Yes, the getting there part may be a bit off-putting to some, but once you set foot on this island, it won’t be long before you understand why Ko Lipe is referred to as the Maldives of Thailand. Chrystal clear waters, silky soft sand and freshly caught seafood are only a few of the reasons that the Thai and Malai tourists have been visiting Ko Lipe for years, opening the proverbial gates for global tourism. Other than snorkelling, swimming and similar beach activities, there is not much else to do on the island, making it a perfect destination for those who come to relax and soak up the sun.
With tourist numbers increasing over the last few years, Ko Lipe is on the verge of becoming a victim of its own beauty: a while back, the first ATM has been installed, hotels are built at an alarmingly high speed and even the first Seven Elevens have opened its doors on the Walking Street. To make matters even worse, the growing numbers of tourists have resulted in serious waste management issues: as the island is lacking in waste processing technologies, all trash is collected and shipped from the island for further processing elsewhere. Waste is often produced at a faster rate than the boats can handle, making some parts of the island far less idyllic than others.
Despite all of this, is it worth going? Yes. Should you visit before Ko Lipe turns into a second Ko Phi Phi? A more resounding yes. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your trip:
Where and what to eat: forget meat. You’re on an island, and fresh seafood is not only abundantly available, it is also cheap. Skip the center of the Walking Street, and head to the part that leads to Sunrise Beach, where you will find a few family-owned restaurants which make up in taste what they lack in interior design skills. Freshly caught fish and lobster is presented daily on a thick layer of ice, and in this part of the island, local kinds of well-sized fish are sold for as little as 200 baht per piece. Make sure to check whether the eyes are clear, and the gills bright red or pink as both are a sign of freshness.
Where to stay: If your budget allows it, book a bungalow or resort on Sunrise or Sunset beach. It is by far the most beautiful part of the island, and property owners know it: rooms here can cost double of what one would pay elsewhere. If you don’t mind a short walk to the beach, choose a more budget-friendly option instead. We opted for the Noi Guesthouse: small rooms with comfortable beds, a decent breakfast and an all-day free of charge taxi service for those who consider even a 10 minute walk to the beach more exercise than one is willing to undertake whilst on holiday. Avoid Pattaya beach if you don’t want engine fumes and roaring speedboat motors to get in the way of a relaxing holiday, as this is where all the (speed)boats leave in the morning, and dock in the early afternoon.
What to do: If you don’t like to relax at the beach all day, this island is definitely not for you. Activities are quite limited, and other than snorkelling, kayaking and swimming there isn’t much to do. Tours are offered to neighbouring islands, but if being dropped on a beach simultaneously with dozens of other tourists is not your thing, your best bet would be to stay on Ko Lipe.
How to get there: in high season (November to April) there are several locations from which travellers can reach Ko Lipe either by ferry or speedboat, including Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Pak Bara, Langkawi and Trang. In low season (May to October) the only way to get to Ko Lipe is by speedboat from Pak Bara.