This winter, no longer do you have to decide between riding elephants through subtropical caves or relaxing on white sandy beaches.
On Ko Lanta island off Thailand’s southern coast, you can do both.
While the tourist-packed Ko Phi Phi nearby was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach, its more laidback southern companion is a little-known paradise of both adventure and relaxation.
Your base camp is the luxurious Layana Resort & Spa, nestled within the pristine grounds of the Muko Lanta National Park. Fully equipped suites come designed in sleek contemporary Thai style, but you'll be sipping your local wine on the ocean-facing balconies, beach day beds, and tranquil gardens.
Starting at $220 per night. 272 Moo 3, Saladan. (+66 75 607 100)
You haven’t lived until you’ve ridden an elephant through a cave, and that’s just what you’ll do with Sumate Koh Lanta Yai Safari as you tour the stunning Mai Kaew Caves, set in a lush tropical rainforest. Watch out for rhinoceros, however, as elephants have been known to charge them (we found out the hard way).
$50. 284 Moo2 Pra-ae, Saladan. (+66 75 684 845)
With nine picturesque white sandy beaches to choose from, finding a place to zone out in peace is far easier than disembarking from that excitable elephant. The spectacular mountain scenery and shallow blue waters off Klong Dao Beach make it our favorite, but just about any beach will easily blow your mind.
Klong Dao Beach, Koh Lanta (+66 75 684 151)
The fresh seafood brought in from fishing boats and cooked daily at Baan Lanta Bay View Restaurant is what paradise tastes like. Go for huge tiger prawns, juicy crabs, and giant lobsters in a house-made BBQ sauce for a little slice of Americana with your tropical feast.
134 Moo 5, Kan Tieng Bay (+66 75 665 091)
The Saturday night beach parties are a local institution at Korner Bar, where DJs will play any music you give them while you sip cheap drinks on outdoor pillow seating. The adventurous can opt for the bhang lassi (hint: it's a magic milkshake), but be warned: you might not feel yourself for a few days.
Far south end of Long Beach (no phone)