Day 396 – 31, March, 2016
And then I found paradise. Ko Lipe will long remain in my memory as my favorite island I discovered. There are so many islets in the Andaman Sea, each with their own character and vibe. I didn’t come close to visiting even half, let alone all of them, but of those I did see, Ko Lipe was my favorite by a mile.
If this post reads a little bit like a travel guide this time, it’s only because I recommend it that highly and I encourage anyone looking for an island getaway to check it out*. Here goes….
The island is one of more than 50 islands in the Adang Archipelago and is also part of Tarutao National Park. There are essentially three beaches – Sunrise, Sunset, and Pattaya. All of them had powdery white sand. No cars are allowed on the island, but it’s small enough to easily walk to wherever you want to go. There is even a convenient 600m walking street connecting Pattaya to Sunrise Beaches. Pattaya Beach is the port. It’s where you would arrive by ferry, where you might depart for a day excursion, and the location of the immigration office. Even though there are lots of boats anchored here, there are also cordoned off slices of ocean for a spontaneous swim. In spite of the boats, the water is clean and clear and Goldilocks warm.
Sunset Beach still remains pretty desolate even with the encroaching development elsewhere on Ko Lipe. The walk to Sunset was mainly on dirt/sand paths and I was constantly checking my map to make sure I was going the right way, although it would be pretty difficult to get too lost here. It was virtually empty with only a couple of bungalows/restaurants to take care of any sustenance you require, although I recommend bringing a picnic to this beach. I was frustratingly low on cash and had not thought of the picnic option so I had to move on to what turned out to be my favorite beach.
I spent my days primarily on Sunrise Beach, a long stretch of uninterrupted scenic beachfront that embodies every idyllic postcard you could hope to see. At times like these, I almost feel guilty for my lifestyle, knowing that my friends and contemporaries are probably sitting behind a desk somewhere. And this little voice of American “sensibility” creeps in to tell me I should probably be there too. What makes me so special that I am somehow escaping the scenario of so-called “real life” to spend endless days swimming in the ocean of this fantasy island? Then I quiet that obnoxious voice. I’m not here because I’m special. I’m here because of careful planning, hard work, saving my pennies, lots of sacrifices, and a willingness to try.
The activity of Ko Lipe lies in the center of the island. There is one main walking street and a few side streets, lined with fresh seafood restaurants where you can select your own catch and smart cafes that will serve up a variety of cuisines (in case you are sick of Asian food like me). Tours are advertised for snorkeling and visiting other islands within the national park, although if your party is large enough, you can rent your own private boat and captain for a cheap price basically anywhere along the beach. Ko Lipe is definitely touristy and getting more so with heavy development monopolizing every bit of real estate, but as of this writing, there are still plenty of places (or specifically, private beach cabanas) where you can get away from it all.
Truth be told, I had a hard time tearing myself away from Ko Lipe. I felt like I had finally found a place that was soothing for my soul and I wasn’t done soaking up the tropical atmosphere. And with that said, the main reason I was in Ko Lipe to begin with was because of its proximity to Malaysia. Crossing the border at sea rather than by land seemed so much more appealing. Ko Lipe was the only Thai island with an immigration office, allowing for easy travel across the border. It was an unassuming building right on the beach with the rare cheerful border official to bid me farewell. I mean….with digs like these, who wouldn’t be cheerful? And if leaving Ko Lipe was tough, then I had plenty to look forward to on the other side. After four months apart and two months of daily chatting, I would finally get to see Martyn again in Langkawi. On the ferry, as Ko Lipe faded into the horizon, I wasn’t looking back.
*To go: Ko Lipe is in Thailand, but the easiest way to get there might surprise you. I recommend an international flight to Kuala Lumpur, followed by a short domestic flight to Langkawi. From Langkawi, a ferry to Ko Lipe is only about 90 minutes. Neither Malaysia or Thailand require a confusing visa process and it is remarkably simple to navigate immigration at this border crossing (even with kids – I’m talking to you, Krystal!)