The guide books describe Koh Lanta as having a laid back atmosphere and being a great place to just chill out for a bit, recommending it mostly for families and couples. Well, that’s indeed one of this island’s most important characteristics, but it’s definitely not all there is to it. Koh Lanta has virtually something for everyone, couples, solo backpackers, young or old travelers, each of whom can choose their own particular style of island life. I would say:
Koh Lanta is the quintessential tropical paradise in Thailand
The main island, Koh Lanta Yai (The Big Lanta Island), is about 6 km wide and over 30 km long. Koh Lanta’s west coast offers palm-fringed, long sandy beaches and clear waters and it’s more adapted to tourists while the east cost is still relatively undeveloped which makes it attractive in its own right. The interior of the island is studded with hills covered in dense tropical rainforest. There are two asphalted roads, one on each coast, crossing from the northern part of the island almost all the way to the southern tip.
The best way to explore the island is by motorbike. The terrain is pretty flat, the roads are in good condition and the traffic is much lighter than in much of the country, giving you the prefect conditions to tour around the island. Motorbikes are available for rent just about everywhere for only 200 bahts (or less if you rent for several days).
Despite of the relaxing and laid back coastal atmosphere, there are plenty of places to party and have fun every night. Many bars, along the west coast, organize special nights and parties once a week (look for the noticeboards outside the 7-Eleven stores as all the events will have posters up a few days prior advertising them). I personally recommend The Treehouse Bar in Phra-Ae (Long Beach).
The locals in Koh Lanta are a mixture of Muslim and Buddhist Thais, Sea Gypsies and a growing number of ex-pats from around the world. The most authentic rural life can be found on the east side. Halfway down the eastern coast you will come to Ban Ko Lanta (Lanta Old Town) which was the original port and commercial center of the island. Further south there’s a large community of semi-nomadic Sea Gypsies (Chao Ley) who live in the village of Ban Sangkha-Ou.
Up in the North, Ban Saladan is the main town on the island, quite small in size but with a high concentration of shops, restaurants, banks, dive shops and other amenities aimed at capturing tourist dollars. Most of the boats and ferries operate from the main pier in Ban Saladan.
South of Koh Lanta lies Koh Ngai, Koh Kradan and Koh Muk which offer stunning white sand beaches, great snorkeling and total seclusion. The hotels and agencies can arrange various boat trips and excursions on these islands including diving and snorkeling. The long-tail boats are the most convenient ways to reach the islands.
While I was in Koh Lanta, I stayed in Phra-Ae at a wonderful hostel called Non La Mer, where I met such lovely people and from where I did several trips to different parts of the main island and to the surrounding islets. For 3 days I’ve been zipping around Koh Lanta on a motorbike, exploring all of its coastline and part of its interior and experiencing the wonderful peace and serenity that it has to offer. One day, I took a 4 island boat trip to Ko Ngai, Ko Chuak, Koh Ma and Koh Muk, including stops for snorkeling and swimming and another day, I visited Koh Lanta Animal Welfare. When I wasn’t on the road or at the sea, I’ve mostly just been chilling and hanging out on the beach with the amazing people I met there. I have also been to a few memorable parties on the beech.