Koh Lipe: Paradise Found

April 22, 2007

There is a Thai island to suit every personality. Tao for the divers, Phangan for the hippies, Samui and Phi Phi and Phuket for those who cherish resorts, hamburgers, and all of the comforts of home, Lanta for families, Ngai for rich Thais, Sukorn and Bulone Leh for the backpackers with dreams of Robinson Crusoe.

And there’s Koh Lipe for me.

Here’s my criteria for a good beach: water as clear and blue as a swimming pool, a few inexpensive restaurants and shops, and a room without bugs or other critters that costs under $20. Lipe didn’t let me down.

Getting there was a trek. Being anal-retentive, I had it all planned out; a ferry cruised straight from Lanta to Lipe in only two hours. We’d simply hop on that and be there in a jiff. Except that on the Andaman coast, we were a blink away from monsoon season, when almost everything – ferries included – stops running. Unluckily, that ferry stopped service on April 15; we planned to travel on April 17. Drat. So, we booked a minibus from Lanta to Trang to Pak Bara, a four-hour zip through Thailand’s green south, and a three-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe. The whole trip cost about $30 per person.

Pulling up to Lipe’s waters, a longtail boat came to meet our ferry. Lipe hasn’t reached the level of development of Phi Phi or Lanta, and has yet to build a pier. Putt-putting over the surface of the water, I could see giant coral formations only a yard or so under us. Even half a football field’s distance from the shore, the water was only shoulder deep. The next day, at Pattaya and Sunlight Beaches, we were to discover that looks did not deceive and that it was as calm and clear as the swimming pool on my patio (and with less bugs floating in it, too.) We rented snorkeling gear and swam out three minutes from the shore, where tropical fish darted amongst the clusters of rock and coral.

We stayed at Pooh’s Bungalows, which both Lonely Planet and Travelfish derided for its less-than-ideal location inland. Staff at both guides must be supremely lazy, since it was a three-minute stroll to Sunlight beach and a five-minute one to Pattaya. After staying in ratty bamboo bungalows for two weeks, I appreciated the solid, concrete room and creative decorative touches at Pooh’s. They also included breakfast, internet time, and free water refills in the room rate, making it as affordable as some of the glorified shacks that sat on the beachfront (where the only thing included with the room were scorpions in the bathroom, or so we heard.)

While there are bars on Lipe, since it was nearly low season, the vibe was very laidback. Banana Restaurant and Bakery, between Pooh’s and Pattaya beach, packed in a solid crowd with their nightly movie. Pooh’s featured live music performances every night we were there. Other than that, we found nightly entertainment in the sky. In my twenty-five years on this earth, I have never seen so many stars. I actually saw the Milky Way. People who have lived in the country will scoff at my ignorant, city-slicker awe, but I thought it was pretty cool.

For eats, we liked the cheapy Thai places close to Pooh’s, the seaside barbeques at the end of Pattaya beach, and the delicious Italian food at Bodhaya Resort. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to eat there, but the Flour Power Bakery on Sunset Beach turned out some delicious-sounding treats like pie, brownies, and creative breads (shrimp baguette, anyone?) On a snorkeling trip, we had fabulous green curry made by the restaurant at the Forra Dive Center on Sunlight; according to the staff, the Massaman curry is even better.

dsc02692.jpgAfter a series of over-touristed beaches, Lipe was a refreshing change and definitely deserves the title of My Favorite Thai Island. I’ve heard that the Perentians in Malaysia boast beautiful beaches and sea-life as well, so the award for My Favorite Southeast Asian Island is still too close to call. Stay tuned for the verdict, coming in a few weeks.

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2 Responses to “Koh Lipe: Paradise Found”

  1. Tone said

    I visited Ko Lipe in 2005, as found it was one of the best places i sw on my 9 month voyage around he world. How amazing is the coral formations – and did the fish come to eat out your hand?

  2. sailorjes said

    I imagine that in 2005 the island was probably even more idyllic.

    The coral just off-shore wasn’t all that spectacular, but we took a snorkeling trip to a few of the nearby islands and it was beautiful. No fish eating out of our hands, though. ;)

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