The famous ‘4 Islands’ speedboat day tour offers the best combination of sightseeing and snorkelling from Koh Lanta.
The main highlights are swimming through the seacave to the famous Emerald Cave and the snorkelling on Koh Kradan.
Throughout our travels in Southeast Asia, we’ve found going through local agents is the best way to book a tour. The prices listed on brochures and online are alway inflated. Our tip is to find a local agent and negotiate a better price in person. In addition to that, start with the price for one person – then get that as good as you can go. If you’re traveling with more than one person, once you think you’ve got the best price, ask “how about 3 people?”. You’ll find that often gets even greater discounts.
The afternoon before we wanted to go, we went to the local tour agent and found there were several options for the ‘4 Islands’ tour available. There are private charters and group tours on rustic longboats, speedboats and big boats on offer. We’re on a budget so that ruled out the private charter options. That left us with a choice between of what type of boat we’d like.
While longboats look cool, we’ve found in reality they’re often slow and noisy. Speedboats are more efficient as they offer more destinations in less time. And lastly, big boats are cheaper than speedboats but not as quick. We chose to spend a little bit more (฿300) and go with a group speedboat tour.
There are lots of tour companies who appear to offer the same tour at the same price. We went with Pattesia tour group, simply because their brochure looked the nicest (marketing works!). Their ‘4 Islands’ tour was advertised as ฿1800. With some bargaining we managed to get them down to ฿1300 each.
Right on time, we were picked up from our place in Khlong Khong by the standard Lanta transport – a ute that’s had some bench seats fitted onto the back.
The transfer didn’t take long, and in less than 10 mins we arrived at a forest/waiting area at the southern end of Phra Ae (Long Beach). Here we meet our tour guides and waited for our speedboat to arrive.
In the waiting area there are a handful of vendors selling drinks and snacks, and some toilets if you need to make use of them because it’ll be a while till you’ll have the chance again (well, there is a toilet on the boat if you’re desperate).
Watch where you stand here. Our guide asked us to wait where we were, but we unknowingly stood on the path of some tiny red ants!! They quickly went into attack mode and started biting our feet. We had to run into the cool sand to relieve the stinging pain. Not the best way to start to the day, but thankfully that was the only drama of the day!
When we got on the boat we found it was only half full – much to our relief after our experience of being jam packed on other snorkelling tours in Southeast Asia… Unfortunately, our relief was short lived as we proceeded to pick up more passengers on our journey south. Once we were loaded up with 30 tourists (+ staff) we headed off onto our ‘4 Islands’ tour.
Our first destination of the day was a teeny island called Koh Chueak where we stopped for 30mins of snorkelling.
It was cool exploring all the nooks and crannies around the massive rocks and limestone cliffs here. It felt almost maze-like and I enjoyed duck diving to poke around the deeper areas between the rocks.
There were only a few other boats around so it was nice to start the day without bumping into others, but the snorkelling here wasn’t the best. In fairness to Koh Chueak, the last place we snorkelled at was the Similan Islands (the #1 snorkelling spot in Thailand), so the bar was high! We totally know that conditions can vary day-to-day, but while we were there the visibility wasn’t that clear and the range of fish was pretty average.
The next spot was the famous Emerald Cave in Koh Mook.
To get there, you need to swim through the 80m seacave to access the lagoon on the other side. If you’re not a good swimmer, don’t worry – everyone’s wearing lifejackets and forms a chain along a rope which the guides use to tow you the other side. Going through the cave is a lot of fun. Halfway through it’ll be pitch black for a minute, and it’s very echoey so everyone was making silly noises and having a laugh.
Emerald cave is a tiny beach area surrounded by massive cliffs covered in tropical plants. This place is SO beautiful. Like one of those dream destinations that you see in Pinterest.
But.. it’s not quite peaceful.
When were there, so were dozens of other tourists taking group photos and selfies that it felt a bit spoiled. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an incredible sight to see. However, like Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands, it’d be amazing to experience a peaceful and private visit here (and to be able to get a tourist free photo!).
Note: You can only swim through the Koh Mook seacave when the tide is low. Tour groups may adjust the order of islands you visit due to the tide requirements.
By now, we’re all getting a bit peckish! Luckily, the next stop is also where we spend some time on land for lunch.
We have found the buffet lunch on these tours are actually really tasty. Thankfully, there’s always more than enough to go around if you want seconds (hey, a day in the ocean is hard work!). The menu usually consists of:
Koh Kradan is serene and was voted the ninth best beach in the world by Guardian readers in 2016. It has soft powdery sand and a few swings hanging from the trees. There’s plenty of space to go for a stroll and find a secluded spot, which is what most of our group did once they’d filled up with lunch.
As tempting as it was to chill on the beach, I love the water so I was straight in. I swam out to the shallow coral reef a short distance from the beach and I was amazed. This was by far best snorkelling spot of the day! Under the surface I found some cliffs that dropped off and were full of coral and a range of tropical fish. I couldn’t believe no one else was out here, but I totally appreciated having the sea to myself for a moment.
The final snorkelling destination for the day was Koh Ngai.
There was only one other boat here which left not long after we jumped in. After a busy morning, it was great to be away from the crowds and have a place to ourselves. Though this spot was picturesque, we unfortunately didn’t see many fish while we were snorkelling.
It was starting to become a bit overcast, and halfway through our time here I noticed most people had gone back onto the boat. It does make me wonder why people go on a snorkelling tour, but don’t snorkel? If you haven’t noticed, I’m the girl that’s always first in and last out! When I got back on the boat I realised one of the tourists had hurt himself. Despite the tour guides telling everyone to be careful and “Do not stand on the coral!”, this guy stood on a sea urchin and ended up with a foot full of big nasty spikes. Ouch!
This guys injury was our cue to wrap up the day. Once we were all loaded up with some refreshments (freshly cut fruit), we made our way back to Lanta. After digging our way through the basket of shoes, we headed back home and called it a day.
Snorkelling day tours always standout as highlights on our travels in Southeast Asia.
Opting for a group tours over a private charter means you have to face small sacrifices, such as personal space to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’. However that’s only small part of the day. The reward you get from the sights you see trump those little nuances.
Group tours are a great option if you’re counting your pennies. The ‘4 Islands’ tour via speedboat suited our budget and preferences perfectly.
If you’re looking for a day trip from Koh Lanta, definitely check out the Pattesia Group.