Text & Photo : Anders Pihl
More relaxed than nearby Phuket, the island of Koh Lanta continues to be a longtime favorite among travelers from all over the world. The island shows a sunny side at the west coast where a string of enchanting beaches lines up.
Koh Lanta is a 30 kilometer long island in the Krabi province with a remarkable two-piece character. The west coast lines up first-rate beaches, all with prime sunset locations. The east coast is very different and has vast areas of mangrove swamps between tiny fishing villages. If Koh Lanta was fleeting the island would probably tip over on the west side because it is where all the visitors reside.
Exploring the magnificent west coast of Koh Lanta from north to south is a truly fun escape. The road follows the coast more or less all the way, displaying the island in all its diversity. You get to know Lanta while traveling and learn where your favorite spots are right away.
I begin in Saladan, a town where most of Lanta’s important infrastructure are gathered, with shopping, banks, police, pharmacy and doctors. Near Saladan the shallow bays of Klong Dao and Long Beach awaits. Both are very popular with Scandinavian families. It is clean and proper here. Hotels and restaurants are definitely a bit more upmarket.
Towards the central part of the island the ambience becomes different. It is more motley and vibrant with travelers of all ages and styles. Expensive hotels with pool villas lies side by side with budget guesthouses. Trendy latte cafés rub shoulders with reggae-hangouts. The inviting beaches relieve each other. The longest ones, Klong Khong and Klong Nin, become social scenes in the late afternoon when everybody gathers before the sunset. If you want to be where people are, it is definitely the central part you are looking for.
The more south you come on Koh Lanta the more beautiful it gets. The island rises at the height, while the recurrent bays shrinks. Inside them you find beaches with splendid natural beauty. An obvious stop on the way south is the small Nui Beach, embraced by steep green slopes and overlooked from the lovely restaurant Diamond Cliff.
Even more striking is the mighty Kantiang Bay with cabanas on high stilts at the far end. The average age among adults are clearly lower here and the vibe more bohemic. At the southernmost end you find the deep rainforest in national park Mu Koh Lanta and Lighthouse Koh Lanta out on a small peninsula.
What about the east side then? The east coast of Koh Lanta is absolutely worth another excursion. You get happily surprised when you arrive to Lanta Old Town, the oldest city of the Island. The main street is bordered with cafés and cozy small shops. The alleys between the houses leads out to jetties where you can have a delightful seafood lunch while looking at the sea outside with islets and karst mountains.
Still you can claim that Koh Lanta is the local people’s island. Daily markets thrive as always, small mosques remain in the middle of the tourist settlements. On the eastside there are several villages of the where the Chao Ley live, an Indo-Malayan people that sometimes is called Sea-Gipsies. Chao Ley have been living on Lanta for hundreds of years. All the way from north to south you see why Koh Lanta is so loved by so many. There are no deck chairs, no beach vendors, no jet skis, no mega resorts, no high rises and no ostentation. So far Koh Lanta retains a balance between well developed tourism and the small-scale and local society.
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