Thailand’s Hidden Gem

by Fiona Mokry

Koh Lipe, one of Thailand’s hidden gems, is located 61km off the southwestern coast of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea. Nestled within a protected marine park, Lipe is the only inhabited islands for miles. The feeling of having discovered your very own sun-soaked paradise is instantaneous as the curve of a small inlet becomes visible amongst the untamed jungle of the surrounding islands.

As the speedboat pulls up to the white sandy beach, you are greeted with the tranquility that only exists on distant and exotic islands, tucked away from the rest of the world.

You have finally arrived!

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving…

Once you lay eyes the tropical seas surrounding Lipe, it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to explore the underwater world. The sparkling turquoise waters that engulf abundant coral reefs mere feet below the surface are mesmerizing.  The sun twinkling off the water beckons the beachgoer to abandon their towel and dive in for a swim, snorkel or scuba.

There are 9 reputable dive shops scattered throughout the islands, most of which are located directly on the beach. Any one of these shops are qualified to take first time divers, run diver certification courses, or take already certified divers on fun dives.

Beaching…

There are three main beaches that border Koh Lipe; Sunrise Beach, Sunset Beach and Pattaya Beach.

Living up to the name, Sunrise Beach is the place to stay if you’re an early bird looking to see some amazing sunrises over the offshore islands. Although Sunrise is Lipe’s longest beach, it is slightly more remote than party beach Pattaya. Sunrise boasts some simple bungalows as well as cliffside resorts and intermittent laid-back beach bars.

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Pattaya’s claims to fame are beach BBQs, fire spinning and reggae bars, all of which spillover from Walking Street. If a lively night out if what you’re after, check out the scene with a stroll down the main drag after dark.

West-facing Sunset Beach is located on the corner of the island and is the smallest of all three beaches. Mostly comprised of higher-end resorts, staying up here stations you anywhere between 1-2km from “town.” Taxis are available to shuttle guests back and forth, although everywhere around the island is walkable. The main draw of Sunset Beach is of course, the sunset vista, however you can also catch a glimpse of the setting sun from the far west side of Sunrise.

Exploring…

A small paved road known as” Walking Street” connects the two larger beaches, Sunrise and Pattaya. On this road you can find a variety of dining options, ranging from local Thai eateries to full-fledged western restaurants. Lined with souvenir shops, clothing stores, dive shops, and a few tattoo parlors offering traditional bamboo tattoos, this is the busiest section of the island.

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Leave the crowds behind and hire a local long tail boat to visit the neighboring island of Koh Adang. A 45-minute hike up yields a truly stunning viewpoint that’s well worth the effort. The reward is an unobstructed and panoramic view of Koh Lipe, Koh Talang and other islands in the National Park. On a clear day you can even see clear across the ocean to the Malaysian island of Langkawi!

Sleeping…

As the popularity of Lipe grows, so does the number of large, up-scale resorts. However, if the simple life is what you seek, there are still places that have managed to capture and maintain the quintessential island vibe.

Resorts like Castaway, Ten Moons and Serendipity (all located on Sunrise Beach) have taken the bamboo bungalow and kicked it up a notch.  The rooms are still rustic, yet comfortable and modern.

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Budget travelers and backpacking may struggle to find cheaper accommodation on Koh Lipe, especially during the high season when prices soar. Visitors coming to Lipe should expect to pay more than they would at other Thai islands.

Insider tip: although it sounds counterintuitive, visit Lipe during the tail end of high season or the very beginning of low season. High season (officially Oct 15th-May 15th) brings hordes of local tourists as well as windy weather and rough seas.

Low season (officially from May 15th-October 15th) is known for calmer weather, better diving conditions and an overall more relaxed atmosphere. However, do expect more rain during these months.  Another bonus is that prices for accommodation are also drastically reduced in low season. Also, be aware that many of the restaurants and bars close down for certain months (anywhere between July, August and September could be off limits) because it’s too quiet.

The best months to visit the island are March, April, May and June because everything is still up and running, but you won’t have to contend with the crowds of tourists.

Lipe encompasses the perfect Utopia with its deserted island feel, comfortable accommodation, plentiful dining options, and energetic night-life. The vibe is both mysterious and inviting and makes Lipe a must-see stop in Thailand. Plan a visit to this faraway island before the masses uncover the secret shores of Koh Lipe!