Koh my God. Look at this slice of heaven!
If you’re like me, you’ve probably daydreamed about finding a mythical tropical paradise with empty beaches surrounded by sparkling aquamarine water. But every time you’ve looked for it, you’ve instead found yourself on a trash-strewn patch of sand wading through a sea of loud Chinese tour groups wearing matching outfits, right?
Well my friends, I’m overjoyed to report that the mystical island of our dreams actually exists: Koh Lipe, Thailand.
As a special thanks to my wonderful subscribers and followers for your support, you guys are the only ones who will see this story – I’m not tagging or promoting this article because it would be a tragedy to spoil this paradise by flooding it with tourists. So let’s keep this our little secret, okay?
Welcome to Fantasy Island!
Sitting on the southern edge of Thailand just beside the Malaysian border, Koh Lipe is a small, chilled-out, car-free island that’s only accessible by boat. It’s slightly time-consuming to get there, which helps prevent the island from being overrun. Getting to it from Penang can be a teeny bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s actually pretty easy if you know how to plan transport correctly. (Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered in the “Get There” section below.) But first, let me show you what makes this place so damned special. You should definitely visit Koh Lipe while it’s still pristine and off the beaten path – enjoy it before the hoards find this little gem and tarnish it.
Allow me to introduce you to the magic of Koh Lipe…
I mean, COME ON! Look at that! It’s flipping gorgeous. The island is so beautiful that you can just aimlessly point your camera in any direction and you’ll take the best photo of your life.
Walk into the spectacularly clear, warm blue water and you will likely be surrounded by a happy school of rainbow-colored parrotfish. It’s so surreal that you half expect the fish to start singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
You’ll see beautiful blue-lipped clams, which, if you’re like me, you will probably want to kiss. (Not recommended, unless you’d like to lose your lips.)
Go a little deeper and you’ll see even more curious fish, not to mention lots of live coral, bright blue starfish and florescent sea anemone.
Head to the Sunrise Beach side of Koh Lipe, where you can swim out to one of the little offshore islands. Look at the color of the water! Ridiculous, right? It’s like a swimming pool, only warmer.
You can also hire a longtail boat to take you out to a little island for some alone-time on the beach and even more spectacular snorkeling with huge mounds of live corals, giant fish, impressively spiny urchins, eels and maybe even a cool sea snake or two.
If you’re fingers are getting pruney from all that water time, soak in the beauty of this charming island by circumnavigating it on foot – it’ll take you maybe 60-90 minutes. Sunset Beach is popular around…well, I’ll let you guess what time of day. Just beside it is the charming, quiet Long Bay (pictured above), where you can relax and let time float by as you listen to the breeze in the palm trees and dip your toes in the sea. There are only a couple resorts at Long Bay, so the beaches are usually rather empty and quiet. A cute resort nestled in the cliffs above the bay is The Hut, which has spectacular views and super comfy inflatable chairs on the deck.
Then walk over the hill to reach Pataya Beach (pictured above), where most people end up staying. Many of the hotels here are less expensive than at Sunrise Beach, and it’s right beside the Walking Street. This beach is often favored by families since there’s lots to do and kids love it. It does, however, have more boat traffic than other places on the island since it’s where the immigration office is located and where tour boats arrive and depart, but you can easily avoid the noise by staying at one of the resorts on the outer edges of the beach (such as the Akira Lipe Resort, or Bundhaya Resort). And don’t worry – the boat area is kind of concentrated, and the swim areas have safety buoys.
Of course, no trip to Thailand is complete without strolling down a Walking Street:
In Koh Lipe, its Walking Street cuts across the island from Pataya Beach to Sunrise Beach, and is lined with restaurants, funky bars, and shops offering massages, hippie pants, souvenirs and day-trip tours. But beware: after you get a blissful 300 baht foot rub, every time you pass a massage shop thereafter, the melodious sounds of women calling out “maaasaaaaage, ladeeee?” will pull you in like a magnet.
And don’t miss a gorgeous Thai sunrise on the aptly named Sunrise Beach. This is the quieter side of the island that’s favored by couples seeking solitude and peace. And be sure to check out the adorable beachfront bars and restaurants, which simple sparkle at night. (In one of the slideshow photos above, you can see that one of the bars even has a treehouse where you can hang out above the water, or lie on lounge with your feet in the water – SEEEEERIOUSLY!) There are a few really cute hotel options, even ones where your hut can be right on the beach, such as at Anda Resort, Kathalee Lipe Resort, and Ten Moons Lipe, and a couple upscale options like Idyllic Concept. We stayed at the Serendipity, which has gorgeous views, really delicious food, a sweet little beach and is very quiet…but it’s only suitable for people with really strong knees who are fond of the stairmaster. Seriously – to get to my room from the beach, I had to climb more than 100 large stair steps. Just the simple act of running to your room to grab your goggles will give you a really good workout!
Sunrise Beach is also favored by people who want to pretend they’re castaways. (Yeah, these are actual lodging huts at the Castaway Resort – how cool is that?!)
If you want your mind blown by an underwater fantasy world, take a day-trip to dive or snorkel in the national park, which is just a 20 minute boat ride from Koh Lipe. In the channels between the islands, psychedelic-colored soft corals positively glitter like jewels in lush hues of ruby red, opal, emerald, citrine, topaz and garnet. In the shallower waters, lettuce coral, sea cucumbers, yellow tangs and other brightly colored fish create a meal for your eyes. And the most spectacular giant florescent purple starfish cling to live brain coral.
Some day trips even include sunset dinners on secluded beaches in the national park, which you can have all to yourself – the only hoards you’ll find on these beaches are super cool hermit crabs.
Okay, so once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, you’re probably going to want to book your trip to Koh Lipe, right?
Best Time to Visit
The weather is best from November through May; it’s also the only time you can catch fast-ferries/speedboats to the island, which usually take about 1-1.5 hours from the most popular launch locations. (The rest of the year, the same route can take 5 hours on rough seas – “yodeling in technicolor” is practically guaranteed). Avoid visiting from mid-December through Chinese New Year though, as that’s the busiest time of year on the island, so prices are jacked up and it’s the only time that the walking street and some beaches can get crowded.
Koh Lipe is only accessible by boat. You can find the full ferry and speedboat schedule and launch location list here, which will also connect you with the ticketing site one you choose your launch location and destination.
During the high season (November-May), the easiest and fastest way to get there is from the following locations:
From Telaga Harbor – pictured above – (which is beautiful, scenic and peaceful), two ferries run to Koh Lipe daily, departing at 9:30am and 2:30pm. Their speed-ferries are in great condition. Having taken both this and the ferry from Kuah, I HIGHLY recommend taking the boat from Telaga – it’s a far faster and nicer experience.
Travel time: 1 hour
Price: 1300 baht (adult); 1100 baht (child)
From Kuah Jetty (which is a noisy, filthy, smelly madhouse crowded with a crush of humanity during weekends), two ferries run to Koh Lipe daily at the same time that they do from Telaga Harbor: 9:30am and 2:30pm. The Kuah ferries are pretty beat-down with pealing paint and rust stains running down the walls. (Can you tell how much I loved the Kuah Jetty experience?)
Travel time: The trip took us 1 hour and 45 minutes (contrary the “1 hour travel time” that the ferry ticketing site claims).
Price: 1000 baht (same price for adults and children)
Year-round, there’s also a very slow Ferry+Van+Speedboat option that departs Kuah Jetty at 8:30am and arrives Koh Lipe at 1pm.
Pak Bara Pier, Satun, Thailand (just across the border from Malaysia):
From October 15-May 31, there are 5 boats from Pak Bara Pier, Satun to Koh Lipe, departing at: 9:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm and 3:30pm.
Travel time: 1.5 hours.
Price: 600 baht (adult); 550 (child)
You can also get there from other locations in Thailand, such as Krabi and Phuket, but the travel time will take you many hours and cost a lot more. The longer boat ride will also vastly increase your chances of “barking at your shoes.”
Getting there from Penang:
If you’re traveling from Penang to Koh Lipe, you have several options, and all of them take about the same amount of time (unless you get lucky and find a great connection):
One option is to drive up to Satun, Thailand and take the boat from Pak Bara Pier to Koh Lipe (you can use this link to book your boat ticket). It’s an easy 3.5 hour drive from Penang to Satun on good roads through pretty rice paddies, plus 1.5 hour ferry crossing to Koh Lipe. Be sure to allot an additional 60-90 minutes to get through immigration at the border, park your car at one of the protected lots (don’t worry – you’ll see them; no need to book in advance) and get to the pier.
Another option is to fly to Langkawi (20 minute flight), take a taxi to Telaga Harbor (14 minute drive) or Kuah Jetty (33 minute drive), then take the boat to Koh Lipe (1 hour from Telaga; 1 hour 45 from Kuah).
You can also take the ferry from Penang to Kuah Jetty, Langkawi (you should note that the boat is nicknamed the “Vomit Comet”), then take the fast ferry to Koh Lipe. The boat from Penang to Langkawi usually takes 2 hours and 45 minutes and can be a total nightmare when there’s a storm, but on calm days, it’s a breeze and people love it. Price for the Vomit Comet – sorry, the Langkawi Ferry Service – is 60 ringgit (adult) and 45 ringgit (child). The Ferry Terminal in Penang is located on Weld Quay.
It’s about a 36 minute taxi ride from Kuah Jetty to Telaga Harbor, just in case you plan to ferry into Kuah Jetty from Penang, and ferry out of Langkawi to Koh Lipe via Telaga Harbor.
With airports, harbors, immigration and wait times, you’ve got to plan your trip carefully to make sure you have enough time to check in to your flight/boat and have enough time to travel between harbors and airports. I found that it helps to plan your trip to Koh Lipe backwards:
- Find your hotel and availability.
- Figure out your boat trip time to and from Koh Lipe – book ahead as some fill up.
- Plan for harbor/pier check-in times. Many harbors require you to check in a minimum of 1 hour in advance. And also note that the Koh Lipe dock requires you to check in 2 hours prior to departure.
- Figure out how long of a drive it is between your airport and the harbor (Langkawi to Telaga Harbor: 14 minutes; Langkawi to Kuah Jetty: 33 minutes), and add in extra time for luggage pick-up and possible traffic delays.
- Look up flights (or your drive-time) and see if you can make it to the harbor on time to catch your boat, or if you’ll need to stay overnight near the harbor.
Oh, one last tip: pack light. When you get off the boat in Koh Lipe, you will have to walk up the beach with your bags to the immigration office – you don’t want to be dragging heavy wheely bags through the sand.
Don’t worry – getting there is easier than it sounds, it just takes a couple extra steps than most other locations. Trust me, Koh Lipe is worth it! Enjoy your trip, my friends, and please let me know how you like it. 🙂