An Insider Guide to Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is arguably one of the prettiest islands in Thailand and despite over development, litter problems and over population in the peak season the island has managed to maintain a certain charm and beauty. Find out more with an insider guide to Koh Lipe below.
About Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is part of the Adang-Rawi archipelago of the Andaman sea and is located in Satun province on the border with Malaysia. Originally settled by sea gypsies, the island is supposedly the only island in the archipelago that is populated, however illegal resorts have been built on the much larger islands of Koh Adang and Rawi. It is said that the island was given over sea gypsies several decades ago who subsequently sold the land to developers and having squandered the money, now many of them live in temporary shacks on the North East tip of the island.
Koh Lipe is a beautiful island and is suitable for people of all ages. The inconvenience of getting to Koh Lipe often puts off families with young children however the effort is worth it. The island is popular for younger travellers and backpackers too, and despite not having a party scene as rowdy as Koh Phi Phi for example, there is enough to keep most people entertained in the evenings with lots of small bars and plenty of restaurants serving everything from fresh seafood to Italian.
Getting to Koh Lipe
There are several ways to get to Koh Lipe, the most popular option being flying from Bangkok to Hat Yai and taking a van transfer to Pak Bara pier in Satun and transferring to the ferry to Koh Lipe. Airlines will generally provide all transfers inclusive in the cost and whilst it is cheaper doing everything yourself it is perhaps not worth the inconvenience. The transfer operation is very slick and well organized so this option can get you to Koh Lipe with minimal fuss. Some boat operators will stop off on Koh Tarutao for an hour or so allowing visitors to take a few photos and relax before continuing on. In the past they also stopped off at Koh Kai (egg island) for more photo opportunities however this has not been the case during my last 2 trips to Koh Lipe.
Many people also go via Langkawi which is visible from Koh Lipe. 2 speedboats leave Langkawi per day which takes 1 hour 30 minutes. It is also possible to get to Pak Bara via bus or van from other destinations in Southern Thailand. Once the boat arrives in Koh Lipe you will be dropped off at an offshore pontoon as the water is too shallow for ferries to dock. From here you will transfer to a longboat which at the time of writing was 50THB per person for the transfer to the beach nearest to your accommodation.
What to do on Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is predominantly known for beautiful beaches, fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving. The island is ringed by a coral reef, which despite the heavy impact of tourism remains healthy. The best place for snorkeling is off sunrise beach, and in particular the tiny island of Koh Usen, just opposite Castaway resort. If you make the effort to swim past the shallows where the reef drops off you will see a wide variety of sealife from stonefish, scorpionfish, boxfish, moray’s, lionfish, triggerfish and many more species. Further North along sunrise beach is Koh Kra which is also nice for snorkeling around.
Pattaya beach has some interesting places to snorkel, however as the ferries dock in the bay off Pattaya beach the boat traffic is generally much heavier here so perhaps not quite as good as sunrise beach. Sunset beach is a favourite for backpackers as camping is permitted here and there are lots of cheap bungalows, however the reef off sunset beach is perhaps the least diverse.
Boat trips to neighboring islands is a fantastic way to experience some of the best snorkelling in Thailand at very reasonable prices. Most operators offer the same packages, however I would recommend Koh Lipe Thailand as the most professional. You can find them about 50m up the main road from Pattaya beach on the left hand side. The staff are very friendly and the operation is perhaps the most sensitive to the environment, an example being they dont use polystyrene food containers. You will see just behind some beaches used by day-trippers there is a huge problem with operators dumping bags of garbage so it is advisable to try and minimize your impact as much as possible by using a more responsible company.
The boat trips will take you to various spots around the archipelago and each stop has enough variety to keep it interesting. For example Jabang is a unique site containing huge swathes of bright pink and purple soft coral with swirling currents perhaps not suitable for people who are not confident swimmers, whilst Koh Hin Ngam is an interesting island covered in millions of polished grey stones. It is said anyone taking stones away from Koh Hin Ngam will be cursed, however if you can make a tower 12 stones tall you will be granted any wish desired.
Lunch is usually provided on Koh Adang or Rawi which have some stunning islands to enjoy for the last part of the snorkeling trips. The reefs on these islands are also vibrant and healthy although I noticed signs of bleaching during my last visit to Rawi.
Scuba Diving on Koh Lipe
There are dozens of scuba diving companies in Koh Lipe so when it comes to choosing one, think about the location – often a resort doubles as a scuba diving operator thus discounts are often applicable. Consider the dive group size, do you want to dive with dozens of other people or do you prefer a more intimate group of several people. What language do you prefer? There are scuba diving companies with native speakers of dozens of countries so if you prefer to speak your native tongue research what languages are spoken at each school.
In terms of dive sites, operators tend to follow similar patterns to the snorkeling operators however insist on a visit to stonehenge if possible as this is perhaps the best dive site around Koh Lipe. Stonehenge is located off the island of Koh Talang which is seen in the distance from sunrise beach and features large stone columns (hence the name) covered in pretty white soft corals and an abundance of sealife including resident sharks.
Other Activities on Koh Lipe
Kayaking is a recommended activity on Koh Lipe, there are lots of beachfront resorts whom will rent a kayak by the hour. This is a good way to explore the small offshore islands with some snorkeling gear as well as to paddle in the stunning shallows between the small coral outcrops. The island is also small enough to hike across so pack some water, suncream and insect repellent and take a stroll around the myriad of small tracks and trails the criss-cross the island. You can also hike to several viewpoints, the most popular being on Koh Adang. Rent a local longtail boat to hop across to Koh Adang and follow the signs from the National park HQ up the hill for about an hour to a stunning viewpoint overlooking Koh Lipe.