Over the last few years I've spent many months in Thailand and stayed on lots of different islands, all of which were great in their own way, but Koh Lanta stood out for me and I feel like I could spend months (years?) there. My first visit was in 2012 and I only had two weeks, but that was extended from the few days I had planned on staying for. I then went back for another two weeks over Christmas & New Year in late 2014, then back again in February 2017.
Whilst Lanta is definitely beautiful, it's no where near as stunning as Koh Phi Phi. The fact that it's not as busy as hot-spots like Phi Phi probably help a lot, not just because it's not crowded but it means the locals are more relaxed and friendly so you can easily get to know them well.
There is some good night-life but that's not why you go there. It's more about taking it easy whilst enjoying the food, people and island life. It's very relaxing. If you have a scooter then the island is twice as good.
The Swedish Island
Lanta is known as the Swedish island and you can't help but notice the number of blonde children running around. I heard there are three Swedish schools on the island and most tourists seem to be Scandinavian. The whole island has a family vibe which is very welcoming.
On the way to your accommodation, you'll most likely notice all the many Gasoline signs along the road. These are mainly for all the bikes. I highly recommend renting a bike for at least one day. When I was on Lanta in 2012, I'd never been on a scooter before but decided that the roads looked safe enough and there wasn't much traffic. I loved it so much that I did it for five days in a row. On my second stay, I had a bike for the entire two weeks.
I went down to the National Park at the very south of the island and did the walk through the forest. Sweaty but worth it. I also went over to the south east to the old town and Sea Gypsy village. As soon as you get off the main strip, the roads become very quiet and you can just enjoy the open road.
Tips for scooters:
- Test out the bike before you rent it. Check the brakes and check the acceleration (some of the hills are steep and you need some power to get up). Try to get some that looks new.
- Get a good helmet. If possible, find one that covers your whole head like a real motorbike.
- If you're used to bicycles, your natural instinct when braking is probably to grip both hands tightly over the brakes. The scooters use the right handle to accelerate, so gripping it with the brake will keep the bike moving. I've seen lots of people make this mistake and it can lead to minor crashes. Keep your left hand over the brake at all times and get used to releasing your right hand from the accelerator at the same time as braking with the left.
- Go slowly around corners.
- Watch out for holes in the road.
- Don't be put off by vehicles beeping as they overtake you. You're not doing anything wrong, they're just letting you know they're there.
- Always wear a helmet. It's the law and I'll think you're an idiot if you don't.
- If you're scared of biking, just go slowly and then it's as safe as riding a bicycle.
- When locking your bike, turn the handlebar to the left and turn the key all the way anti-clockwise to lock the steering.
- Leaving your helmet is pretty safe but if you worry, just lift up the seat and trap the helmet strap underneath.
Trip 1 (full day):
- Ride south along the west coast from your accommodation (assuming you're staying on Long Beach). Stop at Diamond Cliff Beach Restaurant for an amazing view. Have a drink or just walk down to the beach.
- Continue down south, stopping along the way at the many beautiful beaches and views.
- Have lunch at Phad Thai Rock n Roll. He makes the best Pad Thai I had on the island. Also have one of the amazing smoothies. Opposite is Top View Resort which is great if you want to have another drink or relax a bit more.
- Go as far south as you can and you'll reach the National Park. You'll probably see some monkeys along the road when you're getting close. It costs to get in but it's worth it. I think the ticket lasts multiple days so you can go back for more if you like it.
- Go up to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy the nice deserted beach.
- Do the hike in the forest. It's steep but easy and should take about half an hour.
- Go back north towards Long Beach and stop off at Shanti Shanti for some amazing ice cream made by the French-Italian owner. Even if it looks shut, he can usually serve you ice cream.
Trip 2 (half-day):
- Ride over to the east coast.
- Go to Old Lanta and have drinks and lunch at Beautiful Restaurant. Try to get the table furthest out in to the water. The food isn't amazing but you could spend hours there just enjoying the amazing view.
- Ride south and turn left whenever possible to explore the various 'sea gypsy' towns.
Trip 3 (half-day):
- Ride north to Saladan and go over the new bridge to Koh Lanta Noi.
- Drive to the north and pass the ferry and take the road to the very north east and then drive down the east coast. There aren't many vehicles or people, so you might see some wildlife.
- Explore all the roads you can. It's only a small island. Have an adventure!
Once I realised that I didn't need a flashy room with A/C, I moved to where my new friends were all staying. It's right on the beach, with small huts each with a fan and hot shower. The staff were some of the best I've ever met. Incredibly friendly and helpful. The food there is also pretty great and they put everything on your tab, so you don't need to carry money with you. They rent out bikes too, without the need to fill out forms. My bungalow was 500B per night. Gets booked up in advance.
Mook Lanta Eco Resort
Really nice Eco Resort run by a British couple. I stayed here over Christmas and New Year.
Nightlife, bars & cafés
Nice for meeting people but the parties aren't as big or fun as the other places.
This doesn't have late-night parties but they had a band play one night and it was full of people. Really good fun. Also they have a brand new pool table.
Never actually went as it's a bit far from Long Beach but their parties are well-known.
Pirates Paradise Koh Lanta
Nice place to stop for a drink during a road trip. It's themed like a pirate ship and other strange sculptures.
Located as far south as you can get by south on the east side of the island, it's easy to stumble upon if you're exploring that area.
It's a hotel resort with a swimming pool and a couple of small bars.
View Point Restaurant
Perfect place to stop for a drink with a view on your way to the east side of the island.
Sights & Activities
Ko Lanta National Park
Great national park area with a walk through the forest (up a steep hill), a lighthouse (which sadly you can no longer go up), a beach, lots of monkeys and great views.
It costs to get in but the price seems to vary between high and low season.