Now that Dave and I have been to all of the big/popular Thai islands (some more than once), we figured it was time to start exploring some of the smaller/less well-known/harder to get to islands. Koh Lipe, the small Thai island in the very south of Thailand (close to Malaysia) was number one (or at least tied for number one) on our list, so we decided to start there.
From what we’d heard about Koh Lipe, although it’s less of a backpacker island (because it’s not very close to any other major islands), it still has a great night life scene. If you know the Staves, you know that we’re pretty much as far from beach bums as you can get and the thought of relaxing on a deserted island is really not our idea of a good time. So, once we heard that Koh Lipe had a lot going on, we decided that would be the spot of our midterm break for the semester.
In past semesters, we’ve had almost two weeks off, but this semester they cut the length of midterms in half, so we really only had four nights to go away (I know, poor us). This was the first time we were ever spending 4 nights on a single island, but since there were supposed to be plenty of day trips from Koh Lipe and we were planning on diving, we weren’t too worried (spoiler alert: that was a big mistake).
We ended up getting to the island a few hours earlier than we anticipated. We thought it would take pretty much the whole day between the flight to Hat Yai, a mini bus from Hat Yai to Pak Bara and then a ferry to Koh Lipe, especially since we weren’t expecting to be able to go straight from the airport to the pier (we thought we’d have to go into the city first, but we didn’t). Anyway, everything went much smoother than we thought. We had found some amazingly cheap flights (about $40pp) so we were excited about those, but it turns out that the ferries were really expensive compared to others we’ve taken (plus transport to the pier/airport). We ended up paying another $70 or so in transportation costs. Definitely a sign of things to come.
As soon as we pulled up to the pier in Koh Lipe (which is not directly on the island, you still need to take another boat from the pier for 50 baht pp), we noticed 1) how small Koh Lipe is (we wondered how this became a popular island when there are other much larger ones surrounding it); and 2) how gorgeous the water was. It’s turquoise blue and crystal clear, and every single time we walked onto the beach during the whole four days we were there, we couldn’t help but saying “wow.” Definitely the most beautiful water we’ve seen since we were in the Philippines, and this might actually take the cake.
We were dropped off on Sunrise Beach (one of the two main beaches on the island; the other is Pattaya Beach, which is where more of the nightlife/action is. The two beaches are connected by a “Walking Street” which is filled with many of the islands’ shops and restaurants) and walked a few minutes to our hotel. After getting settled, we set out to do a little exploration and started to make our plans for the next few days.
After having read about Koh Lipe, we came in with a pretty good idea of the activities we wanted to do. There’s an island called Turatao pretty close, which is a national park (and actually the location where Survivor Thailand was filmed). We wanted to spend one day there. Another day we wanted to do a boat/snorkel tour to some of the surrounding islands, and then our third day we wanted to go scuba diving to a sight we’d read about called 8 Mile Rock, which is supposed to be the best diving in the area.
We knew that we’d be coming to Lipe at the tail end of the low season, which we thought meant that it wouldn’t be very crowded, maybe some places would be closed, and we would likely get some good deals on tours and hotels. What we didn’t know was that Turatao National Park, plus another island neighboring Koh Lipe (Koh Rawi), plus all the surrounding water would be closed until October 15… literally 4 days after we’d be leaving Koh Lipe. After one walk up and down the walking street talking to different tour companies, we knew that almost all of the things we’d come to Koh Lipe to do would not be possible. For two people who could think of nothing worse than being trapped somewhere (even if that somewhere is a gorgeous island) for four days with nothing to do, this news was devastating.
We spent the rest of our first afternoon exploring the island, checking out the two main beaches, and then having our usual seafood BBQ for dinner (though unfortunately, not on the beach, as the few beach-front restaurants that were open, were really dead).
On our first full day, we found an activity that we’ve never done before. We found a hotel that rented kayaks and went from Koh Lipe to Koh Adang, the closest island to Lipe (though still about a 30 minute kayak ride away). Koh Adang is mostly jungle with a few really nice beaches. There aren’t any hotels on the island, just a campsite. After kayaking over there, we had the island almost all to ourselves. We hiked to Chadoe cliff to the viewpoints overlooking Koh Lipe (viewpoint 2 was really nice, but no need to keep going to viewpoint 3), then we had a picnic lunch on the beach before getting back in our kayak and heading to another beach around the bend. Then, we stopped at Sunset Beach (the third beach on Koh Lipe, but not as popular as the other two) on our way back. It was a really fun day doing something we’d never done before. After this, we were starting to feel better about our whole trip and were looking forward to setting up a scuba tour for the next day.
As soon as we got back and returned our kayak (and realized we were missing one of our snorkels, which must have fallen out of our boat, costing us an extra 150B to replace), our mission was to book our scuba trip for the next day. Koh Lipe is not known to have any of the best dive sites in Thailand, but since we hadn’t dove since Sipadan last summer, we felt like we needed to get back in the game and freshen up on our skills. When we first started diving, we would find a company we liked, tell them where we wanted to go, but then were often disappointed when we showed up in the morning and they had changed the dive site. Dave always says that scuba diving is the only business where you pay someone a lot of money and then you have no say over anything really. For us, especially now that we’ve gotten to dive in so many great places, we do research about the dive sites we want to go to and we don’t want to go anywhere else. If we’re spending that much money (about $75 pp), we feel like we should go where we want to go. So, whereas in the past, we’ve set up our tours only to find that the sites have been switched, we’ve learned our lesson, and now we won’t pay until we show up in the morning and know we’re going where we’ve been promised.
Right when we arrived in Koh Lipe, we popped into the most popular dive shop (Forra Divers) to ask them about a trip to 8 Mile Rock. This particular site is about an hour away from Lipe and they’d just gone that day, so they said they most likely wouldn’t be going back for a couple of weeks. After our kayak trip, we went into another shop, Satun Divers, and they said they’d love to take us the following day. We tried on all of our equipment, got everything ready, and confirmed with the dive master that we’d be going no matter what (unless it was raining, in which case we said we probably didn’t want to go). He said definitely.
We were really excited about diving the following day. We went back to our hotel room, watched some of the Cubs game (which we actually got to watch every single day – We’d even brought our HDMI cable with us and were able to watch the games on our big TV!), and then went for pizza and pasta for dinner (whenever we go to the islands, we always do one night of seafood, one night Western and one night Thai).
We got up in the morning ready for our scuba trip. Our dive master had told us to meet him at 9am (which we thought was kind of late, but didn’t mind), so we picked up breakfast and coffee on our way. It had rained overnight, but looked like it was going to be a gorgeous day. We got to the shop and the instructor told us that we weren’t going to 8 Mile Rock. He said that it was a little foggy out and the captain wouldn’t be able to find the dive site. We had no idea what he meant when we said he wouldn’t be able to find it. We asked him if he knew the longitude and latitude or had the location on a map, and he replied by saying no, they do not have a GPS. Then he asked us if we had a GPS (like it was crazy for us think that a dive shop should own this handy piece of technology). We couldn’t believe that it was perfect outside and we weren’t going to be able to go diving because they couldn’t find the place. He told us that instead, we could go somewhere else closer to Koh Lipe to dive (for the same price). No thanks.
We walked over to the other dive shop (Forra) to see if we could get on a trip with them or if they were planning to go the following day only to find out that they had, in fact, gone to 8 Mile Rock that morning, but they’d left an hour earlier. Now we were angry. We couldn’t believe that our whole day was going to be screwed up, especially now that we knew we could have gone. Unbelievable! And, by this time, every other tour had already started (eg, snorkeling tours), so we pretty much missed everything that we wanted to do that day. Instead, we spent the day doing something that in all of the time we’ve been traveling, we’ve never done. We had a relaxing day on the beach. First we got a nice breakfast, we went home to get our books and we just sat on the beach reading. Then we went to another beach and we read there too. It didn’t turn out to be the worst day ever (although we kept looking at our watches saying “oh my god. it’s only 12, it’s only 1:30,” etc.). Luckily we had the gorgeous water and scenery to distract us. Finally at around 3, we decided it was time to book something (anything!!!) for the next day, because although one day of beach bumming ended up being ok, we didn’t think we could take it for another day.
We went back to a tour company that we’d spoken to a few times before and booked a snorkeling tour for the next day. We weren’t thrilled about it because it went to some of the same places we’d already seen on our own while we were kayaking, but the snorkel/boat tours are always pretty fun and this one was pretty cheap, so what the hell. We didn’t really have any other options.
We spent a few hours at our hotel watching a movie before making some drinks to take to the beach and watch the sunset. Usually we like to get drinks on the beach at one of the bars, but every place we checked was so ridiculously expensive, we just couldn’t justify it. We like to get whisky/redbull buckets at the beach (remember those Linda + Bob?), and we usually get them for about 200-250B each (around $7). The best deal we could find on Lipe was about 350-400B, with some places charging as much as 500-600. Considering a whole bottle of alcohol is only around 300B, it just didn’t seem worth it. The whole island is actually really expensive (or at least compared to many other Thai islands we’ve been to). From food to accommodation to transportation to activities, everything was much more than we’re used to. We couldn’t even get a cheap Thai meal (which we can ALWAYS find!). So, we made our own little cocktail hour for sunset before a nice Thai dinner.
We got up in the morning (to watch some more of the Cubs) and headed over to our snorkel/boat tour at around 9. We waited for 30 minutes before getting into the boat and then when we finally did, all of the boats took off except ours. We sat at the pier for another 30 minutes and finally we started to get worried and started wondering what was going on. Our captain told us that we were waiting for 4 more people who had signed up but never showed up. We asked him when they would be there. He didn’t know. We asked him how long we were going to wait for. He didn’t know. We asked him if we were planning to leave at all. He didn’t know. It was already an hour later than we were supposed to leave and after what had happened to us the previous day, we didn’t want to get screwed again. We got off the boat and went back to our tour company, very upset and asking for our money back. Luckily, they were great and apologized about the confusion. After a little negotiating, they put us on a private boat for what ended up being more or less the same price (hey, even better!). The only extra cost for the day was lunch, since it would have been included in the tour.
We made four stops around Koh Lipe and Koh Adang and even though it was nothing really different than we’d already seen, it was still a nice day, and going around Koh Lipe was gorgeous. We still couldn’t get over the beautiful water. We had another picnic lunch on the beach and we got to do some really good snorkeling. Amazingly, Dave even saw a huge sting ray, which is exactly what we’d been hoping to see on our diving trip. Somehow I missed it though 😦 Everyone said he was really lucky to have seen it, as they’re not common while snorkeling right near Koh Lipe.
For our last night, we went Western again (we’re planning to go back to the islands in two weeks for another long weekend we have so we figure we’ll get more seafood then). We got two really good/huge burgers, Dave made friends with a local dog, and we called it an early night before our ferry in the morning.
In my opinion, Koh Lipe wins the most beautiful Thai island award. As I mentioned several times, the water was gorgeous with perfectly white sandy beaches. Other than the high prices and the fact that the locals who were not as nice as what we’re used to on the islands and in Thailand in general, I think Koh Lipe has a lot of potential…. That is as long as you go in the high season when everything is open. There are lots of activities to do, places to see, and what could be a good nightlife, but we unfortunately were just too early for it. We did end up having a nice time, but I think our trip would have been a lot different and a lot better in.. 4 days from now, and it’s very frustrating that we missed it by such a short time. But, that’s why we live here. There are still so many other islands to visit and explore and even if/when we have an experience that’s not the best, we at least have plenty of time to make up for it elsewhere.