Saladan is a new vibrant tourist village, Lanta Old Town the island’s original admin centre

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It's an island of two cities - or little towns - that are very different

Koh Lanta has just two towns – or big villages we might call them. On Lanta’s northern tip there’s Saladan, through which most visitors transit or pass when arriving and leaving the island. It has just two streets of shops and activity. Lanta Old Town, the district administration centre on the central east coast that few people see, has just one – but its street lined with old wooden row houses is especially subdued and quiet.
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Lanta Old Town was originally called just Lanta Town. It had no rival as a commercial centre until tourism arrived recently and began a radical transformation of the island. Saladan, a tiny village at the top of the island, lay close to the car ferry terminal. And it had jetties and access to the open ocean. Tourists, and soon everyone else, began arriving the new, fast routes by car and boat, bypassing the traditional, slower route through Lanta Town.
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Today Saladan is still a village, but one that bustles with activity and commerce as ferry loads of tourists pour in and out through the day and by evening when visitors come to shop, browse and dine in the stilted, over-water restaurants. New concrete buildings have begun to pop up, and two night markets bring hustle and bustle to the evenings.
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Lanta Old Town slumbers through the daylight hours, with a few motorcycles and just an occasional car rolling through its corridor of old wooden facades. Come evening it twinkles briefly as a few visitors shuffle back and forth seeking food and drink in its half dozen eateries, then quickly retreats to its eternal slumber. The old wooden row houses make this one of the few remaining traditional Thai towns in the country. It’s pretty, it’s authentic yet very few visitors to Lanta find their way here.
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Even the aerial photos of the two towns carry the mood of the times; Saladan looks brighter, newer and more colourful. Old Town looks just that, old and rusty, with the weight of the ages over its flat dull roofs.
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Saladan village; shops, restaurants, bars, artists, expat dreamers, convenience stores,

Saladan - village or little town

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Saladan village has character – enough to attract several Thai artists who have set up shop painting canvases and tattooing foreign bodies. And to attract several expatriate foreigners who have established new lives here running restaurants, bars and dive shops.
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The village is a pleasing mix of past and present, able to offer most who come here a pleasant, memorable time, be it dining in the over-river restaurants, bargain hunting in the night markets, coming and going through the boat port, having a beer in a bar or just wandering the streets in the cool of evening – all two of its streets with shops and services.
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For such a small community a surprising number of services is available. In addition to the dozen river restaurants, the tattoo artists and several dive shops, there are two 7-Eleven convenience stores and a market shop so completely jammed with an amazing variety of general goods it’s a village version of a department store. There are a few liquor stores, two optometrists plus two night markets that sell a wide array of cheap clothing plus souvenirs, footwear and much more. Then there’s a mishmash of small shops selling designer clothing, watches, cheap jewellery and just about anything else a tourist might fork out cash for.
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Street food is always popular with both Thais and visitors, and Saladan offers a decent variety. There’s always fried chicken and sticky rice, or sticks of roasted pork or chicken, plus a good variety of easy-to-grab sausages. Thai sweets are always on sale. But perhaps the two favourites with tourists are pancakes with banana or other fruit (not the least Thai) and fruit shakes or smoothies. Several stalls selling the latter operate here. Sadly for some, the tourists’ favourite tropical fruit, mangos, are out of season during the peak winter season. Some mangoes are available, but at premium prices many times the in-season cost. The mango season is May-July, when the price can drop to 20--30 Baht per kilo.
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Moving to stronger drink; there’s a small English pub run by a Brit expat, and at least two liquor stores and some general shops that set tables and chairs in front, allowing customers to buy their booze at grocery prices then to drink it right there, in a new form of cheap, on-the-pavement bar. Walking the streets at night to take in the creativity and wild imagination that spills out of the shop-fronts is interesting in itself.
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NOTE: the beach with true beachfront accommodations that is nearest to Saladan is also the island’s most popular, with the most hotels, Klong Dao Beach.
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Lanta Old Town; wooden shop-houses, restaurants, a guesthouse, piers over the sea

It takes only a quick glance to understand the basics of Lanta Old Town. Here is a place whose heyday is well past, with old buildings and old inhabitants barely clinging to the 21st century. It’s the administrative centre of an island vibrant with tourism, yet with little commerce obviously taking place here now, Old Town seems almost deserted by both its entrepreneurs and young people. Even the best part of the island’s infrastructure – police, hospitals etc – has moved to Saladan.

.Lanta Old Town holds many secrets from the past, a few of which are revealed to the observant eye. The first things to stand out for visitors are the old wooden buildings, a true throw-back to the past, for few wooden towns remain in Thailand. Concrete has overrun the country and pushed the old wooden structures into near-oblivion. Take nice photos here, for there are no other chances on Koh Lanta, and few in Thailand. Most of the timber for these houses surely came from the nearby mountainsides, where today a few big trees still stand as telltale evidence of once abundant forests. But note the smooth, shiny floors in some buildings and you are looking to the north of Thailand; teak. Polished teak floors were once so common in Thailand that even the poor ate their meals on them. When old houses are dismantled today all teak planks are snapped up for hotels, restaurants and designer homes. A few fancy beach resorts on Lanta are sure to boast beautiful, now-expensive teak floors similar to many here in Old Town.
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The strong influence of Chinese over Thailand’s past is also in evidence here. The commercial centres of virtually all Thai towns were built by and for the Chinese merchants who completely dominated national commerce for about two centuries. They still do so today, and though most have since become Thai citizens, their underlying Chinese ethos remains. A small Chinese temple operates in one of Old Town’s open-fronted shophouses, while across the road a distinctly Chinese shrines protrudes out over the water. Look carefully and old Chinese motifs and names are to be seen around the town.
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A few scraps of Lanta’s new tourism boom do fall here, however, as evidenced by a few new restaurants, plus coffee and fruit shake stalls with English menus. A few shops have started to sell ‘tourist’ goods; hats, sun-cream, light tropical clothing for women, sunglasses, postcards and etc. But when I was there in January, peak season, the customers were few. There is also one small guesthouse that had a few backpackers in residence.
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Perhaps the biggest draw that brings visitors from the ‘beaches’ side of the island to Old Town are the daily boat tours to the islands south of Lanta. Most boating day tours leave from Old Town’s big pier, and some travellers find time to wander down main street.
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A sea gypsy village (really the Moken people) that lies on the south side of town has often been used as a kind of human zoo by tours – though the practice is now in general disapproval. I suggest you leave these sad, poorly integrated people to themselves, and just view their village from the main jetty. We have also left this out of our guide page with a full list of things to do and see on Koh Lanta.
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Saladan’s over-river restaurants; Saladan Seafood, Laanta Seafood & Papa’s Restaurant

The atmospheric restaurants that run on wooden stilts far out over the waters of Saladan’s estuary are one of the community’s two major attractions for foreign visitors, alongside shopping. Each evening visitors flock to these distinctly Thai establishments for their atmosphere, seafood and the best Thai cuisine on the island.
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Eating and drinking in over-water restaurants like these is a distinctly Thai tradition, and Saladan had restaurants here longer than most local residents can remember. This writer ate and drank in one in the early 1990s. Tourism, however, has fuelled a boom in both the number and variety of the river restaurants. In year 2000 all could be counted on one hand. In 2016 the number had swelled to about 15, and the original seafood offerings expanded to include at least three offering pizzas, two Swedish restaurants (one was up for sale) and international menus in most of the rest.
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The two best regarded by Thai visitors – those with authentic Thai spicing and reasonable prices – lie side-by-side on the west side of the strip. Laanta Seafood and Saladan Seafood battle it out each evening, trying to lure more customers, as they have been doing for many years. In 2016 when I visited both places a few times, Laanta Seafood was winning the biggest number of customers, by far. Was it due to food quality or better prices? Prices in Laanta were a little higher than those of Saladan Seafood, but my long-experienced palate told me the latter had better Thai food (slightly, for both are very good). The winning formulae, I concluded after watching the traffic in both for a few days, was the superior appearance and presentation of Laanta Seafood. Their seafood display at the door was better. The entrance was brighter and more modern-looking. Their tables looked a step more upmarket.
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But superior presentation did not sway me, and I went back to the less-crowded, super tasty and cheaper Saladan Seafood.
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Among the foreign contenders on the river there is only one winning restaurant, Papa’s Restaurant. This creation of an elderly Swedish entrepreneur – one who had not been in the food business in the past – has gained such a good reputation among on-line Scandinavians that each evening at 7:30 PM customers appears from all directions. Johann, the son of the owner suggested that because Swedes are so tied to having dinner at exactly 7:30 PM, others should come earlier or later to avoid the busiest times and get better service.
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Saladan’s the ferry & boat port connects to Krabi & islands

The ferry port in Saladan is perhaps the pivotal service that has powered this little community from backwater to the island’s most vibrant commercial centre. A large portion of visitors to the island arrive by boat – and nearly all of those with a backpack. Families and more elderly guests tend to take the hour’s ride by minibus from Krabi town or airport. But arriving by boat is certainly the fun and more interesting way to go, and as the introductory point, Saladan does quite a good job. It might be quite touristy, but Saladan village has heaps of charm and a distinct Thai flavour.

.On stepping ashore here visitors are faced with a colourful spectrum of choices; stop and eat in one of the many restaurants, pick up some street food, look for a local guesthouse, rent a motorcycle, walk around the little town, or as so many do, sort through the various transport options to get to your beach and hotel. Many drivers await each boat arrival, and they try to steer visitors onto the assortment of ‘songtaew’ trucks, sidecar motorcycle taxis, regular motorcycles and minivans.
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My suggestion: if you have time, first take a wander through Saladan; you can see most of it in 15 minutes. Stop for a drink or meal, of you have time. Think about transport down the island once the clamouring around the jetty has died down.
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For more general information about Koh Lanta see An overview of Koh Lanta or check out the different beaches with Koh Lanta’s top 8 beaches compared.
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Saladan accommodations; guesthouses, one good hotel & nearby beaches

Accommodation in Saladan is rather limited – the island is, after all, a beach destination, and this is a river town and commercial port. But there’s a half dozen small guesthouses close to the arrival jetty, some of them in buildings hanging out over the water. These are definitely convenient, and cheap. Three more guesthouses are found at the other, west end of the village – follow the main riverside road to its end, where the beach starts. Here we find the ever-popular Smile Guesthouse where you can get good, clean rooms overlooking a grassy courtyard and the beach for 1,000 Baht a night. The Thai lady owner, Khun Joy, is always there ready to take care of her guests, quite a lot of them returnees.
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The single real hotel in the village, Lanta Pura Beach Resort, is somewhat out-of-sight, to the west alongside Smile where it, too, looks out over the river estuary, a small beach and vast sandbanks at low tide. Despite that it is right by the town, the fact that it is nicely hidden and enjoys a tranquil location prompted us to include it in our list of Koh Lanta’s Top 7 Hideaway Beachfront Resorts.
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Anyone looking for a real beach hotel that gives easy access to the varied attractions of Saladan town can check the accommodations on Kaw Kwang Cape, a 1 ½ kilometre walk or ride to the west, or check through the many hotels on the island’s most popular beach, Klong Dao, where the northern-most hotels are also within walking distance.
Other island-wide accommodation choices can be seen in these pages with targeted hotel offerings;
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Families have lots of choices on this island. See Koh Lanta’s Top 10 Family-friendly beach hotels.
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Boutique style hotels are a little rare on this island, but you can see what’s available here in Koh Lanta’s Top 6 Boutique Beachfront Resorts.
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Luxury and comfort is readily available, with virtually every beach having at least a little in this category, seen here at Koh Lanta’s Top 7 Luxury Beachfront Resorts.
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by John Everingham
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need advice about Thai beaches, beachfront hotels etc? try this for free.
Ask John E, the author here. He has photographed 1,100+ hotels on virtually every beach in Thailand with beachfront accommodation (and more in regional countries) over the past 30 years. “I try to answer all queries, and help as best I can.” E-mail: john@beachf.com

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