Ko Lanta: The Thai Island That Remains Paradise

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 14th, 2014

fishing in ko lantaIt all started with two French girls. It was 2006 and five months into my first round the world trip. I had arrived in Thailand two weeks before, ran into a friend, and jetted off to Ko Phi Phi, a place I didn’t enjoy. Another friend e-mailed 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 had 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 and a bar would be considered busy if it had more than five people in it. We spent four days biking the island, laying on the beach, gorging on cheap seafood, and watching some of the most unbelievable sunsets I had ever seen in 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 for being 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 due 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 would be replaced by resorts and those quiet beaches filled with bars and overpriced restaurants. Gone would be the days of six dollar a night 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, 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 still more developed than before with a few more high-end resorts, international restaurants, and higher prices, seclusion and serenity were still easily found.

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 quite hard work to get there with the car ferries. There’s 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 co-ordinated 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.

comments 41 Comments

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!

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 ;)

Melissa

Well, there is that prawn shortage….

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!!

I can’t wait to visit Ko Lanta! I’ve only been to Koh Phangan in that part of the world, and whilst it was beautiful I found it much to party-party for me! Ko Lanta seems more relaxing, calm and pristine :)

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.

If the destination has appeared on Nomadic Matt, it won’t be quiet for long! ;P

Rob

I would agree! I have found half the places I want to visit, just because he blogged about them! Haha!

NomadicMatt

Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying my suggestions. Thanks very much! That means a lot!

NomadicMatt

Hahaha! You flatter me but I’m not so sure!

Adriennne Morton

As someone who just went on a tour of Thailand led by Matt ending with the best for last, Ko Lanta, that’s my worry!

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….

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!

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.

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.

So, when you got there you emailed your friend right? I hope he’s not still waiting for you!

It sounds like an amazing place, a little deserted gem. I’ve heard of it from a few travellers here and there. One woman even told me it was “untouched”, I didn’t really take that seriously. Untouched island… in Thailand, com’on!

So this is on my to-do list now. Is there any diving to be done? Or just on-land activities?

Ko Lanta was my favorite Thai island as well, and you’re right the sunsets are un-beatable. The only place I’ve been that’s beaten these sunsets is very southern India!

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..!!

I too was there in February and loved it. There was a lot more rubbish than I expected but if I were to ever live in Thailand, I would definite choose Ko Lanta!

NomadicMatt

There’s rubbish everywhere in Thailand :)

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)

xx

I am heading to Thailand again next week. Great post

Albert,

All the best travel stories begin with a girl ;)

NomadicMatt

That they do, that they do.

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 :)

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.

It looks like an amazing place perfect for sunsets, relaxing and maybe a little bit of exploring. It really does pay sometime to go off plan.

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.

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.

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.

NomadicMatt

No, most of the island is still open!

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.

Great article Matt.. I’d love to visit Thailand one day..

Thailand is absolutely amazing.

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.

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..

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?

NomadicMatt

It’s fine to travel there. Go. It’s safe.

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.

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