Holiday Rentals

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta – Island of a million eyes

What’s in a name?

Koh Lanta is the name of an entire archipelago of around 52 islands, of which this island - Koh Lanta Yai is just one. Some of the surrounding islands are inhabited, and a few also have limited accommodation for tourists, but Koh Lanta Yai is the main island which has attracted people from all corners of the earth for throughout its history.

Koh Lanta Yai was previously known by the Malay name “Pulau Sa-Tuk” meaning “island with a long mountain range”, but in 1917 the King of Thailand officially named the island Koh Lanta, and the archipelago as Koh Lanta District. There are a couple of suggestions as to where the name originated from, but the explanation we favor is that its origins lie in the Thai language. “Koh lan ta” literally translates to “island of a million eyes”, and reflects the colorful culture of the thousands of migrants who came to the island from the Sea Gypsy population, China, Malaysia and elsewhere in Thailand.

Koh Lanta’s Timeline

In ancient times Koh Lanta’s previous capital – Lanta Old Town - was an important, bustling port and commercial centre for Arabic and Chinese merchants trading between Phuket, Penang and Singapore.

Over 500 years ago the sea gypsies (Chao Ley) were the first to settle on the island. This nomadic clan previously roamed the seas, moving from island to island. It is believed that their ancestral roots are of Indonesian origin.

The following centuries many Malay migrated to the island and over 100 years ago, during the communist revolution of China, many Chinese also fled their own country and chose Koh Lanta as their new home.

Before the First World War, the bustling town of Saladan became a major check point for tax paying boats on their way to the Malay Peninsula, and shortly after, in 1917 the island was officially named Koh Lanta. 

During the eighties, backpackers, divers and Scandinavian tourists discovered the island, and so the seeds were sown for the island to develop into the popular holiday destination and “home from home” it has become today.

1996 – The electricity network connected to the mainland was installed and the car ferries introduced, and in 2001 the first phone lines were installed.

2004 - The Tsunami struck. Fortunately the shape of the island and the direction of the wave protected the island to some extent, and the main damage and destruction was limited to the beach areas. Locals pulled together to quickly restore the resorts, restaurants and bars to their former glory, and Koh Lanta developed the nick name – Lucky Lanta. The biggest impact on the island from the Tsunami was the fall in tourism over the following couple of years.

Now the island is blooming. Creatively designed resorts have been built to protect the unspoiled look and feel of the island, the infrastructure has improved, roads have been built and developed, ATM’s and 7/11 have arrived, Wifi hotspots can be found all over - and the tourists are back.

Colorful Culture

It is no wonder that Koh Lanta has developed the colorful rich culture we witness today. Its 20,000 inhabitants consist of a diverse mix of Thai-Muslim Malay, Thai-Chinese, Sea Gypsies (Chao Ley), Thai, and Western expats - all living harmoniously side by side.  Influences from all of these backgrounds are subtly blended and if you look around you’ll see Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, and traditional houses in the style of both Thai and Chinese. Religious practices and ceremonies vary between the ancient animist beliefs of the Sea Gypsies, Thai Buddhism and Christianity, with the majority of the population (over 90%) being Muslim.

Many locals have continued with their traditional livelihoods of fishing and farming (prawns, rubber, palm oil, coconuts and cashew nuts), all of which enhance the stunning landscape, and contribute key ingredients to the cultural melting pot of the island of a million eyes.