We always planned to go to Koh Lipe but we had no expectation as to what we would find. As soon as we stepped off the boat into the sparkling blue water ( literally – there was no jetty) and walked up white sand beach to the immigration office ( concrete area with plastic chairs) we knew we had reached somewhere special.
Koh Lipe is only a stone’s throw from Malaysia but it is a world apart, being part of Thailand. Our ferry took us as close as it could to shore before we boarded a small Thai motor boat to bring us across the reef and onto the beach. We then stepped into the water and lugged our bags up the beach as we waited for the Thai Immigration Officer (guy in a plain T shirt) to give us back our passports. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Once he called out ‘Australia’ ( there was only one other Australian in our group) you were required to present yourself in front of him for inspection ( or ridicule) and he gave you personal directions to your lodging. I was relieved when he said to us “4 minute walk up beach , that way”. Phew, I was hoping 4 Thai minutes wasn’t the same as 4 Malay minutes, and thankfully he was about spot on.
Our first impression of our new lodgings was good considering our accommodation was on the cheaper end of the scale ( about $80/night for a 2 story bungalow). The bar and restaurant were beachfront ( literally sand under your feet) and the island’s main drag ( Walking Street) was a 2 minute stroll up the beach. Our accommodation was nothing flash – there was no AC , hot water or television , but the location and scenery more than made up for it.
Admittedly the days spent on Koh Lipe all blurred together. We swam in the warm blue sea, did some schoolwork by the beach, searched for hermit crabs, built sandcastles, ate pad-thai , went for walks and read books. When it was too hot to walk we caught the island taxis around and bought icees to cool off. The girls made hermit crab houses each day in the sand and held their little captives hostage until it was time to swim again. At night we ate seafood on the beach and soaked up the vibe of walking street.
For a little island in the middle of the Andaman sea it has quite a unique vibe. Mornings were fairly quiet with a smattering of people taking advantage of the cooler weather to swim, run and walk. Afternoons, the little island seemed to wake up with shop owners starting to roll up their doors for business. By night time walking street was jam packed with tourists and shop fronts offering souvenirs, fresh seafood and cheap massages. The bars along the beach also lay out mats, tables and oil lights and the music started playing. There are plenty of laid back beach bars and trendy modern pool bars. If you were lucky enough to catch a weekend ( or a full moon party) the music lasted until the wee hours. By morning the beach was swept, spotless and ready for a new day.
Now the idea of a 7/11 on the island might make you cringe but I can honestly say that I have a new appreciation for this franchise. 7/11 has been our saviour on more than one occasion when nothing else is open. The Malays don’t like to start their business day until about 1pm and it seems on Koh Lipe the Thai’s are similar. The 7/11 on Koh Lipe is open 24 hours and offers a wide selection of pretty much everything you need and plenty of stuff you dont need. They will make you a fresh cup of coffee ( or an iced drink if you prefer) , they stock pre-made ham and cheese sandwiches or croissants that they also put into the sandwich press for you, they sell cups of ice to keep your drinks cool and of course cheap beer and cider. Certainly there are some strange items for sale ( snail slime face cream, wt??) but overall 7/11 has come to our rescue more times than I can count. The other saviour was the best icee shop I have ever seen. It was our treat at the end of a hot day.
We finished off our stay on Koh Lipe with a snorkeling tour of nearby islands, a beach sunset dinner and night swim with shimmering plankton. I also checked out some ‘nice’ accommodation on the island for when I come back here again one day ( with a bigger budget). You can’t fly to Koh Lipe , in fact you can’t get here without getting your feet wet, carrying your own bag up the beach and waiting your turn for the Thai guy on the plastic chair to call your name , but it’s worth it. This place is THE postcard with the blue water, palm trees and white sand. Put it on your bucket list – you won’t be disappointed.