Photo: On the way to the national park.

Ko Lanta is so big, we’ve split it up into areas, select one of the below for detailed accommodation and food listings in that area. Sights and general overviews for Ko Lanta as a whole can be found via the icons above. Don’t know where to start? Read an overview of Ko Lanta’s different areas.

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South of Khlong Nin, the flower-lined coastal road skirts a string of breezy viewpoints before descending into Ao Kantiang, Haad Khlong Jak and Ao Mai Pai in the far southwest. This trio of sparsely developed and absolutely spectacular beaches are separated by steep cliffs and hidden coves, making Lanta's busy north feel like a distant dream.

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The far south is in fact removed from the ferry pier in Saladan by some 20 kilometres, so it's a perfect choice if you're itching to get away from it all, but not if you're set on partying or having an abundance of restaurants and nightlife at your fingertips. All of the far southern beaches do have 24-hour electricity, and the now fully paved road has made the area far more accessible than it used to be.

Though the far south remains sleepy for now, the paved road has also made it easier for developers to erect new buildings. A slew of privately owned villas have appeared, and at time of writing, a five-floor concrete structure was going up on the hill overlooking the once-isolated Ao Mai Pai. We suggest getting here before things really start to change.

On the other hand, one of Lanta's poshest five-star resorts, Pimalai, has proven to be a blessing for the area. Already blended in well to the natural scenery, this eco-conscious resort is firmly dedicated to preserving Ao Kantiang's quiet and pristine setting -- and it has the actual influence to do so. You might see a million-dollar yacht or two moored offshore, but the beaches are open for everyone to enjoy.

Once picked by the UK's Sunday Times as the best beach in Thailand, Ao Kantiang is the largest and most popular of the far southern beaches. We would hesitate to call it the kingdom's best, but there's no doubt that it's a sublime stretch of powder-white sand protected on either side by steep rocky hills. Even if you don't stay overnight, be sure to make a stop here a priority.

Along with the well-heeled set that has a growing number of luxury resorts to choose from, budget and midrange travellers are taken care of in Ao Kantiang by a small but interesting selection of accommodation near the village. Here you'll also find the far south's widest array of eating and drinking options, as well as a few convenience stores, laundromats, internet cafes, ATMs and travel offices.

South of Ao Kantiang, the road takes you up over a steep hill and down again to Khlong Jak beach. Just as stunning as Ao Kantiang but with less people and more of a beach-bum vibe, Khlong Jak is phenomenal both for swimming and relaxing. Near the freshwater canal that gives the beach its name, an inland road takes you past an elephant trekking centre en route to a jungle waterfall.

Continue south and the road gets steeper than ever, passing families of not-so-shy monkeys and jaw-dropping views out to the open sea. Marked by a faded blue sign, this is where you'll find the trailhead for Ao Nui, a small but splendid beach with nothing but a shack of a bar that was closed during our last visit.

The road then meets the extremely steep side lanes leading down to Ao Mai Pai. Also known by it's English translation of "Bamboo Bay", Mai Pai is rockier than Kantiang and Khlong Jak but equally wide, long and beautiful, with only a few small resorts and one stand-alone restaurant and massage area where you can forget the world for a while. Just beyond Ao Mai Pai, at the end of the road, the national park boasts its own gorgeous beach under a photogenic old lighthouse that stands atop a rocky cape.

If planning to stay in the far south, it's best to ask your resort of choice to pick you up at the ferry pier; otherwise you'll risk shelling out upwards of 1,000 baht to a local taxi. While most of your needs can be met by any of the resorts, many travellers choose to rent one of the readily available motorbikes to get around. Be very careful when riding; steep hills, sharp curves, speeding locals, over-confident travellers and abundant wildlife make the far southern roads treacherous.

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