Finding paradise on Koh Lipe in Thailand…

Five days of uninterrupted relaxation in between visiting Hong Kong and Bangkok was the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of south East Asian city adventures.  I stayed on Koh Lipe during my honeymoon; it is undeniably an island paradise.  Found in south-west Thailand near the Malaysian border, Koh Lipe is the only inhabited island out of the ten known as the Andang Archipelago. Koh Lipe is 60km from the Thai mainland and 30km from Malaysia, on a clear day you can see Langkawi. The Chao Lei people or ‘Sea Gypsies’ were the first to inhabit Koh Lipe, their village is on Sunrise Beach. At only 2km long and 1km wide it’s easy to explore this gorgeous island. Walking Street is Koh Lipe’s main street, full of small restaurants serving tasty, cheap Thai food, shops and laid back bars. Sparkling turquoise waters and pure white sands make Koh lipe the stuff that dreams are made of! Arriving on the island involves climbing off a boat and paddling onto the beach. We had borrowed backpacks as I felt this was the right thing for travelling in Thailand especially as we were staying on Koh Lipe and would be jumping off a boat. The problem was that I couldn’t even carry mine as it was too heavy! So poor Matt had to carry both pretty much the whole time! After jumping ashore we also trudged along the beach with said backpacks from where the boat dropped us off to our accommodation; when in fact someone was waiting with a motorbike and side cart to carry our bags. In hindsight I would have been much better off with a wheelie bag, or at least Matt would have been! So if you are planning a trip here, stick to what you know with packing.
Matt and I stayed at Castaway Resort on Sunrise Beach in a two-storey beachfront bungalow. The ‘Breezy Bungalow’ had a thatched roof and simple design with a bathroom on the ground floor and decking with hammocks outside. Upstairs a queen sized bed complete with a wonderfully breezy balcony finished off this little slice of heaven. I’ve failed to mention the best bit, our bungalow was in a prime location on the sand only steps away from the ocean. There’s nothing like falling asleep to the sounds of the water lapping gently on the shoreline and waking up to the most beautiful view in the world. A sound I won’t forget is the deep chug of the long tail boats, hearing the fishermen leaving the beach early in the morning was a very different sound to wake up to along with the gentle lapping of the water on the shoreline, just bliss! Our days on Koh Lipe were blissfully chilled out, after a leisurely breakfast we would dive into the crystal clear ocean and snorkel amongst the beautiful coral and colourful fish. When we got hungry we would have a lazy lunch with a Chang beer, mostly at Sunrise Restaurant just a short stroll along the beach, followed by a Thai massage. The afternoons were spent back at our beachfront abode reading and snoozing in the hammocks. This was my first trip to South East Asia and it opened up my eyes to a different kind of travelling, one where you don’t have to stay in just one place, having started off in Hong Kong and ending in Bangkok after Koh Lipe. I booked each aspect of this trip by myself rather than booking through a tour operator, I discovered that you could rock up and book accommodation on arrival rather than back at home on your laptop, my sense of adventure had come alive!

 

Things to do:
Diving and snorkelling: There are quite a few dive schools on the island, Castaway Divers on Sunrise Beach offer fun dives as well as diving courses.  On the edge of the Tarutao National Marine Park, Koh Lipe has an abundance of beautiful coral and tropical fish a very short swim from the shoreline. Snorkel straight off of the beach like we did or hire a long tail boat and guide to explore some of the waters off of nearby islands.
Beach time: The beaches on Koh Lipe are picture perfect, white sand, turquoise ocean and palm fringed shorelines are what dreams are made of. Sunset, Sunrise and Pattaya are the three main beaches and all easily accessible from anywhere on the island.
Eating and drinking: Mango smoothies, coconut water, pomegranate juice and banana pancakes, along with Thai green and Penang curry are just some of the must haves when in Thailand. My favourite place to eat on Koh Lipe was Sunrise Beach Restaurant, they served up the best fresh fish I’ve ever tasted and wonderful Thai glass noodle salads all washed down with a Chang beer or two! We could walk along the shoreline from our beach hut, as the restaurant is right on the beach. Pooh’s Bar is a nice place for cocktails, Thai cushions on the floor with low tables made it perfect for relaxing with a Mojito. Pooh’s restaurant is a bit of an institution on the island and right next to Pooh’s Bar.
Boat trips: We booked a day trip through Castaway on a long tail boat. The trip included lunch and water, we stopped nearby at three neighbouring islands to snorkel, we saw monkeys on one and jumped ashore for lunch on another.
Where to stay:
We stayed at Castaway Beach Resort, a small collection of beach bungalows in a prime spot right on Sunrise Beach. Recommended by a friend it was the perfect place for our honeymoon. Castaway has a gorgeous decked area with Thai cushions scattered on the floor, just right for having a beer and admiring the uninterrupted ocean views. When the sun goes down oil lamps and candles appear creating a really chilled out evening vibe and a great place to have dinner. Castaway also has a dive centre and an in-house masseuse; a Thai massage is a must in this part of the world!  While not the cheapest of beach hut accommodation on the island, if you are looking for something a little bit special then this is it.
When to Visit:
High Season is from November to May and can be quite busy, low season is June to October and is much quieter, it’s easy to have a beach pretty much all to yourself at this time. Matt and I visited during low season and I really recommend it.  The weather held out for us too with mainly dry days and thunderstorms at night. The last few days of our trip crept into the busier season and we really noticed a difference in the amount of people on the island. It is worth noting that weekends can get busy too as locals arrive for their own break away.
Getting There:
The only way to reach Koh Lipe all year round is by boat from Pak Bara. During high season there are two boats a day, it is also possible to get a boat from Langkawi in Malaysia, the journey is around 1 hour 90 minutes with immigration on both sides. Boats also leave from Koh Lanta, Phi Phi Islands and Phuket, so you can plan a proper island hopping adventure. In low season the only route to Koh Lipe is from Pak Bara with one boat a day. The 1 hour 30 minute journey by speedboat is a fun one. We flew into Hat Yai from Bangkok the night before our planned boat, from Hat Yai we got a taxi to Pak Bara and stayed at Best House Resort. At the time it was about £10 for the night and caused us a lot of amusement! Very interesting decor and minimal bed sheets plus a non-locking front door meant the room was not great to say the least!! Luckily we could laugh about it! Not wanting to stay in it we headed out for beer, Pak Bara is just one long street to the pier and luckily there was a small bar very nearby. I really wouldn’t recommend Best House Resort other than a place to put your head for the night if you are desperate,  I’m sure there are better places to stay in Park Bara!
Fly from Bangkok to Hat Yai in 1 hour 30 minutes, the journey by taxi to Pak Bara took around 1 hour 45 minutes and then a 1 hour 30 speed boat ride to the island. Air Asia have made it really easy with their Island Transfer Service, the Koh Lipe travel package allows you to book flights from Bangkok to Hat Yai a shuttle to the pier at Pak Bara and the boat to Koh Lipe all at the same time. Getting to Koh Lipe is an adventure in itself and well worth all the travelling.
Check out the very cool Getting Stamped travel blog for an amazing guide to Koh Lipe, it’s jammed packed with everything you need to know about this beautiful island: Getting Stamped: The Ultimate Guide To Koh Lipe Thailand.

 

Exploring the backwaters of Bangkok…

I absolutely love Bangkok and have visited this vibrant city three times in the last few years.  I realised that I’ve never blogged about my experiences in South East Asia so thought I should put pen to paper, so to speak and get writing….
The first time I arrived in Bangkok was on my honeymoon in 2010, I wasn’t an immediate fan of the place; it felt so busy and noisy and quite overwhelming.  Although once I got used to my new surroundings that all changed and now I can’t stop going back!  The second visit was in 2013 on the way to Australia and the third coming back from New Zealand in 2014.  It is the perfect place for a stopover to or from another destination and definitely eases the jet lag by breaking up a long journey.  On the last visit Matt and I decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the streets behind and explore the many waterways and khlongs of the city.
We had used the river taxis plenty of times before and loved seeing the city and temples from the water so decided to take a trip on a longtail boat.  Strolling along the Chao Phraya River we chose not to book through a tour company but a lady with a small stand by the water.  We paid her 1000 baht for a one hour trip.  (Now thinking about it I am sure we could have haggled and got this slightly cheaper…but I guess you live and learn!)  The boat and driver were on the pontoon ready and waiting to take us exploring.  Although perhaps a bit on the pricey side for a trip in Bangkok, we did have the boat all to ourselves.  Buzzing along the river going against the fast-moving current I peered down at the murky waters carrying along water hyacinths and waved at passing boats, some transporting tourists others full of cargo.  We had a lovely driver; he didn’t speak any English but the language barrier wasn’t a problem.  He pointed out beautiful temples and interesting buildings along the way and made us feel quite at home.  Longtail boats like the one we were in have a very distinctive engine noise, very loud and rough sounding!  It may sound silly but that rough and loud noise really reminds me of Thailand and conjures up a lot of happy memories.
Cutting along a side water we left the busy main waterway and slowed down as the khlong narrowed and a whole different world emerged, we passed by wooden houses on stilts and people in boats going about their daily routine.  I loved observing these communities on stilts, people fishing from their front door, dogs on porches and corner shops full of supplies.  We passed two ladies paddling in a small boat, dressed in their best clothes and hats.  They really stood out to me giving me a new perspective of people’s lives in Bangkok, a very different one to that I had already experienced around the city.  It seemed more of a majestic, slower paced, simple life compared to the hustle and bustle of the Bangkok streets.  I snapped a photo of them, it is still one of my favourites today.  Back on the Chao Phraya a few ladies selling souvenirs from their boats greeted us.  Others were selling bread, confused as to why, our driver pointed out the huge amount of catfish moving around in a frenzy nearby a pontoon waiting for their food.  It was a bit of touristy thing to do but fun to feed them none the less!  Continuing along the river system we passed the Royal Barges Museum and beautiful temples and shrines full of colourful detail.
Back on dry land we felt a bit peckish so bought a snack of fresh fruit on sticks from food stalls near one of the piers and then decided to jump back on the water, this time on the tourist ferry to Wat Arun.  This temple is one of my favourites in Bangkok and is right on the edge of the river.  It is covered in beautiful mosaics, the ornate detail is incredible. This temple can be climbed, it is extremely steep but the hike is worth it as the views of the city from the top are fantastic.  The temple is lit up at night and looks golden against the darkness of the sky, it’s worth finding a spot on the opposite side of the river to watch the sunset and the the temple light up, beautiful!
My tips:
  • If you are planning a trip to Bangkok I definitely recommend exploring the waterways.  To get your bearings Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok is a must buy.  This beautifully illustrated map has become my trusty guide to the city, it is full of detail and great for finding your feet in this crazy metropolis.
  • Haggle for the price of your boat trip, it maybe that the trip price is a set one but it is always worth a try.
  • When visiting temples make sure that arms and legs are covered as a mark of respect.  If you don’t have your own long sleeves and trousers you can usually rent garments for a small fee outside temple buildings.
  • A trip to a floating market is another must do water based activity in Bangkok, something I have not done yet but is on a future itinerary.  Hotels.com has some good recommendations.
Matt put together a short video of our morning on the backwaters, hope it gives you the feel of this very special place…