Koh Lanta is known as the jewel of the Andaman Sea. Koh Lanta's quiet, laid-back atmosphere offers an ideal get-away for those se eking to escape the masses of tourists that flock to Thailand every year. Koh Lanta is lush and unspoilt and largely escapes the manic atmosphere of tuk tuks, pushy market traders and sleazy go go bars, making it a popular alternative.
There's not really very much to do on Koh Lanta - and that's the whole point. Krabi province’s biggest island is blessed with nine sandy beaches and an atmosphere so laid back that even turning the pages of a book can seem like an effort after a while.
If you’re after total relaxation, Koh Lanta is certainly the place to come. Despite rapid development over the last few years, the island never feels overcrowded and there is accommodation to suit every taste and budget from backpacker bungalows to boutique resorts, as well as a luxury five-star hotel.
Wooden bungalows provide cheap beachside accommodation. Choosing your accommodation here is perhaps more important than elsewhere as you are unlikely to leave the vicinity more than a few times throughout your holiday. All the resorts here are situated directly on the sand - i.e. there is no road between the bungalows and the beach and there are always plenty of bars, restaurants and hammocks nearby.
The beaches - all on the West Coast - will probably be a deciding factor in where you stay. Those in the north - Kaw Kwang, Klong Dao, Phra Ae (Long Beach) - are all long, unblemished stretches of sand, with the best swimming. The beaches in the middle - Klong Kong, Klong Nin - and in the south - Kantiang Bay, Klong Jak, Ao Nui and Bamboo Bay are shorter and have a more rugged and wild character. The further south you go the less busy it is and the more likeliness of a resort with its own private beach.
You can rent a car or motorbike and explore the interior of the island, with its lush, green countryside and many traditional villages, including a community of settled sea-gypsies. At the far south-western tip of the island is the National Park, with its own private beach and short nature trail. In the same area are a couple of waterfalls and an elephant camp, where you can see these great beasts and take a ride.
For shopping and more restaurant options, head north to Saladan. This is where the passenger ferries to the mainland and Koh Phi Phi arrive and depart. There are a few souvenir shops and the local afternoon market to explore. If you need an ‘internet or email fix’ this is where you are likely to find it, along with small supermarkets selling essentials.
There are no other islands in the immediate vicinity of Koh Lanta, but there are trips organised by express boat to visit the remote isles of Koh Rok, with their pristine coral sand beaches and exceptional snorkelling. Trips are also available to the islands of Koh Muk, Koh Ngai, Koh Waen and Koh Cheuak on the Lanta 'four-island tour'. Actually belonging to Trang province to the south, these islands are around an hour and a half from Lanta.
Diving is the main sporting activity in Koh Lanta. The world-class dive sites of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang (Red Rock and Purple Rock) are nearby, as well as the popular Koh Ha, where whale sharks can often be seen. Dive schools have representatives in or nearby most resorts, so again, there is no need to stray too far to organise a trip.
Nightlife in Koh Lanta tends to be restricted to relaxed beach bars. This is no bad thing: for one, they are very pleasant places in which to sit; and secondly, they are always within stumbling distance of your bungalow! There will occasionally be a party or live music event organised but these are infrequent and not the reason people come here.
Koh Lanta is accessible by passenger ferry from Krabi Town, Ao Nang and Koh Phi Phi. There is also a car ferry service from the pier at Hua Hin, some 50km south of Krabi Town. During the low season (May to October) this is the only route into Koh Lanta; the passenger ferries do not run because of the large monsoon waves. Even in the season it’s a good idea to rent a car or motorbike and ride down the coast to the small ferry crossing. This then gives you the option of transport while on the island if you were thinking of choosing your accommodation when you arrive.
The island is not really suitable for a day trip, both in terms of convenience and pleasure. To give yourself a chance to chill out and get that slow, Lanta feeling, it is best to stay for a few days at a time.