Loving Lipe: Koh Lipe escape

A trip to Thailand isn’t complete without an island getaway. Most tourists head south-east to Koh Samui and Koh PhaNgan (of full moon party fame) or south-west to Phuket and Koh Phi Phi (of The Beach fame).   For those seeking to avoid the tourist crowds, Thailand has numerous other gorgeous islands to choose from. Having already had a gay old time at Koh Samet and Koh Yao Noi, I was excited to recently visit a new island which has emerged as a hot destination, Koh Lipe.

I’d had a rough month and was desperate for three things – a pure white sand beach to lie on while sipping cocktails, a healthy and vibrant coral reef to dive on, and some peace and quiet away from tourist crowds. A friend suggested to me that Koh Lipe might fit the bill.

Nestled against the Thailand-Malaysian border, Koh Lipe is located in the very south-west of Thailand, adjacent to the Tarutao National Marine Park. At only 3.5km (2m) long and 2.5km wide, this small island is famous for its white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and flourishing soft and hard coral reefs (25% of the world’s tropical fish species are found in the surrounding waters!).

We headed out early one Friday morning having mentally prepared for the half day of travel (flight – bus – boat) required to reach Koh Lipe. Luckily the airline arranged everything in a single online booking (either Air Asia or Nok Air) so at least the planning process was easy (and cheap – only USD140 return from Bangkok). The one a half hour flight at 7:30am was pleasant enough however after an hour’s wait and another hour in a minivan, I was getting antsy. As we headed out on the ferry, a morning beer, stunning blue skies and a gentle ocean breeze soothed my nerves.

Several beers later and I was in a merry mood as a blindingly beautiful white sand beach appeared. We stepped off the ferry and onto a long=tailed boat which delivered us directly to our resort, Ten Moons. I was happy with the choice –a rustic wooden bungalow with great views from the balcony, a beautiful beach and blissful peace and quiet.

For the next 5 days I fell into a predictable pattern – wake up late, stumble down to the restaurant for a delicious huge breakfast, fall into a hammock under a tree for a few hours to digest, read, stare into space and snooze. Mid-afternoon I’d grab a snorkel and mask (provided by the resort) and gaze in delight at the corals and tropical fish, followed by some afternoon nap/delight. Early evening we’d wander around the island, stopping for sunset cocktails and dinner either back at the resort or along the main conduit of the island, Walking Street, where you’ll find several restaurants, bars and a convenience store.

When we weren’t gorging on fresh seafood and Thai food by the ocean, our favorite haunt was a great Spanish bar and restaurant (and resort) called The Box, located mid-way along Walking Street – great atmosphere, excellent cocktails and mouth-watering tapas and seafood paella. It also didn’t hurt that the owner was a hot and friendly Spanish hunk.

As with most places in Thailand, Koh Lipe couldn’t be more gay friendly. Nobody looked twice at us as a gay couple. There are many ladyboys working at various resorts and there’s even a gay-owned budget resort, Gipsy Resort, where several gay couples were staying. There are no gay bars or clubs so don’t expect any big parties or random hookups if you’re traveling alone. For a more luxury accommodation choice, consider Serendipity Resort or Akira Lipe Resort.

I had an extremely relaxing 5 days at Koh Lipe. Is it worth the extra time it takes to get there and the slightly inflated prices (compared to the rest of Thailand)? For me, probably yes. The quiet, beautiful beaches and nice coral reef balance out the extra time and outlay. I’ll be back. Besides, I never dragged myself from the hammock to go scuba diving – that will have to wait for the next visit! Go Thai, Be Free.

Note – you can also reach Koh Lipe via boat from Phuket or Koh Lanta although it’s still a long trip. There is also a boat which runs to Langkawi in Malaysia in high season if you are planning to continue on to Malaysia after Thailand.