Secluded, quiet and mellow, Koh Lanta is a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the busy, party prone 'greater Phuket' area.
Pristine sandy beaches on the west coast, with tropical vegetation covering the relatively flat area of the island and the more mountainous tree hugging region to the south, the natural beauty of the island is mesmerising.
Couple it with the fact that the island is home to only a small year-round population, with an influx of visitors during high season from November to April, and the island is truly a Shangri-la for those seeking a place to chill.
We're not talking the Robinson Crusoe experience… but forget the rat race and fast food outlets (in fact, Lanta holds only a handful of well-known convenience stores). Catch it soon though much like Phuket and its nearer environs, it's inevitable that a faster paced way of life is around the corner.
The 30km long and 6km wide Koh Lanta Yai or 'Big Lanta Island', is the largest of the 52-island archipelago known as Mu Ko Lanta National Park that falls under the jurisdiction of Krabi province, southwest of Phuket, which is the primary destination for tourists.
The small town of Saladan at the northern tip, where the ferry pier is, is the liveliest, while the further south you go, the atmosphere is conducive to long walks along the stretches of sand and for viewing the island's spectacular sunsets. Beach bars and restaurants are ready to quench your thirst and offer quick bites, as well as family or intimate meals as the sun shines or as the evening sets in.
So what is there to do on Lanta? By all means, get your fill of the beautiful beaches. There's Klong Dao, the most popular beach, but by most standards not busy, with restaurants and stalls of various cuisines, bars and nighttime entertainment. The 4km‑long Pra Ae (Long Beach), with plenty of accommodation is more tranquil. Pristine Kantiang Beach, home to the island's first boutique hotel, Pimilai Resort & Spa, surpasses all in terms of its seclusion and tranquility, while at the southern tip, there are few souls kicking sand and disrupting your tanning sessions…
The end of the road on the southwest of Lanta holds a national park of which Ta Nod Beach and Lighthouse are prominent features. A photogenic area, the small beaches are pristine, the public grounds well-manicured around the rangers' station and restaurant and the surrounding forest brimming with exotic vegetation and animal life under a rich, thick canopy. Walk the 2km along the nature trail and spend the night in a tent to appreciate the unspoiled expanse. Oh, just watch out for the macaque monkeys on the lookout for your valuables and whatever goodies in your bag they can eat. Even the park rangers are mindful and on the run from these cute but persistent thieves!
Keen to scuba dive or learn / upgrade your skills? There are several reknowned sites to discover, among which Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are noted to be amongst the best in the world. Lessons and tours can be booked in Saladan. Koh Rok Nok to the west of Lanta offers the deserted island experience: overnight accommodation and facilities are available with the chance to appreciate the remoteness and, above all, the land and marine life of the area.
On the main road that traverses the width of Lanta Island is the viewpoint that overlooks part of the east coast, the mainland and the channel separating the land bodies, as well as several smaller islands to the south. Stop and admire the view and get a fill of food and drink at one of the several restaurants perched there - then continue downhill through fields and farmland.
Charming Lanta Old Town, on the east coast in the south of the island, was once Lanta's port and commercial centre and is now the district capital. Stroll down the wide street and you'll find waterfront buildings on stilts, constructed of dark timbers. This is the architectural style of the days several centuries ago when Chinese and Arab boats stopped enroute to trade goods with merchants in ports around the area, including Phuket to the northwest and destinations south such as the island of Penang in Malaysia.
The area provides safe haven for boats from the high winds and seas during the monsoon season, while the long pier makes departure for, or arrival from, sea-going journeys possible at all-tides.
Old Town has several fine restaurants and unique places to shop: Jumbo Hammock sells colourful and (very) comfortable cotton and waterproof hammocks suited for lying or sitting on, as well as storing stuff. These are woven by remote tribes in northern Thailand.
If you plan to travel to Koh Lanta in March, be sure to take in the Lanta Festival, which showcases traditional culture and features ceremonial demonstrations, performances, folk games and water sports competitions, as well as food booths serving local delicacies.
Several services offer boat tours departing from the southern part of the east coast, thereby offering intrepid explorers the opportunity to discover areas even more off the beaten path. Lanta Longtail / Sun Island Tours, for example, offer unique tours by traditional longtail boat, including trips around Lanta and also to nearby islands, which include Koh Ngai and Koh Muk (with its absolutely stunning Emerald Cave, a sinkhole containing water that is flooded with sunlight and surrounded by jungle). Travel to other islands - Koh Ma, Koh Churk and Koh Kradan - can also be achieved by longtail boats and speed boats.
Venture down to the southern tip of the island to the sea gypsy village, past small lookout restaurants, to the resort with its retro-style seating area on stilts. Take in the sea views and enjoy a well-deserved cold beer after a long journey!
Beauty and diversity plus a balance of modernity and tranquility (with the emphasis being on the latter more mentally soothing element) characterise Koh Lanta Yai. Although the island may offer a greater appeal to an older, less party animal crowd, there are still activities to do for the more active. There is a nightlife on the island, just ask a local!
Arrival to Koh Lanta is by boat to Koh Lanta Noi and by road bridge from there to Koh Lanta Yai. Ferries run from Krabi, Phi Phi and Phuket several times a day during the high season from November through April / early May. Speedboats are also available. Boat services may be restricted during the monsoon season if the sea state is too dangerous. Transport is also available by personal vehicle or mini van via the car ferry.
Most resorts have pickup trucks and mini vans that will transport passengers to and from the ferry pier or to prearranged destinations. Tourist services will provide a similar service. The best way to get around Lanta is to rent a motorbike. The going rate is 200 baht per day during the low season, but is slightly higher during the busier months between November and April. There are also tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis, some of which have sidecars to transport more people. Note that it is advisable to agree on a price before setting off.
Accommodation: Scores of places to stay that cater to tourists of all budgets scatter the beachfront of, or are within walking distance of, the nine beaches. There is also accommodation in Old Lanta Town and at the promontory on the southeast of the island. From the budget minded, and gung ho traveller wishing to get out on the road from early in the morning, to those seeking the comfort and pampering that a luxury hotel provides, there is a place to stay for everyone.
"Escape into the magic of Lanta and CHILL on an island of natural beauty."