Welcome to the Thai islands, where you can while away many a day on your choice of 1,400 little charms. Koh Phi Phi is known for scenes from The Beach, Koh Phangan has the Full Moon Party, Koh Tao has diving, and Koh Lanta has…well, a little bit of everything. It’s a good place to go if you can’t decide where to go.
If you’re after Thailand’s infamous happy shakes and buckets, Lanta might not be your first choice. But if you’re looking for a nice place to get a feel for life on the Thai islands (or if you need to recover from the aforementioned buckets), you could do worse than to spend a week or two here. We spent a month under Lanta’s spell and were really sad to leave.
Few boats reach Lanta in the green (off) season, so to get there you’ll have to go overland. We came in from Langkawi, Malaysia and had to take a ferry from Langkawi to Satun, Thailand (the point of entry for immigration), and then take a minibus from there to Lanta with a short stop in Trang for lunch. They even dropped us off at our hotel. We paid 111 ringgit each (1113 baht/$35 USD) for this trip, and it was well organized and air-conditioned the whole way. In the high season there’s a ferry that goes from Langkawi to Koh Lipe, and you could probably island-hop up to Lanta from there.
Leaving Lanta, it costs 400 baht to reach Ao Nang (450 to Rai Leh Beach, 300 to the Krabi airport), and a trip to Koh Ngai was also 400 baht on long tail boats. Overall it’s really easy to get from place to place – just walk into any travel agency and they’ll arrange transport that includes pickup from your hotel. (It doesn’t hurt to politely ask for discounts, especially if you’re booking multiple trips. The worst they can say is no!)
With 30,000 people and an area of 130 square miles, Lanta isn’t what we would consider a small island. The population there is diverse, with a mix of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Moken (sea gypsies), and Muslims. Due to the island’s close proximity to Malaysia, the majority of its residents follow Islam.
While you could check in to your hotel and stay in one area the whole time, you’d be missing out if you didn’t explore the rest of the island. To do this, it really is necessary to rent a scooter. We paid 120 baht ($4) a day for long-term (3 week) rental, although the going rate for a daily rental is around 200 baht. Again, ask for a discount and you might get better prices – our second rental cost 500 baht for 3 days.
Fuel costs 40 baht for 750ml, or 50 for a liter. “Filling stations” are everywhere – just look for the little stands with whisky bottles filled with gasoline. There’s one main road that spans the whole length of Lanta and goes across to the Old Town, so it would be hard to get lost. Even so, we joked that the island is navigable by the many 7/11s that dot the road.
Note: Don’t ride a scooter without a helmet! It’s amazing to me how many travelers take this risk in a place with no head trauma center.
In terms of internet, staying connected on Lanta shouldn’t be a problem – nearly every restaurant and hotel has Wi-Fi. It was mostly really fast, although that could be attributed to having relatively few people on the networks.
How it’s Different in Green Season
Generally the Thai islands are a little quieter between May and October, which is known as the green season (so-called because “rainy season” sounds too ominous). Many hotels and restaurants close down this time of year for restorations or to take their own little vacay away from the tourists. There are great deals to be had on the hotels that stay open – more on that later.
As you might have guessed, Lanta sees some rain this time of year. The good news is that most days it only lasts for an hour or two, but the bad news is that it’s really unpredictable and you could endure downpour for your entire trip. Since we stayed for a whole month we didn’t mind holing up on rainy days. Except when the power went out…which it did, now that I think of it, just about every time it rained. Ah, well, bring a good book.
Things to Do
Get in the Water
Lanta offers a good number of beaches whose quality varies in terms of sand and swimmability (which is a word now, btw). During green season the resorts aren’t so meticulous about cleaning up, so beaches like Phra Ae (Long Beach) and Klong Nin had a lot of trash on them. Nothing like going for a swim and instead finding broken beer bottles, old toothbrushes and about eight hundred estranged flip-flops.
It’s not all bad though; try Kantiang Bay down on the south of the island. It’s sheltered, clean, and great for year-round swimming. If you take the road south from Old Town until it ends, there are also some swimming spots on the east side of the island.
Lanta’s also a good place to jump off on a 4-island snorkeling tour. These normally go to four of the Trang islands: Koh Muk, Maa, Chuek, Ngai, Rok, and Kradan. As a side note, we really wanted to go to Koh Rok and Kradan because they look amazing, but Rok is closed in low season, and Kradan is just really hard to reach from Lanta. Next time, I suppose.
Explore Old Town
You’ll find Old Town on the southeast side of the island. There are some nice shops there that sell locally made batik products and other crafts, as well as some restaurants. It’s worth the drive over to see the other side of the Lanta and the island’s original port and commercial center. Near Old Town you can also find the sea gypsy village and their stilt-built houses.
Most of Lanta’s southern tip is swathed in a national park that offers some short treks. There are also some caves and a waterfall, although somehow we never found the time to visit them.
If you’re interested in Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing), you can learn about it at the island’s gym and Muay Thai center. We got gym memberships for a few weeks and actually did some exercise while we were there!
Spend Time with Local Animals
Some of the island’s attractions include elephant treks, snake shows, and even a “Monkey School”. By all accounts, none of them seem to treat their animals very well. Please don’t support these companies with your patronage. A better way to get close to local animals is to visit Lanta Animal Welfare. It might not be as exotic, but unlike the monkeys, snakes and elephants, the cats and dogs there really do benefit from tourism on the island. During low season they need extra help with walking dogs in the afternoons. We volunteered at LAW most days we were on Lanta and loved it (full report coming soon!).
Stay tuned. Part Two will have tips on where to eat and sleep!