Thailand is famous for its stunning beaches and islands, and most of them are not exactly a hidden secret… It is even partly mass tourism at its worst! Nonetheless, you can still have an enjoyable time there, relaxing after discovering other parts of Thailand or even of Southeast Asia. My personal experience showed both sides: when Koh Lanta was actually a pleasant moment, Railay Beach proved to be one of the worst places I ever visited in my life.
Railay Beach – Mass Tourism At Its Worst!
True, the landscape is stunning, small but beautiful beaches with perfect white sand and emerald waters, surrounded with dramatic karst rock formations. It would make for the perfect post card and place to relax… But… There is a major but!
This small peninsula is one of the busiest places I ever experienced in all my travels – do not expect some secluded island, but rather think of the Champs Elysées or Times Square in terms of density of tourists, and partly not the most sophisticated ones at that! Add to this that you can only access Railay Beach by boat and are more or less trapped once there, and you understand why prices are the highest I experienced in the whole of Southeast Asia, partly 2 to 3 times what you have somewhere else – for mostly a low quality of service. Last but not least, you find there as many long tail boats as you find cars on the streets of Bangkok, with the noise nuisance going along at any time of day and night …
My only sensible advice would be to avoid Railay Beach at any costs!
Koh Lanta – A Relaxed Atmosphere
Of course you can find full moon / half moon / no moon beach parties there. Of course, Ban Sala Dan can be crowded and congested with traffic. But once you venture further away, this island is quite relaxed, with nice beaches bordered with palm trees, white sand and emerald waters and most important: not too many people! Hire a scooter (250 Baht or 7 € per day) and drive further south, where beaches are far less crowded and not less beautiful.
Scuba Diving in Koh Lanta is good, and Koh Haa turned into 3 of the most spectacular dives I experienced so far. True, you will not see the “Big Things” there, but large schools of colorful fishes, turtles, water snakes, … with a visibility mostly above 20 meters, and often above 30 meters! On the other hand, Hin Daeng & Hin Muang turned into real disappointments, especially considering that you need 4 hours by boat to reach the area.
Krabi is definitely the nearest airport to reach Koh Lanta or other islands in the area.
Nonetheless, do not overlook Phuket as a gateway, since you easily find direct flights to Phuket from many places in Southeast Asia. But the transfer is quite long (6 to 7 hours on public transports, or 4 hours by cab…)