Koh Lanta island – a perfect place to chill out
Location of Koh Lanta
My exploration of Thailand took me from Koh Phangan island on the East coast to Koh Lanta island on the west coast.
Koh Lanta (sometimes spelled as Ko Lanta without h, too) is basically 52 islands, with just two bigger main islands. The one on the North is Koh Lanta Noi where the tourists do not go and then the Southern island of Koh Lanta is Koh Lanta Yai which is the place where you will stay and to which everyone refers as just to Koh Lanta.
Koh Lanta is a tropical paradise in the Andaman sea, in the South of Krabi province. Koh Lanta Yai is approximately 30 km long and 6 km wide. Many of the other islands around are inhabited and just very few offer accommodation for tourists.
History of Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta was first inhabited by the so called Sea Gypsies (people of the sea = Chao Ley) more than 500 years ago. This nomadic clan probably came from Indonesia and Malaysia which we do not know for sure, as their language is only spoken, not written.
Just their anecdotes tell us more about their life. The clan was basically moving from one island to another to get more food in the dry season in the Adang archipelago. Nowadays, a village in the Southeast of Koh Lanta, Sang-ga-u is the home of these Sea Gypsies.
Then, around 300 years ago, to Koh Lanta started coming Muslim communities for fishing, mostly from Malaysia, Indonesia and South of Thailand. Later on, 200 years ago, the trade became very important and brought here Chinese workers and merchants.
Nowadays, the Old Town is mostly inhabited by the descendants of these Chinese merchants who have their Chinese temple there.
The tourists started coming here in the 80’s and all came alive on the island. Electricity is here from 1996, then car ferries started operating and from 2001 there is landline phone on Koh Lanta.
Unfortunately, December 2004 was when the big tsunami hit there and killed 20 people which, at least, thankfully did not destroy the shape of Lanta too much (hence sometimes it is nicknamed as Lucky Lanta.)
There are now many evacuation signs in case of tsunami so you know which direction to move. After the tsunami, the tourists stopped coming here for a while but now it is all changed and the island is developing again and worth a visit.
The name Koh Lanta was first used in 1917 by the King of Thailand, who thus changed its previous name of Pulau Sa-Tuk (in Malay means island with a long mountain range).
The whole 52 islands are nowadays denominated as Koh Lanta District. We are still not sure what the name Koh Lanta means. It can be lantas used in Javanese for a type of grill for fish. Or the King of Thailand used the Thai expression Koh Lan Daa which is the island of million eyes.
Climate on Koh Lanta
It is hard to predict the weather on the island, but the Green season usually starts in May and ends up in October, when it is a bit colder (still good for beach and swimming though) and raining sometimes. May, June, September and October tend to have more rain than other months. The dry hot season starts on the 1st November when the rain is not a daily thing. Temperatures are from 25 to 40 Celsius degrees throughout the year.
The good thing is that Koh Lanta island and most of the accommodation, bars and restaurants are open all year long, not only during the High season.
The sea is warm during the whole year around 28 or 29 Celsius degrees.
How to Get to Koh Lanta
There is no airport on Koh Lanta. The closest airports are Krabi (Air Asia and Thai Airways) and Trang (Orient Thai and Nok Air) with daily flights from Bangkok.There are night trains and buses going from Bangkok as well, which take 12 – 15 hours.
The easiest and the cheapest way is a car or minivan from Krabi town or Trang from mainland to Koh Lanta. You will have to cross the sea twice, first to get to Koh Lanta Noi and then to Koh Lanta Yai. Or there is a passenger ferry from Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi town, Ao Nang, Railey Beach and Koh Lipe. You can get to Koh Lanta from Samui archipelago (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao) also easily – by ferry and minivan.
As usual, the best is to buy a joint ticket for bus+ferry+minivan. They always pick you up at your hotel, but on the way to Koh Lanta they will not drive you more than to Klong Nin beach. If you are staying more in the South, ask your hotel for a free pick-up.
How to Get around Koh Lanta
There are tuk tuks on the island, plenty of them in the North, but very few can be found in the South. You have to deal about the price before you get in. Taxis are available as well, but sometimes even more expensive than tuk tuks as they are usually big new pick-ups or jeeps.
For rent, cars, tuk tuks and scooters are all over the island. Cars are around 1500 baht per day, motorbikes 200 – 300 baht per day (more for the automatic one), and tuk tuks something in between. Be careful when riding any of them, as the roads are destroyed at some places, especially more on the way to the South at the curves when not visible before.
- The main town and port is the one in the North called Ban Saladan, or just Saladan. This is the place where you get from the mainland.
- All the banks and exchange money offices are in Saladan which is approximately 40 min ride on a motorbike from the South of the Island. They all close at 7 pm, just Siam Commercial Bank closes at 8 pm.
Koh Lanta is a very safe place but in any case, there are more police stations, but they speak English for sure only in Ban Saladan.
- The police never check if you wear helmet when riding a motorbike, or not, so don’t worry if you see them. You will not get any fine.
- All the travel agencies offer the same trips, ferry and bus tickets, but the prices vary so check out more places before you book something.
- Some of the daily trips, such as a day trip to Ko Phi Phi islands, do not operate during the Green season (Low season – between 1st May and 1st November). Other trips are cheaper during the Low season than in the High season where it is supposed to be hot and sunny.
- The best travel agency I found on the island is Lanta Jinda Tour located just a couple of metres to the right from Seven Eleven shop in Kantiang Bay. The owner is the nicest person ever and will give you all the information you need, arrange anything you want and you can even rent a bike there for 200 baht per day, while in many other places around the island it is 300 baht. He will even give you his phone number for any further assistance.
- There are not many cheap restaurants around the island, but I can highly recommend two of them: Drunken Sailors and the restaurant next to Why Not Bar, both in Kantiang Bay. The prices are fine here and the food absolutely delicious! Yummy! And they have wifi in both places :)
- The best bar to chill out is Why Not Bar in Kantiang Bay. It is a beach bar with wifi, great guys working there and live music most of the nights. You can even order a meal from the restaurant next to it and enjoy it there together with a lot of young people around you.
- ATMs are pretty much everywhere, outside all 7/11 shops and banks, and some travel agencies, too. Internet and wifi can be found very easily along the west coast of Koh Lanta, most resorts and restaurants offer free wifi for their clients and even travel agencies have computers for you to use, for just 1 baht per minute.
- There is only one hospital in Koh Lanta island, close to Old Town, but there are 3 more clinics (in Saladan, Phra Ae and Klong Nin).
- As in the rest of Thailand, you should drink only bottled water, no tap water.
- Koh Lanta island is a perfect place to be lazy and just chill out. Far away from overcrowded beaches, dancing and horrible loud parties like on Koh Phi Phi, for example. It is a perfect place to chill out, away from all the hassle. Very good for young travelers, couples, families, older people and most of all, divers. There are plenty of diving places around Koh Lanta.
- The island of Koh Lanta Yai is covered with rubber trees, mangroves and a few palm trees. The middle part is basically rainforest. The South of the island is hilly and with not great roads yet.
- There is a lovely mixture of cultures on Koh Lanta, which is very interesting to watch. Apart from the Sea Gypsies mentioned above, there are Thai, Muslims, Buddhist and Chinese people living there. The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim, but there is no religion tension. They seem all very peaceful and happy.
Beaches of Koh Lanta
There are 11 beaches on the island, with most of the hotels and restaurants situated just on the 7 main beaches leaving the last 4 beaches pretty unspoilt. From the North (Ban Saladan town) to the South of Koh Lanta Yai, the main beaches are Klong Dao, Phra Ae (Long beach), Klong Khong, Klong Nin, Kantinag Bay, Nui Bay, Waterfall Bay and Bamboo Bay.
Klong Dao and Phra Ae are very long beaches of up to 4 km. They are good for swimming, no rocks over there. There are plenty of restaurants, hotels and bars close by.Then the Southern you go, the less things you will find there. Less lights on the streets, less shops and less restaurants.
There is almost nothing between Klong Nin and Kantiang Bay. Klong Nin is rocky on the South, so swim mostly in the Northern part. Klong Nin beach is covered with palm and pine trees, and rainforest. My favorite beach is probably a kilometre long Kantiang Bay, which was even voted as one of top ten tropical beaches of the world by the Sunday Times of London.
All the sandy beaches are on the West coast, and the East coast of Koh Lanta is basically all rocky and covered with jungle. Just the Old Town that used to be once the main town on the island is still located in the South-east.
There are no tourists there, but you can pay a visit to see how the locals have lived here for years. They dedicate their life to fishing mostly.
If being lazy on one of the Koh Lanta beaches is not enough for you, you can go diving, snorkeling, kayaking, elephant trekking, fishing, watch monkey shows or snake shows in Klong Khong, visit a cave in the center of the island or go shopping of souvenirs and clothes in Ban Saladan.
And for a day you should take a trip called 4 islands trip. Was hell of an experience!