Sanctuary Yoga on the southern end of Long Beach, Oasis Yoga at Khlong Dao or Relax Bay Yoga, Long Beach. Daily classes or longer retreats are available. There’s also a weekly ‘drumming circle’ every Wednesday at Fusion Bar on Relax Bay Beach for the hippies! 😉
Muay Thai – For those of you wanting to get into shape, Koh Lanta has a few Muay Thai options such as Lanta Muay Thai Academy located on Long Beach.
Kayaking the mangroves of the East coast – The eastern coast of the island is clad with thick mangrove forests which are teeming with birdlife and sea creatures. You can hire a kayak for 500 THB for three hours to explore the coastline and waterways by yourself, or you can take a kayak trip with a tour company who will show you around the secret spots.
Mangrove walk – If you don’t fancy taking to the ocean, there’s a cool walkway on the north eastern side of the island, near a sign that says ‘Farm Crab’ which takes you through the mangroves and out to a view point.
Hike to the waterfall and cave – On the western side of the island, ride your scooter towards the south of the island up to Nui Bay. You’ll see a sign for elephant trekking and a smaller sign saying ‘waterfall’. Ride your bike up the dirt track and pay 20 THB to park it, before following a trail through the jungle along a river to the waterfall. In rainy season the falls is a delight and you can take an invigorating shower or have a refreshing dip in the pool below the falls. However, you may be disappointed during the dry months (Nov-Feb) to find nothing but a trickle. On the way there (or back) don’t miss the interesting cave which is slowly being consumed by the roots of an enormous tree. Inside you’ll find squeaking bats!
Khao Mai Kaew Cave Tour – Located in the centre of the island, this guided cave tour will set you back 300 THB. Although you may roll your eyes at the hiked up price for the compulsory guide, you really do need one! To get to the cave, you walk through the jungle for around 20 minutes and scale a wall right next to a waterfall. Then the guide crawls into a tiny hole and waves you down into it! The cave opens up huge inside and he guides you through a little network of bamboo ladders and tunnels. There’s a huge tunnel that looks like a lava tube and the floor vibrates when you jump as if it’s hollow. You’ll be crawling on your hands and knees and will get really dirty, so wear old clothese and be warned if you’re prone to claustrophobia.
Explore Koh Lanta Noi – As mentioned above, very few tourists make it over to Lanta Noi to explore its treasures. If you’re staying for a while – we’d highly recommend it!
Go to the Irish Pub Quiz! – An expat favourite, the Monday night quiz at the ‘Irish Embassy’ on the West coast of the island is a fun night full of trivia, guess the celebrity and guess the hit song. Those expats can get quite competitive! Don’t worry though – there are compensatory shots for coming last place!
Visit other islands on a private long-tail boat tour – If there’s a group of you, it may be worth hiring your own private longtail boat so you can explore the islands at your own leisure, with your captain at your disposal to take you to whichever paradise island that you like! A longtail boat for the day will cost around 6,000 THB and can fit up to 8 people. There are so many beautiful islands; Koh Rok, Koh Ngai, Koh Pee… For that castaway island feel, you may like to spend the night on one of them!
Family Fun – For those with children (or an inner child just wanting to escape!), Koh Lanta has two waterparks. One is Lanta Haven, which is located on the eastern coastal road near Old Town (which has a floating ‘ninja warrior’ type obstacle course!). The other is Rattana Waterpark in Lanta Noi, at the back of the Rattana Resort. Both are very affordable. There’s also paintballing & bouldering on the West coast of the island and mini golf, pétanque and freshwater fishing at Lanta Parklife on the East coast.
Koh Hub – Koh Lanta is becoming a bit of a hotspot for digital nomads largely thanks to the Koh Hub, a huge co-working space located near to Long Beach on the West coast of the island. To work there for the day it’s 400 THB with free tea and coffee included. Monthly rates start at 6,000 THB. For nomads looking for a community of like-minded freelancers, this is the place to be in South Thailand!
Getting to Koh Lanta
From Krabi Airport – Its a 400 THB mini-bus ride from Krabi Airport to Koh Lanta. The journey takes about three hours and transport can be booked from Krabi Airport.
Where to go next?
Phuket – The ‘Jewel of the Andaman’ as they call Phuket, doesn’t quite live up to the ‘island paradise’ expectations. Thailand’s most popular tourist hub is good for stag parties and expensive holidays, but you can still find some hidden gems if you look hard enough.
Railay & Tonsai – The rock climbing Mecca of Thailand, the stunning beaches of Railay and Tonsai are only a few hours away and have a real laid-back reggae feel. For backpackers, accommodation is cheaper in Ton Sai than in Railay.