There are two main roads, one running parallel to the beaches on the western side and the other along the east coast, with four roads connecting them a various points in the top half of the island. Tourists generally stay on the west coast where the beaches are located and the sunsets are magnificent. Here too you will find most of the restaurants, shops and services. Getting around on the island is easy, as you can hail local taxis (motorbikes with large sidecars equipped with bench seats) on the main road, or hire a motorbike or car to explore the island.
The two northernmost beaches of Koh Lanta are the closest to the ferries and Baan Saladan the main town is the most populated area with the widest range of resorts, restaurants and shops. Of course 'populated' by Koh Lanta standards is still pretty quiet, but it does mean most modern conveniences (supermarkets, petrol stations, doctors, dentists, banks and post offices) are only a few minutes away.
As you move down to the middle of the island the accommodation becomes a little more basic and these areas tend to attract the backpacker set. Further down still, more boutique resorts pop up; many in beautifully secluded locations on beaches that make you feel like you are the only one there.
Klong Nin and Kantiang Bay are popular with European families wanting high-standard accommodation so these areas also have quite a variety of high-end restaurants, most notably the five-star Pimalai Resort. At the far southern end of the island, near Moo Koh Lanta National Park, you hit real seclusion.
Klong Dao Beach
Three km (1.8 miles) of soft powdery white sand and calm waters make this one of the most popular beaches on Koh Lanta. Known all over Thailand for its unrivalled sunsets, this beach has attracted the highest number of upmarket hotels and resorts and has more services than any other beach. Despite being the most popular, Klong Dao is far from overdeveloped and what resorts there are remain unobtrusive and simple, preserving the secluded atmosphere and often built into jungle gardens.
The top end of this beach, also known as Kaw Kwang Beach, has some excellent snorkelling and at the south end of the beach local fisherman use the natural rock harbour as a base; there are usually picturesque fleets of long-tail boats moored there.
Klong Dao is only three km from the main town area of Koh Lanta, Baan Saladan, where you will find the major banks as well as numerous shops and the Saturday market. Ferries coming to Koh Lanta from the mainland dock at Baan Saladan so travellers arrive at their hotels in Klong Dao in less than five-to-ten minutes.
Phra Ae Beach (Long Beach)
Just south of Klong Dao Beach lies Phrae Ae Beach, also known as Long Beach – the closest you’ll get to a party beach on Koh Lanta. It’s another long and lonely stretch of sand, with dunes on the inland side that gently slope down to meet the warm inviting water lapping at the sand. The tides here are very mild and there's rarely any current so this is another great place to swim, jog or just laze around soaking up the sunshine.
There are a few large hotels on this beach along with smaller resorts with good quality bungalow accommodation as well as a few cheaper bamboo huts for budget travellers. The north of this beach has a wide variety of restaurants and bars which makes it a lively destination at night whereas the southern end tends to have small intimate resorts. More bars and restaurants are to be found on the main road.
Klong Kong, Relax Bay and Klong Tob
Just as you leave the Phrae Ae area, a small mud track leads to Relax Bay which is a beautiful small beach that has no more than three resorts on it and so offers a more secluded atmosphere. We recommend walking to the southern end of this beach where you will find access to another bay, keep walking and you will find at least two more ‘secret’ beaches!
Klong Kong is a much bigger beach with plenty of great value accommodation. This beach is probably the rockiest of all the beaches on Lanta, but this means that there is some great snorkelling but be careful not to slip. This area escapes the more western influences the others have succumbed to, so there are many little Thai restaurants and bars dotted along the main road and the beach, offering great value dining.
Klong Tob is a small, straight beach, close to the main road and easy to access. There are no resorts here until the very end of the beach.
Klong Hin and Klong Nin
Climbing over the hill at the end of Klong Tob you will reach the halfway point of Lanta. Here, you’ll find the two white sand and very straight beaches of Klong Hin and Klong Nin. Both are great for swimming as they are generally calm. The resorts, bars and restaurants here tend to be of a better quality and are more western than in neighbouring Klong Kong, so expect to pay a little more but they are great value and staff members are very attentive.
Klong Nin has grown in recent years and is now a little shopping hub in the heart of the island with a few beach goods shops, supermarkets, ATMs, chemists, a local nurse as well as a small number of stand-alone gift shops.
This is the furthest south most tourists go in Koh Lanta, as after Kantiang Bay the road varies in quality and is far more rustic. The road narrows and becomes a series of dips and dives that can provide some spectacular sea views.
This is probably the prettiest beach on Lanta and either side of the bay has a small reef which offers some great snorkelling. Kantiang Bay has a few very good quality resorts (most notably Pimalai), restaurants and bars. But Kantiang Bay is hugely popular throughout the year and there is definitely a community feel, due to its remoteness from the rest of the island.
Nui Beach, Ao Mai Pai and Ao Klong Jark
Rugged and wild, these small beaches offer an incredible desert-island feel for those willing to travel to them. Klong Jark features a waterfall popular with Thais and foreigners alike while Ao Mai Pai has some of the best snorkelling around.
Nui Beach is small and may take some time to find but it's worth it to find that you're the only person for miles around, even in the middle of high season.