Updated November 30th, 2017.
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!
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.
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. 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.
Koh Lipe can be explored by foot all around the island. It has three main beaches: Pattaya Beach, Sunrise Beach and Sunset Bbeach.
- Pattaya Beach: This beach is situated 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. This also means that there is a constant traffic of long-tail boats and speedboats. At night, you can find seafood restaurants on the beach and some beach bars with fire-shows.
- Sunrise Beach: This is a much quieter beach than Pattaya Beach. During the months of November to May, there is a beautiful ocean breeze from Sunrise beach.
- Sunset Beach: 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 sunset!
It is easy to get around the small island of Koh Lipe. 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 pas, 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 but the only place where you can find some cheap meals for about 100 baht per dish. Prices on Koh Lipe tend to be higher compared to the mainland as everything has to be imported to the island by boat.
Things to do on Koh Lipe:
Diving: 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.
The colourful underwater world of Koh Lipe is waiting for you to explore…
Freediving: Don’t want scuba tanks? Try free diving 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.
Ultimate freedom – diving without tank in Koh Lipe!
Island hopping: Get a group together, find any local 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 about 1,500 baht. Island hop to Koh Rawi, Koh Hin Sorn, Koh Yang, Koh Adang, Koh Jabang, Koh Sawang, Monkey Island and more. Snorkel and see the amazing marine life, or just relax at one of the many pristine beaches while you enjoy a picnic lunch.
From perfect beach to perfect beach via your own personal longtail boat.
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!
Watching the sunset on the aptly named ‘sunset beach’
Some cheap things you can do yourself: Rent a kayak for around 100 baht per hour, or snorkel off the beach – for free! Explore the island by foot, and find more off the beaten track secret locations especially in the jungle area towards Sunset Beach.
How about doing your bit for the environment? Every Monday, 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. Where to meet? Monday morning at the Walking street entrance on Pattaya beach.
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.
Koh Adang Trekking: Fancy some trekking? Hike up the 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.
Tents accommodation at Koh Adang for just 225 baht per night!
Where to stay?
Unfortunately, accommodation is not 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. Recommended places to stay on Sunrise Beach:
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.
Tip: Try to explore places around Sunset Beach as more resorts are sprouting up around the island so you may be able to get a good deal for something a bit more off the beaten track!
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.)
Getting 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.
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 the 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 enroute 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.