What kinds of experiences have you had on Ko Lanta? I may be in that area in early March and want to decide whether to visit. Any firsthand recommendations on the various beaches, lodging, local color, things to do, etc?
I read about an annual "Lanta festival" that occurs in late Feb or early March. If I go to Lanta, should I time my visit for that? How can I find out the date for 2014?
I'm a middle-aged woman traveling quietly on my own at the flashpacker/budget level. I like places that have character and feel welcoming. On the fence about needing AC at the beach. Thanks!
I've always considered Lanta one of the better all-round islands.
It aint as spectacular as nearby Phi Phi or Krabi 's Railay but that big backbone of mountains makes it not too boring on the eye and the outlook from the two viewpoint restaurants alongside the main road across to Old Lanta town on the non-touristy east coast is pretty special. Mention of Old Lanta Town - I can't think of any non-tiny island town which better captures the cultural values of Andaman island settlements before tourism.
Lanta as a whole is not as laid back as close neighbour Ko Jum - but the southern most beaches are; maybe more so. And the landscape down there is downright pretty.
Lanta isn't as rock and roll as Ton Sai at Phi Phi or Ao Nang near Railay, but Klong Dao, Long Beach and parts of Klong Khong and Klong Nin have nightlife which will keep most happy.
And Lanta's nearby neighbours don't have caves, elephants.
Plus Lanta isn't short on the amount and variety of accommodation and tends to be appreciably cheaper than Phi Phi and Railay (although other Krabi areas can offer value).
So should you visit? Well if it was my first Andaman trip I would make Lanta one of my top 3 along with the Krabi area and Phi Phi. Ditto (naturally) if it was my 3rd 8th or 12th trip and I hadn't visited before (not that prior visits put people off - I've had over a dozen Andaman trips and visited Lanta 4 times, latest this past December).
Should you do Lanta before Phi Phi and Krabi? Well only you can decide, but maybe this post will help.
Beaches. Okay from the north where most people arrive on the ferry or minibus:
Klong Dao - lotsa dense accommodation (budget maybe a bit scarce) along the beach, particularly central and south. Pretty touristy but a nice beach - water gets a bit shallow at low tide. Plenty of restaurants and bars etc along the beach and main road in back - the latter also has lots of other businesses. Very short trip into Ban Sala Dan town for more businesses etc and the ferry.
Long Beach - a kinda nicer longer Klong Dao without low tide blues in most sections. More budget accommodation. I've always considered it the best all round beach on Lanta - and surprisingly there is still a big section of undeveloped land back of beach towards mid-two thirds to the south.
Relax Bay - small bay south of Long Beach. Very quiet although one of the weekly all island parties may be held at one of the two beach bars (was a few years back). One lower midrange joint and two budget joints. Nice beach but low tide blues.
Klong Khong - a kind of Long Beach for the backpackers although there are some nice flashpacker and lower midrange places here. Good traveller vibe. Nice beach, some parts suffer at low tide.
Klong Nin - similar to Klong Khong but more flashpacker and midrange joints. Low tide blues not a big deal. Atmosphere maybe not as intimate as the traveller vibe at Klong Khong.
Kantiang Bay - a bigger, more spectacular Relax Bay with a lot more top end accommodation and no real low tide blues. Check the views from the Muslim restaurants alongside the main road on the southern headland or from budget/flashpacker Lanta Top View Resort high on the northern headland. Check local village life from the cheap Muslim restaurants opposite the 7/11 in the tiny village north end of the bay a short distance from the top value Ancient Realm Boutique Resort - a lower midrange joint at flashpacker prices which can arrange good value transport from the ferry on the Kantiang Shuttle (one problem with the southern beaches is their distance sees the ferry pier taxi mafia asking an arm and a leg to take you down - this is not such a problem if you have a booking where places will either pick you up or have a tame transport link. Actually the taxi mafia are venal even to beaches close to the ferry. Note the minibuses from Krabi and Trang will deliver to most accommodation as far south as Klong Nin) .
Waterfall Bay - now we are hitting those lovely southern beaches. More laid back with a handful of budget, flashpacker and lower midrange places. A couple of cool beach bars which shouldn't pose a noise problem for accommodation. Very scenic with nice sand surrounded by high headlands and mountains/hills - low tide blues not a big deal. The waterfall is inland - not easy to reach. There is also elephant trekking and this will get you to the waterfall.
Bamboo Bay - Arguably even quieter than Waterfall Bay. No development in Dec 2012 south of the mid-beach LaLaanta Resort (midrange). A few flashpacker (maybe budget in the low season) places in the northern beach and rock platform area with one or two more expensive joints a bit higher on the headland. Water seems a bit shallow and rocky this northern end, but plenty of deep water all tides in other areas.
Whoa - got to answer all of the question.
Sorry, never been there for the Lanta festival. Google should surely find the date if it is running.
For lodging look at travelfish's own reviews plus user reviews on accommodation booking sites (travelfish's linked Agoda is pretty good) and good old Trip Advisor. Note too that unless it is a holiday weekend (or maybe the festival) March tends to be shoulder season and there should be good deals from touts on the ferry and at the pier. These people can show pix, negotiate on price and often throw in free or cut-price transport).
I'm not a big fan of aircon - I reckon most beach bungalows are cool enough with a fan. But this is an individual call. Lotsa budget places don't have aircon of course and some flashpacker places don't.
Things to do: well I've mentioned the elephants, caves and waterfall.
Most of Lanta's roads aren't super busy and paved okay (with the occasional pot-hole) so hiring a moped and checking all the beaches, the National Park area in the far south, Old Lanta town and the viewpoints is pleasant. If you are a bicyclist all but the southern beaches/national park and a very small section near the viewpoints are okay from the steep-slopes point of view. You can trek over the headlands between the southern beaches in maybe 10 minutes each but Bamboo Bay to the National Park is maybe 20+ minutes walking. And very steep in parts.
Lanta has some good day trips - to Ko Rok and Ko Haa plus the southern Trang islands with the fabulous Emerald Cave at Ko Muk. All these have good (for Thailand) snorkelling. Like Railay and Jum, snorkelling off the beach at Lanta is nothing to write home to mum about.
I was on Ko Lanta last month for the 4th time. The island has been one of the great succes stories of Thailand in recent years - the number of tourists visiting the island has increased enormously since we first went in 2003. It is now firmly part of the mainstream with accommodation of all types and development continuing apace. The main road south from Ban Saladan, the main town, is a long strip of development - shops, bars, restaurants, Thai boxing, banks etc. It seems to go on and on.
Yet - when you get down to the beaches and find a resort that suits you the place still manages to feel relatively peaceful. At most of the beaches I've been to the resorts are reasonably well spaced, so you don't feel crammed in. I still like to go to Ban Saladan at night sometimes - its buzzy and busy and has some great fish restaurants, but each time we go we stay just that little bit further south to avoid the crowds. I still like Ko Lanta, but wonder whether eventually the sheer amount of development will make me look elsewhere.