Standing in line at the airport check-in counter at five in the morning is an experience I have missed deeply. People were buzzing with excitement, and I was no different, eagerly anticipating my first trip to Koh Lanta.
Thailand has many renowned coastal destinations, but this island archipelago is, unfortunately, not on many tourist itineraries. I suspect that will change in the near future.
Upon arriving at Krabi, an hour-long drive through the mainland is followed by a scenic 40-minute speedboat ride to a charming beach that leads to Pimalai Resort & Spa. While long, the journey is seamless, with transportation managed by the resort. When travelling after dark, there is an alternative route to Pimalai, involving a two-hour drive from Krabi Airport with a five-minute boat ride in between.
After one final, wobbly walk across a makeshift bridge from the boat to shore, you’ll find yourself in the beautiful lobby — decorated with teak furniture and overlooking lush greenery — sipping on a refreshing lemongrass drink to rehydrate after a long morning.
The luxury resort is hidden at the southern end of the island, along the Ba Kan Tiang Bay. With 40.5ha of land and 900m of beachfront, Pimalai sprawls over a hillside, yet it has a modest appearance, thanks to the greenery.
As Charintip Tiyaphorn (Khun Kade), who oversees operations, explains, the resort is intentionally centred on the island’s natural beauty. Her father — founder and owner Anurat Tiyaphorn — started it as a passion project in 2001. It has since become an expansive estate aimed at creating sanctuaries for Pimalai’s guests. Throughout the resort, personal and thoughtful hospitality reflects the family’s desire to create unforgettable experiences.
Khun Kade’s recommendations for guests? “Snorkelling and the spa.”
The resort has deluxe rooms, hillside and beachside villas, as well as pavilion suites that sit by the beach or are tucked away among the trees. The garden and hillside villas are scattered beneath forest canopies overlooking Ba Kan Tiang Bay.
The rooms are tastefully opulent, with teak flooring, fine wooden furniture, comfortable four-poster beds and large bathrooms. Beautiful sunlight streams through rattan curtains, and the spacious accommodations come with furnished patios. Villas and suites along the beach feature garden showers and open-air wooden decks. Even though the windows appear exposed, greenery cleverly provides privacy.
The buggy drops me off at a hillside villa, where a private pool sits between the bedroom and living room. While lying on the outdoor daybed facing the pool and enjoying the various blue hues, from the pool to the seawater to the sky overhead, one feels like time has been stretched out here. It is easy to forget that you are not alone on the island.
My conversations with some guests reveal that they, understandably, only leave their villas to visit the spa and restaurants. I also learn that the resort is committed to sustainability, exemplified by practices such as providing bathroom amenities only upon request, and working with the local community and marine biologists on coral propagation projects, particularly those focused on Koh Haa and Koh Rok. The trained divers at its dive centre participate in these projects.
As the estate is quite large, I use the electric buggy shuttle service for transportation, avoiding most opportunities for long and exhausting walks in the heat. On several rides, I see tennis and basketball courts, and later discover that fitness and yoga studios are also available.
After a dip in the pool and relishing what feels like a personal haven, savouring the glorious sunset while sipping on cocktails at Rak Talay Bar is a fitting end to a first day at Pimalai. The Rak Talay Restaurant focuses on seafood dishes and Southern Thai cuisine. The menu has all the typical trappings, including deep-fried soft-shell crab and deep-fried tofu with sweet chilli sauce. The rock lobster curry, however, is impeccable. The desserts are delicious, too, especially the taro dumplings in coconut cream and sticky rice with mango.
The resort is immersed in endless sounds of nature — with a night-time chorus of clicking cicadas, croaking frogs, and other forest-dwelling creatures. The proximity to nature is inexplicably comforting, and the loud sounds lull you to sleep.
No trip to Koh Lanta is complete without exploring the crystalline waters of Koh Rok Island. With schools of fish swimming between colourful coral reefs, Koh Rok has shimmering blue-green waters with a flourishing marine ecosystem. The tranquil spot is perfect for snorkelling. However, if you’re more of a land lubber, take a walk on the shore and feel the powder-soft sand between your toes.
After snorkelling and striding through the deep sand, the afternoon should be devoted to taking a nap or enjoying a spa session. I opt for the latter. Located among trees, the spa complex is a secluded area that offers luxury massages and wellness treatments in huts made of bamboo and wood.
The day ends at Seven Seas, with a dinner menu specialising in Western cuisine. It might seem atypical to recommend Western fare at a Thai seaside resort, but this is Pimalai’s award-winning flagship restaurant. We get there before the island is enveloped in darkness for delightful views of the sun setting behind the hillside. The food is refined, offering Western favourites. The tuna tartare with a spicy local twist is one of the best dishes.
The next morning, the cicada sounds accompany the sunlight filtering through the beach-facing windows. During a peaceful morning swim, macaques move about the trees as birds fly overhead, reminding one of how harmoniously the resort coexists with nature. This time, the crowd at breakfast is larger, with families, couples and solo travellers sitting around Seven Seas. Having to wait my turn to scoop food onto my plate is unexpectedly joyous.
The culinary adventure continues with a cooking class at the resort. First, we collect herbs, including lemongrass, kaffir lime and Thai sweet basil, from the resort’s organic garden before heading to Seven Seas, where the chefs teach us how to prepare som tam (papaya salad) and gaeng kiew wan gai (green chicken curry), both delicious dishes, thanks to their patience.
After lunch, I am lucky enough to join Pimalai’s new excursion to Koh Talabeng. The tour brings visitors to turquoise lagoons and idyllic limestone islets, for swimming, snorkelling or kayaking in the calm waters. “We just started this year. People are coming back to Thailand, so they can see how nice this place is,” shares Khun Kade. On the boat, drinks and canapés can be enjoyed while taking in the spectacular views. Otherwise, kayaking in vast expanses of water and seeing bats flying overhead in one of the caves is surreal. Also, while there is a morning tour, the afternoon tour should not be missed before heading to the Old Town for dinner.
The Old Town is wonderful. Although the locals are accustomed to visitors, the town’s quaint and organic allure is inimitable — a far cry from resort islands that have succumbed to the juggernaut of tourism. Walking past houses and shops selling shrimp and curry pastes and handicrafts, I learn to appreciate the sights and sounds of Koh Lanta as young people on motorbikes gather with their friends and families outside homes and shops to eat dinner.
Savouring fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant is a must in Koh Lanta. Shine Talay Restaurant is humble and laid-back, which usually means a delectable meal awaits.
“Everyone comes here for the seafood,” Khun Kade confirms. Even a seafood novice like myself cannot deny the unmistakable freshness and flavour of the variety served, especially the mantis shrimp and prawns. For the adventurous, there is a fascinating blue lobster blood drink. The highlight of the meal, though, is the spicy nam prik kapi dipping sauce.
We pass through the merrier part of the town later that night, where the streets are lined with brightly lit restaurants and bars. In a moment of spontaneity, Khun Kade suggests a particular spot for dessert, and we enter a colourful restaurant for a final sweet treat. Krua Dan Tai’s kluai buat chi (banana slices in coconut milk) is outstanding. Khun Kade tells us it might be Thailand’s finest and I refuse to believe otherwise.
Koh Lanta, with its blue waters and fresh air, is a refuge. As I watch the sunrise on the way to the airport the next day, I was deeply moved by the sense of joy and calm I felt during my stay. In a splendid setting surrounded by forests and views of the limitless Andaman Sea, the relaxed itinerary is perfect for rejuvenation. For a city dweller so used to the fast pace of life, the Pimalai Resort & Spa and the island reveal just how wonderful the slow life can be.