Another Paradise Lost – Koh Lipe, Thailand

After getting an early start on Langkawi, Malaysia, we packed our bags and headed to the marina to catch a speedboat to Koh Lipe island in Thailand. Since we would be travelling internationally, there was some extra time needed for immigration to process our paperwork and clear the boat for travel.

By 9:30am the boat’s outboard motors were chugging to life and we were pulling out into the open ocean. It was only an hour’s journey to Koh Lipe, but travelling by speedboat is rarely a comfortable mode of transport. We tried to sit in the back to avoid the violent slap of waves against the bow, hoping to avoid the sea spray.

The speedboat we took from Langkawi Island, Malaysia to Koh Lipe, Thailand.The speedboat we took from Langkawi Island, Malaysia to Koh Lipe, Thailand.
The speedboat we took from Langkawi Island, Malaysia to Koh Lipe, Thailand.03-Feb-2012 15:45

Finally, we found ourselves pulling up to Sunset Beach on Koh Lipe. We were transferred to longtail boats operated by the local chao ley sea gypsies to making it the last few hundred yards to the beach. Once on the beach, we sat with our bags, waiting for our passports to be processed by the immigration authorities in a beachside hut.

Piled into a longtail boat which took us to the beach.Piled into a longtail boat which took us to the beach.
Piled into a longtail boat which took us to the beach.03-Feb-2012 15:44

Since we didn’t have reservations at any place, Heather stayed with the bags by the beach and I went off in search of a place to stay. Koh Lipe is a small island, with no roads or cars (though some of the locals use motorcycles to get around), with a couple “walking streets” bisecting the island.

These bars are conveniently located along the Tsunami evacuation route...These bars are conveniently located along the Tsunami evacuation route...
These bars are conveniently located along the Tsunami evacuation route...03-Feb-2012 22:52

It was early February, and still very much “high season”, though we didn’t expect it to be extremely crowded.

Well, we were wrong.

Immediately, I could tell this was not going to be the idyllic island paradise the guidebook had promised. The entire island seemed to be packed to the gills with people, and the little “walking street” was almost as busy as Bangkok’s Khao San Road with shop stalls, touts, and Western restaurants.

Nighttime on the walking street.Nighttime on the walking street.
Nighttime on the walking street.05-Feb-2012 02:04

In addition, it appeared most places were fully booked. The few that were available were expensive tiny huts in busy areas.

On the other side of the island (Sunrise Beach), I finally stumbled upon a nice beachfront bungalow with a killer view at Tarutao Cabanas. It was an extremely basic concrete foundation job, with an outdoor bathroom of the sort that required flushing with a bucket.

Our bungalow on Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe.Our bungalow on Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe.
Our bungalow on Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe.05-Feb-2012 15:38

Price per night: 800 Baht (about USD $27). A complete rip-off for Thailand, but we were desperate!

Inside our bungalow.Inside our bungalow.
Inside our bungalow.04-Feb-2012 22:11

Now, before you start feeling too sorry for us, check out the view…

View out our front door.View out our front door.
View out our front door.05-Feb-2012 15:39

While the shack’s interior amenities might not have been up to scratch, we took full advantage of our beachfront location.

Impossibly white sand and clear water on Koh Lipe's eastern side.Impossibly white sand and clear water on Koh Lipe's eastern side.
Impossibly white sand and clear water on Koh Lipe's eastern side.04-Feb-2012 18:24

Luckily, this side of the island was a lot less crowded than the Sunset Beach side. Unfortunately, a lot of Sea Gypsies parked their longtail boats out front, which meant our beautiful view was slightly spoiled by the roaring of their noisy motors all day.

These longtail boats outside our bungalow really ruined the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.These longtail boats outside our bungalow really ruined the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.
These longtail boats outside our bungalow really ruined the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.04-Feb-2012 19:31

Since there are no ATMs on Koh Lipe, we had to make do with the small amount of money we had changed in Malaysia. We certainly weren’t expecting the island to be so expensive, so we tried to economize wherever possible, eating from the cheaper restaurants and stalls.

Cheap eats with the banana pancake lady.Cheap eats with the banana pancake lady.
Cheap eats with the banana pancake lady.05-Feb-2012 04:38

It was great to be in Thailand again, where we absolutely love the food. While the food wasn’t the best Thai food we’d ever had, it was still better than most Thai food we had tried from surrounding countries!

Chicken Massaman curry.Chicken Massaman curry.
Chicken Massaman curry.03-Feb-2012 18:17

It’s a shame Koh Lipe was so crowded and expensive. If we had brought more money, we would have visited the nearby Koh Tarutao National Park, which would have been more like the island paradise we were looking for. Since Tarutao and the other islands in the park are protected, there are only a couple park-run bungalows, camp sites, and restaurants. Next time we’ll skip Lipe entirely and go straight to Tarutao!

9 thoughts on “Another Paradise Lost – Koh Lipe, Thailand

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Most Beautiful Tropical Islands To Call Paradise - Loramore

  2. Hotel in Thailand

    I’m really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a
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  3. richard

    800b wasn’t really that expensive for your hut in Feb. especially not with a beach view on Sunrise.

    lipe has been spoilt in the past 10 years no doubt.

    i stayed at castaway Resort in April on Sunrise. 2500 per night but beautiful and ethically sound. no air con, minimal water use, all timber construction etc.

    i took a 300 b day trip to ko adang which was magical. deserted beach, endless coral, crystal clear water. we collected up the small amount of rubbish we accumulated and took it back to lipe to the collection point there.

    ironic thing is that the dirtiest places i came across on lipe were the Chao Lei communities. plastic bottles etc strewn all over. they are supposed to be the care takers of the island.

    yes i agree, the boats ruin the beach. but at least they thin out during the day when they take people out on diving, snorkeling trips. but too many boats in the morning and evening. i snorkeled off sunrise everyday and it bothered me that I had to constantly keep an eye out for passing long tail boats.

    corrupt officials are creating problems for resort management on lipe in respect to rubbish collection. The resorts pay a fee for a big boat that comes for rubbish collection but officials pocket the money and then the resorts have to pay alot more for the boat to take the garbage away. in the hundreds of thousands up to at least a million baht which is alot. (almost US$33,000). maybe more depending on the resort.

    lipe could still be amazing as it was 10 years back. but the Thai gov must get it’s act together on the issue of tourist development in general.

    Ko Tarutao is nice. But accommodation is very basic. depends on the kind of experience u want. Ko Rawi and Ko Adang are amazing.

    1. Erik Post author

      Hi Richard! Sounds like you were able to get a better feel of the surrounding islands than we were – they sound much nicer and fit more with the “island paradise” vision we had when visiting.

      That’s awful to hear about the rubbish collection issue. And I’m not surprised to hear the Chao Lei communities are the dirtiest. We’ve noticed a lack of environmental consciousness in many parts of the developing world. Let’s hope that improves soon.

  4. gabriela lang

    I was looking forward to spend nice holidays in Koh Lipe. What’s a pitty I didn’t read this blog before. Because I would choose other place. We were on the Sunrise beach and there were more low chair’s boats then swimming people. Go to the “Walking street” or visit other site of the island was very terrible experience, because the island seems the biggest trash of Thailand. The accomodation is expensive (wooden bungalow with cold water 1800 thb per night). Never come back there.

  5. Erik Post author

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience on Koh Lipe. Hopefully more people will here about this and less people will flood this island. I’m sure at one point it was actually nice, but no longer…

  6. Hayden

    Thanks Erik. Pretty experienced travelling in Thailand and Asia but never been to Koh Lipe. Thanks for the heads up. Your blog is both balanced and well written. Appreciate it mate. – Hayden

  7. thezeezstore

    Your guide did remind me of a visit to Koh Lipe last year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to try all attraction because of a short-term stay. After reading your article, I personally think that it might be a good time for a visit to this little island again. Perhaps, this Chinese New Year Holiday will do.


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