Ko Lanta: The Thai Island That Remains Paradise

fishing in ko lantaIt all started with two French girls. It was 2006, and I was five months into my first round-the-world trip. I’d arrived in Thailand two weeks before, run into a friend, and jetted off to Ko Phi Phi, a place I didn’t enjoy. Another friend emailed me about a beautiful, out of the way, hidden island near the Malaysian border called Ko Lipe and suggested I come. It sounded perfect. “I’ll be right there,” I replied.

But then I ran into those beautiful French girls with their seductive accents.

A few nights before, I’d met them in one of the many bars on the island. I saw them again on the ferry back to the mainland; they were heading to Ko Lanta. I’d never heard of it, but when they invited me to come along, I put my Lipe plans on hold and joined them.

I can never say no to a French accent.

Arriving at Ko Lanta, we found ourselves on an island paradise that has since become one of my favorite places in Thailand.

Back in 2006, there were few resorts, restaurants, or bars, and most bungalows had only cold water and fans. Air conditioning and hot water were a luxury. The island was rustic. Even on its most touristy beach during high season, there was hardly a soul around. A bar was considered busy if it had more than five people in it. We spent four days biking the island, lying on the beach, gorging on cheap seafood, and watching some of the most unbelievable sunsets of my life.

Biking in Ko Lanta in 2006
Sunset in ko lanta

Ko Lanta was paradise. A beautiful, seemingly unknown place located in a region known as the epicenter of Thailand tourism. How everyone managed to miss this paradise with its long and wide white sand beaches, cheap food, and sunsets (the island faces west) boggled my mind.

But everyone’s loss was my gain, and those four days left a deep impression on me.

When I returned to Ko Lanta in 2009, I was nervous. Three years had passed. That’s a long time in Thailand. Development happens like a sandstorm and Lanta’s name had been coming up more often on websites and among travelers. I feared the worst—my tiny little beach bungalows replaced by resorts and those quiet beaches filled with bars and overpriced restaurants. Gone would be the days of $6 bungalows.

fishing in ko lanta

I stepped off the ferry, took a depth breath, and…exhaled a huge sigh of relief. Yes, prices were higher, there were more people, and some resorts had popped up, but the low-key, relaxed nature of the island remained intact. The beaches hadn’t been overdeveloped, there wasn’t trash everywhere, it was still easy to get most of the beach to yourself, and cheap bungalows still existed.

Fast forward to February 2014 when I took my Thailand tour group to Ko Lanta. With its white sand beaches, delicious seafood, plethora of activities, and relaxed atmosphere, it was the perfect way to end the tour.

But again I held my breath.

It had again been years since I was last on the island and even though recent pictures I’d seen illustrated that the island was still beautiful, I was worried nonetheless.

But I was worried for nothing.

ko lanta

The island was still paradise and, while more developed than before, with a few more high-end resorts, international restaurants, and higher prices, it still offered seclusion and serenity.

another beautiful sunset in ko lanta

Ko Lanta seems to buck every trend in tourism in Thailand. Despite its growing popularity, Ko Lanta hasn’t been overdeveloped like every other island in the country. There’s a lot of potential here, and with its beautiful beaches and sunsets, this place could easily become the next Ko Samui, Krabi, or Phuket.

But it hasn’t.

And that’s good for us. Uncontrolled development has ruined many islands in Thailand, but Ko Lanta has remained paradise for a few reasons. It’s pretty hard work to get there with the car ferries. Only so many people who can be brought over at once. The government has focused its efforts on developing other parts of the region and the local, tight-knit community has been quite coordinated in how they want the island to develop. This community collaboration (rare in Thailand) has allowed it to avoid the free-for-all development fate of other Thai islands.

beautiful water in ko lanta

I’m unsure how long this will last, especially as construction of a bridge from the mainland finishes. In Thailand, nothing is ever certain. Your island paradise could turn into your island hell within the span of a single season.

However, for now, Ko Lanta remains one of the best islands in Thailand to visit and my island paradise.

One day, I’ll find those two French girls and thank them for bringing me here all those years ago.

  1. We were there at the same time as you this year. We loved the place. Taking a scooter to Ko Lanta Noi and having one of its entire, untouched beaches to ourselves for a whole afternoon was a captivating memory for us. The main island is paradise, the vibe is chilled and to top it off the scuba diving in the area is the best in Thailand outside of the Similan Islands. Thanks for the post. Hopefully it stays divine for years to come!

  2. kamila

    Matt, we were there also the same time as your tour took place. For us it was the second time (first only on 2013, so can’t relate to “old” Lanta days). But I want to be back there nest year and many years to come and still see it divine. So PLEASE stop advertising it! The less people know, the better for all of us who’ve already found it 😉

  3. It’s amazing how meeting someone (or in your case two someones) can entirely change a trip… This is an important lesson while traveling, to keep being flexible!! I love these off-beat travel stories that detour from the usual tourism blog!!

  4. It’s nice to see there are still a few unspoiled paradises in the world. Thailand is a biggie on my bucket list and Ko Lanta sounds like a place I’d definitely love to visit. Thanks for sharing.

  5. What a relief – heading back to Thailand next month after a few years away, so it’s great to hear that you really can “go home again.” Chasing paradise islands gets harder and harder…As far as I know, Maupiti near Fiji still refuses to allow resorts to build there. If only more Thai islands would follow suit….

  6. That’s so great that a place that magical has managed to resist becoming too over commercialised. Koh Lanta has been on my list to visit for a long time, looks as though I should go sooner rather than later!

  7. I was there in December… I live in Asia and had done quite a few Thai islands in the last few years but never really enjoyed any of them to the fullest. It was always some sort of a let down… Until some of my Thai friends suggested I’d visit Koh Lanta… They were so right! It was THE perfect place for us. Totally enjoyed the serenity of the place and just how beautiful it was. Our hearts were broken when we had to leave. Such a special place.

  8. This post made my day! The last time I visited Ko Lanta was on a backpacking trip to Thailand in 1998, and like you loved it there. I had just assumed that like you said about other islands, that it had been over developed and ruined. Sooooooo happy that it hasn’t been completely destroyed.

  9. I completely agree with you. I visited only 1 time and I still keep looking at the pics which I caught. I am planning for a trip once again to Thailand. I am happy that my taste matches with someone at-least..!! Keep sharing..!!

  10. You think Koh Lanta is paradise, check out Koh Ngai. The waters and beach there were as beautiful as my favorite Thai island…Koh Lipe. I was there just two weeks ago – I love the south :)

    • NomadicMatt

      I went to Ko Lipe in 2006. Won’t go back. Too developed right now and it will spoil my memory. The region is beautiful though. Some stunning islands down there.

      • Charlie Ploy

        I suggest you to go Kho TaChai (in PhangNga province,near Phuket)

        Clean and peaceful beach because its just founded island in Similan national park and not allowed to stay the night there (traveller get one day trip only)


  11. Nice Matt! I too love love LOVE Koh Lanta. I live in Krabi town and I’m only a mere two hours away. I have been quite a few times. The south has some cute little remote beaches, but the beach bars on Long Beach are always lively and fun. It’s a great island with everything, but not too much :)

  12. We went there in May this year, thanks to recommendations from travel blogs about what island to visit while in Thailand! There was more rubbish than I expected, but it was lovely nonetheless.

  13. Andy

    I’m with you Matt, can’t say no to a French accent, probably why I spend so much time in the French Alps, that and the amazing cycling, just wish I could learn to speak the language.

  14. Koh Lanta was my first island in my first trip to Thailand and I loved it. Nowhere else I could find that relaxed atmosphere and quiet beaches. Definitely I want to go again next time, when I am planning to spend 6 months in Thailand. Nice article Matt.

  15. Beth

    We were planning to visit Koh Lanta in late May this year but read that most places close down starting in April for Monsoon season…is this true? We were so looking forward to this island and taking the cooking class at Time for Lime.

  16. I spent 2 weeks on this gorgeous island a few years back. I hope this new bridge doesn’t bring a lot of ugly development along with it. I’m thinking I might spend some time there this summer again. I love Thai islands in the summertime when it isn’t so busy.

  17. Mangalore

    It was memorable time when I spent a week with my family.
    I found very good beaches and vacation spots in Mangalore. Travelers love this place as this has beautiful hill station and Beaches makes the days memorable.

  18. Nice. I was in Koh Lanta last year and stayed in a place called Chill Out House. I will always have a sweet memory of Lanta–all those secluded beaches you can have for yourself (or with a few others), cheap food, the cute but hostile monkeys you’ll meet along the road going to the national park, beautiful sunrise and sunsets etc. Most tourists rent a motorbike to go around the island but I went cycling that took me about 3 days. One point, I slept in the beach, far away from the parties and the madding crowd, all alone, with no tent, no sleeping bag, nothing whatsoever. Crazy but I would not forget that experience for the rest of my life..

  19. Donna

    Matt, I would like to plan a trip to Thailand with my mother but am very concerned due to the travel alerts issued by the US State Department. Would you please comment on this issue?

  20. I’m glad to hear that Ko Lanta is still an enjoyable place to visit. I’ve heard the same thing from a couple other bloggers recently. Still, sounds like I should visit sooner, rather than later, just in case. It looks beautiful.

  21. That’s just the sort of place I dream of, heard a lot about Koh Lanta already without realizing it was so unspoilt until I read this post. Guess I better get there soon.

  22. Kea

    Hi Matt.
    We’re looking for a good cycling island and ran across your post on Ko Lanta. Would you recommend it for cycling? Google maps only shows a couple of roads on the island. We’re avid cyclists so hills/distance is not a problem. Just looking for decent road (or mountain bike) conditions and little traffic or at least bike-savy drivers.
    Would you ride in Phuket or Krabi, given more options on routes but more cars and people to deal with?
    Thanks for any input!

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