Koh Lipe – The Maldives of Thailand?

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People say the water is crystal clear at Koh Lipe is – some even call it ‘the Maldives of Thailand’! Is this really true? Both MamaSun and ZenMama visited the island recently and here’s what they thought. Let’s see whether Koh Lipe would be your next holiday destination?

How to get to Koh Lipe

If you travel from Malaysia the easiest way is to access Koh Lipe is from Langkawi by ferry. We stayed overnight in Langkawi and took the morning ferry to Koh Lipe. During high season there are two daily ferries to Koh Lipe. During low season, the ferry schedule changes, and between June and September there are no ferries due to the monsoons. However, you can hire a private speedboat if you wish to visit the island during those months.

There are two jetties that take you to Koh Lipe from Langkawi – Kuah Jetty and Telaga Harbour Marina. You can purchase tickets online or buy them from the jetty counter. The journey takes about 90 minutes, but it does depend on the sea conditions with some journey’s taking up to 2 hours. At the writing of this review tickets cost MYR 110 each way, which includes a long tail boat to take you to the shore of Koh Lipe.

We used the service at the Telaga Harbour Marina as it is a bit closer to Koh Lipe (our journey to Koh Lipe was slightly less than 90 minutes). It is less busy than Kuah Jetty as well as closer to the airport.

Tip: During peak season, we recommend booking ferry tickets in advance.

Immigration at Koh Lipe

Take a deep breath!! Before you board the ferry you will need to pass through immigration and they will collect your passports. Yes, you heard me – they took our passports! But don’t despair! Once you arrive on Koh Lipe you are escorted to a hut of the Thai immigration and your passport is eventually returned. But first you have to wait for your name to be called. I am pretty sure they called the names by the country alphabetically. They started with Australia and next Britain, what? Shouldn’t it be the UK, no?? Me, Malaysian, called last of all!

Once your name is called, collect your passport and head to the counter for your immigration stamp. You can then proceed to another counter (well, a table) to pay for the national park entrance fee.

Passport stamped, fee paid. What’s next? Take your luggage to a portable table for immigration baggage check! If you are coming from Langkawi you have the option of duty free, but don’t take more alcohol that you are allowed – you will either pay a fine or they will take it away from you.

Tip: Keep the national park entrance fee receipt as you will need it if you go island hopping, diving or snorkeling.

Where to stay on Koh Lipe

There are three main beaches in Koh Lipe: Sunset Beach, Sunrise Beach and Pattaya Beach. Boat taxis and tuk-tuks can take you to different beaches if you want to explore the island. Depending on your budget and also the age of your children (and how much comfort you are seeking), there are many different Koh Lipe accommodation options for families.

Map: Google maps

Pattaya Beach

We stayed in Mali Resort at Pattaya Beach (see current prices here). It is about 5 minutes walking distance from the immigration. Our hut was spacious with an enormous outdoor bathroom and just less than a minute’s walk to the beach. Our room came with a king size and a queen size bed as well as a day bed. Plenty of room for the five of us! There was a selection of choices from the breakfast menu which is served in an open air area right by the beach.

Pattaya Beach is the busiest beach of all three, with fine white sand and crystal clear turquoise water. However, this is where the ferries leave from, which makes parts of Pattaya Beach crowded and noisy, and not that desirable for swimming. Despite the boats and “traffic”, there are fish and coral to entertain young snorkelers.

Both Pattaya Beach and the near-by Walking Street offer a wide selection of restaurants and food stalls, bars and shops. Make sure you grab a drink or two by the beach in the evening to enjoy the beautiful sunset!

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is the smallest of beaches and perhaps quietest too. Like almost everywhere in Koh Lipe, longtail boats are spread along the beach, hence snorkeling and swimming comes with the fear of being hit by a motor of a long tail boat. I don’t know how probable it is but the risk definitely is there if you are not cautious. And stressing about boats makes snorkeling and swimming less enjoyable.

However, it offers some lower cost accommodation. Like the name suggests, you can enjoy a beautiful sunset, sitting on a beanbag with a cold drink while the small ones are digging out beautiful seashells from the sand. But be aware, Sunset Beach had a fair amount of broken seashells and also broken glass along the beach – it is better to wear shoes. Even though this all sounds too much for families, I would still recommend a laid back dinner at Sunset Beach, enjoying the chill evening vibes and beautiful sea views out to Koh Adang.

Sunrise Beach

Sunrise Beach is Zenmama’s favourite beach in Koh Lipe, especially the westernmost part in front of the Mountain Resort. She says this after visiting Koh Lipe three times, staying at Phuritra Resort in between Sunset Beach and Sunrise Beach, at Koh Lipe Mountain Resort just in the beginning of Sunrise Beach and at Cabana Lipe Beach Resort (link here) at the other end of Sunrise Beach. This is the view from the Mountain Resort:

Photo: Eija Vihavainen

Sunrise Beach Resorts:

Phuritra and Mountain Resort

Zenmama thinks that these two resorts have definitely the best beaches just in front of the hotel, but both of them are on a hill with quite a few stairs to get to the beach and back to the hotel. Mountain Resort has a pool, big family rooms which is a nice choice for families.

Photo: Eija Vihavainen

Cabana Lipe Beach

This is a good choice for families with small children, although with young wild toddlers you might want to request a room on the ground floor. Rooms are comfortable with an extra sofa-bed which fits two children perfectly. However, the beach in front of the hotel is not very nice because of the long tail boats (like the most part of the Sunrise Beach). However, it is very close to a secluded hideaway which can be found in front of Serendipity and the Ten Moons resort. My children loved this area of beach, and we spent most of the holiday (when staying at Cabana Beach) there.

Ten Moons Lipe Resort

Just if you thought you didn’t have enough options, another Happy Go KL Mama – Hoochiemama – had a very pleasant stay at the southernmost end of Sunrise Beach:

“With kids and husband in tow we spent a very pleasant, short break exploring the island and islands that surround Koh Lipe. Ten Moons was a fantastic, yet basic, resort. While it’s no club-med, it is very comfortable with a secluded beach and plenty of safe places to play on the sand, swim and wade in the water. Ten Moons has bungalows that stretch down onto the beach, so if you are booking with small children see if you can get a bungalow lower down. Having said that we often climbed the stairs to head off in the direction of Walking Street – but my kids were older.

A little aside: At the time of our stay there was a young chef from Spain in the kitchen, and as ridiculous as this may sound when we all know how good Thai food is, we opted for amazing Spanish food – a little pricey but well worth it for a treat. My kids who were 9 and 11 at the time rambled between Serendipity and Ten Moons resorts, beach-combing, building dens from drift wood and clambering over and off rocks and wading out to the nearby island. It really felt a bit like ‘Treasure Island’ but with posh food and tourists.” Check the latest prices for Ten Moons here.

Photo: Eija Vihavainen

Things to consider:

Please research where you want to stay as some of the nicest resorts are located on a hill. If you have young kids with you please bear in mind that they may have to climb over 200 steps to reach to their room.

The sand at Sunrise Beach is not as fine as Pattaya Beach. So the debate goes on: MamaSun recommends to stay at Pattaya Beach whereas ZenMama’s favourites are on the other side of the island but require, maybe, a bit more effort with small children.

If you are staying on Pattaya Beach then stay a little further away from Walking Street as there are a couple of bars at the beginning with live bands. The music can be quite loud until midnight!

Things to do in Koh Lipe

Snorkeling
Book a long tail boat and go island hopping and snorkeling. It is very affordable and a great way to explore the islands. You can snorkel right from the beach too, best snorkeling spots directly from the beach are in front of the Phuritra Resort, Mountain Resort and then on the other end of Sunrise Beach in front of Ten Moons. However, be aware of heavy currents, especially when snorkeling with children!

Walking Street
This is where most of the restaurants and shops are. It is an alley leading off Pattaya Beach, but in recent years it has grown a lot and has extended towards Sunrise Beach. You can find all sort of restaurants, convenience stores, bars, massage parlours, souvenirs shops, and snorkeling and dive shops. This street comes to a life in the evening.

Yoga
Many hotels offer yoga classes throughout the day. ZenMama attended one in Castaway Resort at 7 am – what a refreshing start to the day!

Walking
If you are adventurous and full of energy you can explore the whole island by foot. MamaSun’s hubby and son did it and it took them under 2 hours. Or, at low tide wade out to the island just in front of Ten Moons Lipe Resort. Have a look in the rock pools and see what may be lurking.

Photo: Eija Vihavainen

A must do: Sunrise Beach Restaurant
When in Koh Lipe, you must go and eat in Sunrise Beach Restaurant. It’s a family business and the food is very tasty and much more affordable than in most restaurants is Koh Lipe. The restaurant is good for both lunch and dinner. If you choose to go there for a dinner, you might want to walk to Sea La Vie (in the direction of Serendipity) to admire the fire show, after dark, put on by some of the bartenders. ZenMama’s kids were thrilled to follow the fire show and laughed out loud with excitement.

When to go

There are basically two seasons in Koh Lipe – high season which is from November through to April, with good sunshine and very little rainfall, and then there is the rest of the year – low season which means rain and even when some businesses close.

Tip: If you go during peak season (Dec – Jan) make sure you book your accommodation in advance!

So, is Koh Lipe as good as the Maldives? You may have to check it out for yourself and decide. Before you do, though, make sure you also read our post on the real Maldives here!

mamaSun, ZenMama and a smidge from Hoochiemama

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