Long sandy beaches, fringed with trees, aquamarine seas, picturesque long tailed boats, clear water and sun, sun, sun. Koh Lipe is a jewel in the Andaman Sea
The best thing to do on Koh Lipe is – nothing. That’s it, absolutely nothing – take a good book, sunscreen, and lie back in a hammock and enjoy.
Koh Lipe is an island in the very south of Thailand, close to the border with Malaysia and part of a group of islands that makes up the Tarutao National Park. The long sandy beaches, turquoise seas, and clear waters make it an immediate holiday favourite.
However if you can’t bear to do nothing the island is easily explored being little over a mile at the widest. The three main beaches are fringed with resorts, and a concrete path, Walking Street, joins them. There are a few motorcycles on the island but most of the traffic uses the Chao Ley, the local people who ferry passengers from beach to beach in long tailed boats.
Shops, restaurants, internet cafés, travel agents, dive shops, tattoo artists, and spas are all along Walking Street. Shops sell flip-flops, jewellery and t-shirts and there are small groceries stocking sunscreen, water, postcards and biscuits. However the selection is finite so if there is something you cannot live without bring it with you.
But if you can’t sit still, there are sea kayaks and masks and snorkels to hire from many places along the beach. The free island map has many snorkelling sites marked and just walking into the sea from the beach you can find butterfly fish, Moorish idols, and anemone fish. Alternatively, you can hire a long tail boat and visit another island or join an organised trip to snorkel. This can be easily booked at resorts or through one of the travel shops on Walking Street. Typically a trip offers stops at four or five islands and lunch and equipment are included in the price. The water is incredibly clear and colours are vivid. Some the islands have monkeys that can be seen from the boat and there are often sea eagles gliding overhead.
Diving is another option and there are several dive operators on the island. Two of the biggest are Ocean Pro Divers (www.oceanprodivers.net) and Forra Dive (www.forradiving.com). There are many dive sites at varying degrees of difficulty, and the dive centres offer a range of courses from discover scuba up. There is always the chance of manta rays and whale sharks at some sites but the corals are also spectacular. Some of the sites are not always accessible because of strong currents, and some dive centres stick to certain areas so check before you sign up.
And after all that activity it must be time to sit back and do nothing. Sit on a mat or cushion outside your favourite beach bar and watch the sunset. Then have another drink and watch the fire show, and enjoy doing nothing.
How to get there
There are ferries and speedboats daily to Koh Lipe from Langkawi in Malaysia, Pak Barra on the mainland and Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi (www.kohlipethailand.com)
During the monsoon season, May to October, many resorts are closed and fewer ferries run. At this time the island is much quieter.
There is no ATM on the island. Take the money you will need. It is possible to pay with credit cards in some places, but you will be charged for this. It is also possible to withdraw cash on a credit card and you will be charged even more for this.
A fee is charged to everyone entering the National Park area. At Pak Barra this is done before you board the boat. Hold on to the ticket to prove you’ve paid.
Koh Lipe is changing and developing each year. At the moment it is peaceful and hassle free and a great holiday destination.
Where to eat
Many of the beachfront guesthouses set up BBQs in the evenings and you can sit at a table on the beach. Alternatively head up Walking Street for a variety of restaurants, and don’t forget to try the grilled chicken or rotis from the street stalls.
There are several bakeries on Walking Street. Pee Pee Bakery and Restaurant is popular for breakfast. Sit in the right place and you can see into the bakery itself and watch trays of muffins or tarts being pulled from the ovens. The smell alone is enough to entice you in. Lovely fresh rolls and cappuccino and good muesli and fruit. Kafair Bakery also on Walking Street is not open as early in the morning but has comfortable chairs to sit in over a coffee or tea. It has buns and cakes for afternoon tea, efficient fans if you are there in the middle of the day.
Kon Lay Thai Food, Walking Street. Open restaurant with big bamboo chairs and benches and a sandy floor. Good Thai food at reasonable prices. Try the tom kha gai soup. Very popular and you may need to wait for a table.
Banana Tree, Walking Street. Big, open restaurant with a thatched roof and garden area. Thai food. The restaurant fills up as it shows a movie on a big screen nightly so if you don't want to compete with the sound system go elsewhere.
Spidermonkey, Walking Street. A bar/café with some western dishes such as jacket potatoes and ice cream smoothies. This makes a pleasant change if you are fed up with Thai food.
Fino Pizza, Walking Street. Pizza, pasta and steaks plus Thai food in pleasant rustic style restaurant, open on two sides and decorated with driftwood, ropes and flags. The pizzas have a homemade feel - definitely not the symmetrical standards of the big pizza chains.
Where to stay
Blue Tribes Garden Beach Resort, Pattaya Beach, Koh Lipe. On the eastern end of Pattaya Beach. Basic wooden beach bungalows with bathrooms. The rooms have just a bed, and bedside table but were clean and tidy. All have their own balcony but better to spend time in the bar/restaurant that is open to the beach with a pleasant view and sea breeze. The restaurant menu has many Italian dishes.
Mountain Resort, Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe. A very attractive resort with more upmarket chalets built amongst trees on the hillside. Some have aircon and television. Fantastic view down into the bay from the restaurant deck and a long wooden staircase leads down to a semi private beach. The resort is reached by long tail boat, although there is a path across the island but it is unlit and rough underfoot, so more difficult to get out in the evenings. If you are happy to stay put in the resort in the evenings this is resort is in a wonderful location. The restaurant has quite an extensive menu - just a little more expensive than you would pay in Walking Street.
Bundhaya Resort, Pattaya Beach, Koh Lipe. Very upmarket bungalows with fans, air-conditioning and television, but includes various options to suit families. Bundhaya is one of few resorts with chairs and umbrellas out on the beach for customers each day. The chalets are quite close together however, and if you don't need the luxury other places are better value for money.
Varin Beach Resort, Pattaya Beach, Koh Lipe. A big resort in the centre of Pattaya Beach. Has a variety of rooms to suit most budgets. Clean and with own bathrooms, but rooms near the beach can be noisy from the long tailed boats in the morning so best avoided if you want to sleep in. Restaurant is overpriced, so take advantage of the good restaurants on Walking Street.