Koh Lipe: mixed feelings

Thailand was the last stretch of our Southeast Asia trip and which beach to choose was a big dilemma! Our criteria were: somewhere quiet, away from mass tourism and reputable snorkeling. If time was not a constraint, we would have chosen the Surin or Similan Islands, but with only five days left it made no sense. We heard from diver friends that the sea is generally more clear on the Andaman side, and since our return flight back to Paris was from Kuala Lumpur, I begun looking into the islands near Malaysia. Soon enough I came across with the Tarutao National Marine Park (http://www.kohlipethailand.com/about_koh_lipe_tarutao_national_marine_park.php) and beautiful photos of Koh Lipe Island. I (wrongly) assumed that this rather remote location would guarantee some privacy…. Tarutao National Marine Park

We booked Lipe Resort (http://www.liperesort.com/) via hotels.com for 64€ per night. Soon after the arrival we felt that we should have gotten something much nicer for that amount of money…. The hotel is located on the Pattaya Beach, one of the two main beaches of Koh Lipe (http://www.kohlipethailand.com/images2/maps/map-koh-lipe.jpg). The beach is not particularly welcoming for swimming because there are too many boats parked in front of the beach and this has indeed become a common complaint about the Pattaya Beach. map of Tarutao National Marine Park

The first day we did snorkeling in front of the hotel. The snorkeling was actually quite pleasant and we saw many schools of fish and colorful corals but returning to the beach was a challenge as the low tide brought us closer and closer to sea urchins (there are many!).

The next day we booked a full-day snorkeling trip to visit the smaller islands and snorkeling spots of the Tarutao snorkeling in Tarutao National Marine Parkarchipelago. Most companies offer two types of full-day snorkeling trips and we did both of them through a company called Koh Lipe Thailand Travel Shop (Boi’s Travel Shop) on the main road (http://www.kohlipethailand.com/). The shop sells all types of tickets, has computers for internet, and provides other travel services. The owner (?) called Boi is friendly and speaks French, too. In fact we felt that she was one of the few professional persons we met on the island…. Her shop became a one-stop-shop for everything we needed.

Regarding snorkeling, Program 2 is supposed to be more complete and interesting, but we preferred Program 1.  As we did not particularly like the Pattaya Beach we were happy to escape the island during the day.

When you google Koh Lipe, the internet gives you amazing photos of the most beautiful beaches, snorkeling in Tarutao National Marine Parkbut for your information, in most cases these photos are not of Koh Lipe but of islands nearby. So even if you are not a snorkeler I recommend you to do these daily trips to get away from the crowds. The only downside of the snorkeling was a storm that had touched the island just before our arrival, infesting the sea with millions (am not kidding…) small jelly fish. They were everywhere to the extent that our boat decided to skip a few snorkeling spots. A pity! This said, we liked the snorkeling and it was the highlight of our Koh Lipe stay. As you can see in the photo, some beaches are very picturesque (yet unfortunately dirty, which I found shocking considering this is supposed to be a National Marine Park!).

storm in Koh Lipe

But back to the accommodation.

Lipe Resort had not impressed us in any way. The food was very inconsistent and left us craving for that famous Thai culinary experience. The service was bad, or should I say nonexistent, and our clothes came back from the laundry with holes and stains. Great. The room was ok, but at night the neighbors were making a lot of noise. I think the worst part of Koh Lipe was in fact the badly-behaving tourists: who likes to watch people throwing up and passing out…. Unfortunately Koh Lipe was soon becoming the destination we had explicitly waview from Mountain Resortnted to avoid…!

We had no time to change the island, but after two nights we changed the hotel. We moved to Mountain Resort (http://www.mountainresortlipe.com/), located on the other side of the island, on Sunrise Beach where people gather to watch the sunset. One of the most commonly-used pictures to illustrate Koh Lipe has been taken from this hotel and on the right side you see my version of this view.

We paid 50€ per night for a “deluxe garden view” bungalow and the price felt more or less correct until on our last day I woke up with bed bMountain resortug bites (again!)…. If you decide to stay at this hotel, do yourself a favor and minimize the risk by staying at one of the concrete bungalows (bed bugs prefer wood). We liked the location of the hotel and the beach in front of the hotel you see in the photo above is really gorgeous. Unfortunately the beach is not well maintained and there is a lot of rubbish (see the photo below). Such a pity!!

Mountain ResortThe other downside was once again the food: the hotel food was at best mediocre and you are sort of stuck because there are not many options as to where to eat near the hotel. You need about 10 minutes to walk to the Pattaya Beach and the “main road” where most of the services are located.

A tourism professional we later on met has been going to Koh Lipe for over ten years now and he said that there are only two hotels that meet professional, international standards, and they are Castaway Beach Resort (http://www.castaway-resorts.com/)  and Serendipity Resort (http://www.serendipityresort-kohlipe.com/). We stopped by at both resorts and Castaway seemed to attract chic clientele with stylish decoration. The reception person at Serendipity was not welcoming regarding our request about prices and rooms, and the prices seemed excessive.

This same person shKoh Lipeared our impression that the tourism has gone wrong in Koh Lipe. When you look around, on the island or in the sea, you see lots of rubbish. I found this particularly shocking because it felt that the National Marine Park status means nothing! Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the clientele was not at all what I had expected, and once again I asked myself how the locals feel about watching those drunks… The original inhabitants of this archipelago are Malay aboriginal sea gypsies, also called Urak Lawoi people. Since 1974, when the Tarutao became a National Marine Park, their lives have gone upside down and if I were one of them, I would ask what happened to that once beautiful and innocent island called Koh Lipe.

PS I by no means want to upset any of my dear readers by this article, but I think it is important to share sincere opinions. If you are in love with Thailand and think my experience does not give justice to Thailand, then please write to me and provide me with the coordinates of your favorite secret, unspoilt beach destination and I will try it the next time I am in Thailand!

34 thoughts on “Koh Lipe: mixed feelings

  1. Miia Post author

    Hi Milford,

    Thanks for the compliments!

    I am new myself to the blogging world, too, and at the moment I just try to write as much as my schedule allows me. I would think being systematic and coherent are important qualities…

    There is a newsletter that gives very useful tips, and you can subscribe to it here: http://iblog2earn.com/
    Margaret will send you weekly emails about how to get started etc.

    Good luck and hope to have you visiting my blog in future, too! Take care.

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  2. Diver Dave

    Sounds like a good honest write up of Lipe – thank you.
    If visiting Koh Lipe do you think it is necessary to book accommodation in advance? Or is it ok to simply turn up and walk around a bit to see what the places are really like?
    (For most destinations I book up front as standards are usually consistent – but forking out over 50euros a night for such a small developing island makes me a bit nervous).
    Seems like there are a few negative to your visa, but I guess the snorkeling made it worthwhile?

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    1. Miia Post author

      Hi Diver Dave!

      You got it. Diving/snorkeling makes it worthwhile. But as I said in my article, otherwise nothing special….

      We were there during the high season (end of Feb, early March) and booked in advance and regretted doing so. Honestly, 50€ was far too much. We often just walk in to places and I don’t even know why this time we made the booking in advance. I guess we thought that it is an island (=limited offer) and we didn’t want to be stuck with nothing. Well, we should have not booked!

      If you are going now, it should be easy to find availability because it is not the high season any more.

      Don’t hesitate to contact me for more questions! Have a good trip.

      Best, Miia

      PS I got a feeling too that once you are on the island, the prices are cheaper. I think on internet (lastminute, booking etc) they sell more expensive rooms (AC etc) and often do not even offer the cheaper ones.

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    2. Miia Post author

      PS2 I remember that actually many places close for the summer. Check that out before going. Since you a diver, maybe send an email to that Dive Center I mention in the article (a woman called Boi).

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  3. Fraukje

    O wow! I was working on Koh Lipe in 2003 and it looks like it changed dramatically. I was already afraid of that. By the time there were just a few very basic bamboo beach huts for a few $ per night, nothing more nothing less. The beach was white and clean, no facilities at all. I loved it. I don’t think I’ll go back, better keep the memory alive. But I guess this is what happens to most Thai islands 😦

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    1. Miia Post author

      Interesting to hear your thoughts! Thank you for sharing them. What did you think of my photos? I was so surprised to see so much dirt all over. This said, I don’t know other Thai islands, but if this is called “preserved paradise”, then what is it like elsewhere… If you know Thailand well, I would love to hear about those hidden pearls!

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      1. Fraukje

        I like your photos but it’s aweful to see the garbage and all the beachbeds etc. It was really a backpackers heaven then. I don’t know much about the other Thai islands. I’ve been in Phuket for a while though, definitely not recommended. Maybe for a few days yes, but I loved the quietness of Koh Lipe. I wonder if there are any really unspoiled islands left…

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      2. Miia Post author

        Interesting to read what you think. Well, this was my first-ever visit to a Thai island and it did not meet my expectations at all. I saw your blog (what a fascinating life you have!!) and you must agree that Caribbean beaches are very nice too…. and not that much dirt! And I personally love African (Tanzania, Kenya) beaches, and again, they are much cleaner. Well, maybe Koh Lipe is an isolated sad story of tourism going wrong….? I don’t know. Btw, since you are a diver, did you ever go to Similan islands?

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      3. Fraukje

        I don’t really agree about the dirt on the Caribbean beaches. I was living on Jamaica, Curacao and now St Eustatius, but it’s just terrible to see the trash. Especially Jamaica was terrible, trash-wise. Not only the beach!
        In Africa I’ve only been to Gambia, I don’t think that could be considered a “typical” African beach 🙂 Would love to see more of Africa, but I guess that’s for the future.
        Nooo, I’ve never been to the Similans unfortunately. The diveschool I worked for in Phuket went there every now and then on live-aboard but I never got a chance (more experienced instructors first). But it must be amazing!!

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      4. Miia Post author

        Ok, I don’t know those places that you mention in the Caribbean. Well, let’s conclude that trash is an unfortunate part of our life… but it should not need to be that way!

        Have a great holiday season and hope to have you visit my blog again 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Top Ten of 2013 | pearlspotting

  5. Indah Susanti

    Now I read your story about Thailand 😉 I was visiting Koh Phi Phi when I was in Thailand and it is a famous island especially for young people, so I thought other islands in Thailand will be lots better and calmer than Koh Phi Phi 😦 Thanks for this information Miia!

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    1. Miia Post author

      Well. What can I say 😉 ?

      I also thought that because Koh Lipe is quite isolated (at least not on the main touristic route) it would be a lot more unspoilt than some other “big names”. Was totally wrong.

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  6. moshingonmyown

    interesting to read. i think a lot has changed since you have come. i think generally it changes quickly here. i came with friends a few weeks ago for 24 hours who had come 15 years ago and they said it’s totally different. i enjoyed that 24 hours so much that i came back, and now i’ve been in lipe for 5 days, and yes the garbage is a problem (i havent seen much on the beach but i do see they have an issue with it on the island – but issue is more inland – though rented a private longboat for a tour and there was a garbage trail in the sea about 40 mins off of lipe but again, havent seen any on the beach in lipe), but haven’t seen the drunks / party people. at 10.30 pm on a saturday night everything was shutting down…it has been super chill and quiet

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    1. Miia Post author

      Thanks for your opinion! I still think I will head to the Philippines or Indonesia next 😉

      Are you traveling in the region at the moment? Have fun & safe travels!

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      1. moshingonmyown

        I can’t speak for Indonesia as have never been but El Nido in Palawan in Philippines is a special place to me. I am travelling in the region, yes.

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      2. Anton Belov

        hi guys. booked http://www.lipebeachresort.com for 9 days – SeaBreeze Bungalow Deluxe version in January 8-18th. Gfs birthday is on 11th. these sort of reviews are getting me scared. would i be better of starting somewhere nice in Koh Lante like 8-13th then doing 5 days instead in Koh Lipe? that way incase its not nice atleast it doesnt ruin birthday….thanks in advance for any suggestions / advice & hope you all enjoy your future holidays!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Miia Post author

        Hey Anton. Well I would’t go back to Koh Lipe but it all depends what you are looking for….
        Indeed, I think it is a good idea to do two different destinations (islands).
        I can try to ask a friend who is traveling over there at the moment where he would go (he knows Thailand really well and didn’t like Koh Lipe either).

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      4. Anton Belov

        Hi Miia. Thank you very much for offering to help. id love to hear the opinions of your friend. i posted on tripadvisor but only got a single reply saying that Lipe Beach Resort is on the quiet more secluded part of Sunrise Beach…im thinking of instead of doing 8th-18th Jan on Koh Lipe (birthday on 11th) to simply do 8-13th on Koh Lante then 14-19 or something on Koh lipe then move onto some other Island afterwards. Id love to hear anything your friend has to say! Thankfully i have free cancellation for about another 2 months!

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      5. Miia Post author

        Hi Anton, first of all, my friend agrees that it is quite long just in Koh Lipe..

        Secondly, what are you expectations, what do you think you will want to do once over there?

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      6. Anton

        Hi Miia thank you for your reply and having your friend agree to give his opinion. i just want a nice romantic stay for a few days. im a bit of an OCD planner and this is killing me. once there were happy to just chill on the beach for a few days. perhaps either take day trips to Ko Adang,
        Ko Bulon Le, Ko Tarutao or simply stay on them. Im thinking of switching from Lipe Beach Resort (north side of Sunrise beach) to either Idyllic resort or Serendipidity resort. Lipe Beach is costing me 30k for like 9 days whilst those will probably cost me that amount for 4-5 days. from what i get Lipe Beach is closer to the awfull mountain resort and most of civilisation whilst the other ones are more remote and furhter away rfom it all…but at same time apparently long boats travel round the bend a lot more there? all i want is peace and quiet. to have as little people on the beach as possible…no garbage etc. also, for the little islands such as the ones i mentioned…would you recommend prebooking for the dates were travelling? 7th-27th january (of which last 3 or so days will be Bangkok)? or just turn up and find something….were not fussy people and not in need of luxury. would be nice to just have clean amazing beaches, possibly some activities like scuba diving / animal sight seeing etc…we dont drink or party. but i would like to have atleast 3-5 days in undisputed paradise xD. many thanks for your help again 🙂

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      7. Miia Post author

        Hey Anton. Did I already ask you, where are you flying from and where will you fly to after the beach time?

        Well I don’t think Koh Lipe is amazing but I am maybe a travel snob 😉 I have seen some of the most amazing isolated beaches around the world so I am spoiled 😉 BUT: I also know ppl who have liked Koh Lipe….

        You could indeed check Serendipity (read Tripadvisor reviews?). It is one of the most quiet resorts. Idyllic I don’t recall but I will google it.

        To me Koh Lipe seemed a bit like a party island so if it is not your thing then I would go elsewhere…
        About seeing animals: I don’t think you will much.

        One thing about Lipe Beach Resort. We first thought to book there too but cannot remember why we didn’t. But what I remember is that prices on hotels.com etc were much higher than the ones we were referred to while we visited the resort. Same about the hotel we first stayed in: we prebooked on Internet and paid way too much. It was not worth our money.

        If you can answer me about your flights I can try to help you more!

        Have a great weekend 🙂

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      8. Anton

        Hi Miia.thank you for your reply. The plan is to meet up in Krabi on the 7th (i would have been in Khao Lok previously for a month) with GF flying in from Bangkok on the day. spend 1 night somewhere in Krabi then early morning on 8th-13th go to Koh Lipe. Subsequently go to Ko Phi Phi for 13-18/19th then back to Krabi probably for 4 days then 3 nights in Bangkok. Thats currently the new plan. I’ve had a look at serendipity but its just massivly expensive.like 8-10k baht for rooms i was looking at (garden), non refundable whilst lipe beach is 3k for oceah view deluxe room. in phi phi im also looking at a remote place for 4-5k / night called phi phi relax beach resort. apparently fully secluded and need to get kayak to get there. ive done lots of research and dont really know what other places to choose. places like Karandar and Ko BUlon dont seem to have any good accomodation choices…Adang and Tarutauo seem more like good day trip visists…any other suggestions? thank you for being so amazingly helpful!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Miia Post author

        Hi Anton, I am a bit busy the next two weeks but I will try to have time to find some answers to your questions as soon as I have time ok?

        I may be wrong, but my first feeling is “why to go so far south to Koh Lipe when you can find nicer places in the Krabi area”.
        This is what I regret: I think we should have stayed near Krabi (but Koh Lipe was closer to Malaysia where we continued after Thailand). I thought that the further away we get from Phuket and all that, the “better” (less touristic) it gets but I guess I was wrong.

        Talk soon!

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      10. Anton

        Hi Miia

        any advice would be great. especially on Krabi as we are planning on spending some significant time there. still not decided whether though., it seems Railay has the best beach & lots of rock climbing opportunities…but not sure if it would be cheaper to simply stay in Andoga (sp) area and always take a boat there as it seems most of the restaurants / food etc aren’t there and that if we were to make day trips it wouldn’t be from there either….also what was your take on Phi Phi? Not the touristy areas but somewhere in the NE of the island like Pak Nam Bay.

        Kind regards & many thanks.

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      11. Anton

        Hi Miia

        was wondering if you had the chance to look into what we were previously discussing in terms of recommendations etc 🙂

        regards

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      12. Miia Post author

        Hi Anton, I haven’t had any time because I have a small baby and she has been sick, and then I got sick, and then I had to do an urgent work project…. I will try this weekend!

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    1. Miia Post author

      Just read your post (sorry for the delay!) and I share your thoughts! Such a pity. Our experience was so bad that we may just choose another country next time all together. Indonesia? Philippines?

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