Koh Lipe: Worth the Gamble

Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Featured, Thailand | 5 comments

Choosing an island to visit in Thailand reminds me of gambling. I’m a cautious gambler at best, really only playing blackjack and the occasional sports bet. I’m constantly second-guessing and often regretful.  You never know what’s right (or devastatingly wrong) until the cards are finally revealed. The decision on where to go brought with it similar feelings of concern. When you only have 4 days (possibly in our lifetime) to experience some of the best beaches or islands in the world, you want to make an educated, successful decision. Naturally, this evoked some anxiety, but let’s be serious, it’s probably the best dilemma I’ve ever had. There really couldn’t be a wrong decision. Before ever finalizing our location or stepping foot on any ferry, our research taught us that Thailand’s islands and beaches probably deserve a month to be seen properly.

When picking your ideal spot, a lot depends on the type of partier you are and what kind of mood you’re in. Personally, we were on a mission to find one of Thailand’s few remaining less-traveled islands and do nothing, but relax. In the last decade, some of the more popular islands have fallen victim to “over-tourism” where resorts and longtail boats crowd the beach and tranquil locales have turned into neon-light party towns that don’t stop until sunrise. Although some of these were more well-known and initially appealing to us, we turned our search away from islands such as Phuket, Samui and Phi Phi. Once you have decided upon the overall feel you’re interested in, there are other questions to consider: Would you prefer breathtaking limestone rock formations?  Would you like to partake in world-class scuba diving and snorkeling? And how many buses or ferries are you willing to take just to get there? With all of this to consider, we ultimately decided on Koh Lipe, a tiny island just north of the Malaysian border.


We became intrigued with Koh Lipe after a friend in Thailand referred us to the island. Our excitement grew when we asked some local people in Chiang Mai about it and, they had never heard of it. We also learned that it would take ten hours to reach, involving a plane, bus, and ferry – this certainly sounded like the remote paradise we were looking for. When we finally arrived, it didn’t take long to know we made the right decision. Koh Lipe doesn’t have its own pier so ferries drop passengers off on a floating pontoon dock 100 meters from the beach to await a ride on a longtail boat to shore. If that’s not unique enough on it’s own, try being two of the last four people to catch a lift. . .after waiting forty minutes, because none of the locals were willing to make the last run of the day. Frustrating? Yes, but with island views and a visible care-free island vibe I knew we’d enjoy for days, I could have slept on the dock if I had to.


The next four days proved to be exactly what we were looking for – beautiful white sand beaches, amazing ocean views, and great island food (assortments of fresh fish and the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen, personally selected and grilled streetside). The entire island is walkable, so other than explore it’s three beaches, we didn’t do much. Waking up to see the sunrise from our beach bungalow on Sunrise Beach, lazing away in our hammocks, swimming in crystal clear water, and getting drinks at Boom Boom beachside bar on Sunset Beach were highlights everyday. Lipe’s “Walking Street” cuts through the middle of the island and is filled with shops, bars, and restaurants. We became regulars at a couple and made friends with a few locals. One afternoon, while making our way over to Sunset Beach, we stumbled across a small sign for Bila Beach. Although somewhat weary, we made our way down to what seemed like an abandoned collection of bungalows with a private beach. We decided to make ourselves comfortable on this deeply secluded piece of sand. The owner, Taum, eventually stumbled down an hour later, hungover (even still at 4:00pm) and surprised to see strangers, but more than happy to let us enjoy his beach and drink his Chang beer. We would eventually stay for hours and enjoy one of the most memorable sunsets. Taum and his friends were happy to welcome us and we would end up seeing them a couple more times during our short stay. 


Our beach vacation was much needed after four straight weeks of volunteering in Kathmandu and Chiang Mai. We found the quintessential island experience that I had always hoped to get from Thailand. Maybe Koh Lipe’s difficult access will allow it to keep its charm for years to come, but I’m glad we took advantage of it when we had the chance. We knew that we were gambling with such a long journey, but it totally paid off.


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  3. Lovely post! Out of interest where did you stay on Lipe as that bungalow looks cool? We’re there for 9 days after Lanta & Chiang Mai in January :o) Ash

  4. So glad you truly enjoyed your much deserved vacation.

  5. Looks beautiful!

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