Koh Lipe, the new paradise island, is blessed with emerald water and white sand beaches.
by Dave Stamboulis
As word got out that Koh Phi Phi and Krabi were becoming overrun by the tourist masses, reports began to filter in about another yet-unharnessed gem in the Andaman, way down south. Koh Lipe, the new paradise island, blessed with emerald water and white sand beaches.
Lipe subsequently became the next “go to” destination, located far from the maddening crowds closer to Malaysia than to Bangkok. While it certainly is no longer untouched, it has been pleasantly built up to have some great resorts, but has arguably still managed to retain its beautiful paradise island atmosphere. One reason is that Koh Lipe, meaning “paper island” in the local sea gypsy language, is surrounded by uninhabited national marine park islands containing abundant marine life and fabulous natural beauty. This is what makes the island into one of Thailand´s most enjoyable beach haunts today, and an excellent holiday choice.
Come here for that feeling of being on a real island (Lipe lies well offshore and requires a 90-minute speedboat ride to get there, or an even slower ferry journey) and for escaping some of the drunken hordes and masses that ascend upon Phi Phi, Phuket, and Samui. What makes Koh Lipe special is that it is home to the chao lay sea gypsies, who follow their ancestors´ traditions on the east side of the island. Their home-island boasts some of the prettiest waters in Thailand, excellent white sand beaches, and some of the country’s most preserved coral for both snorkeling and diving. Moreover, lovers of Chinese food will find some of the most locally produced birds nest soups here, as the starlets´ nests can be picked from some of the surrounding islands´ caves.
What to see
Koh Lipe is in the Adang archipelago, and is the only island where development is allowed, subsequently everything around it is part of the national park and completely pristine. Neighboring Koh Rawi and Koh Adang have gorgeous beaches and are perfect for Robinson Crusoe fantasies, accessible by an easy kayak paddle. Koh Butang has crab eating macaques and bee eaters en masse on land, and an abundance of marine life, ranging from sting rays to turtles to sharks. There are plenty of small islets and photogenic rock pillars rising out of the sea all within a stone’s throw of Lipe, and can be examined closer by an afternoon boat tour. The chao lay sea gypsy village is worth a walk through, and people usually enjoy interacting with visitors. Other than this, gazing off into the sunset and sunning your buns with a good book in hand (for example John Elray´s Pattaya Beach) are the main pastimes on Koh Lipe.
What to do
Diving and kayaking are the top options on Lipe. There are many outfitters on the island that offer PADI, SDI, and even free diving courses along with live-aboard trips. The kayaking around Lipe is fantastic. Rent a kayak on the beach and you can do a circumnavigation of Lipe in half a day, but be careful as the currents at the northwest corner of Lipe can get a bit rough. The paddle across to Koh Rawi can be done in less than 30 mins, and makes for a great day trip. There is some good jungle hiking on Koh Rawi, as well as a lovely beach. Longtail boat excursions to the other national park islands are also a big draw. There is a deep sea pinnacle named 8 Mile Rock about an hour from Lipe that has incredible bird and marine life around it and is a popular day trip. Sailing has also become fashionable around Lipe, and there is now an outfitter offering full sailing school classes.
Eat and Drink
For a small island, Koh Lipe actually has a great selection of good food, both Thai and international. Fresh seafood BBQs are extremely popular, with most beach restaurants serving up grilled sea bass, snapper, and barracuda along with prawns and squid. Along the island’s aptly named Walking Street, options include everything from fresh pasta and gnocchi at La Luna Italian to Spanish tapas at The Box to chicken masala at Indian Charlie Papas. Other options include Turkish kebabs, Tex Mex, and Italian gelato, along with pad thai, roti and banana pancake vendors. You certainly won’t be going hungry here. For nightlife, the Longtail Bar has a wonderful “you’re in the bar you’re in the band” motto, meaning drinkers can pick up a tambourine or guitar and join the daily live band, while drinking fresh Thai-inspired cocktails. The Peace and Love Bar is a mainstay on Lipe, and provides daily live fire shows to go along with the drinks.
The main resorts on Lipe can be found on Pattaya, Sunrise, and Sunset beaches. Pattaya is the most crowded of the trio, ranging from the mega Bundhaya Resort (074 750 248-9) or the long running Varin Resort (081-598-2225), to the artsy Blue Tribes Garden (090 073 1972). On low-key Sunrise Beach, there is the ultra luxurious Serendipity Resort (088 395 5158) or the stylish Castaway Resort and Dive Center (0831 387 472). Near Sunset Beach, the extremely unique and secluded Jack’s Jungle (089 655 5651) is a great choice.
Koh Lipe is normally reached via speed boats which take 90 minutes from the pier at Pak Bara, which is accessible via minivan from both cities of Trang and Hat Yai in southern Thailand. Air Asia offers combo flight and minibus/boat transfer tickets from Hat Yai to Sunrise Beach. Speed boats run several times daily from Pak Bara out to Pattaya Beach. There is also a slow ferry running from Satun during high season, as well as boats from the Malaysian island of Langkawi over to Lipe. There are usually a few speedboats from Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi.
Note: The monsoon season between mid-May and late October makes Lipe drastically quieter. A good number of resorts shut their doors altogether for these rainy months. Transport is limited to one speedboat per day, while the ferries stop altogether, so check before heading out during the off-season.