A coastal gem
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A coastal gem

Just off Pattaya, Koh Lan is an ideal island for those wanting a quick escape with stunning beaches

A coastal gem
Koh Lan remains a popular holiday escape for both local and foreign tourists who want to enjoy beach activities against the backdrop of azure waters.

Throughout my work life I have gone on many group tours, but this was my first solo trip to Koh Lan in Chon Buri. About a 90-minute drive from Bangkok, Koh Lan is the perfect destination for anyone wanting an island vacation without having to take a flight south.

Standing on Pattaya beach, the scene at Bali Hai Pier was the usual -- a huge wave of tourists and speedboats racing for position at sea. Crew members were calling out to tourists along the path, offering them a 15-minute boat ride to the island for 150 baht. Not in a rush, I chose to pay 30 baht to hop on the ferry that would take 30 minutes.

When a boat pulled up to the Ta Waen Beach Pier at 9.30am, the lively atmosphere brought me back to my first trip here 12 years ago with friends. Time flies by so fast and so much has changed. However, the beach is still dotted with hundreds of umbrellas and chairs, and the narrow streets are lined with hip cafés, restaurants, boutique hotels and stores selling colourful beachwear.

Wandering down a promenade and surveying the white-sand beach, visitors may get a flashback of days when villagers learned how to plant many kinds of tropical fruits such as watermelon, custard apple, jackfruit, pineapple and mango, then shipped them across the Gulf of Thailand to Phetchaburi. At that time, fishermen also acquired the skill of producing dried seafood for daily life.

In 1982, when the US and Thailand started the collaborative military exercise Cobra Gold, this island became a popular vacation destination for US Navy troops on leave. To boost their income during the off-season, islanders had the idea to transform their homes and gardens into bungalows for anyone wanting to spend the night on the island.

In 2007, small resorts and restaurants began popping up all over the island to accommodate the growing number of Thai vacationers as well as tourists from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam and Europe. Thanks to the recovery of Thailand's tourism, this island currently welcomes an estimated 5,000 visitors a day and up to 20,000 during the holidays.

Ta Waen Beach.

"Only 10% of the island's population still live like fishermen, with 90% entering the tourism industry. Our island was once affected by zero-dollar tours when Chinese tour operators created their own chain of restaurants and souvenir shops. Fortunately, only homegrown business owners operate in water sports and beach amenity services. Our island was isolated from the outside world during the Covid-19 pandemic, and we returned to our traditional way of life," said Sorasak Tongbongpet, who operates the New Express & Fishing Kohlarn.

"Local business owners used the island's temporary shutdown as an opportunity to makeover their businesses, including restaurants, cafés and boutique resorts, in the hopes of attracting tourists when the country reopens. To facilitate smooth traffic and convenience, authorities also enhanced the road networks and scenery. More than 200 CCTV cameras have been installed across the island, and the Safety Control Center continuously monitors them to ensure safety."

There are many options for organising your own sightseeing tour. Visitors can take a songtaew to several beaches, the fare starting at 20 baht per ride. A full day or half-day tour will cost between 1,000 to 1,500 baht. However, I decided to hire a motorcycle for 300 baht a day and explore popular tourist spots.

Just a short distance from the Ta Waen Pier, visitors can walk down a narrow wood bridge to Sangwan Beach Villa Cafe and Restaurant to unwind on a Lamborghini or Ferrari-inspired sofa while sipping refreshing drinks and admire the views of the crystal sand beach and turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

Amateur riders may find it challenging to reach a viewpoint atop a cliff from where you can look down on Ta Waen Beach and watch the crowds enjoying wave riding on jet skis, banana boats, surfboards and lovely animal-like swim tubes.

Thong Lang Beach.

Encircled by a peaceful jungle, the entrance of Khao Yai Yanwarodom Wararam Monastery is located at the end of the road. Enormous sculptures of Luang Pu Thuad and Guan Yin stand in the centre to greet worshippers against a backdrop of bright blue skies. This sacred site is another popular spot to take in breathtaking vistas of Koh Lan during the day.

I then continued on my way from a monastery to the serene Thian and Nual beaches where wood swings provide a scenic setting for Instagram photos. There, parents relaxed on beach chairs as children built a complex of sand castles on a white beach and a small rock field.

During the trip, I noticed there were no English-language signs and travellers relied on Google Maps to navigate. However, when tourists ask for directions or suggestions, locals are always willing to help.

As the temperature rose, I couldn't help but stop at the new Ice Cream Sai Chone shop, which is becoming a favourite for both locals and tourists. This simply decorated pavilion serves a selection of 25 different ice creams such as taro, ovaltine, Thai tea, jackfruit, passion fruit, durian and coconut. There's a variety of toppings and the prices range from 15-65 baht.

Reaching Thong Lang Beach in the afternoon, I had a light lunch and a delightful blended mango drink while listening to the sound of the waves. I started to see the positive aspects of travelling alone at this time. It's a good chance to get back in touch with the environment, learn how to remain peaceful and let the beauty of nature heal our spirit.

Sang Wan Beach.

Before leaving the island, I visited Vibe Bar, which stands between the beaches of Ta Waen and Thong Lang. Run by famous actress Woranuch Bhirom Bhakdi, this cafe and bar offers a laid-back beach vibe with a touch of Western flair, making it one of the favourite places for travellers to see beautiful sunsets.

"During the rainy season, the mountains can provide protection from the strong winds and waves, allowing visitors to enjoy beach activities all year round. With shallow waters, Nual and Thong Lang beaches are excellent places for snorkelling since they have coral reefs. Our island has been experiencing coral bleaching in recent years due to climate change," Sorasak added.

The following day, I continued my journey to the century-old Bang Saray Fishing Village, which has managed to retain its traditions. The walls are now adorned with street art depicting the everyday life of fishermen, while the narrow alleyways are lined with a string of classic shophouses, some of which have been converted into relaxing cafes, restaurants, art studios and boutique hotels.

A fleet of fishing boats are moored at a wharf and a group of fishermen demonstrate how to prepare dried squid. Not far, visitors can learn about the life cycle of blue swimming crabs and how to safeguard our food supplies at a nearby crab bank. Established five years ago, it is a collective endeavour between the Bang Saray Fishing Club and the Department of Fisheries to increase the population of marine life in the Gulf of Thailand.

Thian Beach.

"We discovered the decline in the quantity of crabs in the Gulf of Thailand following over 30 years of illegal fishing by commercial vessels. In an effort to raise awareness of marine ecology and promote sustainable living, the Marine Fisheries Research and Development Division teamed up with fishing communities to set up crab banks in Bang Saray, Ang Sila and Koh Si Chang," said Boonyong Nakrong, vice-president of the Bang Saray Fishing Club.

"We have more than 50 fishing boats in our neighbourhood, but we focus more on capturing fish and octopus. We want to restore the local marine biological systems. Here, berried female crabs will take a day to spawn before being sent back to the ocean. By nature, crabs are able to learn how to survive. So far, we have been able to rescue between 200,000 and 2 million roe and released over 100,000 crabs back into the water."

My trip came to an end at the Royal Thai Navy's Sea Turtle Conservation Center, which is situated in Sattahip district. The freshly refurbished exhibition hall is designed to resemble the underwater world and takes visitors back to 1979 when Her Majesty Queen Sirikit initiated the Sea Turtle Conservation Project after learning that sea turtles were being consumed by local villagers.

A short stroll away, the turtle nursery houses more than 20 ponds where visitors can see how hundreds of green and hawksbill turtles, ranging in age from one month to five years, have matured before going back to the sea.

"Turtles usually lay their eggs from May to August on Koh Khram, Koh Chan and Koh Yira. Some will be brought to this centre once they hatch, which takes two months. There are 1,800 turtles left on the islands and about 1,000 here now. We built a hospital in 2013 to treat ill and injured turtles because they sometimes eat plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish and seaweed," said CPO Boonyarit Rattanathaweekate of the Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

Khao Yai Yanwarodom Wararam Monastery.

Travel info


  • Ferries and speedboats to Koh Lan are available from 7am to 6.30pm at Bali Hai Pier in Pattaya, Chon Buri.
  • Sea Turtle Conservation Center is in The Royal Thai Navy, Sattahip district. It's open daily from 8.30am to 5pm. Admission is free. For more details, call 038-431-477 or visit facebook.com/seaturtlesattahip.

Bang Saray Fishing Village.

The Sea Turtle Conservation Center is a great place for families to learn more about marine biological systems.

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