Sri Raya, now referred to as Koh Lanta Old Town, was the major town in Koh Lanta before the island’s major industry became tourism and Ban Saladan developed into the island’s largest population centre.
About Koh Lanta Old Town
Koh Lanta Old Town is located on a single coastal road running 850 metres north from Sri Raya Pier. The town’s pier used to the main pier on the island and the at centre of its economic activity, which used to be trade.
Koh Lanta Old Town is lined on both sides with wooden houses dating back around 50 years. These wooden houses were once shops supplying the island’s residents with goods imported to the island via its long pier, and also selling provisions to passing ships. Koh Lanta is on the sea lane between the Straits trading ports of Malacca and Penang and the trading ports to the north such as Phuket and Mawlamyine in Myanmar. Before air freight and road transport became the predominant methods of transporting goods from the Malay peninsula northward to Central Thailand and Burma, Koh Lanta occupied an important position in the region’s commercial transport network.
The wooden buildings which once traded in dried and canned goods have now largely been transformed into restaurants, bars, small hotels and boutique shops. This transformation has been largely a positive development, with significant investment put into sensitive restoration work which has created a popular tourist attraction on the island to compliment its beaches.
Parts of the Old Town’s heritage, however, are still evident. Not all the buildings have been turned into tourist attractions. In between the modernised shop houses you will find community facilities such as Chinese temples. The Chinese influence on Sri Raya is noticeably strong.
Koh Lanta’s population largely consists of three groups, none of which identify solely as Thai which is one of the unique characteristics of Koh Lanta. The island’s original inhabitants are the Chao Ley people, often referred to as ‘sea gypsies’. This ethnic group is believed to have come to Koh Lanta about 500 years ago. Although once a nomadic group, sailing from island to island and leaving in temporary shelters, the local Chao Ley groups on Koh Lanta have now settled into permanent villages largely on the East Coast of the island. The second group of people who came to Koh Lanta where Muslim people from Malaysia, who came to Koh Lanta about 300 years ago and settled in the North of the island and to a lesser extent on the West Coast. Sri Raya, however, was primarily the home of Chinese immigrants who came to the island 50 to 100 years ago fleeing from the turmoil in China that occurred during the early to mid 20th Century. These commercially minded Chinese immigrants were the one who developed Sri Raya into a trading port, and their descendants continue to be the town’s largest community.
In term of things to see and do in Koh Lanta Old Town the main activity is eating and drinking. The town has lots of restaurants and bars, the most popular of which are built over the sea. There are some interesting shopping opportunities and the buildings are interesting from a historic perspective but there isn’t enough to entertain most tourists for more than an hour. Koh Lanta Old Town does have a museum, however, sadly it has not been maintained and now rarely opens.
Location of Koh Lanta Old Town
- Koh Lanta Old Town is 16.8 km km by road from Saladan Pier.