Located in the Andaman Sea right by the side of the second largest island within Tarutao Marine National Park, Koh Lipe nevertheless does not fall under the jurisdiction of the park what actually means that certain development prohibiting laws do not have force there but at the same time you still have to pay the THB200 national park entry fee. Outside the high season, there is only one daily boat to Koh Lipe from Pak Bara in Satun province. From November to May, though, you have a choice where to start your journey from. There are boats to Koh Lipe from Trang in Thailand and Langkawi in Malaysia; you can also buy combination tickets to Koh Lipe from Bangkok or Hat Yai, as well as from Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. But the most popular starting point for journey to Koh Lipe is Pak Bara, a small village 60 km from Satun.
How to get to Pak Bara
Getting to Pak Bara requires certain effort. Pak Bara can be reached by songthaews from Langu bus station (30 minutes; THB20), and to get to Langu you have to take a regular bus or van from Satun, Trang or Hat Yai, all trips taking about one hour (THB50-THB100). While this journey can be done quite easily, you might also want to avoid any hassle connected to transferring yourself between the trips and buy a combination ticket from Hat Yai (5 hours), Trang (5 hours) or Krabi (7 hours).
Jolly Travel offers combination tickets to Koh Lipe from Langu bus station (THB600; 2½ hours), which are a great value.
Note If you arrive to Pak Bara too late to catch the last ferry to Koh Lipe, do not despair. You can find a handful of accommodation and food options scattered along the main road, though almost all of them are quite run down.
Besides Koh Lipe, boats from Pak Bara travel to Koh Tarutao and Koh Bulon Leh.
From Pak Bara to Koh Lipe by speedboat
If you prefer to tailor-make your journey all by yourself, catch your boat to Koh Lipe at Pak Bara. Travel time from the pier in Pak Bara to Koh Lipe is from 1½ hour to two hours. If you are prone to seasickness it is most probably not the trip of your life: the ride can be quite bumpy, so get prepared. The first boat to Koh Lipe departs around 9am and the last boat of the day normally leaves before 3.30pm to reach the island before dusk. There are at least five boats a day from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe during high season.
Prices fluctuate between THB500 and THB700, but all the operators serving the route, be it Ferry Lipe and speedboat, Jolly Travel or A Dang Sea Adventure provide very similar service, so there is not much difference which company to travel with. Almost all boats call to Koh Tarutao or Koh Bulon Leh first and then proceed to Koh Lipe where they dock at the floating pier just 100 m from Pattaya Beach.
Note At the pier you will have to pay THB200 national park entrance fee and then additional THB70 for your onward transfer to the island by longtail boat. Neither park fee, not longtail boat ticket is included into your ticket price.
Why go to Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe’s natural beauty is simply stunning. While the ‘snow white sand beaches and crystal clear waters’ description can be attributed to other islands, as well, Koh Lipe just leaves you breathless. Once it used to be a secret backpackers’ paradise with only a handful of simple beach huts, no sealed roads and hardly any nightlife, but those times are unfortunately well gone now. With a growing number of tourists, the majority being Malay, Chinese and other Asians and the inevitable pirate development accompanying herds of coming visitors, Koh Lipe is the sure runner-up after Koh Phi Phi, with its beauty being its curse.
Trash disposal is a huge problem on Koh Lipe. Its outstanding beaches are often littered, and garbage is burned down instead of being recycled. The authorities are trying to get hold of the situation but till now the only evident step of it is the entrance fee which was levied as a sign of Koh Lipe’s possible integration into Tarutao Marine National Park. Alas, as it often happens in Thailand, Koh Lipe does not seem to benefit much from this money. Those sad things said, Koh Lipe still manages to preserve its charm. Nobody knows for how long, and if you plan to visit the island, do it right away – when it is not too late to do so.
Getting around on Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is a small island and is easily covered on foot. Walking from one beach to another takes from 5 minutes to a quarter of an hour – and there are actually only three main beaches on Koh Lipe: the most popular Pattaya Beach, Sunset Beach and Sunrise Beach. You can take a motorbike taxi – they ask from THB50 to THB200 for anywhere you go – or make use of bicycles some of the resorts provide to their guests for free.
Where to stay on Koh Lipe
New accommodation options are mushrooming on Koh Lipe, their number is till limited with the size of the island. The majority operate only during high season, though in recent years more and more digs remain open all year round.
As a general rule, accommodation on Koh Lipe does not offer great value for your money. Bungalows below THB1000 are hard to come across during high season months, and the cheaper options are nothing more than simple huts without air-conditioner and hot water. Some operations lure you with low rates advertised on their boards, but by some inexplicable misfortune, no one can ever get a room at these sweet rates. During Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year or Songkran it is an absolute must to book in advance, otherwise you may end up spending your night in a common room for THB1500 per person.
Pattaya Beach remains the most promising area to dig for relatively budget deals but remember that it is the busiest and noisiest one, as well. Some of the bars rent out one or two back rooms and can help if everything else is full, but do not expect a quiet night.
For a more private experience try Sunset Beach where a couple of cheapies still resist the growing pressure of middle-to-upscale resorts. The sunset side is always a promising place for a sundowner, so do not miss it whether you stay there or not. Sunrise Beach is a beautiful spot and can probably offer the right balance between solitude and development.
Things to do on Koh Lipe
No wonder that almost all the activities Koh Lipe has on offer are sea related. If you need something more than just sunbathing and enjoying turquoise transparent waters, try snorkelling, diving or freediving. There are enough dive shops and schools on Koh Lipe offering both PADI and SDI certificates and lessons with multilingual tuition. Coral reefs around the island are generally bleached due to the rising temperature of the water, but some nice corals teeming with abundant marine life can be found around neighbouring islands of the Adang archipelago.
To reach them, you can either join a package tour or charter a longtail boat. The latter option is probably a more enjoyable way to get acquainted with the archipelago. Prices start from THB1500 per boat for 3 hours and go up depending on how long you would like your journey to last.
Kayaking to the neighbouring islands like Koh Adang, Kog Rawi or Koh Hin Ngam can be challenging; if you need a more relaxed experience, just make a trip around the island.
Tip Fishing around Koh Lipe is illegal. Refrain from buying fishing tours whatever you may be said.
Onward travel from Koh Lipe
From November through May there are daily boats from Koh Lipe to Langkawi in Malaysia with Tiger Travel, Tropical Charters, Satun Pakbara Speedboat Club and some others. All the immigration formalities on exiting Thailand are performed at Koh Lipe immigration. Do not forget to check visa requirements for your passport before buying your ticket to Langkawi.
Both Andaman and Krabi route of Tiger Travel include Koh Lipe, thus connecting the island to all the Trang islands like Koh Muk, Koh Kradang, Koh Ngai, Koh Libong as well as Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket and Krabi by sea.
Once a secret paradise hideaway, Koh Lipe still preserves its natural beauty. To reach the island, take a ferry from Pak Bara or choose a combination ticket from Hat Yai, Krabi or Trang.