Ko Lanta, Thailand
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” Aldous Huxley
It’s ironic that Maya Bay, made famous by the movie The Beach for its seclusion, is now so crowded the Thai government are closing it periodically to give it a chance to recover.Thailand has so many islands that offer natural beauty, if you look beyond the fame and package tours and you can find some hidden gems.
Ko Lanta is one such island. Rather than huge crowds of unruly backpackers downing shots, the beaches here attract small groups enjoying chilled drinks and friendly conversation. This is a destination for grown-ups. Loosely putting myself in this category, I flew over for the Christmas holidays to visit my friend Lucy.
A slower pace
Kantiang Bay is a small village packed with family run restaurants, tour operators, scooter rentals and guest houses.
The massage parlours do not require inverted commas, they offer top notch Swedish and Thai massages with a choice of therapeutic oils.
All this is set around a mile long bay of clean sand and calm water. It’s an idyllic village ecosystem you could put in your pocket.
Waking to the sound of tropical birds and the call to prayer, I fell into a morning routine of coffee swinging in a hammock, watching traders and tourists ambling by as I planned my day. For two weeks I did nothing in a hurry.
First, learn the local lingo. Or not…
On the taxi ride from Krabi airport, Lucy attempted to teach me Thai. A small mispronunciation can completely change the meaning of a word, Lucy’s mishaps to date include:
- Beautiful: bad luck (she inadvertently told someone their baby was bad luck)
- Good job: underwear
- She mispronounced the name of a friend’s cat as: boy penis
- ‘Pet’ means spicy, ‘my pet’ means not spicy. Ask to ‘cook my pet’ and you’ll get a plate of non spicy food. Not to be confused with a resident Northerner who calls everyone ‘pet’. I avoided any attempt at Thai for fear of accidentally telling the waitress I wanted to kill her, or her pet.
Adventures by scooter
Scooting across the island I passed scattered wooden shacks and curious monkeys waiting to steal unguarded food from tourists.
Most of the island is dominated by gorgeous rainforest providing crisp, clean air and views of isolated beaches.
Lanta Old Town is a charming strip of old wooden shops and harbour with hazy glimpses of islands to the east. The shops here sell beautiful souvenirs and clothing, well worth a visit.
The main tourist area of Long Bay is an understated strip of small restaurants and guest houses.
The sunsets here are spectacular and attract relaxed, friendly groups spread across the two mile stretch of beach.
A few of us shared a Christmas Day sunset here followed by dinner at Yang restaurant. Set back off the main road down a dirt track, it’s one of the island’s top rated restaurants and deservedly so.
For residents of Kantiang Bay, this is considered a night out in the big city.
The wonders of the sea
Ko Lanta is surrounded by beautiful uninhabited islands surrounded by reefs with excellent snorkelling and diving. This is where you’ll find an idyllic island paradise.
Ko Rok is relatively unspoiled although the day trippers created a crowd. I found a quiet spot on the beach to eat my buffet lunch under the shade of a tree and enjoy the view. The reef here offers world class snorkelling with blue starfish, purple clams, numerous fish and masses of hard and soft corals, all in crystal clear water. It was the perfect day out to remember during a cold English winter.
Ko Haa is an archipelago of five small rocky islands jutting out of the sea. The diving here is especially good, If you’re lucky you’ll also see eagle ray, manta ray and whale sharks.
There are several bars in the village open into the early hours, attracting a mix of tourists, locals and expats who collectively create a lively, friendly vibe. Aqua Bar was my favourite, perched on the edge of the beach it’s open to the elements with casual seating, a great view and friendly staff.
Christmas Eve I was honoured with an invite to Lucy’s friends’ hilltop house overlooking Klong Jark beach. Representative of the global expat presence in the village, we enjoyed a Swedish spread for dinner. Above us on the wall was the mounted skin of a 20 foot King Cobra they’d found in the villa the previous year.
We welcomed Christmas day with a midnight skinny dip which brought to life a stunning bioluminescent display. Bright blue-white sparkles lit up in the water around us as we swam. Just breathtaking and the best Christmas gift nature can offer.
New Years on the beach
I rounded off my stay on New Years Eve at the collaborative party held between the beach bars.
Fireworks were followed by fire juggling and a giant sparkler display by the water. There was enough of a crowd to create a great atmosphere but not so much to create a hectic crush. The atmosphere was fantastic and as with the rest of my stay in the village, I felt safe and welcome.
The Krabi region has so much to offer, in hindsight I’d have split my time with another location. However, I can see why so many expats have made this friendly community home, far from the stresses and clutter of western life.
If you’re looking to unwind and enjoy great food, hospitality and island hopping away from the madding crowd, this little treasure of a village is really worth a visit.