Introducing Ko Lanta
Once the domain of backpackers and sea gypsies, Lanta hasn't just gentrified, it's morphed almost completely from a luscious southern Thai backwater into a midrange getaway for French, German and Swedish package tourists who come for her divine beaches (though the northern coast is alarmingly eroded) and nearby dive spots, Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Ko Ha. Within eyeshot of Phi-Phi, Lanta remains far more calm and real, however, and effortlessly caters to all budget types. It's also relatively flat compared to the karst formations of its neighbours, and laced with good roads, so is easily explored by motorbike. A quick loop reveals a colourful crucible of cultures – fried-chicken stalls sit below slender minarets, stilted chow lair villages cling to the island’s east side, and small Thai wát hide within green-brown tangles of curling mangroves.
Ko Lanta is technically called Ko Lanta Yai, the largest of 52 islands in an archipelago protected by the Mu Ko Lanta Marine National Park. Almost all boats pull into Ban Sala Dan, a dusty two-street town at the northern tip of the island.