One Small Lipe for Mankind

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Having seen pictures of Koh Lipe, we could not wait to get there and after a lot of hunting we managed to find a fairly cheap bamboo hut on Pattaya Beach. Koh Lipe in the pictures looks like beach paradise, white sand, clear seas and the picture postcard view of longtails with craggy limestone cliffs poking out of the sea.  Having now been and seen it for myself I can confirm that there is no photoshop required here, it really is just naturally beach paradise.

As we arrived in Lipe from Malaysia we had to go through customs to be stamped back into Thailand.  This is quite possibly one of the most relaxing border crossings of all time.  On the speedboat we had to hand over our passports and landing cards and were then directed to a beach bar to sit and wait.  So we sat and waited with a cool beer watching the sea and the world go by and 20 minutes later our passports were delivered back with a Thai entry stamp.  Now that is what I call service.

As with most places in Thailand the second word is out the development begins and the package tourists arrive in their droves changing the beach paradise into package tourist heaven and I have a feeling that Lipe is going to change beyond recognition in the not too distant future.  People we spoke to already said that it was unrecognisable from 2 years ago.

Koh Lipe does have a bit of a dark background, originally it was home to the Chow Lair (Sea Gypies) who lived in relative peace on the beach fishing, now the land has been bought from them.  One developer who made his money from the dubious and lucrative enterprise of collecting swifts nests to sell for Birds Nest Soup was the first to approach the Sea Gypsies and many feel that they were not protected as they did not have land rights.  Some retained their land and they are now launching their own successful businesses, however the majority of the Sea Gypsies now live in an inland cordoned off area over Sunrise beach.  It is a bitter sweet situation with the tourism bringing jobs and wealth and infrastructure to the island, but sadly not everyone is  enjoying the prosperity.

We had a proper bamboo hut here and by proper, I mean full of holes and creatures.  We did thankfully have a mosquito net which was quite a saviour until I tucked it in one night with a swarm of ants under my pillow and cockroach the size of an iphone at the foot of the bed. I keep telling myself it is all part of the fun, but I am not convincing myself.

Don't get me wrong, we LOVED Koh Lipe but it was nothing like we expected.  I anticipated a sleepy little beach resort with a few bungalows and bars and restaurants.  What I got was a festival like experience on the beach.  Pattaya Beach has it all, huge resort hotels full of package tourists and basic bamboo huts, it has restaurants, bars, and the obligatory nightly fire shows.  Off Pattaya beach you have walking Street, this is pedestrianized (save for the odd motorbike taxi) and is lined with Dive shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, shops ands mini marts.  It has a certain buzz of life to it.  Given that everything is imported the prices in Lipe are definitely higher than elsewhere in Thailand but you do get good value for money, we even found real Chedder Cheese in the Elephant Bookshop Café and proper home cut chips in OMG bar, yum.

The nice thing about Lipe is that you can easily walk all the way around it, there are three beaches.  Pattaya, Sunrise and Sunset.  Pattaya is the party beach and the centre of all the action, Sunrise and Sunset are fairly self-explanatory not much else happens there except for the sun going up and down and the sand is not as white and perfect as Pattaya.  The one problem with Pattaya is that is the main arrival and departure point for all the boats onto the island so there are only small safe swim zones, which do have the odd longtails moored in them??!!  However the snorkel tours from Koh Lipe are cheap and amazing and you will see ten times more than you would on the beach. 

When you arrive on Lipe you get transferred onto a floating pontoon and then you pay £1 for a longtail ride to the beach so you will be getting off the boat into knee high water. We had great fun watching people arrive with their best travel outfits being unloaded into the sea with their wheelie cases which no matter how hard you try do not wheel through sand!  Great comedy value people watching.

When we finally managed to drag ourselves from our hammocks and the white sand beach we went on a snorkel tour to 5 small islands near Lipe.  Koh Hin Sorn, Koh Lugoi, Koh Dong, Koh Pung and Koh Bulu.  The tour was by longtail and 8 of us were bundled off with our driver who apparently spoke good English.  I say apparently as he didn’t speak for the whole tour so we generally just guessed what was happening.  Luckily we had a Thai on the tour with us who did speak perfect English and we managed to get by pretty well.  The crossing from Koh Lipe was pretty bumpy and the first snorkel location was so rough we opted not to even get off of the boat.  The longtail was bouncing about 4 feet out of the water and we figured even if we got out we might not make it back in, thankfully the next few stops were much calmer and more enjoyable.

The snorkelling was just amazing on this tour, clear seas with perfect visibility, huge colourful fish every which way you looked and even some healthy colourful soft coral.  One of the snorkel stops was at a huge rock in the sea so we jumped in and started to snorkel around the rock, this was so easy as the current took you through and there were no shortage of amazing fish to see.  After a lovely snorkel we got to the back of the rock and decided to head back to the boat.  Well this is where it all went a bit wrong. The current was having none of it and despite our best efforts at swimming against the current we were slowly but surely going further from the boat. Thankfully we could see our longtail and managed to flag him over to come and rescue us.  Thankfully we also had our Thai/English speaker with us who made us feel a bit better as the longtail driver had meant to tell us not to go around the rock because of the current.  That would have been useful to have known 20 minutes earlier!

Having survived big waves, jelly fish, strong currents and beach monkeys who definitely wanted our lunch it was time to set sail back to Lipe.  We were seemingly going against the waves as just a few minutes into the 1 hour crossing we had waves crashing over us soaking us through.  It was novel at first but as time ticked on and we had salt burning our eyes we decided that the best solution was to wear our snorkels and masks on the boat.  My luck was definitely out as I somehow managed to get stung by a little jellyfish that was flung onto my wrist in a big wave.  Finally Lipe was back in sight and the waves stopped.  It was a bit like being in an episode of deadliest catch with everyone sighing a breath of relief.  With shrivelled fingers and salt in every orifice we were finally back on dry land.

Our time in Lipe went way too fast, it was time for the next speedboat to Koh Mook.  Hopefully this island is a little less developed and more natural……
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