Bangkok 9-5’ers don’t have too many options when it comes to beach escapes for the weekend. Barring flying, there’s Hua Hin or Cha Am, which are certainly pleasant enough, but more for the seafood and resorts than for their white sand. Koh Samet fits the bill as a tropical beach paradise, but as x million other Bangkokers feel the same way, its sandy shores can be hopelessly crowded come Saturday and Sunday. Now if I suggested you to go to Pattaya for a beach holiday, you might be halfway towards the trash bin with your Bangkok Trader copy already, but read on, because that’s exactly what I’m suggesting you do.

No, I’m not advising a trip to Pattaya beach, unless you are a fan of murky water, stacked sun loungers, and some pretty pathetic sand. But just offshore from Pattaya lies Koh Larn, a gem of a little island that looks like it has been transplanted from the region of Koh Lanta or Phi Phi. It’s that one that everyone on flights out of Bangkok comments on, wondering why those white sand beaches seem so close to the city or if their sense of speed and distance has been messed up in the air and that perhaps they are looking at Koh Chang.

Sea view on Koh Larn Island in Thailand
Sea view on Koh Larn Island in Thailand

Koh Larn sits 7 kilometers off of Pattaya, and is accessible by public ferry from the Bali Hai pier. The island is small, only about 4-5 kilometers long and half that as wide. Yet Koh Larn is blessed with many sandy coves with large beaches and water with a color and clarity that will make you think you are somewhere much further south.

The main village on the island is Naban, home to most of Koh Larn’s thousand odd residents. It’s a pleasant enough place to wander around for an hour or so, with local restaurants, a school, shops, and a pleasant provincial air about it. Many of the ferries from Pattaya arrive here (they tend to alternate with Tawaen beach on the other side of the island), and a fleet of motorcycle taxi drivers await each boat, ready to ferry passengers to the beach of their choice, or take them on a sightseeing tour of the whole island. Prices are fixed to each destination, so there is no need of bargaining or being fleeced as often is the case across the bay.

Jet ski kids on Koh Larn Island in Thailand
Jet ski kids on Koh Larn Island in Thailand

Koh Larn is mostly mountainous jungle, and is extremely lush. There are several viewpoints from the top of the island that are well worth visiting, and the island’s narrow brick roadways make for some nice motorcycle or bicycle touring, although the grades in some areas are quite steep.

The largest beach on Koh Larn is Tawaen, a beautiful crescent of white sand. Almost a kilometer long, the beach is the most visited on the island, and is packed with cafes, shops, bungalows, and an abundance of water sports and activities, including banana boats, jet skis, and parasailing. Tawaen gets extremely crowded on weekends, with an inordinate number of Chinese tourists laying siege to the gorgeous sand, but there are a few coves on either side of the bay that are a bit less hectic if the main beach is too busy.

Next up in terms of popularity and size is Samae Beach, which is on the west side of the island. Samae has far fewer restaurants, vendors, and water sports than Tawaen, and because one has to cross a mountain to get there, it feels a bit more remote. Still, it is busy on weekends and is a bit less sheltered from the weather than the other deeper bays on Koh Larn.

Banana boat tourists on Koh Larn Island in Thailand
Banana boat tourists on Koh Larn Island in Thailand

Just over the hill from Samae is Hat Tien, Candle Beach, which is far quieter than the others and is tucked into a beautiful bay ringed by verdant hills. Other beaches on Koh Larn include Naon and Tonglang, each boasting some terrific sand and water plus a peaceful atmosphere.

The majority of visitors come to Koh Larn for the day, preferring to return to Pattaya for its infamous nightlife. But for those seeking some chilled out peace and quiet, Koh Larn has bungalow accommodations and small scale resorts on each beach, and for about 1000 baht a night, one can pretend one is on Koh Lanta or Koh Tao.

Tourists on the beach on Koh Larn Island in Thailand
Tourists on the beach on Koh Larn Island in Thailand

When I first heard of Koh Larn, it was via a friend showing me her photos from the island. The turquoise water and white sand really looked like something from around the Phuket Andaman, and I was pretty shocked to find out it was from somewhere just a few hours out of Bangkok.  It’s getting harder these days to find great escapes without great expense or time, and Koh Larn is well worth a visit or three.

Travel Tips:

Koh Larn can be reached by public ferry from Pattaya, with boats running from around 7am to 6pm. Alternatively, you can hire a speed boat for 1500 baht plus. Once on the island, one can rent motorbikes or use motorcycle taxis to get around. There are several accommodation options should you wish to stay. Check out www.kohlarn.com for more information.

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Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His photos, represented by Alamy and Getty Images, have appeared in publications around the world. He is the author of Odysseus’ Last Stand, which received the Silver Medal for Travel Book of the Year in 2006 from the Society of American Travel Writers. In addition to working as the updating writer for Fodor’s Guidebook to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, he is the "Bangkok expert" for USA Today's 10Best website, and a regular contributor for publications throughout Southeast Asia such as Silver Kris (Singapore Airlines), Asian Geographic, International Traveller (Australia), Virgin Voyeur, Tiger Tales (Tiger Air), Bangkok 101, Look East, Tropical Magazine, Get Lost (Australia), Sawasdee Thai Air, and Bangkok Post among others.

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