When you think Thailand, you probably think white sandy beaches and clear turquoise water. But the holiday paradise has changed in the recent decades. Pollution and mass tourism have turned once lush and idyllic islands into party meccas and resorts. And while these may prove to be the perfect holiday destinations for some, others wish to see more of what Southern Thailand used to be – remote and picturesque. Few of those places are left, hidden in plain sight, merely because they are severely underrated. One of these is Koh Lanta, an island in the Andaman Sea, outside of Krabi province.
But what makes this island so unique, and why is it so undervalued?
While many other islands cater specifically to western tourists, carefully spoon-feeding Thai culture to them, Koh Lanta’s tourism revolves around another type of visitor. This island is where Thais flock to for their vacations, making the location accessible and modern. There are resorts, many restaurants, and plenty of activities. At the same time, “farangs” (westerners) aren’t taking over the place. A few bars are spread along the only concrete road and make up the entire nightlife of the island; there are no malls and western chain stores.
Who would enjoy it and who wouldn’t?
Like any destination, this place isn’t for everyone. Just like the young backpacker might not enjoy the family resorts of Phuket, or a retired couple wouldn’t want to stay on a full moon party hostel, some people wouldn’t enjoy Koh Lanta. Here you can expect a laid back atmosphere, good food, and idyllic beaches. It’s perfect for travelers who want a time out from their busy lives. But while you can certainly keep yourself entertained here, don’t expect an adventure trip. It would also be ideal for couples who want to enjoy a romantic getaway on a tropical island. Families can enjoy the beach and sun with their kids, as the sea is calm and the sand soft. Again, don’t come here expecting to party, or to shop. As of now, there’s no Starbucks and no H&M.
What is there to do on Koh Lanta?
When looking at Koh Lanta, you may get the impression that there is nothing to do. However, there are quite a few activities to keep you busy. Motorbikes here are cheap and a good alternative to hiring a Tuk Tuk for the day. You’ll be surprised, as the island is quite large. You won’t become lost, though, as only one road goes around the island. That makes it perfect for exploration. Resist the temptation to stay on the west of the island, where you can find all the beaches, and take a look all around. While on it, stop in Lanta Old Town for some food and a little history lesson.
Also, Lanta is the perfect starting point for island hopping. Try to reserve an entire day for snorkeling on Koh Rok twin islands, one of the most pristine spots in the Andaman Sea. Next, take the five island tour to Koh Muk, Ngai, Kradan, Cheuak, and Waen. Some of these spots are quite touristy, but it’s still fun and way more quiet than most island hopping tours in Krabi. Don’t miss out on the magical Tham Morakot, the “emerald cave” on Koh Muk! Once you have your snorkeling fix, check out Khlong Chak Waterfall and Mu Ko Lanta National Park. The latter one requires you to pay an entrance fee, but in turn, you can not only enjoy the jungle trek and lighthouse but also finish the day on the quaint beach.
Another trip for the nature lover would be the one to Khao Mai Kaew, an astonishing cave full of stalagmites and stalactites – and bats. Once you’re back at your resort, sign up for a cooking class. If you want to combine the pleasure of cooking with a good deed, take one at ‘Time for Lime’ cooking school. The money they earn through the classes goes directly to the Koh Lanta animal welfare. And in case you don’t feel like cooking yourself, they also have an excellent beachfront restaurant, where they serve a delightful six-course menu and legendary mojitos. And if you get a good spot, you can watch the marvelous Koh Lanta sunset right from your table.
As you can see, there is plenty to do on the island. And even if you still have time to pass, nothing is more blissful than a day on the splendid beaches. Maybe grab a good book and a drink at one of the beachfront bars.
When should you go?
The high season spans from November to April. In this time, during the “cool” months, Thailand gets the most foreign visitors. If you want to have lots of options for your accommodation and food, this is the time to go. All the resorts and tourist agencies are open and running. You’ll find some people on the beaches and be able to book tours to nearby islands and reach Koh Lanta by speedboat. As for the most part, I’d recommend this time frame to go. During low season Koh Lanta is mostly empty. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. If you enjoy having the beach to yourself and are okay with the sea being a bit rougher, this could be the time for you. Only a few restaurants are still open, but the ones that mostly serve locals. Given the fact that most low season tourism happens on more popular destinations like Koh Samui or Phuket, you might find yourself the only guest in your hotel or hostel.
So why is Koh Lanta a secret paradise?
The nature of a somewhat undiscovered and remote island has it that it stays mostly untouched. That’s the beauty of Koh Lanta – if you’re after a quiet and idyllic place to get away from your busy lifestyle, this is the perfect destination for you. In contrast to the more famous islands, nature here is still mostly left intact, and you won’t have to dodge sunburned drunks and their cameras. And you won’t find beaches like that anywhere else!