Empty beaches. Gentle waves. Coconut drinks. Chirping birds. Beaches so lonely, it takes a 3-hour car ride and two ferry crossings to get to them. Yet, the two Thai islands that form Ko Lanta are wonderfully self-sufficient, with so much to see and do—and so much to offer even if you truly want to just lie back and relax, and not to indulge in any sightseeing activities. If you're sick of the hustle and bustle of more mainstream Thai islands and want a hideaway to clear your mind and invigorate your senses, Ko Lanta is the place for you.
All visitors will arrive on the north side of the island, and this is where the more commercialized beaches are. The more south one goes, the lonelier the beaches get. However, being an island only the most determined and discerning people seek, even the popular northern beaches, Klong Dao and Long Beach, hardly have more than a handful of people on them at any time. Most fresh arrivals opt for these beaches—if you have a few more nights, it would be interesting to book accommodations along Kantiang Bay and Klong Din down south as well, and split your stay between the two beaches.
Those feeling adventurous can hire a speedboat (for about 1800 baht per person) and head to the nearby Ko Rok Island—famed for idyllic white beaches and emerald waters. Monitor lizards are a common sight here, and lucky snorkelers may even spot a reef shark or turtle.
From budget to luxury, there's a room for everyone
I stayed at Twin Lotus Resort and Spa on Klong Dao beach, which has a gorgeous beachfront infinity pool (along with beachfront villas). Many a morning was spent lounging by the pool after a delectable buffet breakfast. The above-18 rule also meant there were no noisy children splashing or running around, perfect for those looking for serenity. The entire resort is beautifully landscaped with ponds, vivid green lawns, and coconut trees dotting the property. Rooms start at $70 a night.
Prima Lai, located on the Southern end of the island, is worth a splurge (rooms from $170 a night) if you're looking for a very intimate, very exclusive experience. Overlooking Kantiang Bay, the resort is known for a certain isolated beauty, while providing everything you could possibly need for a romantic beach vacation.
Those on a budget can also easily find bungalows below $30 per night. These may be more basic, with no pools or breakfast included, but with the sea so close by, and good and affordable food easily available, not having these frills should not be a problem.
Delectable seafood over the sea
Check out Saladan Town, with its row of great seafood restaurants (budget 450 baht or about $15 for a multi-dish seafood dinner for two, including beer). Saladan Seafood (look out for a green sign) as well as Laanta Seafood (you'll spot a small wine shack a few steps after the entrance) both serve up authentic Thai food and uber-fresh seafood on the cheap. There are also many street food carts (a whole mango expertly sliced and served over glutinous rice, topped with coconut milk and rice krispies, for 70 baht), fruit smoothies (100 baht) and all sorts of kebabs, meat-on-a-stick, and fried noodles (budget about 150 baht).
Find serenity in the hands of a masseuse
The streets are dotted with massage parlours, and each has its own character and are worth checking out. One is particularly worthy of mention—Serenity Massage and Spa, along the streets of Saladan, offers an experience which would cost 10 times more its 350 baht per hour price tag (about $11) in anywhere but Thailand. Beautiful paintings adorn a room bathed in yellow light; the surroundings are clean, tinkling with soft music, and zen. The masseuses are polite and friendly, though a little chatty at times. The Thai massages here did wonders for my sore shoulders. My favourite part was the after-service complimentary fruit and tea on their back balcony, which overlooks the vast sea. Talk about ambience!
Animal lovers, rejoice!
The island also houses a precocious set-up for a Thai island—a full-fledged animal rescue and welfare centre. Known as Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW), the center has sterilized and treated more than 8,000 animals despite receiving no government funding. It is also incredibly well-run and organized: there are tours that start on the hour every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are welcome to play with the cats or bring the dogs out for a walk by the beach. The same folks behind the center also run cooking school and restaurant Time For Lime, a six-course Thai food tasting menu at 450 baht, with 100 baht cocktails during Happy Hour. All proceeds from the business go towards LAW. What better reason to try their signature lemongrass and chilli cocktails?
How to get there
The fastest way is to fly in to Krabi airport and hire a taxi or private car transfer. Check out Kohlantataxi.com to get a quote. My experience with them was professional and fuss-free. If you like to make a grand entrance, arriving by speedboat would cut down some travelling time. Should budget be an issue, get down and dirty with the super-cheap mini-van route—it's an experience in itself! The island is also accessible from Phuket and other nearby Thai islands.