Friday, May 17, 2013

Koh Lanta ...

... Yet another beautiful island community not spoiled by over-development. 

Sunset at Koh Lanta Noi
Sunset "Pool View" in Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta (เกาะลันตา) is an island off the coast of Southern Thailand on the Andaman Sea. Like many other destinations in Krabi Province, it is known for its diving and long white beaches. Koh Lanta consists of several islands, the two largest of which are Koh Lanta Noi (เกาะลันตาน้อย, "Small Lanta Island") and Koh Lanta Yai (เกาะลันตาใหญ่, "Big Lanta Island"). However, Koh Lanta Yai is where all the tourist action is so we will focus our attention there.

Koh Lanta is popular with tourists seeking a holiday away from the crowds and wild parties often associated with Patong in Phuket. It's popular with a significantly older crowd than nearby Phi Phi Island: more walking on the beach and watching the sunset than drinking and dancing. However, there are ample bars and the long term residents are friendly and do know how to party! It is also popular with families with young children, and of course, with divers.

Saladan Pier - the ferry is the only whay to get to Lanta by car
Only accessible by ferry...
Koh Lanta is a little less well-known than Phi Phi Island, which has become more commercialized and crowded, but it is hardly undiscovered: the several beaches on the west coast of Koh Lanta Yai are each strung with a line of resorts and bungalows, although the farther down the island you venture, the less this is true. And even when the island is at it fullest, there will be a quiet place for you to relax AND the beaches are never full.

The main island is 6km wide and over 30km long, and is located approximately 70km from Krabi Town. The island has 9 gorgeous white sandy beaches, more than 70 smaller islands and plenty with forests, coral reefs and under water life you can explore while diving or snorkeling. The geography of the island is typically mangroves; coral rimmed beaches; and rugged tree covered hills.

Snorkelling in Koh Rok - Popular day tour destination from Koh Lanta
Snorkelling in Koh Rok
A paved road runs along the beaches from the northern part of the island almost all the way to the southern tip. The last 8 kilometers leading to the headquarters of the Mu Koh Lanta National Park in the south are quite hilly and aren't yet paved so can become quite tricky to negotiate if it rains. The landscape is dominated by a series of mountains covered with virgin rainforest. To the east features an old community that offers fascinating exploring

Koh Lanta is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. The area however, does not suffer from any religious tension and the folk live in peace and harmony. Most of the folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand.

One of the many beaches of Lanta Island
Plenty of Beach for every one ... 
The unique lifestyle of the Chao-Le (sea-gypsy) in Koh Lanta is well-worth seeing, it is a life-style that has been almost completely unaffected by the booming tourism on the island.

Here is a quick reference list of things to see and do while in Koh Lanta:

  • Lanta Old Town is a small village on Koh Lanta's East side. It's one of the region's most culturally diverse with Chinese merchants, original Thai fishing families and an ancient Sea Gypsy community. Many years ago, Koh Lanta's Old Town acted as the port and commercial center for the island and provided a safe harbor for Arabic and Chinese trading vessels sailing between the larger ports of Phuket, Penang and Singapore. Today, Old Town is the district capital; it has a post office, Buddhist temple, Chinese temple and the island's hospital as well as a long pier. It's a charming place to visit and boasts many good restaurants and interesting shopping like handmade Hammocks and an original Batik and Art Gallery. It's also a great jumping off point to other Islands like Koh Bubu and Koh Talenbeng.
  • Ban Saladan, approximately 3 km from Klong Dao Beach, is the tourist center of Koh Lanta. Facilities include inexpensive and easy to find transport, diving trips, banking and shopping.
  •  Khao Mai Kaew Caves - Getting away from the beach for the day, tourists can visit the stunning Khao Mai Kaew Caves which are located in the centre of the island, offering a wonder of rocks and caverns and housing spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, some of the caves are just huge and one of them contains a pool. For getting around inside the caves you will need a guide, but one is cheap, around 200baht per person. You can also take an elephant-ride for arount 600baht per person. Take some good shoes, as the caves are slippery. The caves are located just off the lower of two cross-island roads, down a narrow 1.5 kilometer dirt path through the rubber plantations.
  • Sea-Gypsy Village Known to the Thais as Chao-Le, sea gypsies have occupied the area for hundreds of years settling along the coast in stilt-built houses erected between the water level of high and low tide. They are unique in that they mix very little with the general population, speak their language and have their very own supernatural and traditional beliefs and rituals. And example of the latter is the Loy Ruea (floating boat) ceremony where the village men build a symbolic boat and place wooden statues of themselves in it along with nail pairings, hair and popped rice. By performing this ritual, they ask for forgiveness from the sea gods and for any wrongs that they may have done to the sea. It is believed that all evil is carried away in the symbolic boat.
  • Orchid nursery farm is recommended to all those who like flowers. The farm is located at Long Beach (Pra Ae beach) and the entry fee is 30 Baht per person. It’s easily accessible by bike or motorbike.
  • Koh Lanta Noi has no tourist facilities as such but is well worth a visit. Hire a motorbike and catch the ferry or long tail from Saladan Pier, there's a few circular roads, all well covered that will take you around the island to see the local way of life. There are a few local restaurants along the way so you can stop for some fried rice, pick up a map before you go from one of the tourist offices on Lanta Yai, and drive carefully!
  • Kor Kwang beach, with its attractively curved shaped has lovely sand and clear aquamarine water.
  • Klong Dao Beach, over the years, has developed into the most popular beach on the island with a spectacular 3km long beach of fine white sand and shallow clear water. Yet, because of its length, it is never really that busy. It is located just 2km from Saladan Pier. The beach has an abundance of accommodation ranging in cost from just a couple of hundred baht to a few thousand. It is more than ideal for those who like a quiet beach but prefer to have all the usual tourist facilities such as international food, music and bars etc.
  •  Pra Ae (Long Beach) is situated on the north end of the island and is a stunning crescent of sand about 4km long. There is a lot of accommodation there but since it is spread out a lot, visitors get the feeling that place is peacefully quiet.
  • Klong Khong beach, there is a klong (small river) running opposite the beach and an old coconut plantation. Towards the southern end is an area where the local fishermen tie  their boats to the shore. A rocky reef runs along the length of the shore making it difficult for swimming but great for admiring the sunset.
  • Klong Nin beach is separated by a klong that runs down to the beach at the northern third of the beach dividing it in two. The beach is covered with coconut and pine trees and the back end is tropical rain forest. Like almost all beaches on Koh Lanta, Klong Nin offers a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere and its sand is white and fine. The northern stretch is the best for swimming as it has far fewer rocky paths than the southern part of the beach.
  • Kantiang Bay is a kilometer long beach on a gently curving shoreline. It is home to a limited number of hotels and resorts, leaving the pristine beach with an uncrowded feeling even during the busy holidays. There are excellent corals for snorkeling as well. Lying 18 kilometers south of Baan Saladan, Kantiang beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island and was voted one of the "Top Ten Tropical Beaches in The World" by the Sunday Times of London.
  • Koh Lanta National Park — there are two beaches in the National Park, such as Had Hin Ngam.
Koh Ngai - offten called Koh Hai
Koh Ngai (Hai Island)
There are no scuba diving sites on the island itself, all require a boat trip. However Lanta is the closest island to the famous Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Koh Haa sites, so it is very popular with divers.

  • Hin Daeng and Hin Muang near Koh Lanta are perhaps the best dive sites in Thailand (frequently ranking in the world’s top ten) with more than 200 hard corals and 108 reef fish species catalogued in a study underway, but thousands more organisms abound. Hin Daeng has the steepest and deepest reef in the whole of the country with fantastic marine life. Hin Muang next door is completely underwater and it is covered with delicate violet coral. The sites also have one of the world's highest incidences of whale shark sightings.
  •  Koh Haa - this is the best site in Thailand for mixed groups of snorkellers and divers. For divers only, it offers amazing swim-throughs. In recent years Koh Haa has seen a large increase in the number of fish present at the reefs, due to committed conservation policies.
  • Koh Rok - some of Thailand’s finest snorkeling spots are located off Lanta’s coast. Koh Rok, 47 km south of Lanta, is considered by most to be the pick of the bunch, though other people say they rate Koh Haa’s snorkeling even more highly. Koh Rok actually consists of two islands, Koh Rok Nai and Koh Rok Nok, both graced with powdery white sand beaches and with an extensive bed of coral in between. This sheltered and shallow channel is an ideal habitat for reef fish, and the place swarms with innumerable shoals of them. Visibility is very good, and many interesting species of reef fish can be found in these waters. Many snorkellers are most amazed by the sheer numbers of fish here, which swirl and swarm around the swimmers.
  • 4 Island Trip - Koh Mook's amazing Emerald Cave is the highlight of this trip. The cave is a window into a lagoon through which safety-vest-clad swimmers are towed by local guides. The swim into the lagoon is fully eighty meters in length and a real adventure.
Elephant Trekking rides can be arranged to take visitors to the top of the hill in Koh Lanta National Park.

The east side of Koh Lanta with its rich mangrove forests and caves is a great option for off-the-beaten-path kayaking. Kayaking can also be done on Ko Talabaeng, the limestone cliff near Koh Lanta.

Wanna-be fishers can catch the likes of marlin, sailfish, barracuda, red snapper and tuna. Three different kinds of fishing trip are offered by private long tail boat: half-day, full day and night fishing.

Besides diving, Thai cooking courses on Koh Lanta are where wanna-be Thai cuisine chefs can learn to cook up all their favorite dishes such as tom yum kung, sweet green curry and chicken with cashew nuts.

In general, Southern Thai food is renowned for its spiciness. Much of the cuisine has its origins in Malay, Indonesian and Indian food. Favorite dishes from the south include Indian-style Muslim curry (massaman), rice noodles in fish curry sauce (Khanom Jeen) and chicken birayani.

As for Koh Lanta, reasonable priced and tasty seafood is obviously what most tourists long for when visiting a coastal province like Krabi. In this connection, the wing shell (หอยชักตีน) is Krabi’s famous cuisine. It is eaten with a spicy dip. In addition, stirred fried Spotted Babylon (หอยหวาน), which is found in mangrove forests, with chilies and basil is also famous and is common in Koh Lanta’s restaurants. Another great Krabi taste is, of course, seafood so as one would expect there are several restaurants with the 'catch of the day' displayed on ice outside. One can find all kinds of fish; juicy crabs and langoustines; shellfish, including giant oysters; as well as squid and lobsters.

Koh Lanta has a wide variety of restaurants, the kind that most visitors travel to Thailand for: beach-front locations serving delicious and inexpensive Thai and seafood dishes. Eateries line the beaches in front of the bungalows and no visitor will starve from lack of variety or interesting places to dine.

There's not much in the way of party nightlife, which, for many, is part of the Koh Lanta appeal - Relaxed. But there is always something going on if you ask around — there are a few restaurant/bars at the harbor, beaches and most hotels. Since it is a small island free of crime and drunkards, the local law-enforcers are more lenient about allowing bars to stay open until what time they wish, and that is usually when the last customer goes home.

How to get to Koh Lanta

By plane

The nearest airports are Krabi, Trang and Phuket. Krabi and Trang have direct roads and boat connections to Koh Lanta, and are the best options if you're only visiting Koh Lanta. Flying into Phuket is a better option if you're intending to spend time in Phuket and nearby islands, or, since Phuket has many more international flights, if you don't want to have to organize a domestic flight to Krabi or Trang from Bangkok. As an alternative to Bangkok, there are daily flights to Krabi directly to and from Singapore, as well as Kuala Lumpur.

Express transfer

The quickest service from Krabi Airport and Phuket Airport is by using the express transfer which is a combination of minivan and speedboat travel. If you arrive early you will not have to wait for the ferry and if you arrive late at these airports you can still arrive on Koh Lanta the same day.

From Krabi airport a 45 minute air conditioned minivan to the first car ferry port. You then go on board the speedboat which then takes you on a stunning boat ride across the water along the coastline of Koh Lanta. The journey takes approximately 15 minutes depending on weather and conditions. You will arrive directly in Saladan on Koh Lanta, where you are then transferred to your hotel by car. That means the total journey time should be 1.5 to 2 hours. This eliminates the waiting time at the car ferry and also if you are going from Koh Lanta to one of these airports allows you more time to enjoy your visit. The transfer costs are around THB 1950-2050 per person depending where you are going. In comparison, renting a private minivan only costs around THB 2500 in total, and there is not much gain in terms of duration with the speedboat, the private minivan will only take around 30 minutes more.

By car

A ferry connects lanta Island with the mainland
Lanta ferry service  
Koh Lanta does not have roads connecting it directly to the mainland, but is served by car ferries. Take road 4206 off highway 4 about 20km south-east of Krabi airport. Drive to the end of the road, where there is a car ferry from Baan Hua Hin to Koh Lanta Noi. From the pier here, turn right and follow the "ferry" signs to the second car ferry to Koh Lanta Yai. Ferries operate 07:00-22:00.

There are plenty of car taxi and minivan taxi services from Krabi and the nearby airport. A seat in a ten person minivan from the airport to Koh Lanta will cost about 300 baht. These minivans usually don't have much room for luggage (although they can usually find room for one or two large suitcases together with backpacks for the rest of the passengers) so if you're not traveling light you might need to get a private taxi. This is what the dive masters do.

When travelling to/from Koh Lanta in the afternoon by road, allow 2–3 hours for the journey as the queues for the vehicle ferries can be lengthy. The passenger ferry which leaves Koh Lanta pier (high season) at 08:00 and arrives at Krabi pier at 10:00 is quicker.

By boat

Ferry services run from Krabi, Ao Nang and from Phuket via Ko Phi Phi to Koh Lanta Yai's Saladan pier. During high season, there are sometimes direct ferries as well. Ferry services are subject to weather and to demand: Many ferries have limited room for luggage. Often the ferries dock alongside each other, meaning that to get on and off passengers must clamber onto and across other boats with their luggage. However, boat staff often will be there to help you board your bags. All ferries can be booked online ahead on from all the destinations including Phuket, Krabi, Ao Nang, Railay, and Phi Phi as well as hotel pickup service except for in Phi Phi where there are no roads.

Services from Krabi depart Krabi pier at 10:30 and 13:30, taking 2 hours to reach Koh Lanta (200 baht including free pickup from Krabi hotels). There's a transit bus from Krabi town center for 10 baht. Ferries depart from Ko Phi-Phi at 11:30 and 14:00, and take 1 hour.

Services from Phuket in a single day, you will need to leave Phuket on the 08:00 ferry to transfer to the 11:30 ferry. Tickets to Koh Lanta are 200 baht from Ko Phi-Phi and 450 baht from Phuket.

Once you arrive, if you have a booking at a hotel/resort, there should be a person at the ferry exit with a sign giving the name of the hotel you have booked.

From Koh Lanta to other islands. Private companies on Koh Lanta operate boat services to many destinations.

Koh Lanta – Ko Phi Phi: 8.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m., 350 baht

Koh Lanta – Krabi: 8.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m., 300 baht (apparently, in high season, at least 400 baht)

Koh Lanta – Ko Phi Phi – Phuket: 1.00 p.m. and 2.30 p.m., 700 baht

Koh Lanta – Ko Phi Phi – Krabi: 9.00 a.m. and 1.30 p.m., 700 baht

By passenger van

EasyDayThailand or all the travel agents in Krabi Town can arrange passenger vans to Koh Lanta. There is no regular, scheduled van service from Krabi Airport, although vans and taxis can be chartered to Koh Lanta for about 2,000 baht per vehicle (2500 Baht if you are going to the southern end of Koh Lanta). Taxis (usually vans) are also available at the airport at the same rate.

There is a mini van service that runs between Krabi and Koh Lanta, However it must be booked in advance through your hotel or someone local, the cost is 400 Baht per person. Book early as it fills up quickly. It will pickup, drop off at the Airport. You should factor in 3 to 4 hours to get from Koh Lanta to the airport, since the mini van will pickup and drop off other people along the way.

So you can see there are many options to get to Koh Lanta, and that each depends on catching a boat (either a speed boat or ferry) and it is sometimes best to pre-schedule these trip. Feel free to contact Easy Day Thailand to make all your arrangements, let us handle all the details so you don’t have to worry about them.

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