Koh Lanta: A Paradise Without the Crowds
Even though Koh Lanta lacks the picturesque, powdery white sands of its more iconic neighbors, the island more than makes up for it with unruly tangles of jungle and a low-key vibe seldom found on more frequented shores.
On most days, you’ll only be sharing one of Koh Lanta’s sublime beaches with a couple of tourists and some locals foraging for shellfish – there’s little here to intrude on the inherent tranquility.
If you want to get away from it all, few places are as perfect as Bamboo Beach – it’s a striking bay on the southwest side of Koh Lanta Yai overlooking the warm waters of the Andaman Sea.
Framed by jungle-draped hills and crystal clear waters, this is a place where monitor lizards still outnumber humans.
While Bamboo Beach may be on the petite side and its sand is more amber in color than postcard-perfect white, its seclusion more than makes up for its shortcomings.
This off-the-beaten-path bay isn’t the easiest to reach, but the reward is a peaceful and pristine beach experience, far from the crowds. It’s also home to the most dramatic sunsets on the island
As daylight ticks by, you’ll get to see the warm rays of golden hour gradually fading until the magenta haze of dusk overtakes the sky.
Situated on the east coast, Koh Lanta’s Old Town is a traditional fisherman community where you can hire a long-tail boat for 2,000 baht (~$54) per day.
While most people tend to rent a boat and go on a snorkeling tour, we opted to go fishing with some of the locals.
Since the channel between Koh Lanta and Koh Por is a calm body of water that’s rich with marine life, it’s an excellent spot for fishing year-round.
With small pieces of squid as bait, we mostly caught small grouper fish and Moray eels (which we’d immediately release) with the occasional hook of a red croaker. To our surprise, we actually caught more fish here than we did in The Maldives!
In a stroke of dumb luck, we even managed to catch a bamboo shark. However… given our moral concerns on the overfishing of sharks in Thailand plus knowing how vital bamboo sharks are to a coral reef’s ecosystem, we decided to let the poor little bugger go back home. `
As our fish count started to resemble a John Wick movie, our guide recommended that we take a short break to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Little did we know, our guide meant that statement literally. He proceeded to pull a red croaker out of the kill bucket, descale it with a sharp knife, then filet it.
His goal was simple: to prepare freshly-caught sashimi for us.
Disclaimer: we don’t recommend trying freshly-caught sashimi on a Thai long-tail boat – it’s not in any way, shape, or form… sanitary. It may be delicious, but it’s not clean – kinda like street food.
Sashimi that melts like butter in your mouth – that’s the best way we can describe it.
After an action-packed morning of fishing, we enjoyed a delicious lunch on Koh Por. A local family which runs Malee Home Stay, grilled up some of our day’s catch and also served us a heaping portion of steamed crabs and gaeng som pla, along with fresh cuts of juicy watermelon and pineapple. We happily filled our bellies with all this deliciousness.
Once the two of us finished our lunch for six, we rolled our way back to the long-tail boat.
We still had more time left to fish, but given how stuffed we were, we called it for the day and high-tailed it back to Koh Lanta Yai.
As we walked a long Old Town’s pier towards the parking lot, we came across some locals catch net fishing from an unusual height. We had seen this style of fishing before in Thale Noi, Chiang Khan, and Laos from boats, but never from the height of a pier. It was fascinating to watch until our eyes became fixated on a dilapidated shipwreck in the water’s low tide.
Exhausted from a long day on the water, we drove back to the west coast and decided to chill on Koh Lanta’s most popular beach – Phra Ae aka Long Beach. For being such a popular beach, it was rather empty until both locals and tourists gathered on the shore in the moments before sunset.
Sunsets on Long Beach are something special – it’s a time when you get to watch the sky flare into magenta, scarlet and saffron as the strength of the sun dims past the horizon.
With grand plans to hike to Mu Koh Lanta’s lighthouse and explore some of the offbeat places nearby, the karma from our previous day’s fishing massacre got the better of us. We ended up with a flat tire on a rural road with no spare in trunk.
Turns out, the cheap bastards we rented the car from replaced the new tires with expired ones – the flat occurred from a side-wall failure since the tire was just way too damn old (meaning, I didn’t run over anything).
To make matters worse, the tire popped on a Sunday so every mechanic shop on Koh Lanta was closed for the day. So we had wait until Monday morning to purchase a new damn tire.
Fortunately, the kind and generous owner of our hotel (Mo Lanta House), picked us up after we hitchhiked to the nearest town with cell service. He even drove us the next day to the best mechanic shop on the island, Linglong, where we bought a new tire for 1,500 baht.
Unfortunately… by the time we got a tire replacement our stay on Koh Lanta was coming to an abrupt end. So we decided to grab a quick lunch at Sam Pee Nong, then head off to the car ferry as we needed to get back to Krabi’s mainland ASAP.
Our next adventure at Khao Sok National Park was awaiting us…
Where To Stay: We recommend staying as far south as possible on Koh Lanta Yai, as this is where the highest concentration of the best beaches are located. For a wallet-friendly accommodation, Mo Lanta House on Bamboo Beach is an excellent place to stay for a relaxing trip. For a more luxury getaway, Pimalai Resort and Spa is the most well-regarded on the island.
When To Visit: Koh Lanta (เกาะลันตา) is worth visiting year-round, but the best experience will be during Thailand’s high season (November – February). The clear skies and water during this time of the year will offer you the best chance at “being in paradise.” For our trip, we visited during the peak of rainy season (August) and didn’t have any issues with stormy weather – Koh Lanta has less rainfall than its neighboring islands in southern Thailand.
Getting to Koh Lanta: It’s best to rent a car or motorbike in mainland Krabi before arriving on the island. That way, you can take the Koh Lanta Car Ferry service at Hua Hin Pier to cross over – tickets cost 23 baht per person plus 90 baht per vehicle. The ferry runs from 6:00am till 10:00pm without set departure times – expect to queue until the ferry is full enough to cross.
If you’re also interested in how to get to mainland Krabi, check out 12go for multiple options.
Getting Around Koh Lanta: You need a vehicle get around the island. The roads on the north- and east-side of Koh Lanta Yai are well-kept and smooth to drive on. As for the westside of Koh Lanta Yai (where all of the main beaches and hotels are) it’s a pot-holed nightmare.
When it comes to gasoline, there’s a PT station in Sala Dan and a ton of roadside shops in every town that sell watered-down gasohol 95 for 40 baht per liter (expect it to be ~50% water) in emptied out Hong Thong bottles – recycling at its finest.
Long-tail Boat Booking: Don’t overpay at a tour agency, they’ll most likely rip you off. Instead, book through locals – you can even contact Malee Home Stay for prices via Facebook.
Tip #1: The best beaches on Koh Lanta are 1) Bamboo Beach (for the tranquility and solitude), 2) Kantiang Bay (for ultimate luxury), and 3) Long Beach (for the length and convenience).
Tip #2: The best food on Koh Lanta is at the French-owned restaurants of Le Colibri and the tongue-in-cheek French Bakery. The pizza at both places are among the best in Thailand.
Tip #3: The best coffee on Koh Lanta is at Lantas Cafe, which is near the Old Town’s pier. The owners of the cafe are very friendly and the place has a great view over the bay. If you decide to visit Old Town, be sure to stop by for some coffee here. (see the pic below)