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I’m always hesitant to write a post about a place I don’t know much about. Travel blogs can be great sources of information, but too often bloggers tend to share information and tips for a place they’ve barely spent time in. Instead of their posts really being about the “Best Places to Eat in…” wherever, they’re really just about the places the bloggers happened to eat in and they were passing through.
A couple weeks ago I visited Koh Lanta (technically Koh Lanta Yai) for the first time. I stayed with my boyfriend for about five days on the island which, especially considering how much time I wanted to spend simply reading on the beach, is nowhere near long enough to get a good grasp on an area and seek out the unique spots that I usually try to share about places. (Like these fun spots in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.) That said, I’ve always tried to post the tips, experiences and recommendations here on Paper Planes that I would share with a friend and, though my time was limited, I do have a good idea of what worked well and what I would do differently the next time visiting the island…because I do hope there will be a next time! So, here’s my (incomplete) Koh Lanta guide:
Kind of like my original idea of Koh Chang, Koh Lanta sounded like a good, but not great, place. Pretty but not striking, pricey but not as expensive as the nearby hot spots of Phuket or Koh Phi Phi, peaceful but still built up enough that there was stuff to do.
In reality, that was all pretty true. The island is a solid option for families or people who are just looking to relax but has the added bonus of the Andaman Sea’s crystal clear turquoise waters.
As with all the islands, pricing for everything from local transportation to food, was higher than the mainland but it wasn’t outrageous. For example, motorbikes were being rented out for about the same prices as in Chiang Mai – we got a brand new automatic bike for 200 baht (about $6) a day for four days – but if you jumped in a shared taxi it would cost you 100-200 baht just to go the the next beach.
Overall, would I go back to Koh Lanta? Certainly. Would I visit some other islands I haven’t been to before first? Probably.
Rawi Warin – There are a few 5-star resorts on Koh Lanta and Rawi Warin is one of them. The property was gorgeous with several different swimming pools and an excellent breakfast. While 5-star beach resorts aren’t usually the accommodation I go for, you can find some surprising deals if you know where to look.
Unlike some of the bigger islands, Koh Lanta essentially shuts down during the low season from February to September and Agoda.com usually features excellent discounts for hotels in Southeast Asia – right now, you can get a (supposedly) $600 villa at Rawi Warin for less than $100! I wouldn’t spend all my time on Koh Lanta at the resort – get out and see something different! – but I would recommend checking prices and splurging on a couple nights of luxury.
Coco Lanta Eco Resort – After pretending we belonged in a luxury resort for a couple nights we sadly had to move to more affordable accommodation. Between not having booked anything and trying to dodge rainclouds while searching for a place, we ended up at Coco Lanta Resort on Klong Khong. It was perfectly fine though I was a little disappointed since it didn’t quite have the feel I wanted. Our small room on the second story of a concrete building was clean and simple but could have been anywhere – I wanted to feel like I was staying on the beach in a cute bungalow – and, even though the property is right on the beach, I thought room rates were a little pricey for what you got (especially the high season rates).
On the other hand, the owners, were incredibly friendly and helpful and also offered booking services, like for the 4 island boat trip, for slightly less than what we were quoted elsewhere. We could immediately tell when we walked into reception that we’d be in good hands.
Bee Bee Bungalows – I SO wanted to stay here after I saw it while walking along Klong Khong. It was a complete 180 from the resort and is exactly what comes to mind when you think of lazing around in a hut on the beach – pieced together bamboo bungalows with fans and hammocks for 600 baht. It also wasn’t the most secure option, the bungalows were pretty open, and since I was traveling with my camera and computer gear Coco Lanta was a safer choice. If I make it back to Koh Lanta though I’d definitely want to check it out.
Relax Bay Resort – I had looked into this place but didn’t book a room and would certainly consider it for next time. Though it’s close to one of the busiest parts of the island, the resort is very secluded and calm with beach bungalows that are rustic and stylish at the same time.
Mango House Seafront Suites – While all of the above hotels are in relatively the same area, Mango House Seafront Suites is located right over the water in the Old Town part of the island – you can’t get closer to the water than this!
The island – Just go out and explore. The size and layout of the island makes it so you can’t get lost and are never too far from where you started. Jump on a motorbike and check out the different beaches however keep in mind that the main road around the island doesn’t quite circle it so you’ll need to turn around to get back to where you came from.
The Old Town – It won’t take you long to explore the island’s small old town center, with its wooden shophouses, but it’s quite charming and worth a morning or afternoon excursion. There’s also some unique accommodation options here (like the place mentioned above) and cute restaurants. We didn’t go, but the colorful Caoutchouc, a French cafe right on the water looked darling. It’s at the very end of the road going right from facing the main pier close to the ‘gypsy’ village.
The national park – On the southern point of the island, Mu Koh Lanta Marine National Park encompasses 152 square kilometers and 15 islands in the Koh Lanta archipelago, including the southern tip of Koh Lanta Yai. Entrance fees to the park are 200 baht for foreign adults, 40 baht for Thai adults and 20 baht for motorbikes. While the park is pretty – there’s an easy-to-get-to lookout point and a small private beach – it isn’t really worth the price unless you’re planning to spend a good chunk of time there hiking or sunbathing.
The food was a little disappointing on Koh Lanta, but then again, I never have high expectations for island food as many places serve dumbed down Thai and Western dishes at inflated prices. It’s usually difficult to find real budget options. We had several unmemorable meals but there were still a few good ones.
Beach hop – Koh Lanta has a wide range of beaches to suit anyone’s taste. The larger, more developed beaches like Klong Dao and Long Beach are located to the north closest to the pier while you’ll find more remote, undeveloped beaches the further south you go. Some are quite rocky while others offer smooth white sand and decent swimming areas. Because of where I stayed, I spent most of my time at the resort’s private beach, between Klong Nin and Klong Toab beach, and on the nearby Klong Khong, known for having more of a backpacker vibe. However, after exploring the island a bit more, I would have wanted to go and spend more time on Kantiang Bay (with nearly two kilometers of a beautiful golden sand, crescent shaped beach) and Bamboo Bay (close to the National Park and jungle), as well as the beach in the Koh Lanta National Park.
Rent a motorbike – Compared to many of the other islands, Koh Lanta is a relatively safe and easy place to drive. Aside from the road stretching between Kantiang Bay and the national park, the island doesn’t have the steep hills with hairpin turns like Koh Phangan, Koh Chang or Koh Samui. It also has less tourists and therefore less traffic. Of course, if you don’t know what you’re doing it’s best not to drive at all. (Also, if you’re riding a motorbike please wear shoes! We saw two Western girls walk out of 7-11 and hop on their bike barefoot. Not only is that just ridiculous looking to Thai people, but dangerous. My boyfriend shook his head and wondered aloud what they were thinking…and this is coming from a man who rides without a helmet with his dog in the front basket…)
Bar hop – In the evenings on Klong Khong the beach is lit up with colorful, yet relaxed, bars and restaurants that you can easily walk to. There are also several weekly parties at a few bars around the island, you can’t miss all the signs everywhere you go, but in the low season they were pretty dang mellow.
Island hop – As soon as you step onto Koh Lanta you’ll notice signs for the “4 island tour” or snorkeling on Koh Rok. I had never done an organized boat day trip before because I thought they were too pricey and didn’t know if it would be worth it. It totally was. For 1,500 baht (through Coco Lanta) each we left around 9 am and spent nearly 6 hours boating out to Koh Rok, a small island and national park, stopped at three snorkeling sites, had lunch and time to play on the beach which was gorgeous. I’ve been to Koh Phi Phi and Koh Muk before so have seen the crazy clear waters and limestone cliffs and my boyfriend lived on different islands for nearly an decade…it wasn’t anything new to us but we were still giddy about how beautiful it was. There are also similar trips to Koh Phi Phi and four different islands. We went with Opal Speed Boat but I’ve read good things about Freedom Adventures as well. (There are also several dive companies and locations on Koh Lanta but I know nothing about that sort of thing…)
Practice Yoga – I was too busy driving around in circles and laying on the beach to take a yoga class but Oasis Yoga on Klong Dao looked like a beautiful place.
Take a cooking course – I’ve taken several cooking courses in Chiang Mai so a class wasn’t a big draw, but I’ve often heard about Time for Lime which offers cooking classes right on the beach.
As with most of the islands, actually getting to and from Koh Lanta is a bit of a hassle. From Bangkok, we flew to Krabi Airport then had to buy a (grossly overpriced at 800 baht) transfer ticket to the island that included a short bus ride, long wait at a mini-bus company office, and a 2-hour crazy minibus ride plus two short ferries. For some reason it was 200 baht cheaper doing the same thing the other way. Fortunately the ferries run until around 10 or 11 pm so you don’t have to worry about not making it onto the boat.
Whenever you head to the Thai islands plan extra time for transportation and don’t be surprised if it takes longer than you think. Even with flying part of the way, with wait times, transportation to and from the airports, etc., it took us about eight hours to get from Bangkok to our island hotel!
Have you spent time on Koh Lanta? What other tips would you add to the list? Let me know if the comments below!