Koh Lipe: Thailand’s secret island?

Koh Lipe: Thailand’s secret island? Not anymore… but don’t let that stop you! If you’re travelling to the south of Thailand it’s still well worth a visit.

When we started planning our trip to Thailand we had no idea where we wanted to go. Bangkok, obviously, but apart from that we had nothing…. nada… zilch. A friend who’d visited Thailand recently recommended Koh Lanta as the unmissable place to go, so that was set, but we had 2 weeks to fill with adventures and weren’t keen on all the really touristy places like Koh Samui et al. Luckily, we had our secret weapon in the form of our friend’s Thai girlfriend (who accompanied us on the trip) “We HAVE to go to Koh Lipe!!” And that was that.

Arriving via passenger ferry and feeling queasy from all the rocking, we were dropped on a wooden landing platform. (Not ideal when you might chunder at any moment!) After clambering aboard a traditional long tail boat,  most inelegantly, and beginning our short journey to Pattaya beach… I felt better, instantly. What a view! Wow! The-most-beautiful-place-I-have-ever-seen-in-my-life-ever. EVER, EVER, EVER. The water is so blue it almost looks fake and you can’t help grinning like a Cheshire cat all the way to the shore…

Koh Lipe

Sunrise beach, Koh Lipe

We stayed at the The Reef Hotel: clean, comfortable and excellent value. It’s situated 3 minutes from “Walking Street” which hosts the majority of the island’s bars, shops and restaurants and around 10 mins from both Sunrise and Pattaya beaches. The Danish (joint) owner, Mikkel, was extremely friendly and made us feel at home straight away. He recommended some excellent places to us including the OMG! bar and the Sunrise Restaurant (more on those later.)

The island itself is very small: around 3.5km by 2.5km which means it’s easy to walk everywhere. Tourism is on the up though and there are lots of mopeds whizzing around – something we weren’t expecting at all – we were told the island had 3 mopeds and no cars!! As a result of the tourism boom there’s building work almost everywhere you look. In fact, on the day we left a 7-Eleven opened in Walking Street, a sad day for the island I’m sure.

Entrance to Walking Street, Lipe's busiest crossing ;-)

Entrance to Walking Street, Lipe’s busiest crossing 😉

The absolute highlight of the trip was a private boating tour around the surrounding islands of Koh Anang, Koh Jabang, Hinngam, Koh Rawi and Koh Yang to sightsee and snorkel. We organised this via the hotel and as there were 4 of us it was just a few pounds more to rent a private boat and captain than to go on an arranged group tour. With food, drinks and snorkelling gear included, it cost less than £14 per person!! With three snorkelling opportunities and two beautiful islands to explore on foot, it was the perfect way to spend the day. Absolutely amazing trip and unbelievably cheap!!

Our chariot for the day! (Private boat tour from Koh Lipe.)

Our chariot for the day! (Private boat tour from Koh Lipe.)

If you’re on a really tight budget, an even cheaper option is to snorkel directly at the beach which we did twice during our visit (good practice!) We hired the equipment from a shop in Walking Street for 50 baht (£1) for the day (plus a 1,000 baht deposit) and then you just jump in the sea and explore! You’ll see small fish immediately as you enter the water and you only have to go out a few metres to reach the corals – map of snorkelling sites (look for the fish symbol!)  We snorkelled at both Sunrise and Pattaya beaches; at Sunrise beach, some particularly cocky white fish thought they would stop right in front of me, look me dead in the eye and then swim full-speed towards my face! I know it’s only a fish… but I’m scared of… well, everything! I later found out from Mikkel that this is very common and it’s more than likely just some female fish who have laid eggs and are trying to warn you off. Well, it worked!! I lasted about 10 minutes!!

Elderly couple snorkelling off Sunrise beach, Koh Lipe

Very cute elderly couple snorkelling off Sunrise beach, Koh Lipe

Other things not-to-be missed on Koh Lipe are:

  • OMG! Bar – The owner, “O” is an extremely friendly Thai guy. You’ll recognise him immediately from the long hair, no shirt and tribal looking tattoos. Rumour has it he is always topless and only wears a shirt when he has to leave the island. O’s brother owns the famous Pooh’s Bar the island’s first bar, opened in 2001. OMG!’s bar staff Tina and Adam (no doubt he’ll be wearing his signature sweatband), a young couple from Warrington, are living the dream on Koh Lipe. They’ll be working from November 2013 until March 2014 before they’re off on their travels again, so do pop in and say hello! The cocktails and service are excellent, as is the food (a Thai family of 4 run the kitchen) and the toilets are some of the best on the island! Trust me… that’s a big deal on Lipe! In addition to all that, they have a pool table (with a pristine cloth… hard to come by in Thailand by all accounts!), table football, a chill out area and a big screen for sports and “movie night”. Great bar, great people – don’t miss it!
OMG! Bar

OMG! Bar, Koh Lipe

  • Sunrise Beach Restaurant – recommended by Mikkel, it didn’t disappoint. Excellent Thai food, great value. The best fried chicken I have ever tasted… so good we ordered another portion at the end of the meal!
  • Zanom Sunrise Restaurant (& Resort) –  We  didn’t stay here but we ate here twice. Not as cheap as the above, BUT they have a seafood BBQ. Biggest prawns we’d ever seen. Job done.
  • Walking Street – considering it’s name, there are a suspiciously  high number of mopeds driving around! Supposedly they’re only allowed to drive there during certain (off-peak) times of the day, but we didn’t see this being adhered to, let alone enforced. The locals are so laid-back they’re horizontal! Nevertheless, it’s the place to be – filled with bars, restaurants and shops. Too many to name!! Plenty of seafood BBQs – some even have a whole swordfish!
Swordfish at a seafood BBQ Restaurant, Walking Street, Koh Lipe

Swordfish at a seafood BBQ Restaurant, Walking Street, Koh Lipe

  • Shopping – even though Koh Lipe is a tiny island, there are plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping at excellent prices. We bought loads of t-shirts, a few fridge magnets, some beautiful notebooks and fans for ourselves and for loved ones back home. We were told Lipe was not the place to shop, but clearly we were misled!

Best avoided:

  • Reggae bar – we had high expectations, but the music they were playing wasn’t reggae and the cocktails were disappointing. The toilet was the 2nd worse I experienced on the whole trip. No lock, no flush, no sink, no mirror, no toilet paper. Basically a hole in the ground.

Koh Lipe is a stunningly beautiful island… you’ll feel as if you’re in a dream! Make sure you go snorkelling and take plenty of memory cards for your camera, you’ll need them! And don’t listen to anyone who says a few days is enough on Lipe… you can easily fill a week (or more!) so stay as long as you can! Ps – Lucky you!!

Hayley x

Goodbye, Koh Lipe! It's been a pleasure!

Goodbye, Koh Lipe! It’s been a pleasure!

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