Lying just south of Krabi is another popular island in the area and one that is far more low-key than Koh Phi Phi, or Phuket. Lanta is lush and unspoilt and largely escapes the manic atmosphere of tuk tuks, pushy market traders and sleazy go go bars, making it a popular alternative in the region.
There’s not really much to do on Koh Lanta, which is actually the whole point. Krabi province’s biggest island is blessed with nine sandy beaches and an atmosphere so laid-back that even turning the pages of a book can seem like an effort. Perhaps the best part is that most resorts empty onto the beach, free of tuk tuks, go go bars and commercialism.
If you’re after total relaxation, Koh Lanta is certainly the place to come. Despite rapid development over the last few years, the island never feels overcrowded and there is accommodation to suit every taste and budget, from backpacker bungalows to boutique resorts, as well as a luxury five-star hotel. Choosing your accommodation here is perhaps more important than elsewhere as you are unlikely to leave the vicinity more than a few times throughout your holiday. Many resorts are situated directly on the sand and there are always plenty of bars, restaurants and hammocks nearby.
The beaches in the north – Kaw Kwang, Klong Dao, Phra Ae (Long Beach) – are all long, unblemished stretches of sand, with the best swimming. Those in the middle – Klong Kong, Klong Nin – and in the south – Kantiang Bay, Klong Jak, Ao Nui and Bamboo Bay – are shorter and have a more rugged, wild character. The farther south you go the less busy it is and the more likeliness of a resort with its own private beach.
If you do find the energy to move from your hammock, there are a number of activities available on this 26km-long island. You can rent a car or motorbike and explore the interior, with its lush, green countryside and many traditional villages, including a community of settled sea-gypsies. Trips can be arranged through a Koh Lanta tour guide.
At the far south-western tip of the island is national park territory, with its own private beach and short nature trail. In the same area are a couple of waterfalls and an elephant camp, where you can see these great beasts and take a ride. For shopping and more restaurant options, head north to Saladan. This is where the passenger ferries to the mainland and Koh Phi Phi arrive and depart. There are a few souvenir shops and the local afternoon market to explore.
There are no other islands in the immediate vicinity of Koh Lanta, but there are trips organised by express boat to visit the remote isles of Koh Rok, with their pristine coral sand beaches and exceptional snorkelling. The islands of Koh Muk, Koh Ngai, Koh Waen and Koh Cheuak can be done on the Lanta ‘four-island tour’. Actually belonging to Trang province to the south, these islands are around 90 minutes from Lanta.
Diving is the main sporting activity in Koh Lanta. The world-class dive sites of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang (Red Rock and Purple Rock) are nearby, as well as the popular Koh Ha, where whale sharks can often be seen. Dive schools have representatives in or nearby most resorts; so again, there is no need to stray too far to organise a trip. Nightlife in Koh Lanta tends to be restricted to relaxed beach bars. There will occasionally be a party or live music event organised, but these are infrequent and not the reason people come here.
Koh Lanta is accessible by passenger ferry from Krabi Town, Ao Nang and Koh Phi Phi. There is also a car ferry service from the pier at Hua Hin (not the Hua Hin way up in Central Thailand), some 50kms south of Krabi Town. During the low season (May to October) this is the only route into Koh Lanta – passenger ferries do not run because of the large monsoon waves.
Even in high season it’s a good idea to rent a car or motorbike and ride down the coast to the small ferry crossing so you have your own transport while on the island. The island is not really suitable for a day trip, both in terms of convenience and pleasure. To give yourself a chance to chill out and enjoy that relaxed, Lanta ambience, it is best to stay for a few days at a time.