The Adang Archipelago is a small group of islands in Thailand’s second largest national park, Tarutao National Marine Park. The park covers around 1500 km2 and contains over 50 islands, all of them uninhabited. Koh Lipe is the only island in the area that is not uninhabited because it lies outside the jurisdiction of the national park.
Koh Lipe is roughly 60km from the Thai mainland and it is the most southern island in Thailand. On a clear day you can see the island of Langkawi in Malaysia, which is around 30km south. The island is famed for its beauty, crystal clear waters, stunning beaches and laid back vibe. The island is home to around 500 Chao Ley (also known as Sea Gypsies) who originally settled here from Malaysia. The name Koh Lipe translates to ‘Paper Island’ in the local Chao Ley language, and the name fits well because unlike many South East Asian Island, Koh Lipe is relatively flat. During your time here you will be staying on one of the islands 3 main beaches: Pattaya Beach, Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach.
Pattaya Beach is the main beach where all boats arrive to the island. Because of the islands close proximity to Malaysia, there is an immigration office on the beach to check the passports of tourists visiting from the south.
Sunrise Beach stretches along the entire eastern side of the island. As its name suggests, this is the go to place to watch the sunrise over the national park. The hospital, school and a Chao Ley village are located here, as well as a few spread out resorts.
Sunset Beach is small compared to the other beaches, and as its name suggests, this is to go to place to watch the sunset. This part of the island is less developed than the rest, with bars, restaurants and accommodation still being built with bamboo and driftwood. The main hub of the island is known as walking street, where you can find many restaurants, bars and shops. Until recently there were no ATM’s on the island but now there are 3 in various places.
Scuba Diving in Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe and the surrounding marine park has some of the best diving that Thailand has to offer, and unlike most other places in Thailand, even the shore diving is great! The currents are predominantly tidal, which means at certain times of the month, the current can be very strong in certain locations. This has allowed beautiful soft coral reefs to grow, and attracts bigger stuff such as mantas and whale sharks to certain dive sites.
There are many dive shops on the island that offer a full range of PADI and SSI diving courses all the way to instructor. Because the island is a hop spot for tourists, courses are offered in multiple languages including Thai and Malaysian. Most dive schools use a tradition Thai longtail style boat, but a couple of schools use bigger boats. Equipment is generally in good condition and is included in the price of the diving, as is a professional dive guide.
Best Dive Sites in Koh Lipe
8 Mile Rock is not to be missed, it is a deep sea pinnacle that takes around 75 minutes to get to by boat. Because it is out in the open sea the currents can be very strong, but this is why it is so special. The top of the pinnacle is 14 metres below the surface and life is everywhere. If you are lucky you may get to see manta rays, devil rays, whale sharks, goliath groupers, leopard sharks and more. Because of the currents there is an abundance of soft corals and sponges which stick out and feed on whatever the current brings. The pinnacle goes deeper than 50 metres, so a multiple dive package for this site is well worth it.
Koh Bu Tang is one of the most popular islands to dive around. There are multiple dive sites around it, but wherever you dive you can expect to see beautiful coral reefs, turtles, ghost pipe fish, razor fish, trumpet fish, and maybe even sharks. If you like to go deep you should try the west side of the island where you can find the ‘Giants Staircase’, which are huge natural stone steps that drop to over 50 metres.
MV Yong Hua Shipwreck is located near the western end of Koh Lipe. She sank in 1996 after catching fire, and now rests on the sea bed at around 40 metres. Now after so many years she is completely covered in marine growth, which in turn attracts lots of fish. She is 50 metres long, and sits intact on her starboard side. Generally penetration is not permitted by most schools due to depth and size, however if technical trained it is possible, just contact ahead of time if you would like to tec dive the wreck. Currents can get very strong here so she can only be dived at certain times.
Stonehenge is one dive site with several different types of reef. The main part of the site is a collection of granite pinnacles that resembles England’s mythical Stonehenge. On the east side is a boulder slope where giant groupers and moray eels can be found. This part of the site drops to over 40 metres and leopard sharks and eagle rays have been observed there. In other parts large patches of hard and soft corals can be found, as well as an abundance of different sponges.
When to Visit Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe like most places in the tropics has two seasons, the dry season and the wet season. Dry season is between November and May, when the skies are almost always blue and rain is rare. At this time all businesses are open and this small island becomes very busy. Water conditions are at their best, and visibility can often exceed 30 metres. If you are planning to visit between December and February then you need to book ahead of time, as the island quickly fills.
Rainy season is between June and October. The skies go cloudy, and it rains a lot. Monsoon winds from the southwest make the sea choppy which can affect boat travel to the island. Most of the businesses close during the rainy season, and many ferries are cancelled. Many dive sites become inaccessible because of rough conditions, and visibility reduced dramatically.
Unlike many other Thai islands, Koh Lipe is popular with Thai locals (and Malaysians) for a weekend getaway destination. This means rooms quickly fill up over the weekend during peak season. Book ahead if you want to guarantee a room and a boat ticket.
Getting to Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is an easy island to reach. The main port from Thailand is Pak Bara, and speed boats run daily, even during low season. The journey takes roughly 90 minutes and should cost around 650 Baht one way. The boats will stop in open water near Pattaya Beach, and you will need to pay for a taxi boat to take you to shore.
From Langkawi, Malaysia ferries are available year round, although during low season the number of ferries is reduced to one per day. The trip will cost around 1200 Baht and includes the cost of the taxi boat to the Thai immigration and customs office. The speed boats used are very fast, and often bounce around. If you have back or neck problems I would advise not taking a speed boat to avoid potential injury.
Getting Around the Island
Koh Lipe is a small island, and can be covered by foot relatively easily. There are no cars on the island, and only a handful of motorbikes, none of which are to rent (although there are a few motorbike taxis). Traditional Thai longtail style taxi boats can take you anywhere on the island for around 50 Baht for a one way trip.
Eat, Sleep & Drink
Because it is so small, and everything needs to be brought to the island, Koh Lipe is significantly more expensive than the mainland for everything, especially water and food.
Koh Lipe has a wide variety of food available, from traditional Thai to Italian or Mexican. All the resorts offer food and walking street has the most restaurants. The island has a real chilled out vibe, and nothing shows this more than the bars. Driftwood structures slapped together form some of the island many Rasta bars that blast reggae music until the early hours.
There are over 60 guesthouses on the island, offering accommodation for every budget. If you are lucky you may be able to get a very basic room for as little as 500 Baht a night, but most places will charge over 1000 Baht a night. Some places advertise cheaper rooms to entice people in, but these rooms are rarely available.
The best thing to do while not diving is to explore the national park. You can rent a taxi boat or join a tour. It is possible to reach some of the far out islands but it will be more expensive due to the distance. You can some interesting wildlife on some of the islands, including monkeys and colourful tropical birds.
Although Koh Lipe is the only developed and inhabited island, it is possible to camp overnight on the islands of Koh Adang and Koh Rawi. This is a great way to get a real tropical island feel, and it’s cheap too! If camping is not your thing Koh Adang ranger station has a few bungalows that can be used. The viewpoint from the top of Koh Adang is a great way to get an aerial view of ‘Paper Island’ and the surrounding archipelago.
Preserving Koh Lipe
Because Koh Lipe is outside the jurisdiction of Tarutao National Park, it is exempt from the laws that protect the other islands. The tourism industry is having a heavy impact on the island and its wildlife. It is common to see litter being burnt as there is no other way to keep up with the demand. During the high season the island regularly faces water shortages, and sewage can be a problem. Please keep your impact to a minimum. Try to keep plastic usage to a minimum and do not litter.
If you would like to help preserve this patch of paradise, why not join Trash Hero who conduct beach cleans. They travel around the Adang Archipelago once a week and remove every last piece of trash. The group is supported by many local businesses who help out by donating boat space, trash bags and even offering the cleaners food and drinks for their effort.
Fishing is illegal near the island so try to avoid fishing trips as you may end up fishing illegally. Illegal fishing is a problem in many marine national parks, so please try to avoid eating sea food while staying on the island.
The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 affected the west coast of Thailand, killing thousands. Koh Lipe was protected from the north of Sumatra so luckily damage was minimal, and no human life was lost. There are Tsunami evacuation points on the island, and these are sign posted. Divers regularly photograph scorpionfish, lionfish and their extremely venomous cousin, the stonefish. Although unlikely, it is possible that these fish are resting on the seabed in the shallows and stepping on one is a quick way to ruin your trip. Reef shoes or booties are a good way to keep yourself safe, but these do not give you a license to walk on the corals.