The small island of Koh Lipe in the southern Andaman Sea rose to fame in the early 1990s when its unspoilt white sand beaches drew travellers from near and afar. Staying in simple bamboo beach huts and managing on just a few hours of electricity each day, they spoke of paradise found. A lot has happened on Koh Lipe since then, but the island remains a popular island getaway for both Thais and foreigners.
Getting your bearings on Koh Lipe is easy. The island is tiny and it’s easy to walk from one beach to the next. Taking a triangle shape, the island has three main beaches; by far the busiest beach is Pattaya Beach, where the water is calm for most of the year and the sand is deliciously fine. Pattaya Beach was the first to be developed and unfortunately also the first to become crowded, so expect a fair bit of hustle and bustle, not least after nightfall. Sunrise Beach is located, not surprisingly, on the long eastern side of the island and features a relaxed, laid-back vibe with very little going on after dark. On the northern coast, you will find the smaller Sunset Beach, which is home to a number of smaller, upscale resorts.
Restaurants, bars and shops centre on and around Walking Street, which connects Sunrise and Pattaya beaches. Here you’ll find everything from tattoo parlours and souvenir shops to seafood barbecue joints and cafes and restaurants serving western and Thai food. For a great cup of freshly brewed coffee and something to satisfy those afternoon sugar cravings, head to Kafair, a cosy café on Walking Street; try their pancakes with maple syrup or tuck into a bowl of homemade yogurt and muesli. For dinner, don't miss King Crab, also on Walking Street. Don't expect fancy surroundings or particularly attentive service; the focus here is on the seafood, which you choose from a display at the entrance. Simply point and tell them how you would like it prepared, then sit back and tuck into sea bass, snapper, tiger prawns, or the restaurant’s namesake, crabs.
Given Koh Lipe's pristine waters, diving is a popular activity and several resorts and hotels offer PADI diving courses and dive trips to sites around Koh Lipe or surrounding Koh Adang, Koh Rawi or Koh Tong. One of the most popular dive sites is Stonehenge where large granite formations attract schools of barracudas and trevalliers as well as the occasional leopard shark or whale shark.
If diving is not your thing, why not explore the waters around Koh Lipe from the deck of one of the many long-tail boats, so called after their makeshift motors, the propellers of which sit at the end of a long shaft. There are countless long-tail boats around the island just waiting to be chartered for a daytrip of swimming, snorkelling or simply exploring these tropical waters.