Koh Lanta Yai
One of the smaller islands off Thailand’s west coast. Koh Lanta is split into two parts: Koh Lanta Nin (small) and Koh Lanta Yai (big). Nin is mostly a national park, whereas the bigger of the islands (Yai) has many beautiful white sandy beaches and a variety of resorts or bamboo huts for accommodation.
Less touristy and developed than the more popular Phi Phi Island to the north, Koh Lanta is the kind of place where you can really kick back and enjoy your holiday. Snorkeling, eating the delicious local food, reading, sunbathing, exploring the island and relaxing are some of the best things to do whilst in this paradise’s peaceful atmosphere.
My partner and I first stayed at a place called Relax Bay Resort on Phra Ae beach. A slightly more upmarket bungalow resort, we thought it would be romantic to give ourselves a treat whilst backpacking through Asia. However, this place turned out to be not such a treat. Although in a beautiful location with its own (over-priced) restaurant, we were paying $60 a night for what was basically still a small bamboo hut. Unlike other less costly locations, our mosquito net had massive holes in it, one of the lamps electrocuted me when I tried to turn it on, our room looked out onto a septic swamp, our tap and shower water ran straight under our hut with no plumbing and there were no other places to eat close to our accommodation. There were plenty of small families that seemed to like it here, it just was not for us.
The next day we high-tailed it to a beach 10 minutes drive away called Khlong Khong. We had heard about a local Thai man and his Japanese wife who run a budget bamboo bungalow place called Bee Bee Bungalows so we drove there to check it out. On first glance I was in love. The little gypsy-style bamboo bungalows were scattered within a coconut grove on the sand. All of the huts looked hand-made and some were 2 storey with balconies and hammocks adorning them.The owner Ahn strolled to greet us, looking like a Thai version of Johnny Depp in his loose cotton pants and sunglasses. This man optimized the cool, laid-back atmosphere of his bungalow grove. We asked is he had any bungalows free and he led us to one on stilts with a balcony that overlooked the blue ocean and a sunken bathroom. For around $15 a night, it was heavenly. The staff here were so lovely. We became quite close with a Japanese staff member called Hideyuki. I had managed Japanese restaurants in Sydney so we chatted about the culture and exchanged travel tips and stories. The on-site masseuse Mon is probably one of the star attractions of Bee Bee Bungalows. Each day she would come and check my shoulders or neck and without prodding she knew where I was hurting. For $8 Mon would use her many years of massage experience for 2 hours and unwind my twisted muscles and turn my aches into jelly.
One hot day on our adventures through the island we stumbled across a small restaurant called Kwan’s Cookery on the main drag just 3 minutes drive from our bungalow. A blue-eyed westerner was sitting outside smoking a cigarette, drinking and looking very relaxed…he turned out to be the Swiss owner of Kwan’s. Serving up home-made style Thai dishes this place has the best food on the island! Unlike many of the small restaurants and eateries in Koh Lanta, Kwan’s Cookery is passionate about their produce and their cooking techniques; never serving frozen food and sourcing almost all of their produce from the local farmers. Kwan is executive chef and co-owner, and as her home town is in the north of Thailand her dishes have that freshness and heat that is iconic of northern Thai cooking. Needless to say we tried to come here every day and work our way through the menu. Just a few of our Kwan favourites are: Khao Soi (northern thai chicken curry). Gaeng Hang Lay Moo (burmese/thai slow-cooked pork belly with ginger in a light curry sauce), Laarb Moo (minced pork a with mint, chilli and ground rice salad).. They also do awesome cooking classes at Kwan’s and you can choose what you want to learn. Definitely the place to be in Koh Lanta.
If you are going to bother coming to Koh Lanta, then it would be silly to venture here without making a trip down the south part of the island to Koh Lanta Old Town. This town has been barely touched since the ‘old days’ and huge timber boats and houses still sit atop the shore. There are plenty of ‘jetty restaurants’ here too where you can grab a table right out above the water and eat your fare whilst watching the fishing boats sail by. The ride here is beautiful too, roads turning through huge banana plantations and organic vege crops.
Viewpoint Hill is another groovy place to ride to on a local hired scooter. Located in the middle of the island Viewpoint Hill offers grand panoramic views of the entire coastline, there is also Viewpoint Restaurant where you can sit and drink in the scenery with a snack and a beverage.
A holiday in Koh Lanta would not be complete without spending a lot of time in the sea, and this island has plenty of that! If you are into snorkeling then there are some stunning coral reefs down the south western stretch of the island at Nui Bay and Mai Phai Bay. Khlong Jaak is a completely secluded beach if you want to have some time to yourself. There are also plenty of places where you can hire flotation devices and bob around out in the clear blue water. My partner and I were given a sea-kayak to use for free at Bee Bee Bungalows and we had ourselves a marvelous time catching the small waves that rolled off the reef at Khlong Khong when the tide was right.
If swimming, eating and exploring isn’t your thing then you can head to one of the many beach bars that decorate the western coastline of Koh Lanta. From reggae, to complete hippy, to high-end bars there are so many to choose from each with their own signature cocktails and wonderfully low-prices! Khlong Nin and Khlong Khong have the best variety of beach bars to offer in my opinion.
Koh Lanta is unlike any island I have been to, definitely a place I will be returning to as soon as I can!