Koh Lanta is a pretty Thai island in the Andaman Sea and off the coast of Krabi. More relaxed than its famous neighbour (Koh Phi Phi), it is blessed with beautiful beaches and natural spots and is home to a number of interesting attractions. Here’s why you should add Koh Lanta to your island-hopping itinerary.
Koh Lanta is a district of Krabi Province. While many people think of Koh Lanta as just one island, it’s actually the name of several large island groups. Mu Koh Lanta National Park, for example, is just part of the district and it contains more than 50 islands and islets!
The largest island, Koh Lanta Yai, is often referred to as just Koh Lanta, as it’s the district’s main tourist destination, has the best infrastructure, and is home to the largest population. If you catch a ferry here, however, you can also easily access the district’s second-biggest island, Koh Lanta Noi; the two islands are connected by a bridge.
With so many islands, it’s little surprise that Koh Lanta has many beautiful beaches. On the main island, which is 30 kilometres (18 miles) long, there are diverse beaches to suit all tastes. The west coast has the best beaches, with the northern beaches being the most developed and the south boasting beaches with a more remote and rugged feel. Khlong Nin is great for watching the sun go down and for a chilled out evening in a low-key restaurant or beach bar.
Kantiang Beach and Ao Mai Pai are beauties, and Klong Dao is the most developed beach, great if you want a range of accommodations, shops, bars, and restaurants at your fingertips. Spend sunny days working on your tan, swimming in the sea, strolling across the sands, and admiring the views. Nui Beach is perfect for travellers who want to escape the crowds for a while, though it is usually easy to find a relatively quiet spot on most of Koh Lanta’s beaches at any time.
Thung Yee Pheng Mangrove Forest is a protected natural area in the northeast of the main island. A jumble of roots spread across the gentle waters of rivers and streams, lush greenery contrasts against the blue sky, and there’s plenty of interesting fauna. Crabs skitter across the mud, and birds, like sea eagles and cranes, wade through the waters, fly through the sky, or sing from the branches. Monkeys are commonly spotted too. A boardwalk runs into the forest, letting you surround yourself with the sights and sounds of nature. Alternatively, cover more ground with a trip in a long-tail boat or a kayaking adventure.
When it comes to natural sights, Koh Lanta isn’t lacking. Klong Jark Waterfall and Cave are close to each other. Although in the jungle, both are pretty easy to access. The walk takes you through dense jungle and through a stream until you eventually reach the bottom of the tall waterfall. Water cascades from the high rocks above, crashing into the pool at the bottom. Note that the stream and waterfall will probably be running fairly dry in the hot season. The nearby Klong Jark Cave has a wild and almost other-worldly appearance, with a tangle of tree roots and branches snacking around the rock walls.
Accessed by a 30-minute hike, the Khao Mai Kaew Cave isn’t for the claustrophobic! Visitors are only allowed inside with a guide, and you’ll pass through tight spaces to marvel at interesting rock formations, bats, and some cave-dwelling creepy crawlies. Other Koh Lanta caves include Tiger Cave and Talabeng Cave.
A visit to the national park is a must for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors. The nature walk reveals diverse flora and fauna, including birds, insects, lizards, and palm trees. Just keep an eye on the mischievous monkeys! The lighthouse is a major landmark and there are lovely beaches on each side of it.
The small Old Town of Koh Lanta can make a pleasant change to the beaches and jungles. Traditional wooden houses sit on stilts over the water and the area still retains a village-like vibe. Peaceful and relaxed, stroll around, see the architecture, and then sit and admire the ocean views. There are souvenir shops where you can stock up on local trinkets for friends and family back at home, as well as a handful of places to eat and drink.
Lanta Animal Welfare is a major attraction on Koh Lanta Yai; you can help a worthy cause while also feeling good about yourself. The animal sanctuary works to improve the lives of street animals, providing a safe and healthy place for cats and dogs to live, as well as running various programs, such as sterilising and neutering animals and adoption schemes. Learn more about the centre’s work with a tour, walk dogs, play with cats, and more.
There’s a weekly beach cleanup, arranged by Trash Hero, where people are invited to help clean up the beaches. Help the environment and keep the beaches looking lovely at the same time as visiting coastal areas that you might not otherwise have known about.
Historians believe that Koh Lanta has some of the oldest communities in Thailand, with the area thought to have been inhabited since the prehistoric era. Today, the local population of Koh Lanta is a mixture of different faiths and ethnicities. Buddhists and Muslims, Thais, Thai-Chinese, and Chao Lae (often referred to as “Sea Gypsies”) all call the island home. The Chao Lae people are especially unique, largely living completely separately from other communities and have retained their own unique language and traditions. The rich diversity has led to an interesting local culture, with a blend of traditions, foods, and festivals.
While there is much to enjoy on Koh Lanta’s main island, it is also a great base for exploring other nearby islands on a day trip. One of the most popular day trips is to Koh Phi Phi, another of Krabi’s islands, to see Maya Bay (made famous in “The Beach”), the Viking Cave, and other top spots.
The Trang Islands are also within easy reach of Koh Lanta; there is a four-island trip that is becoming more and more popular. A highlight of a trip to the Trang Islands is often swimming through a sea cave to see the picture-perfect Emerald Lagoon of Koh Muk. Join a sea kayaking adventure to explore local caves and visit Koh Rok for some of the area’s best snorkelling. Other great diving and snorkelling sites include Hin Daeng, Hin Muang, and Koh Haa.
Koh Lanta might not see the same huge number of tourists as Koh Phi Phi, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a good choice of places to stay for people that make the visit. There’s everything from cheap and basic motel-style rooms and beach bungalows that are simple and affordable, to luxurious hotel rooms and resorts that have everything you need for a blissful stay in paradise. No matter your budget or expectations, you’re sure to find somewhere perfect for your needs.
A lot of local cuisine has influences from Malay, Indian, and Indonesian fare. Of course, you’ll still find plenty of Thai favourites too. As an island, it probably doesn’t need saying that there’s a good selection of fresh and locally caught seafood to sink your teeth into as well. There are various types of fish, crab, lobster, shrimp, and more to savour. The dog conch, also known as the wing shell, is especially popular in this part of the country. It is eaten with a spicy sauce.
Koh Lanta isn’t a party island, but there are still plenty of places to have fun after the sun goes down. Nightlife is low-key with more of an intimate vibe than on many other islands in the south. Grab a bottle of ice-cold beer, pour a glass of Thai whisky with ice and soda, or sip on a fruit cocktail as you sit close to the beach and enjoy the soft sea breeze and sound of the waves. Some bars feature live music, some show sports on a large TV, and some are known for playing certain types of music, often mellow and soothing. Fire shows often light up the beaches, especially in the busier resorts. In the darkness, the waters around Koh Lanta often shimmer and shine, caused by bioluminescent plankton. Witnessing this magical sight is something different to enjoy at night.