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Koh Lipe: 3 Things to Know Before you Go

I’ve had my eye on the remote island of Koh Lipe, Thailand for quite some time now. Called the “Maldives of Thailand,” because of it’s crystal clear turquoise waters, pristine white sands, living coral and ample sea life, it’s as beautiful a beach destination as I’ve ever been to.

It’s not the easiest island to visit though. Located close to the Malaysian border, it’s essentially closed for half the year because of the rough seas that make it dangerous to get to. When it IS open, it’s remoteness necessitates a lengthy combination of flight, car and speedboat to get to.

It’s worth it though. These are the 3 things you should know before you go.

IT’S NOT A SECRET ANY LONGER
A few years back, Koh Lipe was that secret undiscovered Thai island that people whispered about, but had not actually visited.

Well, no longer.

In high season, locals estimate that 3-5,000 people come and go from the island each and every day, with numbers only increasing year by year. That’s a whole lot of people walking around an island that’s just 3.5 by 2.5 kilometres in size.

High season on Koh Lipe begins on November 1st, and guarantees cloudless days and gorgeous water, but also higher prices and crowded streets. The main “Walking Street,” where most of the restaurants, cafes, spas, and convenience stores are, was wide enough for 2 motorcycle taxis to barely pass each other at the same time. In high season, Walking Street is so crowded that someone has to be stationed on the road to direct pedestrians so they can pass each other.

If you choose to visit during this time, be sure to book your accommodation far, far in advance, and be prepared for a not quite deserted (and maybe even crowded) island experience.

We visited in low season, at the end of September and during the 1st week of October, and I’d say it rained about 40% of the time. It wasn’t enough to ruin our vacation, and the last 4 days were pretty much perfect, but there were a few days when I thought the rain would never stop. The beaches were still amazing, but parts of Walking Street were flooded pretty much the whole time we were there.

Because we visited in low season though, the beaches were practically empty, it was easy to get seats in most restaurants, motorcycle taxis were abundant and the whole island had an easy, peaceful vibe.

If you do choose to go during low season however…

THE SPEEDBOAT RIDE TO THE ISLAND COULD BE TOTAL HELL
We traveled to Koh Lipe in the last week of September. There were clear skies and calm water at Pak Bara Pier when we left the mainland, but within 15 minutes, we ran into insane rain, wind and super rough seas. The boat was jumping so high off the waves, that Agri basically had to hold Naia’s head in a headlock in order to keep it from bouncing all over the place.

I barely held it together without vomiting, but poor baby threw up about 6 times on the ride over. There were times when I was literally praying to make it to Koh Lipe in 1 piece, (despite not being religious at all) and feeling like the worst parent possible for subjecting Naia to that experience. To call it terrifying is not an exaggeration.

If you’re nervous about boat rides, get seasick easily or are traveling with a young child or baby, I would seriously think twice about visiting during low season, or visit as close to high season as possible, like in the last 2 weeks of October.

At the very least, make sure you travel on a completely sunny day with no chance of rain. Because our ride back was so pleasant, it was almost boring.

IT’S NOT THAT CHEAP
Thailand has a reputation for being a budget destination, but I found Koh Lipe to be more expensive than anticipated. Our bungalow at Ten Moons Resort on Sunrise Beach was $120/night in LOW season. Granted, it’s one of the higher end accommodation choices on the island, but there wasn’t much to be found under $50/night. These options usually offered fans, cold water showers, wifi and not much else. There were definitely no $5/night backpacker bungalows available there!

Massages were a minimum of 3oo baht/hour, motorcycle taxi around the island 50 baht/person/ride, and a kilogram of prawns, 1500 baht. Meals are still not expensive by North American standards, but I admit, I was surprised by just how much meals did cost on Koh Lipe.

That’s not to say there AREN’T cheaper options on Koh Lipe – there are. But you’ll have to search them out a bit, because they’re not obvious and on every corner, like in other parts of Thailand.

Don’t worry though, there are 3 ATMs on the island, so you can replenish your funds whenever required. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Do you have a favourite Thai Island? What makes it great? Share your stories in the comments below. โค

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26 Comments Post a comment
  1. Koh Lipe does look like the Maldives but didn’t know it was quite pricey – you pay for the views, lol. Or it could be that the locals are trying to get as much as possible from tourists that do come given that this island sounds hard to get to, quite separate on its own. That boat ride does sound very scary. If Agri didn’t hold Naia she could be flying up to the air D: But I suppose Agri didn’t mind holding Naia tight because as you said before, he is the sporty tough kind ๐Ÿ˜€

    November 1, 2017
    • Oh that boat ride was super terrifying. Even Agri was scared – and he doesn’t scare very easily. We were so worried about poor Naia, because the boat was jumping 3-4 metres off the waves, plus going from side to side at the same time. I thought her neck was gonna break or something. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      I have an impression of Thailand as a budget destination from the first time I visited, but it’s getting more expensive for locals as well. Koh Lipe is benefiting from a lot of demand, so I guess they can charge pretty much whatever they want. There are enough people going that the best hotels/resorts are fully booked months in advance!!

      November 3, 2017
      • Lol, even Agri was scared on the boat. It better have had seatbelts or else it sounded like everyone could hit the ceiling (which I’m guessing is short because the boat doens’t look big) ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

        Many of those I know have been to Thailand in recent years. Though they say it is cheap, it can be hard to look for the cheap if you don’t know where to look ๐Ÿ˜€

        November 4, 2017
  2. Now that it’s over and Naia is OK, you have to look back and (sort of) laugh (or at least marvel) at how dumb you were! I do not say that in a judgmental way, but in a been there/done that way! (Plus, your weather and ride were OK when you started, so you get a pass.) There have been a few times that I kind of forgot that we had kids along and that things might not be as safe for them – oops. I also rode a roller coaster when I was 6-7 months pregnant and realized that might not have been too smart. I look forward to getting to ANY Southeast Asian beach some day!

    November 1, 2017
    • Oh Lex, we were seriously questioning our fitness as parents, and thinking that we need to rethink our priorities. But of course…we kind of forgot about that once we were off the boat and Naia was having a blast on the beach. Haha. But yeah, I def wouldn’t have gotten on that boat if I had known it was gonna be that bad. I did a lot of crazy stuff when I was pregnant too. Going on a scooter through Bangkok’s traffic, speedboat rides in the Maldives etc… I seriously think that might be why Naia is so “thrill” addicted already and not scared of much. Haha.

      But…I’m so surprised you haven’t been to SE Asia yet???? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

      November 3, 2017
      • I know – it’s ridiculous and inexcusable! As soon as I can cobble together a few weeks away, that whole region will be on the top of my list. Every time I start to plan a SE Asia trip, something blows up on me, and I have to abort it. I predict 2018 will be my year!

        November 3, 2017
  3. Oh poor Naia. I am glad you all made it in one piece after the boat ride. Sounds a bit like my scary boat ride experience in Malaysia with a 5 year old brother on a vacation this May. The meals do sound quite expensive, but maybe the locals are just taking advantage of the fact that the island is a little bit on the exclusive side.. I will definitely visit Thailand one day but it’s not on the top of my travel lists as of now.

    November 2, 2017
    • It was so scary Pooja! And I’m not really someone that gets freaked out very easily. I’m just so glad Naia was ok, and not completely scarred from the experience. Koh Lipe is such a tiny island with soooo many tourists going there, that they can afford to charge whatever they want – cuz they will definitely still get business. We were there in low season, and even then, there were a few restaurants where we couldn’t get a table. But I’m surprised that Thailand isn’t higher on your list, since you like beaches so much! Curious to know why? ๐Ÿ™‚

      November 3, 2017
      • Hehe it’s just the tourist factor Shelley! Thailand sounds so overcrowded to me that I’d rather visit the surrounding countries with equally gorgeous beaches first – Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia etc. I do realize that it’s a very beautiful country with great food and fantastic beaches, but to me it’s just the popular factor that doesn’t attract me that much towards it..

        November 3, 2017
        • I think it depends when you visit, and where…but there are soooo many places to choose from in Thailand…but yeah, a lot of tourists for sure (with good reason I guess). I haven’t been to too many Malaysian beaches, but I have to say, the cities, like KL, Penang and Malacca have been pretty overrun with tourists too…

          November 4, 2017
  4. My favorite islands in Thailand are Koh Lanta and Koh Kradan. Koh Lipe will have to be at the bottom of my list due to the ridiculous prices. I think we can even find a cheaper Thai meal here in Korea. I also agree with Pooja that surrounding countries like Vietnam and Cambodia are still a lot less crowded and still very affordable for travelers on a budget.

    November 4, 2017
    • I love Koh Lanta too! Where’s Kradan? I’ve never heard of it. Does it have a local flavour like Lanta? I was seriously shocked by how much food cost on Koh Lipe – and this was in low season. However, it was possible to get curries for about 150 baht, and shakes on the street for as low as 40. Still, not the Thailand I’m used to. Honestly, since we started traveling with our little one – it’s gotten a lot more expensive than when it was just the two of us. We could totally rough it and do it budget, but with her, I don’t feel like it’s safe or wise.

      November 4, 2017
  5. Oooh…I’m not good with speed boat rides. I’m glad the two of you survived that ride. The weather looks very WET! I don’t like those rains. It’s been so long since we visited Thailand! But Thailand has to wait. Way tooooo many countries on our list! lol… Fall is finally here! I love this time!:)

    November 5, 2017
    • That boat ride was total hell. Poor little Naia. She’s such a trooper (I’m a bit worried that we’re raising a real thrill seeker haha). Hmm…I wonder what country is next on your list?? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      November 6, 2017
  6. wrpalomo #

    I’m like every comment here, that boat ride! I went through some boat rides in my life… but not with my children, lol! Good luck to those who will be braving the seas on low season. The first picture of the waters does look like it’s tempting to go there. But having come from the beautiful beaches in the Philippines, this can’t be too tempting for me to go to in both low and high season. But hey, it’s no longer a secret to you so it’s fantastic that you were able to go there before it gets fully discovered by tourists.

    November 6, 2017
    • It is a bit of a difficult destination to visit, cuz high season with its calm seas is soooo busy (now), but the lovely low season on the island necessitates a possibly terrifying boat ride to the island. Sigh. I’m glad I made it there at least once though. It’s been on my list for years now. But yes! Philippines….a country I need to spend a whole lot more time exploring…where was your favourite beach? Good for kids? My little one loves water SO much.

      November 13, 2017
  7. It is close to Malaysian border but for us to go there is not an easy feat either. We have to take a ferry from the mainland to Langkawi Island or take a flight to Langkawi (itself is a beautiful island resort). From Langkawi, we have to take a two hour speedboat to Lipe. Another option is to cross the border into Satun and take a boat from Pakbarra.

    But I have to admit, it really looks gorgeous.

    Question though – does it an idyllic island suitable for family vacation or is it turning into something like Phuket, specifically Bangla Road?

    -kakijalans.com

    November 15, 2017
    • It’s really not the easiest is it? We had to fly, then, drive, then boat from Pak bara. It was intense, especially with a little one. But yeah, it really is incredibly gorgeous…probably some of the best water I’ve seen in Thailand…and yes, it’s perfect for a family vacay. No Bangla Road vibe at all. I didn’t see a single nightclub, nor a single “older man with young Thai girl,” etc… just a lot of Thai families doing their thing. I was however there in low season, so I’m not sure how it would be in high season…

      November 15, 2017
  8. Ooh that boat ride sounds horrible! I would love to visit Koe Lipe one day for those pristine waters but surprised that it gets so crowded! #FarawayFiles

    November 17, 2017
    • The water was really some of the best I’ve seen in Thailand…so clear with multiple shades of blue and turquoise. I was also super surprised to hear how crowded it gets. I really think the best time to visit would be a few weeks before high season starts.

      November 22, 2017
  9. Clare Thomson #

    Wow, that beach really is a stunner, Shelley, although the boat ride sounds traumatic. I’d love to return to Thailand – with my kids in tow this time – so I’m definitely on the look out for fabulous islands to visit. This reminds me a bit of Koh Phangan but then I was there 25 years ago! Great to have you join us on #FarawayFiles

    November 17, 2017
    • I visited Koh Phangan about 8 years ago, and I’d say it’s quite a bit different than Koh Lipe. The water is different, and I think the type of traveler that visits is different too…mostly because Lipe is quite a bit more expensive than Phangan. I literally did not see a single backpacker beach hut there, except for some disused ones that were rotted on Sunrise Beach. Maybe check out Koh Lanta? It still has a local thai flavour, but is bigger than Lipe, and might be great with kids! ๐Ÿ™‚

      November 22, 2017
  10. Wow, that Island looks amazing. I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand, but after watching your video, I’m not sure about this Island. Still, those beautiful blue waters must have made it all worthwhile… #farawayfiles

    November 18, 2017
    • I think if you visited just a few weeks later, there’d be no risk of that kind of boat ride…and I’ve had that kind of ride between other islands too – Koh Tao – I think it really depends on what’s happening weather-wise that day – and we just got super unlucky. I’m so glad my little one came out of it unscathed and had a wonderful time on the beach! ๐Ÿ™‚

      November 22, 2017

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