Koh Lanta was the ideal place to chill out but it also had plenty of places to explore. When we got bored of lying in a hammock, we rented a scooter for a whole day trip around the island. We hired it just for one day as Koh Lanta is small enough to see most of the places in one go. We were intending to see only free attractions though it didn’t work quite as planned.
We deliberately skipped going to the Mu Koh Lanta National Park, which covers just a tiny piece of the coast, (similar to the rest of the island) and requires paying an entrance fee of unjustifiable 300 baht.
Similarly, we passed on getting an equally expensive guide for a half an hour hike through the jungle to see Khao Mai Kaew Cave, famous for its bats. Finally, we omitted also a small, trickling Khlong Chak waterfall. It was actually free (apart from the parking fee) but the photos on Trip Advisor didn’t really impress us. We left visiting waterfalls and caves for their more grand and impressive versions elsewhere in South East Asia and we definitely don’t regret our choice.
Kayaking through the mangroves
We started our scooter circuit by heading north-east, to the Thung Yee Pheng Mangrove Forest. You had to pay a fee of 40 baht to enter it (or 20 baht if you also paid for a kayak or boat tour). We weren’t actually too sure whether we’d take a kayak or just walk around the mangroves on a specially designed, short path.
On the way to the park, we were intercepted by a very desperate kayak rental worker who put the price down from 600 baht for two people to just 200 baht for a 3 hours paddle. We were sure he was going with us as a guide but he only put us on the kayak and waved his hand, indicating the direction we should take.
It was the middle of the day and the sun was shining mercilessly so no wonder that apart from two long tail boats we had the mangroves for ourselves. We hid in the shadow of the mangrove a couple of times, holding on to the branches to rest. If only we knew that some of those trees are poisonous and that mangrove pit vipers inhabit it, we’d think twice before touching the branches!
The canals of the mangroves eventually led us to the open sea with a view at a few small islands. Just before that opening, we saw a monkey point, place where the wild macaques were fed. We kept a healthy distance from the shore, knowing the crab-eating macaques could be aggressive. We were amazed to see them jumping in the water, swimming and diving. Since we didn’t really enter the open sea, it took us only 2.5 h to make a loop and return to the pier.
We left the kayak on the empty pier and switched to walking. We walked through the mangrove forest on specially designed boards, watching a multitude of differently sized, coloured and shaped crabs and mudskippers – fish which feel quite comfortable on land.
Exploring the best beaches
After exploring the mangroves, we cut across the mountainous island and went to the west coast. We went south, to see the best beach on Koh Lanta, Ao Kantiang: an empty, lovely bay with calm water. There were a couple of rocks for the first few meters but after that it was just sand, making it one of the most accessible and safe places to swim in Koh Lanta.
We then drove to the Bamboo Bay which was even more empty and very pretty, with the jungle covered mountain as a background. It was much more rocky than Ao Kantiang, making swimming a bit tricky.
Shortly after, we returned to the east coast as we didn’t want to drive in the dark. If only we had time, we would have driven also to the south-eastern tip of the island to see Sang-Kha-U – a village of the sea gypsies community. We didn’t consider it absolutely necessary though as it was after all just a normal fishing village. Besides, I never feel comfortable taking photo of people.
The roads on Koh Lanta were empty, with few potholes and mostly flat. The only exceptions were roads in the far south (around Bamboo Bay) and the road cutting across the island which were a bit steep but completely manageable. Koh Lanta is a perfect place to start practicing scooter driving skills.
Boat trip to the four islands
Apart from exploring the beaches and the Old Lanta, we got convinced to join a boat trip to the Four Islands, mostly because we were offered a significant discount due to ‘green season’. 750 baht for a whole day trip (including lunch) in a group of just 10 people sounded reasonable to us.
Sadly, our guide didn’t speak any English. He could just say one sentence in broken English about each of the places where we stopped. The sea was wavy enough to make us constantly sprayed by the water and to make the longtail boat rock quite a bit. If you’re scared of the sea, I’d recommend taking a bigger boat.
I loved the scenery throughout the trip: every now and then, lone karst rocks rose from the sea. Obviously there weren’t as many of rock formations as in Krabi, Phang Nga or Khao Sok but still it made the journey far less monotonous than expected. Our first stop was a snorkelling spot at one of the rocky outcrops. The tide was very strong there and the visibility rather poor so apart from plenty of small, yellow striped fish near the surface there wasn’t much to see.
The second snorkelling spot was much better: the sea was calm, the visibility good and the guide dived down to show us single anemone clown fish hiding among the stinging tentacles of an anemone.
The third stop was definitely the highlight of that trip. We arrived at Koh Muk – another deserted island- put the life jackets on and jumped into the water, following our guide. We swam in the darkness through the cave carved in the rocky island , only to reappear at the hidden lagoon.
This lovely spot was called the Emerald Cave as the colour of the water inside the cave really was vividly green. The steep rocks rising up from the water, covered with lush greenery were really impressive and swimming through the cave exhilarating. However, the whole experience was spoiled by the fact there were quite a few people in this very small lagoon and that we were given only half an hour to enjoy it. I wouldn’t recommend visiting it in the high season.
Finally, we stopped at my favourite beach in Thailand- Koh Ngai. Koh Ngai was as close to a paradise beach as can be: completely empty, with white sand and crystal clear, sky-blue water. Last but not least, it offered a stunning view at the neighbouring karst islands and islets.
The water was shallow: I could easily walk at least 100 meters into the sea. This incredibly beautiful place was all for ourselves. We hanged around there for an hour and had a lunch on the beach before heading back to the Old Lanta pier.
Altogether it was a pleasant day, worthwhile if it’s within your budget. We would have loved to go camping on Koh Rok instead but that option was unavailable in May due to rough seas.
When we got bored of the beaches and the not-so-swimmable sea, we decided to move on to Krabi and become more active again.
We booked a minivan which picked us at our resort and dropped us off at the hotel in Krabi Town. It cost 300 baht and the journey took us around 3 hours.
How to get there?
The only way to get to the island in the green season is by taking a car ferry from the mainland, whether independently or on board of a minivan from Krabi or elsewhere.
In the high season, there is a multitude of passenger ferry connections to the main tourist spots nearby: Krabi, Ao Nang/Railey, Koh Phi-Phi and Phuket. There is also an expensive speedboat connection to Trang in the far south.
Prices on Koh Lanta [in Thai baht as of May 2018]:
750 THB Four Islands boat tour (includes lunch)
300 THB night at an en-suite, basic hut on the east coast (booked a month in advance)
300 THB door-to-door minivan from Koh Lanta to Krabi Town
250 THB scooter rental for one day
200 THB night at an en-suite, basic hut on Klong Kong beach (booked the day before)
200 THB 3 hour, self-guided kayak tour of the mangroves (bargained)
200 THB unofficial, bargained tuk-tuk from Old Lanta to Khlong Kong
60-80 THB meal in a cheap restaurant
60 THB pack of local cigarettes
50 THB petrol for one day of driving
20/40 THB entrance to the mangrove park (with/without a boat or kayak hire)
35 THB pancake from the street stall
7 THB cup of ice from 7/11
5 THB sticky rice with banana (street snack)