Back to Nature at Koh Li Pe
Ko Lip... what? Li Pe, my friend says. That is where we are headed next. Li Peh, Leepae, Lipe, or Lipae, it does not matter. Just pack your diving gear and head off to this gem of an island. Located in the southernmost province of Satun in Thailand, lazing idyllically in the Andaman Sea is Ko Li Pe (Li Pe Island). The island is a mere 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the famous Langkawi Island of Malaysia. Ko Li Pe is actually part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, and getting there is easy - just a 60-km ferry ride away. It is a small boat that can accommodate about 20 people at any one time only. However, the ticket is painfully expensive (RM100 to get there, and RM118 to get away from it). In fact, that is like the most expensive thing we have to spend on to get to Ko Li Pe. If you are coming from Langkawi Island, board a ferry from Telaga Harbor. During the peak season, there are about four ferries a day to Ko Li Pe.
The island is "open" to visitors from November to May each year. Peak is November, and downtime is after May. During its peak season, there will be daily ferry rides from the mainland to the island. Because the island is extremely popular over the holiday season, you have to reserve your accommodation ahead of time if you plan to visit Ko Li Pe. This is especially so around the months of December, January, and February.
To get to Ko Li Pe from Bangkok is easy. You can choose to board a train or plane to Hat Yai. If you are going by train, you can board one at Bangkok, sleep overnight, and by the next morning, you will make it to Ko Li Pe all in the same day. If you want a more comfortable and quicker journey, Air Asia flies to Hat Yai a few times a day. That is a good alternative if you are looking for one. From Hat Yai, just take a mini bus to Pak Barra. It will be quite easy to locate these "mini buses" (which are actually white vans handled by travel agents). Grab a ticket, hop on a mini bus, and in less than two hours, you will reach Pak Barra. Of course, you can choose to hire a taxi from the airport as well to get to Pak Barra, but that alternative can cost ten times more than what you would be paying for the mini bus. Therefore, if you have the time and minimal luggage, I think the best way is by mini buses.
Once you reach Pak Barra, you can easily get the ferry ticket for the next ride to the island. Starting around October each year, you will be able to get daily tickets from Pak Barra. However, do take note that there is no pier at Ko Li Pe. Your ferry will simply glide to the shallow surface where the water is about knee-high, and then you can hop down, grab your luggage and waddle (walk) to Pattaya beach.
From Pattaya beach, you can get alternate transportation by a long tail boat to your resort. If your resort is situated at the other side of the beach, it is best to charter a long tail boat. Together with a group of other people headed towards the same destination, you will be brought to your resort. Of course, you can choose to walk - but with your luggage and all, I doubt you want to walk. Accommodation at Pattaya beach is more expensive though compared to those at other resorts, but here you get electricity 24 hours a day. Other resorts only switch on electricity in the mornings, and evenings till midnight. If you cannot do without electricity, then check in to either Varin or Mountain Resort.
Our resort was the Forra Bamboo Resort. And the accommodation is simply quaint. We are such city folks and the thought of sleeping in a wooden bamboo thatched hut is really wonderful. We even have a four-poster bed made of bamboo frame.
When we arrived at our resort, we decided to do an island tour first before hitting the waves. The view from the resort is absolutely breathtaking, and the sunset - need I say more?
The island is very small and you can capture the sights within an hour or two the most. The "route" is connected by small sandy paths linking three main beaches, and the small Chao Ley village. If you want to sightsee more, you can hop over to neighboring islands for day trips or water activities. Koh Rawi is one such spot you can go to. These islands are virtually uninhabited although there are some bungalows at Koh Rawi.
Of course, water activities are the main attraction at Ko Li Pe. For those without a diving license, you can opt to snorkel as Ko Li Pe has some nice areas right off the beach. For the better spots, just take a day trip to the neighboring islands. Although it is possible to swim from one island to another, it is best not to do it alone as the currents can get strong sometimes. I have been recommended to check out Sunrise Beach for snorkeling purposes, but I never made it there. Perhaps you can check it out if you decide to visit Ko Li Pe.
The snorkeling areas are not that great at Ko Li Pe per say. If you really want the good spots, you have to venture out further. You can check with the dive shops around, perhaps Pattaya Beach, to get some tips on the good spots to go to.
Diving at Ko Li Pe is special because of the serenity and tranquility it offers. There are a few dive shops there as well, so you can browse around for the ones that offer you the best options. We were recommended to check out either 8 Mile Rock, Chabang, Koh Sawang, Honey Island, or Yong Hua.
While all of these spots are beautiful and popular, however, 8 Mile Rock is meant for advanced divers only, and with luck, if the weather and current conditions are perfect, then you may have a chance to dive at this site and spot the leopard sharks. I think most divers will hit Chabang or Koh Sawang. Both are great dive sites with beautiful corals flanked by a picturesque backdrop. Chabang is not for divers only, even snorkelers love to area. Below the surface, sea lives are almost magical in these areas.
If you are looking for something more interesting, then how about a dive to a boat wreck? Many years ago, a Thai fish processing ship named Yong Hua sank near Lipe Island. It went down to the depths of about 40 meters. Reef has grown around it and if you are an experienced diver, you will get to see how the reef formed in this interesting wreck.
Apart from water activities during the day, the resort takes on a romantic mood at nightfall. For meals, the resort serves a mixture of western and local cuisine. We went to Pooh's as well, which is a pub cum restaurant. Pooh's is located somewhere in the center of the island; you have to walk through the village to get there. It is behind our resort. Pooh's is named after the proprietor, who is one friendly guy. He makes the effort to greet and shake the hands of every customer to his restaurant. When a customer leaves, he will do the same. He will even take the time to sit down for a chat with you at your table. The only setback that night was the alcohol running "out of stock". As a result, I had a rather watered down pina colada. And because the island conserves electricity, do not expect to find any ice-cream on the island as well. No power means no freezer. No freezer means no ice-cream. They used to have it though, but no longer serve ice-cream now.
To wind down after dinner, you can head over to the "mini cinema", which is a short walk away from Pooh's. Please do not expect Dolby Digital Surround Sound effects here. This is nothing more than a small television where you can gather around to watch. Still, with the surrounding and liquor buzzing in your head, this could prove to be an interesting experience for some. Absolutely idyllic, relaxing, and stress-free!
Of course, I must not forget to mention the famous pancakes, which is absolutely mouthwatering. Crispier than the usual pancakes, this has maple syrup topping, banana slices, and more. I would say it is a cross between the western pancakes and the roti canai (a type of flatbread found in Malaysia). And of course, remember to taste test the fruit yogurt as well. When I look back, the fruit yogurt is really not that extraordinary, but on a hot day while you are on holiday, everything taste extra refreshing and out of this world! But to reiterate, the pancakes are good though. But the prices are generally on the high side (that is the Ringgit for you).
All in all, we were there for 3 days, 2 nights. If you are looking for a back-to-nature holiday where the most strenuous activity is getting out of bed and diving, then welcome to Ko Li Pe. This is where you will get a truly laid-back and relaxing time.