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.
Lanta. The word alone conjures daydreams of lazing in a hammock, soothed by tepid waves and refreshed by the juice of coconuts that collect on the sand. The exact meaning is unknown, but the island's old Malay name of Pulao Satak translates as "Long Beach Island". Four splendid stretches of powder-white sand span several kilometres each on Ko Lanta, with many more secluded beaches just waiting to be lounged upon.
First "discovered" by Scandinavian backpackers in the 1980s, this long and slender Andaman Sea island stayed largely hidden in the shadows of Ko Phi Phi and Phuket for many years. As more travellers moaned about crowded beaches and overpriced bungalows on these, word about Lanta's near-empty beaches spread. By the early 2000s, it had become a choice destination for families, honeymooners, backpackers and anyone looking for a thriving yoga scene.
In addition to the vast beaches, Lanta boasts inland mountains shrouded in old-growth jungle, a protected mangrove forest and a pristine national park. If there's one activity that should get you out of that hammock, it's a walk to the park's antiquated lighthouse perched atop a dramatic white-rock cliff that affords some of the most dazzling views you'll find anywhere in Thailand.
Lanta's traditional Urak Lawoi (nomadic sea dweller) and Chinese-Malay Muslim communities add an intriguing splash of culture to that beach holiday. While the west coast has been taken over by tourism, the east is home to shrimp farms, fishing villages and a historic Old Town where Chinese lanterns and wooden bird cages hang from century-old teakwood houses.
Though Ko Lanta has retained much of its charm and even a few undeveloped patches of beachfront, it now shows up loud and clear on the mainstream travel radar. The northwest has become a bustling tourist centre, complete with neon signs, tattoo parlours and tailor shops. The main road here is something of a disaster, with litter-strewn ditches and countless ugly, ill-planned concrete developments that often stand abandoned.
You'll now find two muay Thai stadiums, three cooking schools, snake shows, elephant camps, an international language school and even a few seedy bars that would have been unthinkable to the conservative locals when 24-hour electricity arrived in the late '90s. One life-long islander complained that the tourism industry has brought an influx of greed while threatening the island's traditional ways of life. But the worst could be yet to come.
At time of writing, plans are being drawn up to erect an 800 megawatt coal-fueled power plant on the mainland near Ko Lanta, with a coal dock slated for the island itself. If this becomes a reality, coal barges will lurch straight through the national park, spewing harmful carcinogens into the air and water, killing marine life and ruining those breathtaking sea views. If a coal plant on the Krabi coast and coal dock on Lanta sounds as crazy to you as it does to us, please sign the AVAAZ petition and visit the "Say No to Krabi Coal Power Plant" web page.
For now, the sheer size of Lanta's "big four" beaches -- Khlong Dao, Phra Ae, Khlong Khong and Khlong Nin -- leave plenty of breathing room, even during peak season. Far southern beaches like Ao Kantiang retain a remote and romantic atmosphere. Though it's changing fast, Ko Lanta remains a fantastic choice for everyone from families to hippies to high-end luxury travellers.
About our coverage of Ko Lanta
Ko Lanta is a fairly large island with over a dozen different beaches and other points of interest, so we’ve split our coverage into a series of smaller sections to make it easier to navigate.
You'll almost certainly arrive in Baan Saladan at Lanta's northernmost point. This one-time fishing village has become a full-scale tourist town that brims with ATMs and bank branches, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, travel offices, convenience stores and shopping plazas. Along with a few dirt-cheap guesthouses, some of the island's best and cheapest seafood can be scored here. Due west of Saladan, the Koh Kwang peninsula hosts one massive luxury resort along with a couple of lacklustre midrange options.
A short ride south of Saladan takes you to Haad Khlong Dao, a vast beach where the seeds of tourism were first planted on Lanta. It includes mostly midrange, family-oriented accommodation and is a comfortable choice for those wanting easy access to Western food and other conveniences along the main drag.
A rocky outcrop in the south separates Haad Khlong Dao from Haad Phra Ae, also known as Long Beach -- and for good reason. Lanta’s longest stretch of sand includes a cluster of budget accommodation to the north, then luxury and midrange resorts in the less-developed centre, and a mix of budget to midrange choices in the south. The main drag boasts a good mix of eateries along with a muay Thai school, a huge gym, a Thai language school and some fairly large live music clubs and sports bars. Just south of Haad Phra Ae (and included in the coverage) is Haad Baan Phruklom and it’s few bungalow joints with more of a hippie air.
South of Haad Phra Ae stretches Haad Khlong Khong, a favourite of backpackers looking to let loose at one of the fairly lively beach parties put on by Where Else and other artsy bungalow joints. Families might want to avoid Khlong Khong, as it can get noisy late at night and things like “happy shakes” and spliffs are openly offered at some of the bars.
Get back on the main drag and continue south for a couple of kilometres to reach Haad Khlong Nin, one of our favourite beaches on Lanta. Located roughly at the centre of the west coast, it has a more mature atmosphere than Khlong Khong, but without the package-holiday feel of Khlong Dao. The accommodation ranges from 500-baht huts up to 6,000-baht villas. Our Khlong Nin coverage also includes two small neighbouring beaches: Khlong Tob and Khlong Hin.
South of Khong Nin, the road narrows as you reach into Far Southern Ko Lanta. This coverage includes the mostly upscale accommodation at Ao Kantiang, which is often mentioned as one of the best beaches in Thailand. We prefer the aesthetically similar Haad Khlong Jak, a bit further south, for its old-style bungalows and beach-shack bars. Continue south and you’ll hit the remote Ao Mai Pai (Coconut Bay), beyond which stretches Lanta’s southernmost beach at the national park.
Three paved roads cut across the island to the less-travelled east coast, anchored by the atmospheric Old Town and its homestay accommodation set in venerable stilted houses. The east side also includes a scenic mangrove village to the north and the Urak Lawoi village of Sang Kha-U in the south. If considering staying on the east coast, keep in mind that the nearest beach will be a solid 20-minute motorbike ride away.