After spending a week enjoying our time in Krabi and checking out the multitude of things to see and do, we made our way to Thailand’s most southern island in the Andaman Sea, Koh Lipe. Located 60km from the west coast mainland, Koh Lipe is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, a collection of over 70 islands, in the province of Satun. The island is notable for it’s great snorkeling and dive sites, and has some of the most beautiful white power beaches in the country. It’s not as touristy as some if it’s more popular neighbours (like Koh Lanta or Koh Phi Phi), but that’s what makes this island so fantastic.
Deciding where to stay will be your first big decision. There are 3 main beaches around Koh Lipe; the busier and more party-centered Pattaya Beach, the relaxing and snorkeling hotspot Sunrise Beach, and the quieter more budget friendly Sunset Beach.
Our boat arrived in front of Pattaya Beach but didn’t pull ashore. Instead, we all had to transfer to longtail boats and pick a beach to be dropped off at, all at an extra cost of 50baht per person. We chose to be dropped off at Sunrise Beach and were happy we did. Although many resorts lined the beach, there was still a calm and relaxing vibe to the area. There were a number of longtail boats all parked along the shore, but there were sectioned off areas for swimmers to use.
Although the island is small, it takes a surprising amount of time to walk around it. While you can’t actually walk the perimeter of the island, you can access the different beaches through the various roads and walkways within the island.
The main “walking street” runs up from Pattaya Beach and is lined with restaurants, cafes, dive shops, travel agents, clothing stores, and bars. It’s quite built up with a lot of amenities around, though there’s only a small medical clinic and no atms (so bring enough cash and don’t get hurt!). But venturing out from this paved mini-town reveals the gentler, more rustic side of the island. As development focuses on the shoreline, the inland retains the island’s more natural aspects.
As we meandered our way over to Sunset Beach one evening, we came across a small temple, an even smaller mosque, tucked-away guesthouses, open-housed art displays, and off the map bars. Here, the sounds of longtail motors were muted and the crowds diminished.
Once discovered by adventurous backpackers, it’s the mid to upper range market that seems to be dominating the island now. While there are still a few budget options available, like Porn Resort (pronounced Pon you saucy tarts) on Sunset Beach and Viewpoint Resorts on Sunrise Beach, more expensive digs are filling the shorelines these days. The prices skyrocket during peak season (the holidays), so if you’re looking for a deal or to bargain a bit for rooms, the slow season is your best bet (mid-March to mid-October).
As Koh Lipe becomes more popular and makes it’s onto the tourist trail, it may very well unfortunately end up like Koh Phi Phi, becoming totally unrecognizable from what attracted people in the first place. The island faces a number of environmental issues, including waste disposal, water shortages, and the destruction of wetlands, which is likely to increase in proportion to the development that’s allowed on the island. But a number of the resorts and guesthouses on the island are making a concerted effort to reduce the effects and the island is starting to realize they have to plan for the future if they, in fact, want to have a future.
We visited Koh Lipe during peak season and it was really crowded. It would be well worth a return visit outside of high season. The beaches are pristine, the water a stunning crystal aqua colour, and the sunsets are mesmerizing. Who wouldn’t want to experience this?! Go before it’s too late!
What you need to know: You can reach Koh Lipe by speedboats that leave from Pak Bara, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Langkawi in Malaysia. There are no atms on the island at time of writing, so make sure to bring enough cash with you. Most of the budget accommodations cannot be booked online and phonecalls don’t always get picked up. Just show up and shop around (though be careful of low availability and high prices during high and peak season). There are internet cafes on the island and many resorts now offer free wifi. Oh, and don’t bother with the wine. It’s not worth it!