Since we’ve already been to and written about Koh Lanta once before, we figured that this time around, we’d just talk about the lessons we learned on our second visit. For a detailed description of our first trip and the stories behind some of these lessons, check out our post HERE.
- The beach you choose matters. Our first time in Koh Lanta, we stayed in Phra Ae, “the traveler area” according to our Lonely Planet. After our second time in Koh Lanta, we realize that this is the worst town of all of them. Not only are the restaurant/bar options scarce, this town is very spread out so it doesn’t really feel like a town at all. After our second visit, we got a much better sense of all the different beaches/areas/towns and we realized that our choice of town was one of the main reasons we didn’t like Koh Lanta very much our first time around. Pretty much any town is 100 times better than Phra Ae. From north to south, you have:
- Saladang: The town where the pier is. This town doesn’t have a beach, so we wouldn’t recommend staying here, but it’s a really cute town with a lot of restaurant (especially seafood) and shopping options. This is a fun place to check out during the day.
- Khlong Dao: This is one of the nicer beaches on the island and a good one for swimming. While we didn’t spend much time here and never saw it at night, there seemed to be a ton of restaurant options and it looked like there was a lot going on right on the beach.
- Khlong Khong: This is known as the “hippie” town and here you’ll find a younger crowd. We’d probably call this more of the backpacker area. There are lots of restaurants/bars/guesthouses right on the beach and on the main street behind the beach. I would imagine that this area is probably the cheapest and that it’s a good party scene at night. You’ll find lots of “happy shakes” here as well. The beach here is pretty, but very rocky, so not good for swimming.
- Khlong Nin: This is where we stayed during our 2nd visit and we really liked it. In our opinion this is the cutest of the towns and the only town that is all set up on the beach, rather than on the main highway behind the beach. There are lots of restaurants serving Thai food and BBQs with tables set up on the beach. The beach here is really pretty and good for swimming.
- The hotel you choose matters. During our first stay in Koh Lanta, we decided to stay in a bamboo bungalow. This pretty much means an open hut with no aircon. This is definitely the budget option, but if you don’t like the possibility of bugs (or something much bigger) finding its way into your room at night or the likelihood that you will be sweating buckets every night, then do not choose to stay in a bamboo bungalow. This phrase means the same thing all over Thailand and after a few pretty terrible experiences with these, we’ve realized that for us, it’s worth spending a little more money to not have to suffer every night. This time around we stayed in a hotel (with closed walls!!) with aircon and a pool. It was glorious and made our overall experience so much more enjoyable. Usually the places with a pool are a little further from the beach since they need a little more room, but in our experience, it’s worth the extra 10 minute walk to the beach to have a little pool happy hour every evening.
- Don’t visit the less popular beaches/islands in the low season. The first time we visited Koh Lanta, it was at the end of May right before our RTW 2.0. We knew it was the low season in Thailand but didn’t think much of it. On the less popular/touristy islands in Thailand, however, the low season means that many things will be closed (restaurants, bars, transportation options, etc.) and the beaches will be pretty dead. If you’re going to the islands to just sit on a beach and have some solitude, then this probably doesn’t matter. For us, however, we like some action, and our first trip to Koh Lanta was lacking in this area. This time, the island was much more crowded, and for us, it was a much enjoyable experience. We’ve experienced this in other places as well (see our blog about Koh Lipe), where low season meant that whole areas of the ocean or surrounding islands were closed, which was even more frustrating. If you’re headed to Thailand in the low season, our best advice is to stick to the more popular tourist islands (Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi) that are crowded all year round.
- Renting a motorbike is the best and cheapest island activity. On any island that has roads and is big enough to drive around, our favorite activity is renting a motorbike for the day to explore. Not only is this literally the cheapest possible activity (200 baht/day), it’s always our favorite day on any island. We love having our own transportation and the freedom to go where we want and see what we want. While we already knew this and have learned this lesson many times (we rented a motorbike our first time in Koh Lanta as well), this is confirmed every time we do it.
- There’s nothing better than a BBQ (plus drinks and fire show) on the beach. One of our favorite things about the Thai islands is being able to get a great dinner right on the beach. We didn’t get to experience this on our last trip to Lanta because many of the restaurants were closed (see lesson 3), but this is one of the things I look forward to the most when visiting the islands. Not all the islands have this option, so the ones that do (we’ve only experienced it in Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Samet, Koh Chang and Koh Lanta) are even more special. There’s literally nothing more relaxing than sitting on a bean bag chair on the sand drinking a bucket of whisky/coke and watching a fire show. There’s nothing better than eating a whole grilled fish or rack of ribs with the sand between your toes and the sounds of the waves crashing in right behind you (especially when the meal is $20). This is what we’d call heaven.
- Problems seem much smaller in Thailand. This is another lesson that we’ve learned countless times before, but whatever problems arise, they always seem to be much smaller of problems in Thailand than they would be elsewhere. On this visit to Koh Lanta, we rented a motorbike and while we were on the road, we got a flat tire. While this was annoying (and we got lucky because our flat tire happened right in front of a mechanic), solving this problem only cost us $7 and about 30 minutes. So many times during our travels we have appreciated the fact that you don’t have to worry quite as much when things like this happen in Thailand and all over SE Asia, because no matter what it is, fixing it will be so cheap.
- Getting between islands can be expensive. If you want to island hop, you’ll have to take ferries from place to place. Each of these will cost from $10-20 (plus sometimes more to get from the pier to your beach), so it can get expensive if you want to visit a lot of different places. If you’re looking to save money, your best bet may be to base yourself in one of the bigger/more central islands (Lanta is a great choice for this) and do day trips/tours to the smaller surrounding islands. Doing this will also mean you don’t have to carry your bags around with you all over the place.
- Thailand is the best. Ok, I know you think I’m biased, and maybe I am, but Thailand really is the best. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it. Our 2nd trip to Koh Lanta was not what made me realize this, I’ve known it all along, but I just had to say it.
These travel guides are amazing!!! I hope you’re planning on publishing them. You’ve really become experts in so many areas of travel in Thailand and I’m sure your knowledge and expertise would be helpful and welcomed to so many other travelers. Do you have a book agent yet?
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I wish, Ann!!
Where did you stay at for this trip?
Hello to the Staves !!
We loved reading your 2nd time in Koh Lanta but just need to ask what time of the year / what month did you go there? You said that your first trip was in May and was low season and very quiet. We are much older than you but seem to like most of the things you mentioned (bean bags on the beach eating seafood and sipping on cocktails). Looks like we will book on that same beach as you “Khlong Nin” – sounds divine. We are looking at going late August/September or do recommend we go later. Hubby says he thinks all the ferries start back up only in November. We have also been all over South East Asia and always go back to Thailand. We love Ao Nang Krabi the most so far, and am looking forward to exploring more. Years back when we were younger LOL we kept going back to Phuket but that is now a definite no-no for us.
Look forward to hearing back from you.
Jill & Steve (Sarah is my late Mum’s name which I use on my Christian blogs)
If you like or find it easier you can reply to my email ……. firstname.lastname@example.org …… – thanks