KO LIPE: FAR & AWAY FROM THE MADDING CROWDS
Peacefully seated at the southern end of Thailand’s west coast, the island or “ko” as we say in Thailand, Ko Lipe offers visitors an excellent beach island escape. Part of Adang-Rawi Archipelago in the Andaman Sea, Lipe is tucked away in the southernmost frontier. A long, thin stretch of icing-like sand and crystalline water makes it one of the top island beaches in the Andaman Sea. The island is a promising scuba diving destination where warm, crystal blue water is home to whales, dolphins, sharks, Manta Rays, and mesmerizing underwater scenery.
Lipe, once home to sea nomads, is not a party island but a spectacular diving haven. European scuba diving masters have been flocking to Ko Lipe for years in search of exotic spots. It also draws chic beach lovers, hippies, honeymooners, and snorkelers to cherish the natural wonderland.
“Barefoot Luxury” or “Bohemian Holiday” could easily be your holiday theme at Ko Lipe.
Your home away from home will probably be a rustic yet stylish cottage made from driftwood. A mosquito net, veranda, and hammocks add more comfort to your ultimate tropical paradise tour.
Enjoy the unofficial dress code of a straw hat and batik wrap with accessories like fins and diving gears while sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, and diving. While seashell wind chimes and distant reggae beats will bid you goodnight, come morning, watching the sunrise from your bed is something you cannot resist.
Ko Lipe lets visitors spend the day lazing around the palm-fringed beach and go out with diving gear before wrapping everything up at chilled-out bars.
THINGS TO SEE AND TO DO IN AND AROUND KO LIPE
You’ll find no shortage of beautiful island beaches in Thailand’s South, but tranquil and white sandy beaches in Ko Lipe are arguably the best. Lipe’s three famous beaches are hemmed in by coconut plantations and the translucent sea.
Lipe’s longest beach might share its name with Thailand’s legendary beach in Chon Buri province but, other than that, they have hardly anything in common. Set in the picturesque bay, Pattaya Beach offers a one-kilometer-long strip of white powdery sand, warm turquoise water, coconut trees, and lush vegetation. It’s the perfect tropical beach to bask in the sun. Passenger boats, as well as incoming and outgoing local boats, are dotted throughout the water. However, the eastern and western ends of the beach are well worth swimming and bobbing alongside technicolor tropical fish and colorful coral reefs. Being a hip and happening area with a walking street and bazaar, Pattaya Beach has a full range of hotels, restaurants, boutique shops, diving operators, and bars.
Sunrise Beach is a splendid place for the early birds who enjoy waking up at the break of day for a calm and quiet morning. Known as Haad Chao Ley (Beach of Seafarer), the Sunrise Beach juts out from the Andaman Resort on the northern side of the island’s eastern coastline. The beautiful 800-meter-long beach stretches all the way out to Ten Moon Lipe Resort. The sunrise is stunning—especially when the mystical ray of light gracefully brightens up the dark sky, revealing the beautiful beach that everyone loves. Castaway Resort Koh Lipe (+66 83 138 7472) offers rustic-chic cottages with a breathtaking view of Sunrise Beach from your bed or swaying hammock. The resort also hosts a daily beachfront yoga class, making it an excellent place to practice sun salutations.
Sun-seekers can head to the far northwest corner of the island for the best sunset experience in the Andaman Sea. Once known as Haad Pramong (Fishermen Beach) among the islanders, Sunset Beach is the quietest and smallest beach in Ko Lipe. The unspoiled beach is barely 200 meters long and lined by old-school thatched bungalows and restaurants with lounge seating overlooking the sand. The sundown here is dramatic, and sunset-lovers may lie down on mats or lean against their bamboo shacks as they watch the sky softly turn from blue to pink.
Five Best Diving Spots Around Ko Lipe
Lipe is a famous diving destination where crystalline blue water teems with a diverse array of ocean life. The best scuba diving sites are scattered around but are all within a short boat ride. Here are the five best diving spots to roll back into the deep blue, beautiful sea. You may experience a fascinating encounter with the gentle whale shark, hear mysterious myths and legends, explore a shipwreck, spectacular coral reefs, and more.
8 Mile Rock
True to its name, “8 Mile Rock” is exactly eight miles south of Ko Lipe. Here, the underwater wonders start at 16 meters before descending to over 40 meters. The water is home to a diversity of marine life varied from small macro life such as nudibranchs to the enormous whale shark. Swimming alongside large schools of fusilier and batfish around 8 Mile Rock is the type of once in a lifetime experience that divers crave. Two-meter-long barracudas and endearing eagle rays roam around this area.
Difficulty: advanced diving skills needed.
Within a short boat ride from Sunrise Beach is Stonehenge—a tropical paradise for divers. Sharing its name with the famous Stonehenge of England, the standing stones of Lipe are quite different from the prehistoric monument in the British countryside. Lipe’s Stonehenge is on the seabed (5-25 meters), carpeted by white and pink soft corals. The coral outcroppings are also home to small yet eye-popping marine creatures like butterflyfish, pufferfish, little shrimps, and blue dragon nudibranch, to name a few. With shallow and calm water, Stonehenge is an ideal place for beginners to dive along the endless scenic field of leafy, colorful coral reefs. Schools of barracudas, trevallies, and yellow snappers add extra excitement.
Difficulty: Easy. Expect strong current sometimes.
At 45 meters (147 feet) deep, an old fishing vessel, Yong Hua, finds her resting place on Lipe’s seabed, accessible by deep diving. The 75-meter-long fish-processing ship got her ominous nickname from spooky and hair-raising tales passed around diving communities. Legend has it that while diving around this underwater wreckage, divers sometimes feel a soft tap on their arm as if a buddy is trying to get their attention. When they look around, nobody but soft corals swaying mournfully in the current. While the origin of the story is unknown, the only thing that all divers agree is the unmistakable beauty of the marine life in and around this shipwreck. Once processing and freezing tons of caught fish, the vessel is now home to groupers, seahorses, and many marine species. The whale shark is spotted occasionally around the wreckage. The soft purple corals on the port side of the ship are especially spectacular. Divers can also horse around the large storage tank and rusting propeller. Yong Hua shipwreck is a promising diving site filled with excitement, admiration, and respect.
Difficulty: Deep diving
The Far Islands are a cluster of tiny islands on the northern side of Ko Lipe. The marine life diversity here is some of the richest in South East Asia. Hundreds of coral species support an enormous spectrum of marine creatures, such as crabs, moray eels, turtles, schools of scorpionfish, and other extraordinary bottom dwellers. There is a higher chance at this site of encountering rays, sharks, and other enormous sea creatures. Taking a trip to the Far Islands is a must-do for underwater photography enthusiasts, as they could find a host of stunning nudibranch.
Within a 25-minute boat ride from Ko Lipe, Ko Taru is the perfect diving site for beginners. Divers will be overwhelmed with exotic sea creatures moving and crawling among a spectacular mix of hard and soft coral. Rollback from this site drop, and you will come across seahorses, nudibranch, commensal shrimps, scorpionfish, and even eye-popping harlequin shrimp. Stingrays, moray eels, schools of snappers, and plenty of colorful reef fish also roam around the coral gardens.
Swimming and snorkeling
While scuba diving may offer the most freedom to explore Lipe underwater paradise, snorkeling, on the other hand, is exciting and easy enough for kids and anyone else to experience underwater scenery.
Lipe is the best snorkeling site in the Andaman Sea.
Due to its remote and untouched setting, Lipe and its neighboring islands are a treasure trove of coral reefs under the calm, crystal-clear water. Sea turtles, clownfishes, coral trouts, snappers, and reef fish also dash in and out the gardens.
The best time for snorkeling is between November and April (high season) when the seawater is calm and clear.
Unlike snorkeling in other parts of Thailand, you do not need to leave the Ko Lipe to discover underwater scenery—you’re already in a snorkeling hot spot. Just grab snorkel gear and hit the water to swim side by side with clownfish (Nemo), sergeant major, pennant butterflyfish, and blue parrotfish, to name a few.
Here are the most beautiful snorkeling spots easily accessible in Ko Lipe.
Around 100 meters off Sunrise Beach is the small island of Ko Usen, where soft coral reefs abound in the shallow water. Some snorkelers swim from the beach to drop-off zones, but kayaking is also available. Blue-spotted stingrays and moray eels live on the southern side of the island. Head to the northern part to explore one-kilometer-long coral gardens to embrace an underwater wonder. Swim alongside clownfish, parrotfish, colorful clams, damselfish, and wrasse. If you are lucky, a skittish black-tip reef shark may pass by to add extra excitement.
This small island is about 100 meters off of the northern part of Sunrise Beach. From Usen Island, a snorkeler could swim or kayak to Ko Kra. The heavenly ocean landscape with crystal clear blue water somehow seems dull when compared to the scenic underwater view in the north of the island. Take in schools of needlefish roaming around soft coral reefs or follow schools of colorful parrotfish along an underwater trail—you might even bump into a no-nonsense scorpionfish.
Lipe’s main beach has plentiful soft coral reefs 200 meters offshore, but the heavy boat traffic makes swimming and snorkeling difficult and risky. If you want to snorkel without leaving Pattaya Beach, head out to the eastern or western corner with snorkel gears and fins. There are rocks and patches of coral reefs at each end. On the west corner, you can expect to find lionfish, morays, and oriental sweetlips roaming and hiding around hump corals. At the east end are black snappers and schools of white-collared butterflyfish.
Part of Adang-Rawi Archipelago in the Andaman Sea, Ko Lipe is surrounded by more than 30 islands and hundreds of reefs all within reach by long-tailed and speedboats. Lipe is the best snorkeling destination in Southeast Asia. You can easily combine it with camping, sea kayaking, swimming, and strolling across pristine beaches on deserted tropical islands.
Within a short boat ride to the northwest of Lipe is the smaller Ko Cha Bang. Billed as “soft coral heaven,” the reef features pinnacles with bright purple and soft pink corals plus an extraordinary abundance of marine life.
A short boat ride to the north of Ko Cha Bang is Ko Yang. Eye-popping coral and brilliant marine life make Ko Yang is a must-visit destination for snorkelers. The tiny island has sparkling water that is home to angelfish, moray eels, lionfish, butterflyfish, lizardfish, parrotfish, scorpionfish, Moorish idols, and many more.
Then there’s Ko Rawi, a paradise for ocean aficionados. The beach is underdeveloped and pristine with powdery white sands, and the water is warm and crystalline. You could enjoy a leisurely swim, scenic underwater view, and barefoot experience along the pristine beach before heading back to Ko Lipe and calling it a day.
There are many organized snorkeling day trips and tours available during high season at Ko Lipe. You could share the boat with others or charter a private ride. Pack your snorkeling gears, lunch box, and drinking water, then head out with a long-tailed boat for a spectacular island hopping.
How to Get There
The nearest airport to Ko Lipe is Hat Yai Airport. Low-cost airlines depart daily from Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok to Hat Yai Airport, while Thai Smile Airways operates daily flights from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Hat Yai Airport. From Hat Yai Airport, you take a shuttle bus ($7.60 per person) to the Pak Bara Pier before catching a ferry ($19.77 per person) to Ko Lipe. There is only one ferry per day to Ko Lipe, leaving the Pak Bara pier at 11.30 am. Make sure your arrival at the airport is earlier than 10 am so you can make it to the dock on time.
A train (15 hours) and overnight buses (13 hours) depart from Bangkok to Hat Yai daily. Once in Hat Yai, take a shuttle to Pak Bara Pier and the ferry to Ko Lipe.
Ko Lipe is small enough to explore on foot. To hop around surrounding islands and diving spots, you need a speedboat or long-tailed boat.