You’ve probably heard of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi, but have you heard of Koh Lipe? Due to its tiny size and geographic isolation, Koh Lipe is much lesser-known than its popular brothers and sisters elsewhere in the Andaman Sea and the Thai Gulf. It’s deep down on the southern fringes of the country, closer to Kuala Lumpur than to Bangkok, mysteriously enfolded by a national park. But is Koh Lipe worth visiting?
It may be a bit more tricky to get to, but a visit to this tiny Thai island is well worth the effort! Arrivees are rewarded with beautiful beaches (we’d say some of the most beautiful in the whole country – and we don’t say that lightly about The Land of Smiles), crystal-clear seas, and a laid-back atmosphere. From unbeatable diving experiences to glorious stretches of luscious, unspoiled wildlife, Koh Lipe is a nature lover’s paradise and a perfect place to chase that tropical R&R.
Still not convinced? Cue this guide. It will answer is Koh Lipe worth visiting by homing in on seven amazing aspects about this less-trodden jewel on the edge of the Malay border. You’ll learn about the resplendent coral reefs, the opulent hotel options, and the shimmering talcum sands that await. Let’s get started…
Is Koh Lipe worth visiting for its beaches alone? 100%. Yes. Totally. No question about it. In fact, we’d say the sands are the piece de resistance here.
Pattaya is the main beach on the island and also the largest. Here, you’ll find soft, powdery sand and clear turquoise water, shallow and warm. Beautiful yes, but it is also the most commercialized area of the island, with plenty of accommodation to choose from and great bars to visit to boot.
The second largest beach, Sunrise Beach, is considerably quieter than Pattaya. It also has a cool breeze during the daytime, vital for those of us who can’t quite take the scorching heat of the cloudless peak season. The restaurants here tend to be of higher quality than those on Pattaya. As you may have guessed from the name, this is the spot to go and start your day the right way by taking in a lovely Thai sunrise.
Quieter still is Sunset Beach. Although further away from most accommodation and amenities, this secluded beach is absolutely gorgeous. The camping area lends it something of a hippy atmosphere, though the spot tends to get busy in the evening as people congregate to watch the golden hour. Technically an extension of Sunrise Beach to the north, Karma Beach is also worth checking out for its white sand. Its gorgeous views of the neighboring island Koh Adang are quite something to behold.
Unbeatable diving (and all manner of other watersports)
Part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, Koh Lipe boasts an immense diversity of marine life. In fact, 25% of all tropical fish species are present in the area! Leopard sharks, whale sharks, and devil rays, alongside many exotic small fish, can be found swimming in the island’s waters. This, coupled with its high underwater visibility, make Koh Lipe worth visiting for anyone who enjoys snorkeling or scuba diving. You can find diving schools that organize trips on both Sunrise and Pattaya beaches.
Some enthusiasts might want to avoid the high season as group sizes on these trips tend to be larger and the reefs can become a tad congested. In the low season, diving is usually pleasant in May, July and August, but somewhat less so, however, in the rainy months of June and September – visibility is lower. Other water sports available on the island include sea kayaking, jet-skiing, and parasailing.
It’s well located for island hopping
Although the more intrepid traveler might think that there’s not much to do on Koh Lipe except lay back and watch the world go by, there are plenty of uninhabited islands nearby which are ripe for exploration. Yep, the sheer potential for adventure in this part of Thailand makes Koh Lipe worth visiting!
All of the islands surrounding Koh Lipe are accessible only by boat taxi and have very limited infrastructure. Do not expect utilities such as Wi-Fi or streamed NFL. Be sure to bring plenty of insect repellent and strong sunscreen. These are lands set deep in an almost totally undeveloped national park. Here’s a look at all the amazing options:
- Koh Adang – The nearest of all. This one boasts sublime views of Koh Lipe from the north. First, though, comes the task of climbing the island’s steep hiking trail. It’s worth doing this early in the morning in order to avoid getting roasted as you tackle the trail.
- Koh Rawi – The neighboring island to Koh Adang, this is the place to go if you’re looking for more stunning beaches. With pristine white sand and clear water, the coast here is reminiscent of Pattaya but without any people.
- Koh Tarutao – The largest in the area, this is one of the most unspoiled islands you will ever see. It is covered almost entirely with dense jungle and mangrove swamps, and fringed on the sides by dramatic limestone cliffs. The reason for its lack of development stems from its past as a prison island. Remnants of the prison remain, though it has been completely deserted for around seventy years. Aside from this historical interest, the island’s steep trails provide great routes for mountain bikers and fit hikers. If you want to be out in the jungle in the middle of nowhere, this is the place to go.
- Koh Butang – For snorkeling and dive, this is the place to be. Giant coral and shellfish grow all around this beautiful rock. For deep divers, the dramatic underwater formations of the Giant’s Staircase off the island’s west coast are quite something to behold. Otherwise, the north and south coasts have plenty of stunning spots to observe for snorkelers and divers. Stingray City is a colony of blue spotted stingrays there, while Monkey Bay boasts all manner of rare sea creatures. Ghost pipefish are often sighted here, as are sharks sleeping under the corals.
Ostensibly, Koh Lipe is about the unspoiled coral gardens, the lush jungles, and the pristine beaches. However, there’s also something to be said for the hotels here, which have slowly but surely risen and risen to become some of the most tempting and opulent in the whole Andaman region.
What do we mean? How about five-star resorts plonked squarely on their own private island? How about places with glinting infinity pools that seem to merge seamlessly with the Andaman? How about hotels with Balinese-style villas on the shoreline and private butler service? Yep, you can get that here, but there’s also a great range of midrange stays and hostels for the shoestring traveler to boot.
Here are some of the very best:
- AKIRA Lipe Resort ($$-$$$) – A four-star hotel right on the front of Pattaya Beach, complete with a pool that looks right over the lapping waves.
- Adang Island Resort ($$-$$$) – Stay on your very own private island by choosing the Adang Island Resort, which spills out of the protected jungles on the next isle over from Koh Lipe. The beaches here promise to be super empty.
- Castaway Resort Koh Lipe ($$) – The Castaway is a cracking midrange choice that perches above Sunrise Beach on the east of the island. Get ready for the vibes of a true Thai bungalow resort, where hammocks swing on creaking driftwood decks.
- Sea To Moon Lipe ($$) – A classic Thai island bungalow stay. Open the doors and your feet are in the sand. Perfection.
It offers ultimate relaxation
In contrast to some of the more raucous Thai islands, Koh Lipe has a very relaxed feel to it. Travelers will find that most of the bars have a very laid-back atmosphere, perfect for letting go of your worries and unwinding with a cold Chang in hand. There are plenty of places to get a massage or attend a yoga workshop to help get those Zen feels a-going, too.
The island’s friendly vibe contributes to an overarching feeling of tranquility, as does its location – being relatively isolated and tricky to get to, Koh Lipe is much less busy than the more famous Thai island destinations. The ability to walk from one end of the island to the other in half an hour also helps you feel like you’re in that secluded paradise that you’ve been dreaming of.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that there are basically no cars on the island. Mhmm…forget being woken up at 4am by a purring scooter speeding down the street here, folks!
There’s the opportunity to help give back
Sadly, the islands in the Tarutao National Park are being greatly affected by the soaring amount of plastic in the ocean. But there is a way for tourists in Koh Lipe to help out with this problem: By taking part in the Trash Hero initiative. Every Monday morning at 10am, the environmentally conscious gather on Pattaya Beach to be shipped off to a nearby island and help pick up litter.
On top of the feel-good buzz that comes with tidying up these paradise islands, all volunteers are offered a free buffet lunch upon return. This setting is ideal for meeting friendly travelers with a likeminded outlook, not to mention for learning all about the delicate marine ecosystems that surround Lipe in the Andaman Sea.
Trash Hero also do a refillable bottle scheme that runs in Koh Lipe and right across Southeast Asia. Basically, you buy one of their handy metal bottles for a bargain price and then you get guaranteed access to water in any participating outlet, which are located on virtually all the islands here, along with Bali and even in Europe. Nice.
Delicious food and dining options
You can’t visit Koh Lipe without sampling the local specialty: Freshly barbecued fish. This is often simply cooked over open coals with just a zing of Southeast Asian flare on the side. That comes in the form of a chili-ginger marinade or a dousing of lime juice and salt. Other mainstay foods of south Thailand that are served up in Lipe include tom yum soups with king prawns and fresh masaman curries with coconut milk.
In terms of the best restaurants in Koh Lipe, we love Barracuda, which has a fantastic seafood menu at a reasonable price. Papaya Mom serve various types of cuisine, but their northeastern Isaan dishes are some of the best around. Travelers after a spicy meal or some authentic Thai food will find what they’re looking for there. For westerners craving a taste of home, Elephant Bar should fit the bill. They offer a wide selection of salads, burgers, sandwiches, and smoothie bowls, as well as an all-day brunch menu.
Is Koh Lipe worth visiting? Our conclusion
Is Koh Lipe worth visiting? Look, we’re not exaggerating when we say that we’ve heard countless people say that Koh Lipe is 100% their overall favorite Thai island. And these are people who have been traveling the Land of Smiles since before it was even cool!
There’s plenty to be said for the place, that’s for sure. It’s got talcum-powder beaches on both sides, access to a coral-fringed national park that’s laden with adventure, and some of the very finest resort hotels on the planet.
How many days do you need on Koh Lipe?
Koh Lipe is very small so you shouldn’t need more than two or three days to see everything on the island. That said, some tourists might easily have cause to stay longer. The potential for island-hopping means that the more adventurous traveler could put together a week-long itinerary. On top of that, Koh Lipe isn’t the easiest to get to, so you might want to make the most of your efforts by planning extra days here.
When is the best time to visit Koh Lipe?
The best months to go to Koh Lipe are January and February. These are generally hot, have little rain, and have the clearest, calmest seas of all. The dry season (November-April) is generally the high season for tourism, so during this period it’s best to book hotels well in advance, particularly as the island is so small and has limited options for accommodation.
How do you get to Koh Lipe?
The only way to get to Koh Lipe is by boat. Fortunately, there are many ferries and speedboats that run to the island from various points of departure. Those coming from Bangkok should travel by plane, bus or train to Hat Yai before getting a shuttle bus to Pak Bara, where the daily ferry to Koh Lipe leaves at 11:30am. There are also boats in from Malaysia in the peak season, though they involve passport checks at the embarkation port (Langkawi).