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Also known by the very apt name of "Long Beach", Phra Ae beach is not surprisingly Lanta's longest. Take it from a Travelfish researcher who has huffed from one end to the other under a heavy sun: this five-kilometre long stretch of powdery sand offers plenty of space, even during the peak months.
While Haad Phra Ae is part of Lanta's busy northwest, it offers a more relaxed scene and less of a package holiday atmosphere than nearby Haad Khlong Dao. The water deepens at a gentle rate, perfect both for families with small kids and grown-ups looking to do some serious swimming. Part of the beach's northern section has its share of rocks, but for the most part it's pure white-sandy goodness.
Both in terms of location and accommodation, Phra Ae serves as a middle ground between the midrange to upscale Khlong Dao and the decidedly backpacker-hippie-party scene of Khlong Khong. No matter what price range or style of accommodation you're after, you'll find it at at least one of Long Beach's 50+ places to stay.
A tightly packed enclave of cheap bungalow joints are found to the north of the beach; the south has some inexpensive rooms peppered into what's more of a flashpacker neighbourhood; and the more sparsely developed centre is home to a public park, a couple of midrange resorts and one of the most exclusive luxury resorts on the island.
Just south of Haad Phra Ae lies Haad Baan Phruklom, an often overlooked but idyllic beach with an outstanding midrange resort to go with a few dirt-cheap bungalows that are similar to what you'll find down on Haad Khlong Khong. It's an easy 10-minute stroll over to the south of Long Beach from here.
Overall, Long Beach is a fine choice if you want something a little more lively than Khlong Nin, a little less touristy than Khlong Dao and a little less hippie-ish than Khlong Khong. When you feel like exploring, all of the above and the ferry pier at Baan Saladan are an easy five- to ten-minute motorbike or taxi ride away. On the other hand, don't be surprised if this enormous beach swallows you up and doesn't let go.
While not exactly attractive thanks to the many hastily built concrete townhouses that often stand vacant, the main road through Haad Phra Ae boasts no shortage of places to eat, drink, withdraw cash, check your email, rent a motorbike or book a tour. In addition to some great cafes and lively bars, you'll find three medical clinics, a post office, language school, several long-term apartments and clusters of brand-new private villas for sale.
By David Luekens.