WELCOME TO KOH LANTA
• This guide is designed for first time visitors to Ko Lanta with general information about Thailand’s most beautiful island.
• The tourist season in Ko Lanta runs from October through August with most visitors here December to March. An increasing number of people are visiting off season, and many resorts now stay open all year. During the rainy season from September to October heavy rainfall lasting a few hours is typical, although it occasionally rains for days.
• There are nine beautiful beaches running on the west coast side of Ko Lanta, running from north to south for 25 Kilometers. The north end of the island, where you find Klong Dao Beach and Phra Ae Beach is the more developed with the most resorts and services available. Although even in the busiest time of the year these beaches are never crowded.
• The farther you get south, heading towards National Park at the end, the beaches become more secluded and are most often empty. The are many basic services such as ATM, travel & tour offices, etc. available in each beach area, but the farther down the island you get, it is generally less developed.
The Word “Lanta”
• How did the island of Ko Lanta get its name? What does the word”Lanta” actually means? While the origin itself has still yet to be proved conclusively, there are a number of interesting proposals. The first is based on the Javanese word used to describe a sieve used for drying fish, “Lantus”. This is the food saving process still be used during the monsoon season by the New Thai (Sea Gypsies) on Lanta today.
• Another reliable source claims that the original word, “Pulau Lun-Tuck” or “Pulau Sa-Tuck” stems from the Malaysian language, meaning “the island with a long mountain range”. Examination of ancient documents by historians have prompted further claims, this time of sea maps from Arabia showing the island was first known as “Janub Lanta”, meaning Southern Lanta. And other sources yet indicate that the word “Laan-Ta” was the original name of the island. This last comes from a Thai word meaning “to get blurry eyes”, due to the dust generated from shells on the many long beaches.
• The island’s name was officially declared to be “Lanta” about one hundred years ago, during the rein of King Rama the Fifth.
• It was also at this time, that the first Chief Officer to govern Ko Lanta district was elected. The first governor’s office, built in classic Thai-Style, is a two-storey wooden house still standing in Old Town today.
DESCRIPTION OF KO LANTA
• Ko Lanta Yai is a long thin island running north through south. The west coast (or sunset coast) faces the Andaman Sea with a string of beautiful white-sand beaches that hosts the island’s resorts.
• About halfway down the island the paved road turns from the west and crosses the mountain to the east coast.This beautiful drive take you through rice paddies, rubber tree plantations, jungle, as well as passing through a number of small Muslim villages.
• The right hand turning found opposite the small mosque in the little village just after the locals school leads to Mai Keow Cave, and is signposted for tourist.
• Just before dropping to the eastern plateau, the road sweeps around a bend to a scenic site with a spectacular view of the sea between Koh Lanta and the mainland. Scattered with tiny tropical islands set against backdrop of Krabi mainland, the outlook, particularly at sunset, is simply stunning. Binoculars can be borrowed from the restaurant if you stop for a soft drink or a meal.
• Colorful local fishing boats can be viewed close-up on many of the beaches. See them in large group at the southern end of Klong Dao Beach, or next to the paved road between Klong Kong Beach and the National Park turnoff. The east coast is less developed and offers glimpses of life before tourism. It faces the mainland and has a coastline largely consisting of mangroves with some yellow-sand beaches in the south.
• Follow the main road south towards Ko Lanta village and en route, you will see rice paddies and prawn farms. Take the left turnoff to beautiful old Ko Lanta village when you reach the main police station (on the right). Continue on and you’ll pass the Buddhist Temple and the hospital before coming to the Sea Gypsy Village.
• The Sea Gypsy village at the southern end of the east coast offers a peek into the life of these ancient people, many who continue to live a nomadic existence on the sea. The village consists of small houses where people live private lives, therefore please respect their privacy and be sensitive about where you point you’re your camera. If you are lucky you will see the unique fishing cages used here, rigid constructions of about 1x2x3 meters with an entrance gate. They are taken out to places where tides concentrate fish, swum down to the ocean bottom, and tied to rocks to keep them from being swept away (all without the aid of diving equipment).
• Follow the small stream on an enjoyable, relaxed walk through the jungle to the waterfall near Klong Jark Beach, in the south. It reduces to a small shower in the dry season, but the fresh water pool below remains a great place for a cool dip. The terrain is easy-going and the route takes about 45 minutes. Guides can be hired for a small fee at the coffee shop where the road fords the stream. Continue your walk back past the road and follow the stream to Klong Jark Beach- one of Ko Lanta’s prettiest small beaches.
• For an escape from the sun, take a hike to the popular Mai Keow Cave. Turn right off the paved road just after the mosque, and continue till you see the parking place. A guide from the family owning the land will walk you up through the rubber tree plantation and jungle, over rope bridges to the cave entrance.
• The cave consists of a series of spectacular chambers with rock stalagmites, stalactites and rock formations. It involves some climbing up and down on rope ladders but is not overly strenuous. When you spot people with muddy clothes and big smiles, they are just back from the caves!
• Another choice for an underground adventure is the more recently discovered Tiger Cave. Find it off the national park road, just to the left.
• The Ko Lanta National Marine Park is at the southern tip of the island at the end of the spectacular coastal drive. The park offers picnic area with toilets & showers, a pictured-postcard beach, and an interesting one hour walk through unspoiled jungle, starting at the Park’s Headquarter. A small lighthouse on the southern point is popular for panoramic shots of the coastline. Take your own food for picnic, cold drinks are usually available on site.
• The Ko Lanta archipelago covers an area of over 180square kilometers and includes a total of 52 islands. It was declared as Thailand’s National Park No.62 in 1990, in an offer to protect the fragile coastal environment.
• The archipelago consists of for small group of islands, mainly known as the Ko Ngai (Hai) group, the Ko Rok group, the Ko Ha group, and the Ko Lanta group.
• The islands are generally comprised of high limestone cliffs, rainforests and mountains. Due to the many natural canals, there is a constant, clean supply of fresh water for jungle and natural lives, maintaining a lush, green appearance through out the islands the whole year round.. Preservations of virgin timber and mangroves forests, and the Ko Lanta Yai mountain range, are added attractions.
• 80% of the archipelago is in the sea, and is protected under the Marine Park authority, ensuring underwater lives and the reefs within remain fresh and unspoiled. Diving and snorkeling within the area offers characteristics unique to these sites alone.
• Ko Lanta Yai itself is a long, thin island 6 kilometers wide and 40 kilometers long. The mountain range running from north to south is over 30 kilometers long. The National Park office is located at the southern end of the island, and is a fantastic area for bird watching and nature trekking.
• With it’s plentiful resorts and facilities, Ko Lanta’s east coast is the centre of travel both to and from this archipelago. The remaining islands lack developed resorts with the exception of Ko Ngai (Hai).
Weather & Climate
• Weather on Ko Lanta is typically that of a tropical monsoonclimate. The monsoons change direction twice a year. Coming once from the south-west and once from the north-east. This causes Ko Lanta to have only 2 seasons- summer season and rainy season. The tourist season in Ko Lanta runs from October through until May with most visitors arriving from November to March.
• The temperature on the island doesn’t vary much all year, with a comfortable 32-34 degree C in daytime and 20-25 degree C in night time. Sea temperature similarly stays at around 28-30 degrees all year round.
• The South-West monsoons brings rain to the island during low season. Ko Lanta’s mountain range blocks some rain and aids jungle regrowth on the west side, as well as filling up the reservoirs. This is a time of rejuvenation and new life for Ko Lanta’s National Park. On the other side of the mountains, lesser rainfall fails to affect the growth of the mangrove forests, which continue to team with all manner of sea life.
• Ko Lanta’s history stems from traders who came by boat from China, and from the Arab continent, originally using the island as a stopover point. In fact, Ko Lanta’s Old Town on the east coast of the island is still home for some of the first traditional Chinese long houses built here. Before the Fist World War,Saladan at the northernmost point of the island was the checkpoint for all tax-paying boats en route to the Malay Peninsular.
People of Ko Lanta
• Ko Lanta is home to three vary distinct cultural groups – the Chao Ley (Sea Gypsies), Thai-Muslim people and the Thai-Chinese. All share innate Thai warmth that’s locally known as “The Koh Lanta Charm”. They have lived together in peace and harmony for hundreds of years in mixed communities around the island. Today most tourist find it difficult telling the distinct groups apart.
• The Chao Ley preceded Malay migrants who had been converted to Islam from ancient animistic beliefs, adapting the new religion into their traditional culture. These settlers, many of whom came from Sai Buri and Nakorn Sri Thammarat, referred to themselves as “Orang Lon-Ta” . Oran is a Malay term meaning ‘people’, and an old Malay maps the island is named “Pulau Lonta”. Today the local Thai Muslims on the island practice a moderate version of Islam
• Chinese merchants arrived on the island more than 100 years ago during the revolution that saw communist ruler Chairman Mao Tse Tung take power. They fled to trading ports throught Southeast Asia (including Koh Lanta) from Kwang Tung, Hai Lham Island and Sua Thaw in China. Today they continue on the island as business owners, agricultural farmers and fishermen.
• The nomadic Sea Gypsies (Chao Ley) arrived on Ko Lanta more than 500 years ago with their unique language, matriarchal social system and animist beliefs. Today they are struggling to preserve their traditional culture in the face of growing tourism and the influence of western culture.
• Sea Gypsies came to the area as nomadic boat people of Indo-Malay origin with a subsistence-based fishing livelihood. Today many have been granted land, surnames, and citizenship in Thailand. These unique people blend into the local population but they retain their own language, culture, and close ties with the sea.
• The Chao Ley shown here are from a tribe called Urak Lawoi, who according to local legend are relatives of Morgan, another group of Sea Gypsies on Surin Island in Phang Nga. Both groups migrated along the coast of Saiburi, now Malaysia’s Kedah state, around GunungJerai Mountain. They later separated and established separate settlements on various island in the Andaman Sea.
• There are still 2 Chao Ley villages less than a kilometre apart on the southeast coast of the island. There is one tiny, private Sera Gypsy museum called ‘ Sea Gypsy House’ nearby, a seaside compound with various buildings standing amongst the mangroves and tidal pools near Ko Lanta’s Old Town. It serves as both an educational centre for visitors and a place for the Sea Gypsies to fashion jewelry and traditional musical instruments.