The job of choosing the right Thai Island (we know, hard job) to satisfy our beach craving after India was actually a little daunting. Let’s just say that despite being famous for pristine white powder sand beaches, dense jungle and crystalline turquoise waters, Thai islands are also synonymous with notorious full moon parties. Whilst not being immune to the joys of trance beats and wielding a glow stick or two (um, about 10 years ago and it was only once!), it’s safe to say that the beach party scene is really not our scene! The idea of hanging out with a hundreds of 20-something backpacking party people, getting sand in our pants and a venereal disease doesn’t really appeal. Enter Koh Lipe!
The most famous of the islands, including Phuket and Phi Phi (where the film The Beach was shot) were immediately struck off the list for being, well, too famous! We also discounted all of the islands in the Gulf of Thailand as the monsoon pattern in that area is still active in November/December.
This elimination left us with the multitude (over 100) of smaller islands in the Andaman Sea. We wanted a small island, not overrun by uncontrolled development, not geared towards high-end luxury tourism and with enough paradise to keep us feeling very lucky to be there. Our guide-book hardly mentioned the small island that we plumped for, but we had read good things about it online and knew that it was part of the Tarutao National Marine Park. So, despite being a bit of a stab in the dark, we pinned our hopes on Koh Lipe.
So, how did Koh Lipe measure up? Here are a few pointers, there are some very extensive guides written by bloggers already, but we will leave you with a little mystery and something to discover for yourselves!
- Koh Lipe is easy to get to. There are speedboats and ferries from a number of other Thai islands, the Thai mainland and Langakawi island in Malaysia. We arrived by taking an early morning flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai on the mainland peninsula. From there our air ticket included minivan transportation and the speedboat fare to Lipe. We started very early and were on the island by about 3pm. When it was time to leave, we took a ferry to Langkawi.
- Koh Lipe is so small, getting around is simple. You can walk everywhere on Lipe, but if you are feeling lazy or carrying luggage, you can get a motorcycle taxi with a weird sort of sidecar. Most of the life centres around the Walking Street which is the paved street where the restaurants, cafes, shops, souvenirs and amenities such as pharmacies and ATMs are.
- When it’s behaving, the weather is great! We visited in November which counts as a shoulder season before the real high season. The first few days were a little stormy and we did experience a few afternoon/evening downpours. That’s the risk of going in the cusp season, but as we were there for 10 days, we were able to enjoy the weather when it improved. Our travel to and from Lipe was luckily during good weather, but the seas can aapparently get quite rough and the ride can be a little hairy.
- The beaches measure up to expectations. There are three beaches on Ko Lipe so it’s not easy to get confused! All are white sand or shell, fringed with palm trees and there are corals and marine life close enough to the shore to make snorkelling easy. Lots of shops, resorts and restaurants rent snorkels.
- Pattaya Beach is where the ferries come in during the high season and it is also where the largest concentration of beach bars is. We enjoyed cocktails watching the sunset at Blue Tribes.
- Sunrise Beach was our favourite beach, although we were too lazy to get up to see the sunrise! It’s the longest beach and there are plenty of spots from which to enjoy the water and snorkel from the shore. At low tide a cool sandbar emerges and you can wade out and play around on it.
- Sunset Beach is the more rugged beach and less frequented from which you can watch the sunset. When we went it was deserted and we did get stung by jellyfish. It’s possible to walk around to the end of Sunrise Beach from Sunset Beach.
We did find that the beaches were dirty in some places, especially at the location on Sunrise Beach where the goods are brought on to the island. Resorts seem to do a good job of cleaning their patch of sand, but more generally the litter was not dealt with. There is an initiative for a weekly beach clean up on the island which you can join for free, which is a good idea, but we tend to pick up a few items wherever we go anywhere. Consider it your tax for using the beautiful beach!
Activities fitting of a paradise island.
- Aside from being a professional beach bum, you can occupy yourself with various other activities on Lipe. Aside from snorkelling and swimming from the beaches, but we rented a kayak to row to one of the small islands opposite Sunrise Beach.
- There are a few diving shops, and many places offering snorkelling and fishing trips. There seem to be 3 set programmes for snorkelling or, like us, you can rent a long tail boat and driver (if you can wake them up) from the Sunrise Beach taxi stand to take you wherever you want to go. We just rented the boat for a couple of hours to do some snorkelling and see the beautiful black pebble beach.
Staying on the Island
- There is accommodation to suit most budgets. From rough and ready beach huts to more all-inclusive resorts, there seems to be a good mix of accommodation on Lipe, and judging by the amount of building work going on that is only going to increase. We did still ended up paying almost double what we would normally like to pay, and we were in the middle of the town rather than on the beach, but we guess that is the price of paradise folks! As it’s hot on Lipe we wanted a decent room with air con, but it would be possible to save money by staying in one of the basic beach hut complexes. Of course, if you are there for a shorter holiday or honeymoon, then it’s worth it to splash out and get that beach view!
- Food is abundant and of good quality, particularly the seafood. Almost all the food on Lipe will be imported as it is too small to sustain much agriculture. Therefore, the nosh is much the same as on the Thai mainland, with the notable exception of the glorious fish. Although it’s doubtful that all of the fish is locally fished, we did see fishermen coming in with their catches and observed fishing boats offshore. Many places offer seafood by weight, so it is fun to choose your dinner and wait for it to be BBQ-ed.
- Lipe is mad for pancakes and rotis which are a type of stuffed bread (Malaysian influence) and there are many cheap Thai restaurants to choose from. There is also Indian, Italian and Mexican available, alongside Western style cafes and coffee houses.
- There are a couple of small supermarkets where you can pick up essentials. We had a fridge in our hotel room so were able to self cater our breakfasts and keep our beer fresh!
We particularly enjoyed:
- Thai lady Pancake (of which there are several) and Madam YooHoo for pancakes and cheap Thai food like pad Thai, fried rice and mango sticky rice.
- Sunrise Restaurant for cheap Thai food with a view on Sunrise Beach.
- Rak Lay for fish by weight.
- Bloom Bar for western style food and good iced coffees.
- Tropical Cafe for western style food.
- Made in Italy for excellent Italian food.
Laid back nightlife.
No full moon parties, thank God, and we were there when it was a full moon! In fact the nightlife on Lipe is incredibly laid back, with most people just nursing their sunburn with a cold beer or cocktail at one of the chilled out bars. We liked Blue Tribes on Pattaya Beach and Cool Vibes on Sunrise Beach.
Phew, so, what did all that cost? Normally we work to a budget of £70 a day, but we did Lipe on just a little more at £90 per day.
So, was Ko Lipe the secret paradise that we were hoping for? Pretty much! It had the right balance between beach-bum and island-paradise-chic, if that makes sense. You have the space and peace and quiet to enjoy the natural beauty and island culture, but you also have good accommodation and amenities to keep you comfortable and well fed.
BUT…we aren’t sure how long this is going to last. It’s a small island and judging by the amount of new development that we saw, it could fast become clogged up with resorts and accommodation. It will all depend on how that development turns out to be regulated and how the island can cope with an influx of extra visitors and goods to service them, and the mess and noise that they create. That said, we mostly saw couples and families, so this is really not a backpacker party destination, at least yet!