koh lipe from air
Diving, Thailand

Koh Lipe – Paradise Getting Lost

Koh Lipe losing its paradise feel? OK, I might have gone over the edge here a bit;but let’s learn a thing or two about Lipe before we continue.

Where is Lipe?

Koh Lipe is a small island in Adang-Rawi Archipelago. It is one of the most southern Thailand islands and it is on the border with Malaysia.

The first backpackers came to Koh Lipe around 20 years ago

It is a divers’ and beach-lovers’ paradise surrounded with many other beautiful islands. The first backpackers came to Koh Lipe around 20 years ago when there were few bungalows to rent, no walking streets, no tourists nor the beaches like you have seen in the movie “The Beach”.

View on koh lipe from Adang

Me checking out beautiful Koh Lipe island. Photo by Jovana Milanko

So you are thinking: “In 20 years stuff probably changed a lot?”. It changed probably too much.  A few months ago it has been added under the Tarutao Marine National Park jurisdiction because of its really diverse underwater world but, due to deforestation, there is not much life on the land.

 

Koh Lipe Beaches

It’s one of the most remote Thailand islands, and, of course, the beaches are amazing. Beautiful white sand with emerald see through water. But there is a twist, with every year there are more and more people on the beaches, which means more trash (although the guys from Trash Hero are doing an amazing job, kudos to them!), more resorts, more stuff needs to get hauled on the island and more stuff needs to get hauled off the island.

Beautiful view on Koh Lipe Beach

Beautiful view on Koh Lipe Beach!

People go there expecting to have the beach for themselves because they have heard those stories but the thing is, times are changing. All the main beaches are getting more crowded and more people come who don’t care what kind of footprint they are gonna leave at the island.

Still, there are few beaches that not many people know about and with so many islands around you can find a beach just for yourself.

Koh Lipe from air

Koh Lipe from air. Photo by Weerapong Nakprasit

There are 3 main beaches in Koh Lipe:

Sunrise Beach – This beach has become really popular, first for people who like to watch the sunrise and who like to have fun during the day. I had a bungalow on that beach and it was not fun… Every morning Malaysian and Chinese people would take my chairs or even sit in my porch to watch the sunrise waking me up at 6 o’ clock.
Pattaya Beach – It is mostly reserved for long-tail boats but still there are places to swim. It is mostly popular in the evening because you don’t have to go all the way to Sunset beach to see the the sunset, you can catch a part of it on Pattaya beach. The sand on this beach is one of the softest I have ever felt!
Sunset Beach – It’s mostly popular in the evening during, you guessed it, the sunset. It’s a wonderful experience to see the sunset on that beautiful beach and drink mojitos, so make sure not to miss it.

Beautiful sunset on the beach next to a long-tail boat

Beautiful sunset on the beach next to a long-tail boat

 

Diving in Lipe

The vast underwater life makes this one of the most amazing places for diving. The vast number of people diving does not make it the most amazing place to dive. But luckily overcrowded sites don’t happen that often. To be honest there is only one site that gets overcrowded and that is Stonehenge. It got that name because it has a dozen of pinnacles sticking out of the sand that resemble Stonehenge.

Diving in Stonehenge in Koh Lipe

Diving in Stonehenge in Koh Lipe

If you are lucky enough to have great visibility and to be thfirst on the dive spot you will have a really good time. Schools of yellow-tail snappers, barracudas, amazing soft and hard corals and micro life are what makes this dive spot amazing. Sometimes there are many boats on the surface and at that time the only thing you can see is school of divers – which, we can agree, is not that amazing.

The amazing thing about diving in Koh Lipe is that, now and then, you can see quite interesting stuff – whale sharks (but really rarely), zebra shark and latest and the most interesting one seen is the guitar shark! There is a family hanging out around Lipe and one of them got caught by douchebag fisherman. He says it’s a catch and released it, but we haven’t seen any release photos.

 

Going out in Lipe

My favorite bar in Koh Lipe for sure was Mellowmango. Chilled-out atmosphere and enjoying the talk with everybody over there was always fun. Bartenders nickname is God (not the real one but he is close to it – same same but different) and there – all things are possible with God. Hanging out with these awesome guys until three in the morning was just a daily routine… or should I say nightly…

Bartenders nickname is God (not the real one but he is close to it – same same but different) and there – all things are possible with God

Unfortunately Mellowmango is closing for good this year so they can chase some bigger dreams.

Luckily, party scene in Koh Lipe is not that strong. Here and there parties are organized but nothing massive. There are bars and to be honest that’s just enough. There are few bars on the walking street but most of the people decide to go to the beach bars to enjoy the sea and the stars.

There is too much partying in Thailand. Can we just not ruin one place because people just wanna get wasted and get laid?

My favorite bar - Mellowmango

My favorite bar – Mellowmango

 

People of Koh Lipe

Original settlers of Koh Lipe are Urak Lawoi .  They are the last direct descendants of Orang Laut or the Sea Gypsies. They are originally from Spice island in Indonesia where they used to be pirates of the Straits of Malacca.

In recent past they are the people who refused to turn to Islam in Malaysia and they were forced to roam the seas

In recent past they were the people who refused to turn to Islam in Malaysia and they were forced to roam the seas in search for a place to live. They settled in Thailand in Andaman sea.

One of the Urak Lawoi people steering its long-tail boat

One of the Urak Lawoi people steering its long-tail boat

They reside in a big part of coastal Thailand – Phuket, Phi Phi, Jum, Lanta, Bulon and of course Koh Lipe. Because of expansion of tourism they are forced to move and land disputes still remain on many places and especially on Lipe.

Some of them decided to live thanks to tourism and many of them still live like they did many years ago – they go fishing. The most popular way is trap fishing in which the divers put the traps underwater and connect to a really old compressor on the boat.

One of the older settlers of Koh Lipe

One of the older settlers of Koh Lipe

The language they speak is a bit different, it is close to Malay but influenced by Thai.

I will be writing about them more in next articles. Until then read about them on Project Urak Lawoi website, these guys helped me get some amazing footage and photos of trap fishing and compressor diving.

Children in Urak Lawoi Village

Children in Urak Lawoi Village

Still an amazing island, but….

The stories I have heard from people visiting this place for 10 years or more make me cringe.

There is no doubt about it, this island is one of a kind, one of the last ones not totally destroyed by tourism, exploitation and money hunger.

The fact is that it is going that way. I have seen difference in one year span and the stories I have heard from people visiting this place for 10 years or more make me cringe.

Forrest all around island is getting cut to make way for more resorts, walking street is getting more filled with shitty gadgets and ‘clothes’ stores, Urak Lawoi people are forced to move because of land disputes and there are more and more tourists, which is slowly but surely transforming this paradise island to something that people in 10 years will probably wanna avoid.

I’m just gonna leave you with a photo of a walking street 20 years ago.

Koh Lipe 20 years ago

Photo by Somchai Preyde

Did you visit Koh Lipe? Tell my what you think about it in the comment section bellow.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Richard Goatley April 1, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    We have been to Lipe twice over the last couple of years very serial, great place we found the people friendly and helpful. we have noticed the commercial side grow of which the down side is the rubbish accrued in the bushes and beaches. quite sad really but they call it progression ! we will go back sometime soon. Shame about God and the Mellow Mango we had some good times there .

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