KOH LANTA with KIDS: THE BEST ISLAND in THAILAND for FAMILIES
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
WHY WE CHOSE KOH LANTA
Koh Lanta has been on our radar since the moment we started planning for Thailand. It has built up a respectable reputation as one of the best islands in Thailand for families. Even if you don't have kids, it's a quiet place to unwind and relax without the masses, for couples and solo travelers as well.
We knew we wanted to visit an island, but we also didn't want to hit the big names like Ko Samui or Ko Phi Phi. Especially after our time in Ao Nang, Railay and Phra Nang beach, we were ready for a more laid back vibe. Koh Lanta was the perfect size - developed enough for plenty of accomodation and dining options but not enough to ever feel crowded and busy.
We were there in December, during the start of peak season, yet many restaurants by the beach sat mostly empty, and there were hardly tourists walking on the streets. However, with lively local markets and a more bustling night scene, it was far from being a ghost town.
WHERE WE STAYED
1 week in Lanta Smile Beach - This was one of the cheapest options for beach front accomodation. For $40 CAD/ night, our deluxe family room came all decorated with petals and towel sculptures on the beds. The rooms were small but came with a spacious front porch for reading a book or drying your swimwear. Price and food quality was average at their restaurant, so we didn't eat here often. The little convenience store (The 7 Elephant) had some basic supplies, snacks and beach gear. Best of all, it was located next to a bar where they had a highly entertaining fire show every night. All in all, for a budget, beach-front accommodation with family rooms located in Khlong Dao, we would recommend this place. (Photo below of the beach in front of Lanta Smile Beach)
1 week in Harvest House - This was a cheap airbnb find at a great location, however, when we got there, there was no swimming pool as advertised. It was really a cement hole with a shallow pool of rain water collected on the bottom. We strongly DO NOT recommend this place unless you are on a tight budget and don't mind uncleanliness. Even after we requested they clean the kitchen again at check in, we spent a few hours cleaning it once more! Why did we stay here despite all this? The kids insisted we stay put and we admit, we got tired of looking elsewhere. And CATS. Lots of cute, friendly cats. We are such suckers for animals! Despite the kitchen being a mess, at least the bedroom was clean and comfortable.
THINGS TO DO IN KOH LANTA WITH KIDS
We stayed mainly near Khlong Dao beach and spent the vast majority of our week in Lanta Smile Resort in or near the water. The sunsets from here were incredible. The shallow water was great for the kids to swim in and they enjoyed the endless soft sand for their castle and fort creations. There was lots of interesting sea life too. Among the most fascinating were the SAND BUBBLER CRABS. We noticed their geometric sand designs first before we found out how they were made. They roll out these tiny balls as they scour for food from underneath the moist, packed sand, doing so in a systematic way so they remember where they have already looked. Brilliant!
What we didn't like about the beaches was that it was VERY WINDY almost every day we were there. Also, shade is hugely lacking throughout. Beach umbrellas would surely fly off in the strong winds anyway. Just like our briefly unattended mattress floatie wildly flew into oblivion without a single trace of its whereabouts. One minute we were desperately chasing after it, next second, GONE.
The other BIG BUMMER was jellyfish larvae, also known as SEA LICE. Not sure if it was the time of the year, or that particularly windy week. We all felt a mild stinging sensation coming out of the water, and the kids ended up with a harmless rash on their legs that went away after a few days. It didn't stop us from swimming, but it limited our time in the water. Still, we had some great times on this beach.
MARKETS IN KOH LANTA
There is a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday market, as well as a weekend market all on different locations throughout the island. Great for shopping for produce and snacks, or for checking out a local experience, but not the kind for souvenirs. They are usually on uneven dirt grounds and with lots of raw fish and unidentifiable animal parts on display, so if you are sensitive to dirt and strong smells, you might want to avoid these markets. There is also a night market which sells produce and has a few food stalls, but it's a stand-and-eat or take-out kind of place as there is no seating area.
Sala Dan Walking Street Market - This was the best night market for selection and tourist friendly street food options. We ate here several times. They even had live entertainment on certain nights. They were open nightly from 5pm, but best to get there around 6pm for the market to fully get going.
Lanta Plaza is a large covered market north of the island open throughout the day selling all kinds of souvenirs, toys, clothes, etc. A quiet, uncrowded place to escape the afternoon sun and let the kids browse and contemplate using their pocket money.
LANTA ANIMAL WELFARE
If we asked the kids what their favorite part of Koh Lanta was, undoubtedly they will answer Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW). We came here twice to hang out with cats, cuddle with kittens and walk the dogs. We got a full tour of the facilities and even got to see the animals getting treated by the vets. It's founded by a lady who runs TIME for LIME, a bar/restaurant that offers Thai cooking classes with proceeds going to fund LAW. It is fully run by volunteers from all over the world and although it is free for anyone to visit, it is hard to leave without buying something from the gift shop/cafe, or making a donation.
There is a rubber tree plantation nearby with a shady path where the dogs are taken for their walk. Another spur-of-the-moment learning opportunity for the kids to see where rubber comes from. There were also a few macaque monkeys in the trees as we walked by.
BEST PLACES TO EAT
Tourist restaurants were priced double of the local places, and they were not necessarily very good. After some trial and error, we did find a couple of muslim restaurants near our place that offered tasty food at reasonable prices. One of the more popular tourist restaurants near Khlong Dao is Khun Mon, or "Mon's" next to the Swedish school. Their portions are huge, and they give you free watermelon as dessert.
Sala Dan Night Market was our go-to place, especially when we were staying at Harvest House, as it was within walking distance. Lots of cheap options. Arrive early for the cheap buffet (below).
Yawee was our favorite place to eat on the island, which happened to be close to LAW. One of those rare places where you could eat every meal and try all the things on the menu without getting tired of the food. Hard to find restaurants this amazing AND cheap. Lots of kid-friendly options available (for more on THAI food with kids, click here).
We've been to other lesser known islands before like Koh Mook and Koh Libong, but when it is too small or less developed, you risk not having enough options for food, lodging and things to do with the kids. Koh Lanta was perfect in that regard. It had some expectations to fulfill and in the end, it didn't disappoint. If what you are looking for is to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy a quieter beach scene, with or without kids, Koh Lanta is the place to be.
There are free water refill stations throughout the island. Some are part of the Trash Hero Refill Program, which requires you to have their water bottle, others will fill up any reusable water bottle you have. A great way to reduce your carbon footprint and avoid plastic pollution.
If interested, you can participate in a beach clean up organized by Trash Hero every Sunday. You can find out the location on their facebook page, which changes weekly. We planned to go with the kids but it got cancelled due to rain.
The majority of tourists who frequent Koh Lanta are European families, mainly from Sweden or Germany. They even have a German bakery, a Swedish pub and a school where Swedish parents send their kids to. It's no surprise then, why lots of restaurants offer schnitzel and swedish pancakes on their menus.
If you are staying at a place without a pool, like we did, some resorts offer use of pool for a fee or for free if you eat there. It doesn't hurt to ask! We found a place called My Home Lantawadee, with free pool use if you eat at their restaurant, which serves cheap, delicious food.
There is no GRAB in Koh Lanta, but they have cute tuk tuks with all kinds of different cartoon characters on the back. Fun for the kids!