Remember when there were so many unspoiled island paradises all around Thailand? A time when even places such as Phuket, Kho Phi or Kho Samui were not dominated by expensive resorts claiming to ‘own’ the natural beaches. Accommodation was bungalow style and restaurants were just local vendors providing low cost but delicious Thai food with a smile.
Lonely Planet says Kho Lipe is “this decade’s poster child for untamed development in the Thai Islands. Blessed with three wide white-sand beaches separated by jungled hills and within spitting distance of protected coral reefs, five or six years ago the island was only spoken about in secretive whispers.” Kho Lie (or Lee-pae), is the southernmost island in Thailand and is one of the many islands located in the beautiful Tarutao National Marine Park, in the AdangRawi Archipelago of the Andaman Sea, Satun Province of southwest Thailand, close to the Malaysian border. Translated into the local Chao Ley language, Koh Lipe literally means “Island Paper, or Paper Island.” Lipe island was first discovered by the Chao Ley (or Sea Gypsies) who would travel from island to island in search of the best fishing in the areas to feed themselves and their tribes. The Chao Ley eventually found a permanent home on Kho Lipe and were given a grant to settle on the island’s eastern beach (Kho Lipe Sunrise Beach) and have since remained there. Pattaya Beach is by far the most populated area on the island so it’s more of a busy vibe. The east coast or Sunrise Beach, which stretches from the south to the north of the island, and as the name suggests, faces the sunrise and the northern end of Sunrise Beach, Karma Beach, offers a mix of both. There is also a Kho Lipe Walking Street that is in the middle of the island and connects Pattaya and Sunrise Beach. Walking Street is filled with great accommodation and shops. But don’t get these place names confused with Pattaya City in Chonburi please!
The island itself is not so difficult to reach, but it’s still quite a secret. From the middle of November until late May (high season) you can get to Lipe from several places. Kho Lipe is an excellent choice for your first or last stop in Thailand as its located in close proximity to Pak Bara,Phuket, Phi Phi Island, Krabi, Hat Yai, and Langkawi, Malaysia. It’s also only a hop away to Samui and Kho Tao. These are all of course in the very south of Thailand. The beaches are pearly white and unscathed, the views will leave you breathless. The waters are crystal clear and the marine life is absolutely amazing, the locals will treat you like family, the food will leave your taste buds begging for more, and your body won’t need any more relaxation after even a short holiday.
Everything is connected by concrete roads, and it usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes to walk between 2 of the main beaches. In the night time most roads are lit by streetlights but it’s a good idea to take a torch if you go out and explore in the dark. Since 2013 there are official motorbike taxi’s (with sidecar) that can take a couple of people for a fixed price per person. You can spot the taxi drivers by their purple jacket and their colourful motorbikes. Low season, or green season as the locals call it, is from May to October. There are a lot less tourists and it isn’t difficult to find a quiet spot on the beach. Although the island is now open all year with 2 boats running to and from Pak Bara every day, some of the hotels and other businesses still close down. It’s a great time to go if you enjoy quiet time on the beach and there a great hotel deals to be had. There are several uninhabited islands that can easily be reached with a longtail boat, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour away. The two large ones, Koh Adang and Koh Rawi have a ranger station where camping is possible. It’s popular to go on a boat trip and explore the islands nearby while snorkeling at some of the best spots. The ranger station on Kho Adang also has bungalows and tents available, and there is a small restaurant (open from November to May).
The island has still retained the sort of charm that attracts those not interested in ‘5 Star’. However unless you are heading there soon it seems likely that even this island will soon suffer the same fate as other previously unspoiled islands and be overwhelmed by the lure of the developers’ advances.