Warning. This blog post is full of beautiful photos, First World Problems and whinging.
When booking our trip to Thailand, we were determined to have at least one island on our itinerary which offered the paradise sunsets, powder-soft white sands and crystal-clear waters which you see on every Thailand Pinterest board.
This is exactly the role that Lipe was put on our itinerary to fulfill.
While we were here we discovered that the ‘unspoilt paradise’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Let me start from the very beginning, so you can really understand what I mean.
After deciding to steer clear of the most touristy areas which are associated with this aspect of Thailand (Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan), we were looking for a less populous island which was still relatively undiscovered. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best move, and for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Koh Lipe is definitely on the radar of major tourist destinations now. It’s nowhere near as busy and bustling as Koh Phi Phi, but it’s growing. The beaches still have that tranquil feel to them to a certain extent, roads are still miniature (essentially just dirt tracks for the most part) with hardly any cars or vans in sight, and getting here is pretty pricey since not many people add it to their list, but go a little further inland and you’ll realise the amount of building work going on, and the number of new buildings which have obviously sprung up in the last year.
For the economic future of the island, I don’t think this is a bad thing.
We had a mini drama with our first hotel booking, and decided to move on to another. The one we found was completely untraceable online (of course we tried to look it up for reviews before we made a booking, especially since I’d not seen a trace of it when I was doing my initial research from home), and it turns out that the reason for this was that it only opened in December 2014. The island is expanding its roster of hotels, which gets my approval since the current lineup of accommodation goes from slumming it to high end luxury with not much in-between.
Of course it’s a shame to see yet another Thai island succumb to the tourism industry, but as a place to visit, I’m not sure it would spoil it. The threshold of being ‘unspoilt’ has, in my opinion, already been crossed.
We got to the island through speedboat from Koh Lanta, which was a good three hour journey, and was pretty pricey at 1,800 Baht each (around £30). We were tempted to opt for the cheaper ferry option, which apparently takes closer to 5 or 6 hours, but the thought of another ferry ride (let alone one that takes up the best part of a day’s time!), and since you could pay by card, we decided to splash out on a more comfortable and speedy journey. A good move in my opinion!
The views from the boat are stunning, and it felt more like a little tour of the south islands than an arduous journey. Sure, after about 2 hours I was getting a bit bored of travelling and you’re teased every time you arrived at one of the islands en route and find out you’re not quite there yet… but when you look at a map and see just how far Lipe is from Koh Lanta, I probably should have known better. You’re just a hop, skip and jump away from Malaysia, really.
We were very lucky on the day we traveled, the sun was shining and the seas were fairly calm, and the boat wasn’t completely full which was nice. The breeze is also wonderful when the heat is in the mid 30s Celsius!
Visiting the different islands (if you can even call it visiting considering that you don’t even set foot on the beach or jetty), was actually really insightful and seeing the different islands along the way made we wish that we could have made a stop at each of them. Koh Muk in particular looked like a great potential option – one for next time!
When we finally arrived at Koh Lipe we were dropped off at Pattaya Beach, the most buzzing of all of Lipe’s beaches. The shore is lined with a high street of restaurants, and even leads directly onto ‘Walking Street’ market (which for the record was one of the most quaint and satisfying little markets we visited in Thailand).
We were bowled over by this amazing setting, but after a fairly long journey and with all of our luggage we couldn’t hang about and wanted to check into our hotel and settle in. Many hotels offer a pickup service from the beach, so double check to see if this is available with yours. Ours didn’t offer this service, and since the hotel was on the other side of the island, we made a beeline for the nearest Tuktuk to take us to our hotel. It was around 100 Baht (about £2).
The route to Pitiusas Resort is a fairly treacherous one on a Tuktuk, and the gravel paths which don’t really count as roads feel practically mountainous when you’re in what can only be described as a moped with a side car cage attached. I genuinely thought I was going to die whenever we had to made the journey, but that’s another story!
Our hotel was another fairly basic room in a ‘bungalow’ – so basically little more than a wooden shack. If you’re not too keen on bugs or mozzies then this definitely isn’t the place for you; we saw everything from cockroaches to mosquitoes in our room and thanked our lucky stars for our bed net which (just about!) kept the creepy crawlies out.
I’m aware I probably sound like a complete baby as you read this, but unfortunately we just couldn’t see past this basic living and decided to move on to another hotel. There’s only so many insect bites that one can withstand before you try take yourself out of that situation. I seemed to have a natural aversion to mozzie bites, only suffering from a handful during my entire two weeks in Thailand, but they seemed to think the BF was a tasty fillet steak and he was covered with the little buggers.
Anyway, long story short is in the morning after our first night we went in search of another hotel.
It was a huge shame as the setting of Pitiusas Resort is simply gorgeous, with its own little ‘private’ beach and lovely views from our room and balcony area straight out onto the sea, but we were absolutely delighted with our second choice: The Green.
Situated much closer to civilization (a 3 minute walk to the Walking Street market, Pattaya and Sunrise beach and all the restaurants instead of a 25 minute walk or life-threatening Tuktuk ride away. The room was also more of a traditional hotel, with air conditioning, a minibar fridge (for all those chilled bottles of water and cans of Chang that you’ll almost definitely be wanting to keep within reach at all times) and a lovely little pool area which we ended up spending quite a lot of time in. Never underestimate the power of a pool when you’re in that sort of climate!
Not far from our original hotel was a stunning little beach, just east of ‘Sunrise Beach’ which was a very secluded little strip of sand which we shared with just two other couples as we watched the sun go down. This was a lovely little spot, as we sat on a rock (à la Ariel from The Little Mermaid), counting crabs and taking snaps of the beautiful skies as they lit up with all the shades from blazes of bright orange and pink to moody deep purples and blues. Stunning!
Watersports are extremely popular in Lipe, with diving being one of the activites that people flock to the island for. We didn’t get a chance to dive (plus I’m easily freaked out by deep water, bit of an issue when diving…), but we spent 2 and a half solid hours kayaking in just one morning. We hired a kayak out of The Snake Bar on Pattaya Beach for just 200 Baht an hour, and went all the way around the beach and the left hand peninsula and along the majority of Sunrise beach. It was tiring, but gave you the most amazing view of the beaches from out at sea. Definitely worth doing. It made me wish I had a GoPro so that I could have taken photos from the water!
One thing that we found particularly lacking in Koh Lipe was an abundance of great restaurants. It was actually a massive eye-opener of how important good food is when on holiday, and how much it adds to the experience. After our previous bad experiences with street food (bad quality food, poorly tummies and sickness), we steered clear of the on-street barbecues. They looked and smelt wonderful, but when you see the meat sat in trays covered in flies before it reaches the fires for cooking, it doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.
This is the island to visit if you love fish. Being an island, one of the main sources of meat is from the sea, so if you order a fish dish you can expect generous portions and fresh catches. If you’re opting for the meat options, you might find your serving more meager and accompanied by much more veg or rice to make up for lack of meat available. Meat is expensive and more difficult to come by on the island, especially if you’re going for pork or beef.
Cafe Lipe is one of the most rated cafe/restaurants on the island, but we stopped there for a takeaway breakfast and were underwhelmed. It seemed like a lovely place to stop for food and drink, but more due to the atmosphere and location of the place rather than the outstanding food.
Sunrise Beach Restaurant
The worst place we ate was a restaurant right on the beach front at Sunrise Beach. Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the name of the place but the bar was right at the front (which for the record did great shakes and cocktails). The food was near-on inedible. My chicken satay was dry, over-salted and with a dreadful, bitter, watery sauce, and the BF’s burger looked like it was made of cat food (burnt on the outside and like pate mush on the inside…). Not one to add to the list of recommendations. Yet another restaurant which relies too much on its location to make up for the lack of quality in the food.
Crispy Pork, Mam Papaya Restaurant
We ate in Mam Papaya Restaurant, after a glowing word of mouth review from a couple we met at a bar by Sunrise Beach, and after such high hopes we found it mediocre at best. My yellow egg noodles (a favourite back home at my local Thai restaurant Koh Thai) was lacking in taste and the texture was that of undercooked, under-seasoned noodles and the tofu accompaniment was bitter and tough on the outside and slimy on the inside. I know tofu is generally a bit slimy but the coating was like a tough rind. It wasn’t good.
Yellow Egg and Tofu Noodles, Mam Papaya Restaurant
I know this blog post sounds like one big moan, and I’m sorry about that, but I just wanted to make you aware of the island’s pitfalls so that you can make an informed choice to come here or make the most of your time here if you do decide to come. I think it helps to manage your expectations and really do your research on somewhere like this – it’s expensive to get here and I’d hate for you to be disappointed or need to change hotels or something similar to what we had to do just because there isn’t that information out there telling it how it is. That said, I found it encouraging to know that the island is undergoing some development and growing in popularity, however I felt like we went at the worst time. It’s in its chrysalis phase; it’s no longer an undiscovered and untouched island, nor is it the tourist trap of neighbouring Koh Phi Phi. In my opinion this isn’t a great thing as a traveler – there was a lot of building works going on as restaurants and hotels are springing up, but the island isn’t developed enough to have a lot of information about it online or in brochures to inform visitors about what to expect. I found it a near-on impossible task to book a hotel in our budget. It’s the only destination we really wished that we’d not booked our accommodation in advance, as it’s so touch and go, and it really depends on what you’re looking for in a hotel/lodgings. If we had simply done a walk-in booking, we would have probably got our Green hotel from the offset. But I appreciate that it’s a risky operation to depend on walk-in bookings, especially when you’re only travelling for a short amount of time.
Nonetheless, we had no regrets about visiting Koh Lipe, and hopefully you can see from the images that the place truly is magical. The sea and beaches were some of the best I’ve ever seen, and the setting was beautiful. The sea is an unrivaled crystal-clear blue, and the beaches are mindblowing. I just wished we’d gone a few years ago when it was a bit less spoilt, or in a few year’s time when it’s a bit more developed when more amenities and quality restaurants have sprung up, driving up the competition and quality of the food/accommodation there.
Getting back to Bangkok is relatively easy (we needed to get back there for our flight home), and there are many options. You can fly from either Trang, Hat Yai or Langkawi airports, and you can quite easily get a trip from a tour guide which will include all aspects of airport transfer (you’ll definitely need a ferry/speedboat and a minibus for Trang, Hat Yai), or you can get the overnight train to Bangkok for just 1,000 Baht (£20). After some online research, we opted for the ferry > minibus > flight from Hat Yai option, which in retrospect was extremely expensive and didn’t save much time or effort compared to the overnight train to Bangkok. By the time you’ve got the longtail boat to the ferry platform, boarded the ferry, got on the minibus, time in the airport and flown, you’re racking up over 15 hours in total. We definitely would have gone for the overnight train option if we had known, to not only save money but so that the bulk of our traveling back to Bangkok would have been spent unconscious.
Have you ever been to Koh Lipe? Do you agree with my observations or do you think I would just prefer the more ‘popular’ islands of Thailand?