Although KO LANTA YAI can’t quite compete with Phi Phi’s stupendous scenery, the thickly forested 25km-long island has the longest beaches in the Krabi area – and plenty of them. There’s decent snorkelling and diving nearby, plus caves to explore, kayaking and other watersports, so many tourists base themselves here for their entire holiday fortnight. The island is especially popular with families, in part because of the local laws that have so far prevented jet-skis, beachfront parasols and girlie bars from turning it into another Phuket, though resort facilities are expanding fast. Lanta is also rapidly being colonized by Scandinavian expats, with villa homes and associated businesses popping up all over the place, at a pace that not all islanders are happy about. The majority of Ko Lanta Yai’s ten thousand indigenous residents are mixed-blood descendants of Muslim Chinese–Malay or animist chao ley (“sea gypsy”) peoples, most of whom supported themselves by fishing and cultivating the land before the tourist boom brought new jobs, and challenges.
One of those challenges is that the tourist season is quite short, with the weather and seas at their calmest and safest from November to April; the main ferries don’t run outside that period, and some hotels close, though most do stay open and offer huge discounts. The short money-making window, however, means that accommodation prices on Ko Lanta fluctuate more wildly than many other south Thailand destinations.
The local chao ley name for Ko Lanta Yai is Pulao Satak, “Island of Long Beaches”, an apt description of the string of beaches along the west coast, each separated by rocky points and strung out at quite wide intervals. Broadly speaking, the busiest and most mainstream beaches are in the north, within easy reach of the port at Ban Sala Dan: Hat Khlong Dao is the family beach and Ao Phra-Ae the longer and more beautiful. The middle section has variable sands but some interesting, artsy places to stay, at Hat Khlong Khong, Hat Khlong Nin and Hat Khlong Nam Jud. Southerly Ao Kantiang is reliable for swimming year-round and currently marks the end of the made road; beyond here Ao Khlong Jaak and Ao Mai Phai are a little harder to get to and so feel more remote. Lanta Yai’s mangrove-fringed east coast has no real tourist development but is both good for kayaking and culturally interesting because of the traditional homes in Lanta Old Town. North across the narrow channel from the port at Ban Sala Dan, Lanta Yai’s sister island of Ko Lanta Noi has Ko Lanta’s administrative offices and several small villages but no tourist accommodation. The rest of the Ko Lanta archipelago, which comprises over fifty little islands, is mostly uninhabited.