There are heaps of great options if you are in Bangkok, you can head south-west to the various floating markets, north to the ancient capital city of Ayutthaya or head south-east to Pattaya City. During my time in Bangkok, I made sure to book a few all-day tours using Klook. This trip to Ko Lan was fun. We had a fantastic time from start to finish and there was heaps of things we could do, from riding various banana boats and skis, to parasailing and snorkeling.
We started our day super early by taking the train to the BTS Victory Monument Station to be there at our designated meet up location. On arrival, we saw that there were several groups for different tours run by Klook and their affiliates. (Just make sure you find your tour guide and that you hop onto the correct minivan.) Unlike in Japan, where I think you can get around easily by yourself (though it really easy for me, because I can speak some Japanese), Thailand is better if you take part in the tours which usually host small groups and are great value because they take you to and back the main destinations (because getting around can be hard) and you get a taste of everything.
If you are early and miss breakfast, near the station are several street food vendors selling delicious treats for around 20 to 60 baht (or about AUD$1). It’s a fantastic bargain and you can select from a range of dishes to go with sticky rice. You just point to the ones you want, they will grab a handful of the chosen item and then wrap it all up in a banana leaf. You pay the cost and the bag is all yours. You can find these vendors near most train stations and are an easy way to get some energy when most of the restaurants haven’t opened yet and these vendors are especially good if you are a busy office worker.
We managed to find our trip’s tour guide without any issues. We departed at 8:30 am. Our group was only around 9 people plus the tour guide. We had a comfortable minivan, with a super cold air conditioner, and complimentary water bottles. (Remember that it is better to get your water from water bottles in Thailand.) The trip from Bangkok, owing to the horrible Bangkok traffic, was around 2 hours and 40 minutes.
This trip on 15 January 2019 was my second time visiting Ko Lan (or Koh Larn). My first time was back in 2012 when my impression of Ko Lan was that it was fifthly, smelly and full of incredibly overweight and shirtless tourists. The water smelt like sewerage, there was trash all over the place and I paid to use a toilet, there was boiling sludge coming out of the top of it. Coming back in 2019, I wasn’t thrilled to visit it all again, but I was coming with someone who had never experience Thailand before, so I decided to add it to our itinerary and see how things had changed.
It takes about 20 minutes by speed boat to get to Ko Lan. The speed boat is not a comfortable ride. It is noisy, rocky and you will get wet. The speed boat back in 2011 and now in 2019 was no different for me. With both times, we had a mandatory stop over at a floating barge for paragliding to take place. For an extra hundred baht, you can take part in paragliding where you are strapped to a parasail and dragged by a speed boat around the floating barge two times. (I haven’t done it, but it looks like people who did take part had fun. But the ride is 4 minutes tops and it’s not cheap.)
Once everyone had their turn with parasailing, we hopped back on our speed boat and jetted off to Ko Lan. Bump. Bump. Splash. Splash.
For the photo, we were pretty cheerful on the boat, but if you look closely the water was flying overhead and into the boat and our bums were never stationary.
We arrived on the island around 11:30 am and were given until 3:30 pm to enjoy the island at our own leisure. We could take part in several beach activities, such as snorkeling, jet ski, sea walking, etc. It’s up to you entirely. We just wanted to explore the island.
The beach was pretty busy with tourists walking in every direction. The main beach front is a busy port for ferrying people to and from the island. Unfortunately, there is no pier to get on or off, you have to get your feet wet by stepping off the boat and then making your way through the water to the beach sand. (Be prepared to get sand all over you and feel icky for the rest of the day.)
Along the main beach front are beach umbrellas and chairs. If you want to use one of the chairs, you will have to pay for it. There are always eyes looking out for new customers, so don’t think any of this is free. In addition, the floaties lines up in (sort of) neat piles can also be borrowed for a fee too.
The main street facing the main beach front is lined with restaurants and souvenir stores. Here you will be able to buy various things from drinks to hats to weird miniature erotic statues. (I won’t share it here, but you need to see it for yourself just let me know.) If you want to use any of the change rooms or toilets, you will have to pay for it, so be sure to bring some coins to use the facilities. There is no guarantee that the facility will be clean, because there is a high chance they won’t be. Lucky for us, our tour guide made sure to remind us to use the toilets when we were at Pattaya.
There are plenty of beach activities to do (if you want to). Back in 2012, I rode both a jet ski and banana boat out to ‘sea’. In both instances, the operator took us to a certain point and turned around, then they threw us in the water. It’s your job to swim back to shore. (I made it sound horrible, but it’s a lot of fun particularly if you are expecting it. This trip isn’t for the precious.) So for the jet ski, I was riding it with the operator behind. When I had gone far enough, he steered the boat around and said ‘ready?’ and then pushed me into the water. With the banana boat, they took a couple of us on a inflatable boat and sailed away from the beach. While you can hold on, the boat operator did a massive sharp turn which caused all of us to lose grip and fall into the water.
You can also take part in snorkeling, though I didn’t take part. I wasn’t moved by the fact that the snorkeling equipment looked like a child’s toy and that their way of cleaning the mouthpieces was dipping it into sea water a few times. (I am sure there are more reputable vendors than the ones I saw.) The other thing thing is, I am not sure how much wildlife you will see for the hefty price tag.
Compared to 2012, my time in 2019 was much more pleasant. The locals have done an incredible job cleaning up Ko Lan. The water is cleaner and clearer than the muddy water I saw back in December 2012. The water was much ‘bluer’.
I think the area around Italay is much better for swimming and enjoying the waters. It was much quieter and more picturesque than the visuals you see when you arrive on the island. Most people arrive in north and see a pretty messy scene. Head out from that messiness and you will find some gems.
If you walk down the main beach front and keep heading west (consult your map), you will come across Restaurant Italay and the beach in front of the restaurant.
We sat down under the open skies and tucked into some delicious crab fried rice, pad thai (not pictured) and some Thai chicken, prawn and vegetable soup. It was delicious for a nice hot day. The crab fried rice had crab shells and crab meat. It was delicious, though I had to be careful eating around the crab shells.
We also had a Thai soup. The soup had a nice savory flavor profile and was packed with ingredients. It was really nice and unexpected.
When the time came for us to get off the island, I took off my flip flops and made my way through the shallow water to our boat. (It is more shallow later in the day than in the morning.) We put on our life jackets and bid farewell to the island.
Our trip back on the speed boat was rocky, noisy and to an extent dangerous. When we got back, there was a bit of shopping and dinner before we headed back by minivan. We had another 2 hours and 40 minutes on the minivan from Pattaya back to Bangkok. For some reason, heading into the city at night showed the true nightmare and chaos that is Bangkok peak hour traffic. I was glad that I wasn’t driving and had the luxury of air conditioning on a hot summer’s day.
Ko Lan Island is located off the coast of Pattaya:
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