Koh Lipe (Jan 14-20): Heaven on Earth

My six days in Koh Lipe went by way too fast – I was nearly in tears when I had to leave, and that hardly ever happens! The taxi driver (who must work for the hostel) picked me up at my hostel in Langkawi and we made the 20-30 minute drive to the pier. He said that I was lucky because he was about to wash his car so if the hostel owner had called him ten minutes later, he wouldn’t have been able to drive me. We got to the pier and as we walked into the building, the taxi driver said that Koh Lipe was more expensive than Langkawi, which scared me since Langkawi was already expensive as it is. We walked up to a dark office, where there were a bunch of people filling out forms and waiting. The driver asked me for my passport and told me to sit down, then came back with a number for me to wait in the queue. My number was 75, the most recent number was 53, and the ferry was to depart in about an hour. I FaceTimed with my parents while waiting and surprisingly, I was called after two numbers. The man asked if I was coming back to Langkawi and then asked why I didn’t buy my return ticket. I didn’t know how long to stay and because it was 40 dollars each way, I didn’t want to just stay for 2 or 3 nights. I said I’d stay for a week and got a return ticket for the 20th, which cost 118 ringgit ($38.52AUD). He said to be in the waiting room a half hour early (2pm), so I went downstairs and called my parents back. When I told my mom about cutting my foot, she told me to go buy antiseptic because I still hadn’t properly cleaned it, especially since everywhere in Thailand and Malaysia (even in many convenience or clothing stores) we have to walk barefoot when inside and leave our shoes outside. Just as I hung up with my parents, they made an announcement to line up for the ferry so we could go through customs. I quickly ran to the pharmacy to find antiseptic, came back, and the door was already closed with a gate set up across it! I panicked, walked up to the door (which thankfully opened), and snuck around the belted gate to go to customs (so no one actually took my ticket). After going through customs, there was a man standing there and he asked for my passport before getting onto the ferry. “Why?” I asked, hesitantly. “You’ll get it back when you’re in Koh Lipe.” I reluctantly gave him my passport, which he added to the big stack. I then walked onto the ferry, which was quite dungeon-like – very dark with glazed windows. I found a seat and relaxed for the next 90 minutes until we arrived to the transfer terminal. I had gained an hour so it was only just after 3pm when I arrived. We all got off the ferry and then had to walk across the floating dock, go down a ladder (with all of our luggage), and get into a long-tail boat, which would take us to the Koh Lipe beach (the ferry was too big and would destroy the coral if it got too close). The longtail boatride was less than five minutes and before we knew it, we were on Pattaya Beach.

Koh Lipe is known as the Maldives of Thailand… I’ve never been to the Maldives before but if it’s anything like Koh Lipe, then it’ll be one of the next places on my list. I almost don’t want to share how much I loved Koh Lipe because I don’t want it to lose its charm and become a huge tourist destination, like many of the other Thai Islands are. Its beauty is captivating, with clear waters and corals all around. There aren’t any vehicles (occasionally you’ll see a pick-up truck), but there are many motorbikes with sidecars.

They don’t allow tourists to rent the motorbikes, but you can get one as a taxi for 50 baht per person (which I never did). The island is completely walkable, and you can probably walk from one end to the other in about 45 minutes. It has three main beaches: Pattaya Beach is the most popular so I only went to it a couple of times, and it has bars and restaurants along it. Sunset Beach is a smaller beach which I never actually went to. And Sunrise Beach was the closest one to my hostel, and was much less busy so I spent most of my time there. Anyway, we had to wait in line to go through border control. Luckily, there weren’t many of us so I didn’t have to wait long but I’ve heard that people have had to wait for over an hour. Then, they checked my bag and made me pay the Tarutao National Park fee for 200 baht ($8.73), which protects the coral reef so assuming you’re on the water (which you would have had to in order to get there), you have to have a national park permit with you. I walked less than ten minutes to my hostel, Shanti Backpackers, which is run by a friendly, quiet pregnant lady who often has her 8-year-old daughter (Shanti) with her. Shanti warmed up to me quite quickly and would come give me big hugs when she saw me, and ask me questions. She doesn’t go to school, but her English is so good! The hostel was basically one big room that fit about 16 people, so we had to get used to being one big, happy family. I paid 250 baht per night ($10.91). Outside the hostel, an old man stands on the street corner all day everyday (he closes at midnight) and sells coconut pancakes. He sings the same song over and over again: “Coconut donut, 10 baht, 10 baht, Coco!” and I’m pretty sure all of us could sing it in our sleep just within one hour of being at the hostel. I got changed and made my way to the northern part of Sunrise Beach so I could get one swim in before sunset.

After sunset, I went back to the hostel and there were a bunch of people about to go for dinner, so I joined them. We went to NOT Wangcha-aon, where I got tomyum rice with a coke for 130 baht ($5.67). The food was average but definitely didn’t stand out. After dinner, I went with some of the group (a couple from Chile and a guy from Germany) to get some beer from 7-11 and sit on the beach. At about 11pm, we walked into the water and as we kicked the sand, we were able to see the plankton light up – it was pretty cool!

On Tuesday, I got up to go for breakfast and went to a restaurant that was suggested to me by the hostel owner called Coffee House Lipe. I decided to get a set breakfast for 125 baht ($5.45), which came with eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, toast, and coffee. However, it came out within two minutes of me ordering it and I knew it was because most of the items had just been sitting there, waiting for someone to eat them. The toast even came untoasted. I ate the bacon but left the sausage and ham behind, as I couldn’t bring myself to eat them. I decided to walk to the viewpoint of Koh Lipe, which only took about ten minutes. The view was really nice!

I took a different trail back down, which led to Pattaya Beach, but it was really steep and covered with leaves. There was a rope ‘fence’ along the trail, but it was falling apart so as I made my way down and started slipping on the leaves, the stakes came out of the ground when I held onto the rope. As I kicked a pile of leaves, a huge swarm of mosquitoes came out and I got eaten alive. I started to panic because I couldn’t go down fast enough and I didn’t want to climb back up, and it was really steep so I couldn’t even try to get my mosquito repellent out of my bag. I’ve never seen so many mosquitoes at one time, and I felt like I was in the Hunger Games. I finally decided to turn around and head back up to try to outrun the mosquitoes, and it worked! I got to Sunrise Beach, found a nice spot, and came up with my daily routine: lie for 15 minutes on each side, go for a swim, lie for 20 minutes on each side, go for a snack (usually a chocolate-banana pancake with fruit shake) and work on blog post, repeat steps 1-3, watch sunset, shower, go for dinner with people in the hostel. It was the perfect routine!

That evening, one of the girls suggested an Indian restaurant called Bombay Restaurant, which was a bit more expensive than usual. However, it was really good food! I got Vegetable Korma with naan and a coke for 250 baht ($10.91). We were able to watch one of the ladies make the naan right in front of us, which was neat to see.

On Wednesday morning, I went to a restaurant called Nee Papaya for breakfast. This time, I decided to stick with having Asian breakfast, as I no longer trusted English breakfasts. I had rice with chicken and vegetables, and a coffee for 120 baht ($5.24).

After that, I made my way to the southern part of Sunrise beach, where it seemed like there were private beaches for the resorts so there weren’t as many people around. The hostel owner had lent me her snorkelling gear, so I checked out some of the coral next to the beach and spent the rest of the time on the sand.

That evening, a group of us went out for dinner at Sunrise Beach Restaurant, where I got cashew chicken with rice and an iced tea for 155 baht ($6.76). After dinner, a group of us got some beer from 7-11 and sat on the beach to watch the fire dancers, which was cool to see. I was so itchy from all of the mosquito bites that I had gotten (by the way, Koh Lipe = mosquitos galore!), so I went to buy some Tiger Balm from the pharmacy. Tiger Balm is made for sore muscles and can also help people clear their sinuses if they have a cold, but I’ve met lots of tourists who use it for mosquito bites, and it works!! The heat sensation takes away the itchiness so I’d put it on all of my bites before bed.

On Thursday, I decided I should finally go do something, as I had been lazing around the past few days. I went to Thai Lady Pancake for breakfast, where I got mango sticky rice, a coffee, and a shake for 180 baht ($7.85).

I wanted to go to the larger island next to Koh Lipe so I walked to Sunrise Beach, saw a sign that said “Taxi 100 baht” and I told them I wanted to go to Koh Adang. I got on the boat and the driver asked me what time I was planning to come back. “Oh, I don’t know! How long do you think I’ll need?” But he didn’t understand what I was asking. The ride was only about ten minutes long but was very wavy and I wasn’t too dry by the time I got there.

I got off the boat and the driver went back to Koh Lipe. I found signs directing me to Chado Cliff and made my way up. The hike had three viewpoints, with the last one obviously being the best. However, this hike was one of those hikes where I kept thinking to myself, “Why did I decide to do this? Why do I do this to myself? Is it REALLY going to be worth it?” Most of the hike was in direct sunlight, in ‘feels-like’ 38 degree weather, and usually had a steep ascent. I definitely took a lot of breaks because I was nervous that I was going to get heat stroke if I pushed myself too hard. I think I made it up to the top in about 45 minutes and even though I was sweating through every pore in my body, the view made it totally worth it! I had the perfect view of Koh Lipe, along with all of the surrounding water with different shades of blue.

I sat there for quite awhile, had the place to myself for a bit, and then visited with a couple who joined me at the top before heading back down. The beaches there were pretty much empty, as I only saw about five people on the entire beach. Therefore, most people treated it as a nude beach because if the closest person to you is 300 metres away, then why not? I stayed there until the clouds covered the sky at about 4pm and then walked back towards where I was dropped off. On my way there, I noticed some of the shells moving in front of me but when I got closer, they’d stop. I don’t even know how I noticed them because they were so tiny, and difficult to see if you weren’t looking for them. I sat and watched them for quite awhile, and then continued to the dock.

I was expecting to see some boats waiting to take people back but there weren’t any. Finally, a boat came with two tourists and when I asked if they were going back to Koh Lipe, they said no and told me to keep waiting. Then, another boat came with two locals who were bringing stuff over to the island. As they were unloading the boat, I went and asked if they were going back to Koh Lipe. He asked if I was one person or if there were two people and I said one. He shook his head no. I had 100 baht in my hand and the woman said something to him, so he told me to get in the boat (thank goodness!). He took me back to Koh Lipe and then left again, so I’m not sure if he was actually a taxi but at least I got a ride back. I went to go have my pancake and shake and once I got there, it started pouring rain! I thought it would only last for awhile, but it just kept going and going – everyone outside was absolutely soaked. We went out for dinner to Madame YooHoo, where this old lady stands outside the restaurant yelling “Yoo hoo!” to try to get everyone’s attention. We had a pretty late dinner so I decided to go to bed afterwards – I think I tired myself out after the hike!

On Friday morning, I went back to Thai Lady Pancake for breakfast, where I had Pad Thai, a coffee, and a shake for 150 baht ($6.54).

I had to get laundry done so I went to a place close to the hostel that charged 60 baht per kilo. The thing that I liked about this place was that they pulled out a scale and actually weighed it right in front of me so I knew what the price would be beforehand. Today was going to be my “spa day!” I knew that I still needed to get a Thai massage and I figured what better place to have one than on the beach? I was hesitant to get a massage, as I’ve only gotten one before, which was a foot massage in China. And it was one of the most painful, un-relaxing experiences I’ve ever had so I wasn’t in a rush to get another one. One of the girls at the hostel told me to get an oil massage because it’s less painful, so that’s what I did. I went to JK Blue Beach Massage on Sunrise Beach because it had high ratings, and I knew that the masseuses (weird word…) were all certified and had education in massage. I asked for an oil massage, which would be 400 baht and then I also tipped 40 baht, which cost $19.20 in total. There were about 8 massage beds all in close proximity to each other – I was less than a foot away from the person next to me. In order to have an oil massage, you have to be naked so that was a bit weird for me to undress on a beach with people all around. However, the ladies were really great with keeping you covered and making the process as easy as possible. I have to say that during the first part of the massage, it took quite awhile for me to get comfortable with the actual massage. At one point, the lady was kneeling on my legs and digging her hands in my shoulders – as in all of her body weight was on top of me. I couldn’t ever get my mind to fully relax (obviously, I’m an over thinker – this is why I can’t nap) and I was constantly thinking of what I had to do later that day, what was she doing, how does it feel like there are ten hands on me at once. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to last an hour. Eventually, I eased up and finally started to relax as every part of my body was massaged, head to toe (and all ten toes). The time then sped right by and all of a sudden, she said I was finished. I was so tempted to buy another hour, but decided against it. Best massage of my life (although I don’t have much to compare it to)!

After that, I decided to go for a manicure/pedicure. I was just going to do a pedicure, which costs 200 baht, but a mani/pedi costs 300 baht, so why not? Well, I’ll tell you why not in awhile… I found a place that looked nice (called Sabye Sabye) and walked in. The plus side was it’s the first place I had been to on Koh Lipe with air conditioning, so I got to enjoy that. Now, I have only had one pedicure before that I can compare this to, but this one definitely wasn’t the same. There was no soaking of the feet or hands, no scrubbing, no washing, etc. All it included was cutting the nails (which I had already done the day before) and painting the nails (which started coming off the day after). Regardless, I still tipped 30 baht so in total, it only cost me $14.40 so it wasn’t a huge amount of money wasted. I haven’t painted my fingernails in about five years because the last two times that I painted them, I woke up the next morning with huge, swollen eyes (almost swollen shut – I couldn’t even put my contacts in) and a rash all over my face and down my neck. I was hoping that since it’s been so long, maybe it won’t happen again. I woke up the next morning and I was fine! I was so happy because ever since I’ve come to Asia, I’ve had less skin problems and my skin hasn’t been as sensitive. I wasn’t even reacting to my sunscreen! (I had forgotten to knock on wood…) The day after that, my bottom lip felt a bit puffier when I was eating breakfast. I peeled off as much of the nail polish as I could that day, but I don’t have nail polish remover so there is still some that has stayed on. The next day, my eyes were a tad puffy (not as bad as usual, but if I looked up, I could feel my eyelids touch my eyebrow) my skin was soooo itchy, and I started to get spots all over my neck and chest. The problem was I kept scratching, but I’d obviously scratch with my fingernails, which would just add more chemicals to my skin, which would in turn make it even more itchy. I took a Claritin, which temporarily would make me less itchy. Today, I’m less puffy and less itchy, haven’t taken a Claritin, but the spots of my skin are starting to break into rash so it’ll probably take a few more days to clear my system (plus having a bit of nail polish still on my fingers probably doesn’t help but I couldn’t find nail polish remover so I might just have to sit through it). Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try fingernail polish again to see if I’d react, so now I know to stay away from it! After my mani/pedi, I went for my pancake and shake and then went back to visit with people at the hostel. We went for another late dinner at Thai Lady Pancake Shop, where I got Pad See-Ew and a shake for 130 baht ($5.67), and then we once again got drinks at 7-11 and sat on the beach to watch the fire dancers.

Saturday was my last full day on Koh Lipe. I had booked a full-day snorkel tour for 700 baht ($30.54) with Star Travel, and they would be picking me up at 9:15. I went to Thai Lady Pancake for a quick breakfast and coffee before going back to the hostel.

There were 8 of us in the group, but all of the tour groups went out together since we were in the middle of the ocean so if anything happened, one of the surrounding boats could help out. We rode the longtail boat for about an hour to go to the furthest point, stopped at Ko Hin Sorn to take a picture of the rocks, and went to Ko Bulo, where we got to go snorkelling for about 20 minutes.

I thought my snorkelling trip in Koh Lanta was nice but now that I’ve done this trip, it can’t even compare! There was so much coral everywhere with so many different types of fish, and the water was so clear. I kept seeing clownfish in the anemones, and the guide would pull me by the hand and dive down to point out other fish and animals. It was so cool! It really is like another world down there. We then went to another area, where we got to snorkel for another 30 minutes. Here, there were even more organisms – so many starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and many different types of fish. Then when I was about to get back into the boat, the guide took me away from the reef and pointed out a little stingray on top of the sand. I definitely wouldn’t have noticed it if he didn’t show it to me (along with many other fish)! We stopped at a beach called Ro Khloi Island, where we took some pictures and then we got to go for lunch.

They took us to another beach on Ko Butang and of course, this island had to have monkeys. I sat with a Dutch couple, and we enjoyed a pretty spicy curry chicken with rice meal while watching the monkeys steal other peoples’ food. After lunch, we went to a little inlet across from the beach to enjoy another 20 minutes of snorkelling.

We travelled to Ko Hin Ngam Gravel Beach, which was filled with perfectly polished rocks (meaning it was extremely slippery and dangerous walking from the boat to the island). As tempting as it were to stack the rocks, there were signs all around telling us not to, as well as a scary warning telling us about the Curse of Tarutao Island, and what would happen if we took a rock.

After our stop at the island, we had one last snorkel stop somewhat in the middle of the ocean. We just had to get out of the boat and pull ourselves along a rope to the other side and back, but the waves were so strong, it was a lot more difficult to see anything. We headed back to Koh Lipe, and the guide said that we could come to pick up our picture at 8pm (they took a picture of each of us underwater). I just stayed on the beach to enjoy the last of the sun and then watched the sunset before heading back to the hostel to shower.

I went to pick up my picture at 8 and they sent me a file which had about 100 pictures on it, which was a bonus! I’ve attached a few of them, but keep in mind that I didn’t take these pictures.

That night, we went to Thai Lady Pancake Shop for one last dinner.

On Sunday morning, I had to catch my ferry at 11am and had to check in between 9 and 10am. I packed up my stuff, went to Thai Lady Pancake Shop for one last breakfast and one last shake, and then walked to the beach to check in at 9:45am. The walk was long (even though it was only 8 minutes), and I felt so sad to leave. It was nice to feel so at home on this beautiful island! I’ll definitely be back one day… Love always

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