The 7AM call time time by songthaew (pick-up truck) from Ibis Pattaya Hotel, a great-value stay in the middle of the city, got us queueing early along the main beach of Pattaya, a resort city just two-hour drive from Bangkok, which is now linked by affordable flights from Manila on AirAsia.
Our destination for the day is Koh Larn (also known as Koh Lan or Koh Laan), a popular island getaway only 7.5 km away from the mainland. Given its proximity to the city, it’s one of the most sought-after beach destinations from Bangkok. The 5.6 sq km island can accommodate up to 6,400 visitors daily. During the low season, 3,000 tourists visit the island, however, weekends and holidays sees this number ballooning to 20,000, well over the capacity of the island! So it’s best to visit Koh Larn during weekdays to avoid the massive crowds, and also to minimize the impact of mass tourism on the island, which has suffered from ecological degradation and poor waste management.
The island’s popularity was obvious as soon as we reached Pattaya Beach, the jump-off point for boat tours, where representatives of Pattaya Sea Adventure, the tour operator booked by KKday – an online platform offering deals on various travel activities and experiences worldwide – began rounding up the tour groups, herding them onto speedboats.
Our private speedboat shuttled our group in no time to a floating platform for our first activity of the day: parasailing. The platform was packed with tourists, mostly Chinese visitors, queueing up for the parasailing activity. Thankfully, our media group had VIP access, and we were able to fast-track to the front of the line. I’ve tried parasailing for the first time in Guam last year, boarding a seat . This was my second attempt at parasailing, but my first time on the common form of parasailing using a body harness.
It all happened too quickly. As soon as it was my turn, the staff attached the lines of the parachute to my harness, which participants wore beforehand while in queue, assisted by a grumpy staff member. A speedboat pulled the lines, as the parachute caught the strong breeze and lifted me high up in the air. From high up, I could see the mountainous mainland, the floating platform below, and all the speedboats shuttling across the gulf. The parasailing activity lasted only around 10 minutes, as the speedboat only circled the platform once.
After parasailing, we hopped onto another speedboat for our next activity, located closer to Koh Larn. Another floating platform served as the base for helmet diving, an outdoor activity I haven’t tried before, so I was a bit excited. There were far fewer tourists onboard, so we quickly donned the heavy steel helmets as we climbed down a ladder to enter the sea. As we equalized the pressure in our ears, scuba divers assisted with the descent and guided us along the sandy bottom. There were metal handrails installed for helmet divers to hold on to, as we walked towards small coral outcrops. Scuba divers distributed bread to attract the fish – not a particularly eco-friendly practice as it alters the feeding behavior of marine life. Of course, helmet diving couldn’t compare to scuba diving, an outdoor activity I’ve repeatedly enjoyed during my travels ever since I got certified in 2013. But I do think it’s an excellent way to get yourself comfortable in deep water and to practice equalizing your ears as you descend, before you try scuba diving.
After our adventurous morning, we finally set foot on Koh Larn where we rode a songthaew from busy Tawaen Beach to the Giant Monk Statue on a hilltop with panoramic views of the island. After a snapping photos, we drove to the western coastline along Samae Beach where we had a heft lunch set at Coco Cat restaurant, before settling for the rest of the afternoon at Tien Beach next-door for banana boat rides and snoozing on lounge chairs on the relatively quieter beach.
Overall, Koh Larn is worth the day trip from Pattaya, if you’re looking for a quick island getaway and want to give parasailing or helmet diving a try. Just be prepared for the tourist crowds (especially on weekends and holidays) and not-so-friendly staff members assisting you during the activities. I’d probably pay a visit to the island again given the opportunity, but I’d rather spend more time on the island itself, exploring the other beaches, or simply snorkeling on the reefs.
AirAsia now flies between Manila and Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport, near the Mo Chit terminal where you can board a bus to Pattaya City. Koh Larn day tours start at PHP 1,890 per person on KKday, inclusive of insurance, speedboat transfers, hotel transfers (if at the free transfer area), English-speaking guide, and set menu lunch. This package doesn’t include gratuities and all water sports activities.