Ko Lipe is an island off the Andaman Coast of Southern Thailand. It is in Satun Province, close to Langkawi Island (Malaysia), 67 km from Pak Bara. It is part of a large group of over 70 islands, and also part of a smaller cluster of islands called the Butang Islands or Adang Archipelago.
Ko Lipe is known for diving and snorkelling, and for beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere. Ko Lipe enjoys a great reputation and is spoken of in almost reverential terms by travel writers and on web blogs. Why this is so is difficult to understand. The island is not particularly easy or inexpensive to get to. Worse, the island is in danger of becoming another Patong given the huge number of visitors it receives and the rampant development that has transformed its “Walking Street” — overrun with commercial vehicles — into a mini-Ao Nang. If you’re looking for the real “Thailand”, Ko Lipe is not the place to do it.
Understand : Ko Lipe (also spelled as Koh Lipe) is just outside Tarutao National Park and surrounded by uninhabited islands of the Butong Archipelago.
The island is home to about 500 Chao Ley, or Sea Gypsies, who were given a grant to half of the island and live in small villages, predominantly around the far east side of the island near Sunrise Beach. The name “Ko Lipe” means “Paper Island” in the local Chao Ley language.
The huge tourism business of Ko Lipe results in water shortages, waste disposal issues, and other environmental problems. It is common to see garbage being burnt since there are not many reliable options for waste disposal. The island has a central power plant, fossil fuel-powered, but also has a small solar installation. Solar panels, even passive, are a rarity on this island awash in solar energy.
Grey water is captured in cesspools as there is no sewer system. The source of fresh water is a mystery as no wells are evident.
Access : Coordinates: 6.49, 99.3 / By plane : Air Asia offers an island transfer package that includes a flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai, a bus to Pak Bara, and a ferry to Ko Lipe.
By boat : The following companies operate boats in the high season (Nov-May): Adang Sea Tours operates three daily speedboats from 1 Nov-15 May, leaving Pak Bara at 09:30, 11:30, and 15:30. The speedboats stop at Ko Tarutao or Ko Bulone. The journey from Pak Bara takes 90 minutes and costs 650 baht one-way, 1,200 baht round trip. The boats leave Ko Lipe at 09:30, 13:30, and 16:00 for the return trip (Feb 2016).
Bundaya Resorts and Lipe Speedboat Company also operates speedboats from Pak Bara, leaving at similar times and costing the same as above.
Forra Speedboats Operates two daily speedboats from 1 Nov-15 May, leaving Pak Bara at 11:30 and 13:30. The speedboats stop at Ko Tarutao. The journey from Pak Bara takes 90 minutes and costs 650 baht one-way, 1,200 baht round trip. The boats leave Ko Lipe at 09:30 and 13:30 for the return trip.
Satun Pakbara Speed Boat Club operates a daily boat from Ko Lanta, leaving at 13:00 and stopping at Ko Ngai, Ko Muk, Ko Bulone, before reaching Ko Lipe at 16:00. The boat leaves Ko Lipe at 09:00 for the return trip. The company offers transfers to this boat from Phuket. The company also operates two daily speedboats from Telaga Terminal at Telaga Harbour Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia, 42 km from Ko Lipe. These boats dock at the south end of Pattaya Beach. The boats leave Langkawi at 09:30 and 14:30 for the 60-minute journey, costing approximately RM120 (Malaysian ringgit). The boats leave Ko Lipe for the return journey at 10:30 and 16:30.
Tigerline Ferries operates a daily speedboat to/from Langkawi, leaving Langkawi at 08:00 and arriving at Ko Lipe at 09:00, and returns from Ko Lipe to Langkawi at 16:00. The trip costs 1,200 baht. The company also operates a daily speedboat to/from Hat Yao Pier in Trang, leaving Ko Lipe at 10:00 and arriving in Trang at 12:30. The trip costs 750 baht. The company offers boat service to Ko Lanta (1,500 baht total, arrives 15:30), and Phi Phi (1,800 baht total, arrives 17:00). For the journey to Ko Lipe, the boats leave Phi Phi at 08:00 and arrive in Ko Lipe at 15:30.
Tropical Charters operates ferries from Ko Lipe to Langkawi (Kuah jetty) twice per day during the high season at 11:00 and 16:00 from Ko Lipe and 09:30 and 14:30 from Langkawi. During the low season, the company only has morning trips. Price is RM118 one way (RM100 if you book online), including the longtail boat transfer and Thai custom fee (2015). Registration 90 minutes before departure at the Bundhaya Speed Boat office at Bundhaya Resort. The trip takes 90 minutes. Arrival in Langkawi is at Jetty Point in Kuah.
In the low-season, there is one boat per day from Pak Bara leaving at 11:30.
Boats from the mainland dock at an off-shore pontoon during high-season. During low-season ferries arrive on Sunrise Beach. Before you are allowed to proceed you must pay a 200 baht national park admission fee even though Ko Lipe is not in the national park. From there longtail boats will take you ashore for 50 baht or offer transfers to anywhere on Ko Lipe for negotiated price.
All of Ko Lipe can be covered on foot, although its size at first can be a little deceiving. There are many motorcycles and saleng on the island, none of them for rent. The saleng are motorcycle sidecar taxis (labeled as such with drivers wearing numbered blue vests) that charge 50 baht per person from any point on the island to any other point on the island (or 300 baht per hour), they are typically parked near the 7-Eleven or ordered by phone (phone numbers are displayed on many of the electric poles). There are pickup trucks on the island belonging to resorts and used to transfer their customers’ bags on arrival/departure and as shuttles (certain resorts also operate golf carts as shuttles). Small concrete roads link the various beaches.
Activities : Fishing is illegal near the island, so stay away from fishing trips and do not purchase locally-caught fish.
- Pattaya Beach (South (leeward) side of the island). The most popular beach and good for children. Lots of bungalows for rent on or near the beach. Ferries dock here during high-season (Nov-Apr).
- Sunrise Beach (East (windward) side of the island, near the Chao Ley village). Ferries dock here during low-season (May-Oct).
- Sunset Beach. In the west, which as the name implies, facing the sunset. Not much of a beach, but has bars and tent sites for camping.
- Around Ko Lipe are some of Thailand’s best reefs, all within easy reach. The reefs around Ko Lipe are largely intact; the 2004 tsunami had little impact here. The currents here are predominantly tidal which means certain times of the month there are strong currents and at other times none at all. You can always find somewhere good to dive but the widest selection of dive sites is available twice a month, following the half moon.
- You can see numerous sharks, whale sharks and manta rays. Sightings of the big guys are more likely at sites around the edge of the marine park, nearer the deeper waters. For the best chance, visit 8 Mile Rock, Stonehenge, or Ko Pung.
- Between Ko Adang & Ko Rawi. Has excellent diving and snorkelling between the two islands where the mountains come down to the sea. Underwater there are huge boulders and many types of rare fish and coral species that inhabit the reef in this region. A great spot for drift diving. Snorkellers should head for the east side of Ko Rawi where the national park has set up ropes along the reef, so that snorkellers can pull themselves easily along and investigate the reef with ease.
- 8 Mile Rock. A true deep sea pinnacle 75 minutes away by boat. The rock can be a tough place to dive due to the strong currents, but the marine and bird life that come here to feed are fantastic. The top of the pinnacle rises to within 14 m of the surface. Found here are soft corals, schools of pelagic fish, potato cod, manta rays, whale sharks, leopard sharks.
- Hin Takorn Dukong. Right in the centre of the Marine Park, this site is home to just about every species of fish that you can imagine. The site is made up of granite stones shaped similar to building blocks rising up from the seabed into a structure with a series of tall points at its peak. Up to 18 m deep, one can swim around the base of the pinnacle, observing what is here in abundance: hard and soft corals, at least 6 types of eel such as snake eels, different types of lion-fish and stone-fish. Squid and cuttlefish try to hide here and succeed in attracting the larger predators such as sailfish.
- Ko Bu Tang. Has become one of the most popular islands to dive. One of the largest islands of the group, Ko Bu Tong supports many bird and animal species. Troops of crab eating monkeys called “macaques” live on the island and a colourful type of bee eater bird can often be spotted from the beaches here. Giant corals and shellfish grow everywhere around this island paradise. Dive the north and south channels, although for deep diving the “Giant’s Staircase” on the island’s west side has huge natural stone steps going down underwater to 50 m or more. Also to found on Ko Bu Tang is Sting Ray City, where the blue spotted stingrays are plentiful. This site is also very good for snorkelling. North side: has Monkey Bay, similar to Sting Ray City but much more steep and dramatic. Expect to see endless rows of tall coral-heads, turtles and rare critters such as the ornamental ghost pipe-fish and sharks sleeping under the corals. East side: has the perfect tiny island of Ko Lokoi. Surrounded by about 90 acres of shallow coral, you could do four dives here and not see it all.
- Ko Langcha. Between Langcha and Adang is a very nice coral garden really worth the effort both for divers and snorkellers. Near perfect gardens shelter all sorts including rays and eels.
- Ko Sawang. This last tiny island is on the outer edge of the archipelago. There is not a tree or scrap of vegetation that can grow on this tall smooth stone, but underwater this place is full of life. Fantastic coral gardens growing on the rocky outcrops below and spend time with the millions of fish to be found here.
- Yong Hua Shipwreck. In 1996 a fish-factory ship anchored near the western end of Ko Lipe caught fire and sank to the bottom of the sea in about 40 m of water. The shipwreck is now completely covered in marine growth and inhabited by schools of fish. The shipwreck has become a very interesting place to dive but does some times have strong currents making it a difficult dive. The top of the wreck is at about 26 m sitting on its keel that is at 40 m.
Day trips to nearby islands. Pirate Falls and Chado Cliff on Ko Adang, and the dense jungle on Ko Rawi are recommended. 800-1,000 baht.
Freediving. Freediving as a recognized activity has only been around for 100 years, but people have been practising diving deep without equipment for thousands of years. On Lipe it’s in its early days and so far only one dive operator on the island offers it as a course.
Kayaking. Rent a kayak from various spots on the beach and spend the day or two seeing the island and reef. edit
Massages. There are plenty of places to get a massage, including an offshoot of the Wat Po massage school in the centre of the island. Also Castaway Resort has a lovely little spa with sea views. Figure on each massage costing 100 baht more than the same massage on the mainland.
Ocean Hiker Sailing School. Sailing intro courses or five-day sailing courses on an ocean-going sailing yacht leading to an Ocean Hiker Competent Crew Certification, the first step to start your sailing career. 2,500 to 29,900 baht.
Sailing. Sailing around Ko Lipe and within the Butang Group is certainly the most chilled way to explore these natural gems. There are day sailing trips with snorkelling activities or liveaboard sailing cruises within the Butang Group or as far as Ko Tarutao National Marine Park. 1,500 to 6,000 baht.
Snorkeling. The calm, clear water makes the Ko Lipe area ideal for snorkelling, with 25% of the world’s tropical fish species found in the area. There are large varieties of fish around the coral 20 m off all of the beaches. Ko Lipe is surrounded by over 30 islands and hundreds of reefs all within easy reach of the island. Tarutao National Park is one of Asia’s oldest marine parks thus the reefs and the islands surrounding Ko Lipe are in very good condition. Nowhere else on the Southeast Asian peninsula will you find so many excellent snorkel sites so easily reached.
Stay safe : Precautions : Stonefish have been spotted and photographed in the waters of Ko Lipe. While the chances of getting stung are slim, you may want to consider protective footwear when swimming in the water. Medical care : There is a hospital next to the school on Sunrise Beach, with an English-speaking doctor. There is a clinic next to Pooh Restaurant, with an English-speaking doctor.
Go next : Ko Lanta / Ko Muk / Ko Phi Phi / Ko Tarutao / Langkawi / Pak Bara / Phuket