Having now worked on Koh Lanta for over 6 seasons, I am proud to call this place my second home. It is friendly, easy to get around, relaxed, beautiful and best of all not too touristy. Koh Lanta is located 2 hours drive from the nearest big town of Krabi on the South West coast of Thailand. Koh Lanta is divided into 2 main islands, Koh Lanta Noi (small) and Koh Lanta Yai (big) with all of the tourism based on the big island, Lanta Yai. Lanta itself is a beautiful island (30km long and 6km wide) that still retains its Thai charm and has not yet been overly commercialised unlike places such as Phuket. It has a much more laid back atmosphere than some of its surrounding neighbours such as Phi Phi but there are plenty of beach bars and night clubs on the beach to be found for late night parties. One of the main reasons for its laid back atmosphere is a big ex pat European community based on the island. It has a large Swedish community and also boasts two Swedish schools on the island and one international school. For some reason Lanta is less well known than the adjourning islands and there lies in one of the best parts about it – non crowded beaches, stunning coastlines, plenty of places to stay, reasonable prices and a good selection of dive shops to choose from. Currently there are around 17 dive shops on the island each catering for different nationalities and experiences. Koh Lanta also was recently voted as having some Best Secret Beaches on the Earth according to Travel and Lesuire.com. The further south of the island you travel the quieter it gets. Koh Lanta is a great place to dive for beginners all the way up to experienced divers, as the dive sites are varied and the conditions differ from site to site. It is also a excellent place to get certified as most of time the groups are very small. Generally courses are taught either 1 on 1 or 2 per instructor and an absolute maximum of 4 (this is generally at very busy times (Dec & Jan). Standards extremely high, the levels of service are 5*, best safety safety records in Thailand with full briefings, in depth training and all the DM’s and Instructors are very passionate about marine ecology and sustainability.
Koh Lantas main dive site is the archipelago of Koh Haa (Haa means 5 in Thai) which is 5 islands surrounding one main island called Koh Haa Yai. To get to the islands can take either 45 mins by speedboat or 2 hours by big boat. The islands are around 6km from lanta so they are some distance but this has benefits as the dive sites not over dived and is in the middle of the ocean which means anything can pop up from Mantas, Whale Sharks, Eagle Rays, Harlequin Shrimp, and lots of macro life. Visibility most of the year is around 15 – 30m in high season and there is diving in the “green season” (apart from June and Sept) and it is one of my favourite times to dive on Lanta as the visibility can be much better and there are less divers in the water.
The are around 12 Dives Sites on Koh Haa but my personal favourites are;
1 Koh Haa Lagoon –
The Lagoon is where most operators start the 1st dive of the day as it is a great place for all levels of divers, scuba refreshers, DSD’s and perfect for snorkelers as it’s shallow (4-5m) and teeming with coral and marine life. There are 3 islands in this group which create a beautiful sheltered lagoon – Islands 2,3 & 4. Marine life in the lagoon includes giant Morays, Lionfish,, Butterfly fish, Garden Eels, Clown Fish and very friendly Porcupine Fish called Porkie who now has his own Facebook Page. The topography of the islands makes for some scenic diving with gradual drop offs and beautiful surroundings for surface intervals.
Most divers start in the lagoon but swim out around islands 2 & 4 along the walls that drop down to about 27 metres and are covered in colourful soft and hard corals, anemones and barrel sponges. Either on the back of island no 2 or in-between islands 2 and 4 there is a large shoal of barracuda along with puffers, sea snakes, box fish, octopus, scorpion fish and squid with the occasional sightings of harlequin shrimp and sometimes frogfish. When crossing between the islands 2 & 4 the sandy bottom offers lots of macro life in the form of Nudis, sea moths, flounders, stingrays, harlequin shrimp & peacock mantis shrimp. The 2013-14 & 14 &15 season also saw Whale sharks and Mantas in around the Lagoon.
2. Koh Haa Cathedral –
Koh Haa also boasts the famous “cathedral” which is an accessible small cavern that you can enter without doing a cave or cavern course as it is not fully submerged but this is only for certified divers. It makes for some stunning pictures and are a must do if you have the chance. There are 2 caverns located next to each other and have huge openings that descend down to around 14m and some swim troughs at the bottom. When you ascend in the main cavern among the blue glow of the spray that comes in you can view the stalactites above and it sometimes feels like you are in the middle of the island.
Outside of The Cathedral are great pinnacles, walls, swim throughs and canyons to explore. The bottom outside the caverns has many types of nudibranchs, shrimps, crabs and sponges and whip and harp corals
3. Island No 1 –
For some reason Koh Haa No. 1 is less dived than the other sites but is an excellent site with huge soft coral coverage, amazing swimthroughs, big swells and some great macro life.. The best swim through is “The Chimney” with an entrance at 18 metres into a small cavern with an opening going straight up to the opening at 5m or right in to a open cavern. All around the dive site are giant trevllies, the odd turtle, loads of Nemo, butterfly fish and and tons of soft corals.
4. Island No 6
Less dived than a number of the other dive spots around Koh Haa, No 6 is a beautiful and easy dive site with plenty to offer. It’s basically a large pinnacle that stands out from the water with soft and hard corals and a large sandy area to the north where you can occasionally spot Leopard sharks. In the 2013 – 14 season we spotted many turtles, harlequin shrimp and the odd harlequin shrimp.
Hin Daeng / Maung
Voted on many internet lists as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Arguably one of the best dive sites in Thailand which are home to some of the best soft corals in Thailand as well as excellent marco life, schools of batfish and trevellies and of course what it is really famous for – Mantas and Whale Sharks. You can access them by either speedboat (1hr 30 mins) or Big Boat (4hrs), I would suggest the speedboat option, although slightly more expensive, 4 hours there and 4 hrs back on a big boat is a long day. The site is reserved for AOW divers only due to the depth and some strong cyurrents. The currents are reasonably strong here so be stay close to your DM or instructor, these sites are also great if you want to get into Tech Diving.
Generally the first dive that you do of the 2 sites as it is the deeper dive site. Hin (Rock in Thai) & Maung (Purple in Thai) has plenty of purple soft corals and only around 300m from Hin Daeng it feels like a totally different dive site. Deep pinnacles that stick out from the ocean floor at around 45m makes it best to be done on Nitrox. Hin Maung is approximately 200 metres long by 25 metres wide and challenging if the current is strong. Whale Sharks and Mantas are here occasionaly and I had one of my most amazing experiences with them here, 3 Mantas gliding in to get cleaned and a baby Whale Shark pops up in-between them, obviously feeling left out of the action!
Littered with Red Soft Corals and gives the site its name – Hin (Rock in Thai) & Daeng (Red in Thai). It is a large oval pinnacle which just about breaks the surface with some great walls and cannons to swim against. Lots of Jacks, glass fish, lion fish and form time to time in from the blue comes Whale Sharks and Mantas. The best time to see these beasts are generally in mid Dec to Mid Jan, but check with the dive shop as its a big ocean and they can pop up anytime.
It is also possible to access the Phi Phi dive sites from Koh Lanta which are the same journey time as going to Koh Haa but if you want to save on cost and journey time to the dive sites I would advise staying on Phi Phi although accommodation is more expensive and the nightlife more pumped.