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see more about Koh Kipe and other islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea in the many travel guides herein:
Koh Lipe, small island, beautiful beaches far offshore in Thailand’s Andaman Sea
within sight of Malaysian island of Langkawi, connected to Thai islands to the north
Koh Lipe is one of Thailand’s more remote islands, right by the country’s southern frontier, with the Malaysian island of Langkawi clearly in sight. It lies in deep water far offshore, well out of sight of the mainland. Lipe and its much bigger neighbour Koh Adang are part of the Tarutao Marine National Park, and thus enjoy some protection.
Koh Lipe is accessed mainly from the Thai port of Pak Bara on the adjacent mainland, but there are also boat connections to the islands to the north, including Koh Lanta, Phi Phi and Phuket. There is also a boat connection with Langkawi Island.
Koh Lipe is on Thailand’s ‘bucket list’; i.e. it is one of those landmark destinations that all Thais who want the right to boast of having seen their country in full must visit, must get the iconic photo of themselves standing on a Lipe Beach with the turquoise water shimmering behind. There’s perhaps 100 of these top, national icons across the country but there are a few million Thais with aspirations of getting to them all and completing the list before they die. On Thai public holidays all boats heading to Koh Lipe might be full. Outside Thai holidays the number of foreign visitors is also quite high through the high season.
Koh Lipe, surrounded by deep, clear ocean has coral reefs with good diving and snorkelling
Surrounded by the deep, clear waters of the Andaman Sea, Koh Lipe always has the luxury of beautiful clear water washing all shores and cleansing any mess created by humans. The area is famous for colourful coral reefs, though these have taken a battering over the past generation from dynamite fishing and careless tourism. Still, the area is famous for diving and snorkelling, and the islands within the national park offer some beach and other hideaway of great natural beauty. From Lipe is takes a boat trip to see most of these. Longtail boats are readily hired from the local sea gypsy, or Moken, boatmen.
Koh Lipe has just two main beaches, each beautiful in its own way
The island is small, and has just two main beaches, Pattaya Beach facing directly south and Chao Leh Beach (after the sea gypsies who live here) facing east. This latter is sometimes called Sunrise Beach by tourists, but since this is not even a transliteration of the Thai name, we don’t use it. There is another tiny beach on the northern shore with a few bungalows.
Most of Lipe’s accommodations face either of these two beaches.
natural beauty now attracts small crowds of visitors
Aside from the local visitors who pour into here over Thai holidays, the number of foreign visitors reaches a small crowd during the high season months from November through March. If it follows past examples in Thailand, Lipe’s natural beauty might lead its own destruction, or transformation from a natural tropical island to a crowded urban tourist hub with little resemblance to the original. The local authorities have shown themselves eagerly complicit in transforming a large slice of the island’s natural forest into an urban commercial slum. Our Lipe guide shows the clear-cutting of this forest, something that would appear illegal under the country’s laws.
Koh Lipe will need luck and more, if its natural beauty is to survive.
backpacker bungalows disappearing, resorts fast moving upmarket
As recently as 2010 a young traveller could find a simple wood and woven bamboo hut on Lipe for about $5. Not anymore. With the island’s fame pulling in so many foreign visitors each high season virtually all backpacker bungalows have been redeveloped for a wealthier grade of tourist. There are still quite a few concrete fan bungalows at budget rates, but even these are fast giving way to air conditioning and higher prices.
The number for 3-star resorts here has growing rapidly, with these now in the majority – though it’s not sure they all really match this star rating for not all have swimming pools. There’s a nascent movement towards upmarket boutique accommodations to meet the changing clientele arriving on this island. Idyllic Concept Resort on Chao Leh Beach and Sita Beach Resort & Spa on Pattaya Beach, both claiming 4-stars, lead this. Both have nice swimming pools, of course. The former is small, cosy and distinctly boutique in design, the latter bigger, much more spacious and somewhat conservative in design.
sad plight of Koh Lipe’s sea gypsy minority, or Moken
The sea gypsies, or Moken, are the oldest known inhabitants of this region, but they never belonged the nation states or officially staked claims to land. It’s led to a tragic modern fate for this tiny minority scattered thinly along the entire Andaman coast from Indonesia to Burma. I first photographed them here on Koh Lipe in 1982 when their spacious and idyllic village occupied the entirety of Chao Leh Beach. How did they end up squashed into their present, tiny slum-like settlement while tourist resorts occupy land that was once theirs? See our page dedicated to the sea gypsies of Koh Lipe and Phuket, starting with the photos of their original village.