Self Guided Trip to Koh Larn
In a previous blog I mentioned guided day trips to Coral Island (Koh Larn). But this blog focuses on doing the trip yourself, and avoiding the crowded tour boats.
This section is for folks who prefer to make their own arrangements and not be part of a tour group. Sure, it may be a bit more hassle at times, but you’ll be rewarded by sights and experiences that tour groups don’t offer.
I’ll go through how to get to Koh Larn, the best beaches and where to stay, assuming you want a night on the island.
You’ll also notice that I’m now referring to Koh Larn by it’s correct, real name. ‘Coral Island’ is a name straight out of a tour brochure. None of the locals call it that. Ask any Thai (outside Pattaya) where Coral Island is and you’ll get a blank stare.
Is Koh Larn Expensive?
No. In fact you could have a great time and spend the night on Koh Larn there for less than the price of a day tour.
A two day / one night trip for a couple can work out from as little as 1,000 Baht per person (2,000 Baht total). But expect to spend more if you want to enjoy some seafood and a few beers or cocktails on the beach.
Return ferry = 60 Baht x 2 = 120 Baht
Scooter hire (24 hours) & gasoline = 350 Baht
Accommodation = 1,000 Baht
Food & drink = 500 Baht
Boats and Ferries to Koh Larn
Getting to Koh Larn is easy by either shared speedboat or wooden passenger ferry. Both leave from Bali Hai pier at the south end of Pattaya beach. If you aren’t staying within walking distance of the pier then you’ll have to hop on a pick up truck taxi (Baht bus) to get there.
Speedboats to Koh Larn
Speedboats tend not to operate to a fixed timetable. Once the boat is full, it will leave. If you are at Bali Hai pier early morning, say 8 or 9am then you won’t have to wait long for a boat. As this is the peak time for visitors going to the island. The boat operators aren’t hard to find. In fact they will probably find you as they tout for business at the entrance to the pier and along Beach Road.
If you are travelling in a group then it often makes sense to hire a speedboat privately. Prices depend on the size of the boat and number of passengers. It will be a little more than buying individual tickets but not much. Plus you will have the flexibility to choose when you depart from Pattaya and what time you return from Koh Larn. That’s in addition to not worrying about social distancing with other, unknown, passengers.
Speedboat ticket price to Koh Larn: 200 Baht one way & 300 Baht return
Private speedboat to Koh Larn: 2,500 – 3,500 Baht return
Passenger Ferry to Koh Larn
Wooden passenger ferries operate from Bali Hai pier in Pattaya to either Tawaen beach or Na Baan port on Koh Larn. Boats run regularly from around 07:00 – 18:00. Buy tickets at the booths at the end of the pier where boats are moored. The journey takes around 45 minutes. It’s a pleasant trip and there’s plenty of space on the boat to stretch your legs and take some photos etc.
If you are planning to just chill on the beach all day, then you should take a passenger ferry to Tawaen beach. The boats heading here will be moored on the left hand side of the pier.
If you want to start of a trip by seeing the main village on the island and some local life, then take a boat to Naban port. This will be moored on the right hand side of the pier.
However, as getting around the island is easy, my advice would be just to take the first boat that’s leaving.
The main downside, aside from having to make your own way to Bali Hai pier, is that the boats can be packed during High Season, as the tickets are very cheap.
Passenger ferry ticket to Koh Larn: 30 Baht one way. (Yes, that’s around $1. It is great value for money.)
How to Get Around Koh Larn
Once you have got to Koh Larn, then you have to decide how you want to get around the island. (Assuming you want to do more than just stay in the same area all day.) These are your options:
Walk around the island
It is possible to walk around the island. The distances involved aren’t too great. Koh Larn is around 4km long and a maximum of 2km wide. However when you factor in the heat – 30C+, lack of shade and the hills in the interior, perhaps walking is best left for another day. It’s too tough for all but the fittest hill walking enthusiasts.
Rent a bicycle
Unfortunately there aren’t any bike rental shops on Koh Larn. Mainly because it isn’t a popular activity due to the heat and the hills. However, if you are staying overnight some guesthouses do have bicycles for guests to use.
Rent a scooter
This is the ideal option. However, only for people who have ridden a scooter before. As you’ll be expected to pay for any damages. With a scooter and map of the island you can hit all the beaches and viewpoints, discover great little coffee shops and checkout popular seafood restaurants. It’s the perfect way to get around Koh Larn. Figure on 300 Baht / day for scooter hire. All rental shops charge the same. Note that you’ll have to leave an ID card or Passport as a deposit. Rental shops all charge the same rates.
Motorbike taxi tour
When you arrive on the island you’ll have to run the gauntlet of the motorbike taxi guys. They can take you anywhere on the island. Each has a map with the different locations marked with the price. But note that prices are fixed. There’s no haggling and no point asking a few guys, as they won’t undercut each other.
One dilemma you might have if you haven’t been to the island is knowing which beach you want to go to. In which case, you can ask one of the motorbike taxis to give you a tour of the island. They’ll drop you off at different beaches, wait so you can have a look around and then once you have seen the island take you back to your preferred beach where you can spend the rest of the day.
A motorbike taxi tour of Koh Larn will set you back 400 Baht per person.
Take a Songtaew (pick-up truck taxi)
Songtaews can be found waiting for passengers at the pier in Na Baan village and also parked on the roads behind all the beach areas. Short trips across the island or to hotels in Koh Larn are from 40 Baht per person. It is possible to hop from beach to beach using songtaews, but this isn’t as convenient as having your own scooter.
Koh Larn Beach Guide
The beaches on Koh larn all have sun loungers and beach chairs available for rent. These are 100 Baht /day. Shower and toilet facilities are also available. Expect to pay 10 – 20 Baht for using the toilet and 50 Baht to take a shower and get changed.
Samae is a 500 metre long beach with rough white sand. It’s also one of the most popular on the island. During high season there can be as many as 3,000 people per day on the sand and in the beach restaurants. However, if you avoid the busiest periods then it is an excellent beach to hang out on.
The beach has two distinctive features which are the result of a foray into supplying green energy. The solar paneled ‘ray building’ at the north end of the beach and the wind farm on the hill overlooking the south end of the beach. It’s possible to hike up to the viewpoint at the windfarm and get awesome panoramic views across the beach.
Tien is another lovely beach with fine white sand. It’s quieter than Samae as there’s no road access. Visitors are either dropped off by boat or have to walk about 5 minutes from the main road at the rear of the beach, just north of Samae beach. The walk is on a concrete walkway that runs along the side of the rocky shoreline to the south end of Tien beach.
However there are still plenty of shops and restaurants. This is one of the best places to avoid the crowds at busy times of year. And it doesn’t attract the same party loving groups as other beaches, which is good to see. It’s always good to have a variety of beaches on an island that cater to different types of visitors.
I’d definitely make time to stop off here for a swim and a cold drink or lunch if you are touring the island by scooter. And it’s very easy to combine with a visit to Samae beach. The north end of Samae is around 10 – 15 minutes walk from the south end of Tien beach.
Tawaen Beach is the longest (700 metres) and easily the busiest on the island. Thanks for the large number of speedboats that moor here daily. Weekends are especially busy as Tawaen beach is a popular hangout for Thai visitors. It’s a good spot if you enjoy a fun atmosphere. But not ideal for swimming, as the sea is full of jetskis and speedboats. There’s also a huge variety of restaurants set back from the beach. You’ll find cuisine from countries all over the world on Tawaen beach, such is Koh Larn’s appeal.
A 200 metre long concrete walkway skirts around a rocky outcrop to link the southern end of Tawaen beach to the northern end of Tonglang beach.
Tonglang is a quieter beach than Tawaen beach. This is because there’s no road access. The only way in or out is on foot or by boat. So, on the plus side you can find less people here than on Tawaen beach. But the downside is that the beach itself is much narrower. So there’s not much space to play on the sand or sunbathe. Plus the restaurants are packed very closely together. It’s a pleasant spot during the fringe season, but rather too crowded at peak times of year.
Nual beach lies at the far southern tip of Koh Larn. This is a peaceful 250 metre long beach and also the least developed on the island. Nual beach is lined with sunloungers and umbrellas and to the rear are several bars and restaurants. All of which are recent additions. In the past the land behind the beach was cleared, apparently for a new resort, which never got built. And so at present anyone can enjoy this laid back spot.
There is also a small coral reef just offshore, so this is a good spot for a bit of snorkelling too. It rarely gets crowded as the tour boats don’t come here. Another plus are the playful macaques that inhabit the area nearby. You may see them playing in the trees at each end of Nual beach.
Ta Yai Beach
Saving the best until last. Ta Yai beach is located at the far northern end of the island. It’s a very picturesque, 100 metre long stretch of white sand with just one place to eat and drink. So, it has the feel of staying at a resort’s private beach. Consequently prices are a bit higher than elsewhere on Koh Larn.
It can be reached on scooter or on foot. But the songtaews don’t take people here. Which accounts for the peace and quiet. Snorkelling is also possible around the headlands at the north and south of the beach.
Where to Eat? Restaurants on Koh Larn
As already mentioned, there are loads of restaurants lining the beaches on the island. However, if you want to get away from the crowds you will find small, locally owned eateries and foodstalls dotted around the island. These are the type of place where you can grab a bowl of noodles for 40 Baht. Or somtam (papaya salad) and BBQ chicken for under 100 Baht.
There are also several good coffee shops. My favourites are the artsy ‘See You Again Cafe House. A minimalist, stand alone coffee shop near Naban pier. It’s like stepping into a fantasy 2D comic book. Very cool decor. And the coffee is great too. Just south of then pier, by the sea, is the small Fat Submarine Cafe . A great place to sit and wait for your boat to arrive. Excellent home made cakes and some simply Thai and western meals too.
As far as seafood goes, it’s hard to have a bad meal on Koh Larn. There are lots of seafood restaurants and prices are very similar. We usually go to Koh Larn Seafood, which is 200 metres walk north of Na Baan pier. They don’t advertise much and aren’t located by the main tourist beaches. So they get more locals and Thai diners. it’s not the cheapest seafood on the island. But it is delicious and that’s what counts. Well worth trying for lunch or an evening meal if you are staying on the island.
Accommodation. Where to Stay on Koh Larn
There are now over 70 guesthouses and hotels on Koh Larn. Many of which are owned by local families. There aren’t any of the large resort hotels that you find in Pattaya here. Developing the land by the beaches is also no longer permitted. So virtually all accommodation is in the area near Naban pier.
Staying the night on Koh Larn is the ideal way to experience the island. Regardless of what time of year you go, you’ll find that once the day trippers have gone home, the island is a peaceful haven. Most tour groups will arrive around 9- 10am and leave mid to late afternoon 3 – 4pm. So before and after those hours are ideal times to go swimming and snorkeling, away from the crowds.
Another factor that has halted development is that building on beachfront land is no longer permitted. So virtually all accommodation is concentrated in the area near Naban pier, with a stoney shoreline.
You’ll also be able to easily grab yourself a spot at a beach bar to enjoy the sunset. And in the evening people staying on the island can hang out at a few small bars around the island. Where there’s a friendly mix of locals and tourists. There’s none of the wild nightlife, bars and clubs you associate with Pattaya on Koh Larn
Recommended Resorts and Guesthouses
If you want to stay beachfront . . .
The best option for anyone looking to stay by the beach on Koh Larn has to be Xanadu Beach Resort on Samae beach. It’s the only place to stay on the beach. In the evening and early morning guests have the long sandy beach pretty much to themselves, with no day trippers. Rooms here are from under 2,000 Baht/night including breakfast.
If you are travelling with a large group of friends . . .
Chill Lay House is a spacious, 4 bedroom house in Naban village. It can sleep up to 15 people and comes with a huge covered deck and outdoor kitchen area. Making it ideal for a couple of families travelling together or large group of friends. There’s plenty of space to relax and the ferry pier, local shops and restaurants are all within walking distance. From around 3,500 Baht per night.
If you want to be in the hills away from the crowds . . .
Blue Sky Resort is a small bungalow resort located in the centre of Koh Larn. Views are of the surrounding hills. However, it’s only 10 minutes walk into Naban village. It’s a good spot to base yourself and great value for money at under 1,000 Baht per night including breakfast.
If you’re a backpacker on a tight budget . . .
There aren’t any dirt cheap backpacker places on Koh Larn. As the island doesn’t attract that type of visitor. For a simple, clean air-conditioned room right by the sea try Island Inn. 5 minutes south of Naban pier.
This is located right by the sea (you can fish off your balcony) and is friendly and well run. Prices from around 700 Baht/night including breakfast. The downside is that it’s very dated and could do with refurbishing. But at present, it’s the best choice for someone with limited funds.
I hope you have found this guide useful. Needless to say Koh Larn isn’t the perfect tropical island. But if you’re in Pattaya and looking for a great day out or want to experience a night away from the madness and bright lights, then Koh Larn is definitely worth checking out.