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Our two-week trip to Thailand and the Philippines was off to an excellent start after a relaxing stay on the island of Koh Lanta. But by Day #4, we were excited to head south to our next Thai island, Koh Lipe!
Located in Satun province, Koh Lipe is Thailand’s southernmost island and often referred to as “the Maldives of Thailand.” I’ve been fortunate enough to see a dozen or so Thai islands and for my money, Koh Lipe just might be the most beautiful. Like Koh Lanta, Lipe was originally settled by Sea Gypsies who traveled the islands searching for the best fishing spots. Some remain to this day on the island’s eastern shores.
As Thailand’s tourism industry booms at record levels, Koh Lipe (like Koh Lanta) still feels relatively undiscovered. Perhaps because it’s a little harder to get to than Thailand’s mega-resort areas like Phuket, Krabi and Hua Hin.
It was a tiny blurb in Travel & Leisure magazine a few years ago that originally put Koh Lipe on my radar. But on previous trips to Thailand I had always opted for an island that was easier to reach. There’s no airport on Koh Lipe, so no matter how you get there it involves a boat. But as I would soon discover, regardless of your transportation choice, this tiny island is well worth the effort.
How to get to Koh Lipe
From mid-November to late April you can reach Koh Lipe in a variety of ways – by speedboat and/or ferry from Koh Lanta, Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Hat Yai, Pak Bara and Langkawi, Malaysia. Langkawi is actually the closest at just an hour away but visitors arriving from Malaysia must clear immigration and customs upon arrival. In the low season months, a speedboat from Pak Bara is the only option.
After reading a number of the reviews about the ferry from Koh Lanta versus a speedboat, we elected to go with the Bundhaya Speedboat service which seemed to have the best reviews. Many reviews mentioned either option often takes longer than scheduled due to the number of stops or rough weather but we had a pretty smooth ride (although I wouldn’t say pleasant) and arrived at Koh Lipe’s floating pier just over 3 hours after departing Koh Lanta.
The pier is just offshore of Pattaya Beach, where our hotel was located. Thanks to the pictures I’d seen, I was able to spot the hotel easily from the pier. Once we paid the national park fee at a table on the pier, a representative from our hotel ushered us into a longtail boat that delivered us right to the beach in front of the hotel. Not a bad way to arrive!
For our 3-night stay I’d chosen the AKIRA Lipe Resort on Pattaya Beach. Opened in late 2014, the rooms were spacious and modern, the pool was spectacular and the location was absolutely perfect. We settled into our room, shook off the 3-hour speedboat ride and headed out to explore.
What to do on Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is a very small island and walking is the easiest way to get around. In fact, walking around the entire island takes only about an hour. The island has 3 main beaches, all with pearly white sand and clear turquoise waters. The busiest and perhaps most beautiful is Pattaya Beach, where many of the hotels (including ours) are located.
Sunrise Beach spans the eastern side of the island from south to north and is less populated by hotels. Sunset Beach has a laid-back vibe and limited accommodation but the population swells each evening as the sun begins its descent and visitors from around the island walk over to enjoy the nightly show.
The island boasts a wide variety of activities including island hopping in the nearby Tarutao National Park and countless diving and snorkeling options. But before deciding on any activities, we wanted to get the lay of the land.
From our hotel we walked a hundred yards or so down the beach and found ourselves at the entrance to Koh Lipe’s Walking Street. Lined with restaurants, bars and shops, Walking Street stretches across the middle of the island connecting Pattaya Beach and (almost to) Sunrise Beach.
Walking Street has everything you need from tour operators and massage places to a 7-11 and an ATM. We wandered in and out of a few shops before continuing on to Sunrise Beach. It was a beautiful day but with temperatures well into the 90’s we’d had enough walking in the sun by mid-afternoon. So, we headed back to the serenity of the hotel’s refreshing beachfront pool for the remainder of the day.
The sunset experience on Koh Lipe
That evening, we got out our trusty island map and made our way over to Sunset Beach to end the day in our favorite way…with a spectacular sunset. The walk took about 20 minutes and we quickly learned that just because it looks like a road on the map, doesn’t mean it’s actually a road. More often than not it’s a path or a trail or a cut-thru in a local neighborhood.
But eventually we found what we were looking for, and even better, we found the 100-baht mojito guy! This genius local entrepreneur sets up a folding table each night and mixes delicious mojitos from 5pm – 7pm for only 100 baht (about $2.80US). He also lays out a dozen or so beach mats complete with seat cushions and small tables for his mojito drinkers to comfortably enjoy the show. What a fabulous idea on a beach with limited facilities. I hope this guy is making a killing.
Of course, we grabbed ourselves a couple of mojitos and found our own beach mat to settle in for sunset. It was absolutely worth the wait and mojito sunsets would become our nightly routine during our stay on Koh Lipe. And by the next day we’d even found a short cut to get us from hotel to mojitos in less than 15 minutes.
Exploring Koh Lipe
The next morning, Dave elected to sleep in a bit, but I wanted to take advantage of the less oppressive, cooler morning air to see more of Sunrise Beach and visit Sunset Beach in the light of day.
I’d also seen pictures of a beautiful beach that looked like a curved sandbar reaching out into the sea and I was determined to find it. From the map, it appeared to be at the northern end of Sunrise Beach so that’s where I started.
I found the beach pretty easily but it was technically part of a private beach area for the Mountain Lipe Resort. It was easy to access on the ground level from Sunrise Beach, but to get the best shots from above I had to wander up into the resort’s breakfast area (so the least I could do was mention them here).
It actually looked like a beautiful resort with bungalows scaling up the side of mountain and incredible views out to the sea and outer islands. Next time we come back I might look into staying at this one. This part of the island must be why they call it the “Maldives of Thailand” because this particular beach definitely gave me a Maldives vibe.
From there, I walked back over to Sunset Beach and discovered that much more of the beach area was accessible now during the morning low tide and I was able to walk quite a bit further down the beach than we’d been able to the night before. Sunset Beach is really stunning with giant granite boulders that reminded me a lot of beaches I’d visited in the Seychelles.
By then Dave was up and we met back at the hotel for breakfast and to decide what to do with the rest of our day. We considered doing some island-hopping during our stay but ultimately couldn’t tear ourselves away from the beauty of Koh Lipe itself. We spent that day and the next relaxing by the sea, enjoying a massage (or three) and wandering from one stunning beach to another. Paradise, indeed.
It was an amazing few days and we both fell in love with Koh Lipe. There’s no doubt we’ll be back. But alas, it was soon time to move on yet again, this time to the Philippines. Leaving the island, we took a different route back to Bangkok using the airport at Hat Yai.
We again took advantage of Air Asia’s Island Transfer service and took the ferry from Lipe to Pak Bara (90 minutes) and then a shuttle to the airport in Hat Yai (another 90 minutes). Again, the experience was pretty seamless and I’d say this route is probably the easiest way to reach the island for future trips.
But for now, we’re off for a night of traveling – back to Bangkok, overnight to Manila and then a morning charter flight to the island of Palawan. Next stop, El Nido!