Scott and I love to travel and many of our recipes and photos are inspired by the foods we have encountered from foreign places. We are enamored by the passionate cooks, artisans and creators that so beautifully embody their cultures on a plate, in a bowl, or simply wrapped in paper from a street-side cart. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to travel South East Asia in early 2020, before the restrictions of the global pandemic changed the world as we knew it. In fact, just over one year ago today, Scott and I were sitting on Klong Nin Beach of Koh Lanta experiencing our first tastes of authentic Thai cuisine. In this post we will share all of our best memories and favorite moments from our week traveling in Koh Lanta. Including, of course, our best bite – Green Coconut Curry.
When planning a vacation, there are many things to consider. You may be most concerned with picture-perfect weather and top-tier accommodations. Others may be concerned with guided tours, World Wonders or eye-catching attractions. Still, others search for all-inclusive resorts, spa days, or out-to-sea ocean-liner adventures. When Scott and I are planning a trip, however, we are concerned with one thing, and one thing only: the food. This is true wherever we travel and we usually have dinner picked out long before the hotels or flights are booked. In fact, when Scott and I were planning our honeymoon – a two month backpacking excursion through South East Asia – most of our destinations were decided by guides to the best local fare, the busiest hawker stands and authentic menus.
Traveling to Koh Lanta: A Minibus Mini Series
Ko Lanta to Trang
Scott and I entered Thailand by way of Penang, Malaysia on a several hour minibus adventure. Traveling this way is incredibly economical but it does take a significant amount of time and is not terribly comfortable. Traveling in South East Asia was vastly different to our experiences traveling in Europe. Internet service was slow and inconsistent but, in this case, we were able to find a minibus to bring us to the city of Trang, Thailand. We arrived at the bus station in Georgetown (AKA Penang) and were then brought to the Thai-Malaysia Border. From there, we went through customs, changed buses and arrived in Trang by dinnertime.
One Night in Trang, Thailand
All in all, we payed $140 USD for the transportation to from Penang, Malaysia to Trang, Thailand. We could have continued straight to Koh Lanta but ultimately we loved our quick pit-stop in Trang. There, Scott and I shared a great meal, experienced a memorable torrential down-pour on the restaurant patio and were incredibly happy to have a good night of rest before continuing on. We stayed at the modest Sri Trang Hotel for just $16 USD. The kindest staff members greeted us and made our short stay very comfortable.
Trang to Ko Lanta: A Journey of Patience
The following morning, we had booked additional transportation (another minibus) that brought us the the pier. We grew anxious as the minibus grew later and later. The hotel staff eased our worries and helped us keep a lookout for our bus and driver. Nearly an hour behind schedule, as we would soon learn is right on Thai time, our minibus arrived. A short ways away, we were dropped of at Hat Yao Pier where another long wait ensued. Thankfully, there were snacks, beers and beautiful views to help pass the time. The ferry ride was on theme with the days travels: slow. It didn’t matter. By then, we were already succumbing to the slower pace of this beautiful little country. We were happy to have the ocean mist hit our smiling faces as we took in our first glimpses of the incredible Thai islands.
Koh Lanta: A Traveler’s Dream Destination
Ko Lanta is off the Western coast of Thailand in the province of Krabi. The name Ko Lanta actually refers to two adjacent islands, Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. There are a few different piers you can be dropped off at. We were brought to the main port, the bustling, Saladan Pier. Nearby, there is a bridge connecting to Lanta Noi, but we stayed on the Southern, Lanta Yai island for the duration of our stay.
A Whole New World: Ocean Exploration with PADI
If scuba diving is on your bucket list, there is no better place to take the plunge . We will never forget exploring the great blue while traveling in Ko Lanta, Thailand. I have always been drawn to the wonder of the ocean and was over-the-moon to finally experience scuba diving first hand. The colorful reef lined coasts of Ko Lanta are brimming with wildlife and make for a remarkable SCUBA experience.
PADI Open Water Course: Certified to 18 Meters!
There are a handful of different companies you can chose to Scuba Dive with on Ko Lanta. We chose Blue Planet Divers and had an overwhelmingly positive experience. This is not a sponsor, we genuinely loved our experience with them. They offer several courses and diving adventures for all levels. Everything from discovering scuba diving, to free diving (without tanks), to advanced diving certifications. We took the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Open Water Course. It costs about $500 USD each (pretty standard, worldwide). The course covers everything from safety checking your equipment, to understanding your personal dive computer, to warning your buddy you are out of air – just in case! The course lasted three days and took us from our first underwater breaths in a shallow pool to four open ocean dives in some of the world’s most glorious reefs.
Glass Fish, Cuttle Fish and Eels, Oh My!
There are various dive sites accessible by Koh Lanta. During our PADI certification course, we visited the Koh Bida Nok wall, Koh Bida Nai, Koh Haa 1 and Koh Haa 5. Each site offered glorious colors and was alive with several types of vibrant coral and sea life. We were blessed with great underwater visibility that allowed us to take in our brand-new surroundings. Our favorite sites were Koh Has 5 ,where we ventured into a cave, and Koh Haa 1, where we carefully descended through a vertical limestone chimney for several meters. Amongst our dives we saw anemones, clown fish, scorpion fish, a cuttle fish, a few black tip reef sharks (don’t worry, just little guys), scorpion fish, yellow snapper, a school of thousands of glass fish, a blue spotted ray and an eerie pair of moray eels.
Where to Stay in Koh Lanta: Klong Nin Beach
When traveling to Koh Lanta, you will find many, many options for places to stay. Ko Lanta is one of the largest Thai islands and there are several beaches and endless accommodations for every budget. The area near Saladan Pier seems to be the liveliest of destinations on Koh Lanta Yai. Where we stayed, in the middle of Lanta Yai’s Western coast, it was quieter. We appreciated the peace and still had plenty of walking-distance restaurants, beach bars, convenience shops and ATMs. We found the beach in this area, Klong Nin Beach, to be amongst the nicest areas to swim. The sands were soft and white and the water was calm, warm and clean. Best of all, the sunsets here were sensational. Each night warm strokes of rose colored light would soften the sky as we sat with our feet in the sand. It is truly a special, romantic place.
A Good Night’s Sleep by the Beach
Ko Lanta is known for being amongst the quieter, more relaxed tourist islands in Thailand. Party-going travelers may prefer the busier night-life of Ko Phi Phi. Scott and I were perfectly content soaking up the sun with chill beach vibes. We booked our stay on AirBnb and were quite comfortable in our own, cozy little beach hut. Our accommodations were amongst five other cabins and were appropriately named The Hut Bungalows. At just $15 USD a night and a two minute walk to Klong Nin Beach, we can’t recommend this place enough.
Dining in Klong Nin
Of course, our favorite part of traveling to Ko Lanta was trying all the wonderful Thai beach fare. There were dozens of restaurants that we were within walking distance of our accommodations. Meal prices were slightly higher at the beachfront restaurants. Nevertheless, the ambiance was unmatched and we ate most meals at tables set up along the sandy shoreline. We were surprised to find that many restaurants offered German, Dutch and Italian influenced menu items. So, some items, like spaghetti carbonara, for instance, might fulfill your Western cravings. However, we would recommend sticking to the wonderful Thai creations.
Best Bars & Restaurants on Klong Nin Beach
When strolling the beaches of Koh Lanta, you may find many menus look the same. Of course, despite similar menu items, some restaurants are better than others. Of the places we tried, here are our favorite options along Klong Nin Beach. True to Thai culture, many of these places do not have websites. Though, most are easily found by google search or, better yet, by asking a local. If you travel to Koh Lanta, be sure to leave us some comments with your favorite dining spots and favorite Thai foods, below!
Our Favorite Places
- Blue Moon Beach Bar – This was our favorite happy hour spot! This laid-back beach spot had colorful beach mats for lounging, plenty of umbrellas for shade and free beach toys! We only got a few snacks here, but they offer a full food menu, as well.
- Richey Bar and Restaurant – We had dinner at Richey’s a few nights during our stay. Richey’s had the BEST grilled fish and his outdoor seating is right on the beach. Sunset dinners here were our favorite.
- [MaMas] Nok Style Restaurant – This one one of the BEST meals we had! This small, family-owned restaurant was a bit off the beaten path and was not oceanfront but the food made it all worth it! They also offered some of the most reasonably priced meals on the island!
- Otto Bar – Otto Bar is a happening late night spot! When we first traveled to Koh Lanta, we had lunch on the covered patio overlooking the ocean. Otto was behind the bar and quite a pleasure to chat with. Check out his hand-carved driftwood furniture! All the food was very good, but the green coconut curry is not to be missed!
- Rasta Bar – If you are looking for live music and chill, Rastafarian vibes on Klong Nin Beach – this is your place! You will soaking up the tropics with cold drinks and good music!
- Charlee Barley Bar – The party never stops at Charlee Barley Bar! We didn’t eat much food here, but the fun vibes and good drinks lured us in more than once! Lounge chairs, beach mats, umbrellas and good times line the shore.
- Roi Thai Cooking School – This Thai cooking school is also a restaurant! Oh! How we wish we made time to take one of their cooking classes! We had breakfast here on a couple of occasions and enjoyed the great food and kind service.
Must Try Foods When Traveling to Koh Lanta
Fresh, Grilled Fish
I, for one, took advantage of eating fresh-caught fish any chance I got. Red Bream (aka red perch) fish were commonly available and had a sweet white flesh and pink skin. They look and taste very similar to red snapper. Many restaurants let you chose your own perfectly-sized fish. While they take a little time to prepare, (and are more expensive than other entrees), we can highly recommend you enjoy a Chang beer (or two!) while your fish grills and the sun sets around you.
Many of Thailand’s traditional ingredients and flavors went into this simple grilled fish dish. Firstly, whole fish are coated in salt that seasons the skin and keeps the flesh from drying over the grill. Then, the fish is stuffed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves that permeate the grilling fillets with enticing aromatics. Best of all, is the tangy, sweet and sour sauce served alongside the fish. The sauce, known fittingly as seafood sauce or nam chim, is a mixture of crushed garlic, Thai bird chiles, lime juice, sugar and salty fish sauce. I’m telling you, I could drink this stuff. I didn’t, we reserved all our tableside slurping for green coconut curry.
Green Coconut Curry
If you could only have one bite when traveling to Koh Lanta, we hope it would be the delicious Thai green coconut curry! Thailand is know for their curry dishes and there are several types of curries to be enjoyed. We hope you can try them all. However, if you have to chose – we highly recommend the herbaceous, spicy green coconut curry.
Green curry, known as Kaeng Khiao Wan in Thai, is based with coconut milk that balances the Thai green chili flavor harmoniously. Green Coconut Curry will vary slightly from chef to chef but usually include lots of aromatic herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf. These flavorful soups are usually served with steamed rice and can be made with vegetables, shellfish, chicken, pork or other meats and proteins. Green Coconut Curry is known for being a spicier style curry. However, restaurants are often happy to adjust the heat level to best suit your preferences. More touristy places tend to serve milder versions, but don’t be afraid to request “Thai Hot” if you think you can handle the heat!
Bringing Thai Flavor to Your Home Kitchen
After tasting the real deal while traveling to Koh Lanta, the stateside Thai take-out boxes just weren’t hitting the spot like they used to. As I often am, I was inspired to bring vacation home with me and recreate some of my favorite Thai dishes at home. So far, I have focused my efforts into making our very own green curry paste. Our recipe for Easy, Vegan Thai Green Curry Paste is the perfect foundation for many Thai inspired recipes. This curry paste is lightyears better than most canned or jarred options and can be made in under ten minutes. We use the recipe for everything from vegan bao buns, to chicken meatballs to traditional Green Coconut Curry soups. Check out the recipe to bring a taste of Thailand into your own kitchen!