The stormy afternoon sky dissolved into a fiery sunset that painted the clouds neon orange. Despite being in Thailand for almost eight months, this was the first time we’d sat on a beach and felt the sand between our toes. We watched a fisherman row to shore as the sun sunk slowly into the Andaman Sea and congratulated ourselves on choosing Koh Lanta as the destination for our final Thai adventure before we jet off to Nepal at the end of the month.
Why visit Koh Lanta?
Some Thai islands have a reputation as party hotspots with crowded beaches littered with rubbish and lined with bars playing non-stop reggae music. Koh Lanta, by contrast, is known as a quiet, chilled-out haven. The island is laced with clean, sandy beaches which are lightly speckled with tourists and fringed with calm, coral-rich waters. Although there are still a few bars advertising ‘happy shakes’ and fire-dancing parties, the night-life scene on Koh Lanta is fairly low-key and you’re more likely to see couples and families than backpacking partygoers.
Koh Lanta’s interior is lush with rainforest and ringed with mangroves, the warm sea studded with limestone outcrops and full of colourful marine life. Mu Koh National Park lies at the southern end of the island and semi-nomadic sea people, the Chao Leh, live in the surrounding waters. Around 90 percent of Koh Lanta’s population are Muslim, so dome-shaped mosques dot the island and the call-to-prayer rings out periodically. While Saladan Beach in the north is the most popular tourist area, we stayed further south on the more peaceful Khlong Khong Beach.
Sunsets and dog walks on Koh Lanta Thailand
Much of our week on Koh Lanta was spent wandering the beach or relaxing by the pool at our aptly named accommodation, Pinky Bungalows. The tropical heat, which climbed to 38 degrees, would frequently give way to stormy afternoons, beautiful lightning displays and thunderous rain showers. Cloudy skies stifled most of the island’s famous sunsets, but we were lucky to have one day where the clouds dispersed enough to reveal a dramatic sunset.
One day we visited Lanta Animal Welfare, the island’s shelter and re-homing centre for stray cats and dogs. The centre was founded by Norwegian expat Junie Kovaks in 2005. Since then, sterilisation programs have dramatically reduced the stray animal population on the island and hundreds of rescued cats and dogs have been re-homed both locally and overseas to Europe, America and even Australia.
We dropped in for one of the centre’s hourly, volunteer-led tours, to learn about how the shelter is run and meet some of their current dogs and cats. It brought back memories of our volunteering stint at the Dog Rescue Project near Chiang Mai and we returned later in the week to walk a couple of the dogs, April and Lucky. One of the only downsides to our nomadic lifestyle is not being able to have a dog, so it was lovely to get our hound fix in Koh Lanta.
Four Islands Boat Trip on Koh Lanta
We couldn’t visit Koh Lanta without exploring its surrounding underwater treasures, so we took a boat trip to snorkel and explore some nearby islands. We sped out on a small wooden boat across the sea, passing clusters of jagged limestone karsts to Ko Ngai National Park, where we pulled on flippers and masks before plunging into the topaz water.
The seafloor was covered in coral of all shapes, from brain-like sponge and colourful spaghetti strands waving in the current to tree-like formations. Angel and parrot fish pecked at the rocks while shoals of smaller fish parted around us as we peered in at the underwater world.
As we were swimming back to the boat I felt stinging strands wrap around my forearms, lashing my skin. Back on deck I showed the red welts to our guide, who nonchalantly remarked that they were jellyfish stings. “Not poisonous though,” he shrugged, handing me a coke to pour on the wounds, “Sometimes there are electric jellyfish that burn off the skin,” he said. “Now?” I asked, gesturing towards the water. “Maybe,” he casually replied.
More wary now, we moved to another snorkelling spot near Koh Chuek Island and I kept a close eye out for the translucent strings of jellyfish as I slid back into the water. After lunch, we sailed to the Emerald Cave. We swam, alongside numerous tour groups, through 80 metres of black cave to a small circle of beach surrounded by steep, limestone cliffs. Thai people scale these vertical walls in search of birds’ nests which are used to make expensive soup.
Our final stop of the day was Koh Ngai, where we took a break from the sea and relaxed on a paradisical, white-sand beach. We took photos and marvelled at all the different shades of blue in the sea, the limestone formations on the horizon and shadows of palm trees decorating the sand. Just as the rain clouds closed in on us we made the rocky journey back to Koh Lanta, covered in salt, exhausted but fully dosed up on sun, sea and sand.
Our watery adventures haven’t come to an end now we’re back in Chiang Mai because next week we’ll be celebrating Songkran, The Thai New Year water festival. The streets of the city will transform with religious parades, giant water fights and non-stop craziness. Check back next week to read all about it!
Travel tips for Koh Lanta
We flew from Chiang Mai to Krabi airport with Air Asia. From there, you can take a minivan from Krabi to Koh Lanta for 400 THB per person. The journey takes about one and a half to two hours. There are hundreds of Koh Lanta hotels to choose from. We stayed at Pinky Bungalows on Khlong Khong Beach, which was excellent. The rooms are new and very clean, there’s a long pool and the 1,000 THB per night rate includes a good breakfast.