Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta: How to Pick Your Next Thai Island

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
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There are so many amazing Thai islands that are worth visiting, but what if you’re stuck between two options? Specifically, what if you can’t decide whether to visit Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta? Well, you’re in luck. This article will help you decide exactly that. While both these islands may look like they’re pretty similar on the surface, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll notice lots of important differences.

The biggest difference comes with the size and location. While Koh Lipe is further south and more remote, Koh Lanta is closer to the mainland and much busier. The former has a population of just 800, while the latter is home to more than 30,000 people. This instantly gives you an idea of how these places aren’t the same.

To help you decide whether to visit Koh Lipe of Koh Lanta, keep reading. You’ll find comparisons on the overall vibe, things to do, the nightlife, and the accessibility. We’re pretty certain that you’ll be packing the bags and heading off to one of these tropical paradises before we’re done!

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for traveling there?

Are Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta easy to access?
Photo by Humphrey Muleba/Unsplash

As amazing as islands are, they aren’t always the easiest places to get to – it’s sort of part of the charm right? The thing is, when it comes to Koh Lipe Vs Koh Lanta, there’s one that’s MUCH easier to get to than the other.

Koh Lipe is in the very south of Thailand, close to the border with Malaysia. It’s also quite far from the mainland – around 40 miles to be certain. For these reasons, it’s considered quite inaccessible. The route in from Bangkok (where most people start their trips in the Land of Smiles) usually involves a connecting flight to Hat Yai and then a transfer to the airport, which takes anything from seven to 11 hours. It’s also possible to get VIP buses direct from the capital (we don’t know why they are called VIP buses, since they aren’t that nice at all!), which take about 14 hours to get you to the port at either Hat Yai or Pak Bara, which is where the ferries leave from. Other travelers cross the international border from Malaysia’s Langkawi, though remember that you’ll only be given a 15-day visa on arrival then.

For Koh Lanta’s part, it’s actually one of the most accessible islands in the whole of the Andaman Sea. The main reason for that is it almost has a direct road link with the mainland – there’s a tiny part that’s not yet connected and short ferries complete the journey there, running until about 10pm each night. The upshot is that they make road transfers much easier, and you shouldn’t have to get a boat-bus combo from Bangkok. However, the best way to arrive at Lanta is still via boat, using the multiple daily ferries from Krabi to Ban Saladan. They take about two hours. You can also catch ferries from Phuket, stopping in Koh Phi Phi along the way, but they often take a lot longer than the advertised four hours.

Winner: Koh Lanta is significantly easier to access than Koh Lipe. It wins this round without much trouble.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for the vibe and atmosphere?

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta: which has a better island vibe?
Photo by Robert Eklund/Unsplash

A wise backpacker friend once told us that “no two Thai islands are the same.” We couldn’t agree more. Every single one is like its own little microcosm of culture and life, with different peoples and topographies, beaches and attractions.

The feel on Koh Lipe is one of remoteness and isolation. That comes from how hard it is to get to in the first place (see above). Once you finally arrive, you’ll get the sense that you’re a long way from anywhere, with just colorful longtail boats and white-sand bays for company. It has become much busier in recent years but it’s still the one to visit if you’re keen on chasing that classic tropical island life. That said, Koh Lipe is much smaller than Lanta, so it can get overloaded with crowds during the peak season in January and February. There’s just not enough space for everyone.

Koh Lanta doesn’t have that Robinson Crusoe-esque side to it. You’ll arrive, either after a short ferry or a drive, and instantly be immersed in the ramshackle fish markets of Ban Saladan, a heady port town that buzzes with life. The island is then stretched out down a single roadway that spans the entire of the west coast, linking up beach after beach, resort after resort. It’s MUCH bigger than Lipe; so big, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that you’re even on an island. That said, you can escape the hubbub of Koh Lanta by heading inland. There, rubber tree plantations mingle with traditional Sea Gypsy communities, and you can even discover the authentic Old Town, a classic sailing village that looks like something out of Popeye on the southeast coast.

Winner: Koh Lipe, but probably not in the absolute peak of the season, when it’s a touch too busy in our opinion.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for things to do?

Are there good things to do in Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta?
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Whether you visit Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta, you’ll find plenty of things to do. They’re both islands that are commonly frequented by tourists and so they have the infrastructure to give you what you’re looking for. Both places offer the usual rigmarole of scuba diving tours, stunning beaches, and nature adventures.

However, it’s important to remember the size difference between these two. Koh Lanta is significantly larger than Koh Lipe, meaning it has much more infrastructure. There are many more tourist companies competing for your money and you’ll find it easier to find organized activities and day trips. Some of the most popular pursuits in these parts include:

  • Cycle to Kantiang Bay – You can rent a bike and cycle the whole west coast of the island in a single day. The end point can be the idyllic bay of Kantiang, which has shimmering white sands and some lovely restaurants perched on the clifftops.
  • Mu Ko Lanta National Park – This is a haven for divers who want to see big underwater caves and coral reefs, situated at the far southern end of the island.
  • Old Town – Make the trip across to this hardly-ever-visited part of Lanta to see traditional Sea Gypsy communities and launch sea kayaking expeditions through the mangrove swamps.

Koh Lipe tends to involve more exploration with less help on hand – there just aren’t that many tour operators and guided activities. That being said, it does have its own Pattaya-style Walking Street, giving you a sense of being in a much larger destination. On top of that, there are a few trips and things to do that stand out from the crowd:

  • Diving – Koh Lipe is the one to pick if you’re into scuba or snorkeling. The waters around the isle are very clear and you get access to dive spots like the Yong Hua Shipwreck and the 8 Mile Rock.
  • Tarutao National Park – Some of southern Thailand’s most gorgeous islands await in this reserve, showcasing the likes of Son Bay, a major turtle-nesting beach.
  • Kayaking – Koh Lipe is also the better choice for sea kayaking, since the waters here tend to be calmer and you can circle pretty much the whole island in a single day.

Winner: Koh Lanta, simply for the larger range of options of things to do.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for natural scenery?

Both Koh Lipe and Koh Lanta have amazing natural scenery
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No matter whether you visit Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta, you can guarantee you’re going to be impressed with the natural scenery. These are among the most stunning corners of the Land of Smiles.

The latter’s highlights include the Mu Ko Lanta National Park. Comprising several islands in the seas just off the south shore, it’s known for its coral systems and its rugged headlands of salt-washed rocks. Just up from that is the duo of Kantiang Bay and Bamboo Beach, which can offer that fix of powdery white sand and turquoise water. Further inland, Koh Lanta has sweeps of high mountains dressed in teak and palm jungle, not to mention that ubiquitous Thai waterfall that gurgles through the forests just in from Khlong Chak Beach.

Koh Lipe, being a smaller island, doesn’t have a hinterland of woods and jungles to explore. So, it’s not the one for the hikers and bikers. What it does offer, however, is proximity to the Tarutao National Marine Park. That’s a whopping 1,500 square kilometres or protected ocean and land that spans a number of totally deserted islands, key turtle nesting points, and gorgeous coral gardens.

Winner: It’s a draw: Koh Lanta wins with jungle and mountains but Koh Lipe for the seas and coral reefs. It just depends what you want to see the most.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for nightlife

A bar in Koh Lanta
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Thailand is the place that many tourists come to let their hair down and party the night away. Therefore, you might be wondering what the nightlife is like on these two islands.

Koh Lanta is probably your best bet, since it’s packed with bars. In particular, the area around Klong Khong Beach is the place to go. That’s the backpacker hub of the isle, offering the most hedonistic club venues of Freedom Bar and Mushroom Bar. We also love the vibe in Long Beach, which has chilled drinkeries like Joker Bar – the best place to begin a night out on Lanta. The atmosphere isn’t Goa here, folks. It’s more chilled, reggae stuff, with live bands and bamboo-built sunset bars taking center stage.

In Koh Lipe, the vibe is a little different. There are plenty of beach bars for tourists to retreat to but you won’t get the same loud thumping music of a Koh Lanta nightclub that goes until 5am. In fact, Koh Lipe doesn’t really have any kind of rave scene. However, if you enjoy sitting in a wooden hut, gently sipping a cocktail while you look out at the sunset, then Koh Lipe could be the option for you.

Winner: Koh Lanta. Stay in Klong Khong or Long Beach for nightlife.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for food?

Eating in Thailand
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The food in Thailand is absolutely amazing. If you plan to visit the country any time soon, then you’ll definitely want to try plenty of authentic local cuisine. With that in mind, should you visit Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta? While in Koh Lipe, you’ll definitely find some nice restaurants with incredible views but you might find a lack of options.

That’s because Koh Lipe is a small community, meaning that there isn’t the same demand for restaurants. You won’t find many upmarket places nor anywhere selling international food that you may be used to. Furthermore, Koh Lipe is a remote island so it can be difficult to import food. This limits you further to the ingredients that can be grown or caught on the island itself.

In Koh Lanta, conversely, there will be a much wider selection of restaurants and food. You get the usual mix of street-food sellers touting sizzling pad Thai noodles and banana pancakes but you also get a mix of creative joints that take it to the next level. Ever-expanding Happy Veggie in Long Beach and then Patty’s Secret Garden in Klong Khong take care of the non meat eaters. There’s SPAGHETTI by mangia for excellent Italian food. You’ve even got a German bakery and an Irish pub to get through.

Winner: Koh Lanta – there’s way more choice in the dining options.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for beaches?

A beach in Koh Lanta
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Koh Lipe is said to have some of the very finest beaches on the Andaman side of southern Thailand. It’s hard to argue with that. Just wait until you lay eyes on the swirling sand spit of Sunset Beach, which shimmers pure cotton white above a lagoon of impossible sky blue. And that’s not even the highlight. You can also seek out the secret coves of Sanom and Billa, where coconut palms droop low out of the jungles to meet the sun-kissed shore. Finally, there are always the remote islands of the next-door national park. You can rarely stay on those, but day trips can reveal beaches where there’s not another soul in sight.

Koh Lanta doesn’t have the same abundance of white-sand bays. In fact, the most popular beach resorts on the island here are actually yellow sanded. Some of them are still breathtaking, though, like handsome Relax Beach and Secret Beach, or the honeymoon fav of Kantiang Bay. Long Beach is great for families thanks to its shallow swimming shelf but we’re not huge fans of the big concrete promenade that’s been built at its south end. Klong Nin is a good all-rounder, with bars by the sand and very clear waters.

Winner: Koh Lipe has the better beaches. However, there are more beaches in Koh Lanta.

Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta for families?

Beachfront in Thailand
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Given how tricky it can be to plan an arrival in Koh Lipe, we’d have to say that Lanta is the one to go for if you’re traveling as a group. But it’s not only the ease of travel to the isle just south of Krabi. It’s also the fact that there are more resort areas here, some of which are pretty much tailor-made for family groups. There are two stand outs: Long Beach and Klong Nin. The former has a good mix of restaurants and shoreline hotels, while the latter is perhaps a touch more upmarket.

Koh Lipe isn’t big enough to have multiple resort towns. That means that everything, from the low-key family hotels to the pumping bucket bars for the backpackers, is smushed together in the same set of streets. That’s not such an issue since Lipe is hardly the out-and-out party island of Koh Phangan, for example, but you will probably find it’s not as relaxing a trip as you’d get over in Koh Lanta.

Winner: Koh Lanta. Pick Long Beach or Klong Nin.

Koh Lipe Vs Koh Lanta – our verdict

After looking at the comparisons made above, you probably have a good idea of whether you prefer Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta. Clearly, Koh Lanta won out in most categories. We really don’t think there’s that much in it, though. Koh Lipe probably has the better beaches and offers that remote, island charm. Koh Lanta is more built up, has better family resorts, and offers a much livelier nightlife scene. The first is harder to reach but balances that out with some of the best snorkeling in the country. The latter is pretty easy to get to and comes with more choice on the resort front. It’s really up to you.

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