Koh Lipe Thailand - one of the most beautiful islands at the Tarutao Marine Park and currently one of the most sought after places for island lovers. This small island sits at the Southern most part of the marine park and the name Koh Lipe (pronounced Lee Pay) comes from the local sea gypsy name which means Paper Island. Koh Lipe is also known as the Maldives of Thailand as the waters here are amazingly crystal clear while the unspoiled beaches are donned with pure white sand. The paradise is also known by many other spellings such as Koh Lipeh, Ko Lipey, Ko Leepay and Ko Lipe.
Speed boat ferries arriving on the beach
Koh Lipe is also easily accessible as there are various ways from Phuket, Ko Lanta, Pak Barra and also Langkawi Island in Malaysia. I did an article on this and you can find out more information about Getting To Koh Lipe. There are no airports so the only way here is via the modern speed boat ferries. Journeys are estimated at about 1-2 hours depending on which point you choose.As for my experience, I have visited Koh Lipe during the high season via Langkawi and also during the low season via Pak Barra jetty in Satun which is in Southern Thailand. After you arrive at the immigration office for your passport chop and want to take a longtail boat taxi to your resort at the other beaches, they charge a fee of 40-50 Baht per person.
This shot was taken in May 2010, off season on the island
Being around for many years, this paradise island was originally settled by a band of sea gypsies from Malaysia, known as the 'Chao Lei' people and was once a secret little backpacker haven with only budget styled beach chalets while backpackers would bring wares to sell on the walking street and around the island. Some of the back packers would even camp out on the beaches back then.
Only until about 4-5 years ago, some businessmen saw the opportunity and started investing here opening up larger styled resorts and businesses. At the current moment, the island operates on two seasons, Low Season from May till September and High Season from October till April. You will find that during the rainy season, about 60% of the island comes to a standstill where prices are slashed to about 50-60% off peak rates.
Koh Lipe in January 2010, peak season and almost same angle as above
Depending on the type of island lover you are, you might want to check the seasons carefully before visiting this beautiful island. During the peak season, Ko Lipe is pretty much filled with all walks of life from all over the world. Resorts and Chalets are mostly fully booked while every business will be in full operation. Families, back packers and even couples are seen during this season. While the off season caters to more budget travelers or those who did not know about the seasons. Expect some rain while most of the businesses here are shut. The bonus is that you have almost the entire island to yourself.
Koh Lipe is divided into four main beaches - Pattaya Beach, which is the main beach where most of the hotels and resorts are located, Sunrise Beach where more budget accommodations are found and a few upscale lodgings and Sunset Beach where it caters to the backpackers and divers. A fourth stand alone beach called Karma Beach is part of the Mountain Resort which sits on the North most part of the island facing the beautiful Koh Adang.
Mats set up for evening lounging along Pattaya Beach
Sunrise Beach where cheaper lodging is found
Families are usually booked at Pattaya Beach and Mountain Resort while Couples, Divers and Backpackers tend to favor Sunrise and Sunset Beach. Depending on your likes and taste, I personally found all the beaches exceptionally beautiful with their white sands and turquoise-blue waters. It is just the accommodation that matters to the would be visitor. Personally, I prefer a middle range resort or chalet. For the luxury travelers, there are only 2 resorts that are 4-5 stars in Koh Lipe, the Sita Beach Resort and Bundhaya Resort.
View of the Andaman Sea from Pattaya Beach
Island transportation, one of the very few from the resorts
The beauty about Koh Lipe is that it is so small, there are no vehicles there. Only motor bikes with side carriages which are mostly used by the locals or resorts to ferry goods and luggage. At times, some of the resorts will ferry the guests to the boat as it can be a 10 minute walk there. Walking is common here as a walk from Pattaya Beach to Sunset Beach would take you a good 20-30 minutes.
View of Pattaya Beach from Bundhaya Resort
Lipe Walking Street, village entrance
The main attraction besides the beautiful views and scenery is the Ko Lipe Walking Street located at Pattaya Beach that stretches inwards the island. It is here that you get all the restaurants, shops, massage centers and so on. The walking street comes alive at night with food, music, shopping and partying. No actual proper bars or clubs but you get the local island style settings. Stretching about one kilometer long, there are countless places for you to spend your evenings.
A concrete path was recently created but took the charm away so the locals decided to fill the entire walkway with sand from the beach. Watch out for the locals with motorbikes that move up and down here.they have a pretty good variety of food available here too. From local Thai seafood, Chinese, Indian and Western cuisines are spread out throughout the street and various parts of the island.
Various signs on a tree
When you walk around the island, you will see lots of signs and advertisements plastered on trees showing you where each and every of the various dive shops, resorts or restaurants are located. With this, it is pretty hard to get lost on Koh Lipe. As mentioned, walking around the island will only take you less than two hours if you want to explore the entire place.
My breakfast view at Bundhaya Resort
When I recently visited in June 2010, I stayed at the Bundhaya Resort with the invitation of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and found Koh Lipe absolutely stunning considering that I had just visited the island in January for a diving trip. There were literally no crowds, empty beaches and stunning scenery every day. It felt almost like paradise and I have sworn to make another visit again next year for more diving here. For the record, there are about 5-6 dive centers where you can take your PADI Diving Certificate at Koh Lipe. There are also about 16 known dive spots around the 4 main islands which are Koh Lipe, Koh Adang, Koh Rawi and Ko Dong.
Apart from this, you have the option to go snorkeling or island hopping to the many beautiful islands around the Tarutao National Park. For camping enthusiast, you can do so at Ko Rawi and Ko Adang but you need to get permission from the ranger station at each island. There is also a trek and a waterfall at Ko Adang Island.
Mountain Resort in Koh Lipe - A private resort and beach
Some of the thatched hut units from as low as US$12 a night
A sea gypsy village
While I was here, I took the time to explore the various Sea Gypsy Villages around Koh Lipe. There are a total of 6 villages where you can easily walk around and the local Chow Lays are pretty much friendly people. A number of the locals run small grocery shops from the homes and welcome anyone for business. A Buddhist Temple (Hantalay Temple) is also located near the main island power generator and if you want to witness the morning alms giving, you can catch the monks at about 7-8am along the Lipe Walking Street.
Longtail boats parked outside Sunrise Beach
Some of the cheaper chalets seen at Varin 2
Beautiful white sand beach at Sunrise Beach
Castaway Resort in Ko Lipe with Unique double storey chalets
Sunrise taken at Sunrise Beach
Map of Koh Lipe showing the resorts and places
Things to take note before visiting Koh Lipe Thailand
There are no ATMS there(Update 22 Sept 2014: There is an ATM available now)
- There is a 7-11 at the Walking Street. Update 22 Sept 2014
- The nearest ATM Machines are in Pak Barra jetty or Langkawi jetty
- Some businesses on Lipe will do Credit Card Advances at 5%-8% commission
- Foreign Currency can be changed at most resorts but at terrible rates
- There is only one Immigration Hut located at the end of Pattaya Beach next to Bundhaya Resort
- A local Police Station is also available behind the Immigration Office
- The only way in and out of Koh Lipe is via Ferry or Speedboat
- There are no taxis or cars on the islands
- Do not participate in Fishing Trips as it is illegal
- There is only one small clinic at the local Chow Lay village called Topoe
- A helicopter landing area is there for major emergencies
- Visa on arrival over land or sea is only 14 days for foreigners (unconfirmed)
- Alternatively, you can do a visa run to Langkawi, Malaysia and back within a day
- There is a small local church available in the Chow Ley village
- Ko Lipe Walking Street is 80% closed during off season
- Room/chalet rates start anywhere from US$12 right up till US$250 a night
- Boat timings are crucial to and from Lipe. Check the low and high season timings
- From May until November Koh Lipe can only be reached from Pak Barra jetty
- Read about Getting To Koh Lipe
If you have not visited this magnificent island, I would recommend you do it soon before this place turns into a major tourist attraction. I have a friend who has been visiting this island every year for Christmas and New Year for the last 12 years and he has seen the changes which he feels should not have taken place. From his point of view, the island was a really beautiful hidden gem of the Andaman Sea back in the day. For those who enjoy the islands and beaches along Southern Thailand, do make a stop over at Koh Lipe Thailand.