The secret is out. This tiny island of Koh Lipe in the South of Thailand is fast becoming a hotspot on the tourist map. If you haven’t heard of it yet, then be quick to visit as the island is currently experiencing much development to meet the demand of the sudden influx of tourists!
Although high-end boutique resorts are sprouting up more and more, for now, the small island still retains its idyllic charm. You can easily plan to spend a few days on the island and then end up staying weeks!
Koh Lipe – Location
Koh Lipe is a tiny island located off Thailand’s west coast, close to the Malaysian border. While it’s popular with those coming from or going to Malaysia (there’s a direct ferry available from Langkawi to Koh Lipe), most visitors to Thailand don’t venture this far south, leaving Lipe blissfully uncrowded and uncommercialised, well, at least compared to Thailand’s larger islands like Phuket and Koh Samui.
Part of the Adang archipelago of islands and Koh Tarutao Marine Park, the waters around Koh Lipe are amazingly crystal clear, coral reefs are in a very healthy state, and there is definitely a wide variety of marine life for those into snorkelling and scuba diving.
When to visit Koh Lipe?
- High season in Koh Lipe runs from November to May, which is the time where you will get the best weather on the island (sunny, dry and cool days), but it can also be the most crowded. During the Christmas & New Year periods places fill up fast, so make sure you book ahead. Rainy season begins in June and last until October. Year on year, this can differ so be sure to check the weather forecast before travelling, or just buy a poncho!
- Ferries – In the high season, you can catch direct ferries to Koh Lipe from Koh Phi Phi (4 hours), Koh Lanta (2 hours), Langkawi, Malaysia (1.5 hours), Pak Bara (2 hours), Koh Ngai (1.15 hours), Koh Muk (2-3 hours) and Koh Laoliang (1.5 hours). In low season ferries only leave from Pak Bara, on the Thai mainland.
Koh Lipe Beaches
Koh Lipe is so small that it can easily be explored by foot all around the island. It has three main beaches: Pattaya Beach, Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach. (As Koh Lipe has no pier or jetty, long-tail boats will pick you up from the ferry and drop you at one of the island’s three main beaches.)
This beach is situated on the south coast of the island, in a beautiful bay, and has the most powdery white sand you will ever step foot on! This is the main beach as most of the resorts were first built here. Most people end up staying on Pattaya as this wide arc of pure white sand is home to the majority of the island’s accommodation, from plush resorts to budget bungalows. The main road runs from this beach, so if you want to be near all the cafes, restaurants and shops, Pattaya is the place to be. This facilities here mean that there is a constant traffic of long-tail boats and speedboats during the day.
At night, you can find seafood restaurants on the beach and some beach bars with fire-shows. However, in terms of nightlife, if it’s hardcore partying you’re after, Koh Lipe’s probably not the place for you. Things are much more laid back here – instead of UV paint and raving ’til dawn, the beach bars here play chill out music, while travellers lounge on big, comfy cushions, sipping cocktails by candlelight.
Sunrise Beach is a much quieter beach than Pattaya Beach. While all the island’s beaches are pretty amazing, in our opinion, Sunrise beach is definitely the most stunning! Powder-soft white sand stretches up the eastern side of the island and curves around onto the northern edge, lapped by turquoise waters. Traditional long-tail boats dot the shoreline, and from your towel, you’ve got views across to tiny rocky islands, and, to the north, neighbouring Koh Adang. It’s the kind of beach you see in holiday brochures for Thailand, but never seem to find in the more crowded resorts. During the months of November to May, there is a beautiful ocean breeze from Sunrise beach. Rent a kayak here for around 100 THB per hour or snorkel off the beach – for free!
Koh Lipe has a ‘Chao-ley’ (local sea gipsy) village on the side of Sunrise Beach. You can find local people living here in their zinc-roofed houses and also a small school here. (As this part of Thailand is so close to Malaysia, the local Chao-leys speak a type of Malay language influenced with Thai.)
A 15-minute walk from the main street leads you through a cluster of locals’ huts to laid-back Sunset beach. The quietest of the three beaches, Sunset has only a handful of beachside bungalows, along with a few bars to sip an ice-cold Chang in while you enjoy an amazing sunset. A small bay with a dive-shop, some resorts and restaurants, Sunset Beach is the least crowded of the three. Most tourists visit here to watch the, yep you guessed it, the sunset!
Getting from one beach to the next is easy on Koh Lipe, as each one is within walking distance of the next. There is a ‘Walking Street’ which connects Pattaya Beach to Sunrise Beach. It is here where you can find a wide variety of shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, and recently there is now a 7-11 and an ATM. In the past, there used to be no ATM, and even the current one is often out of order, so be sure you bring enough cash!
The ‘Walking Street’ is possibly the most touristy part of the island and is lined with cafes and restaurants serving cheap and tasty Thai fare, as well as Western favourites such as pizza and pasta. There are also numerous street stalls turning out the ubiquitous fruit shakes and banana pancakes. Clothes shops sell all your beachwear essentials, from sarongs and maxi dresses to boardies and Havaianas.
Beauty salons can get you bikini-ready with body scrubs, pedicures and waxing, and, if choosing which stretch of sand to lie on or whether you should have a Green or Red curry for dinner is leaving you a tad stressed, there are plenty of places to unwind with a massage.
Remember that prices on Koh Lipe tend to be higher compared to the mainland as everything has to be imported to the island by boat.
Where to stay on Koh Lipe
As the development of resorts has happened rapidly on the island, you can easily walk around to see modern boutique resorts next to the poorer local houses with locals rearing chickens and kids playing on the dirt roads. Unfortunately, the accommodation is not that cheap on this island. Generally, the island has more higher-end resorts, which tend to be not too backpacker friendly! However, if you hunt around you can still find some decent value for money places. We recommend:
- Gypsy Resort – Rooms from 650 THB for a bamboo bungalow to 750 THB for concrete ones.
- Varin Village – Next door to Gypsy Resort. Locally owned, Varin Village has rows of bamboo bungalows, fan rooms with mosquito nets and cold showers from 500 baht/night to 1,000 baht for beach-front rooms. This is your best bet if you have turned up during high season (Nov-May) without a hotel reservation.
- Have a tent? Find a place to pitch! There are no official locations to pitch tents but if you can convince a local villager that you need a place to sleep and can pay them some money to camp out at their backyard, by all means, do it! (Remember – you can also camp in the neighbouring island of Koh Adang for just 30 baht per person with your own tent.)
Things to do on Koh Lipe
Although Koh Lipe is much less developed than other islands, there’s still plenty to keep you occupied, on the surface and underwater…
Diving in Koh Lipe
If you find that lazing around under the sun and swimming in the clear blue waters is not enough for you, then be sure to explore the amazing variety of marine life and coral reefs. Scuba Diving is very popular on the island, with Forra Diving, Ocean Pro and Koh Lipe Diving having big boats and day trips to far away islands. Smaller dive shops on Sunrise beach such as Castaway Divers and Satun Divers operate with smaller groups via long-tail boats. (Most dive-sites are 10-30mins away via boat.)
Don’t want scuba tanks? Try freediving and discover a new way to explore the underwater world! Freediving is a sport which involves learning to hold your breath underwater. Check out Castaway Divers on Sunrise beach, which is the only place that offers AIDA certification Freediving courses.
At Sunrise and Sunset beaches, there is great snorkelling right off the beach, but to really appreciate the Marine Park, head out on one of the boat trips that leave from Pattaya. For around 500 baht you get to visit several different snorkelling spots, as well as stopping on some of the nearby islands to explore pristine beaches, lush forests and hidden waterfalls. Another option is to head out with the sea gipsies in one of their long tail boats. These locals know the waters like the back of their hands and can help you sort out a tailor-made itinerary.
Get a group together, find any local boat captain with a traditional long-tail boat and ask him for a good price to rent a boat to explore the surrounding islands of the marine park. Usually, you can rent an entire boat for a day snorkelling trip for around 1,500 THB. Island hop to Koh Rawi, Koh Hin Sorn, Koh Yang, Koh Adang, Koh Jabang, Koh Sawang, Monkey Island and more tiny paradise islands! Snorkel and see the amazing marine life, or just relax at one of the many pristine beaches while you enjoy a picnic lunch.
Watch the sunset
Best (of course!) from Sunset Beach – or take a walk down Sunrise Beach until you reach the corner facing west. A nice sandy spit turns up during low tide and the sunset views here are incredible! The wider beach here next to the resorts of Andaman Resort, Lipe Beach Resort and the high-end Mountain Resort means that you can find more space to lay down and more peace and quiet.
Do a Beach Clean!
How about doing your bit for the environment and becoming a Trashpacker? Every week, Trash Hero Koh Adang organises an island hopping trip sponsored by the resorts of Koh Lipe. You’ll get a free trip to Koh Adang or another nearby island (with free food and drinks) while helping to do your bit for the environment by picking up trash. It is definitely a fun way to meet new people and do something good whilst exploring the amazing natural surroundings. The current meet is Monday morning at the Walking street entrance on Pattaya Beach. See Trash Hero Thailand on Facebook for more info and to check dates.
Visit Koh Adang
Had too much of Koh Lipe? (I can’t believe it!) Head to the neighbouring uninhabited island of Koh Adang which is part of Koh Tarutao National Marine Park and has a visitor centre and a ranger station on the island. You can visit Koh Adang on a day trip to enjoy the long beach there which offers ample shade as it backs onto a beautiful forest. When you’re on Koh Adang, hike up Chado Cliff, an easy one hour hike up to the viewpoint to see the entire island of Koh Lipe.
There are also trails to some waterfalls which you can explore. If you fall in love with the serenity of Koh Adang and don’t want to return to Koh Lipe, there is a variety of accommodation operated by the Marine Park. There are bungalows from 600 baht to 1,000 baht, or you can rent a tent for just 225 THB, or even better – pitch your own for 30 baht per person! Proper toilets can be found here, plus a restaurant serving Thai food and drinks. You can get to Koh Adang using a taxi boat service from Sunrise beach next to the Chao-ley village for 100 baht per person per way.
Getting to Koh Lipe
From Malaysia to Koh Lipe
- The quickest way to get to Koh Lipe is via a speedboat from Langkawi, Malaysia. The speedboat only operates during the high season from November to May, usually having two trips per day, at 9.30am and 2.30pm. Check the Telaga ferry terminal website for more information. (One way trip costs around 120 Malaysian ringgit (about 1,200 Thai Baht) and can be purchased online.)
- If you enter by boat from Langkawi (Malaysia) to Koh Lipe (Thailand), you will pass through immigration at the harbour terminal directly in Langkawi, and collect your passport in Koh Lipe as there is an immigration office on the island itself.
- If you are travelling by land from Penang, Malaysia, it will take about 5-6 hours to reach the city of Hat Yai and then you will need to make your way to Pak Bara to catch the speedboat.
- Ferry/speedboat times from Pak Bara vary according to high or low season so the best thing to do is to get to the pier early. Similarly, to get out of Thailand, many people travel from Hat Yai to Penang for visa-runs.
From Thailand to Koh Lipe
- If you come through Thailand, the nearest airport is Hat Yai, which is easily accessible via a domestic flight from Bangkok or other parts of Thailand.
- From Hat Yai, take a 2-hour mini-van to the pier of Pak Bara, where you can get a speedboat or ferry (around 1.5 hours) to get to Koh Lipe. It is also possible to fly to Trang and make your way to Pak Bara Pier.
- Koh Lipe is also connected by speedboats coming from the north island of Koh Lanta. The journey takes three hours and stops en-route to other islands along the way such as Koh Mook and Koh Ngai.
Where to go next?
- Koh Tarutao: Some say Koh Lipe may be one of the few remaining paradise islands left in Thailand. However, if this is still too touristy for you, take a boat to one of the bigger islands of the marine park, Koh Tarutao. A daily morning boat costs about 600 baht one way from Koh Lipe to Koh Tarutao, where you can enjoy more peace and serenity away from the crowds, camping under the moonlight or basking in the sun!
- Other Thai Islands: Other islands accessible via boat from Koh Lipe are Koh Mook, Koh Ngai and Koh Kradan which you can visit en route to Koh Lanta, making your way up north towards Krabi or Phuket.
Written by: Angie Lim is an avid traveller, freelance scuba diving instructor, photographer and videographer. Born in the city of Singapore, she has explored and backpacked around Southeast Asia, and has also been based and living in Bangkok, Philippines and Indonesia. Her passion for the underwater world has kept her travelling not just within Asia but also to Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Now she is enjoying being based back in Asia, currently on the island of Koh Lipe, South of Thailand. You can find some of her work on her website QI Studios. (All photos in this article are copyrighted to Angie Lim.)