27 December 2023

Beautiful Beaches and Stunning Sunsets on Ko Lanta

The last major stop on my Thailand trip was on the island of Ko Lanta (technically Ko Lanta Yai, and also spelled Koh Lanta), located in the Andaman Sea off the southwestern shores of the Thai mainland near Krabi. I thought long and hard about which island (or islands) to base myself on and decided that Ko Lanta would be the best for me in terms of weather (for early December), beaches, things to do, nightlife (lack of it in my case!) and easy access to the mainland and other beautiful islands.

Unusually for me, I decided not to push my itinerary to the limits by staying on two different islands. Instead, I spent five nights across two locations on Ko Lanta — Long Beach and Kantiang Bay — and took day trips to other islands like Ko Phi Phi, with its famous Maya Bay. My stay on Lanta gave me a real desire to explore other Thai islands but for a first-time visit, it was awesome. Read on (it's another *long* and detailed post) for beautiful beaches, special sunsets, super-snorkelling and awesome accommodations. Oh, and some very cheeky monkeys!


Ko Lanta's best beaches are on the west coast. Although the island is only about 13 miles long, the small and sometimes poor-quality roads mean that it can take almost an hour to drive from Sala Dan Pier in the north to Mu Ko Lanta National Park in the south. It's worth bearing this in mind when picking where to stay because those distances start to add up, especially in the back of pick-up trucks on the way to and from excursions! 

Long Beach is about one-third of the way down the island, making it convenient for access to the pier. As its name suggests, the bay has a two-mile long, wide sandy beach — fringed with palm trees and very pleasant for swimming and sunbathing. I stayed two nights at Long Beach Chalet, booking a cheaper chalet in the garden area, five minutes' walk from the beach (not a problem for me). They have more expensive beachfront villas but my chalet (£50 per night, including breakfast) was comfortable and clean, with air con and a nice hammock and relaxation area on the ground floor. I was staying fairly close to the main road, but Ko Lanta isn't exactly LA and the only noise I heard was the occasional rooster!

Long Beach Chalet has its own beach area with various beanbags, loungers and hammocks and there's lots of shade under the trees. They also have a couple of paddleboards to borrow and you can rent other equipment and/or get a massage along the beach. I spent a lot of happy time soaking up the sun, swimming in the sea, enjoying the stunning sunsets over the Phi Phi islands and walking along the beach. There's an infinity pool at the beach and a smaller pool in the garden area but with a beach this lovely, I didn't use the pools.

Breakfast is served in a covered al fresco area. There was a good buffet selection with lots of fruit, pastries and other Western and Thai breakfast items. Although I fired up my Aeropress Go on my balcony, I also found a speciality coffee option at Escape Cafe, the beach coffee shop. I had a nice piccolo with Samadool Coffee there — coffee always tastes better with a sea view! I also had a few meals and drinks on the beach at Lym's Bar & Restaurant. The Thai dishes I tried (including pad krapow gai and chicken satay) and the cocktails were good and the prices reasonable enough.

I asked a Norwegian couple who had been staying on Ko Lanta for two weeks for their food and drink recommendations. One was Suza Hut, a short walk north along Long Beach. They told me order the hot pan but didn't tell me what it was. I did — with chicken and cashew nuts — and was surprised to find the server pouring boiling water over a hot plate containing the food, creating a lot of steam and noise. I'm always happy to get a free facial and the food was delicious; everyone else in the restaurant wanted to know what it was! I also had a nice pad Thai at the relaxed and welcoming Malina's Kitchen, just across the road from my hotel.


Kantiang Bay is three-quarters of the way down the west coast of Ko Lanta. The journey times to other parts of the island, especially Sala Dan Pier, were longer but once I'd checked in to Pimalai Resort & Spa, I didn't want to leave! In Thailand, it's easy to find excellent accommodation at very low prices by Western standards. For most of my trip I opted for 'upper-mid-range' hotels, paying around £50–90 per night. For the last three nights, I treated myself as part of my recent milestone birthday celebrations by staying somewhere really luxurious. I paid about £220 per night, which is very expensive by Thai standards, but very good value compared to the equivalent quality and standard of accommodation in Europe.

Pimalai was really special! The large resort, set on the hillside above Kantiang Bay, is beautiful with its tropical plants and flowers, traditional-style buildings and outstanding sea views. You may need a map — and possibly a buggy, depending on your mobility and where you are staying — to get around. The service was exceptional, starting with complimentary round-trip transfer from Krabi Airport or Ko Lanta and continuing through welcome drinks, coconuts and snacks in your perfectly chilled room. The staff were so lovely and helpful and although Pimalai has a lot of honeymooners and anniversary-celebrators, I always felt very welcome as a solo traveller. This sometimes meant I got two coconuts or snacks, not that I'm complaining! And the email with the bill was perhaps the sweetest message I've ever received from a hotel.

Breakfast, included in the room rate, was one of the best hotel breakfasts I've ever had. Most mornings I had a cooked-to-order omelette with a few breads, pastries and/or fruits, as well as espresso (pretty good!) and fresh fruit juice. I may have made a charcuterie sandwich one morning and packed it away for lunch... I had a very good Thai seafood dinner at one of the three restaurants, Spice 'n' Nice, overlooking the bay by night.

Every evening, I went to the beach bar for two-for-one sunset cocktails. One day, after exhausting myself swimming and snorkelling, I had to switch to mocktails to avoid knocking myself out! The drinks were always well mixed and the view of Kantiang Bay and the distant Ko Haa were even better.

On the gorgeous sandy beach, loungers and umbrellas are always prepped and ready and staff bring you a towel and a glass of ice water as soon as you sit down. I also borrowed one of the hotel's stand-up paddleboards (they have kayaks and a Hobie Cat too) and had my first go at stand-up paddleboarding. It went so well that I tried again the following day, although it was harder work in the stronger wind.

There are two infinity pools: I spent most time at the lower one closer to the beach and where I was staying; the other, in the upper resort (where most of the private villas are located), had incredible views and an infinity jacuzzi. Pimalai also has a beautiful spa but the treatments ended up being out of my budget. The same was true of the island excursions they organise — while probably less hectic than the general island trips, they were more than twice the price.

I didn't want to eat at the resort the whole time I was in Kantiang Bay (or pay resort prices) but there are a few places to eat, drink and shop in the nearby village. Phad Thai Rock & Roll is not so rock and roll any more — depending on your view of R.E.M. — but the pad Thai was excellent and the restaurant had a relaxed, homey vibe. Drunken Sailors is also a good option. And I bought a few pieces of jewellery and gifts at Kiki Koh Lanta on the main drag. The village was only ten minutes' walk from Pimalai — it was a bit dark in places but the main concern was the aggressive gangs of monkeys lurking on the power lines!

On Kantiang Beach itself,  Same Same But Different is another recommendation from the Norwegian couple I met and the food was really good. I had the best spicy chicken and cashew nut of the trip, feeling the sand beneath my toes and the hearing the roar of the sea just metres away. Heaven.


Without wheels of my own, I took a tour to explore some of Ko Lanta's other attractions. I booked through Lanta Tourist Center, with whom I booked my island excursions, and thought it was going to be a guided tour. Instead, it was just a driver taking me to the agreed places in a ten-person minibus just for me, which cost 2,000 THB (£45). This would be better value if you are a bigger group and you can definitely find a private driver for the day for much cheaper.

Mu Ko Lanta National Park

From Kantiang Bay it's only a short drive to Mu Ko Lanta National Park in the southern tip of the island. The national park also includes the marine park and some of the smaller islands that technically fall under the Ko Lanta remit. The tourist entry fee is 200 THB (£4.50). Keep your ticket because you may need to show it again — some Germans warned me about some charlatans trying to trick them into buying a fake ticket.

The national park encompasses a hilly jungle area. There is a horseshoe-shaped two-kilometre hiking trail you can follow, which was pretty steep and with rough terrain. There are some guide ropes and steps but wear trainers or shoes with a good grip. I didn't see another soul until I reached the clearing at the end, when I finally caught a glimpse of the sandy beach and turquoise waters below. Sadly, I didn't see any of the jungle wildlife, like the dusty leaf monkey, colugo and hill myna, either. I did see some very cheeky macaques on the look-out for snacks in the visitors' car park, however. Ko Lanta showed its big-six bias by having a big 'you'll never walk alone' sign; Mo Salah would be proud.

The trail leads down to a curving, sandy beach. It was very humid in the jungle so I was grateful to cool off in the sea, even if the day was overcast. Afterwards, I climbed up to the small lighthouse on the promontory, which also overlooks the rocky beach on the other side. 

Lanta Old Town (Ban Si Raya)

Ban Si Raya, known as Lanta Old Town, is the island's original port town and commercial hub located on the east side of the island. The main tourist street runs parallel to the seafront and features centuries-old timber buildings. There are a lot of shops and eateries catering to tourists. If your home needs a hammock, look no further than Hammock House (NB cat not included with purchase!). There were a couple of nice clothing stores, where I bought a colourful and good-quality cotton beach dress and beach shirt, and a vintage store as well. 

I eschewed the tourist eateries and had a delicious (50 THB) chicken noodle soup at a small local restaurant in the Yellow House. After taking a look at the offshore shipwreck and taking my selfie with the giant blue lobster statue on the pier, it was time to move on.

Tung Yee Peng Village

I spent an hour or so exploring the Tung Yee Peng community village on the east coast of Ko Lanta. You can take a guided tour or boat ride or rent a kayak, but I decided just to walk along the boardwalk nature trail through the mangroves. The day was still overcast but it was nice to learn more about the community. Over 90% of the Thai population as a whole is Buddhist but as many as 80% of indigenous people on Ko Lanta are Muslim — you'll find a lot of mosques and halal food on the island.


I couldn't come to the Andaman Sea without visiting more islands and doing some snorkelling. I considered staying on Ko Phi Phi for early morning access to some of the most popular islands but party-centric Ton Sai didn't appeal and the quieter resorts in the north are generally expensive and isolated. I decided to take day trips from Ko Lanta instead. I booked most of my tours through Lanta Tourist Center — they were listed as the supplier on a GetYourGuide tour and it was much cheaper to book direct with them via WhatsApp.  Both of the below tours seemed to be operated by Lanta Garden Hill Speedboat and cost 1,300 THB (£26), including transfer to and from my hotel, speedboat, snorkel kit, water and lunch on the beach. If you're better at haggling than me (likely!) you can probably get better rates. I paid cash to the driver each time on pick up. There's also a 400 THB (£9) marine national park fee for most tours, paid on the pier.

Ko Phi Phi & Maya Bay by speedboat

This was it: the island trip I'd been waiting for for 23 years! I'll be sharing a longer post about my one-day tour from Ko Lanta to the Phi Phi Islands by speedboat, with a lot more photos. It was a magical day and I took hundreds of photographs of Maya Bay and the other places we visited in Ko Phi Phi. The TLDR version to whet your appetite is below.

It took 40 minutes to get to Ko Phi Phi and we visited four different locations. First, Monkey Beach for monkeys (we were advised not to bring leave anything on the beach as the monkeys are very cheeky) and snorkelling, and then Bamboo Island for more snorkelling, lunch on the beach and sunbathing. Bamboo Island was particularly lovely with crystal-clear turquoise waters, soft white sand and a view of distant karst islands on the horizon. I saw lots of colourful fish too.

After lunch, we headed to Maya Bay, which was the filming location for The Beach. The production created a lot of damage, some irreversible, to the stunning lagoon and fragile ecosystem, made worse by subsequent overtourism. Maya Bay was closed entirely for several years to promote recovery and although it has now reopened, there's a daily visitor cap and boats can't moor in the bay — they drop off passengers at a new floating pontoon. It's a ten-minute walk along a new boardwalk to the beach (there are now also toilets and refreshment facilities). You have to take off your shoes and no swimming is allowed.

With all of that being said, Maya Bay is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Without all the boats and the people in the sea, you can enjoy its beauty much more, standing on the white sand, admiring the karst formations that *almost* close off the lagoon (that was edited in the film) and impossibly turquoise waters. I recommend walking to the far end of the beach where there are fewer people and you can appreciate how lucky you are to be in such a magical place even more.

After a brief ride through Phi Phi Le lagoon, our last stop was Ton Sai village on Ko Phi Phi Don. With its many tourist shops, bars and eateries (McDonald's and Burger King!), Ton Sai wasn't for me. There were very few Brits on Ko Lanta but I found a lot (mostly younger travellers) enjoying all that Ton Sai had to offer. I did find somewhere to get a decent piccolo (using coffee from Phuket-based roaster Osmosis) and then sat on the beach while I waited for the boat back to Ko Lanta.

Ko Haa & Ko Rok

After my Ko Phi Phi day trip I wanted more island adventures, but where to go next? From Ka Lanta many operators offer a 'four islands' tour, which takes in Koh Ngai, Koh Ma and Koh Chueak and a swim through 'Emerald Cave.' These islands are beautiful but these tours, especially the Emerald Cave stop, are supposed to be exceptionally crowded. Instead, I took a tour to the islands of Ko Haa and Ko Rok. Again, I'll be writing a separate post with more details and photos, so here is the teaser version.

The pick-up and Sala Dan pier operation were the same as my Ko Phi Phi trip. In fact, I was in the same speedboat with the same crew as two days earlier. It was even busier than the other trip — a couple of people couldn't find a seat, although people seemed to make more room on the return journey. We first travelled to Ko Haa, a group of five tiny islands (haa means 'five') about 45 minutes from the mainland with interesting karst features and good snorkelling and dive sites. I jumped straight in with my snorkel and began to explore the reef. As usual, I mostly found myself stalking parrotfish, angelfish and clownfish and the waters were wonderfully clear. There were several other boats but the bay was big enough that it didn't feel crowded.

It took 40 minutes to get to beautiful Ko Rok. As well as the main beach, where we all had lunch, most of us visited two other snorkelling sites. About 15 people decided to stay on Ko Rok beach; if you don't like snorkelling — or if you've seen Ko Rok beach — you'll understand why. As a snorkeller, I enjoyed the incredible coral gardens, reef formation and wide range of colourful fish, including a giant blue starfish, although I was getting used to my brand-new underwater camera and my photos don't do it justice.

Lunch, in the shade on the main beach, was the same (and just as tasty) as my other trip — though I had to watch out to stop the imposing monitor lizards from pinching my curry! Afterwards, I walked ten minutes along the beach, past a rocky area and into what turned out to be own private patch of perfect paradise. The water was clear, shallow and as hot as a bath and I wallowed in the shallows for a while, unable to believe that other than a couple of distant longtail boats I could not see another human. Bliss.

When eventually it was time to return to Ko Lanta I was hot, tired and very happy. I loved Ko Rok so much I considered taking the tour (or my hotel's much more expensive version) again the following day. I was very jealous when I saw my fellow hotel guests walking along the jetty to board the boat for an incredible day on the water. Well, I guess I'll just have to come back.


The closest airport to Ko Lanta, Krabi International Airport, is a 90-minute to two-hour drive, including a very short car ferry from the mainland to Ko Lanta Noi. A shared minivan from Krabi Airport costs 400–500 THB (around £10) per person and can take two to three hours, depending on traffic, where you're staying and whether you have to wait for more passengers before leaving. I grudgingly splurged for a private transfer — at 2,500 THB (£56) this was the priciest transportation of my whole trip, including internal flights! But I was wanted to get to the beach quickly and without faff, so I booked it through my hotel. A ten-person minibus showed up; the island seems to have only minibuses and tuk tuks! In any case, the transfer took just under 90 minutes and before long, I was dipping my toes in the sea.

Had I been staying at Pimalai the whole time, they would have provided complimentary return airport transfers via van and speedboat. As it was, I got a free van transfer from Long Beach Chalet and then the glamour of walking the jetty onto the speedboat for the return trip. Our luggage was pre-loaded and it was an incredibly cool way to travel to the airport. We also got a mini-tour of the Ko Lanta coast, with a great view of Ghost Island (Ko Phee).

There are ferries between Ko Lanta and Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Phuket and the Trang Islands, some of which only operate from October/November to April.

I didn't travel around on the island much except on tours and drop-offs. Grab didn't work on the island but there were usually lots of tuk tuks around. You can also readily hire a motorbike but I'm not sure I'd recommend it: the roads are hilly and pot-holed and two separate guys on my return airport transfer were on crutches after motorbike accidents. I'm sure the ratio isn't usually that high but do be very careful and check your insurance if you decide to hire a motorbike.


If you're looking for packing tips for Thailand, check out my recommendations of tried-and-tested products for travel.

  • Electricity. Thailand uses multiple plug socket types. All the hotels I stayed in had sockets that could be used with either Type A (USA) or Type C (European) plugs, at least, but it's worth bringing a universal adapter with USB ports.
  • Language. The language of Thailand is Thai, which has its own script, although most street signs include an English translation. Many people, especially those working in hospitality or tourism, speak some English but try to learn a few key phrases. Most crucially, kob kuhn ka [kobb koon kaah] means 'thank you', sawasdee ka [the second 's' seems silent: sah-wah-dee kaah] means 'hello' and aroi [arroy] means 'delicious'.
  • Money. The Thai currency is the baht (THB) and at the time of writing, the exchange rate is about 44 THB to the British pound or 35 THB to the US dollar. If cash is king in Chiang Mai, it is emperor on Ko Lanta! You will only rarely be able to pay by credit card and if you can there is often a 10%s surcharge — this may work out even higher than the standard 220 THB (£5) transaction charge on every ATM withdrawal. There are ATMs in the main villages on Ko Lanta and the ones I used all accepted foreign cards. I just wish I'd been more realistic about my tour and shopping spending and withdrawn larger sums of money at a time.
  • Weather. December to February is the best time to visit Ko Lanta: it's usually sunny and there's less rain. March to May is the hot season, and then the rainy season begins, eventually tailing off in November. 'Rainy season' doesn't mean it will rain all day or every day and nor does 'dry season' mean it won't rain. I arrived in early December to heavy rain in Krabi but it had cleared by the time I got to Lanta. There was a severe rain warning throughout my five-day stay but it didn't rain again. There were two pretty overcast days, so it wasn't constant sunshine either.
  • Wifi/data. I bought a 15-day unlimited data, calls and texts eSIM package through Airalo for  $19.95 (£15.80). You can get much cheaper physical sims in Thailand, but my phone is eSIM only and the convenience of setting this up in advance and hitting the ground running when I landed was well worth it. I was connected to the dtac network and coverage was great throughout Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the islands. No more constant hunting for the next free wifi network! Want to give Airalo a try for your next trip? Sign up using my referral code — REBECC3024 — and we both get $3 credit.

Read my other Thailand guides: Bangkok speciality coffee guideBangkok city guideChiang Mai coffee guide, Chiang Mai city guide and two-week Thailand itinerary.

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