Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Koh Lanta: Still Fantastic, Three Years Later

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Koh Lanta

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite places in the world are, I always mention Koh Lanta. I fell madly in love with this little Thai island on my first visit to Thailand in 2010 and vowed to return someday.

As Mario and I made plans to visit Koh Lanta for his birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s, part of me was fearful that it had changed for the worse like Cambodia. Could that island really be the same as before?

Thankfully, my fears subsided once I arrived on the island and realized that while there had been some changes, the island still had the wonderfully rustic, low-key vibe that I had enjoyed so much the first time around.

Pra Ae Beach

The Relaxing Island

Don’t come to Lanta if you’re looking for a party. There are bars and some of them have dancing, but this is largely an island where people come to chill out.

What I love most about the island is that it’s not overly developed. You won’t find any high-rises, crazy clubs or Pizza Huts. The beaches aren’t covered in trash. Most importantly, you won’t have to fight for space on the beach. Even during the busiest week of the year, the beaches felt perplexingly empty.

This is the place to kick back with your Kindle, get foot massages and lie in the sun.

Koh Lanta

Motorbiking the Island

This is what separates Koh Lanta from lots of other islands in Thailand — as soon as you get away from the beachfront, you’ll see that the majority of the island isn’t outfitted for tourism — it’s for locals and locals only. Rent a motorbike and just go. The roads are high quality throughout the island.

On the way you might spot a floating house…

Koh Lanta

A few cute kids…

Koh Lanta

And a whole new way to ride your motorbike.

Koh Lanta

This guy ruled.

Lanta Animal Welfare

Puppy and Kitty Cuddles

Koh Lanta is home to Lanta Animal Welfare, a nonprofit animal sanctuary that cares for stray animals on the island, mostly dogs and cats. Mario and I made a visit here and it’s one of the best things we did here.

It’s heartbreaking to see how animals are mistreated on the island, especially the dogs — the volunteers at Lanta Animal Welfare often take care of dogs burned with oil and cut with knives, as well as animals hit by cars. The animals are cared for and sterilized and the staff engages in outreach programs to teach the locals about not hurting the animals.

Lanta Animal Welfare

Lanta Animal Welfare

Lanta Animal Welfare

Lanta Animal Welfare

If you want to come for a visit, tours take place every hour and you’re free to cuddle all the kittens and walk all the dogs you’d like. If you’d like to come volunteer long-term, you can do that as well.

You can even adopt a dog or cat from Koh Lanta! If you’re from North America or Europe, the process is surprisingly easy and cheaper than you’d expect. (While it’s possible to adopt to Australia or New Zealand, the countries’ strict laws mean that the animals will be quarantined for months.)

Cha Ba Cocktail Sunset

Sunsets

Three years ago, I declared Koh Lanta the best place in the world to watch the sunset. Those sunsets were outstanding. This time, I was a bit disappointed — while the sunsets were nice, they were nowhere on the level of last time.

I think the weather is a big factor — I was there in November before, which is shoulder season, and there were lots of streaky clouds in between storms and sunny days. This time, the weather was clear most days and most sunsets were missing the cloud action.

Still, a meh sunset on Lanta beats a brilliant sunset almost anywhere else.

Kate at Red Snapper

Great Food

Generally speaking, small Thai islands aren’t culinary destinations. Sure, the seafood is fresh, but beyond that, you often have the same Thai dishes repeated ad infinitum on every menu: green curry, pad thai, tom yum goong, again and again.

Koh Lanta does have its share of nondescript eateries, but it’s also home to one of my favorite restaurants in the world: Red Snapper. This fusion restaurant, run by a Dutch woman, features fantastic dishes from around the world on its constantly changing menu.

If you go, PLEASE try the chorizo fried in garlic and brandy. It’s the best thing on the menu. Other standouts are the Ethiopian spiced lentils with roti, goat cheese and almond salad, roasted duck, and ginger ice cream in cold strawberry soup.

Time for Lime Mojito

We hit up Time for Lime on Christmas Day, and of course we sampled their famous mojitos. Their dishes are whimsical renditions of Thai classics, and they also offer cooking classes. (Time for Lime is owned by the same people that run Lanta Animal Welfare, and a percentage of their profits go toward the organization.)

Faim de Loup, a little French bakery, has great cappuccino and pastries — but don’t go there to work on your computer, because they won’t let you plug anything in! They don’t want people to linger all day.

Asylum is a great little ramshackle bar on Klong Dao owned by an American guy and his Thai wife. They’ve got great coffee and delicious dishes.

One of Koh Lanta’s drawbacks is that, bizarrely, there isn’t much street food.

Cha-Ba Bungalows

Where We Stayed: Cha-Ba Bungalows

We stayed the entire time at Cha-Ba Bungalows on Klong Dao, also known as the place with the giant dinosaurs and octopus tentacles surrounding it on the beach. It was overall a nice (and cheap) place to stay if you’re on a budget, but I would probably shell out for a more upscale place next time.

The good: The basic bungalows have ensuite bathrooms and are good value for money, especially when you consider that they’re right on the beach. The location is great and Klong Dao is a perfect beach for relaxing. The staff is friendly and welcoming.

The bad: Mattresses in the cheap rooms were a bit deflated in places, there’s no in-room wifi, and there’s a mosque across the street (which led to early wakeups due to the call to prayer, especially when we stayed in bungalows closer to the street).

We were there during peak season and the cheapest room rates were 1300 baht ($40) per night. We negotiated the rate down to 1100 baht ($34) per night due to our lengthy stay (initially two weeks, which we ended up stretching to 26 days).

We also spent two nights in one of their nicer, more expensive bungalows, and I recommend getting the nicer ones if they’re within your budget. The rooms are bigger, the mattresses are better, there’s air-conditioning, and they are soundproofed.

Want something more upscale? We dropped by Soontreeya Lanta Resort to visit a few friends who were staying there. It was a beautiful resort and my friends were raving nonstop about how incredible the mattresses were!

Sand Snowman

The Takeaway

Whether you’re planning on visiting one Thai island or a dozen, whether you’re solo or with others, whether you’re on a strict budget or splashing out, I highly recommend you drop by Koh Lanta on your trip to Thailand.

This island is such a special place to me, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Essential Info: Koh Lanta is a 90-minute ferry ride from Krabi, Ao Nang, or Koh Phi Phi. There are easy connections to Koh Jum, Phuket, and the Trang Islands as well. The quickest way to get to Koh Lanta from Bangkok is to fly to Krabi and take a ferry to Koh Lanta; the cheapest way is to take an overnight bus to Krabi followed by the ferry.

Does Koh Lanta look like your kind of place?

Comments

73 Responses to “Koh Lanta: Still Fantastic, Three Years Later”
  1. Charlotte says:

    I literally could not agree with every part of this post more.

    Koh Lanta has been a favourite place of mine. I was due to stay 4 nights…it turned into 16. It draws you in. I would go back in an instant.

    Although one tiny mistake I noticed… you haven’t mentioned the amazing Greek Tavern Restaurant? Tell me you went?

    Incredible greek food and the proper ingredients. Actual feta.

    http://offonalittleadventure.blogspot.com/

    • mike says:

      I have to agree with you.. unreal greek food there. I ended up going there on a whim and eating there several times. It’s a must and get the ouzo – it’s legit!

  2. Michelle says:

    Koh Lanta definitely looks like a place that I want to travel to. Love your pictures. The cats and dogs are so cute! 🙂

  3. Caitlyn says:

    Oh, I completely agree with you! I visited Koh Lanta at the beginning of last year, and it charmed my socks off. It’s developed enough to have comforts, but it’s so big that it feels like there’s nobody around! I took a kayaking ride in the mangroves between the two Koh Lanta islands as well – it was terribly organised but it has the added bonus of monkeys joining you for the ride! Gimmicky but I totally fell for it.

  4. Shaun says:

    LOL! cool sandman! It’s so heart warming to learn that the people who own the restaurant created & contribute part of the profit to Lanta Animal Welfare. I’d have trouble leaving.

    A lazy laid back beach in Thailand is my idea of paradise. Will not pass on this place.

  5. cory says:

    I spent 1 month traveling through Thailand and Cambodia – I liked it as an experience, but honestly I’ve had enough and I don’t think I ever want to go back. 🙂 I check your blog regularly to see what you’ve been up to or where you are heading and I’m always Amazed how you are able to travel non stop and also revisit some places. And on top of that you travel by yourself – you must be super friendly and make friends easily.
    Safe travels from now on! Cheers.

  6. Clare says:

    So lovely to return to a place and feel that love for it. It’s so great when somewhere becomes special on a personal level. It looks wonderful!

  7. Ryan says:

    The lack of cheap street food was my only real disappointment with Lanta. We gave up looking for cheap food because even the grubbiest looking local restaurant on the main street would charge us 80-100 baht for fried rice!
    Oh, we had a little bad luck with jellyfish too. But other than that the beaches were great.

  8. Quyen says:

    Island life looks amazing! I would love to trade in my city life for the quiet one one day!
    http://liveitinerantly.com/

  9. Daisy Wong says:

    I just returned from Koh Lanta 2 weeks ago, it was such a different experience than northern Thailand. I actually loved hearing the call to prayers each day. I could hear the call from my hotel and it was lovely. I also loved hearing the prayer calls while swimming and playing on the beach. My boyfriend’s family are Muslim and I think it was nostalgic for him and also nice to have Halal options for food since thai food usually contains pork. It was a wonderful surprise once we arrive in Lanta.
    I agree with you about the food, there’s not a lot of options. I was also sick for a couple of days, wish I had the energy to tour the rest of the island. I will definitely be returning sometime in the future.

  10. Renuka says:

    Wow, sounds good! I particularly like the fact that the beaches are without trash and you don’t have to fight for space. I can understand why you returned here!

  11. Paul says:

    The khao soi at Kwan’s Cookery was the best thing I ate in all of southeast asia and possibly one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten in my life.

  12. Karisa says:

    Koh Lanta is another Thai island I didn’t make it to during my Thailand travels. Unfortunately!

    The animal sanctuary is nice to see. I’ve seen tons of stray dogs and cats around Southeast Asia and I think it’s unusual but great to see a place for them. 🙂

  13. Emily says:

    I haven’t been to Koh Lanta, but you have definitely made it on my list for the next time I’m in Thailand. We went to Koh Yao Noi which is also another relaxing island that sounds quite similar.

  14. Love your photos here :). I was in Italy and Croatia the last couple of months, and built up a real appreciation for cat photography 🙂

  15. Catherine says:

    Koh Lanta sounds absolutely perfect, I can understand why it’s one of your favourite places. Will definitely be adding it my list of places to check out when I’m in Thailand 🙂

  16. Chelsea says:

    I agree infinitely BUT before people rent motorbikes they should check their travel insurance policy – not sure how others stack up but most Australian policies don’t automatically cover us for bike riding unless you have specifically mentioned it and meet their criteria for eligibility. End Mum comment, haha!

  17. Dave Evans says:

    I couldn’t have been more psyched to receive your latest post! We are leaving for Ko Lanta on Monday for our second visit. So happy things have not changed. Thanks!

  18. Ohhh it looks delightful and has made it’s way onto my itinerary! Koh Lanta.. Better write that down..

  19. Lanta was my favorite of the islands too! There and Samui were the only places with roads we felt comfortable getting scooters!

  20. Melissa says:

    Heading there soon on Nomadic Matt’s tour!

  21. Now, I understand why this is your favorite place. 🙂

  22. Rachael says:

    We spent Christmas in Koh Lanta and motorbiked around and we did enjoy our time there but unfortunately we didn’t love it :(. We wanted to love it so bad! Kantiang bay, Drunken Sailors for Christmas brunch and a very delicious dinner at Nong Cat was great. We did however love our 2 weeks on Koh Lipe in the very south of Thailand. Gotta say it but the beaches in Koh Lipe were MUCH better in Koh Lipe. Definitely recommend it if you ever make it down to very southern Thailand!

  23. Nina says:

    I love Koh Lanta! I lived there for three weeks and just recently went twice in December, once being for NYE. Pangea Bar is my fav bar and Ao Nui is such an amazing secret little spot. Glad you found it almost the way you left it and had a nice time Kate!

  24. wanderingian says:

    Hi,
    Great review of a great island. I spent 2 weeks there, about a year ago and would love to go back. It was one of the few times that I was truly mesmerized by the scenery. In addition to Lanta, there are two islands to its immediate north, far less ‘spoilt’, perhaps worth a visit.

  25. HTL says:

    We loved Lanta – we spent a week there in November (amazing sunsets!) and another three weeks in January. Second the reendations on Red Snapper and Faim De Loup. We have a few to add:

    In long beach:
    Fruit Tree Lodge is a nice option off the beach, only 800 Baht per night and there is a cleaning lady who comes everyday, and nice bathrooms, great decor. The drawback is that it’s at very tip of long beach where it’s rocky (10 minute walk to sandy beach).
    Coconut Home – right in the thick of busy part of Long Beach – 500 Baht with hot shower. No website but you can show up. They have hammocks and nice porches. About 5 minute walk to the beach. Located right behind Ozone bar.
    Marina restaurant – amazing steamed red snapper. Get it. Great other food as well. Location is right by korner bar.

    Klong Nin beach – in the middle of the island, sandy and pretty much perfect.
    The Hut – basic bungalows starting at 500 Baht. We stayed there for 3 weeks and loved every second – the family that runs the place is great, they have good food in their restaurant and you can get room service. Strong wifi signal. Cute cats and dogs. 2 minutes from the beach. No website, just show up.
    Yang – more upscale bungalows run by very nice Swedish couple. We peaked in while having dinner at their very good restaurant. They are right across from the Hut. They have a listing on airBnB.
    Richeys – very good BBQ and most attentive staff. They remember each customer fr day 1, so you can pick up conversation from where you left the night before.
    Jaideesunset – excellent shakes with no added sugar! Also very good sandwiches with sausage.
    Klong Nin also has street food in the am by 7/11. Very good and cheap breakfast of rice, egg and spicyeat for 30 Baht.

  26. Helen says:

    Looks wonderful Kate and so glad that it was lovely to return too. Sad when places you return to don’t live up to expectations! I didn’t make it here on my last trip to Thailand but definitely will put this on my list for the next trip! Unjoy!

  27. Arianwen says:

    It looks beautiful. I didn’t make it to Koh Lanta on my trip – there are too many gorgeous islands to choose from! Very cute animals too. The only dogs and cats I saw in Thailand were in a very unhealthy state and I ran from them scared I’d catch rabies! 🙁

  28. Lisa says:

    Oh, how I wish this post had existed before our trip to Koh Lanta last week. We have traveled to Khao Lak, north of Phuket, several times and really loved the area. We gave Lanta a try on this trip after recs from a friend and I’m sad to say we didn’t love it.

    • Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. If you don’t mind sharing, what didn’t you like about Lanta?

      • Lisa says:

        Frankly, we had a series of mishaps during our trip, all of which happened in Lanta, and I’m certain they set the tone for our experience. However, part of the issue was that Lanta was considerably more expensive than Khao Lak (where we’ve spent time for each of the last 3 years) for comparable services and food, and especially with respect to lodging and transportation. We struggled to find mid-range accommodations that were within our ideal budget (over Chinese new year, so perhaps to be expected).

        That being said, we did have several nice meals on Lanta, at Kwan’s and the Beach House in particular, which serves some dishes I haven’t seen often in southern Thailand.

  29. Laura says:

    You had me at the beaches and massage, but you can play with kitties?! I’m planning a trip to Thailand soon and I think I’ve been convinced to add Koh Lanta to the itinerary!

  30. Simone says:

    WOW! This looks just like what we are looking for. I will be sure to add Koh Lanta to the Thailand list and will definitely be getting some kitty cuddles in!

  31. Jade says:

    I’ve booked flights (to Krabi) for early July and we’re trying to decide where to stay. We’ve been looking at Lanta but as the weather probably won’t be too crash hot do you think Railay would be better?

    Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂
    (I’m 25 and my husband is 31 if that helps!)

    • Hi, Jade — July is extremely rainy and I haven’t experienced either place during the rainy season, so I can’t comment in that regard. I do overall prefer Koh Lanta to Railay.

  32. Pauly says:

    I proposed to my wife at lanta in 06 and next year, will be returning with our 2 children. Absolutely loved it but one thing I need to mention is that you can also get to Lanta from Bangkok via overnight sleeper train. Way more comfortable than the bus and affords you the insight of rural Thailand and Thais-I highly recommend it!

    • That’s so romantic, Pauly! Yes, you could take the overnight train, but only to Suratthani, and from there you’d need to take a three-hour bus ride to Krabi before picking up the ferry to Lanta. You can’t take the train anywhere on the Andaman Coast.

  33. Tamika says:

    This has inspired me to go, i’ve been looking for a tropical escape that isn’t to busy looks like i’ve found the one, photos are amazing and really love the theme of the whole blog, i have found some very useful travel tips and ideas

  34. Jade Just says:

    Hi Kate,

    I asked a little while ago about Koh Lanta during green season and took the plunge anyway. I’m here and I whole heatedly agree that it is one of the most special places in the world. Green season is fantastic, the weather is warm but not too warm and in 3 days we’ve had plenty of sun and only 2 short showers. It’s a bit windy and a bit overcast from time to time but for the price we’ve paid to stay at the Pimalai in Kantiang, I have absolutely no regrets. There is hardly anyone around but almost everything is still open.

    Thanks you so much for opening my eyes to Koh Lanta 🙂 I absolutely love it here.

  35. Lenka says:

    Hi Kate,
    thank you very much for you great article full of useful information. Me and my partner are planning our trip to Ko Lanta in November. We would like to stay there between 7th and 14th November. Based on your experience could you please tell me what is the weather like in this time? I am afraid of rains and cloudy sky… How long does it rain in this time during the day? Are there sunny days without clouds or should I expect rather cloudy sky?
    Thanks a lot for your answer. Have a nice time!
    Lenka

  36. Brenda says:

    Hi!
    My fiancé and are going from Krabi down to Koh Lanta then Koh Lipe in their peak season late Dec-Early January for 20 days. Decent hotels are $150-200. Ouch!

    Do you have any island recommendations to stay for a couple nights in between Koh Lanta to Koh Lipe?

    Thanks

    Brenda

    • In between Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe are Koh Ngai, Koh Muk, and Koh Kraden. I haven’t been to any of those islands, but I hear there’s a nice budget guesthouse on Koh Kraden — I think it’s called Paradise Lost.

  37. Melanie says:

    Hey Kate!

    I’ve been lurking on your blog for a few months. 🙂 Love your posts!

    I was wondering if you have any advice on where it might be best to rent a motorbike in Koh Lanta? My husband and I are hoping to arrive at Saladan pier and rent a motorbike there to drive to our guest house. We did that in Koh Phangan to save some money on taxi fares. However, I have just heard so many horror stories about motorbike rental places that might not be 100% super honest, so I thought it might be worth asking if there’s one place or other you might recommend.

    Happy Travels!
    -Melanie

    • Eek — are you sure you want to ride a motorbike with your luggage? Lots of tourists crash their bikes because they take risks they shouldn’t, and riding with heavy bags can be dangerous if you’re not used to it.

      Transportation is reasonably priced in Koh Lanta. There are motorbike rentals all over the place. If I were you, I’d grab a tuk-tuk to your guesthouse and then rent a motorbike nearby. Just make sure it’s a decent bike when you rent it.

      • Melanie says:

        Oh don’t worry about us! We live in Chiang Mai, so we’re traveling with only small backpacks to Koh Lanta. 🙂 We did this with our bags in Koh Phangan, too.

        Thanks for your reply!

  38. Thanks Kate for writing about this island! I’m looking for a place to do some geographic arbitrage (aka retire earlier by avoiding US expenses for the first few years) – and I may have found it in Koh Lanta. All because your post was so convincing and sounded just what I was looking for.

    I’m actually writing this from a coffee shop in Koh Lanta’s “Old Town”.

    Here’s what worked for me once I got here. Rent a motorbike (they are available everywhere). Head south. ignore the whole northwest part of the island – for me it’s not much different than the typical Thai beach tourist traps everywhere else in Thailand. About halfway down the island, cross over to the east side and head to Lanta Old Town. As soon as you hit the middle of the island, things change. The temp cools out a bit. The tacky shops end. Local residences and their beautiful lives show up. Once I hit Old Town, I never left — except to scoot back to Klong Jak beach every late afternoon for an uncrowded, beautiful beach sunset.

    And Kate is right about the sunsets – I’m a sunset junkie and these are amazing. I also enjoyed hanging with the abbot of the Old Town Buddhist temple (right across from 7-11). Daily schedule: Alms round (offer the monks food since they are forbidden from feeding themselves) @ 6am. Lessons/Q&A mid-day. Help clean the ground @ 3pm. Listen to them chant @ 5pm. Meditate with them at 6:15pm. And two blocks away, beautiful chants on speakerphone from an Islamic temple.

    The one-block long row of shops (yes, OK, geared for tourists — but definitely not tacky… almost like Monterey’s Cannery Row?) is so rich with restaurants, Muslim-owned smoothie stands, and various mercantile shops never got old. It’s a week later, and today’s my last night. I’ll miss it. I shall return.

  39. Ray says:

    I totally agree about the sunsets on Lanta! I will never forget my first evening there, sitting on the beach with a drink… it was perfect! 🙂

  40. Adrian says:

    I volunteered at Lanta Animal Welfare for a few months in 2012. Amazing dogs. They’ve been through so much yet they’re all so easy going and tolerant. I couldn’t really get into the people though after seeing what they did to the dogs. Esp DokDek who has boiling oil poured over his head by a restaurant owner.
    Check out my Lanta pics.
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150510650444902.375600.535609901&type=1&l=0689626e26

  41. Great write-up and I agree with you completely. I liked it so much in Koh Lanta that I have decided to call it home after spending the past few years up in Chiang Mai. It has a great relaxed feel with enough amenities to get by but without the crowds, touts and silly prices that you see on several other close-by islands.

  42. chris says:

    I’m in Lanta right now…..beautiful!….sooo chilled out!!

  43. Diana Wynne says:

    If you love island, I would recommend Phuket. Last month my husband and I visited Phuket island of Thailand. One of the places we really enjoyed was a Thai Cultural Theme Park – Phuket FantaSea. Every service area there was beautiful and neat. We enjoyed watching their beautiful, costumed parade culminating at an outdoor stage with a Bangok theme show. The place is really somewhat like Disneyland of Thailand! The highlight their main show held at a beautiful Palace of the Elephants Theater. I must say it was pretty amazing, I left overwhelmed by their beautiful culture. International buffet dinner was good, particularly the noodle soup. We remember it as one of our nicest outings in Phuket and do recommend it for a quality evening-into-the-night entertainment. Don’t miss it!

  44. DPK says:

    I still think Boracay has the best sunsets. I liked Koh Lanta but the beach was a bit meh.

  45. Joey says:

    My first visit to lanta was 2007, as a solo female, nudging 50yrs
    I returned in 2008, with some friends and family,
    then again in 2011 solo,
    and back again 2014 with a friend
    Booked again for this year in November with family
    Guess that speaks for itself
    Love this place, for its beauty and chill out-ed-ness
    Can highly recommend Baan Phu Lae, on the southern most beach, bamboo bay, for some deep relaxation and fabulous food.
    Counting down the days!

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