After five days in super-touristy (but well worth a visit) Ao Nang, and two weeks of flying around Thailand and Cambodia at a fast pace, it was time to slow down and Ko Lanta is the perfect place to do exactly that. 

From Ao Nang, you have four decent options for getting to and around Ko Lanta (it’s a big island, so you need some form of transportation while there). You can take a minibus (cheap), ferry (cheap), or private taxi (expensive) to Ko Lanta and rent a scooter (cheap) while you’re there. Or you can rent a car and drive yourself there (about 2.5 hours). Since I’m too scared/value my life too highly to get on a scooter, I chose the fourth option (plus I was excited to try driving on the left). Car rentals are pretty expensive in Thailand, – local places in Ko Lanta and Ao Nang charge 1200 baht = $48 CAD per day – but I found a relatively good deal from the Avis location at the Krabi airport for 1000 baht ($40 CAD) per day.

From Ao Nang we got a taxi to the airport (500 baht, arranged through our hotel) and picked up our car from Avis. We got a nearly-new Suzuki in very good shape. I was slightly disappointed to find that the car had an automatic transmission, so I didn’t get to test out shifting with my left hand. Driving on the left was surprisingly easy; I got used to it right away, and the only problem I experienced was accidentally turning on the windshield wipers when I meant to put on my turn signal. Driving on the highway to and from Ko Lanta was pretty easy, and driving in Ko Lanta was comparably difficult. 90% of the traffic is scooters or slow trucks, so you have to be constantly alert and ready to pass.

On the way to Ko Lanta we stopped at the Emerald Pool. The entrance fee of 200 baht ($8) was pretty expensive. It’s also important to bear in mind, stopping at the Emerald Pool will take around an hour of extra driving and an hour or more walking (if you walk all the way to the Blue Pool). The Emerald Pool was pretty underwhelming. It does have a slight Emerald colour, but it’s not as nice as the sea in Krabi!

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Emerald Pool

We liked the Blue Pool (another km of walking) much better, even though you couldn’t swim there due to quicksand.

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Blue Pool

Overall, it was a nice break from the drive and worth a detour, but nothing that special. I noticed ads in Ao Nang offering tours here and to the nearby hot springs for 1000 baht, but I would strongly discourage you from committing to such tours. Not at all worth 1000 baht and a whole day of your vacation.

After our visit we got back in the car and drove to Ko Lanta, which involved two short car ferries costing 193 baht ($7.70 CAD) total for the car, driver, and one passenger. In Ko Lanta we stopped at “Lanta Mart” (in Saladan, a block north of the road from the ferry pier) to buy some Western groceries. Everything was pretty overpriced – costing at times even  more than what we would expect to pay back home – but we were desperate for some familiar snacks. From Saladan we drove south until Kantiang, where we checked into our hotel, the Kantiang Oasis (formerly Ancient Realm), after stopping to admire the sunset at a random beach near the road.Photo 2016-02-17, 6 23 01 PM.jpgThis hotel was a splurge at about 1800 baht ($72 CAD) per night including tax, making it our most expensive hotel of the trip. That being said, we were very happy with our purchase. The room was really nice, the owner was very friendly and helpful, and breakfast was tasty and free. It’s in a good location close by to a beautiful beach, the national park, and some great restaurants. The only potential negative is that it’s  a 20-25 minute drive to the busiest sections of Ko Lanta.

For our first dinner we went to “Phad Thai Rock n Roll,” a restaurant right next to our hotel serving some very good and relatively inexpensive Pad Thai. I recommend it and we definitely would have returned if not for our limited time and the abundance of great restaurants in Ko Lanta.

Day 16: For our first morning we drove south to the National Park at the southern tip of the island. We walked around the beach and to the lighthouse, spotting many monkeys. Afterwards we walked the nature trail, which was much more difficult than I had expected; it was about two kilometres of uphill climbing before walking down the road back to our car. It’s mainly shaded – thank god – but I still wouldn’t recommend this hike unless you’re a real nature lover. There is very little to see other than identical trees and the walk can be hot and arduous. Photo 2016-02-18, 12 12 02 AM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-18, 11 46 41 AM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-18, 11 51 00 AM.jpgFor lunch we went to Irie’s, which was good but too expensive (~150 baht per dish), after which we spent most of the afternoon in and around our hotel. For dinner we checked out May’s, an excellent restaurant. I had a whole fish for the first time in Thailand, and May’s cooked it perfectly. Big, flavourful, and it came with many good sides. For 300 baht it was my most expensive meal while in Thailand, but very worth it. Everything else at May’s is also very good and less than half the price.

Day 17: The original plan was to spend the morning hiking through the caves in the centre of Ko Lanta, but the guide scared us off by telling us it is a very hot, difficult, and uphill two hour commitment. Instead we continued across the island to Old Town and walked around the main road there. After returning to Kantiang we had lunch at Drunken Sailors, which offers really delicious Thai and Western food at reasonable prices. Again, I wish we could have returned but we were never able to find the time.

After another lazy afternoon relaxing and catching up on some work we had dinner at Shanti Shanti’s beachfront location. We got there 35 minutes before sunset and got a perfect table on the balcony right next to the beach. Photo 2016-02-19, 5 40 22 AM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-19, 6 42 32 AM.jpgThey serve amazing Thai food, probably the best we had on our entire trip. Both times we went, – it was so good we ended up returning twice – we ordered the spicy minced pork Laab (for myself only), the vegetarian Pad Thai, the Papaya Salad, and a mango smoothie, totalling around 450 baht ($18 CAD). Photo 2016-02-19, 6 07 16 PM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-19, 5 51 57 PM.jpg

It was a very expensive meal for Thailand, but we had a feast and their food and smoothies are better than any other Thai place we’ve visisted.

Day 18: For our second to last day in Ko Lanta we took a full-day four islands tour, which features four different islands than the ones near Ao Nang. We booked it at the last minute on the previous afternoon. We thought that booking last minute would be no problem, but almost every tour operator was full. Our travel agency (a place across the street from our hotel) found us a spot with Opal Tours after calling multiple places. The cost was 1300 baht each for a speedboat tour, 100 more than most other operators.

Unlike our Hong Island tour operator, Opal was great! Everything went smoothly, the guide was friendly and attentive, and lunch was good. Every company does the same four stops – two snorkelling stops (with no beach), lunch and snorkelling at the beach in Ko Kradan, and the Emerald Cave in Ko Mook.

Our first stop was snorkelling at Ko Ngai, which was good but not amazing. Tons of fish, especially when the guide throws bread in the water, but they’re mostly the same. Being first I thought it was a good stop but in hindsight snorkelling from the beach in Ko Kradan was better, so it would have been better to give us an extra 45 minutes at Ko Kradan and eliminate this stop.

Up next was the Emerald Cave in Ko Mook. It’s extremely crowded with tourists, but magical all the same! The boat leaves you at the mouth of the cave, at which point you’re made to swim 80 metres through a pitch black cave (the guides have flashlights), eventually emerging in to a beautiful hidden lagoon surrounded by cliffs on all sides. Swimming through the cave was a fun adventure and definitely a highlight. But my favourite part wasn’t the swim – but rather observing the Chinese tour groups! These tours consist of very large groups (~100) of people, all of whom are clad in lifejackets and linked to one another in a human centipede formation. Essentially, they all put on life jackets and climb down from the boat hanging onto a rope in the water. Maybe they don’t know how to swim. They form a single file line and grab onto the lifejacket of the person in front of them. Then the guide goes to the front of the line and pulls the human centipede through the cave, rather than having them swim. It was quite a show!Photo 2016-02-20, 11 22 40 AM.jpg

Once you get through all the laughs, this stop was actually a fascinating insight into cultural divides between Asia and the West. While swimming through the cave, almost everyone followed the guide very closely in a very organized line. Everyone (except for myself and a few other Westerners) wore a life jacket. At first I followed our guide and his flashlight, but since I wasn’t fond of moving very slowly and being constantly bumped into by the person behind me (in their defence it is very difficult to see) I realized it would be much faster and more enjoyable to swim next to the lines, swimming from guide to guide (or flashlight to flashlight) until I reached the other side. Very few others chose this method.

Next we headed to Ko Kradan for everyone’s favourite part of the day, lunch! The beach at Ko Kradan is very beautiful and the buffet lunch was surprisingly good. Photo 2016-02-20, 12 11 32 PM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-20, 12 18 19 PM (1).jpgAfter lunch we had some time to snorkel from shore. This isn’t advertised as a snorkel stop, but the snorkelling here was the best I’ve done in Thailand. A healthy, living coral reef with many different types of interesting fish, far better in quality (though somewhat worse in quantity) than all other snorkel stops.

Photo 2016-02-20, 12 50 35 AM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-20, 1 01 35 PM.jpgFinally we stopped at Ko Chuek for our  last open-water snorkelling stop. This one was better than the first stop.  The fish here swarm you and even bump into you and your camera, which makes for some great selfies if you have an underwater camera. Would definitely recommend investing in such a camera if you’re planning a trip to Thailand in any case. We got great use out of our GoPro! Photo 2016-02-20, 2 20 18 AM.jpgPhoto 2016-02-20, 2 15 51 AM.jpgFrom here our boat brought us back to Kantiang Bay, our original departure point. I appreciated that our hotel was a two minute walk away, so there was no need to wait for and in a bus!

Dinner tonight was at Red Snapper, a gourmet restaurant serving creative tapas-style dishes. Red Snapper is chef run and you can really tell – the dishes are really well thought out and gourmet. This is the type of place that would cost a fortune back home, but this is Thailand! We shared five plates (more than enough) for 475 baht ($19 CAD). An amazing deal and a fun experience, a must-do while in Ko Lanta. Make a reservation at least a day advance – they usually don’t have room if you’re a walk-in.

Day 19: After breakfast, we drove to the trailhead for the Klong Jark Waterfall. It’s a nice walk, 20 minutes each way, although the waterfall itself is just a trickle during the dry season. It’s not exactly a must-see (there’s not much on Ko Lanta that is), but it’s a nice morning activity if you feel like going for a walk. The scenery feels more like Vermont than Thailand, but Vermont certainly has its charms too. The walk was cool and pleasant and if you have time it’s a great way to spend a morning. After our walk we returned to the hotel for a short break before driving north to Lanta Animal Welfare, an animal care centre that takes in stray or mistreated dogs and cat from around Ko Lanta and attempts to re-home them. It’s a great organization: according to them, Ko Lanta used to be full of stray dogs, but now there are virtually none. They offer 45-minute tours every hour on the hour, so be sure to come at that time. We had a nice time touring the property and seeing all the cats and dogs living there. There’s no charge for the tour, but you can give a donation or buy something from their gift store. They also let you take out some of the dogs for walks on the beach, but this is mostly done in the morning. Unfortunately we didn’t know about this feature and only came in the afternoon, but next time we’ll be sure to show up early.

After getting back to our hotel we ate a picnic lunch consisting of groceries from Lanta Mart on our patio, and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon. For our last dinner in Ko Lanta we returned to Shanti Shanti for yet another amazing meal.

In summary, we had a really great time in Ko Lanta and we will definitely return. Although it’s expensive, it’s the perfect place for some nice beaches, nature, and lots of amazing food. We liked it so much it rivalled Chiang Mai in our estimation!