The Hush:You gonna go party in Phi Phi? Locals in Phuket will ask. Tell them you’re off to Ko Lanta and you’ll be met with some confusion. Maybe our youthful looks are deceiving but to me Phi Phi’s party scene didn’t sound all that appealing to me. An unparalleled natural beauty, but tarnished by development. As for the lure of the party scene, I’m sad to say we’re well past the age where it’s socially acceptable to party so hard you puke into a full moon bucket (well, at least not every night!).
With this in mind, we headed off on the boat from Krabi – heads full of the warnings of the isolation that awaited us. But what we found instead was blissful, soothing solitude. A secluded slice of paradise that’s remained relatively unscathed by the growth that’s consumed its more westerly cousins, this is real barefoot beauty with a relaxed, rustic vibe that’s just the right amount of fun.
Picked up by a beaming Thai lady straddling a motorbike with a tuk-tuk sidecar we’re bundled in with our luggage, bumping through the northernmost village of Saladan, past colourful wooden houses on stilts along the water’s edge, dive shops, minimarts and markets filled with chatter. Halved oil drums serve as makeshift roadside grills, the smoky spiced chicken invading our nostrils.
The aptly named Lazy Days are cluster of bamboo bungalows, nestled on the shores of Relax Bay. Each comes with its own porch, king-sized bed, aircon and rain-shower that merits every last one of their five stars on TripAdvisor. The bay certainly lives up to its name, a sweep of velvety sand and emerald water set against a backdrop of the Koh Haa and Phi Phi islands which are silhouetted on a clear day. Only a handful of people dot the beach, lined with laid-back shacks that come alive at night. Head to Manao Restaurant at the far end of the beach for tasty Thai classics by lantern light, then to Moloko Lanta – a beach bar inside a container for a fire show and a cheap mojito or ten. The locals here love to party, you’ll see homemade signs plastered to every post – jungle parties, full moon parties, half moon parties, Sunday night parties- any excuse to string up some lanterns and get a band in.
The next day, we decided to blow the cobwebs away and explore by scooter. Away from the West coast into a wild interior, mist clinging to the jurassic jungle, we pass elephant camps and shady rubber tree forests. Colorful roadside stands sell petrol in whisky bottles, with hand-scrawled writing advertising it at $40 baht a pop. The roads are wide and empty, perfect for even the wobbliest of riders- just beware of potholes!
Across the island on the rocky Eastern coast, you’ll find Lanta Old Town, its teak houses rambling out into the ocean on stilts. Once a thriving stopover for Chinese and Arabic ships on the Singapore spice route, this fishing village has changed little in the last century. There’s a slow nostalgia to the way of life. We wander through the main street; past shaded shop fronts fringed with ivy, local craft stores and thatched smoothie shacks. Stopping at the slightly bonkers Hammock house, we find a gem of a deck next door at Shine-Talay and cool down with some ice cream sundaes that are almost as sweet as the view. For the very best, drive out onto the pier where you’ll have uninterrupted views of the smaller islands Ko Bubu and Ko Por, idling on the horizon in a purple haze like great sleeping giants. If you hurry, you can even make it back to the West side of the island in time for another stunning sunset.
This sleepy, unassuming island is utterly enchanting. Solitude-seekers probably have the lengthy journey to thank for that in part- as there are no bridges or airports on Ko Lanta just yet and a 3-4 hour mini van from Krabi with waits in between car ferries mean you’re looking at quite a trek. But boy is it worth it. It may not be the bright lights of Phi Phi or the lofty limestone cliffs of Railay, but this charming little island doesn’t want to compare itself to that. It’s lazy, languid and carefree without being at all boring and has managed to hold onto its backpacker groove with some seriously fun beach bars (more to come on that later).
Of course the secret is starting to slip – Lanta has changed much in recent years. But for now at least, it’s one of the few places where it’s still possible to revel in sweet seclusion- to leave the first pair of footprints on a beach or ride alone through a lonely, leafy jungle. Sure, there’s not a great deal besides that to do – but that’s precisely the point.
The How: We got the Ferry from Ao Nang Pier in Krabi (departing 10.30, arriving 12.45) for 500 baht which was pretty pleasant. Definitely preferable to the glacially slow car journey we took on the way back. You can buy tickets online here or on the same day from the ticket office – but this only runs November to April so be sure to check the schedule.
The Hurt: We stayed at Lazy Days Beach Bungalows in a beachfront bungalow for around £50 a night, and you can rent a scooter from pretty much any hotel or hostel for $150 baht a day. You won’t need a drivers licence but you may have to pay a deposit.