Traveling Ko Larn Island by motorbike or as a tourist?
by Jack Corbett

Ta Waen Beach

The only way to experience the ambience of all six of Ko Larn's beaches is to rent a motorbike which is an excellent antidote for  Pattaya

which could very well be the most raucous, take no prisoners fun capital on the planet.  It's that island that's right in front of you when you look out into the Gulf of Thailand from the Pattaya Coastline, and yet, it's practically unknown to most tourists and even Expats who live here--at least the way we're going to guide you. 

Most of Pattaya's tourists are followers who either follow what nearly everyone else is doing or who go to a travel agency, pick up a brochure or two, and then head out to experience what most of the other tourists are doing which is where the little pamphlets tell them to go and where there is an ample supply of guided mini buses that take them to the usual Pattaya highpoints.  Now don't get me wrong, Pattaya has more than its share of well regarded highpoints and all those guided mini tours are for the most part well run as well as being money well-spent.  My mission is to take you off the well-beaten path to an adventure that's so easy and inexpensive to experience that you will wonder why you've never heard of it anywhere else before. 

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

Koh Larn IslandKoh Larn Island

 

What most tourists experience on Ko Larn Island

First, there are two ways to get there.   The first, and this seems to be the one in most favor by many if not most Korean tourists, is to take a speedboat.  Just take a walk down Beach Road and you will see small armies of Koreans each one of them following their fearless leader into shallow water to speedboats that will whisk them off to Ko Larn for something like 1500 baht.  It takes just 15 to 20 minutes to arrive at whichever beach their fearless leaders choose to take them which is more often than not, Ta Waen Beach.  I keep forgetting the name of this beach so I usually wind up calling it China Beach simply because the name Ta Waen is so much like the name of that much larger island off the China Mainland.  Now don't get me wrong, Ta Waen Beach is a terrific beach in its own right.  It's the largest of Ko Larn's six beaches.  There's a lot of shops here which the other beaches don't have and it has by far the largest selection of restaurants.   It even has its own designated swimming area which his enclosed by buoys that are cabled together to form a large rectangle to keep the boats and wave runners from decapitating the swimmers.  This puts it as a pure swimming area heads and shoulders above such well regarded places as Ko Samet. 

Most tourists on Ta Waen are Asian although there are still a large number of Westerners who come here as well.  And that's about as far as the South Koreans will ever get who are guided in lockstep by their fearless leaders who from what I can detect don't seem to know much about anything.  So moving up the evolutionary ladder is Samae Beach.  Ta Waen Beach is approximately 750 meters long whereas Samae Beach at 300 meters is much smaller and much more importantly is far quieter.  Samae is a favorite of Western tourists.   One can also find many discriminating Thais here but very few Koreans or Chinese.   One won't find any shops here or at least not just yet.   But there's a perimeter of buoys just like Ta Waen's for the swimmers that extends approximately 150 meters out into the Gulf.  At either place one can swim laps.   The only differences between swimming laps on Ko Larn and swimming pools is 1. Each time a swimmer makes a round trip he covers over 300 meters, 2. The water is probably cleaner, 3.  It's salt water, 4.  One has to contend with waves so it's much more fun, and 5. The scenery is much better.  One can eat here on the beach as well at either one of the many tables dotting Samae or while lying in one of the beach chairs by purchasing it from a simple menu provided by the attendants.   Both Ta Waen and Samae provide Wave Runners for hire.   I recommend getting one for forty-five minutes to an hour to navigate around the entire Island. 

Samae brings up another popular way to get to Ko Larn Island and that's by ferry.  Most Westerners choose this route.   There is a ferry that leaves the Bali Hai pier nearly every hour starting at 8:00 a.m.  I'm not sure this is accurate but here's a ferry schedule.  Normally I don't take the ferry direct to Ta Waen Beach, instead I go to main pier on the side of the island that is nearest to Pattaya for reasons I'll get into later.  According to this schedule the ferry ride has recently been raised from 20 baht to 30.   At either price it's a bargain.  The ferry takes just forty minutes to the main pier.  The typical tourist then gets off the ferry, walks about two hundred meters to his left, and then piles onto a baht bus along with many other typical tourists.   The baht bus then takes the typical tourist up the very steep hill that dominates Ko Larn and then it heads downhill to take its passengers to either Ta Waen or Samae Beach.  All of this is very easy.  Just get a baht bus or motorbike taxi to take you to the Bali Hai pier and get on the ferry.   When one wants to return to Pattaya just be sure to get on a taxi in plenty of time if you have gone to Samae Beach in order to make the last ferry ride to Pattaya at 6:30 or if you are at Ta Waen Beach be sure to get on the 4:00 ferry direct to Pattaya or as you would on Samae get on a baht taxi early enough that you can make the last ferry from the main pier at Naban. 

And so ends phase two of the evolutionary trail to Ko Larn Island except there are still four remaining beaches to experience.   These are Thong Lang Beach, Sang Wan Beach, Thien Beach, and Nual Beach.  I'm not sure about how good or bad the baht bus service is to these remaining beaches other than to say that I've never seen a baht bus taxi ever pull into or out of Nual Beach.   Nual Beach is on the South side of the island far away from all the other beaches.   It's the quietest of all the beaches and it provides by far the best snorkeling.  So if you are one of the typical tourists I've described so far you are just plain out of luck---that is, unless you go to phase three of the evolutionary ladder of Ko Larn tourists. 

The Phase Three Ko Larn Tourist

The first thing I've noticed about the phase three Ko Larn tourist is there's very few of them.  That's because most tourists can't think for themselves, especially the Koreans.  They don't seem to be able to see well either.   The first step towards reaching this highest rung of the evolutionary ladder of Ko Larn tourists is to keep your eyes open.  Okay, now that we have that straight, simply open your eyes as soon as you get off the ferry at Naban pier.   Follow the other passengers until you see a small horde of hawkers just before you exit the pier.  Here you will find a group of motorbikes.  Rent one for the entire day.  Pay no more than 300 baht.  I pay 250 after first being asked to pay 300.  I recommend that you insist on getting an automatic.  So far I've always rented Honda Air Blades, which although it has been replaced by Honda's latest and greatest, is still an excellent little bike that I'm sure you will enjoy very much on Ko Larn Island.

 

I must have taken this video five years ago using an old video camera.    Quality is not even close to what I'm getting now.   Nevertheless it should give everyone an idea of just how  laid back driving a motorbike here can get.  More than half the  video's at Nual Beach which  shows just how uncrowded this  beach is, especially  during the low season.

This should take you all of five minutes. Say 10 minutes tops. They won't even ask you for a driver's license.  Once you are on the bike simply take the street to the left where you will soon see all the other tourists still prying themselves into the baht taxis.  They will all be for the most part headed on a one way ride to either Ta Waen or Samai Beach and that's all they are ever going to see, the road up the steep hill, the sensational view of the West side of Ko Larn as they head back down the other side and the Beach they have decided to spend their entire afternoon on. 

Just drive past them and wave.   And take whatever roads that your mood leads you to take.   Unlike the other tourists you get to see the entire island.  They won't even get to experience how truly beautiful and quiet the island is.  And considering the island's only about 1.5 kilometers wide and 7 kilometers long, you aren't going to get lost, or at least for long.  And if you end up heading out on the road South to Nual Beach you will hardly find anyone else on it.  You won't believe things can be so quiet this close to Pattaya.

And if you are new to motorbikes do it anyway.  Driving such automatics as a Honda Air Blade is easier than riding a bicycle and there's hardly any traffic on Ko Larn which makes it the idea place to drive a motorbike. 

To be honest, other than Ta Waen, Samae and Nual Beach I can't tell you which is which.   I've been to them all, not just once but at least several times.  I just simply get on a motorbike and go wherever the spirit moves me.  I will typically take the 10:00 ferry to the main pier on Ko Larn which gets me there at 10:40 a.m.   By 11 a.m. I'm riding an Air Blade and by this time I'm hungry.  So I will drive to Ta Waen as a rule since it offers the most selection in food.   Then in the early afternoon I'll usually head to Samae Beach to do my swimming and to hang out with my friends.  Once in awhile I'll take my snorkeling equipment along and go to Nual Beach which is practically deserted in the low season. 

But now I'm going to suggest to you an itinery very few will ever take and that is an overnight to Ko Larn that gives you two full days on the beach, two days of exploring the entire island by motorbike at the price of just one night's lodging for around 2200 baht or so.  If you follow my advice this will put you at the highest rung out of all Ko Larn tourists which puts you easily into the top one percentile. 

First, take the 10:00 a.m. ferry to Naban pier on Ko Larn.  Rent your motorbike for two days after first making sure that the people you are renting from give you a full tank of gasoline.  Then take the road to the right which is North  through town until you come to a rather striking hotel with something like eight bare wood cabins about one half a mile from the pier you have just left.  Just take a look at my pictures so that you will be able to recognize the hotel.   It will be on your right just before you leave town. 

The cabins will be very simple but very striking also.   There won't be anything close to resembling a beach here.  Nevertheless, if you can get a cabin that's closest to the Gulf.   If it's low tide you will see a lot of rocks strewn about.  You might even find this part of the shoreline to be quite ugly.   Don't even think about swimming here. 

When the high tide comes in the water will come right up to your balcony.   At night you will be able to see the buildings and lights of Pattaya off in the distance.  It's best to have at least several traveling companions to come with you because there really isn't much to do on Ko Larn at night.  But next to the main pier is a Seven Eleven where you can stock up on food, snacks and beer.  There is an unobtrusive restaurant next to the hotel.  I don't think they are used to having many guests since the hotel is so off the beaten path.  But when we got there, we were able to order from the restaurant and have our food brought right up to our balconies where we were able to sit at night and drink our beer with our friends and have our dinner without having to walk anywhere at all.

Daytime is for riding around on the rented motorbike or for sampling any beach you choose.  You can be at the hotel as early as 11 a.m. and get out to the beaches before noon, spend the whole day outdoors, have a great time on your balcony at night with your friends and if it's high tide you will hear the water just a few feet outside your front door.   The next day you can have a free complimentary breakfast at the hotel's little restaurant, check out, then head out once again for the beaches and take one of the last ferries for Pattaya, say at 5 p.m.

Very few mortals will ever take the path I've just explained.  Take it and you will likely find that this could well be the most inexpensive and fun two days you are going to find in Pattaya.

   

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