Koh Larn isn’t anywhere near as popular as some of Thailand’s more famous islands, such as Koh Samui or Koh Phangan… and that’s a good thing.
Being just a 2.5hr bus/boat journey away from Bangkok and a 30min ferry from Pattaya, Koh Larn is easy to reach and surprisingly quiet and laid back when you get there. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days chilling on the beach, recovering from a shame-filled Bangkok hangover and contemplating whether you really needed that final vodka red-bull bucket on Khao San Road after all.
When we arrived here after a NYE spent in Bangkok, we found a beautiful little island surrounded by some of the best beaches in Northern Thailand. While it does attract many day trippers from the nearby sleaze-pit of Pattaya, the island manages to come away fairly unscathed retaining an isolated feel.
There isn’t much information online about Koh Larn, so we thought we’d write this guide to share our experience with you:
First you need to take a bus to Pattaya. There are several stations you can catch a bus from, but the most convenient option is the Eastern Bus Station. Simply make your way to the Ekkamai station on the BTS SkyTrain and the bus station is just across the road. Inside the station you can buy a ticket to Pattaya for 124 Baht and the bus usually takes less than 2 hours. The buses leave regularly but you can find a timetable here if you’re a bit of a worrier – Bangkok-Pattaya Timetable.
Tip: Make sure to buy your bus ticket from a counter inside the station and not from the hawkers outside, they’ll charge you more or generally try to scam you… Welcome to Thailand.
When you arrive in Pattaya you need to head to Bali Hai Pier (there’s only one), which is annoyingly far from the station. If you have the patience, you can take a 1 hour walk along the beach front or you can just jump on one of the many small blue buses waiting outside the station. As soon as you step off the bus you’ll be bombarded with shouts of ‘taxi‘ and ‘where you go??‘ from these bus drivers so don’t worry about not finding them. You should pay no more than 50 Baht to go to the pier, but if you’re a good haggler you can always get it cheaper.
Tip: There will also be some motorbike taxis waiting at the station and offering good deals, don’t take them! They will simply take you to another tour operator who will try to sell you a bus ticket at an inflated price. It’s not worth the hassle.
When you arrive at the pier walk all the way to the bottom where the ferries are waiting. They will have ‘Pattaya – Koh Larn’ written clearly on them with a timetable and cost 30 Baht per person each way.
Do not buy your ticket from one of the many hawkers along the pier offering return tickets for 150 Baht. The last time I checked, 30 Baht each way should cost 60 Baht return, although they do throw in a free bottle of water with a retail price of around 5 Baht so maybe it’s not such a scam after all.
There are also 500 Baht tickets for a speedboat which only takes 10 minutes each way and allows you to feed your James Bond fantasies. However, the 30 minute ferry trip does come complete with a fashionable orange life-jacket so who can really say which is cooler?
Once you arrive onto Koh Larn at Nabaan pier you have a couple of options to get around the island.
You can hire a scooter for the day for around 200 Baht. There isn’t much traffic on the island once you get away from the main pier at Nabaan, so you won’t need to worry about contending with swarms of scooters. However the roads in some areas are very steep and narrow, so you should probably only consider this if you have some experience on a scooter.
The best option for most people is to just jump on the many blue shuttle ‘buses’ or songtaews, which go to and from each of the six beaches. Simply walk 5 minutes from the pier, down the busy street and you will come to a car park / bus station that turns into a food market in the evening. Here you will find several songtaews waiting and a map of the island showing the cost of getting to each beach. Tell the drivers where you want to go, jump in and they will usually leave once they have filled with enough passengers.
This is why you’re here!
There are six main beaches on Koh Larn and all of them are beautiful. All of the beaches have white sand with clear blue water that’s perfect for swimming. Some beaches are busier than others, but all of them have bathrooms and showers (costing 10 and 30 Baht to use, cheeky bastards), deck chairs for hire and at least one restaurant.
A major plus point is that you can expect a relaxing day without the annoyance found at most of the more popular Thai beach resorts from the scheduled hawkers selling bullshit souvenirs, ‘Ray Bans’ or waking you up to shove a beer in your face.
If you want to check out all the beaches before you make a decision you can take an island beach tour in a taxi and then head back to your favourite at the end (cost around 400 Baht).
By far our favourite beaches on the island are Tien Beach and Nual (Monkey) Beach.
Pure white sand and clear blue waters, this beach is probably the most beautiful on the island.
The smallest on the island so at first glance it looks fairly busy, but once you’re there it doesn’t feel it. It’s actually one of the quieter beaches on the island and feels as deserted as your local Blockbusters when compared to the beaches in Pattaya. You’ll have plenty of room to stroll along the beautiful white sands, swim in the clear turquoise water and relax on the best sun loungers.
Water sports are available (Banana boats and jet skis) and there are a couple of pricey restaurants. At the far end of the beach there is a nice restaurant/bar with decent Thai food at a reasonable price and they also have rooms available on the beach for 1,000 Baht per night. Bargain!
The beach becomes deserted after 5:30pm when the day-trippers leave, which makes it the perfect place to watch the sunset with a nice cold beer.
Known as ‘Monkey Beach’ as there are a small family of Macaques living in the cliffs at the far end of the beach. You can easily see them scavenging for left over food as the beach quietens down in the late afternoon and can even leave some food on the rocks to attract them and get a few cool photos. From our experience though, the local dogs like to chase the Macaques away and steal the food for themselves (It’s quite funny to watch).
The beach itself is relatively small, quiet and has a really nice, relaxed atmosphere. Along the beach there are a few small hut-style restaurants and some small wooden swings hanging from the trees, giving the place a really nice vibe. There aren’t any water sports here, but the calm waves make it perfect for swimming or snorkelling around the rocks. It’s the perfect beach to relax on and we spent a lot of time just sitting in the water and loving how beautiful the place was.
Walking distance from the town to Nual Beach is around 35 minutes, so missing the last bus home is no big deal if you want to stay, watch the sun set and enjoy having an entire beach to yourself.
Another long stretch of white sand and clear blue waters, this is one of the larger and more popular beaches. It has many restaurants, beach chairs, water sports, a few hotels and attracts a fair number of people as a result. The beach itself is great, but I personally prefer the quieter, more isolated vibe of the others.
By far the busiest of the beaches and the most developed with tonnes of international restaurants to choose from and several resorts to stay in. If you just want all of the package holiday conveniences and don’t mind sharing the beach with thousands of fellow sun worshippers, then this is the beach to choose.
A medium sized beach which is difficult to access. You have to take a boat to get here or hike for 15 mins from the taxi drop off point, via a fairly steep rocky path. Not for the faint of heart. We never visited so can’t even tell you if it’s worth the effort. Let us know!
The smallest and quietest beach of them all and the place to come if you really want to spend a day hiding away from the world. Another nice beach with large rocks punctuating either end and only a single restaurant in sight.
If you’re a backpacker like us and travelling on a shoestring, just go to one of the many small Thai restaurants near the pier and grab yourself a take out for around 50 Baht. Most of these restaurants are aimed at locals, so they may not speak English. Fortunately they sell all the typical Thai dishes and have handy menu pictures to point at.
Tip: order ‘Sai Glong’ to get your food boxed up to take out.
If you feel like splashing out there are many seafood restaurants that serve super-fresh ‘catch of the day’ along the beaches. These restaurants tend to be expensive by Thai standards, where a typical fancy place on the beach selling lobster or prawns with sides could set you back around 1,500 Baht. It’s a lot, but the food is fresh, the setting is great and you can eat in the restaurant or from your beach lounger if you’re feeling lazy.
If you decide to stay overnight then you don’t need to worry about finding a hotel room. Only a few of the most expensive hotels are actually listed online, but there are tonnes of reasonably priced rooms dotted around the main town once you arrived. You can just turn up and find a room when you get there, even in peak season.
Prices can vary from 800 Baht to 3,000 Baht per room, but like most things in Thailand the prices are negotiable. From our experience you should pay no more than 1,000 Baht for a standard double room around the main town at Na Baan Pier.
If you are feeling more adventurous and don’t fancy paying hotel prices, then camping is a good option.
One night we stayed until dark at Monkey Beach to watch the sun set with a couple of beers over a camp fire. After speaking to a local, we found out camping is legal and safe all around the Island. Even sleeping on the beach is fine if you’re up for it, but making fires is only tolerated if you are far away from the bars and sun loungers.
If your looking to camp more inland, the terrain is mostly mountainous and covered with heavy vegetation so you can easily find a good spot without any day trippers or locals around. It can get a bit chilly in dry season, but gazing up at all the stars in the night sky from a beautiful island beach makes it totally worthwhile.