Paradise Found: Lipe

Sweet, untainted tropical bliss. Our home of five nights on Koh Lipe was pure, unbridled relaxation. We picked the very best hotel on the whole island, if I do say so myself. The island is quite small; you can easily walk around pretty much the whole place without exerting too much energy. The vast majority of the hotels are located on Pattaya Beach and Sunrise Beach, with a smattering also on Sunset Beach. Ours was set apart from all of them, on its own private little beach over the hill from Pattaya and a bit south of Sunset. And oh, was it paradise. We knew things were looking good when our longtail from Pattaya rounded the southern tip of the island and we saw some crab-eating macaques climbing up the rocks above the flawless turquoise sea. We had a little cove filled with lounge chairs and hammocks, a small beach, a slice of crystal clear water to wade in and a huge labyrinth of coral to snorkel through.

So if you go to Koh Lipe, we highly recommend you check out Pitiusas Resort. I believe it’s fairly new as it hasn’t got too many reviews on TripAdvisor or elsewhere, a fact that made us hesitate to book, but so happy we pulled the trigger. It’s a bargain for such a pristine and isolated corner of the Thai islands. Our bungalow was about $70/night. To be clear though, the rooms are not what make this place so special. Each room is its own bungalow set up on stilts up a hill. There’s a smidgen of an ocean view and the rooms are pretty bare bones. They are not overly spacious, large enough for a big (kind of hard) bed, a fan and a little armoire. That said, you do have your own private balcony complete with a hammock. There is no hot water, but as we are becoming accustomed to rarely showering this didn’t bother us. Also, it’s hot and you are in the ocean constantly, so it’s not really a big deal here. That said, we showered once in five nights. (Cue the “ewwws.” We joked that our average rate of showers per week is probably closer to two than our former seven. How will we ever adjust to the working world again? Oh, with a real shower, probably.) And since we’re getting it out with the negatives, the beach is not ideal for swimming when the tide is very low. And while there is a restaurant and a teensy-weensy bar, there is not a ton of variety, and the service is not the most impressive. And this is a plus or minus depending on the person: be prepared for lots of topless Europeans (this is not specific to Pitiusas, but it’s more common on these quieter more isolated beaches). Boobies big and small, perky and droopy. And bikinis are not limited to the svelte and sexy. Am I becoming weirdly modest, or are one pieces very much in vogue in the US? I don’t think we saw a single other person in a one piece in Thailand. We saw lots of larger than lifes in thong-esque bikinis though. When did I become such a prude?

The WiFi didn’t work, which put us a bit behind on the blogging, but it was such a nice place to unplug and unwind. I think we read a cumulative five books over the four and a half days there.

::not a bad office::
::not a bad office::

The landscape is slightly different here vs. e.g. Railay in that you don’t get the jaw-dropping limestone karsts or dramatic cliffs, but the trade off for remoteness balances out. Alan remarked that Lipe has a bit of a South Pacific feel. And this is what Jenni calls a “honeymoon place.” Railay is not a honeymoon destination, unless you want to be surrounded by hip Europeans and topless chubby Russian ladies and hoards of men in banana hammocks and worst: children. If I were to honeymoon in Thailand, I would do it somewhere like Pitiusas on Lipe.

Again, the animals were a highlight for me. I struck up an intense friendship with the semi-wild resort dog, whom I affectionately named Bug. With the manners of a well-trained house dog and the energy and joy of a convivial puppy, plus an affinity for holding paws he obliterated any ability I had not to fall in love. Given the romantic setting I suppose it’s not that surprising that I engaged in one or two make out seshes with this little guy, after I hand-fed him the carrots from my dinner. Carrots are his favorite. I would totally steal this little booger if I could. He’s the sweetest. And I know I say that about all dogs, but this one really stole a piece of my heart. Although the puppy at Bila Beach nearby who bore an uncanny resemblance to Ryder tugged at my heartstrings as well. Look at that face, just aching for some Thai noodles.

There’s also an impossibly sweet cat that likes to hang out near bungalow four and he’ll mew for you and wait outside your door for love, much to Alan’s displeasure.

Much of the action on Lipe is on and around Walking Street, which connects Pattaya and Sunrise beaches with a strip of mini-marts, restaurants, spas, souvenir and dive shops. We ambled through one day, though didn’t sample many of the goods. We did, however, purchase some very overpriced sunscreen.

And we leave you now with a million pictures of this divine and restorative view.

Practical Info

There are no ATMs on Koh Lipe.  This is surprising given the amount of development, but be prepared.  There are shops on Walking Street that will swipe your card and give you cash for a 5-10% fee.

About that development…most of you travelers are all too familiar with the pattern of paradise found then lost.  Such is the nature of the world.  A spectacular location is “discovered,” a wise developer sees its potential, word spreads, and pretty soon those who were there before it was well-known cry foul.  Lonely Planet describes Lipe as “this decade’s poster child for untamed development in the Thai Islands.”  We can’t offer a before/after comparison, and yes much of the island is quite commercial.  But there weren’t any true eyesores and it does not have the feel of e.g. Koh Phi Phi, probably in part because it is more remote.  And the western side with Sunset Beach is more laid back, and Pitiusas’ spot is peaceful as can be.

Transportation: We took the Tigerline Ferry from Railay, and actually getting to the ferry was not so smooth but I think that was the fault of the travel desk at Sunrise Tropical Resort on Railay (which we covered here and is otherwise very nice).  That aside, it cost 1100B/person which includes the longtail from Railay East to Ao Nammao, a shared van ride to the Hat Yao pier in Trang, a ferry to Koh Lipe where you disembark on a floating platform off Pattaya Beach, followed by a longtail for 70B/person which dropped us right on the beach in front of Pitiusas.

There is also a ferry to/from Langkawi, Malaysia which we took on departure…more details in our Langkawi post.  It was quite a rough ride.  Note that many use the Langkawi/Lipe ferry to make visa runs from Thailand.

On the island, walking is generally sufficient, though there are moto-taxis and we took one (for 100B) to get ourselves and our luggage to the Bundhaya immigration office when we left for Langkawi.

Accommodation: We stayed at Pitiusas and discussed it above.  If you want to be closer to the action, you should stay on Pattaya or Sunrise Beach.  If you want peace, relaxation and a beautiful setting, Pitiusas is hard to beat.  There is a spit of sand jutting into the ocean on the northeast part of the island.  This is very pretty, though with the prevailing northeast winds this time of year Pitiusas’ location was even more advantageous.

The WiFi at Bundhaya on Pattaya Beach worked fairly well.

Food: We ate many of our meals at Pitiusas.  Our lunch at Daya Resort was fine, and Lonely Planet claims Daya has the best bang for the buck beach BBQ on the island.  We also had lunch at Flower Power on Sunset Beach, which was pretty good, and Bila Beach, which was a cool spot in its own little alcove, complete with banana daiquiris, hammocks and menus painted on bamboo shoots.  There are lots of eating and drinking options on Pattaya and Sunrise beaches and Walking Street between the two.  Castaway Resort on Sunrise Beach looked cool, as did the bar in front of Z Resort on Pattaya.

Also, check out the Thai potato chip flavors.

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Activities: Relaxing!  In addition, you can rent kayaks and there are lots of places offering day/snorkel trips and several dive shops.  The diving is rumored to be pretty good around here.  The going rate was about 2800B for two dives with equipment.  Some operators use longtails and others more proper dive boats.  There are day trips visiting the nearby islands of Ko Adang and others, which are far less developed.  I believe that Ko Adang has some bungalows and you can camp on Ko Rawi.

Massage spots are omnipresent, and the going rate is 300-350B/hour.

January 14-19, 2014 (Tuesday-Sunday)

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